Braising – Pork Chile Verde

If you’ve ever had pot roast, Swiss steak, beef stew, or stewed chicken…you’ve had braised meat.

Braising – it sounds different than what it really is.  It’s not grilling or broiling.  Typically, braising is the slow cooking of less tender cuts of meat in some sort of liquid.  The meat may first be seared if desired. It can be done on the stove or in the oven.  You can braise pork, beef, chicken, or even vegetables.  It is what our mothers and grandmothers did for years but probably didn’t know it was called braising.

This post will feature MY version of Braised Pork in a Chile Verde Sauce (Pork Chile Verde).  There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks who make it – that’s my usual disclaimer and I’m sticking to it!   And, as always, my recipes are amalgams of several I’ve read about over the years – I am not reinventing the wheel, or, pork chile verde as it were. There are only two things that are given:  pork and liquid.  The types of vegetables, especially the chiles, the liquid, and seasonings are entirely up to you.  Generally speaking, chile verde is green (duh!) and contains either tomatillos or green chiles or a combination of both – thus, the green. Use more (and hotter) chiles, more heat.   By the way, if you’re ever in the southwest, ie, Albuquerque, you will always be asked this question at most restaurants, “Red…or green?”  My buddy, Bob, and long time ABQ resident warned me when I visited a few years ago, “Please don’t embarrass me or yourself by asking, “What does that mean?” when they ask you what kind of sauce you prefer.  It’s a regional thing you know!

There are a couple of ways of approaching this dish.  One, make the chile verde and braise the pork separately.  Or, braise the pork ribs in the chile verde.  I chose the latter – much richer flavor profile in my opinion.

1 pound boneless pork country style ribs
2 tbsps canola oil
Kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 cup diced yellow onions
1 medium Anaheim chile (roasted, skin & seeds removed, diced)
1 medium poblano chile (seeds removed diced)
1 medium jalapeno chile (seeds removed, diced)
2 medium tomatillos (roasted, skin & core removed, diced)
2 garlic cloves (minced)
2 tsps ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tbsps corn starch
grated queso fresco

Season pork ribs with salt & pepper & brown on all sides in oil in hot pan, remove, set aside.  In same pan, sweat onions, poblano until soft (do not brown).  Add garlic & cumin for 1 more minute.  Add pork ribs back to pan with juices.  Add chicken stock, enough to barely cover ribs.  Add tomatillos & anaheim chiles & bay leaf.  Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours or until ribs begin to fall apart.  Add more liquid if needed.  Remove ribs and set aside.  Add cilantro.  Using an immersion blender (or in a food processor) blend mixture leaving some texture to the vegetables.  Mix corn starch with 1 cup water and add to pan, bring to boil to thicken.  Taste and season with salt & pepper.

Serve chile verde over steamed white rice and place pork ribs on top adding more sauce.  Garnish with queso fresco & cilantro.

California Railroad Museum – Sacramento

Loretta and I made the 75 mile jaunt up Highway 99 and Highway 5 from Modesto to Old Town Sacramento yesterday.  Our intent was to visit the California Railroad Museum, and that’s exactly what we did.

The last time we were there was maybe 10 years ago.  It is still a most elegant museum filled with railroad history, California Gold Rush history, and, of course, trains and railroad memorabilia.  For us, a couple of hours was just about right.  I took about 200 photos, saved half of them.  I will judiciously edit the remainder even more, posting a few here.

Quite honestly, the only down side: groups of running and screaming school kids!  I was told by a docent that this day was very light on kid tours compared to some other days of the week.  Some of them were a bit more coached and controlled than others, but it’s always a distraction in that environment.  Quite a curmudgeon I’ve become about things like that – and proud of it!

It does cost $10 to get in for Adults, a fact that Loretta kept questioning, “Did we have to pay the last time we were here?”  “Yes, honey…we did.  More like $7 a few years ago though”.  It was worth the entrance fee, even if you’re not a fervent train buff.

Docents are distributed about the displays and train cars, many of which you can actually walk through but not all.  They are well-constructed and well-maintained.  The docents themselves are very helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable – most of which dressed in old time railroad costumes.

