The Smell of Chili

I Love the Smell of Chili in the Morning …

For much of the 19th century and into the early Twentieth, this was a popular San Antonio thing – various of the public squares, notably Military Plaza and Market Square were the domain of the Chili Queens who established the custom of setting up tables and benches along the edges of the square, in the early evening and selling chili-by-the-bowl to all comers. They would bring huge kettles of chili which they had made over their own home cook-fire during the day, and keep it warm through the evening and into the wee hours.

Very often the chili vendors would entice customers to their own particular stands by hiring musicians to entertain diners. There are some splendid descriptions of how marvelous this would have appeared – lantern and starlight shining down on the tables, gleaming on glass soda bottles, while the scent of the chili and the mesquite smoke from the fires which kept it warm hung on the night air. During South Texas summers before the invention of air conditioning, this likely would have been about the most comfortable dining venue for working men, for those out for an evening of gambling and drinking in the various saloons … and in later decades, for those visiting from the North or the East, desirous of absorbing a little exotic local color.

And it was a very local delicacy in those years. Texans took readily to a venison or beef stew highly spiced with local chili peppers (with or without beans, with or without tomatoes), especially in the borderlands. But it was also a seasonal dish – generally only served in the spring and summer when the fresh peppers ripened and were available in the market. Air-dried whole chilies were available, of course – but they just didn’t provide the same flavor-punch. There may have been many local gourmands who adored chili and wished to eat it year round, but only one of them did anything about it.

This was a German-American, Willie Gebhardt, who got his start in food entrepreneurship by owning a beer-garden and restaurant in New Braunfels in the 1890s. It’s often said among the Irish that there was an Irishman at the start of any interesting cultural, technological or scientific effort, but in Texas in the late 19th century this most usually fell to a German. Willie Gebhardt, like many other local cooks, developed his own special recipe for chili, and served it often in season – but on the side, he began experimenting with a means of preserving the essential chili pepper flavor.

Eventually he hit upon a means of soaking ancho chili peppers, garlic, oregano and cumin in a water-alcohol mixture, then grinding it into a stiff paste, which was dried under low heat. When dried, it was ground into a powder using a coffee-grinder, and packed in air-tight glass bottles. It was immediately popular; Willie Gebhardt took out a patent, calling it Gebhardt’s Eagle Brand Chili Powder. By the turn of the century, he had opened a factory – patenting a number of machines to expedite the manufacture of chili powder, which became and still is insanely popular. Eventually his factory, under the direction of a brother-in-law branched out into providing ready-made canned chili, and other staple Tex-Mex foods.

Since this cuisine was largely unknown outside of the southwest, Gebhardt’s company published a cook-book instructing American cooks how to use chili powder – the first nationally-distributed cook-book on Mexican food. The original recipe for Eagle Brand Chili Powder is still available, supposedly unchanged, although the company was sold to Beatrice Foods following on the death of Willie Gebhardt in 1956. (It’s available on Amazon – so is a facsimile of the original Gebhardt’s Mexican cookbook.)

Comfort Food – Part 2

Comfort Food – Part 2

It seems, we were having winter during the week, and something like spring on the weekends. It was warm enough to get out and do a little yard work and consider all those wonderful garden plans … before the relatively icy cold drove us indoors again, and to consider hearty, warming comfort food for dinner. Nope, winter is not the time for Salad Nicoise, or for gazpacho. Those are summer dishes; winter is for fortifying soups and stews, for sturdy casseroles of macaroni and cheese … and meat loaf.

The classic meatloaf that Mom used to make was based on ground beef; back in the day, ground beef was about the cheapest meat protein out there. Mom and other frugal cooks had extensive repertoires of main dishes utilizing it; no cook with any pride needed Hamburger Helper back then. The version of meat loaf that I grew up on usually only contained 50 per cent meat, though. The rest was chopped onions and celery, maybe a can of tomatoes, filled out with bread crumbs and/or oatmeal, bound together with a couple of eggs, a splash of milk, and topped with a spritz of ketchup and a slice of bacon for flavor down the middle of the loaf. There are all kinds of variations on it, depending on the state of your pocketbook and pantry – but come out pretty much tasting the same.

