Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Impromptu Sunday in Woodside

After a horrendous couple weeks featuring several major system outages at work (I manage worldwide telecom for a high tech firm), I was looking forward to this past weekend. At least the tail end of it, since my Saturday was pretty much going to be shot from the get-go. The last of the system patches were to be applied beginning at 7 PM on Friday, and were projected to take about six hours. The six hours stretched into 6 AM the next morning, meaning I was up and technically "working" from 6 AM Friday 'til 6 AM Saturday. Not my first choice of how to spend a Friday night, but such is life.

So on a whim, I called my sister on Sunday just to say hi, and her opening words were "come over!" My sister and her friend Celeste are dancers (Celeste is also a choreographer) and their idea of a fun afternoon is to tap dance on the square of plywood flooring that lives in the room downstairs. Colleen and her husband John live in Woodside, up the hill behind Alice's Restaurant, which is a very fun restaurant (as you might imagine) and also a huge weekend hangout for motorcyclists of every shape and variety. Harleys, Yamaha R1's that are totally tricked out and track-ready, BMW R1200 RT fullly loaded touring sport bikes, Triumph cruisers, and Honda Gold Wings adorn the parking lots on both sides of the intersection formed by Highways 84 and 35. I've personally owned a half dozen bikes over the years and would love to get another one, but the boss is adamantly opposed. I have plenty of toys, this one can be her win.

A side note on the "bikes" at the afore-mentioned intersection ... my former boss Bruce from Molecular Dynamics, was a marathon bicyclist. He'd ride his bike 25 miles each direction to work and back most days, with an occasional extra 50 miles up and down Mt. Hamilton just to warm up a little. On one of his way-too-common Sunday afternoon century rides (100 miles), he rode up and down Highway 84. This is a steep, incredibly curvy stretch of road, which is among the reason the (motor-powered) cyclists love it. And the cops love to tag 'em and add to the small community of Woodside's financial kitty. Bruce was flying down Hwy 84 one Sunday and was pulled over by a local gendarme, who clocked him at nearly 50 mph (in a 35 zone) while heading down the hill. Being a polite sort, he accepted the ticket, but urged the cop to concentrate on the Suzuki and Yamaha crowd who took this hill at twice that speed. Easy pickin's, city revenue, I suppose.

Anyway, the decision was easy, of course we'd come up to visit. And to make it even more fun, our friend Marie would join us as well. Marie and I have been friends for 35 years or so, and she's one of my favorite people of all time. Celeste is a "newer" friend who I've only known for about 22 years. I choose my friends carefully and hang onto them forever.

Colleen had planned to make a salad and do some stuffed zucchini from her garden. Being the wise-ass-know-it-all cook of the family, I offered to help her with the zucchini or provide a recipe. Good thing she declined, as her sausage stuffed giant zucchini was some of the best I've ever had. Celeste through together a wonderfully balanced mixed green salad with a simple vinaigrette, which was perfect and totally hit the spot.

Rum and Coke's progressed to a wonderful Ridge Zinfandel, which Colleen loves and hordes. I was honored. She actually dragged out a 1995 Silver Oak Alexander Valley and asked which we'd prefer ... her favorite being the Ridge. Good choice, we devoured it.

I had minimal time to prepare, so I opted for a Lunardi's Boston Cream, and made my variation of a Moroccan Chicken and Couscous Salad. I originally found this on, but like most of my dishes, modified it over the years to the way I like it. Goes something like this:

Main Ingredients
3 cups of chicken broth (I used Swanson's low sodium fat-free)
1 1/2 cups of dry uncooked couscous (buy it in bulk, it's very versatile)
2 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 cups of snow peas, fresh or frozen, cooked to al dente (blanched)
2 tablespoons of currants or raisins (currants work better if you can get them)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 cup of toasted almonds, chopped coarse

2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of curry powder
- or - 1/2 tsp of curry powder and a 1/2 tsp of Ras El Hanout, which is what I use
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

1 whole or two half boneless skinless breasts, seasoned with lemon pepper, cooked and cut into 1/2 inch diced chunks

1. Bring the chicken broth to a boil, stir in the couscous, parsley and thyme. Return to a boil, remove from the heat, stir, cover, let stand for 5 minutes. Stir to combine, after 5 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together

3. Add the couscous, add the snow peas, chicken, scallions, red pepper, and currants, stir to combine all the ingredients

4. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, top with a sprinkle of toasted walnuts

Best garnish is a real Moroccan harissa, which can be purchased from Zamouri Spices (and elsewhere). Great stuff - warn your guests that it's a tad spicy before they spoon on a couple tablespoons of it.

Great food, best of friends, wonderful way to spend a warm Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Bend Fourth

Our friends Barb and Chuck have arguably the best view of the fireworks in Bend, OR. And they've made a tradition of putting on an annual barbeque that consistently shines as brightly as the fireworks that light up the sky over Pilot Butte. This year's festivities were the best yet, and this event just keeps getting better. We saw a number of old friends, met some new ones, and made friends with a gorgeous golden retriever named Buster, who several people threatened to kidnap and take home with them. In light of the fact that Buster's "people" are gone more than home, this would be an easy task, and was nearly pulled off!