The sheer size and magnitude of the old engines, many of them steam or oil powered, is staggering.  They are gigantic relics from the past that really echo a more civilized, bygone era of travel and shipping.  Standing so close to them gives one a feeling of awe that is hard to describe or show on a television screen.

There are older trains from the 1800’s as well as some from the 30’s and 40’s, all of which long since retired from service. We particularly got a kick out of the passenger cars that offered berthing and dining.  I was told the fair from Chicago to L.A. in 1937 was $160, which, back in those times seemed quite extravagant…and it was…not easily affordable to any but the well-to-do, especially in the fashion that these cars offered.

Each table in this dining car had a different style of dishes used in those days.  They’re under plastic covered for loss prevention.  By the way, the incredible dining available on some of these routes was not included in the fair.

I would highly recommend a visit to the California Railroad Museum, rail fan or not.  Young kids?  Not so much.  Although there is an extensive model train exhibit on the mezzanine.  Also, be aware photographers, they don’t allow tripods and the lighting is very subdued.  Be prepared to hold your camera still and use a higher ISO (I just put mine on Auto and let the camera do the work).  For us oldsters, there are plenty of benches to sit, relax, and gawk at these behemoths.  It was quite enjoyable.

Prometheus – Alien re-imagined?

I finally saw Prometheus the other day, downloaded from iTunes in HD.  Before and after seeing this Ridley Scott so-called prequel to 1979’s Alien, I read many reviews, most of which entirely too analytical in reference to it’s deeper meanings and to it’s obvious tie in to the original ground-breaking classic, Alien.

Let it be known this review will be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, however…I highly recommend seeing it – rent it, buy it, or download it.

For me, Prometheus is not so much of a prequel to Alien as it is a wonderful excuse for Scott to kind of re-imagine this storyline with access to all the movie magic bells and whistles available today versus 1979. Let’s put it this way:  I totally got into the film from beginning to end.  To coin a couple of cinematic phrases, Prometheus is visually stunning with a plot that raises more questions than providing answers to we Alien fans.  Ridley Scott (I’m a big fan) is totally in his element here:  sci-fi.

I will try not too provide many spoilers, although it would be difficult to write this review without divulging a few.  So be warned if you haven’t yet seen it.

In the smallest of nutshells, here’s the premise.  After discovering some ancient cave drawings on earth depicting Chariots of the Gods type drawings, two scientists are hired by the head of Weyland Corporation to travel to the distant part of the universe indicated in the drawings – this in hopes of finding out what they mean, ie, how they relate to the origin of mankind.

Set in 2093 (about 30 years prior to the time period in Alien), the crew arrives on a moon of this distant planet (LV-223, not the same moon from Alien, LV-426 by the way) and land near a long-abandoned pyramid-looking installation.  Backing up for a moment to the opening scene – a large, muscular, pale-skinned humanoid is seen on the edge of a huge waterfall…the location is not revealed although it could be Earth, perhaps not.  He unscrews some sort of jar and ingests the contents sending him into convulsions and decay.  Falling into the waterfall, he is shown sort of dissolving into the water.  Now, back to LV-223.  The crew explores the labyrinth inside the structure…they find a huge stone idol of the pale guy from the beginning of the movie, but no life…yet.  Soon after, chaos, running, horror, and screaming ensues courtesy of the presence of snake-like creatures that grow from this black ooze coming out of man made (not eggs) cylinders.  Several crew members are dispatched and the rest retreat to the ship for now.  Of course they bring back to the ship stuff from the labyrinth that they shouldn’t…to study, of course.  More chaos from here on out!

Now, some of the characters – here we go, Alien revisited.  There’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, one of the scientists (Noomi Rapace, from the Swedish versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)…hmmm, Ripley? And Meredith Vickers, Weyland Corporation antagonist boss of the expedition, (Charlize Theron, somewhat miscast but pleasing to watch doing pushups in her underwear near the beginning)…hmmm, Carter Burke?  Peter Weyland, head of Weyland Corporation, (Guy Pearce in somewhat comical old, old man makeup)…hmmm, Charles Bishop Weyland?  And, of course, David, the synthetic human and Weylands’ uberly-devoted corporate minion, (Michael Fassbender, Inglourius Basterds)…hmmm, Ash?  Plus a collection of the usual space team misfits, one was a tattooed skinhead type with a mohawk!  It seems in the future, astronauts are not required to pass any kind of psychological screenings.  None of them seemed to have The Right Stuff!

