If Not Bugs, Then What?

Last week’s blog seemed to generate some very visceral reactions in my audience. A few were supportive, many more had an “Ewwww!” sort of response, but it was all about the bugs!  Even our local fish-wrap, the Westminster Window, wrote us up as tasters.  Well, in honor of Earth Day on April 22, I want to dig a little deeper into the sustainable food sources in the backyard. 

 (Author’s Note: I know that every time someone opens their yapper about “recycling” this or “sustainable” that, the conversation spirals downward to preachy elitism.  The cars have become pretentious, the jargon has become pretentious, the shopping has become pretentious.  Unassuming has become the new pretentious.  Rubber bracelets and bicycle chain jewelry is eco-fashion?  In my day we called that punk rock.  Anyway, I’m trying to have fun in addition to being educational.  Take it for what it’s worth.)

 Most basic:  weeds.  You don’t really even need a backyard for this one.  This time of year, here in Colorado, many tender shoots of edible plants sprout up all over the place. Sourdock, Dandelions (below), Wild Asparagus, Cattails, and more, all a short walk from our home.  (Again, I recommend using caution when harvesting wild plants.  Know what you’re eating (good identification) and know what’s been sprayed on it.  If there is the possibility of pesticide or insecticide, it’s best to leave it alone.)  Think about how much fun it would be to get off the beaten path, leave the noise and exhaust fumes of the roadways, get some well-deserved sunshine and exercise and harvest your dinner all at the same time?  A little dorky?  Too crunchy-granola hippy for you?  Perhaps, but far less so than your annual visit to the Renaissance Festival.  Or Boulder.  (You know who you are!)

 Fruits on trees and shrubs.  From early summer to late autumn, fruit of every kind can be found everywhere in the neighborhood.  On our little slice of suburbia, we have Raspberries, Sour Cherries and Gooseberries.  Our backyard neighbor has Apples.  A two minute walk from here and we can have big juicy Crab Apples.  I know that Grapes, Peaches, Apricots and more can thrive in our climate. And anyone who has fruit trees is more than happy to let you pick from the over-hanging branches that escape their yard–but it’s always polite to ask first.  Offer them a little of what you’re cooking up and you may make a new friend!

 Backyard gardens.  Little windowbox herb gardens, the classic whiskey barrel tomato plants, Victory Gardens.  All have their place in the happy kitchen.  As a matter of fact, in many of our greatest American legends and lore, the home’s garden figures prominently as a symbol of industriousness, generosity and optimism.  The legends of the first Thanksgiving celebrate the autumn harvest.  Known for his magnanimity, Johnny Appleseed began in his own backyard before heading out across our young nation.  Started by Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II, and recreated by Michelle Obama in 2009, The White House Kitchen Garden embodies ideals our leaders want to model for our country.

 In our garden we have Broccoli, Carrots, Rutabagas, Swiss Chard, Cabbage and Sunflowers started with a couple of types of Tomatoes and Squash planned.  We also several have pereneal herbs: Mint, Lemon Balm, Sage, Thyme, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary and Chives. 

 So below are recipies and a guide to grow potatoes.

 Dandelion Greens in Salad

Pick dandelion greens before the blossoms go to seed.  Wash them thoroughly as you would any leafy vegetable from the garden and discard anything getting too close to the root and turning pink.  If the leaves are exceptionally long, tear in half.   Toss in a salad as bitter green to adds depth and variety.

 Cattails Braised and Glazed

8 stalks of Cattails, greens and outermost flesh removed (about 4-6 inches long)
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 cup Sugar

Pick cattails while they are young.  You should be able to grab the plant 6-12 inches from the ground and pull gently, but firmly straight up to harvest easily.  Discard all but the tender hearts at the base of the plant. 

Make the glaze.  In a small sauce pan combine the sugar and balsamic vinegar.  Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently.  Reduce to 1/2.  Cover and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Rinse the cattails well and split lengthwise.  Place in ovenproof pan, cutside up.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook until the oil in the pan is hot, then reduce the heat to 250 degrees and cook for 5 minutes longer.  Remove the cover and brush on the glaze.  Cook, uncovered, in the oven until tender, about 10 minutes.

Trashcan Potatoes

This one comes to you courtesy of my Mom who got it from someone who got it from someone else who got it from Tammy.  Tammy who, you ask?  That’s a wonderful question.  I’m glad you asked.  I have no idea, so I am going to guess the Great Great Grandaughter of Johhny Appleseed, who, in a fit of rebellion, left the apple franchise and started La Pomme de Terre business instead.  Or maybe not. 

 TRASH CAN POTATOES

Get a clean plastic trash can. (having on wheels would help as it will get heavy)
Put 3-4 large holes in the bottom for drainage.
Put broken pieces of pottery (or even coffee filters) over the holes to keep the soil from getting out.
Put in 6″-8″ of soil in the bottom of the can.
Cut up a potato, having each piece be 1″-2″ in size and having one “eye” each. Put these on the soil, spacing 4″-6″ apart.  (Tammy starts with one in the center of the can first)
(you can get organic potatoes at City Market, and even look for the “Fingerling” potatoes.)
(If you get regular potatoes from the market they might be sprayed so they don’t sprout, or just have pesticides sprayed on them. Best to get organic. )Cover the potato pieces with 4″-6″ of soil.
Keep the soil moist.
When leaves just pop up through he soil, add 6″ more soil.
Keep doing this as the leaves pop up until the soil is about 3″ from the top of the can so that there is room for watering.
Water every 2-3 days.In July or August when the vines turn yellow it is time to harvest.  Put the can in a bed where you would want the soil to go. Dump it over and see all of the potatoes that fall out. Watch for all sizes.

