November 2009


I have a friend, Melanie, that didn’t like lima beans. Turns out that she had only tasted the canned or frozen kind, and they had been cooked with indifference.

Look, you’re not going to make a woman reach her happy place with an indifferently cooked frozen or canned anything.

To make a woman smile, a man needs to spend some time in the kitchen.

Almost all of the better lima bean cooks, people who soak their beans overnight and use an acceptable herb and spice mix, fail on more than one level.

First, never use the small and medium size beans, they cook up hard, like little unpleasant rocks.

Second, most folks use a 1:1 pork to bean ratio. Now anyone who knows anything knows that pork is a divine food, so 2:1 pork to beans is better.

Third, most folks just chop or dice their veggies and add them raw to be boiled or simmered. Love demands a little better technique, saute your veggies, make a classic mirepoix.

Finally, too many cooks only allow an hour or so in the pot, where I have flavors marrying for many hours.

I have yet to meet anyone, having tasted a bowl, that doesn’t love this dish. My friend Melanie liked it, and just asked for the recipe.

Oh, serve it up with cornbread and butter; I hope you enjoy what for me is real southern comfort food.

Ham Hocks and Lima Beans – cooked Cesano style

1 pound package dried LARGE lima beans

2 pounds smoked ham hock

2 TBS butter

1 TBS olive oil

1 large onion, chopped – small dice

2 large celery stalks, chopped – small dice

2 large carrots, washed and chopped – small dice

1 1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 1/2 bay leaves

salt to taste

In a large bowl, cover dried beans with 8 cups cold water, let stand overnight. Drain beans, reserving water.

In large pot, melt butter mixed with olive oil, create a mirepoix au gras – saute onion, celery and carrots until softened, then add the ham hocks and add reserved water to cover. Cover, heat to to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

Add the beans, and everything except salt. Add any remaining water – note: you might have to add some new water as you will be simmering for a very long time.

Simmer for 5 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. The lima beans will be recognizably lima bean, yet will have lost some of their integrity and texture, absorbing delicious pork flavor, while giving up some of their starch to the liquid helping create a near stew like consistency. Remove the bay leaves and discard. You can remove the meat and fat from the bones, and discard the bones – and fat if desired.

The ham hocks and lima beans will have taken on salt from the 6 hours of cooking with the smoked ham hock, but you may add salt to taste if needed.

Serve. Unused portion can be frozen and heated for future servings.

Okay, last night I watched Showtime’s Dexter say he was thankful for yams when sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Trinity killer’s family; then I watched Lauren say she was thankful for canned yams when sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Bennet family on NBC’s Heroes.

I am a foodie, but I don’t like yams. I am thankful that I do the cooking most every year at Thanksgiving so that I don’t have to eat around the yam dish on my plate.

As a foodie, I am thankful I am not Andrew Zimmern who has eaten bull’s rectum and testicles soup in the Philippines; bull testicles in Spain;  chicken uterus, black-bone chicken testicles in Taiwan; goose intestine in New York City; civet feces coffee, bull penis in Vietnam; snake penis, fried deer penis, yak penis in China; boar’s testicles in Minnesota; bull penis soup in Bolivia; and braided intestines, cow’s butt sandwich, fresh bull testicle and scrotum stew in Chile.

At least Anthony Bourdain can wash down the occasional freakish menu offering with a drink or twelve, but Zimmern is a recovering addict/alcoholic and is making the choice to swallow so much shaft, balls and ass sober.

I am not really one of those, “let’s all say what we are thankful for,” kind of Thanksgiving dinner Dads. I love to cook. I love that there is a holiday all about cooking and family. I love that people eat my food. I love trying new recipes. I am not a traditionalist. I love the insanity of 5-7 dishes all coming up at the same time for 12-16 people, the high-wire risk of having no repeat dishes year to year.

This year I am cooking for just my son and myself. We will have more than enough food for his mom, my ex-wife. Most importantly, we will have plenty of left over turkey for sandwiches on Friday. Note to self: buy sandwich fixings tomorrow for the long holiday weekend.

