Monthly Archives: August 2016

CAPRESE SALAD

You are probably wondering, “Who needs a recipe for caprese salad?” After all, it’s fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, and a little salt. But if you check out the internet, you’ll see that nearly every celebrity chef, along with all of the food websites have posted a recipe. Some call for roasted tomatoes, some call for lots of additional ingredients, some leave out one or another of the key ingredients, some with bizarre (IMHO) substitutions. Then there are the purists who insist that anything other than chunked tomatoes (I think slices are easier), “torn” pieces of homemade mozzarella (slices match the tomatoes), and torn –  not cut –  basil results in an inferior dish. (I readily admit that my taste buds have never been discriminating enough to taste the difference between torn or chopped greens of any sort. Also, there’s something to be said for whole leaves of fresh basil).

There are some requirements that I do agree with: The tomatoes should be as fresh as possible; just picked from the garden may be the best and those from the farmers’ market are certainly acceptable. Supermarket tomatoes are a distant third. The mozzarella should be as fresh as possible. If it is refrigerated, it will shrink and firm up a bit, but is certainly ok, especially if it comes in liquid. Mozzarella that comes in plastic-wrapped slabs from the grocery store is in the same category as supermarket tomatoes. As to the basil, the fresher the better, and for this dish I prefer ordinary sweet basil to any of the other varieties. The olive oil should be the very best you have. As to the salt, you can use it straight out of the shaker, but kosher salt or a good finishing salt make it better. Freshly ground black pepper is ok, too.

That’s it. An unspoken truth is that NOW is probably the only season to make caprese salad, while the tomatoes and basil are fresh from the garden. As to the mozzarella, I got a nice round lump at the Cheesemongers of Santa Fe. The label said that it was from Rhode Island, but it was fresh enough to satisfy my unsophisticated  palate. With all of that, I feel obliged to offer a recipe for a wonderful dish that needs no recipe.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad

RECIPE

Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 large, ripe tomatoes
  • ½ to 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • fresh basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil (the best you have)
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Method

  1. Slice the tomatoes and the mozzarella.
  2. Arrange the tomato slices, mozzarella slices and basil leaves in layers on salad plates. Sprinkle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and optional ground pepper. Serve immediately.

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RUSTIC GAZPACHO

The bounty of summer is beginning to pour in. Our neighbor has more peaches than he knows what to do with. Now we have more peaches than we know what to do with. And he has invited us back for more. Unfortunately his apricot and cherry trees had no fruit this year, probably because of  late frost.

Good friends gave us some delicious plums from their back yard. We will probably get some more when we visit them today. So far, no one has given us any zucchini, but they will come. The tomatoes are in abundance.

This week we went to the market at the Community Farm instead of our usual visit to the farmers’ market at the Rail Yard. The Community Farm is a group of fields and orchards owned by a 90+ year-old man who has contributed their use to the city. Volunteers do all of the work, and so the vegetables are not the perfect specimens that you find at the farmers’ market much less the supermarket. But the produce is put to good use. Most of it goes to the local food bank and a program of meals for house-bound clients. The farm has a public market every Sunday afternoon. We pulled into the driveway and were greeted by a group of volunteers clearly proud of their efforts: piles of fresh vegetables. We bought baskets of  fragrant and colorful vegetables, and now we have to make some good stuff from the bounty.

There were lots of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and a red onion in our basket. What could be better to make than a summer soup of gazpacho? Actually, I am not a big fan of most gazpacho. It is often puréed into oblivion and resembles baby food. I much prefer to have identifiable vegetables and crusty garlic croutons. That’s what this recipe is.

RECIPE

Rustic Gazpacho

Ingredients

  • 6 ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, seeds removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup minced parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of ½ lime
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • salt and pepper
  • garlic croutons
  • snipped chives (optional)
  • sour cream (optional)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, onion, parsley, and garlic.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lime juice, sugar, and olive oil until well combined. Stir the mixture into the vegetables.
  3. Stir in the chicken stock. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Adjust seasoning with more lemon juice if desired, salt and pepper. Serve, topped with croutons. Garnish with snipped chives and sour cream if desired.

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RASPBERRY SNOW

It’s raspberry season, at least in the Rocky Mountain West. A friend just brought us a jar of raspberry preserves from Garden City, Utah. That’s home to a number of raspberry farms and the Bear Lake Raspberry Days. Closer to our current home is the Salman Raspberry Farm. You can pick your own, buy their preserves, or buy them in our local farmers market.

Bear Lake is a spectacular blue lake that sits astride the border between Utah and Idaho. It was home to back-to-back Mountain Men Rendezvous in the 1820s. Since then it has been a site of retreat for people from all over the world but especially from Salt Lake City. We made at least one annual trip every year we lived in Salt Lake City. The blue color of the water is so intense that it looks other-worldly. It is said that the color is due in large part to tiny grains of limestone, so-called glacial flour. Lakes in the Canadian Rockies, like Jasper Lake, are also an intense blue said to be due to glacial flour. Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border is also an intense blue, but local authorities have different explanations for the cause.