Tammy got about 20# of potatoes out of one trash can.

Posted in vegetarian, weed | Leave a comment

Weeds and Bugs for the Weekend

Dinner tonight: grilled NY Strip Steak, grilled Pineapple, grilled Asparagus, Creamed Dock, fresh Bread, Blood Orange Gelato and Cappuccino Gelato and 15 year old Port

Yesterday: Bugs

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Horrizons and Common Grounds

 ”The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover: If I love you I have to make you aware of things you wouldn’t ordinarily see.”   –Langston Hughes

There are so many things that make me happy that one could confuse me with a pure simpleton, but in all honesty, the littlest things DO bring me joy.  Biting the ears off a chocolate bunny, sipping good whiskey, smoking a good cigar and laughing with good friends.  Those are the kind of things that bring joy to life.  And then there is the adventure of expanding horizons.   

Today was a perfect day.  Before I dashed off, I tended to the budding Victory Garden on the dining room table, I worked in the morning (nothing new for a Saturday and I love my clients), then my Beloved and I went to the Butterfly Pavilion to watch a cooking demonstration.  Sushi for lunch then home for a cigar and bourbon (whiskey–see above) on the back deck.  

 Today is slightly unusual in a couple of respects, however.  

First, there is the concept of the Victory Garden. From its noble beginnings, today it often implies self-sufficiency and frugality.  Indeed, those are my specific intentions.  I know everything is organic and a measure of pride from the work of my own hands.  I love to save money on the vegetables I won’t be buying.  I love the depth of flavors of home-grown vegetables.  And seeing life spawn under the earth and wriggle into existence, presents itself as a metaphor of rebirth.  “He who has seeds, has Spring.”  (Ben Franklin)  In the last blog entry, I made mention that we want to eat better.  What could be better for the body and soul than to have produced your own produce? 

Orthopteran Orzo

But the second important difference of the day, we engaged in entomophagy.  Quite literally, the eating of bugs. David George Gordon, “The Martha Stewart of the Bug World” or in his words, ”The Emeril of Entomophagy” (I think he made that one up while we were there) presented a wonderfully charming tour of food and creepy-crawlies.  He begins by inviting kids to join him up front and sit on the floor.  (He and I agree on the nature of children: children harbor more germs than the bugs we’re tasting today.  If you can keep them sitting and not hovering, breathing into the mis-en-place, we’ll have an enjoyable afternoon.  And he handled the squirrelly kids better than their parents did!)  He then outlined the role of bugs in food–the bugs we don’t think we’re eating (think peanut butter), the bugs that we don’t know about which are supposed to be there (think natural ingredient, red food coloring), and the bugs that various cultures around world consume for their nutritional value. 

Sheesh! Kabobs

Then the fun began.  Asking for volunteers to cook the food, and other volunteers to taste the food, “we” cooked and ate Tempura Mealworms, Panfried Scorpion, Orthopteran Orzo, and Grasshoppers on a skewer.  My wife was the only volunteer to eat all of her Mealworm (I am so proud of her!) and the Scorpion I had tasted like soft-shell crab.  In fact, I can’t wait to go scorpion hunting when I have the chance.  I can envision it in a nori roll (think Spider Roll, literally) or with rice and beans served Southwestern style.

Scorpions waiting for the frying pan

Ok–so entemophagy is a little extreme and I doubt it will become a regular part of our diet, but I don’t think we’re going to shy away, either.  

Adventure has been a regular staple of my spiritual diet for as long as I can remember.  Culinarily speaking, I include it in increasingly regular intervals.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Tonight we’re eating vegetarian, with a twist.   

Creamed Dock (or Cream of Wild Greens)
Sourdock is a wild leafy vegetable (aka, weed) that grows plentifully in open fields across North America.  The leaves are best in spring when they are young and tender.  Caution: as with all wild plants, good identification and good growing conditions are essential.  Many plants have natural or pesticide/herbicide toxins that can be harmful (or worse!) if swallowed.  When in doubt, avoid it. 

2 pound young fresh Dock leaves, rinsed, blanched twice and thick stems removed
2 tablespoons Butter
1 Leak, tender white part chopped and greens reserved for something else
1 clove Garlic, minced
Salt & Pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg
1/2 cup Heavy Cream  

Boil the leaves for 2 minutes, then strain, pressing out any extra water.  Chop thoroughly and set aside.  

Melt the butter in a sauce pan (medium high heat) and saute the leak and garlic until they are tender and starting to turn translucent.  Add the greens and cook, stirring regularly until they start to give off moisture.  Add the seasonings and cream and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the cream is reduced and thickened to how you like it.   

