Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lime Beef Bomb
As in LIME BEEF BOMB! Gentle readers -- I am about to share a cheap n' easy recipe that will even make Poor Girl Eats Well drool on her keyboard. And she's a pretty good cook! That recipe -- once finished -- results in what you see to your right. And it can be made with any type of vegetable (including broccoli), stir fried or steamed -- it's all up to you.

The best part is? Some of the key ingredients come straight from the Bird Backyard and citrus orchard, including the bell peppers pictured above? Did you think that growing peppers was a summertime deal only? So did I! Funny thing is -- fall came and they kept right on going. They've come through rainy weather, frosty conditions and lots of fog and are still putting out some mighty tasty produce.

Who am I to complain?

Fresh Bearss Limes
This recipe originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee section for food lovers -- which Bill & Venus Bird are. If I'm not mistaken, the source the Bee used for this article was Tuk-Tuk Restaurant in North Natomas, just a hop, skip and jump from the Bird Back 40. If memory serves me correctly, this was originally a recipe for a beef salad  (Lam Nuea?) seasoned with fresh limes, hot peppers and other Thai ingredients. If you want to use this as a salad recipe, with your favorite greens, you most certainly can. This can be modified in so many different ways, which is why we make it often (also because we kind of love it).

If there is one absolute KEY ingredient to this recipe it would have to be the fresh limes that are now coming ripe by the dozens in the Bird Back 40. I realize that not everyone has a lime tree in the backyard or even the front yard. But if you can find a source for fresh Bearss Limes, I highly encourage that you take advantage of said source. I have tried a number of different lime varieties with this dish, including the Key or Mexican lime, but I keep coming back to the Bearss. It has a sweetness factor that serves this dish well.

Beef soaking in fresh lime juice and Thai herbs
Fresh limes also have another big advantage over limes purchased in your local supermarket: They are far juicier. The dish that we doubled to serve two people last night was made with just three fresh limes. In the past? When we were without fresh limes and had to settle for whatever the produce aisle offered? It took six to seven limes to accomplish the needed task. The end result wasn't nearly as good either. I cannot stress this enough: the better quality of lime that you have means a much better tasting meal.

And this is one good tasting meal.

It means a pretty good trek in cold weather to reach the Bird pepper patch these days. Much of the yard is still not landscaped in the way I would like. These vast stretches of open dirt are fine in the summer, but turn into a muddy, sticky, clay SLOP at the first hint of rain, fog or cold weather. I don't know if you've noticed or not, but it's pretty darn sloppy right now. This means the donning of mud shoes, a flashlight to find my way in the dark and a bowl to carry the harvest back inside.

Fresh bell pepper harvest
And what a harvest it was! I'm not sure why the peppers are still churning out product at this point in the season. But I'm not going to complain about it. If life gives us green peppers? We make meals with peppers, including this Lime Beef Bomb dish, fajitas or just plain raw peppers sliced and seasoned with salt, pepper and a drizzle of red wine vinegar. One other thing I've noticed? While the peppers are still growing and producing at a rather eye-popping rate, they do not offer the heat factor that summer peppers bring. That's fine by us because the wife that is Venus likes her bell peppers to be sweet, fresh and crunchy. That is exactly what she gets.

We've been blessed with a lot of production from our three-year old Bearss Lime tree this fall. It also seems to like its location. While not huge, it has grown well since we planted it. We've allowed this citrus tree to produce since the first season, and while last season's production of a single, solitary lime was a bit of a downer, this year's production of about 50 limes has us smiling from ear to ear. Fresh limes go well in cooking. They also go well in Pacifico, which is something we're just a tad familiar with.

A tad...

Chopped peppers ready for steaming
The monthly fertilization schedule that we adopted some years back for all fruit and citrus offerings in the Bird Back 40 also seems to have played a positive role in production. It's not all that difficult to be honest. The instructions from City of Folsom Arborist Ken Menzer were to throw a handful of pelleted fertilizer beneath each tree every month. It appears to be good advice. If the fertilizer regimen resulted in production like this, I highly encourage it. It also doesn't hurt to have a beehive in the backyard, as honeybees LOVE citrus flowers. Bees, as we all know, are essential pollinators. I don't know if we would have this kind of production without them.

As for the vegetables, you can use your favorite. We sometimes go the stir fry route. I happen to prefer vegetables that are lightly steamed rather than stir fried. Lightly steamed vegetables retain their crunch factor and don't contain the oil content that results from a stir fry. We do always try to use fresh vegetables for this dish because anything that comes out of a bag (frozen veggies) gets somewhat limp during the reheating process.

