Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hank

I’ve received several requests for some more stories involving my friend Hank.  In my posts, I believe the first mention of him was in my 9th post “Catfish”, and my second mentioned was in my 51st post “I Dare You”.  He has appeared from time to time in some of my stories, and he will most likely appear again, but it is difficult for me to write about him.
 
Over the lengthening years of my life I have lost many friends and family members.  Some moved on, sometimes I moved on.  Some were killed by war, accident or disease, and some were far older than me and time took its toll.  But Hank’s death was much harder on me than most.
 
I grew up with a very large extended family.  My four grandparents had over forty siblings.  Most of these family members were very prolific; however, my parents were the only surviving children of their parents.  But many of my grandparent’s generation lived to be well over one hundred years of age.  By the time I was a teenager I had a family of many hundreds of members.
 
This also meant I attended many funerals.  Some months I attended more than one on the same day, and most months had at least one.  I was no stranger to losing people I liked and loved.  But Hank’s passing was like losing my own brother and best friend at the same time; therefore, writing about him is difficult.
 
On the positive side, our adventures together were great fun, and I will continue to remember the good times with him in some of my stories.  Here is a short one.
 
One afternoon I had a message waiting for me at a company store I was visiting in Alabama.  It was from Hank, and it said he was on his way to do some fishing in Montana.  If I could meet up with him in Billings in a few days, we could find out what kind of fish were in the Yellowstone River.  I was leaving that afternoon for Cheyenne, Wyoming for a business meeting, but I could take a couple of days to fish up in Montana after it was over.
 
I flew into the airport at Billings and rented a car to drive down into the city (the Billings airport is high up on a plateau above the city) and catch up with Hank at the hotel where he was staying.  When I drove into the parking lot of the hotel, I saw Hank getting out of his car with a big ice chest.  I let him struggle with it while I unloaded my baggage and headed in to get a room.  About an hour later we met in the lobby.
 
“I just talked to the chef, and he’s going to prepare dinner for us with the trout I caught today.”
 
Dinner that night was great.  I can’t recall a better trout dinner.
 
About 4:30 the next morning we left to drive to his fishing hole where he assured me there were more fish than we could handle.  However, when we got there, we couldn’t find a place to park.  Apparently this fishing hole was known to more than just Hank, so we drove up the highway a few more miles.
 
We stopped at a small coffee shop for breakfast, and while we were discussing where to go fishing, a gentleman came over to speak with us.
 
“I couldn’t help but overhear your situation.  Around here the best fishing spots are on private property, and you have to know someone to go there.  But if you don’t mind me tagging along, we can go to my ranch, and I’ll show you more trout than you’ve ever seen.”
 
It seems that we hit the jackpot.  We finished breakfast, and an hour later we were fishing.  Hank sat down on the bank beside the gentleman and started talking.  Before long they discovered they had family ties through marriage.  I don’t know how that worked out, but apparently they were some kind of cousins.  And we had a permanent invitation to visit and fish just about anytime we wanted.
 
Hank seemed to have relatives everywhere.  Over the few years of our adventures, we were joined in Tennessee by a cousin, in Utah by an uncle, in New Hampshire by a, uh, another relative, in New York by his grandfather, in California by some other relative, and in several other places by various family members.
 
We fished until early afternoon when hunger began to talk to us.  After packing things back into the car, Hank and I followed his newly found cousin to the ranch headquarters where lunch was being provided for the nearby workers.  For those hands farther out, a truck would be delivering boxed lunches for them.
 
The afternoon was spent just talking and having fun with our host.  He was a fourth generation rancher, and his wife was a fifth generation rancher.  Hank’s connection to them was never clear to me, but they figured it out and talked for a solid hour about people they both knew.
 
It wasn’t much of an adventure with Hank, but it was typical of many of our outings.  We basically just hung out together and did things we enjoyed.  This day was one of those hang out days.  Afterward, we went back to the hotel where we had dinner and talked about our upcoming first skydive.  See “I Dare You.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Turkey and Stuffing

Thanksgiving is a turkey-eating day.  Yes, one can eat just about anything one chooses on any given day, including Thanksgiving, but a turkey just seems like the right thing to put on the table for this holiday.
 
I have always liked cooking turkeys.  It doesn’t matter to me if it goes in the oven, in the smoker, on the grill, on a spit, in a pit, in a roaster, or in a deep fryer.  I’ve breaded it and cooked it like fried chicken.  I’ve cut it into chunks and simmered it.  I’ve microwaved it.  I cooked one in a solar oven.  I cooked one in a reflector system made of aluminum foil and charcoal baskets.  I cooked one in a horno (southwest version of a pizza oven).  I even cooked one by cutting it into pieces and roasting it over a campfire on hotdog forks.
 