Serve hot with as a side for almost any Southern comfort food! 

 

Posted in entomophagy, vegetarian | Leave a comment

The Gauntlet Has Been Thrown

Ok.  I recognize you deserve better.  I’m embarrassed.  There is shame in our household, and I am the reason. 

The last blog, while answering important questions I’ve been asked, got . . . well . . . boring.

But in every challenge comes opportunity.  I have been dared–no, DOUBLE DOG DARED–to go vegetarian.

Not entirely vegetarian.  We’ll eat eggs and dairy, and red meat, chicken and fish each once a week. 

We recognize that we don’t eat as well as we might.  Please understand that we don’t eat as poorly as many, but we hold ourselves to a very high standard.  ( We throw away less than 1 cubic foot of trash per week.  We compost everything compostable.  And most vegetable peelings and scraps get boiled down to a broth before they get composted.)  We tend to eat venison or elk when the previous hunting season was successful.  But we don’t do veggies the way we should.  Can I cook meatless dishes with the same enthusiastic creativity?

I’d like to think so. 

So here’s the rules:  Sunday, Wednesday and Friday (can be changed with Saturday) are meat nights.  Every other night, a meat product can be used as seasoning, but not the featured course. 

Further updates as events warrant.

A veggie dinner.  And a side dish.
Mediterranean Eggplant Casserole

1 Eggplant
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
2 cloves of Garlic, pressed
1 Onion, chopped
5 Anchovies
1 28 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
1 cup sliced Mushrooms
dried Basil and Oregano, to taste
2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
8-10 large leaves of Kale or Swiss Chard
Kosher Salt
Ground Black Pepper

Peel the eggplant and slice into 1/2 inch rounds.  Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt and place on a cooling rack over a paper towel.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes.  (This takes a lot of the bitterness out of the eggplant.)

In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil to medium hot (the oil should move like water over the bottom of the pan).  Add the pressed garlic and the anchovies and with a fork, crush and stir into a paste.  Add the tomatoes, mushrooms and herbs.  Stir to combine and reduce the heat to a simmer. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut the center stalk out of center of the leaves and chop into 2-3 inch pieces.  In another skillet, heat the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil to very hot.  (The oil moves faster than water and is just starting to smoke.)  Put into the hot oil with a sprinkle of salt.  Toss quickly with tongs until evenly wilted.  Remove from the pan to paper towels on a plate. 

When the sauce is slightly reduced, and the eggplant has released some of its moisture, begin assembly.  Spray a 9×13 casserole dish with some kind of antistick spray.  Lay down 1/2 of the sauce and then a layer of the kale.  Place the eggplant slices evenly over the sauce, sprinkle lightly with black pepper, then add the remaining kale, and top with the remaining sauce.  Dust with a hefty layer of grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is a deep golden grown and the sauce is bubbling. 

Let stand for 10 minutes and serve with a nice white wine.  Try Yard Dog.

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts with Roasted Fennel and Gorganzola

a dozen or so firm Brussels Sprouts
1 bulb of Fennel Root
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Bacon Fat
1/4 cup of the stinkiest Gorgonzola Cheese, crumbled

Slice the end root stub and the leaves and woody stalks off the fennel.  Slice it lengthwise into 6 wedges.  Place into oven-proof skillet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Roast at 400 degrees for 17 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool. 

Slice the ends off the sprouts then slice them vertically (tip to stem).  Melt a tablespoon of bacon fat in a heavy skillet.  Add the sliced sprouts, add salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium high and saute until the interior leaves are nicely browned.  Chop the roasted fennel and add to the saute.  When everything is hot, remove from heat, put into serving dish and sprinkle with the cheese. 

Bon Appetit!

Posted in vegetarian | Leave a comment

Things You Need in the Kitchen

As a financial advisor, I often hear people lament that they spend more and more on food.  I see that many people eat out far too often because they don’t have the time to shop and cook.  And when I visit people’s homes, I see that pantries, refrigerators and freezers are filled with prepackaged, pre-prepared meals.  It’s makes my mouth cry. 

I want to help.  I’ve made a list of everything I use regularly and provide a bit of extra advice.  Generic or store brand is fine for almost everything.  I’m also including our costs as best I can (living in the Denver suburbs).  I hope this helps.  There are no excuses not to enjoy yourself, at least occasionally in the kitchen and save some money in the process.

Staples. 
All Purpose Flour, Bread Flour, White Sugar, Brown Sugar, White Rice (California Short grain “Sushi-style”), Honey, Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Bacon, reserved Bacon Grease, Peanut Butter, Canned Whole Tomatoes, White Vinegar, Cider Vinegar, Olive Oil, Soy Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, Brown Mustard, Yellow Mustard, Ketchup (or Catsup), Dry Vermouth, Yellow Corn Meal, Cheddar Cheese, Large Eggs (preferably farm fresh), Kosher Salt, Table Salt, Black Pepper Corns, Whole Bean Coffee, Skim Milk, Unsalted Butter, Heavy Cream, Canola (or Vegetable) Oil, Yeast, Vegetable Shortening, Lard, Red and Green Tabasco Sauce, Baking Powder, Baking Soda, Oatmeal (Quick Oats), Cooking Spray, Popcorn, Mushrooms, Broccoli, Carrots, Celery, Onions, Garlic, Orange Juice, Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Bananas, Potatoes, Roma Tomatoes, Hamburger (we use venison because I hunt and kill it and we process the meat ourselves), Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, Bacon, Pork Shoulder Roast, Spices (whole when possible, ground if you’re using a ton of it or you have very small quantities), Herbs (fresh when possible, dried over the winter if you have to)  Cost: $201.69 initially for shopping the way we do (and buying hamburger); $125/month to maintain it.

