Thursday, February 10, 2005

Spent a good portion of this morning making barbecue sauce. Surely you've heard that the map is not the territory. More interestingly, the recipe is not the sauce.

I do know cooks who follow recipes very closely. I generally look at them more as inspiration. And in this case, I made up the recipe myself, so it's clearly a work in progress. Nothing to cling to there.

So -- I started a few years back to develop a barbecue sauce recipe. I knew it should have tomatoes and spiciness to it. A bit of vinegar tang. And I more often bake items with a sauce than actually barbecue over smoke. So a little smoke flavor could certainly help.

So one day, I opened a can of chipotles, took a sniff, and thought -- this smells like barbecue! Aha! Now I know how to get the smokiness and the heat into my sauce! Excellent!

I had a look at other barbecue sauce recipes. None had chipotles in them. Tomatoes, vinegar, sometimes mustard -- there's a lot of variation in them. I wanted one with relatively little sweetness -- no added sugar or corn syrup. I wanted one with a complex flavor. And I wanted to make it from ingredients I could keep on hand.

Onion is always good with meat. Many good recipes start: Saute an onion. Seemed like a good place to start. Butter always tastes rich, and I love garlic, but didn't want it to dominate. So, I started by sauteing half an onion and 2 cloves of garlic in 2 T (tablespoons) of butter. That softened them up nicely, the better to spread them on the meat, later.

In my first iteration, I tried adding some tequila here. Plenty of BBQ sauces seem to have bourbon or the like in them, and I prefer tequila. Didn't seem to add enough flavor to be worth the extra time. I dropped that step in the third trial or so.

Next, tomatoes. Since I wanted my sauce to be thick, and I wanted to make it from the pantry, I used canned tomatoes. Quite a few -- these add the most volume to the sauce. One 16 oz can was convenient.

Next, the chipotles. I didn't want fire alarm hot -- just a nice, tongue-tingling spiciness. Two chopped chipotles and two T of sauce from the can seemed about right.

Vinegar -- helps the sauce penetrate as well as adding flavor. Tasting bit by bit, I found 4 T about right.

Taste again. Tangy enough, but not sufficiently complex. Also, too bright a red -- barbecue sauce needs a dark, mysterious look. Taste -- hmm, do need a little sweetness. 2 T of molasses darkens it some, adds interest, and is ample sweetening for my palate. Still a little too bright, too simple.

So, I looked through the recipes some more. A lot of them called for Worcestershire -- something I don't keep on hand. I do have soy sauce -- aha! 1 T of soy, and I've hit it. This sauce will absolutely DO.

In a sudden excess of whimsy, I gave it the name Oregon Pantry Worcestershire we don't need no stinking Worchestershire Oven Barbecue Sauce. Far too long. Mostly goes by Oven Barbecue Sauce now.

Then -- I had to simmer it until all the pieces softened and the sauce thickened. Long periods on my feet, stirring -- has to be a better way. Blend it! But still too thin. So, I doubled everything but the tomatoes, and traded two 16 oz cans of tomatoes for a 28 oz can of tomatoes and a 7 oz can of tomato paste. More success!

But then -- what was I going to do with those leftover chipotles? They're pretty good chopped and scrambled with eggs. But wouldn't it be more elegant to use them all in the sauce recipe?

So, today's iteration -- tripled most ingredients, one extra garlic clove because they smelled better than usual -- two 28 oz cans of tomatoes and two cans of tomato paste, just because -- and the entire contents of the 7 oz can of chipotles, nicely minced.

It smells and tastes wonderful, and I'm giving it its final trial on some beef short ribs this evening. I can hardly wait.

Did I ever make it quite the same twice? Who knows! It's been good every time.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

OK, new review here: Paradox World Reviews I started this on the date listed, but only published it today. More to come soon.
Had a sore throat for a couple days. It has been a stressful couple of weeks. Applying the usual remedies.

In my case, the usual remedies include tea, hot wraps on the throat, and gargling with antiseptic. My antiseptic of choice at the moment is Don Crispin fake tequila, mixed half with water. We picked it up a couple years back in a Puerto Vallarta tourist trap. The bottled liquor is harsh, smoky, and although an agave distillate, created in the wrong area of Mexico to be tequila. Seems like the samples they gave us when selling it tasted better. In any case, it's undrinkable, and doesn't make a good Margarita, either. Mixed half with water, though, it still tastes better than Listerine, and seems equally effective on bleeding gums. Why would you want to use a mouthwash you're carefully warned against swallowing?

Doug and I are going to our local book club this afternoon. This month, we're discussing one of the books we presented for the group's consideration. I'm interested to see how they will like it. I didn't care for last month's selection. Rereading Expendable, by James Alan Gardner this month, I liked it even more than the first time. Festina Ramos has a distinctive voice, she starts cynical and becomes more effective, and I'm completely jealous of the idea he had about how a multi-species galactic civilization might work. One simple rule -- murder a sentient being, and if you travel into interstellar space, you will yourself die. Enforced by Arthur C. Clarke axiom means -- that is, it's probably technology, but it's so advanced it looks like magic. It's one hundred percent effective. This is as brilliant a story seed as Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. Most of the other set-ups for meeting other intelligent species had become a bit tired. The most common is that we're the best, smartest, and fastest out there, or in some other way critical, so that we have an edge. Another is that they are all hostile, so once we get out there, we'll be in one fight after another. It is tricky -- it doesn't seem likely that all other intelligences will be inferior to us. So, if they are vastly more advanced than us, what is to keep them from wiping us out? James Alan Gardner's solution to that conundrum is simple and brilliant. They're civilized, and some of the really advanced ones enforce that civilization on all the rest. There you go -- we can be the new kids on the block, and still have a chance to play.

He's continued the story into a fair number of sequels now. I may just reread the entire series. I had already reread Vigilant. Its vision of a political system that has a system to purge corruption and forsee the consequences of any governmental action felt comforting to return to recently. It's a fast-paced adventure story with Heinleinian social thought in it, too.

I feel some inclination to get the reviews area of this site back in action. I'll link to it here if that inclination becomes reality.