Spring time in Denver can be a precarious time, especially if you happen to be a sensitive flower. If someone planted you within the last couple of weeks, during the recent tee-shirt and sandal spell, you would now be a wilted thing and sadly, out of luck: destined to be turned over and forked under the cold, soaked soil, because we just had a late mother of a snow storm. Continue reading “Mint pesto with Asparagus, parmigiano-reggiano and a poached egg…”→
People seem put off by eating nettles. First of all, they’re a weed, whatever that means, and you can’t buy them from an approved source — like a Safeway grocery. A name that, when you think about it, preys upon and inflates our fears about foods that you don’t buy from them. Their foods are safe — the name implies — and clean. So why risk another way? Why risk a walk on the wild side?
I’ve never been big on holidays. I dislike them immensely. It’s a phobia I acquired — like a bad taste in my mouth — from working impossibly long hours, especially on holidays, in the restaurant trade for such a large slice of my life. Customers — would come in on holidays, often with family members, out of obligation, or from out of town — were always double, like extra supersize needy. Suppliers were frequently under-staffed and under-stocked, making deliveries extra stressful. Staff was grumpy, hung over, or, in jail. One night 3 of my cooks were busted for smoking a joint in the alley behind the restaurant by 2 cops on mountain bikes. Fortunately, it was late and we had just closed. After they were taken to be processed and then released 3 hours later, I insisted they come back and clean up the kitchen. It was the night before Memorial day. I still shudder when it comes around. Of course in these Colorado high times, that scenario would no longer apply. Nowadays, maybe you could share your stash with the cops? Continue reading “Our Memorial Day”→
Poor old grains. They’re getting such a bad wrap these days. You haven’t heard? Maybe you don’t live in the US. Over here rabid gangs of seedy paleo nuts run the darkened streets, pushing animal fats and intimidating all to drop their grains and follow their fad. As if paleo man and wife dined on rib-eyes and arugula every night.
Gluten free, my friend, no longer cuts it. That’s what the book Wheat Belly was about. Now you got your rice belly, your buckwheat belly, your cookie belly and here in Denver your pot belly, which comes from hoards of stoners stuffing themselves silly with sugar — the munchie affliction. I think the whole belly thing is going to be a big flop. Mine is. So’s Ionah’s. That’s why for a 2 week period she’s decided not to eat any grains. So, I go along. I like the challenge.
Normally, we love to eat Asian style noodle bowls, Italian pastas, risottos, arroz con pollo, couscous, croissants, potatoes. I love pastries, I love burritos. I make corn tortillas all the time— sourdough bread on the grill, toast with butter and jam, I love a nice pear tart and I love beer… but I make an exception, a concession: I will continue taking my daily intake of oatcakes. My friends at Oats of Allegiance would be too upset if I cancelled my subscription.
Lately I’d been thinking, one of these days, I need to make a fire. I have always loved the act of preparing fire. Not only is it warming and key to survival for some, it’s ancestral and it promotes council and community — but really, its the mischief of flame that I like.
We sat outside on a beautiful May evening, watched neighborhood cormorants cross the sky above our heads and listened to chirps of newly arrived blackbirds and the urgent wale of city police sirens and enjoyed our wood fire grilled meal.
Ionah, who casually flirts along the frontiers of veganisn, is mostly a loyal vegetarian. And I usually go along. But I wanted some beef, a Mid-Eastern flavored plump lolli stick seemed in order— along with stuffed poblano peppers with corn and black beans, slices of zucchinni, scallions, tahini sauce, harissa mayonnaise. Avocado too.
Normally I would serve a platter of glorious steamed couscous, fruity with olive oil and alive with a mound of mint stubbled with toasted pine nuts and golden raisins— but it was not to be.
Start a fire. I am lucky to have an indegenous mix of juniper and piñon. It usually takes a couple of hours to develop down into hot glowing coals. If you are a beer drinker, this would be the time.
For the beef, chop some parsley,
grind up some cumin and rosemary,
Add these to a pound of ground beef in a bowl and add some chopped garlic, onion and salt and black pepper.
Form it into a nice ball
and divide into four lollipop shapes. Skewer each one with a pre-soaked (10 minutes in water) bamboo skewer. I forgot to photograph this. Oh well.
Next blister the chilis on an open flame
Get them black all over. Put them into a paper or plastic bag and seal for 10 minutes.