I also like cooking everything that goes with a turkey, but my favorite side dish is the stuffing.  Growing up in Texas, stuffing (or dressing) was quite simple.  Some cornbread and/or white bread, butter, sage, salt, and pepper.  Mix in some chicken stock, and shove it into the bird before cooking.  But I take a different approach.  To me, the amount of stuffing that will fit into a turkey will feed one person only; therefore, I cook the stuffing separately and in great quantity.  And mine is a little more complex that the stuff(ing) I grew up with.
 
I believe the stuffing should match the flavor of the turkey.  At times I’ve experienced things like a sage rubbed turkey with a fruit stuffing.  How about a smoked turkey with oyster jambalaya stuffing?  I’ll never forget the barbeque grilled turkey with honey and wild rice stuffing.  I ate every one of them, but the flavors were not quite right.  I’m not saying turkey and stuffing should be perfectly matched, but they should be very close so the stuffing becomes an extension of the flavor of the turkey.
 
Here is one of my favorite turkey/stuffing combinations:
 
Southwestern Turkey with Tamale Stuffing
Serves 12.
 
Garlic-Chile Paste:                                       
    50 cloves garlic, unpeeled (about 3 to 4 heads)                
    2 dried ancho chiles, rinsed                                   
    1 dried guajillo chiles, rinsed                                
    1 dried negro chile, rinsed                                    
    1/2 cup corn oil (prefered) or canola oil                      
    2 teaspoons toasted and ground cumin seeds                     
    1 teaspoon table molasses or honey                             
Turkey:                                                    
    1 (18 to 20) pound turkey                                      
    2 tablespoons corn oil (prefered) or canola oil                
    1 3/4 pounds turkey neck, wings, backs, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
    1 white or yellow onion, chopped                               
    3 ribs celery, chopped                                         
    2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped                            
    1 teaspoon allspice berries                                    
    5 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey stock               
Gravy:   
    1/3 cup (approximately) all purpose flour                                                                       
    1/2 cup Chili-Garlic Paste
     6 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey stock               
     1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper                                    

Garlic-Chile Paste:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Cut a small slit in each clove of garlic and distribute on a baking sheet.  Place on center rack in oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until garlic begins to brown.  Remove and cool 5 to 10 minutes. Peel garlic and remove hard tips.  Measure 1/2 cup of the garlic, reserving any extra pieces.  Blend in a food processor to form a rough puree.
 
In a small cast-iron skillet, toast chiles until blistered and fragrant.  Allow to cool, then remove stems and seeds.  Tear into pieces and place in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Simmer over medium-low heat until chiles are soft, about 15 minutes.  Add softened chiles and any remaining liquid, oil, cumin, and molasses to garlic in processor. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
 
Turkey:  Remove the giblets, and dry the turkey with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to season.  Loosen skin of breast by sliding hand or wooden spoon under the skin.  Spread about 1/2 cup of the chile paste under the skin.  Fill the cavities with stuffing, if desired.  (If leaving the turkey unstuffed, place in the main cavity 1 yellow onion, halved, and 1 bunch of cilantro.  Place in the neck cavity ½ yellow onion and ½ bunch cilantro.)  Rub 2 tablespoons paste all over outside of turkey, and reserve remaining paste for gravy.  Tie the legs together and place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan.
 
Preheat the oven to 325F with the rack in the lowest third of the oven.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the cut-up turkey parts (and giblets if using) and the onion.  Saute about 15 minutes until brown.  Remove the parts to the roasting pan, surrounding the turkey.  Add to the roasting pan the celery, tomatoes, allspice, and any remaining garlic.  Add 2 cups broth or stock and roast the turkey for 1 1/2 hours.  Tent the turkey and pan loosely with heavy aluminum foil and continue to roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180F (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more).  During this time, baste the turkey with the pan drippings and the remaining 3 cups of broth or stock.  (If the turkey is stuffed, the additional roasting time will be up to 3 hours longer.)
 
When turkey is finished, remove to a platter or carving board and tent with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes.  Reserve the contents of the roasting pan for making the gravy.
 
Gravy:  With a large slotted spoon or tongs, remove turkey parts from pan and discard. Pour mixture in pan into sieve set over large bowl.  Press on the solids in sieve to release liquid. Spoon fat from pan juices; add enough broth to juices to measure 6 cups.
 
Stir 1/2 cup reserved garlic-chili paste in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until liquefied. Add flour and stir 1 minute (mixture will be very thick). Gradually add 6 cups broth mixture, whisking until smooth. Simmer until reduced to 4 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper.

Tamale Stuffing
Serves 12.