Noomi Rapace (Dr. Shaw) totally gets to reprise Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in this movie.  She’s the female heroin and (here comes a spoiler) the only survivor lest you count the severed head and body of the “replicant”, David, that she drags along with her to pilot an alien spaceship off into space and to the land of Prometheus 2.  Fade to black?  Not quite.  The ending scene provides a final nod to the original Alien.  Yes, a somewhat similar version of Giger’s iconic xenomorph bad guy “bursts” out and reveals itself.  Unfortunately, this one looks a bit more like a Tim Burton image from Beetlejuice.  Sorry Alien fans…I can say that since I am one of you.

If you’re an Alien fan, a sci-fi fan, or just a good popcorn flick fan…check it out.  It’s a fun, exciting movie that, for us Alien fans, at least reveals more information about that giant, fossilized “space jockey” in the derelict spacecraft on LV-426!  Great CG/visual effects not used gratuitously mind you.

Oh, and one more thing.  It’s worth the price of a “ticket” or rental just to see Noomi Repace running around sweaty in her underwear in one scene.  Did I tell you she is also a great actress and really seemed to immerse herself in this role?  Fassbender was pretty much of a scene stealer as well.

Seattle – to move or not to move, that is the question.

I flew to Seattle last week for a five-day visit.  First and foremost, I wanted to see and spend some time with my daughter, Jen, my son-in-law, Roth, and my grandson, Rowan.  They have lived there now for (I hope this is right) 7 years.  It appears they will be there at least another seven or so.  They like Seattle and all that it has to offer a young, growing family.

I also looked forward to being in Seattle itself.  I really like Seattle as well. Besides wanting to move there for radio jobs almost 30 years ago (I applied many times with no bites), the thought of living there now is even more attractive.  The actual specter of moving, not so much.

So I have been asking myself why I would like to move there.  Of course, the obvious is being in much closer proximity to my first born child, her husband, their first born child, and soon to be second born (code name:  Snickerdoodle…sorry, Jen, it just sounded cute) arriving in April.  If it wasn’t for them in residence in Seattle, I most likely would not consider a move like that despite my infatuation with the Emerald City.  At my age, there is no attraction regarding job opportunities as I consider myself, at the least, semi-retired and done with climbing any ladder for a work related motivator.
For me, I haven’t decided if the Seattle Pros outweigh the Cons.  Let’s get the Cons out of the way first.  The weather –  Eeeegad!  What an enigma?  Need I remind myself how much it rains there and Loretta’s aversion to living full time in a rain-soaked environment?  I love the wet stuff and have no problem existing inside for months at a time.  However, Loretta has also seemed to arrived at a time in her life where she is quite sick of the stifling heat we get here in Modesto a good six months of the year.  It is noteworthy to mention at this point that they have experienced (and still are) a record run of rainlessness this year.  This on the heels of a couple of the wettest years in a while.  It was sunny and mild while I was there.

The next Con: traffic.  Yeah, not great.  Let’s face it, Seattle is a big city although quite compact compared to an L.A. or San Francisco.  The downtown area proper is ringed with 10-lane highways that feed cars filled with one person each from the outlying areas to the north, south, and east.  West is water – Puget Sound, where ferries handle most of the commuters.

The actual move itself – I’m not convinced I’m up for that physically. And, finding a place to live and part time jobs seems a bit overwhelming at times.  Plus, the cost of living in Seattle may be prohibitive for us at this point in our lives.  It ain’t cheap.

If it sounds like I’m trying to talk myself out of a move to Seattle…not so.  I’m just being my (now) usual pragmatic self compared to years ago when I was a tad more impetuous in nature.