Guests brought a wonderful array of appetizers, wines, beer, desserts, etc. Chuck, who's a master bartender kept busy shaking and serving martinis and margaritas. I had no problem with the two Kettle One's with twists, but called it quits there, since it was in fact the 4th, and there were nuts on the road, cops having a heyday pulling them over, plus my own precious cargo riding with me. I left the party sober at 11:30, which is how I intended. Holidays in particular are great days to either stay at home, or plan to be among the safe and sane on the road. It's amateur night, and all the crazies seem to crawl out of the woodwork with half a heat on. Not me.

Pilot Butte sticks up like the hump on a Dromedary camel, smack dab in the middle of Bend. This is Oregon's high desert, and "humps" of any kind are as rare as the water that camels can go so far without. This one rises about 500 feet above the surrounding 3600 foot elevation of this part of Central Oregon. And it's the ideal spot for what's advertised as the biggest 4th of July display in Oregon. It's a good one. Barb and Chuck live on Awbrey Butte (golf country), and their street provides the perfect vantage point for watching the fireworks.

One of the more interesting aspects of moving to Oregon, was the huge difference in the length of days and nights, over our former home in Northern California. The difference of 500 miles makes for way shorter winter days, and amazingly long summer days and much later sunsets. Our first year up there was quite an eye-opener. We parked in a parking lot on the south side of Pilot Butte, assuming the fireworks would start around 8, as is the case in the Bay Area. We were shocked to learn that we had another two hour wait, as it wouldn't be dark until 10! The sun's up a little after 4:30 AM, and it's light out well after 9:30 in the high desert. But it's always worth the wait, and the Pilot Butte fireworks consistently draw the usual oooh's and aaah's from the crowd, whether watching them live from on the Butte, or from virtually anywhere in town, since they're visible from all over the compact community of 75,000 people.

Since we've virtually cleaned out our house, and moved all of our possessions (including all my cooking supplies) to either the current residence on the San Francisco peninsula, or into boxes in the garage. The intent was to rent the house out, but each time we visit it just gets tougher and tougher to leave it, and I want it to remain our home. I was born and raised, and currently live and work in the Bay Area, but my home has become Bend.

So as my utensil and cooking supplies were limited, I opted to do ribs. I brought a decent supply of my Rubbit dry rub with me, as well as a couple baking trays, tin foil, and a few assorted goodies. I bought a package of three full baby back ribs from Costco, which I maintain is the best meat and fish you can get, short of being a restaurant or the government. Butcher Bob, who was my instructor for the Butchery class at the California Culinary Academy, convinced us of this fact, which was based on 30 years as a meat cutter before his "second career" as an instructor at the CCA.

The plan was to marinate them overnight, start them on the (real) barbeque for about an hour, then apply a mop to them, wrap them up, and finish them low and slow in the oven.

My Baby Back Ribs
RUBBIT Dry Rub, ingredients:
3 parts: paprika, coarse salt, black pepper
2 parts: Coleman's dry mustard, any generic Italian seasoning, granulated garlic, granulated onion
1 part cayenne powder

RUBBIT Mop ingredients:
2 tablespoons of RUBBIT dry rub, 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, cup of apple cider (or juice), 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- Sprinkle and RUB IN a few tablespoons of the dry rub, double wrap in aluminum foil, refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, take the ribs out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature an hour before they'll hit the BBQ.
- Prepare a BBQ (gas works, charcoal with mesquite is better). Move the coals to one side and put the ribs OFF HEAT, fat side down. Temperature should be 200-250 degrees.
- Cook for 30 minutes, watching the temperature, turn over and cook another 30 minutes.

- Prepare the mop: In a small saucepan, combine the ingredients and bring to a simmer.
- Preheat your indoor oven to 275 degrees.
- Line a cookie sheet with foil to lay the ribs on.
- Transfer the ribs to the sheet, coat both sides with the mop, STACK them on top of each other, wrap securely in a couple layers of foil.
- Cook the ribs, wrapped in foil, without disturbing them, at 275 degrees, for 3 full hours.
- Remove from the oven, allow them to settle for 15 minutes, remove from the foil, brush another layer of mop (or BBQ sauce of your choice) on top, cut either individually or 3 to 4 rib pieces to serve.

There's nothing better than a great cole slaw and/or cornbread muffins with these, but you're on your own for sides. The process is what counts - overnight marinating, start them at room temperature, cook OFF HEAT on the BBQ, wrap them in foil, low heat for 3 hours in the oven.

I brought 3 full racks, which came to just shy of eight pounds. The 14 guests devoured them in about a half hour, so I'm assuming they were good ...