Not so one of my own favorite meat loaf recipes; I think I found it in one of the cooking magazines which had a feature on wild rice. I copied the most intriguing of them into my own hand-written book of recipes, and promptly forgot the name of the magazine. The original version called for ground pork, which made it altogether too fatty and rich.

Simmer ½ cup wild rice in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes until barely tender. Cool (the original recipe directed the cook to drain the rice – but added ¼ water or milk. Why waste the rice liquid anyway, since it has lots of flavor in it?)

Combine the cooked rice and liquid with 1 cup soft bread crumbs, two beaten eggs, ½ cup rolled oats, one medium onion chopped very fine, 1 ½ teasp dried ground sage, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, and a pound of ground pork or turkey – or ½ pound each ground pork and ground turkey.
Form into a 7×4 inch loaf shape, and bake in a 350 degree oven until juices run clear. (About 1 ¼ hours). Serve with a sauce of 8 ounces sour cream mixed with 2 TBsp Dijon mustard. It’s great, served with mashed garlic potatoes – which are just your average mashed potatoes, only the potatoes boiled together with 2-4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped. Now – there is some comfort food for a cold winter day

Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

The Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market

by Celia Hayes

It’s one of my habits – established when we lived in Athens in the early 1980s – going to the local street or farmer’s market. It was the custom of the country that every neighborhood had a day of the week, when a three or four-block length of one of the main streets in the suburb would be blocked off, and the local vendors and farmers would set up two rows of booths and sell to the community, beginning just before dawn and continuing through midday. It was usually seasonal fruits and vegetables, and each little booth pretty much specialized in one item – lemons, or artichokes on long stalks, or potatoes with patches of the damp soil they had been grown in still clinging to them. There was an egg-vendor, who sold the eggs in cones made up of newspaper, and a storekeeper with a larger trailer who had a variety of dried beans and macaroni, and often a crate of live snails, rustling and clicking their shells together. All was absolutely fresh, straight from the farm and cheaper than cheap.

I’ve always hoped that our farmer’s markets here could duplicate that experience; and the goods are fresh and straight from the farm, but alas, not as inexpensive as they were in Greece. The farmer’s markets here do have their advantages though; the one held every Sunday morning save Easter in the parking lot of the Quarry Market is a perfect example; as half the venders seem to do the traditional fruits and vegetables, the other half a wide assortment of prepared gourmet foods. [Curious though, I didn’t find the Quarry Market on the GoTexan Farmers Market list. (They probably should be listed.)] Cheese and chocolates and pies, oh, my! Imagine a pie made with fruit or nuts from Nanette Watson’s Frio Farm, with their own eggs, butter churned by Nanette herself, and with her very own home-brewed flavoring extracts. That is a piece of pie that it is a delight to savor.

We cruised the two rows of booths – threatened rain didn’t seem to hamper turnout at all, though there were some vendors on the Quarry Market Farmer’s Market list who didn’t seem to be there because of it. Most everyone had samples on offer – and scrumptious they were. La Panadaria’s chocolate bread was absolutely scrumptious, and the chocolate samples from High Street Chocolate were out of this world. Peggy at High Street (she lives in Comfort, of course) is adventurous with flavoring, too – she has one flavor of chocolate, called Spicy Aztec which features … well, red pepper, among others. That is a chocolate with an interesting burn, which sneaks up on you. My favorite is a thin expresso-flavored chocolate, which I believe would be absolutely divine as the chocolate element in gourmet chocolate-chip ice cream … and if Peggy could work with Nanette at Frio Farm, and combine home-made ice-cream from Frio Farm’s eggs, cream and vanilla … I believe they would have something which would make Ben and Jerry’s finest taste like something from Tasty-Freeze.

The final booth that we visited was – I think – the Lemonade Company, purveyors of fresh-squeezed lemonade and orange juice. The scent of the oranges teased me from three booths away. There is nothing so evocative to someone who grew up in Southern California as the scent of fresh oranges and lemons – and the sublime flavor of the juice freshly squeezed. Nothing like it in the world, and it has spoiled me ever since for supermarket orange juice. And that was my Sunday morning – yours?