Remove from the bag and peel them
Slit them down the middle and remove as many seeds as you can. Rinsing under running water can make this easier.
For the filling sauté some onion until soft,
add corn (I used frozen, it will thaw as soon as it hits the pan).
Add a few chopped herbs
Add cooked black beans. Season to taste with salt.
Stuff the chilis with this mixture
Close them as best you can, adding a scant amount of olive oil to prevent sticking on the grill.
Peel the asparagus. Cut the zucchini into 3 long slices, having removed the skin on both sides and cut these in half. You should have 6 even slices. Season with salt and roll in a tiny amount of olive oil—too much and the grill will flame up. You do not want that to happen.
Now get out there and grill…
You got your beef,
you got your zucchini, your scallions, your peppers,
Spring’s around and It gets into every corner of the garden. I want to be out there and not miss a shoot. That means getting dirty tearing out the dead, digging in the dirt, trimming, weeding, pruning and collecting. The premier crop right now is dandelion. It’s coming up through the cracks in the patio. It’s growing out of the walls in the garage. It’s peeking out of pots where it shouldn’t. You really got to love it, and then you get to eat it. It’s free. It’s killer good, and it’s up there mega on the nutritional scale.
It was the Brits who first brought it here. In those days, it is said, they cleared out the grass to make room for the dandelion so they could have fresh greens in their new digs.
My, how things have changed. Nowadays, people display uncontrollable urges to poison and exterminate the guileless dandelion as if it were lucifer in the flesh himself.
Yesterday for lunch, Ionah produced a beautiful salad of dandelion greens, chick peas, avocado and toasted sunflower seeds — It went something like this.
Chop a little garlic into your salad bowl and add some mustard and red wine vinegar and whisk to emulsify.
Slowly stream in olive oil and whisk until you have enough to coat the greens. Add chopped avocado and some cooked chickpeas.
Toast sunflower seeds in a heavy skillet on medium heat
As I was riding home the other day, I dropped into a little liquor store on the corner of Zuni and 32nd street. Placing my six-pack on the counter, I started chatting with the guys at the register. Turns out they’re both from Mongolia. From there the conversation led to, of course, you guessed it — horses and hills and yurts and the Chinese government and development and why Colorado? It reminds us of home, they said in unison. We have peaks like yours and the climate is the same — like today — rain, snow, sunshine — crazy. Is it spring, is it winter? Maybe he meant to say mountains, but when he said peaks I thought of something knobbled, like crazy knobbled peaks.
On my way home as I peddled and puzzled over dinner, thinking, what does one eat on a day like this? Asparagus — which is slowly beginning to show up from local sources— or does one stick with winter comestibles? A schizophrenic day, I reasoned, requires a schizophrenic vegetable, which brought my thoughts to Romanesco— those knobbled peaks of vegetal psychedelia. Could be from outer Mongolia for all I know.
Is it a perverted broccoli or a cauliflower mutant? An alien from an outer field? Whatever it is, it has become a resident in our kitchen and it makes for a stunning roast on vegan night which seems to be most nights around here of late. The thing looks so vibrant, so alive, one could almost feel the guilt of the reluctant meat-eater when faced with butchering it. All cauliflower is butchered the same way prior to roasting: You peel away the excessive leaves, lay it on its top and quickly cut out its rectal core or whatever it’s called on the bottom — its stub?
You thank it for giving up its life.
Back in the day cauliflower came in any color you liked as long as it was white. We ate it often and always the same way, in a cheese sauce. My mother called it cauliflower cheese. It was really a Mornay sauce, topped with bread crumbs and baked and finished under the broiler to a golden bubbly like an Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake .
It’s come a long way from its cheesy gooey past having morphed, kind of like Denver into a cosmopolitan—but vegetal metropolis. Now it comes in a bunch of diverse colors. Along with the common white, we see it in purple, yellow and orange.
Then there’s the king of weird: Romanesco, also known as, Roman cauliflower, or Romanesco broccoli, it’s originally from Italy, it’s totally nuts — I love it.
It’s unbelievably simple to roast a cauliflower: douse it with good olive oil and rub sea salt all over, maybe layer a few sliced potatoes and onions underneath like this white one here.
Put it in the oven at 350˚, basting every 1/2 hour, for 2 hours or more depending on its size.