The Pros of becoming a Seattleite should be obvious, but I will list a few anyway.  The culture of this town is so distanced from where we are now, it’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t lived, visited, or read about Seattle.  The preponderance of fine eateries, museums, the arts, theater, concerts, pro-sports (although I am not a sports fan of any sort), the scenic beauty of the surrounding area, the availability of great seafood, year round farmer’s markets, the attitude of sustainability, the lakes, boats, and rivers, the clean, fresh, northwest air, the overall quality of life, the photo opps, more Mini-Coopers than pickup trucks, readily-available pork belly, and living near Jen, Roth, and Rowan just to name a few Pros that are important to yours truly.

My grandson, Rowan, is becoming quite the active, precocious, chatterbox.  At 3 1/2, he seems much older.  We had opportunities to play ball, attempt to “learn” him solitaire on my iPad, and just hang out and talk.  Oh yes, he talks!  His black and white statements about his environment and things in general are very provocative and intuitive to say the least.  Did I tell you how well he plays on his own.  Dirt is one of his favorite mediums for expression at this point.  Finding a “good stick” at the park provided him what seemed like hours of adventure.  Of course, attempting to drag him out of his play world at times was a challenge.  But he responds well to simple bribery.  I hope he remembers his visits with Grandpa Skip as I am missing him already.

Speaking of visits, this may well be what the future holds for us.  In lieu of moving there, we will at least plan more trips to Seattle.  We would all like to go to Vancouver, Canada, a mere 150 miles or so north.  Portland is 170 miles south.  Jen and I talked about Disneyland in about a year, Rowan should be old enough to appreciate it by then.  And, Jen’s baby will be a few months old and relatively easier to care for on a sojourn like to The Happiest Place on Earth.  They plan a Christmas trip to our area this year. When I go back to work in a couple weeks, I have restricted my schedule availability to part time, allowing more opportunities for travel.

No moving decisions or timelines have been set down yet.  It is certainly not an impossibility at some point.  I had a great time there.  I got to cook a couple of meals for them and dine out at a few Seattle restaurants.  Spending a few hours on my own at Pike Place got it out of my system for a while!  They will be moving to a larger,  new (old) house closer to the city this week and I got to see it in person.  It’s very quaint and in a rustic, older neighborhood near parks and shopping…and a bit closer to where they work.

In the meantime, Jen and I remain close like that line from the movie E.T., “I’ll always be right here”.

Check out some recent Seattle photos here.

Go the dentist – now, not later!

Warning:  this will not be a sugar-coated account of my recent visits to the dentist.

I had my own teeth for 62 years and 9 months…not accounting the first years of life when they were still coming in.

Early on, I went to the dentist as a child on a regular basis (thanks, Mom & Dad).  After leaving home, those visits to the local giver of pain became less and less frequent.  As as teenager, I even had braces for a couple of years.  I had a nice, straight smile.  But over the years, neglect, based on extreme dentist fear, has led me to to be what I am now:  a wearer of dentures.

Understand that I now have a great set of choppers, albeit at this point in time, they are more for decoration than function.  It takes a while to get used to the foreign “appliances” in my mouth and to learn how to make them function properly, ie, eat, chew, talk.  Most of the drooling the first days following has subsided!

The decision to move in this direction was not a hard one.  Over the years, especially the past two years my dental situation had deteriorated quite a lot.  Between old fillings breaking up, a few extractions, and another several “falling outs”, it was time to (pardon the pun) pull the cord!  The chemotherapy seemed to expedite this.

After the initial xrays, exam, and consultation, the dentist agreed that dentures would be a judicious move for me.  The old ones would come out, and the new ones would go in.  Let me say at this point in time, “implants” were not an option, mostly do to the extravagant cost – about $1000 per tooth – times 32, you get the picture.  And that wouldn’t include the extensive exodontist surgery leading up to new teeth.  Hell, George Washington had false teeth at a much younger age, of course they were made of wood, but now things are different.  Let me say this right now before I get into the procedure.  What hasn’t changed?  The pain involved with having that many teeth extracted.  And, in my case, I opted for having them done all at once, in one sitting.

Here’s the deal.  There isn’t enough novacaine in a dentist office to offset the pain and discomfort one experiences with extractions, especially that many at one time.  Yes, I was conscious the whole time.  I am a bit surprised there aren’t straps on the side of the chair for your arms for this type of agenda.