Texas Barbeque…The Food of the Gods

Texas BBQ

It’s just one of those things – Texas should be so large a state as to have not one, but several different regional variants in barbeque stylings. Yes, in less-blessed climes, barbeque is done by just throwing your choice of animal flesh on the grill on the back porch and allowing it to char slowly over the coals or (byte ones tongue) propane flame. I have even run across *shudder* recipes for marinated and grilled slabs of tofu.

Sorry – barbeque here means mainly beef, although pork, turkey, chicken, sausages, and even cabrito – or goat and mutton – makes an appearance in the borderland Hispanic variant of barbecoa. There is the east Texas variant; marinated beef cooked slowly over hickory wood until the meat falls from the bone and served with a thick, tomato-based sauce, the central Texas option; beef or other meats rubbed with spices and cooked slowly over pecan or oak wood, and the south Texas style which features cooking over mesquite – an acquired taste. South Texas style preference is for a thick sauce and moist meat. A great many of the old established independent barbeque places began as meat markets, where the butcher – in the days before deep-freeze refrigeration – thriftily began to smoke and slow-cook all those leftover or unsellable bits at the end of the day, providing them as ready-to-eat morsels the next day. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes.

Frankly, to me, it’s all good, no matter what variant and the selection of commercial sauces available at the local HEB will prove that we love it here, either D-I-Y or from the local maestro of the pit. In the main, people here have high standards when it comes to making barbeque themselves, and adamant concerning the virtues of all those places which provide it; from chains like Bill Miller with outlets everywhere, through enormous single-standing locations like the Kreus Market in Lockhart, and then there are tiny and often locally famous places – like the Riverside Meat Market in Boerne (cunningly disguised as a meat market in the back of a corner Shell gas station) – and even the peripatetic Smoke Shack, a food truck which is usually, but not always to be found just inside the 410 Loop at Nacogdoches, parked in what used to be a gas station. Aficionados will drive any number of miles to sample the glories of an independent barbeque outlet … and many other aficionados will also pay interestingly substantial amounts for grills and smokers of every description, although I will note that to the hard-core, propane is frowned upon. It’s all in the wood and cooking it long and slow, in the flavored smoke. For a while, I had one of those inexpensive barrel-shaped cylindrical smoker-griller things, which did an amazing job for the price – save that I had to cook a huge lot at a time, which was only cost-effective if I was expecting to feed a small army on hickory-smoked chicken.

These days, I have to cheat, with my daughter’s propane grill from Lowe’s – which does the job – and I suspect that if I tinkered with it a bit, and figured out a way to put in a pan of soggy wood-chips and keep the heat really, really low – I might have some decently-flavored barbeque.

A couple of years ago, we had a celebration supper at our place, using a recipe for chicken, from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. The sauce is sublime and hereby passed on.

Sauté until translucent in ½ cup oil: 1 ½ cups chopped onions and 1 Tbsp minced garlic. Add: 1 cup tomato paste, 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup honey, ½ cup Worcestershire sauce, 1 cup Dijon mustard, ½ cup soy sauce, 1 cup Hoisin sauce, 2 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, and ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered, over low heat for half an hour.

Cut up 2 2½ -3 lb chickens, and marinate them overnight in 2/3rds of the sauce. Roast them over low heat for about 45 minutes, basting them with marinade. Serve with the reserved sauce on the side.

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.

 

Beanz-Garden Update

Beanz! A Garden Update

for all your San Antonio Home Buying needs!

by Celia Hayes

I have to say that the occasional rain shower over the last week or so has been very, very, very welcome, and so have the cool fronts. Anything which delays the full frontal blast of wicked summer heat by a week or so is a good thing in my book. But it has been a good month in the garden; what a difference a mere four or five weeks have made.

This year, I bit the bullet – the only plant starts that I bought were tomatoes. They went into a pair of Earth Boxes, and six home-made hanging planters. So far, lots of big green tomatoes, but nothing edible yet. For just about all the other plants this year, I began with packets of seeds from Lowe’s; three or four kinds of beans, sugar peas, three kinds of squash, and five seed potatoes from Rainbow Gardens. The bell, jalapeno and cayenne pepper plants are left over from previous years, as are the eggplants. I had never really thought of them all as perennials, but they all came back very nicely from winter.

