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Wet year makes for great mushroom hunting in Roaring Fork Valley

Veteran mushroom hunters talk in generalities when discussing their preferred picking locations.

“People are famously discrete about their favorite mushroom spots,” said local mushroom forager, David Teitler. “No one is going to tell you where their best spot is unless you are their friend and I am certainly not going to put it in the newspaper.”

No secret, however, is the fact that Independence Pass and areas along the Frying Pan River serve as hotspots for foragers like Teitler. And, while numerous mushroom species grow in Colorado, two stick out as the cream of the crop — boletus (also known porcini) and chanterelle.

“You can cook the boletus or chanterelle with onions, garlic, a little white wine or some shallots,” Teitler said of the mushrooms that often complement pasta, steak, risotto and even breakfast dishes.

“The boletus, specifically, over toast with over easy eggs makes for a really good breakfast.”

A Carbondale resident, Teitler first got into mushroom hunting — a hobby he says at times can “border on obsession,” — while backpacking with friends some 30 years ago.

“The best way to learn about mushrooms is you go with someone who knows, and each time you go out you learn maybe one more mushroom,” Teitler said.

Last year’s Lake Christine Fire, combined with this year’s wet weather, made for particularly good burn morel mushroom hunting.

A rare find, burn morel mushrooms grow the year after a fire in its burn scar area.

“There was a proliferation of morel mushrooms on Basalt Mountain this year,” Teitler said.

A wild morel mushroom on Basalt Mountain.
David Teitler

Trent Blizzard, another avid Roaring Fork Valley mushroom forager, said that one should always cook mushrooms, not only for their flavor, but safety reasons too.

“There is something in them called chitin, which breaks down when you cook them,” Blizzard said. “Even raw mushrooms that you get from the grocery store, your body doesn’t really turn them into nutrition because the chitin hasn’t been broken down through cooking.”

In Colorado, the premiere mushroom-hunting season occurs in late July and August. However, Blizzard said he preserves the wild delicacy for year-round enjoyment.

“We dehydrate, pickle, and freeze,” Blizzard said of the various mushroom preservation techniques. “There are so many ways you can preserve these mushrooms and enjoy them on food.”

In addition to putting them on pizza, Blizzard particularly enjoys slicing larger mushrooms to cook on the grill — similar to steak.

“These are very desirable gourmet mushrooms that have worldwide markets,” Blizzard said.

Wild morel.
David Teitler

One must possess a special permit from the state to sell a wild mushroom. However, anyone can go out and pick the delicacy so long as they obtain a free permit from the Forest Service.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Weekend Dish column: It’s always summer with peach cobbler

It feels like summer could last forever. Alas, nothing gold can stay. Colorado has its way of telling time through the seasons.

Sunflowers make me feel happy and sad at once. I love their vibrant colors, as they stand tall against the harsh summer sun. They are beautiful, but they remind us to enjoy the time we have. Here in Colorado, these things move like clockwork. As the sunflowers salute the sun, they warn us that summer is ending soon.

Another hint of autumn is the Palisade Peach stands that randomly pop up in parking lots and roadsides. They are the reliable harbingers of changing seasons in August.

August is also National Peach Month, so let us celebrate together.

Colorado sunshine and the water from our famous river sustains Palisade peaches. They thrive on the scorching hot days and clear, cold nights, while they proudly blaze with vivid hues and sweeten under the stars. Peaches are Colorado summers. 

Their beauty is also fragile and finicky. Peaches are not a sure bet for our local farmers, and many environmental factors can affect them. 

If spring is colder, and summer is longer, then the peach harvest lasts further into the autumn. Conversely, if we get an early frost or snow, then the peach season is over. Our peaches are just trying to survive here along with the rest of us.

Georgia may be the “Peach State,” but Palisade is the peach capital. I wish I knew more about their history here. What motivated the pioneers of the late 19th century to plant these fragile crops? Was success written in the Book Cliffs or whispered by the river?

According to information provided by the Palisade Peach Festival organization, a pioneer, John Petal Harlow, and his wife planted the first peach trees in Palisade around 1882. He also helped to design and implement a series of canals that diverted water from the Colorado River.

