"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Recent Rambles
Copyright © 2009 by Bill Scifres


Cold rainy weather has kept the damper on most of the gardening efforts this spring, but the warming trend and the letup of the monsoon may give us a new lease on the planting season.

My rototiller still sits in the barn getting marinated in last fallís gas, but the next two or three weeks will spin the yarns of success and failure at gardening. The whole schemer smacks of a mini experiment I conducted last summer.

You see, I had some bad luck with a brave of zucchini plants. I planted only four zucch plants in spring, and only two of the four made it to harvest stage. They produced well, but after the first crop was in the kitchen, they were infested with what the pros call stem borers. They turned yellow and conked out.

Zucchs, in my estimation, are almost as important to the garden as cucumber is to a good garden salad. They are, so to speak, the soldier without a gun.

To remedy the situation, although we now were at mid-summer, I decided to do some experimental seeding (garden shops had long since bid zucch plants adieu). I did the next best thing. With hoe in hand, I fashioned three elongated, two-inch hills, arming each with half a dozen seeds. When they broke ground, I saved a couple of plants in each hill, late or not.

As the zucchs seemed to prosper, I thought I might even try some goose neck (summer) squash.

The rest is history. I harvested some very welcome zucchs into the fall, not to mention so many summer squash that I had trouble finding friends to take them off my hands.

I donít know. Maybe it will only work once. But the real crux of such a situation lies in the fact that seeds donít germinate real well in an envelope. If efforts fail, losing seed is not as bad as losing cars.

Who knows! You might get a bailout.

BEEF SHANK -- For the better part of a year, I have been experimenting in the kitchen with beef shank, among the cheapest cuts of beef, yet one of the most tasty.

My first ventures were fairly simple -- vegetable soup. This is very common usage of the cut, I found it excellent for this use, but that did not sate my cooking appetite so I started a series of experimental dishes that included this lower beef back leg just below the roasts.

I do not find this cut of beef in all grocery stores, but some carry it for as little $2.99 a pound. Of course, the shank cut, usually about an inch thick, and six or seven inches in diameter, includes round leg bones, and a little fat -- all of which lends the ďmama-miaĒ taste to dishes.

First in my series of experiments was with an iron skillet (with cover) and about two tablespoons of olive oil and one chopped strip of bacon. As the bacon started frying, I added a sliced onion and let it cook slowly for about five minutes (not long enough or hot enough to burn the onion). That stage finished, I added several coarsely chopped vegetables -- eight baby carrots, one chopped potato, one cup of cabbage strips (finger size), and a few dried Hen-of-the-Woods mushrooms (crumbled). With this cooking slowly, I added one ounce of water, cut the heat even more, covered the skillet, and let it all steam for 15 or 20 minutes.

Pulling the veggies to the outer perimeter of the skillet, I placed the dredged shank in the center of the skillet after adding a bit of olive oil. I let the shank sear on each side for five minutes (uncovered). Then, adding an ounce of wild strawberry wine (home-made, well aged), I spooned the veggies over the shank, covered it, and turned the heat to simmer. Turning the meat and stirring the veggies occasionally, I let it simmer for two hours.

The shank was as tender as a steak, the veggies cooked to tenderness, and there was no need for making gravy. It was in the skillet.

Note: The shank, during the searing process, may tend to curl up around the bone. If this occurs, meaty parts should be cut away from the bone to create pieces of serving size. Ordinarily, one shank will be enough meat for two or three people.

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All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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