Tools.
8-inch Chef’s Knife (Victorinox), Chef’s Kitchen Cleaver (Joyce Chen), Serrated Knife, Paring Knife, Steel, Silicone Cutting Mats (Color-coded for various food preps), Wood Cutting Board (Don’t spend money on this.  Talk to a local high school shop teacher or student.  You can get it for  free and appreciate it more.) Mixing Bowls (I use glass, metal and plastic for various things), Stand Mixer (heavy duty), Blender, Food Processor, 2 10-inch Frying Pans (well seasoned), Wok (very well seasoned), Pressure Cooker, 12-quart Pot, 6-quart Pot, Wire Whisk, Wooden Spoon, Silicone Spatulas, Cast Iron Dutch Oven, Electric Skillet, Mortar and Pestle, Blowtorch, Kitchen Shears  Cost about $1000, about 1/2 of that just for the stand mixer (but only $50 for all the knives, combined).

Extras.
This can be anything.  Go to farmers’ markets and look for whatever is in season.  Go to local ethnic markets (my favorite is the Asian market down the street) and try things you’ve never seen before.  For tools, my brother loves specialty tools that will only be used for a specific purpose.  I go in the opposite direction–my meat tenderizer is a 2 lbs rubber mallet (the same one I use to seal lids onto paint cans.)  I do have popover pans and a V-slicer mandolin that works like a dream.  But this is your kitchen and you will have special interests you’ll want to try and space limitations that will keep you from buying (or at least keeping) every little thing you see. 

Don’ts.
Don’t buy cheap but don’t overpay, either.  Know where you can buy non-organic (thick skin or peel that isn’t eaten) and when it has to be higher quality.  For hardware, ask yourself if it last for 10 years or more.  Maybe then ask if you would want to have it for 10 years or more.  Don’t let your knives get dull (dangerous!); don’t leave hot oil unattended (more dangerous!); don’t cut raw meat and raw veggies on the same mat or with the same knife (that’s just inviting trouble.)

Taking the time and spending a little bit of money, over time, gets you to the point of having a kitchen you enjoy.  An ancient Chinese proverb says, “The journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step.”  Go ahead and take that first step.  Start something in the kitchen.

Tonight for Dessert

Bourbon Pears
1 Bartlet Pear per person
Bourbon (cheap is good here)
Sauce

 

Split pears in half, length-wise and core and peel, leaving stem intact, if possible.  Stack them into a mason jar as tightly as possible without crushing them (you want to keep them in their best shape).  Fill the jar with bourbon.  Let stand for the day; two would be better.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the pears from the jar, reserving the bourbon for a nice pear-infused cocktail.  (Use your own recipe or look back at the Manhattan a couple of months ago.)  Bake the pears for 20 minutes in a glass baking dish. 

 

Place the pears onto their respective serving dishes and drizzle with your favorite sauce–chocolate, caramel, a honey & wine reduction, or serve with a dollop of whipped cream cheese.  MMMM!

Posted in Pears, Staples, Tools | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Perks of Being a Foodie

I was recently invited to judge a chili cookoff.  An informal affair, but filled with good humor, good friends and of course, good food.  I understand the honor of being chosen to judge rather than to cook.  It implies that I have a decerning palate, I can recognize the various degrees of good, I can justify my reasoning when someone calls my judgement into question and I can be charming and gracious to winner and loser alike.  I understand that I am also the pinnacle of integrity.  At least that’s what it means in my mind. 
It does require putting personal friendships and emotions aside for a little while.  When you’ve clearly picked a chili that is not your friend’s, it helps to have a thick skin, lots of charm and a few quick-witted jokes. 
Friend: It’s over between us.
Me: Really?  But I was just getting to know you.
Friend: Well, that’s come to a screeching halt, hasn’t it?  You didn’t pick my chili.
Me: My subconscience took pity on a lesser participant.  I wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong ideas. 
Friend: What wrong ideas?  It was a great chili.
Me: Oh, people would talk.  Rumors would get started.  “What did she have to do to win that award?”
Friend: I didn’t have to do anything!  It was great chili!
Me: Yes, and now everyone will be suggesting impious things about your competitor.  I have successfully preserved your spotless name.  You may show your gratitude by serving me another bowl of your delicious chili.