With those life-giving waters, he transformed the high desert into a fertile valley that would provide many bountiful crops of grapes, plums, apricots, cherries, and peaches.

Those early settlers discovered their peaches were brighter and sweeter than fruit found elsewhere. Success was not guaranteed, but nature gave her blessing, and a peach industry has thrived there ever since.

While some years are better than others, this year seems to be a good year so far. The peaches are doing so well that the growers are having a hard time finding laborers to pick them.

Even though peaches are now abundant, they won’t last much longer. Whether you take a day trip to Palisade, buy them from a roadside seller, or visit the local grocery store, the options can be dizzying. How do you choose the perfect peach?

The website for visiting Grand Junction recommends checking the colors around the peach’s stem. 

“If the skin is green near the stem, the peach was picked green,” according to the site. “If the skin around the stem is yellow or red, then the peach is ripe. If it yields easily to pressure, then it is very ripe and will bruise easily.”

The latter kind of peaches are best for eating, and you will be able to taste the difference. But even peaches that are less than ideal are great for baking. If you go crazy picking peaches, you can also freeze them for later baking. 

I have a go-to recipe for peach cobbler that is both sumptuous and easy to make. The secret to this recipe (and life itself) is sugar cookie dough. Many of the other ingredients are quite common in most kitchens. You can also use fresh or frozen peaches with the same juicy results.

The other primary ingredients include butter, sugar, corn starch, eggs, and lemon juice. I sometimes feel like Paula Dean with all the butter I use, so you can substitute the butter with coconut oil if desired. I also used my trusty iron skillet to bake the cobbler, but other baking dishes or pans work great too.

Whenever I taste a peach, I go to that place that is always summer in my mind. As I get older, I tend to appreciate these experiences more than I ever have.

So many of the things we eat are from so far away. But we can call Palisade peaches our own. They have eked out an existence in the high desert just as we do. We thrive in the same sunshine, and we bow before the bitter cold. Peach cobbler can take you to the place where sunflowers grow eternal, and it is always summer.

Sugar Cookie Peach Cobbler

Serves six to eight people.

Ingredients

Peach Filling

5 cups Palisade peaches, sliced

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

pinch of flour

Crust Topping

1 package sugar cookie mix

1/2 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg

pinch of brown or turbinado sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse and gently pat dry peaches, then slice as thinly as desired.
  2. Spray non-stick cooking spray on your skillet or baking pan. For the filling, evenly arrange peach slices in skillet or pan. Then mix in sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Gently mix until slices are evenly coated.
  3. Cut butter into cubes and place evenly on top of peaches.
  4. In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of butter over medium heat until golden brown, which can take up to ten minutes, so make sure to stir constantly to avoid scorching.
  5. Pour melted butter into a large bowl, then stir in cookie dough mix, egg and cinnamon until a dry dough forms.
  6. Take small spoonfuls of the dough and place on top of peach filling. Gently press dough flat into the peaches until it creates an even surface on top of the filling. Sprinkle with brown or turbinado sugar.
  7. Bake the cobbler for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Allow cobbler to cool before serving.

 

 

 

The Weekend Dish column: The story of Brazilian cheese bread (Pão de queijo)

Brazilian cheese bread, or pão de queijo, is much more difficult to pronounce than it is to prepare. The closest phonetic approximation I can come up with is pawn-dehj-kay-sho, but somehow that still does not sound quite right.

I had never heard of pão de queijo until recently when a Brazilian friend told me about it. It is quite a big deal in Brazil.

Pão de queijo is a cheesy bread that is a mix between biscuits and cheese puffs. It is small, round, baked and best served hot from the oven. It can be prepared for breakfast or as a snack. My friend and I agree it would also be good with beer.

The recipe for pão de queijo originates in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. This sprawling state is often called Deep Brazil because it is more traditional, native, and Portuguese than some of the surrounding areas. Throughout Brazilian history, it became a prosperous region rich with natural resources and bountiful agriculture. It also has a darker side cast by the shadow of slavery.

Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)

Serves two to four people

Ingredients

1 cup water

1/2 cup canola oil

2 cup tapioca flour

3 large eggs

3 cups Parmesan cheese, grated

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large measuring cup, combine the water and oil.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the liquid and tapioca flour. Stir until dough is thick and stringy. Mix in eggs, cheese, and salt and continue to mix with a spoon until mixture is even.
  4. On a floured surface, knead the dough for about ten minutes.
  5. Separate the dough into spoonfuls, then roll into balls with your hands. Add oil to your hands first to prevent sticking and to coat the dough balls.
  6. Add dough balls to a greased mini-muffin pan, and put into the oven for about 20 minutes.
  7. Serve immediately

In Brazil’s early days, slaves were needed to harvest and transport Minas Gerais’s many natural resources. Since the land was rugged and landlocked, this could be an arduous task. While the slaves were a mixture of populations, many of them originated from Africa. Everyone in that situation struggled for survival with different coping mechanisms. One such coping method was cooking, and that is how pão de queijo was born.

The enslaved men and women worked their hands and fingers to the bones, and those hands helped to build nations such as Brazil. When it came time to feed themselves, they were often denied essential ingredients, such as wheat flour, since those ingredients were “too good” for them. Pão de queijo is the story of survival and making the best of a brutal situation with limited resources.

Since they did not have access to wheat flour, they made their own by milling cassava roots into flour. Then they added cheese that was considered unfit to eat by their masters. They assembled the only ingredients that they could access, and they transformed them into bread. As time went on, and slavery was abolished, they took this hardscrabble bread and refined it further with tapioca flour and Parmesan cheese. Since then, it has become a national favorite in Brazil.

Marcina Lacerda (Jordan Callier photo)

My Brazilian friend encouraged me to learn more about pão de queijo directly from one of the descendants of the slaves of Minas Gerais. Marcina Lacerda is a nanny and personal assistant from there. Her great-grandmother was a slave who was bought by her great-grandfather.

“My great-grandfather bought the slaves to work on his farm,” Lacerda said. “He stayed with my great-grandmother, and my grandfather was born.”

Lacerda is as colorful as her floral aprons. She is always on the go, while her hands are usually a blur of kinetic motion.  Pão de queijo is one of her specialties that has been passed down from her great-grandparents. She is also an interesting character. She has an Instagram account that depicts her travels around the world. You can follow her adventures on Instagram at marcinaroundtheworld. Drop a line and say hello! You may learn something new from her.

“I was 20 years old when my mother taught me how to make this,” Lacerda said. “There was a big family, so we had to make sure there was enough for everyone.”

Eggs are easy to find; cassava root flower, not so much. (Jordan Callier photo)

The ingredients are common in Brazil, while the bread itself is simple to make. I imagine this was perfect for feeding a large family. While cassava root flour may be difficult to obtain in the states, tapioca flour is not. If you want to use cassava root, it is available online at Amazon or similar retailers.

Fresh Brazilian Cheese Bread (Jordan Callier photo)

Lacerda emphasized to me the importance of eating this fresh from the oven. It is no good if it’s not served fresh, according to her. I did try some day old bread, and it was still delicious. It was less light and airy than the fresh bread, so I can see why it is best served fresh and hot. Hot or cold, I am lucky to have been introduced to this. It was born from slavery and hardship. The same loving hands that have built nations made this bread, and I am honored to share it with you.

Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.

From 50,000 mini donuts to fried chicken biscuits, Mountain Fair food vendors satisfy all appetites

From breakfast to dessert, Mountain Fair festival goers can look forward to a smorgasbord of food offerings this weekend.

Now in its 48th year, the Carbondale tradition that kicked off Friday and goes through Sunday anticipates 20,000 attendees.

One of this year’s food vendors — Aspen Mini Donuts — plans on selling 50,000 of its mini sweet treats over the course of the weekend.

“The most popular donut that we make is cinnamon sugar,” Aspen Mini Donuts co-owner Kitti Sanderson said of the crowd favorite. “We make a home-brewed iced coffee, which is relatively new; we just launched that this week and we are really looking forward to putting out lots of cinnamon sugar donuts and iced coffee this weekend.”