As the wife would say: limp is bad.

Sliced beef cooking in fresh lime juice and seasonings
We've used many different cuts of beef for this dish. Since the key to this recipe is the lime and the soak process, any cut of beef will work. Venus and I generally follow the sales and stock up on beef when it's on sale. For instance? Last night's dish featured two Harris Ranch New York steaks that we cut into strips. But we've also used Tri-Tip for this meal as well as London Broil. In other words? It's "whatever you got." Ground turkey also works with this dish, but I must admit, beef is just so much better.

And now -- without further adieu -- the recipe for LIME BEEF BOMB. Remember this one piece of advice: the key to this recipe is the quality of the lime used, and the soak factor. The longer the beef soaks in the lime mixture, the better.

Happy eating!

(note, we usually double this recipe for two people)

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about two limes)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar (substitute honey if you want)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Sesame Seed Oil (any oil can be used, but Sesame Oil adds taste)
1/2 lb steak (tri-tip is good, we used NY Steak last night)

Steamed peppers
Directions: Cut beef into long, thin strips and layer into a wide, raised bowl. Once the first layer is complete, spinkle liberally with salt and pepper and press into meat. Add a second layer of beef and again sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and again press into meat. Keep repeating this process depending on how much of this you make.

Mix lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes and oil together. Mix well. Pour half to three quarters of this mixture over beef . Let soak at least 30 minutes before stir frying or just frying in a regular pan. Cook until most of the lime mixture has evaporated,. OR -- if you enjoy a raw beef, reduce cooking time.

The absolute KEY to this meal is the LIME and the SOAK process. Add the cooked beef to an already prepared salad or steamed or stir fry vegetables and rice and enjoy it in another way.

We Wish You a Merry Citrus!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Loaded Bearss Lime: Bird Back 40
We Wish You a Merry Citrus!
And a Happy New . . .Lime.


This is the train wreck that happens when writer's literally write themselves into a corner. Didn't know writers could do that? If you've read any of my previous stuff, you'll know that's entirely possible. I start out with what I think is a fairly good idea -- and then it just all goes to Heck in a Handbasket. Steve Mallory might suggest that I've "Gilded the Lilly," but that would require a lilly to begin with.

With the summer vegetable garden a distant memory and fall crops like onions, garlic and spinach poking out of the soil (let's not forget the fall potato crop!) -- it's time to appreciate the other nice things about fall and the impending onset of winter.

Bearss Lime Tree
The best part about this time of the season: It has to be the fresh citrus -- like the fresh Bearss Limes pictured above. This is the third year of production for the Bearss Lime that Venus and I planted into a barren side yard, and we're off to a nice little start. The lime appears to like where it's planted. It's growing quickly. And, after yielding a single, solitary lime last season, we've jumped ahead this year to about 30-40.

Not bad if I say so myself.

But the Bearss Lime isn't the only citrus tree offering in the North Natomas Ranch that's showing impressive color and production this year. Thanks to some mighty fine advice by a rather popular NewsTalk 1530, KFBK Garden Talk Show host -- the Birds are harvesting one of the sweetest, tartest pieces of citrus that I've ever tasted.

Ripe Owari Satsuma Mandarins
I wanted to plant the sweetest variety of citrus I could find. Venus, who is not a fan of the seeds found in the Dancy Tangerine, wanted something seedless. Farmer Fred Hoffman didn't think twice when he responded with the advice of "Owari Satsuma Mandarin."

I searched high and low for that Owari Satsuma Mandarin before I settled on a tree that had just been delivered to my local Home Depot. In most cases I get most of my fruit trees from local nurseries because they offer the Dave Wilson selections that I'm searching for, PLUS, the stock is better quality than what you'll find at your local Big Box Store. Plus, nurseries tend to stock those hard to find varieties that other places don't.

Owari Satsuma Mandarin: Year 1
But the story is different when it comes to citrus. Four Winds Growers, located in Winters, CA, is the primary supplier of citrus trees to all nurseries AND big box stores in Northern California. Nurseries tend to get better looking stock upon delivery, but if you camp out at your local big box store at just the right moment, you just might find yourself a steal of a deal.

That's where I discovered the Dancy Tangerine, loaded with bright orange tangerines I might add (a salivating sight to any lover of citrus), four short years ago. It's where I also picked up the Owari Satsuma just last year. It had just been unloaded from a delivery truck, but didn't last long in the Home Depot nursery aisle. It was the best looking one of the bunch delivered on that cold December day, and I must admit it looks pretty good in the backyard.