I now offer a few suggestions for anyone planning to enter the judging lifestyle: 

1) As any self-respecting judge knows, bribes should be descrete.  Don’t flaunt any “appreciation” that may have been shown for a job well done or an “impartial” opinion reached.  If no bribes are offered, still do a good job.  Don’t take petty vendettas against those who don’t know any better.  But find a gentle way of coaching so that these mistakes may be avoided in the future.
2) Never let anyone see your notes while you’re in the throes of critique.  There is nothing more embarrasing than your true feelings being revealed.  How would you feel if one of the judged found out that you think their chili “lacks body,” “has an interesting aroma,” or “is reminiscent of the flavor in my mouth the last time I woke up after a three-day bender.”  Simply because you think something, it does not mean that it should be completely expressed.  Similarly, if your notes need to be reviewed and therefore seen by the masses, know this ahead of time and have your own internal code.  For me, for example: “sweet” = “canned sauce;” “beans appear overcooked” = “looks like catfood;” or “terrible” = “O! For the love of all that is holy!  My tastebuds are abandoning my mouth!  I have tasted evil!  Why has God forsaken me?  Kill me now!”
3) Never let them see you sweat.  You may taste spicy foods, you may taste disagreeable foods, you may even be pranked, but keep your chin up.  If something is so “terrible” (see above) as to shame the very idea of food, remember, this is theater and all eyes are on you.  Retain the drama.  Your public awaits your verdict and there is no satisfaction for them in knowing the descision before the award ceremony. 
Indeed, judging offers tremendous rewards and prestige in the community.  When handled correctly, it can also be quite lucrative.  But I’d rather be cooking.  And in case anyone out there is looking to enter my cooking into a contest, I offer great bribes.
Tonight for dinner:
Butterfly Rosemary Lemon Game Hens
1 Game Hen per person
3 Lemon slices per hen
fresh Rosemary
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the hens from their packages and rinse them thoroughly inside and out.  Using kitchen sheers (or the proper use of a good knife) cut the back out of the birds by cutting along the spine on both sides from tail to neck.  Using a paring knife, remove the wishbone.  Open the birds and flatten them out skin-side up.  Gently run your fingers between the skin and the meat, seperating the two.  Place one slice of lemon under the skin on each side of the breast and 1/2 a slice under the skin on the thighs.  Place sprigs of rosemary liberally under the skin wherever you can.  Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper.

Place the birds bones down and skin up on a cookie sheet, tuck the wings under themselves and slide it all into the oven.  Cook for 30 minutes and then take their temperature using an instant read thermometer, checking the breast meat and thighs.  Thighs should be 175 degrees and breast about 165.  If not, cook for a few minutes more.  When done, remove from the oven and cover with foil, letting it rest for 10 minutes. 

Enjoy!

Posted in game hens, judging | Leave a comment

Dinning at The Fort

We recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. In a brilliant moment of foresight, we planned our wedding so that our anniversaries might correspond to Denver’s 5280 Restaurant Week. Never mind that we got married 9 years before the promotion started, and that it was the first date the church was available –this is our week.

For those who live outside of Colorado (or perhaps under a Colorado rock) 5280 (pronounced “Fifty-two Eighty”) Restaurant Week follows the restaurant promotions of other cities but we are one mile above sea level: 5,280 feet = one mile, representative of the Mile High City. Get it? Here the restaurants feature multi-course dinners for the low, low price of $52.80 per couple (or $26.40 for a single person or a third wheel) and according to VISIT DENVER, the Convention and Visitors Bureau 281 restaurants participated this year.
We chose The Fort for our dining experience. Known for it’s gourmet treatment of game meats (Venison, Bison, Quail, et al), and its tagline “Food and Drink from the Early West.” I can’t confirm that my cocktail was from the early West, but it was damn good. “Traders Whiskey.” Fine bourbon, red chilies, tobacco and black gunpowder. Served neat, in a cordial glass. (OK, we did look it up. Find more, here.)
For the 5280 promotion, The Fort served a prix fixe menu of house salad, choice of Bison Ribs or Bison Brochette, with a quail and sides of corn with Lima beans, and mashed potatoes. Peach cobbler for dessert. They also gave us sourdough rolls and pumpkin muffins (with little apple pieces baked inside–delightful!) We ordered nothing more, and we were stuffed to the gills. Generous portions and delicious food! Because it was our anniversary, we also had our picture taken in authentic headgear (actually, I think mine was a hardhat with some buffalo fur scraps from the souvenir counter taped to it.) And although we didn’t eat it that night, they gave us an additional desert of Chocolate Chili Bourbon Cake.

The picture probably would have been better served before the gluttony, but c’est la vie.

I sincerely recommend scheduling some time next year to take advantage of 5280 Restaurant Week. With nearly 300 restaurants participating in every neighborhood and small town in the Denver Metro area, everyone can find something to suit their tastes, and this is a great way of trying something new. The dates are not announced very far in advance but for scheduling purposes, please consider that no restaurant wants to lose its Valentine’s Day revenue, nor try to work around the St. Patty’s day hullabaloo. I don’t know what the dates will be next year, but I know when they WON’T be.

For breakfast this morning:

Brule Bananas, Oven Bacon, Eggs over Easy and freshly baked Bread

Brulee Bananas

Slice bananas lengthwise and rest on a wire rack, on a cookie sheet, over a non-flammable surface. Sprinkle very liberally with white sugar. Don’t substitute here! Nothing else will burn in quite the same way. 
 
