Monday, February 1, 2016

Improv-A-Stew

Since I seem to be caught up in a wave of cooking fever for the first time in many a moon, I am going to make a genuine, bona fide, for real, actual detailed cooking post!

I titled the post improv-a-stew because I've been talking to my offspring about the virtues of learning basic cooking techniques and flavoring combinations so you have them available as your tool kit to cook what you want without having to resort to a recipe. The stew described below followed no written recipe.

STEP ONE - Season your meat using a dry marinade technique

I'm using pork shoulder. There is a lot of fat on this but most will render out during the long, slow cooking.
I'm using a dry marinade of salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, dry sage and dry thyme and will let it sit over night. Marinating your meat like this will give you your first layering of flavors


STEP TWO - Brown your meat

This is a standard technique for braises and stews. The browning of the meat allows for caramelization of proteins which adds another one of your flavor layers.  It also leads to the...


...Fond which is all the browned bits on the bottom of the pan that become part of the flavor base.





STEP THREE - Saute your aromatics

Your aromatics are a variety of vegetables that add sweet and bitter notes to the overall dish

In this case I'm using onions, garlic, carrots (the sweet elements) with celery and green bell pepper (the bitter elements). I also decided to put in a dried chile (thank you garden) as a heat element.



STEP FOUR - Deglazing

Once the aromatics are soft, you put in a bit of liquid and scrape all that good fond into the flavor base you are making.  I'm using wine which adds an acidic element to the dish. Also certain flavors in food are soluble in alcohol so it helps bring out flavors from things you've already added.





STEP FIVE - Additions to the flavor base

After deglazing you add your cooking liquid for the stew/braise. This is usually some kind of stock. I used beef stock for this stew.

However there are number of flavor enhancements you can add that will make your stew more complex. All will make the overall flavor deeper.  For this dish I chose:

Dehydrated tomatoes from my garden. They add sweet/sour elements




Rinds from Parmigiana Reggiano cheese. They add salty, umami elements




And finally a tiny bit of Thai Green Chile Paste. A tiny bit of this goes a long way. You don't even taste the Thai flavor. It just builds up the foundation of your flavor base




Everything ready for the oven





STEP SIX - Slow cook

That's the mantra for stewing and braising. This went in for 3 hours at 325 degrees.


STEP SEVEN - Clean up your cooking liquid

Sorry no pictures here. I like my stews and braises to have a nice smooth sauce and as little fat as possible. I find this is best done by making it a day ahead of time. When it is cooled overnight, all the fat comes to the top and is much easier to get out. I then heat it just enough to get liquid, take all the meat out and drain the cooking liquid to get all the flavor elements out.

STEP EIGHT - Add your vegetables

Wife and I love vegetables cooked in our stews and braises. We've been experimenting with a number of things since potatoes (which we love) have more calories than we want to ingest.

Here I have gone with carrots, daikon, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms. The kohlrabi and the sprouts were experiments. Yes on the first, no on the second was the verdict. And daikon is the bomb. It really absorbs flavors and gets nice and soft like a carrot.


 Everything ready for another hour of cooking in this case on the stove top


STEP EIGHT - Eat :)

Our beautiful stew with loads of flavor, fork tender meat, and great tasty vegetables. Plus there was enough for us to freeze three more meals!
 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cooking In The Semi-Retired State

I find that much in the daily gastronomic world is changing now that I am firmly entrenched in a semi-retirement state. These changes are the result of:
  • More time available daily to cook
  • Need to decrease consumption of food associated with declining metabolism
  • Decreasing ability to eat various things associated with age (i.e. large quantities, overly rich food, etc.)
  • Increased desire to be creative
While one of the manifestations has been trying to expand flavors I cook with and being a bit more creative with building flavor bases, I think the most interesting development has been the desire to make use of everything. This means that whatever is cooked gets used to the fullest. It often means the reprocessing of leftovers into soups and it means cooking more larger cuts of meat and then processing it into a variety of meals and ingredients.  For example for our Sunday dinner last weekend I made roasted a turkey breast that served as dinner. The major part of the meat was harvested into 6 oz packets for future use. All the little bits of meat and pan juices were added with other leftovers for a stew. Finally the carcass was turned into a stock.