The pepper plants are thriving, and the eggplants all have fresh new foliage and are hung with star-shaped purple blossoms which herald fat little eggplants, or so I hope. The okra plants began from seeds from last years’ okra plants. I didn’t know that you have to pick the okra pods as soon as they are about four or five inches long; any bigger than that, and they are totally inedible. So, I had a boat-load of okra seeds. Until now I had never had much luck growing vegetables from seeds. Very likely, I was doing it all wrong in trying to cultivate the terrible, horrible, awful clay soil that my yard is made of. Even digging in sand and compost didn’t help much. Last year we used Scott’s Moisture Control Potting mix in the pots and Earth Boxes, and things generally did very well. This year we filled the two raised beds with it, planted squash and potatoes in one, and beans in the other, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

The squash have begun putting out blossoms; it looks like the little green patty-pan squash are going first, with the yellow squash and the zucchini lagging slightly behind. The beans – the Kentucky Wonder variety began going up the string net which I had run from the edge of the raised bed to the top of the fence as if there had been some green bean drill instructor screaming at them to climb. As of this week they are covered in little white and purple flowers. These things are supposed to bear copious quantities of beans – and harvesting them regularly encourages even more. I still have packets of other varieties of beans, and hope to start another couple of small raised beds. It seems that I have inadvertently hit on the right place in my garden to grow pole beans; partly shaded for much of the day, but growing up against a south-facing fence.

I also had a packet of lettuce seeds, and another of mixed salad greens, which just this week had enough leaves to harvest and use in salads. Oh, the taste of fresh greens is indescribably good. When the squash plants are exhausted, and I dig up the potatoes in the fall, I am planning to put up a plastic tent over the large raised bed and sow more salad greens and lettuce inside. I’d like to be able to eat out of my own garden for the rest of this year, and even have enough excess to freeze.

And that’s my week in the garden – what about yours?

Our Little Backyard Garden in April

April in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Ah, the rain which fell last week; glorious, bountiful rain, just when we had given up all hope of seeing such again. And just about when I had concluded that we had skipped over spring entirely and gone straight into summer. Having to run the air conditioner because it’s ninety degrees outside – freaking ninety degrees! – in March! That is just wrong … especially when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is suffering cold, rain, snow. If I could have figured out a way to swap about twenty degrees of Fahrenheit for about ten inches of rain over a week or so, I would so do it.

On the other hand, the cycle of undue warmth and a sudden generous rain has worked out in the long run, so I ought not to complain too much. The big raised bed is filled with squash sprouts – zucchini, golden and the round greenish ones which my grandmother always called ‘patty-pan’ squash. This is a promising start, for as of yet they are only sprouts: Whether or not my ambition to have squash by the bag-full to inflict on the neighbors remains to be seen. The five seed potatoes that I planted at the far end of the bed are also sprouting vigorously. I had a thought – potatoes might make a very attractive bedding plant, if interspersed with some kind of flowering annual. And at the end of the season, you could harvest the potatoes; ornamental and edible!

Now the small raised bed, full of three kinds of beans is going to town. I thought that all three of kinds planted there were bush beans – but it seems that the middle row is sending out exploratory tendrils towards the chicken wire that I wrapped the raised bed in, so as to prevent the dogs from trampling all over them. My ambitions are to have two more small raised beds, so as to keep the bean crops going as long as possible, and now I see that a trellis of some kind will have to feature in them.

I had three ornamental wire plant towers, bought here and there, now serving as either tomato cages for the tomatoes that I planted in earth boxes, or as supports for sugar peas. I planted the sugar peas just last week, and after seven days there are tiny green slips sprouting in the earth box. The tomatoes in the home-made hanging containers are also thriving; they were started the earliest and so are already putting out embryonic tomatoes. The largest is the size of a marble. Several weeks ago I discovered Rainbow Gardens as a source for exotic tomato starts – a veritable rainbow of colors of tomatoes. I loved the little lemon-yellow tomatoes that we had last year; ‘Yellow Pear’ was the name, and so that’s one kind that we’ll try again. Last week I bought a huge, gangly variety called a ‘Black Krim’ which comes from southern Russia and is supposed to thrive in heat … which we can guarantee!