    ¼ cup butter, divided                                  
    1 medium yellow onion, diced                                 
    4 cloves garlic, minced                                         
    8 cups crumbled cornbread                                      
    1 teaspoon ground cumin                                      
    1 teaspoon dried sage                                        
    ½ cup chopped cilantro                                        
    6 jalapeƱo peppers stemmed, seeded, diced                      
    2 cup frozen roasted corn kernels                              
    2 cup toasted and chopped pecans                               
    8 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese                           
    12 cups turkey or chicken tamales, chopped                      
    4 cups turkey or chicken broth                                 
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste          

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
 
Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, pecans, diced jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and place the stuffing in 2 greased 9x9 baking dishes.
 
Pour over the turkey or chicken broth over the stuffing and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the baking pans with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.
 
Note:  I use two 9x9 baking dishes rather than one larger baking dish in order to cook the stuffing more evenly.  You can use a larger dish, but the edges will be hard and the center very soft.  You can also stuff the turkey with this recipe, but I prefer an unstuffed turkey.  I think the turkey and stuffing both taste better when cooked separately.
 
Also:  There is a lot of turkey and stuffing here.  It can easily serve about 14 to 16 people, but I like larger portions and leftovers if possible.
 
For the tamales, I like to make my own, but I’m not opposed to buying them.  Red Pork tamales are acceptable here, but homemade chicken or turkey tamales are best, especially if the filling includes some Garlic-Chile Paste made according to the turkey recipe above.
 
I’m not a big gravy eater (other than biscuits and gravy), and sometimes I don’t even bother to make it.  Sometimes I just use salsa or pico de gallo.  I’ve even used chili.  Choose what works best for you.
 
I also find that this turkey and stuffing combination is perfect with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Kayak

Hank and John and I decided to kayak the Grand Canyon.  We had been kayaking for about two years in white water where we could find it, and we decided it was time for the big one.
 
We were not really prepared for the journey.  We didn’t know the river, we didn’t know how long it would take, and we didn’t know what we were doing.  Since no one told us we couldn’t do it, we did it anyway.
 
Our plan was simple, as most of our plans were since we really didn’t have a plan.   We drove to a place called Lee’s Ferry on the west side of the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River where we launched our kayaks.  John’s wife would meet us at a place called Diamond Creek about 200 plus miles down river in about 10 days more or less.  Everything in between was an unknown except for John’s wife—she was headed to Las Vegas.
 
It was quite an adventure.  The one thing we learned was that all white water is not created equal.  There is white water, there is White Water, and there is WHITE WATER!!  The first few hours was white water.  Then it changed to White Water.  And just beyond that was WHITE WATER!!  Then there was the big one.
 
We were about 4 days into the experience when we met up with the wall.  It was a giant haystack the likes of which we had never heard, much less seen.  This thing had a preliminary drop of about 30 to 40 feet before it rose up about 30 to 40 feet above the level of the river.  We immediately turned toward the bank.  On the bank we realize we could portage around this monster, and Hank and I began the process, but John…  Well, John decided to give it a try.
 
A haystack is basically a submerged rock forcing the water to go around and over it.  The lift of the water over the rock is the haystack.  The bigger the rock, the bigger the haystack.  This one had to have a rock the size of Pike’s Peak—more or less.  There was no way of knowing just how big that rock was or if it rose above the height of the river.  But John didn’t care.
 
Hank and I watched in fear and horror as John raced toward the haystack.  Where the water fell away before lifting up to the sky, John kept going in a straight line through the air and disappeared into the wall of water like an arrow through a piece of paper.  Hank and I did the only thing we could.  We quickly portaged around the haystack and began looking for the remnants of John.
 
We could see a straight line downriver about three-quarters of a mile, but no John.  We climbed into our kayaks and began paddling and searching for anything to return to his wife, but nothing.  Actually about two or three minutes was all that passed from the time we lost John until Hank saw him pop up out of the water nearly a half mile ahead of us.  And miracle of miracles, John was still in his kayak.  He paddled to the bank while we paddled to catch up.
 
We decided to take a long break for lunch while John told us of his adventure.  About the time he was airborne and just before he knifed into the wall of water, he remembered what causes a haystack.  But it was too late.  Into the water he went, and the pressure was enormous, but he encountered no rock, probably due to the upward thrust of the water.  When he realized he was still alive, he was out of his kayak under the river somewhere.  At least he was still tethered to the kayak, as was the paddle.  Just as he climbed back into the kayak, he came to the surface.  All he had to do then was get to the bank and empty the water from his transportation.  And then we showed up.
 
After a rest, a lunch, and a regathering of our senses, we pack up to visit the river again.  But John headed back upriver.  It worked once, maybe it would work again.