I'd like to delude myself that I am being incredibly frugal and not wasteful. However it is hard to maintain that illusion when two people share a 3200 square foot house with no other occupants.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Selling In the Semi-Retired State

The balance between retirement and 'semi' (meaning the amount of time I still work) has been a work in progress. But after the exploration and rejection of full retirement after our fall travels, I have been much more at peace with the chosen path. This has led to a refocus (within acceptable limits) on the disciplines necessary to get business.

So it was with interest that I read daughter #3's recent post on the selling environment of her soon to former employer and her new employer and I reflected on how certain sales management and sales process fundamentals are the same whether you have a sales staff of thousands or you are the sales staff. Among those fundamentals are that sales is a process, you have to do the work (make the calls, have the meetings), you have to measure what you're doing, you have to analyze what you measure, and you have to be accountable.

Last year as I was going though the transition, I was a bit sloppy with many of these fundamentals. Fortunately I had enough momentum from past years that with what I did do enough came in for me to produce more than what I had hoped. I did keep the most important metrics however and I was able to the kind of analysis I've done for many years. It was very encouraging in that the basic relationship between developing leads, prospects, proposals, and sales had remained constant even with the lower total activity. So I've been able to set some targets for my basic sales variable - networking meetings - with a good degree of confidence.

What is most evident since November is how I conduct my meetings. For one thing I am definitely lighter (meaning my attitude and spirits). I just have confidence that my system works and I don't have to have this to survive so I don't feel so intense about things. Therefore, most of my meetings are about the person I'm with (though I must admit a lot of people I meet with are curious about how I manage the semi-retirement mode successfully). Bu ant I always close my meetings, the last 10 minutes or s, with my pitch...this is what I'm looking for and these are the conditions that will tell you when you should bring me in. And I am very unabashed about doing it...something that was not always the case earlier on in my career.

It also helps that I am much more selective about the work I want to do which makes it much easier to explain, and as I don't need the income I needed when working full-time I can be much more flexible in structuring a service and payment scheme that people will buy.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Just Hanging

The urge to blog has not been there the last couple of weeks. Probably because we're in a fairly mellow normal, everyday, not running around the world mode.

The semi part of the semi retired lifestyle is going fine. I got a couple of nice jobs that suite the level of work I want to do just at the end of the year so the first quarter should be fine. It remains cold and we still keep getting occasional snow so there is still great snow on the trails for hiking.

I'm sitting in San Francisco International Airport on the way back to Albuquerque after a quick visit to see Daughter #1 and family. We flew in on a very early flight Saturday so we got to their house by 9:30 AM. But in spite of just being here just two days we did a lot. We hung out with the family on Saturday morning. We went to the hotel for a nap in the afternoon. We saw 1A's parents for a drink and then went out to dinner with #1 and 1A. The restaurant was okay but the company was great. On Sunday morning our Nephew and his Wife and two children who also love in the the same town for brunch. Had a great time with them and then we took the two grandchildren tow a movie. Came back and played cards, brought back a TV and then watched a Star Wars movie at home because #1 is briefing her daughter 1.1 on all the Star Wars history before seeing the new movie. We had breakfast out as a family with 1A's parents again before we headed to the airport.

We're in the middle of a big IT project. Wife's laptop has been a lemon and there has been much fear about it crashing and her losing lots of her data. Plus it never has had enough memory to truly handle here needs. So we've been working on getting a PC server and combining that with a VPN so she can leave her accounting programs on that and access it while we're traveling and also give us something to back up to while we're traveling. It also would give a single server to which then to back up onto a cloud back up. But of course there have been all kinds of things that aren't working quite right because this service doesn't like that hardware, and this software doesn't like that service, etc etc etc.
It will all work out eventually.

