Sunday, May 31, 2015

Basque Lamb


      We so thoroughly enjoyed the Basque cultural influence of northern Nevada this past winter that we purchased 20 pounds of lamb from a local rancher including a rack of lamb, 4 tenderloins, several lamb chops, and a very nice 5 pound leg of lamb.  Nearly all of this has already been devoured either by us or during our visit to Mom's.  Lamb is a very good meat.  The taste is more closely akin to pork, but with a somewhat sweeter taste.

      For many years I would always smoke a leg of lamb in the spring over cherry wood after a Chardonnay/Mint marinade for a week.   This year I wanted to try something completely different, most notably Basque.  Once thawed the lamb is marinated in the following for 4-5 days: 

4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 Tb salt
12 peppercorns, crushed
8 allspice berries, crushed
8 juniper berries, crushed
1/2 Tb thyme
1 bay leaf, crushed
2   3" inch strips of orange zest
1 white onion, peeled and quartered
1 bottle of red wine, your choice

Let marinade in refrigerator for 4-5 days, turning several times daily.  Remove roast from marinade and dry well.  Save marinade.  Rub with olive oil.  Place roast in roasting pan.  Top with additional seasonings and rosemary sprigs.  Roast at 300 degrees allowing 25 minutes per pound.  Baste every 30 minutes with heated marinade.  Transfer to a platter, strain juices in pan, and remove excess fat (there will be some).  Strain any remaining marinade and add to pan juices.  Cook juices down to 2 cups. 

      Slice the lamb thinly and serve topped with juice.  I accompanied this with Basque Potatoes and a nice salad.  A very nice addition to this meal was the visit by Jody and Juanita Arnold, good friends of ours from Salado, TX.  We were honored to share this meal with them.  Thanks to another good friend of mine, Jesse Shanks of San Marcos, TX I served a very nice Terre Siciliane Nero D'Avola red wine which held up well against this meal.   
     This recipe for lamb was delicious.  In addition to the compliments of our guests, Barb and I found this to have finer flavor than our previous Chardonnay Mint Marinade.  The potatoes and salad were delicious sides and the wine was the perfect accompaniment.  We followed up the meal with some Pecan Pie and a bit of ice cream to complete the experience.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Brief Geologic History of the U.S. (or how we learned to love rock hounding)

     My first introduction to rock hounding and polishing was through my grandfather in the early 60s.  He ran a small tumbler in his basement and introduced me to the wonders of Agates, Tiger's Eye, Opal, and Apache Tears.  I thought they were cool and kept a few for years.  About 10 years ago my best friend started to tumble a few of his own after several trips to Montana where he gave me several really beautiful Montana Moss Agates, probably still my favorite to this day.  To this day I still keep a small moss agate in my pocket as a good luck charm.  Little did I realize that Barb and I would so thoroughly enjoy this passion during our travels that we would actually plan trips around it.  Even before retirement we made several trips to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in search of Lake Superior Agates, Jasper, Unakite, Fossils, Copper, and various lesser known varieties.  The UP is a treasure chest of the geologic history of North America.  The lakes themselves are evidence of the contoured path the great glaciers carved throughout their tour during the Ice Age. 