 
Grab your best blow torch. (Side note: do NOT spend the extra money on a “brulee torch.” They are too small, are over-priced, and you have to spend extra for fuel refills. Instead, go for the small propane bottles, and a $6 screw-on torch.) Patiently melt the sugar, holding the torch relatively still until the sugar begins to burn, turns deeply golden brown and bubbly. You can refrigerate for a few minutes, but do not cover or the crispy shell will liquefy.
 
Bread
 
2 cups Bread Flour (more gluten than All Purpose Flour)
2 tablespoons Yeast
1 1/2 cups warm (110 degrees F) Water
2 more cups Bread Flour + more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 stick of unsalted Butter, melted
The night before, combine 2 cups flour and yeast in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the water stir until everything is well mixed. Cover with plastic wrap and let it do it’s thing. In the morning it will have tripled or quadrupled in size.
 
Add 2 more cups of flour, salt and butter and mix until it comes together in a shaggy mass. Turn out onto a floured kneading surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until it’s smooth. Return to the bowl, cover with a warm damp cloth and let rise for 1 hour. Punch it down and let rise in the same way for another 45 minutes.
 
Shape the loaf on a piece of parchment paper let rise while the oven preheats. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. Let cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes (or a little more). Slice and eat it while it’s warm.
Posted in 5280, The Fort, banana, bread, breakfast, brule | Leave a comment

FAQs

1) Why are you blogging?

What can I say–I’m a giver. Sometimes things like this have to happen. Does it make me a hero? Perhaps. A humanitarian? Almost certainly. A Pulitzer prize-winning author? Hardly.

I’ve often been critiqued by friends and family that I never write down any of my recipes. And I don’t follow a cookbook. (Although I have many–read on.) And when I make something that I want to repeat, I regularly can’t remember what I’ve done. This is my attempt to remedy all of that. And entertain myself in doing so.

2) How’d you get started cooking?

My mom and dad. Known for the quality and quantity of her food preparation, my mom can produce a salad, three sides, a loaf of bread, three pies for dessert and a coffee cake for the next morning’s breakfast without thinking twice. And the problem is, I WANT TO EAT IT ALL! It’s delicious! My Dad, on the other hand, owns the grill. Try him out: bring him fish or fowl, beef or game, pork, lamb or mystery meat, and I promise you, your taste buds will dance in exaltation. There has always been a certain destiny for me and my brothers and our passion for food.

3) Where do you get your inspiration?

First and foremost, from the love of tasting. I love putting good things in my mouth. Let your sense of taste learn to identify various flavors. When you bite into a ripe pear, what happens? Where in your mouth do you taste it? Now dust it with a sprinkle of cinnamon. How does it change? Add a few grains of salt. A whole new world has just opened up with three simple ingredients–when you really take the time to experience it.

I also read a lot of cookbooks. Fannie Farmer. The Joy of Cooking. The Essentials of Italian Cuisine. Cooks Illustrated. The foundation of many good ideas start in a cookbook, but I just change and substitute as necessary. And television. Iron Chef, hands down, does more to stimulate the old brain-pan to think outside of convention.

4) Have you ever made anything that wasn’t good?

Yes. The most egregious act of treason ever committed in a kitchen was Sesame Fried Tofu.

My wife and I had a fight, and we have a covenant that we will not go to bed or leave each other in anger. This also means that sometimes we’ll fight for hours before we get things resolved. (For any men reading this, learn this simple phrase: “You are absolutely right honey. I could not be more sorry.” It’s a good start, and when you mean it, will cut hours off of the heat of battle.) So, after all the vitriol had been expelled from our bodies, it may have still hung in the air. The attempt at diner that night was tainted. We sat and ate it anyway, but after about 5 minutes, I looked over to her and said, “This is really horrible, isn’t it?” And I smiled. She said, “yes but I didn’t want to say anything.” And she smiled, too.

5) What does “Beyond Viand” mean?

A viand is a delicate and delectable dish. I am beyond that. More like guerrilla warfare in the kitchen.

6) What’s for dinner tonight?

Picadillo Oaxaqueno
adapted from Rick Bayless’ book Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico

1 pound Venison (Round Steak) (You can use pork, chicken, beef. You could probably use some kind of fiberous vegetable matter, too, but I’m not a vegetarian.)
1 Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Red Chili Powder (Chimayo)
1 inch Cinnamon Stick, grated
6 Cloves, ground
12 Black Pepper Corns, ground
2 cans (16 oz) Crushed Tomatoes
1/3 cup Raisins
1/3 cup lightly crushed and toasted Walnuts


Slow braise the venison until it’s pull-apart tender (think pot roast). This should take a few hours. Shred it.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil to saute hot. Add the garlic and onion and cook until translucent. Add the shredded meat, chili, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Mix well. Add the tomatoes and raisins.

Simmer, stirring every 15 minutes for about 45 minutes or until the sauce has thickened to the consistency you like. I like sloppy joe consistency. Add the walnuts.

Serve with fried plantains, fried polenta, soft or fried tortillas or sopapillas.