I’ve held over a number of plants from last year; notably various peppers which had been growing in the pepper topsy-turvey. They did OK in the topsy – not spectacular, but OK. I put them all in pots – much, much better. I will never have to purchase cayenne or jalapeno peppers ever again, and as for bell peppers – a single plant from last year now has nearly a dozen half-sized green bell peppers on it.

And that was my week in the garden – how was yours?

Korean Food Can Be Spicy

Korean Delights

by Celia Hayes

So, many of the headlines this week concern themselves with Korea, a country which I have some slight connection to; that is where my father was serving a tour when I was born. And a good few decades later, I did a year-long tour there myself. About the very first thing that I realized was that Korea in the 1990s looked nothing like the TV series MASH … and only very little like what my father remembered. Dad and his platoon with their mobile radar set-up lived in several different tent encampments near the DMZ. I spent the year living at Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of a bustling and very cosmopolitan Seoul. The garrison was itself a fairly un-crowded green island in the middle of a very built-up city – rather as if there were a substantial military base set up in half of New York City’s Central Park.

I very much enjoyed the year in Seoul, by the way – and I very much liked the Koreans that I met and worked with; tough, jolly, and rather outgoing. Someone once described Koreans as the Irish of Asia, which I don’t think was too far off. Being that San Antonio is a military-oriented town, and a lot of military – especially Army – have been rotating in and out of Korea for the last sixty years, there is a nice little Korean presence here in San Antonio. I know of no less than three different Korean church congregations in my immediate neck of the woods. Then there is the little ‘TigerPop’ fast food place that my daughter and I sampled a year or so ago. And when I first came to San Antonio, someone told me that the first and best Korean restaurants were all scattered along Harry Wurzbach, Austin Highway and Rittiman Road, in proximity to Fort Sam Houston – because those first restaurants were all started by the Korean wives of retired Army NCOs. Don’t know if it is true or not; but it looks like some the most assuming places with excellent food are along those streets.

Be warned, though – Korean food can be very, very spicy, even to Texas tastes. (Not as spicy as Thai food, though.) The dish that most of us have heard of is kimchee; basically pickled Napa cabbage, but with a kick – or as one of my military friends used to call it, “sauerkraut” with an attitude.” Very closely related to Japanese sushi is the Korean kimbab; cooked rice, and other things, rolled in a sheet of seaweed nori. The difference is that in the Korean version, the contents are most often cooked. And sometimes, they are made with a sliver of Spam. No, really – Spam is enormously popular in Korea; something that I had heard, but never quite believed until I saw assortments of Spam for sale in fancy baskets in Korean specialty groceries. The other very popular Korean snack food among my friends was yakimandu – pan-friend dumplings, which were as much like Chinese pot-stickers as to have no difference at all. Many of these delights were sold from street stalls, to the horror of the military health authorities, but to the best of my knowledge, I never heard of anyone getting sick from eating them, mostly because they came right from the burner to your plate. And against the red peppers and other hot spices, disease-causing organisms never had a chance.

And now I’m hungry for yakimandu … guess a trip down to Koreana on Harry Wurzbach is in order…

 

IH 35 Road Trip Part 2

IH 35 Road Trip – Part 2

by Celia Hayes

The road was long, and went on and on in the dark. I thought that we’d see the sunrise about the time that we passed Round Rock, but no – thanks to daylight savings time, we didn’t see it even begin to get light until we passed through Waco. At that juncture, something moved us to want to take a break. Well, actually three things moved us: we were getting hungry again, my daughter wanted to top up the gas tank, and we both needed to use the bathroom facilities. And there was a billboard advertising the Czech Stop Bakery, and not a truck plaza or another Buc’ees in sight, in a little hiccup of a town called West. So, pull off the highway onto the access road, looking for the Czech Stop – easily found, by the way. If the giant lighted sign isn’t a clue, the packed parking lot in front of it ought to be.