      I am still in the 'rookie' stage, having accumulated basic equipment, but a lack of area to display my treasures.  I do posses a dual 3 pound tumbler. well as a much larger 12 pound tumbler for larger loads of rocks. 
      Each batch of rocks from start to finish through the rough, fine, pre-polish, and final polish processes takes 8 weeks.  Of course any stones that you have jewelry aspirations for have to be shaped and drilled prior to polishing.  We are only beginning to experiment with this process this summer.   
      There is a virtual catalog of the different types of tumblers and polishing accessories, but suffice it to say that I have been very happy with my Thumler's Tumblers.  Their durable (and quiet) rubber barrels do a fine job with easy access to any spare parts needed.  Of course I now buy my polishing media in bulk sizes.  
      I was also fortunate enough to receive an older table model wet tile saw from my buddy that I equipped with a diamond blade good enough to cut small slabs or cabochons. 
      Although I would like a bigger, more professional rock saw/lapidary setup, the cost is far too prohibitive for my ambitions.  
      Retirement further broadened the opportunities to explore our passion.  Since April 2014 we spent the summer in Alaska and toured the U.S. from Michigan to Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas enroute back home.  Rockhounding for us has been leisurely exercise combined with relaxation and enjoying the great outdoors.  In addition, Barb has dabbled into the prospecting arena throughout our travels as well.  She panned for gold in Alaska, although she felt it was too much work for little reward.   
       She has had much more success panning for sapphires in Montana.  In two trips she has accumulated nearly 160 sapphires, including 9 gem quality stones that are being heated and faceted as I write this. 
      Interestingly, not all sapphires are naturally blue.  They have to be heat treated to obtain this color.  ONLY the Yogo Sapphires from near Utica, Montana are naturally cornflower blue.  These gems are fairly rare and expensive.  Even Princess Diana had one on her engagement ring; now Prince William's wife, Kate, wears it. 
      We also did a little prospecting along the shores of Ruby Resevoir in SW Montana this past trip.  Garnets are actually small slivers, sometimes pebble size, of Rubys.  Barb didn't find many of any size, but did accumulate nearly an ounce for her work. 


      We returned with probably 100 pounds of rocks from our recent winter trip.  This is but a brief sampling and history of some of them, both cut/polished and rough. 
 First of all, agates. 
      Most agates occur as nodules in volcanic rocks or ancient lavas, in former cavities produced by volatiles in the original molten mass, which were then filled, wholly or partially, by siliceous matter deposited in regular layers upon the walls. Agate has also been known to fill veins or cracks in volcanic or altered rock underlain by granitic intrusive masses. Such agates, when cut transversely, exhibit a succession of parallel lines, giving a banded appearance to the section. Such stones are known as banded agate, riband agate and striped agate.  In the formation of an ordinary agate, it is probable that waters containing silica in solution—derived, perhaps, from the decomposition of some of the silicates in the lava itself—percolated through the rock and deposited a siliceous coating on the interior of the vesicles. Variations in the character of the solution or in the conditions of deposition may cause a corresponding variation in the successive layers, so that bands of chalcedony often alternate with layers of crystalline quartz.
       Agates collected in Alaska come from various locations.  We explored the regions of the western edge of the Kenai Peninsula where agates are fairly common and come as a result of the frequent eruptions of Mount Redoubt, far to the west.  Salamatof, Nikiski, and Discovery beaches.   There is no real banding in Alaskan Agates due to the fact that the volcanic material, once blasted from Mount Redoubt and other volcanoes cools nearly instantly when landing in Cook Inlet, the Yukon River, or the Gulf of Alaska. 
      Montana Moss Agate…..Montana moss agate is found in the alluvial gravels of the Yellowstone River and its tributaries between Sidney and Billings, Montana. It was originally formed in the Yellowstone National Park area of Wyoming as a result of volcanic activity. In Montana moss agate the red color is the result of iron oxide and the black color is the result of manganese oxide.  Although it looks very much like embedded moss, these are actually dendrites, which in the best samples look very much like little trees or plants.  
      Crazy Lace Agate is a variety of banded Chalcedony, a mineral of the Quartz family. It is predominantly white, with layers of creamy browns, blacks and grays. Some may include layers of yellow ochre, gold, scarlet and red. FOUND SOUTHWESTERN NM
Petrified Wood: 
Found in many places......nuff said! 

       Malachite is a copper carbonate hydroxide mineral This opaque, green banded mineral crystallizes in the monoclinic crystal system, and most often forms botryoidal, fibrous, or stalagmitic masses, in fractures and spaces, deep underground, where the water table and hydrothermal fluids provide the means for chemical precipitation.  Much like rust is to iron, malachite is to copper.