Dancy Tangerines
Although the vast majority of citrus ripens in the fall, not all varieties are ready for harvest at once. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Owari Satsuma started to ripen in October and is now delivering a sweet and tasty crop of mandarins. The Dancy Tangerine, meanwhile, is still green. Based upon harvests from the previous years, these won't start coming ripe until around Christmas. That's right about when the mandarins will begin to play out.

As for the Meyer Lemons? The news is both good and bad. We have a heavy crop on one tree -- and nary a lemon to be found on the other. I was also rather SHOCKED to discover that the larger of the two Meyer lemons was GROWING multiple shoots and branches in this cold fall weather, after not doing much of anything this spring.

Fall Growth on the Meyer Lemon
Good news? I suppose so. But if a cold frost should decide to hit in the next week or six (some winters are worse than others), those tender new shoots are toast. They will freeze. They will burn. They'll turn a none-too-pleasant shade of black. I'd rather the Meyer Lemon send out loads of new growth in the spring, but let's be honest: Meyer Lemons don't exactly cooperate with what the owner wants. I suppose I should be happy with the new growth spurt and leave it at that.

Despite the good news, we're not done yet. In fact, you could say we're just getting started. We manage to plant something new every year -- and this year is no different. South Natomas grower and citrus aficionado Nels Christensen gifted us with a Cara Cara Orange tree late last spring and it is still sitting in a pot, waiting for its permanent home. The process of grafting will soon yield other varieties of citrus. Short and sweet? There's a long way to go.

I could write all day about citrus -- but alas -- it's time for dinner. Tonight's offering? Turkey Pho, with leftover turkey, and pho broth generously sprinkled with fresh lime juice.

A Bite of a Vine-Ripened Tomato...

Remains of the Bird 2011 Heirloom Tomato Garden
It's a slice of heaven. It sure is. That taste. That texture. That wonderful, tangy surprise of a summer fruit is all but a distant memory now. This is the current state of the Bird tomato garden in late November. Fairly sad isn't it? They are still producing here and there, which is one reason why I haven't torn them out yet and moved on.

It's hard for me to admit that the season is over. What is coming off the vine now cannot compare, in any shape or form, to the tasty treats that the wife that is Venus and I enjoyed earlier this summer. But it's also loads better than the tomato shaped rocks you'll find in your local produce department these days.

At some point -- the 2011 summer garden will be removed and I will be forced to admit that it's all done.

I'm just not quite there yet. If you live for backyard gardening like I do, winter is a lonely time indeed. But, before this garden is indeed removed and plowed under, it's high time we look back to the summer favorites from 2011. There are some new entries on this list. As with any summer tomato garden, some varieties did well and others -- well -- better luck next year!


Eva Purple Ball Tomatoes
1. Eva Purple Ball: This was a new entry to the Bird Back 40 home for wayward heirloom tomatoes. I'd heard about this variety from other growers across the country, but again, what does well in New England or Arkansas doesn't necessarily translate into guaranteed success on the Left Coast. Growing heirloom tomatoes is a crap shoot anyway. Some do well, some not. Put this one in the "Did Very Well" category. A single bush yielded 50-80 gorgeous slightly pinkish, slightly purplish large tomatoes, some very close to the 1 lb. range. You'll find this tomato in our salsa, tomato sauce and whole tomato canning efforts from this summer.
2. Marianna's Peace: After a rather poor showing last season, MP bounced back in a rather eye-popping fashion this year. Our plant was susceptible to some early Blossom End Rot (BER) problems during the spring, but those vanished as the weather warmed. MP is one of the best tasting heirlooms I've ever tasted, and it wasn't unusual for this vigorous plant to set four new tomatoes at once. That's always a good sign.
3. Black Krim: One of the tastiest offerings in the field of black (or purple) tomatoes. When a single Black Krim bush delivers a bushel of 40-50 tomatoes? It's a good year.
Stupice Tomato
4. Stupice: If you can describe Stupice with one word? It would have to be WOW! Outstanding production from a variety that wins in backyard gardens from East to West and all points in between. Stupice sets tomatoes in large clusters, much like small cherry-sized tomatoes. They grow to about the size of a golf ball or larger. Not the best processing tomato due to size, but perfect for salads, snacking in the yard, or fresh salsa creations (fresh Rooster's Beak?). If you have room for just a few plants in your yard, I highly reccommend this productive variety.
5. Campbell's 1327: I don't know if I'll ever be able to thank the person who saved this variety from the brink of extinction, but they deserve some sort of recognition. Once the standard-bearer of processing tomatoes used in Campbell's Soups, it was tossed aside and abandoned for those hard-as-a-rock processing tomatoes that can withstand bruising on bumpy trips down long country roads from farm to processing plant. Campbell's 1327 is one of my "Reliable Reds," and produces bushel after bushel of round, red and ripe tomatoes that are blemish free and tart on the tastebuds.