I could have had the teeth yanked in four separate sessions, one every couple of weeks or so.  Again, I chose for all at once to, number one, get it done in a shorter amount of time, and number two, I wouldn’t have to go through four different periods of anxiety leading to the next appointments.  Ah, dentist anxiety!  That’s what got me here in the first place.  “Let’s just do it!”, I told the nice little, Asian female dentist.  “OK”, she said, “We make you nice new teeth – we make you nice dentures”.  No, I didn’t go abroad for this…it was in Modesto.  She was very comforting.  That day, I got impressions made and chose the shade and size of my new teeth.  The shade “samples” were hung on a little rack, side by side.  On one end were overly-white, toilet porcelain colored teeth.  The other end were teeth that looked liked Boston baked beans!  Who would ever choose that?  I surmised they were for people in need of “partials” and wanted a match to their 50 years of smoking teeth.  I chose a shade somewhere in the middle.  And I also had to choose a size.  I certainly didn’t want Mr. Ed choppers, but did go for a size a bit larger than the dentist recommended.  My case was off to the denture technician…and I was on the way home for a 3 week wait.

Do to my medical conditions, I had to get clearance from my doctor(s).  This led to a consultation with the dentist/manager of the office.  It went something like this…”I must tell you”, he said in a very stern tone, “that this procedure you are having will not be easy.  I just want you to know that it will be painful, and, it will remain painful for days following”.  I can’t say that I was shocked or surprised with this disclosure, I kind of expected it.  He also went on to say that he will guarantee that they will not only look good, they will function properly…eventually.  He said it is more of a concern for me (him) that they function properly than look good.  I wanted at that point to remind him of Billy Crystal’s Fernando Lama’s impression, “You know…it’s better to look good than to feel good!” – but I declined.  I just wanted to get out of there, go back home, and worry…2 weeks to go.

Surgery day…

Getting injected with copious amounts of novacaine is at times worse than the procedure itself.  In this case, it was no different…pretty much of a toss up on the discomfort scale.  I laid there in the chair for what seemed an eternity as the anesthetic took affect.  My whole face from the nose down was “gone”.  Touching my nose and lips was almost nightmarish in itself – they weren’t mine any longer.  It felt like someone else’s skin.  So be it – let’s get this show on the road!

From the time Doctor S&M got started until he said, “We’re done!”…maybe an hour and a half.  That time period seemed like the longest hour and a half I ever spent.  Without sounding like I’m describing a scene out of the movie “Hostel”, each and every extraction was a painful, crunching, cracking wrestling match.  Even though I tried to keep my eyes closed during most heinous bouts, I did catch glimpses of large, long stainless steel instruments, various forms of plier-like tools, more novacaine syringes, and teeth being dropped into small plastic cups right in front of my eyes.  “Aren’t they supposed to keep those visions out of the patient’s sight?” I kept asking myself.  The dentist kept asking me, “Are you OK?”.  I would nod my head and he would get back to work.  He did continue to tell me what a great patient I was being under these circumstances – “Some patients don’t handle this as well” he reassured me.  And then…it was over.  “We’re done”, he said, “Now a few sutures and it’s over”.

He stitched me up, reiterated what a great patient I was, and he was gone.  The original little, Asian lady dentist reappeared…with my new teeth in hand.  She removed the large amount of bloody gauze and without much of a pause popped the upper and lower plates into my bloody mouth.  Yes, a lot of blood.  She handed me a hand mirror.  I hesitated to look, but did anyway.  I couldn’t see much save for the blood on my new teeth.

At this point, she said I needed to leave them in for at least 3 days and she would make an appointment for 10 days out for a “soft reline”.  “Have a nice day!”  I was out of there lickity split.  I made my way out to the lobby and waved at Loretta to follow.  I was in no condition to talk to anyone in the crowed lobby.  “Let’s go!”  I couldn’t talk at that point anyway – the numbness and the foreign objects in my mouth prevented that.

The surgery ended about 11:30.  I spent the remainer of the afternoon in my office chair trying not to drool bloody material out of my bottom lip.  If I kept my head raised up I managed to prevent that.  Throughout the next several hours, the full face and lip numbness subsided, giving way to excruciating, deep pain in my face and jaw.  Strap in, it’s going to be a rough ride just like the manager dentist had warned, he wasn’t far off.  The vicodin prescribed wasn’t nearly as effective as I had anticipated.  In fact, it didn’t really help at all due to the magnitude of the things that were done to me earlier.  Considering all I had done to me during the previous year, I assured myself that it will all soon pass – and, it eventually did.