Salman’s Ranch can’t boast an other-worldly blue-colored lake, but it has its own long history. And it has raspberries.

The gift of raspberry preserves was delicious, but the preserves gave me a hankering to do something with fresh berries. Raspberries and cream, though delicious, seemed a bit prosaic. Panna cotta with fresh berries was a little more complicated. Then I thought of a raspberry Bavarian. That would definitely not be a prosaic dessert. On the other hand, making a crème anglaise and finding a suitable mold seemed like a lot of trouble. I settled on something in between, raspberries in whipped cream stabilized with gelatin. The final result was ok – good but not great. There are some modifications that I would make to the recipe if I would do it again.  For one, you could use about half as much gelatin. Still, we cleaned the bowl in just a day, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

Fresh raspberries

Fresh raspberries

Raspberry snow

Raspberry snow

RECIPE

Raspberry Snow

Ingredients

  • 1 pint fresh raspberries
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 packet (¼ ounce) unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • ¼ cup boiling water

Method

  1. Wash and drain the raspberries
  2. In a medium bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks. Stir in the raspberries and vanilla extract. You may crush some of the raspberries as you stir them into the cream. That is fine because the juice will add to the color and flavor of the whipped cream.
  3. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin granules over the cold water and let sit for at least a full minute until the gelatin is fully bloomed. Add the boiling water and stir for at least 2-3 minutes until the gelatin is fully dissolved.
  4. Stir the gelatin mixture into the whipped cream mixture. Be sure that it is evenly and completely incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or until the mixture is set. If you prefer,, you can transfer the mixture to a decorative bowl or mold before chilling it.

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SWISS STEAK AND FINGERLING POTATOES

I ate a lot of Swiss steak while growing up. I suspect a lot of kids of the 1950s and 1960s ate a lot of Swiss steak. It was fairly easy and fairly cheap. Moms could whip it together when they got home from work.  It probably got even more popular when crock pots came along. Honestly, I didn’t much like it – too many vegetables. I’m over that dietary hang-up now.

I haven’t had Swiss steak for years, and I think it has fallen out of favor across the USA. I’m not sure why that might be. Perhaps it reflects the move away from red meat. Perhaps folks have come to prefer vegetables that haven’t been cooked to death. Whatever the reason, I am of the mind that it needs to be reinstated as a delicious family meal. If you  add some potatoes – in this case, fingerlings from the farmers’ market – you wind up with a complete one-dish evening meal.

Fingerling potatoes

Fingerling potatoes

An interesting factoid that I learned in reading about Swiss steak: I had always assumed that Heidi’s mother made the dish while Heidi was out with the cows in a beautiful Alpine valley. Not so. “Swiss” refers to the process of pounding floured meat to tenderize it rather than to the country of origin. As to the pounding, the purpose is to break down muscle fibers in tougher cuts of meat. The simplest way to manage this step is to have your butcher run the meat through a “tenderizer” or “cuber”.  In my opinion, while the process does indeed tenderize the meat, it brings it just one small step away from ground beef. A meat pounder, with or without teeth, is a useful home kitchen tool. The edge of a saucer or small plate works just as well.

A pounder is a useful kitchen tool

A pounder is a useful kitchen tool

The geometry of pounded steak

The geometry of pounded steak

RECIPE

Swiss Steak and Fingerling Potatoes

Halfway through the braising

Halfway through the braising

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pound round steak, cut about 1 inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch discs
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and sliced in rounds
  • 8 medium crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ½ cup beef stock
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • good pinch of sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 – 12 fingerling potatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. In a pie plate or deep dish, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Cut the round steak into serving-sized pieces and blot dry. Dredge the pieces of steak in the flour mixture, shake off any excess, and place one-by-one on a flat surface. Pound on each side, dredge again in flour, and pound on each side again.
  2. Over medium-high flame, heat the vegetable oil until it is shimmering. Add pieces of floured steak and brown on both sides, turning several times as the meat browns. Transfer the browned steaks to a plate.
  3. Add the onions to the oil remaining in the pan and stir until the onions are caramelized, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in the garlic, carrot, celery, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Sauté for about 5 minutes until the vegetables are lightly cooked and the celery is translucent.
  5. Stir in the canned tomatoes, wine, beef stock, paprika, tomato paste, and sugar. Add the bay leaves. Bring to the boil, cover, and transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 225°F.
  6. Cook for at least 3 hours, stirring from time to time and adding more water if needed.
  7. About an hour and a half before you are ready to serve, add the fingerling potatoes, making sure they are well covered in the cooking liquid. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaves.
  8. Serve the steak and potatoes in soup bowls, topped with the vegetables and sauce. Serves 3 – 4 persons.

