Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunday


From NASA's Image of the day: "The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this view of the Chesapeake Bay region as the clouds were clearing on December 20. The snow highlights the courses of the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers from the Appalachian Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. The ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains are similarly highlighted. The forested peaks are darker than the snow-covered valleys."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Beef Stew of Hope


I'm in a complicated but strangely contented mood today: it's a day of long contemplative silences, of playing music, reading, looking at the snow, lying on the floor with the cats, and every so often stirring the pot of stew I've got bubbling away in my oven.

Heat your oven to 300 degrees. Take two or more pounds of good quality non-factory-farmed chuck, two big carrots, two ribs of celery, six cloves of garlic, and a couple of fist-sized potatoes, and cut them into sizes and shapes you wouldn't mind finding in stew. Toss the meat in flour and brown it in bacon fat over medium heat in a well-seasoned cast-iron dutch oven. Do it in small batches. Once the meat is all browned and set aside, add the veggies to the pot and cook them for a few minutes till the onions are translucent. Combine last night's leftover wine with enough beef stock to make four cups or thereabout. Return the meat to the pot and pour in enough of the stock/wine mixture to just cover (add more stock if necessary). Add a couple of branches of thyme, maybe a tablespoon of salt (depending on how salty your stock is), lots of black pepper, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Cover the pot and put it in your oven. Cook the stew for three hours or more, until it's perfect.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Posole

Start this at about 4:00 on a clear, cold Saturday afternoon.

In a small frying pan, toast a teaspoon of cumin seeds until they're light brown and fragrant.

Take a hunk of pork shoulder meat weighing about two pounds and put it in a pot and cover it with water. Throw in a half onion into which you've speared a couple of cloves, four cloves of garlic which you've lightly smashed with the heel of your hand, half your toasted cumin seeds, and five peppercorns. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for an hour or so.

While the simmering is going on, assemble the rest of your meez. Pulverize your remaining cumin seeds in a mortar and combine them with a half-teaspoon each of ground black pepper, ground cloves, and cayenne. Put a spring of oregano where you can find it later. Roast a couple of nice big poblano or New Mexico chiles and peel and chop them. Chop an onion and another three or four cloves of garlic. Open and drain two cans of white hominy. (For the maximum posole experience, you would of course have started soaking four cups of dried hominy the night before. But now it's too late. Canned is fine; the texture will be a little different, but it will taste right.)

All that should keep you busy for an hour or so, after which time pull your meat out of the broth and cut it into stew-appropriate cubes. Strain the broth. Do not strain your broth into the sink: keep the liquid, discard the solids. Open your second beer.

In a big heavy pot, saute the onion and garlic with a tablespoon of salt until the onion is translucent. Add the spices and the oregano and cook for a minute or two more until everything is acquainted. Add the meat, the hominy, the chiles, and five cups of the broth. Simmer, covered, for an hour or more, until the meat and the hominy are tender. Serve topped with cilantro in big bowls, with warm tortillas.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The average color of the Universe...

...is pale beige. Or as NASA prefers, cosmic latte.