Monday, January 12, 2009

Give me your answer do

Almost 4 years ago, we went out to Seattle for some friend's beautiful wedding. With some of our extra time in the city, we made a trip over to the Space Needle... not actually for the Needle, but for its neighbor, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.

They've done a good job representing the villains of science fiction in the museum. Darth Vader. Klingons. Ming the Merciless. They had a special exhibit on the different representations of the Martians from War of the Worlds. They've got a full-size Alien, which is pretty cool. But there was one moment when I turned a corner, and met with evil eye-to-eye. I jumped right out of my skin.

And then Alison pet my hair gently and whispered that it's only a museum.

And I said "I probably work with computers too much."

Happy 17th birthday, HAL.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My dear acquaintance

Years ago, I wrote my answer to the question "why do you blog". It seems like the right time to address the question "why start blogging again."

An author can take a hiatus, but the little hit counter on each page just keeps ticking along. And it's not a bad reality check to look at those logs and discover that, in two-and-a-half years, I wrote one post that gets any continuing readers.

I'm actually pleased to discover that any of my posts have held value. And I'm particularly tickled with the idea that it's a post which may have ended up on someone's dinner plate. So that's the chunk of the blog I want to concentrate on reviving - recent recipes. One of the nice tips I got on that post is to keep up the experimental tone, document the variables and improvisations, the next directions. It's a kind of food writing I don't see very often, but I feel it might be a better way to capture the art of cooking that by a programmatic listing of ingredients and steps.

New Years just passed, and I've gotta have my black-eyed peas for good luck. I suppose, someday, I should find a black-eyed peas recipe which isn't hoppin' john... but darn it, I like hoppin' john. So here it is.

Don't Mess With A Good Thing Hopping John

about half a pound of dried black eyed peas, soaked and drained
3 ham hocks (because it was a 3-pack at the store and I like ham hocks)
1 bay leaf
1 poblano pepper, veined, seeded, and diced
2 short celery ribs, diced (about a cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, diced (about a cup)
1 red bell pepper
2 more shorter ribs of celery, sliced - about a half-cup
2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
about 1 1/2 tsp. thyme
about 2/3rds cup of medium grain rice
4 cups of liquid - I used about 2 cups of water and 2 cups of creole crawfish stock

Get a heavy pot. Look at 3 ham hocks. Get a bigger pot.

Cut the red pepper open. Discover that the slightly wrinkled skin was a sign the the inside was completely spoiled. Cuss and toss it.

Brown the ham hocks in a little oil over medium-high heat - a minute or so per side. Saute the peppers, onion, and garlic for about 2 minutes. Add the drained beans and toss quickly. Add the liquid and bring to a low simmer. Return the ham hocks to the pot.

Think about that lost red pepper. Slice up 2 more short ribs of celery and add to the pot to get a little more vegetable texture and flavor in there.

Stew away until the beans are tender - about 40 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Look at the pot and think "that is really too soupy." Throw the rice in to absorb some of that liquid. Cook for about 20 minutes more, until the rice is done and the beans are creamy.

Pull the ham hocks, harvest the meat off the bones, and mix it back in. Ham hocks are slippery little things and the meat isn't easy to get at - you could serve them along side the beans, but that's not very nice to your dining companions.


This recipe works just fine with canned black-eyed peas, and it's ready a lot faster.

Losing that red pepper really hurt. But it did give me a test of the late addition of a vegetable in this recipe - and it gives a nice addition of texture and distinct flavor.

It's traditional to serve hopping john over rice, and some recipes say you can get away with cooking the rice and beans together like I did. Don't do this. (Which suggests, don't use 4 cups of liquid for half a pound of beans either.) The flavors get muddy. Ideally, there should be a contrast between the clean flavor of the rice and the warm rich beans. (Add some vinegary greens to the plate and it's heaven.)

I used a poblano... well, because I was shocked to see one in my Kroger. I've used jalapeno in the past, and that's good too.

You don't have to use 3 ham hocks... 1 or 2 will work fine. I bet 4 would be good. If you can't find ham hocks, use some bacon. You can make a vegetarian hopping john and leave it out entirely... bump up the salt, thyme, and a smoky spice like cumin.

Thyme, beans, and pork are great friends - I could've gone with quite a bit more (or used rubbed thyme instead of fresh).

I like this dish to have a little kick. A good shake of Old Bay or hot sauce at the table is nice. (A friend gave us a bottle of Nando's hot sauce, which has quite a kick and a neat lemony taste... that worked really well.)

A couple of recipes I looked at to remind myself:
At the Seattle Times
Emeril's recipe at the Food Network
John Martin Taylor's recipe at Epicurious