Wife has been madly getting all of her pictures going back to 1999 with stuff that was backed up on hundreds of CDs into the new server. I think she only 8 more years to do!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Just Going On Notice

I have been reading with minor amazement the adventures over the holiday of my niece and her parents (my brother and sister-in-law) and how they have been replacing the plumbing of a 70 year old house that the niece bought in the Washington DC area. It is a project that few homeowners that I have know would ever want to take on.

So just to go on notice to my three lovely girls, if you buy a house some day, spending a week replacing its plumbing is NOT something I will be doing for you.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Winter Wonderland in the Desert

We had a lot of snow right after Christmas. In the southeastern part of the state it was blizzard conditions with one to two FEET of snow.

And it has been very cold here too with the highs just barely breaking freezing. The result is all that snow has been staying put on the trails of the mountains. Last Thursday I got out and in many areas the snow was still pristine.

On the trail





Sunshine off of snow crystals




Looking at the desert/city in the background from the mountain trail snow in the foreground




On another note I always love to relate to those not in the desert how water is thought about here. We've had a very rainy year, the 6th most rainy since they've been keeping records about 120 years ago. We got around 12.5 inches of rain, about 3 inches more than normal and enough to take our state out of the drought column. But I loved the piece in our newspaper where they were talking about the amount of rain and said something to the effect of "But this year was nothing like the deluge year of 1941 when we had 15.9 inches of rain." 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Restructuring Christmas

Until I married Wife, Christmas was a none-event for me. In my family not only was it not a part of our tradition, but my Father was against celebrations in general.

When Wife and I moved in together we had only been together for 5 months (we were married 2 months later) and she asked me what we were going to do for Christmas. I said nothing and quickly realized this was not going to be an acceptable answer. So I surprised her with a small artificial tree for our apartment and from that point Christmas was in our life.

With Kids coming very shortly thereafter, Christmas became a big deal. As the kids grew up and started to go away* and started having families of their own, it became more and more apparent that the Christmas of those years was gone.

In the highly rewritten, sanitized and revisionist history of this story, Wife and I discussed what we should do about the holiday in the calm, rational manner that we approach everything - 42 years of uninterrupted bliss and harmony can only be achieved in this way. In the end it was decided that whether children and grandchildren were here or not, having a holiday celebration was important. It might mean that not everything was done to the same extent but that it should be done. For us this meant some decorating, a tree, music, food, presents.

The music was frustrating. We bought this new Sonos system but Wife's computer from hell (another post) on which most of the music was housed refused to stay connected to it. We ended up digging out our 80's era cassette tape player. 

Presents were another issue because let's face it, we pretty much buy whatever we want whenever we want it. But we looked at the tree so naked with nothing underneath it and at the last minute, I caved and said I would buy presents for both of us...which of course got Wife guilty and she went out too! We actually ended up going to the same small store within minutes of each other. As a special bonus we opened our presents up just as we were Skyping with Daughter #3 so it was sort of like having a bit of a family Christmas.

Making pizza is our meal tradition dating back to when the kids were little and they said they didn't like the lasagna I used to make. In recent years we have gotten it to a real science. Wife is now using a dough that takes two days of slow rising. I made my sauce using tomatoes (pulp and dried) and chile from my garden. Our new oven gets up to 600 degrees so with our pizza stone and the new dough we get a great crust. We've learned to not put too much on the pizza so that it all cooks in a short amount of time. We had pepperoni, Italian sausage, onions, mushrooms, and green chile along with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. We made six pizzas with varying combinations freezing most for later and for taking to a neighbor couple who is older than we and having lots of issues.

Wife Getting Ready to Prepare the Dough





We follow the advice of our friend Gaius Derf that no pizza should be made without wine

The Wine of Choice


Our Pizza Assembly Area


One of the Final Products




The 1980's Musical Christmas





video




*Really away. I mean you have to wonder what trauma you inflicted on them that they have gone almost as far as possible away without going all the way around the globe and coming back!