I bought two plain kolaches, which they obligingly heated for me, and I wish, I wish, I so wish that I had bought a box of sweet pastries to carry on to Fort Worth with me, for the kolaches were magnificent; savory and flavorful lengths of kielbasa-like sausage, enveloped in a yeasty pillow of bread dough. I looked around the bakery – even at that hour, there was a line in front of the counter. After the fact, I discover that the Czech Stop is famed far and wide. Some commenters on foodie websites even swear that it’s worth the drive all the way from San Antonio for the sweet and savory pastries. I don’t know as I’d drive that far, gas being what it is, but if it is along your way, the Czech Stop is most definitely worth it.

On and on we went, making the interesting discovery that winter still held sway. It was actually darned chilly, and I was particularly grateful for the sweaters and jackets that my daughter had left in her car. I left my San Antonio home in shirtsleeves – and four hours later, there was white stuff caked in the grass along the side of the road, where the pavement met dirt. It had been so long since I had actually seen it, it took a few moments to recognize the remnants of snow. Yes, indeedy – Palm Sunday weekend, and snow along IH-35 coming into Fort Worth – while it’s shirtsleeve warm in San Antonio, with the wisteria and roses are all in bloom.

The next attractive bit of roadside business managed to enchant us thoroughly, even at a passing speed of 70 MPH – and that was the Rustic Creek Ranch, which hove into sight as we were approaching the outlaying fringes of Fort Worth. An extensive waterpark-playground feature, an RV park, grounds landscaped so extensively as to make your average KOA look like a dump … and the rental cottages on-site! Oh, my – I looked them up online as soon as we got home that evening, after an incredibly, horribly, very long day. The Rustic Creek features luxury cottages, with bells on. Oh, did we wish that we could have rented a cottage there, instead of the long drive back and forth. I would have so loved to sink into a double bed, piled high with quilts … Well, I did – I just had to wait until I got home.

And that was our spring road trip. When we make it back in the fall, for an evening author event, we are scheming how to fit in a short stay at the Rustic Creek Ranch. It all depends on how my books sell!

 

Making Homemade Broth

Lentil and Brown Rice Compost Broth

This was one of these things that I read so long ago that I don’t remember when, or who, save that it was an interview with a rather clever and creative chef being interviewed, and just about that time I had despaired of finding any broth – canned or as a bouillon cube – at the commissary or local supermarket which wasn’t expensive, unbearably salty, or both. Now HEB, Sprouts, and Trader Joe’s all offer a nice variety of flavored and low sodium broths and I have used them for some splendid soups, especially when nothing sits very well on on a fractious stomach except chicken broth with a smidgeon of rice or fideos in it … but nothing beats home-made broth made the way that I did, following the advice of the very clever and penny-pinching chef.

What he advised was to keep a special container in the freezer, and whenever you had vegetable scraps, cut ends or clean peelings, or even whole veggies past their best-by date, to throw them into the container. Onion ends, mushroom stems, ends of celery – in fact, everything but broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower scraps could be used. Omit anything spoiled, rotten or moldy, of course. If you are not a vegan, then bones and trimmings from various meats – chicken necks and ham-bones and the like – can be added as well. When the container is completely full, empty the frozen scraps into a large stockpot, and add a handful of fresh parsley (or any other fresh herbs you have available – thyme would be fantastic), and some whole peppercorns, and fill with bottled or tap-water up almost to the top of the pot. Cover the stockpot, set it on the stove over low heat, and just let it simmer for a good few days, until all the vegetables are cooked to softness and the broth itself is a rich deep brown.

And that’s it: after a couple of days, take it off the heat, let cool, and pour the broth off. I like to run it through a fine mesh strainer, and package it in 2-cup to quart quantities for the freezer out in the garage. Nothing makes a better base for soup – and one of my very favorites to use broth for is a lentil and brown rice soup, from Nava Atlas’s Vegetariana.

Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water or vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid, or Ro-Tel tomatoes with chili peppers.1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done. You can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top. I made it once with imported green lentils from France, and people almost swooned.