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Unique handmade gifts, gifts of food, gifts of cookbooks and gifts that reflect what we know and appreciate about the recipient may not have the flash of the latest electronic gadget, but they are often the most treasured presents. I speak with experience as both giver and receiver.

At this time of year, I shop pretty much as I shop all year, at local stores and markets, at farm stands and at farmers markets, where you'll often find special arts and crafts booths for the holidays.

If you have a friend who loves to cook, the options are endless, or nearly so, though this year I'm finding shopping a bit trickier because both Traverso's Market and McCoy's Cookware are gone. Still, I've found almost everything I want (though not necessarily in a single location; I drive a lot more to get what I need).

If you cook, a gift of your favorite jams, jellies, butters, vinegars and such will please anyone who loves you. For some of my favorite homemade gifts of food, visit Eat This Now at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, where I'll post both recipes and photos for Hawaiian Chile Water, quince paste, the Japanese condiment gomashio and more.

And remember, the 12 days of Christmas are not a countdown of shopping days. Christmas Day is the first day of Christmas, not the last. The Christmas season lasts through Jan. 6, when the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated, unless your are Russian Orthodox, which observes Christmas on Jan. 7.

Happy Holidays!

Bruce Aidells' newest tome, "The Great Meat Book" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) is a wonderful gift for your favorite carnivore. Not only is it full of delicious recipes from around the world, it is also an excellent guide to sourcing and preparing the meats that are available today, including grass-fed and pastured meats, less-common cuts and goat. For a very special person, consider adding a subscription to a meat CSA. Several ranchers now offer CSAs and the book will provide invaluable assistance in learning to cook the unfamiliar cuts that are often included in a subscription box.

Bruce Aidells' Birria de Chivo

Makes 8 servings

8 assorted dried chiles, such as guajillio, ancho, New Mexico, California and/or mulato

— Boiling water

1 or more jalape? chiles, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 large onion, chopped

8 garlic cloves, peeled

1bunch fresh cilantro, stems and leaves separated, leaves reserved for garnish

1 12-ounce bottle Mexican beer of choice

2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

? teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons white vinegar, plus more to taste

8 pounds bony goat pieces, such as ribs, neck, shank and shoulder, or 4 pounds boneless goat shoulder

2 bay leaves

— Black pepper in a mill

— Warm corn tortillas

— Lime wedges, for garnish

— Finely shredded cabbage, for garnish

— Mexican-style salsa verde, homemade or commercial

Heat a large dry skillet over medium heat and add the dried chiles. Toast them, turning, until fragrant; take care not to burn them. Remove them from the heat. When they are cool enough to handle, tear up the chiles and discard the seeds and stems. Place the chiles in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover them. Soak for 30 minutes or until they are soft.

Drain the chiles, reserving the soaking liquid. Place the chiles in a blender, along with the jalape?, onion, garlic, cilantro stems, beer, oregano, cumin seeds, cinnamon, cloves, thyme, salt and vinegar. Pulse until a homogenous sauce forms. Taste and correct for salt and vinegar.

Place the meat in a large bowl, pour the sauce over it and mix well. Marinate for 2 hours at room temperature or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To finish the birria, remove the meat from the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Transfer the meat and sauce to a large Dutch oven and add the bay leaves. Cover and bake for 2? to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Check the stew from time to time and add some of the reserve chile-soaking liquid or water if the meat is not fully covered with its sauce.

Discard the bay leaves and degrease the sauce.

The sauce should be soupy but intensely flavored. If it is not, remove the meat, set the sauce over medium heat and reduce it until it suits your taste. Return the meat to the pot, taste and season with salt, black pepper and, should you prefer more acidity, vinegar.

Ladle into large soup bowls and serve with hot tortillas and the garnishes, including the reserved cilantro leaves.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com. You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

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