1884 Tomato
1. 1884: Seeds for this variety were provided at the last moment by Sacramento gardener Nels Christensen. I can see why he's partial to it. 1884 delivers large, meaty red tomatoes that reveal a surprising orange-colored flesh once they've been sliced open in the kitchen. A wonderful processing tomato and perfect slicing tomato for those big barbequed turkey burgers that deserve a big slice of tomato on top. Originally discovered in 1884 by a Mr. Williamson in the debris after the big flood in Friendly, West Virginia, this variety will find home in the Bird Back 40 again.
2. Green Zebra: It's been a few years since I've been happy to report a large haul of green zebra tomatoes, and this was just one of those years. My former boss at the workplace, who is rather partial to this variety, received his fair share of the crop. It wasn't unusual to pick anywhere from 10-15 tomatoes during weekly harvests, which makes for a pretty darn good year.
Thessaloniki Tomato
3. Thessaloniki: It doesn't roll off the tongue easily, but this was one productive plant in the Bird Back 40. Thessaloniki is a rare Greek heirloom, introduced to the USA in the 1950's by Glecklers Seedsmen, Ohio. Nice production, nice size, outstanding old world tomato taste. The only reason this particular variety didn't make it to the outstanding list is that it is just a common red tomato.
4. Celebrity: It's the only non-heirloom that found it's way into the Bird tomato crop this year, and for good reason. You can depend upon a bushel of round, red, ripe and mostly disease free tomatoes from Celebrity. While other varieties susceptible to disease battled Blossom End Rot, Celebrity stepped up to the plate in a big way with some nice production.
5: Evil Seed: A big, beautiful black beefsteak type tomato that I will never the true origin of. The original plant was delivered to my desk several years ago with the name "Rainbow" attached to the side. The funny thing is, there is no Rainbow tomato that I know of -- especially a black tomato variety. The gentleman who produced this offering wound up doing some none too kind things to his wife and children, thus the wife stuck it with this unfortunate name. It's an unfortunate story for a great tasting tomato.


No Brandywines in This Bunch!
1. Brandywine: It kills me to put this variety on my list because I absolutely LOVE Brandywine tomatoes. Although I was encouraged by some early season production, most developed BER and the plant just petered out on me by the time July rolled around. When the backyard garden produces one or two Brandywine tomatoes? It's generally not a good year. I hope for better luck next year.
2. Yellow Brandywine: Jeez -- what a Debbie Downer I am. Two varieties of Brandywine in the Bird Back 40 and I get squat. Yellow Brandywine was an absolute bust. Several seed sources do note that this variety can be "finicky to grow," and I can confirm as much. I will not attempt to grow this variety out again.
3. Mortgage Lifter: I either can't find a reliable seed supplier for this variety, or I'm just having the worst of luck. This marks my third year for growing this treasured heirloom, and while I do receive a few of them, it's not enough to warrant that much space in the Bird tomato garden.
4. Azoychka: This is one of my favorite Russian heirlooms, and after some rather encouraging early season production, Azoychka started to produce golf-ball sized tomatoes that were really nothing to write home about.
Processed Tomatoes Ready for Winter Storage
5. Bloody Butcher: I'm surprised this one landed on this list because Bloody Butcher is normally a wonderful, early-season producer. Not this year. It didn't produce early. It didn't produce late. It didn't produce much at all, and BER took most of them.

And there you have it. Although these 15 varieties represent half of what we grew in the Bird Back 40 this year -- these are the varieties that stood out the most in terms of production or disappointment. Other varieties that at least deserve an honorable mention include Caspian Pink, which grew well in the in-ground test bed and produced some very tasty tomatoes late in the season. Cherokee Purple is yet another treasured variety that did moderately well, as did Kelloggs Breakfast, Beefsteak, Druzba, Lemon Boy and Jubilee.

As 2011 begins that slow slide into 2012 -- all that's left are the memories of last year and the promise of what is to come.