Posted in FAQs | Leave a comment

Surprises Can Be Good

As a financial advisor, I visit networking groups now and then. On occaision, to illustrate the difference between me and advisors who are not me, I provide this analogy:

“You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a financial advisor in this town. But like a great cook, a great advisor is a rare and precious find. So what separates a good cook from a great cook? The ingredients available to one are there for the other. I think it’s patience and creativity. A great cook knows that some ingredients need to be added at different times to develop the flavors. It can’t be rushed. And finding new ways of combining the same old ingredients may yield plesantly shocking surprises.”

And I am a great cook.

That’s a fun (and dare I say accurate!) analogy, but it reminds me of the problem with many restaurants. Specifically, this is why I don’t eat at any of the large chain restaurants. It’s not that these places are bad. Many have found great ways of giving back to the communities in which they are a part. It’s not that the food is bad. Each chain I’m picking on today uses high quality ingredients and increasingly often, fresh rather than frozen or canned. No, the reason for my distain begins with the corporate training for their cooks. (Yes. I said “cooks” not “chefs.”) The masses who frequent these chain restaurants have lauded the two elements which are the enemy to any artist: low cost and consistency. (Think Rembrandt vs Bob Ross.)


The food prepared at one point of sale in a chain is expected to be identical to any other point in that chain. An order of eggs over easy, a slice of ham, hashbrowns and 2 pancakes will not only have the same flavor from store to store, but will even be arranged on the plate to look identical. And to keep the prices as consistent and competitive as possible, they order the same ingredients for every location knowing exactly how much of each ingredient goes into each serving. Henry Ford’s principles applied to the kitchen.

It’s easy to get up on my soapbox. We demand that there be no accidents that could spoil an otherwise consistent dinner. We are willing to sacrifice surprise. But let me phrase this another way: “It’s easy for ME to get up on MY soapbox.” I don’t have kids. No growing teenagers who need an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. When one has the luxury of time, then one has the ability to hunt for locally owned establishments. I get to know the waitstaff and chef. I can stay late and talk during the off-peak hours. I try to tip well and say thank you and tell the manager how much we enjoyed ourselves. I don’t mind paying $10 more for a tab at a Mom-and-Pop restaurant if it’s high quality and they are working to offer something unique.

Instead of The Olive Garden, I go to Stellas. Instead of Applebees, I go to the OLI.

Go to the chains if you have to, but I encourage you, when you have the time, take it. Follow the road less traveled. Make friends with people who take care of you. Search out people and restaurants who have a a passion for food. In short, reward yourself with a few of the finer things in life. You deserve it.

For some pleasantly shocking surprises try:

Homemade Pizza

for the Dough:
4 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour + more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 tablespoons dry Yeast
2 tablespoons Agave Nectar (or honey)
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 cup of warm Water (+ more if needed)

In a stand mixer (preferably) or a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Stir to combine. In another bowl combine the nectar, oil and water. At a low mixing speed with a dough hook, add the wet into the dry ingredients. Continue to mix until the dough comes together in a rough shaggy mass. turn out onto a floured counter. and knead, adding flour as necessary until the dough is smooth.

Return to the bowl and cover with a warm damp towel. Let rise for 45 minutes. Punch down, turn and let rise for another 45 minutes.

Make your sauces:

Tomato
1 clove of Garlic sliced very thin (think of the scene in
Goodfellas) or pressed
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (yes, the good stuff–it matters here)
1 can Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 can Tomato Paste
1 tablespoon each of dried Basil, Oregano

Heat the oil in the pan on medium high heat. Add the garilc until it nearly dissolves. Reduce the heat and stir in the sauce, sugar and paste. Stir until smooth. Add the herbs. Add a pinch of salt if needed.

Preheat the oven to 45 degrees for a thin crust pizza or 425 for a thick crust. After the dough has risen a 2nd time, divide into 3 equal parts for thin crust or 2 parts for thick crust. I like rolling the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. It makes transferring and clean-up MUCH easier. Prick it all over with a fork to keep it from getting bubbles. Coat with a thin layer of olive oil, then sauce. Add toppings. Bake it in the oven until the edges are golden brown and the cheese in the center is bubbly but not crusty (about 10 minutes thin crust, 15 min thick crust).

Some of the toppings to try:

Pepperoni
Ham
Ground Beef
Chicken

Anchovies
Sausages
Shrimp
Pork
Bacon

Mushrooms
Asparagus
Artichoke
Bell Pepper
Chili Peppers
Onions

Rosted Garlic
Pineapple
Mandarin Oranges
Apples
Tomato Slices


Spinach
Basil
Rosemary

Pesto
Alfredo
Sweet and Sour
Tomato
Olive Oil (with a little Balsamic Vinegar)

Anything else you want to try–it’s yours to experiment

Banana Chicken Tacos

1 tablespoon Olive Oil
2 boneless skinless Chicken Breasts
Salt
2 tablespoons Chimayo Chili Powder
1/4 teaspoon Cardamom Powder
1/8 teaspoon Cumin Powder
1 Banana sliced
6-8 Corn or Flour Tortillas

Slice the chicken into 1/4 slices and saute in hot olive oil. When it starts getting brown on all sides, reduce the heat to medium or medium low. Add the spices and continue to stir until evenly coated. Add the banana. If the banana is ripe enough, it’ll become a sticky sugary sauce.