Now, a few weeks later, as predicted, I am still adjusting to the fit and to minor discomfort on the surface of my gums.  This also will eventually go away.  I still can’t chew much of anything tough with any success, the looseness and soreness prevents that.  It will get better, I know that.  Loretta went through a similar (upper only) process 14 years ago.

I write this somewhat gruesome blog for two reasons.  One, that anyone contemplating getting dentures know exactly what they’re in for.  Yes, perhaps some people are able to have it done with nitrous oxide (laughing gas), but I was not a candidate.  It won’t be fun and there will be a several month adjustment period to include a soft reline in a few weeks, then a hard reline in a few months when everything settles in.  Second, that anyone putting off going to the dentist should  Pay the dentist now, or pay the dentist later…just like car repairs.

I’ve told people many times that my fear level of going to the dentist is way beyond even having something like colon surgery, bipass, or chemotherapy – I’ve done them all.  “Painless” dental work?  Unless you are put totally out (as I had done with a couple of extractions in the past), there is no such thing.  It’s a conundrum to say the least.

In closing, I will tell you that I went to Western Dental in Modesto.  I wouldn’t recommend them.  Even though the dentists and technicians were very capable and professional, the front office staff is a joke!  Mindless, unfriendly, young little girls with little or no people skills, some with really shitty attitudes considering it’s a dentist office.  Geeze, you would have thought they worked at Walmart!  LOL  Wait…Walmart people are friendlier.

Dentures – just another necessary indignity of getting older(er).  But, geeze, to tell the truth, I’ve got a great smile now – almost as good as it used to be.


Beans, beans, the musical fruit…

I’ve been compelled (and remiss) for some time now to do a blog blurb on beans.  But not just any beans – ranch style beans – specifically, Santa Maria BBQ style beans using pinquito beans.

I’ve been a maker of chili (beans) since I was a kid and watched my father making them on occasion.  He was good at it.  And, unfortunately, I really can’t duplicate his recipe as I just don’t remember much about it except for the fact that it was a very simple, uncomplicated recipe.  I’ve accumulated several chili cook books over the years and found bean and chile recipes that had over 30 ingredients in them, some bizarre.  This is relatively simple.  Less is better.

Regarding chili in general, let’s get this out of the way first.  True chili, as touted by true chili heads, has no beans.  Go to any chili cookoff and you will find this out in no time. Traditional, old style chili is seasoned meat in a spicy sauce.  And, believe it or not, the chili from days of old used squirrel meat or any other road-kill rodent/varmint found lying in a trap or on the road.  Today, the meat found in chili runs the gamut but tends to be in the more familiar beef category – often times pork as well.  That being said, onward to the bean yard.

Before I get to my Ranch Bean recipe, here are my favorite three beans.  From left to right, the pinquito, the pinto, and the black bean.

Obviously, the pinto and black bean are very common and available at any grocery store.  Not so much with the pinquito bean, the traditional bean used in Santa Maria style BBQ beans.  They are grown almost exclusively in the Santa Maria Valley and are only found in select stores.  We found ours (in bulk, yeah) at Spencer’s Market in S.L.O. on our last trip down there – $2.19 a pound.  You can also find them at  There is much more information here about S.M. BBQs and pinquito beans than I choose to get into right now.  But know this, the pinquito is an elegant, firm bean that needs to be cooked much longer than a pinto, even more than black beans.  It remains firm and intact almost no matter how long you cook it.  And, get this, is relatively gas-less!  Yup, they are.  Take it from me, I’ve done extensive research in this area!