    Ready to eat

    Ready to eat

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ELITCH GARDENS LIMEADE: THE PATHS OF ROBERT REDFORD AND ME

Denver’s original Elitch Gardens was one of those classic Victorian amusement parks, built on an old farm in the outskirts of the city. The parks were often built at the end of a trolley line and served as a wonderful Sunday getaway for city dwellers. During my high school years, I worked there in the summers.

Elitch started out as a botanical garden and zoo with picnic pavilions, but before long the zoo disappeared and the park added a miniature train, a carousel, restaurants, a wooden roller coaster and a baseball field where semi-pro teams played. There were two special attractions. The theater was claimed by Elitch to be the oldest and longest continuously operating summer stock theater in America. The Trocadero Ballroom was a huge art deco venue with open arcades to catch the breezes, a large bandstand, and tables all around for refreshments.

The theater was a relic of the Victorian Age, made with clapboard painted pea green, edged with white boards and topped with a cupola. There was a passageway to the entrance that was lined with photos of all of the luminaries who had played there, including Sarah Bernhardt, John Barrymore, Gloria Swanson, Myrna Loy, and many others, famous and not so. All of the pictures were inscribed to the owner of Elitch along with the kind of sappy notes that are always attached to that kind of image lined up  on the walls of restaurants and commercial establishments..

The Trocadero seemed elegant with recessed lights and hanging baskets of flowers in the arcades. I am sure that it was a potential fire trap like so many of the other ballrooms across the country. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s it was the place to go for young people looking for a relaxed evening. All of the famous bands came through for a one- or two-week stand. There was Benny Goodman, Les Brown and the Band of Renown, and the Dorsey Brothers, Tommy and Jimmy. But by far, the most popular band was Lawrence Welk. He could really pack in the crowds.

For a time I worked at the Hamburger Stand, exactly what it sounds like, in the middle of the park and next to the carousel. The management was very proud of the fact that the soda fountain was the original from 1890, and so was the cooktop. The workers were not as happy with the ancient cooking gear as the owners. I was a busboy who then got promoted to working the order window and finally put behind the grill as the short-order cook. It was an interesting job and gave me an interesting perspective on customers and serving the public.

At the Trocadero, I worked as a busboy except when I ran the Lemonade Stand at the theater.  The Lemonade Stand was a little Victorian pagoda where we sold orange juice and lemonade made from very large cans of frozen concentrate that we thawed and diluted. Limeade was freshly made, and it was very popular.  Each day in preparation for the theater crowd, I would line up squadrons of paper cups in hotel pans, cut limes in half  and squeeze one lime into each paper cup. I wore out at least one metal squeezer, but my wrists got very strong. Each cup got a maraschino cherry and two squirts of simple syrup from the antique soda fountain. Then the prepared cups were put in the walk-in cooler until I hauled them to the lemonade stand to await the theater crowds and for final assembly.

Metal lime squeezer

Metal lime squeezer

When theater intermission came, the audience would rush out, and I would make them limeades as quickly as I could by adding ice and seltzer to the prepared paper cups. My efforts were never fast enough for the impatient crowds who worried that they might miss the curtain. There was a Wednesday matinée, and the crowd changed. The audience was almost all women who had enjoyed a fancy luncheon before the show. They were anxious to get their limeades at intermission. The ladies all wore gloves and hats.  I often wondered how you can see the play when you are sitting behind a lady with a hat?  One of the great unsolved mysteries of my lifetime.

When I was reading about the history of Elitch, and especially the theater, I learned that Robert Redford was listed as a cast member in 1955. That was the heyday of my lemonade stand days. I imagine that Robert Redford was busy inside learning and practicing how to be rich and famous. I was outside, making fresh limeade for ladies with gloves. Redford and I never met.

RECIPES

Simple Syrup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Method

  • Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Do not worry if there is undissolved sugar.
  • Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. .
  • Remove from the heat. Cool. Transfer to a clean glass jar with a tight lid. Refrigerate any unused syrup.

    Persian limes - or just "limes"

    Persian limes – or just “limes”

Elitch Gardens Limeade

Ingredients

  • 1 large Persian lime (Key limes won’t work)
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • 1 ounce (equivalent to 2 squirts from the soda fountain dispenser) simple syrup
  • ice
  • club soda

Method

  • Soften the lime by rolling it with the palm of your hand on a hard surface. Cut it in half. With a lime squeezer, squeeze the juice into a 12-ounce glass, and add the rinds to the juice.
  • Add the maraschino cherry and the simple syrup.
  • Pack the glass with crushed ice or ice cubes
  • Fill the glass with club soda. Stir to mix, and serve. Makes one drink.

    My version of Elitch Garden limeade

    My version of Elitch Garden limeade

 

 

 

 

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