Serve it up in the tortillas with grated cheese, chopped tomato, shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream, etc.

Posted in OLI, Stella's, banana, chicken, pizza, tacos | Leave a comment

Food and Illness

I have a cold. Or a sinus infection. Or probably more accurately, sinusitis. Lovingly, happily, zealously, friends have come to the rescue offering (or insisting on) home remedies for getting rid of whatever bug ails me.

Knowing that even a Nobel Prize winning scientist like Linus Pauling could get overwhelmed by enthusiastic attachment to misapplied theories, improper research, and incorrectly extrapolated conclusions, what can the average Joe (or Jane) on the street believe?

While growing up, my Grandfather prescribed Blackberry Brandy for nearly every internal disease my Mom or her siblings could face. (My Dad’s Dad, by contrast would use Kerosene. “Cut off your finger? Let me dunk that stump into my cure-all jar of Kerosene.” No, it wouldn’t make the finger grow back but it would certainly re-focus the attention from whining about your finger. My wife’s Grandfather carried the same zeal for enemas!)

Several people recommended echinacea. Not at all surprising is that the conclusions are inconclusive. Well, nearly inconclusive. Tests aimed at preventing a cold all came back negative. Echinacea will not prevent a cold, but it MAY reduce the effects and duration. It seems that researchers are having difficulty determining what part of the echinacea plant is effective, and how it should be produced. Note: according to the research I read, there is a 58% chance of showing reduced symptoms by 1-3 days versus those taking a placebo. Modest improvement, yes, but hardly a silver bullet.

Some of my dearest friends insisted on garlic, two of them vehemently. (If you’re reading this, you’re not one of the vehement ones.) I know of some of the research done on garlic for cardiovascular diseases and cancer. It has conclusively been shown to fight off bacteria, viruses and other little beasties in a test tube. (I imagine the Sharks and the Jets fighting on neutral turf, snapping their little molecular fingers, dancing their little microscopic dance.) Unfortunately, garlic as a prevention for a cold looks bleak. IF you take garlic everyday for 3 months before being exposed to the viruses most associated with a cold, you may have a slightly better chance of staying healthy. There is so far no evidence for garlic treating a cold once you have one. Garlic still rocks, and I cook with it often. But I’ll rely more on its flavor than medicinal qualities.

I love Chicken Soup. No, it doesn’t really cure a cold, but warm broth and a multitude of basic nutrients provide immediate comfort. Oh wait–research DOES show that chicken soup can help, at least in vitro. (The Jets and the Sharks have someone else to rumble with.) And usually someone else is making it for you, which means you’re being pampered. While most naturopathic remedies feature a product that can be sold in capsules, drops or other refined form, anyone can make chicken soup and even in can form, the competition keeps the price low. Just make sure you have good chicken and lots of good veggies.

As to treating the symptoms, I recommend a Hot Toddy or the Virgin Hot Toddy: Lemon and Honey. Warm liquids and honey both soothe a scratchy throat, and lemon provides a modest mucus-clearing ability. To add bourbon or not is a matter of preference, although alcohol in moderation does promote a good night’s sleep.

So what’s the best? I recommend cuddling up with someone who will put up with you, eat some chicken soup, drink a hot toddy, and get lots of rest. As Leonard told Joel Fleischman in the “Heal Thy Self” episode of Northern Exposure: “The doctor’s job is to make the patient feel more comfortable until the body can heal itself.” There is some wisdom to that. If a hot toddy and chicken soup work like that for you, great. If it’s a garlic enema with a vitamin C chaser, great. Just don’t tell me about it.

Chicken Soup

1 whole Chicken, skin removed
Water
Salt and Pepper
1 Onion
4 Carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks Celery, chopped
10 medium Button Mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves of Garlic, minced
2 California Bay Leaves
Noodles (1 1/2 cups, uncooked), Rice (1 cup, uncooked) or Potatoes (4, peel left on, washed and cut into 1/2 inch cubes)

Remove the giblets, and throw the chicken (with the neck) into a large stock pot. Add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Salt and pepper to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon each, maybe a little less pepper). Add the bay leaves. I like to keep the onion peel and carrot peel and put them into a cheesecloth satchel and add to the pot at this point. If you want to, it adds to a more complex broth.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Let it bubble for 2 hours. The gelatin from the bones begins to break down and the meat gets very tender. Remove the chicken (and the cheesecloth satchel) from the broth, but don’t take it off the heat. Let the broth continue to simmer. Using forks, seperate the large pieces of meat from the bones. Let it cool enough to use your hands on the carcass.

Take as much meat off the bones as you can. Shred it or chop it. Put it back in the pot with the veggies. If you’re using rice or potatoes, add them now. Let simmer for an hour. (If you’re using noodles, add them about 20 minutes before you’re ready to serve.)

Left overs are great.

Posted in chicken soup, common cold, garlic | 1 Comment