Being the anal retentive, somewhat hoity-toity foodie type that I have become, I have been known to make large pots of chili and chili beans that went straight to the garbage soon after preparation.  Heck, I’ve done that with many concoctions over the years.  They just didn’t turn out right!  However, this recipe did pass my litmus (taste) test and will remain in my digital cookbook.  But, before you set out and try to duplicate my results, I must tell you that there is one ingredient listed in the recipe that is, well, rather, vague – Skip’s Seasoning Mix.  And, by the way, as in all recipes, it’s how it tastes after seasoning that will determine success or failure.  Here’s a tip…sea salt (or Kosher salt), granulated garlic, fresh ground pepper, granulated onion, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, and ground cumin.  Use these items at your discretion according to your tastes.  Try not to use garlic salt or Lawry’s.  Lawry’s especially is mostly salt, and you always want control over that.  Remember, you can add salt but you can’t take it away.

The ingredient list will follow the photos.

After picking through the beans for rocks and other fodder, soak the beans overnight in a covered pot.  You will find in the morning that pinquitos are still firm.  Drain and rinse the beans, return to the pot and add approximately  2 – quarts of fresh water.

That is a smoked ham hock.  For those of us of a certain age, we’ll recall these from our mother’s or grandmother’s bean recipes.  It is optional in this or any other bean recipe.  However, there is no substitute for the added flavor it gives beans, unless, of course, in the restaurant business.  Cooks will slap in a few table spoons of bean base – a well known element in any busy bistro.

A few cups of beans, water, and a ham hock in a pot cooked for a few hours is meal!

Add the ham hock to the pot, bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer, covered for about 2 hours.  Make sure there is enough water to keep the beans covered.  You can walk away for a while at this point, but don’t get too engrossed in something (or leave the house).  Have you ever smelled burnt beans in a pot that ran out of water?  Keeping the pot covered, I’ve never had a problem…knock on wood.

I used thick sliced peppered bacon. Saute for a few minutes, add onions for about 5 minutes, then garlic for another minute or so (don’t burn the garlic!).   Add all of this and remaining ingredients to the bean pot and cook uncovered for about an hour or until the liquid reduces and it all thickens.

Leave as much liquid or as little as you want, but be careful not to let it dry out, the beans will continue to absorb the liquid.  Season with salt to taste.  I didn’t add any salt at the end as the ham hock and the ham provide plenty of sodium, nor did I add diced tomatoes in this go around.

Let’s face it, beans is beans.  There are as many recipes for Santa Maria style ranch beans as there are cooks.  There are no hard and fast rules for Santa Maria BBQ style beans except, in my opinion, the use of pinquitos.  You can substitute pinto beans but keep in mind the cooking time should be reduced as they tend to fall apart in no time.

Have fun!

The ingredient list:

2 – cups pinquito beans, pick through for rocks

1 – small ham hock – optional

2 – slices thick bacon, 1/2 inch dice

1 – small white, red, or yellow onion, 1/4 inch dice

4 – cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 – cup diced ham (steak)

1 – 14 1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes (no salt added) – optional

1 – medium small can diced green chiles

1 – tsp dry mustard

1 – tbsp Skip’s Seasoning Mix or equivalent amount of spices from above description

1 – tbsp brown sugar

Kosher salt as needed

Just another day on the coast…

We’ve been toying with idea of moving back to the Central Coast for quite some time now.  The plan originally was to be there by now, but health issues got in the way.  No big deal  realign, re-plan, try again.

We have managed to visit our old stomping grounds many times since we moved to the San Joaquin Valley in ’98.  Sometimes just for pleasure and relaxation, sometimes for other reasons, ie, my mother passed away last May…Pismo had been her and my father’s home for almost 40 years.  We were there this past Wednesday and Thursday.

These past two days, the weather was great, the time was short, but at least we had a chance to get away for a couple of days.  We ate some Splash Cafe chowder.  I took some photos.  And I saw some otters and dolphins swimming and feeding just beyond the breakers.  And the sunset was glorious from our perch on the cliffs above the Pacific at our motel, The Seacrest Resort.  And, yes, I got sand in my sandals!

That’s Loretta and our friend Pam at a wine tasting on the roof top patio.

The view from our room near sunset on the 4th floor.

In the morning just before we left.

Where we sit and have morning coffee and watch the ocean.

Loretta – peering over the balcony at me from our room.

I’m heading to Seattle next week to visit Jen, Rowan, and Roth – but, our next trip to the Central Coast is not far off.

More recent Pismo photos here.