I am using an Alton Brown brine on our turkey, then cooking it in my Popeil Showtime rotisserie (set-it-and-forget-it) grill. I am doing a Rachael Ray gratin potato dish and Paula Deen cornbread stuffing. Instead of my own delicious pies, I am doing a Nancy Iannios pumpkin creme brulee.

I worked for Tom Klein years ago when he owned both Rodney Strong and Windsor Vineyards. I will be enjoying a 2007 Russian River Valley Rodney Strong Pinot Noir with Thanksgiving dinner. Wine Spectator gave the Russian River Valley appellation, 2007 Pinot Noir vintage a 98/100 rating. I am thankful that Tom and Rick Sayre make consistently delicious and affordable wines, and that having worked with them, I have the confidence to choose their wines in any, not just this classic best ever, vintage.

All around me is change. I have a good friend up north who has left her job rather than complain about it, and is in search of a better job. I have an old girlfriend out east who has left her job and will be starting a new one. I am looking at changing my job. I am good at what I do, I make money for my business, for myself, but I would like to travel less often and spend more time with my son. I will be trying to find a job where I can use my wealth of real world experience, the education behind my marketing degree, and my newfound web 2.0 skills to help a winery in the north coast (Sonoma, Napa, Lake or Mendocino county) of California. I would love a hybrid position involving social media marketing, traditional marketing, tasting room and/or wine club work, trade show marketing, and more.

I write without thinking about someone reading what I write, and I usually disable comment leaving for my blog, so I am always surprised when I read a comment left on facebook, twitter, a forum or e-mail about my writing. I know people read what I write, usually 100 people, but sometimes as many as 300 and more. Knowing you are out there, having you write back to me, does influence my writing a touch. I am thankful anyone finds my writing at all; more thankful some of you like my writing.

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My son is 12 years old. He is 5′ 9 1/2″ tall and 170 pounds on a lanky muscular frame. I knew dating sasquatch would produce a tall child. Charlie has been at basketball tryouts the last two days, trying to make his school’s 7th grade team. As the tallest boy at the tryouts, and with a year of league play, we are reasonably confident he will make the team. I am thankful that my son has such an affinity for a game I never played, or was interested in playing; it is good for him to be good at something that is his own.

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I had an Apple iMac screen damaged by careless family while I was away at work about a year ago. I found a used flat screen monitor and have used it to mirror what would have been viewable on my iMac screen. This last weekend, I bought a used iMac with more guts, a perfect screen, and the newest Apple OS. I was able to move all of the info in my old computer to my new one effortlessly using migration assistant, and now I have both screens viewable to spread my work over. An extra 750 GB hard drive, for a 1 TB total, speakers, and high speed internet access completes the coolest computer system I’ve ever had. Better than I could have imagined, I am thankful for my totally cool and powerful home work and play space.

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I will be writing more, perhaps much more with a business slant, but certainly more on a personal basis as I travel less. I will probably move my personal writing to a dedicated website, and I’ll certainly let you know if I do make that change. I plan to write more about wine and food from the perspective of an industry professional with real world experience and as a born and raised resident of California’s premier wine growing area. I also want to give reviews of wine accessories and wine books. I want to make more use of video entries as well. Look for a more wow experience sometime early in 2010. I’ll be thankful if you follow me with my writing. Thanks.

Okay, Thanksgiving is a special holiday. As my Aussie cousin-in-law pointed out, no cards, no presents, just great food and family.

Here’s a way to make cranberries interesting:

John Cesano’s Cranberry Chutney

2 tbsp. butter

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/4 c. orange juice

4 c. fresh cranberries

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1 c. unpeeled, cored and diced Granny Smith apple

1/2 c. golden raisins

1/4 c. chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. allspice

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. vinegar

Saute shallot and apples in butter over med high heat about 3 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes, until cranberries give up juice and mixture begins to thicken. Some like to serve warm, I prefer to chill at least two hours in refrigerator and serve cold as a counterpoint to all of the hot dishes.

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