Or you can dress it up a little more. For the Romanescos pictured above — and I used 2, as it was a dinner formulated for romance—I used my trusty Moroccan tagine. I dressed them in olive oil, sea salt, toasted and ground cumin seeds and an ample amount of Aleppo pepper. I had some cooked chick peas in the fridge, so in they went. I added some baby potatoes, carrots, onions and trumpet mushrooms. Then I made a simple sauce of coconut milk and Thai green curry paste. (You can buy the curry paste ready-made to save time) Just heat in a pan and mix it up.
Pour the lot over the Romanesco and vegetables. It’s a tagine right? That means you cover it with the lid, which creates the steamy, sultry interior, and after an hour I deluded it for another hour
to get a nice crispy finish on the knobby peaks. Don’t forget to baste it once you take the lid off. For a final booster I chopped and added a few leaflets of kale and let them steam under the lid a minute while waiting for my wife to join me at the table.
Spring dandelion greens with mint pesto and tinned anchovies
From the array of challenges facing the Denver culinarian, top of the list surely is the availability of fresh food. I have long ago, for example, stopped buying seafood labeled as fresh from my local Whole Foods or any other supermarket. You should see the pale, pallid crap they market here as salmon.
I make an exception, however, come July and August, when the price for fresh wild Alaska salmon drops to an affordable $20 a pound.
Alaska airlines operate a daily bee line from Anchorage to Denver, and I have a man, Bruce, who has a shop, Seafood Landing, in the old Scottish Highlands neighborhood. He flies it in direct every Tuesday. But that’s as I say, only in August.
Meanwhile, I am happy when the need for seafood arrives, to settle on the many options for tinned fish, especially if it’s packed in olive oil, my favorites being the mighty Portuguese mackerel, Ortiz’s fat sardines packed in glass jars, smoked wild herring from Bar Harbor, Maine, and lest we forget, the petite yet meaty, too often unsung beauties of the sea — anchovies snuggled in their tins with olive oil slime.
In Denver in April, 95% of the vegetable and fruit offerings at our local market, which has the decidedly unappetizing name of The Vitamin Cottage, come from thousands of miles and almost as many countries away. I have kept chard from my garden, for the purpose of experimentation, for 10 days in the fridge, and it looks about the same as what you get in the grocery store — still edible, it looks OK, but it’s not exactly fresh. I know what I’m saying because I used to work in the wholesale produce business. Think about it: After being plucked from the field and washed and cooled — let’s just say organic lacinato kale — it may lie over night in a field cooler awaiting truck’s arrival to bring it down to LA, where it may just as well sit for 2 days before enduring the 20 hour desert crossing and scaling of the rocky mountains, before arriving truck-lagged to a Denver warehouse where it could be delayed another 2 days, and possibly yet another in the store’s walk-in, before ending up in the produce case forlorn but fluffed and dying to be misted. So, really how fresh can that be?
So what’s to eat that’s super fresh and not truck-lagged in Denver in April that’ll make you think you’re eating like any every day, overtly tattooed San Francisco culinary hipster? Sure there’s asparagus, but it’s not from here, not yet anyway, it’s from Mexico and it usually looks a little dried up; the asparagus in my garden is peaking a mere 3 inches out of the ground just about now. The first things to emerge that look anything like spring around here are mint and dandelion.
Both are considered to be weeds by an alarming number of eaters, but both are delicious.
To make a mint pesto, just pick, wash and crush a couple of handfuls of mint leaves with a few cloves of garlic in a mortar or a food processor.
smash it up real good.
Add a handful of nuts. I used roasted peanuts because that’s what was in my fridge, but pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios work just fine.
Smash some more—it feels good.
Stream in a little olive oil and place it in that little container and clean up yer mess.
Dandelion greens, as you know grow low to the ground, so make sure to triple wash them, especially if you are a dog owner,
like a cattle dog owner…
Toss with a little lime juice, some of the pesto and a little more olive oil.
Pry open the anchovies or other tinned fish and place a few filets on the salad. Pour off the remaining liquid into the dog bowl—save it for later— you can mix it with his kibble and a lightly scrambled egg for a nice meal. Take the salad and sit in a shaded area of your garden, if you are lucky enough to have one— eat and enjoy.[wd_contact_form id=”3″]