      Jasper is another of the harder minerals that takes many different colors depending on where you find it.  Usually red or brown in the UP, sometimes brown and banded in Texas.  Amazingly, even though Jasper is nearly as hard as agate, it sometimes takes on a delicate appearance.  Picture Jasper is just a jasper, but of such quality that it seems to represent scenery and when polished very nearly a desert picture.   

Rough geodes
Sliced Crystal Blue geodes
Large Baker Ranch Crystal geode 

Little Blue geodes
      Geodes are nodules erupted from volcanoes distribute the molten rock, quartz, and silica laden balls miles from the source……sometimes called Thunder Eggs, Dinosaur Eggs, or even Raptor Eggs.  The surprise is what’s inside, from agates to crystal to nearly anything. 

      These are my favorite.  Baker Ranch Geodes which originate from the Baker Ranch, 35 miles SW of Deming, NM.  These geodes exhibit redish brown agate material found rarely outside this area.  It is one of the few areas that exhibit agate centers with rich colors. 
      These are not even all of the rocks we brought back from our latest trip.  Many are still waiting to be cut and polished and some are already in the tumblers.  We get done with our normal summer chores around here in the next couple of weeks we're going to head out again in the RV to the Upper Peninsula in search of..........





Monday, May 11, 2015

Tabasco Smokin' Firehouse Pork Ribs

      Although it is now very much spring here in Northern Michigan and my cooking intuition normally shifts into full gear for BBQ or smoking meat outside, sometimes the weather isn't on the same schedule I am.  There is one rib recipe that I can make anytime of year.  Pork ribs usually scream for wood smoke or an open grill, but Tabasco has a recipe that I have used several times year around, always with great results. 
      McIlhenny and Company holds an annual competition allowing firemen to trade in their Turnout Coats and Scott Packs for aprons and spice racks.  Firefighters across the U.S. compete for the title of America’s “Hottest” Firehouse Cook and a $10,000 Grand Prize in the TABASCO® Cook & Ladder® Competition.  

      Visiting this website you can see there are many tantalizing recipes.  I have had great results with this one, the best part being you can prepare it anywhere/anytime.   The use of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce adds a distinctive SW flavor which is delicious.  This recipe was a finalist in the third national TABASCO® Cook & Ladder® Competition, submitted by firefighter Greg Drazkowski, Menomonie Fire Department, Wisconsin.  These ribs are delicious and have only a mild heat, but are not HOT/Spicy.  You can, however, adjust the Tabasco amounts according to your own tastes. 
      With any BBQ the most important part for any good cook is to select the best possible cut of meat, in this case a nice rack of pork spareribs.  Meaty, with some marbled fat equals taste!   I've never tried it with beef ribs, but it is an interesting idea.

      I look for a balanced amount of meat to fat ratio, but will still trim the excess fat and any remaining chine bone interference from the ribs before cooking.  I cut the ribs into 2 rib sections and then place in a large baking pan with some water, covered, and baked for about 90 minutes. 
      Next, you combine all the ingredients into a sauce pan (and it is a considerable amount).  Place it on the stove and bring heat to boil, then turn down to simmer while stirring (I use a whisk).  You have the luxury to simmer these, while occasionally stirring, for awhile if needed. 

      After 90 minutes uncover the ribs and pour desired (but not all) amount of sauce over the ribs and place back into the oven uncovered for an additional 45 minutes.  When finished you may serve with additional sauce on the side if you like.  This meal is delicious with corn on the cob, mashed taters, baked beans, steamed vegees, cornbread, or any combination you might desire. 
These ribs are tender, delicious, and only a bit spicy.....the perfect year-round dish for those looking to satisfy their BBQ Jones amytime.  So, the next time you're hankerin' for ribs and the weather isn't you go.

WiFi courtesy of my IPhone tethered Hot Spot