Donuts in the fryer.
John Stroud/Post Independent

Prepared hot, fresh and in intervals of six and 12, the Aspen Mini Donuts food truck has the ability to put out as many as 3,000 donuts in an hour. In addition to Kitti Sanderson, the local family-run business also includes husband Robert Sanderson and their 17-year-old son Robert Sanderson Jr.

The self-described “donut connoisseurs” always seek out mini donuts when they travel and in May launched their own mini donut truck that frequents fairs, festivals, fundraisers and, upon request, private events.

“The most important thing for us is to be a part of the community,” Sanderson said. “We are also very sustainable and eco conscious and we really like that message that Mountain Fair was putting off — making sure that the event was 100-percent green hit home with us and is definitely something we wanted to be involved in.”

Get yer biscuits

Another Roaring Fork Valley eatery — The Biscuit food truck, owned by Matt Campbell — plans on selling hundreds of biscuits at this year’s Mountain Fair.

Chef Drew Scott, who has lived in El Jebel for the last 20 years, typically starts prepping the truck’s fluffy goodness at 4 a.m.

A southerner at heart and University of Georgia graduate, Scott always looked forward to the weekend when his father prepared biscuits.

This weekend, the two plan on serving three different biscuits to the Mountain Fair crowd, with the favorite being the Son of a Biscuit.

“It’s a customer favorite and our favorite,” Scott explained of the Son of a Biscuit. “It’s a fried chicken biscuit with avocado, chipotle butter, bacon and cheddar.”

Also on this weekend’s menu, a biscuit that goes by the name of The Beast.

The Beast prominently features ham, grilled onions, bacon and chipotle butter on a fluffy biscuit.

BLT Biscuit with chips.
John Stroud/Post Independent

The third menu item includes a bacon, lettuce and tomato biscuit topped off with honey butter.

“I am looking forward to getting our biscuits out there,” Scott said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

The Weekend Dish: Hummus for everyone

What exactly makes a dish American? I suppose that hamburgers and hot dogs come to mind. Maybe even apple pie. Yet, those things come from somewhere else.

Our culinary history is so much greater than the sum of those parts. I have heard that this country is a melting pot, or perhaps a salad. I like the idea of America as food. 

Food brings us together. It is our history and can tell so many stories. When our ancestors immigrated here, they brought their hopes, dreams and old family recipes. In these pages, I have shared some of those treasured dishes that my own family brought with them from Italy to provide comfort in the new world.

We are all so different, yet we need the same things. Warm food in our bellies and the breaking of some sort of bread is universal to all of humanity. 

The diversity of our food makes American cuisine great. All recipes are welcome. We are the children of the world, and our menus reflect this. Even in Glenwood Springs, there is a little bit of everything, from Indian, Chinese, Mexican and everything in between.

Some of the food we love also has ancient origins beyond written history. One such dish is hummus, which has a surprising story and is a new American favorite.

Hummus ingredients.
Jordan Callier

The word “hummus” is derived from Arabic and means “chickpeas.” Like so many beautiful foods, its exact origins are unknown and foreign. Diana Spechler explores the history of hummus for the BBC, and it is a wild story. There are possible mentions of hummus in the Bible, and it has been found in old Egyptian recipe books dating back to the 13th century. It has since become a staple across the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. It certainly has a strong association with Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, while it has been called an unofficial “national dish” of Israel. 

Perhaps it does not even matter where it comes from. So many cultures love hummus, and it makes people happy. Different regions have adapted it successfully by adding their own unique local flavors and ingredients. In the last 20 years, it has also become wildly popular in America.

According to statistics shared by Reuters, 25 percent of American households consumed hummus in 2016. It is a billion-dollar industry here with room to grow further. Hummus can be found in most grocery stores as a packaged product with many varieties. Unfortunately, some of these prepared dips can contain preservatives, and there has even been a recent listeria scare in some national brands. This is why I like to make my own from scratch.

Hummus Dip

Serves six to eight friends

Ingredients

3 (15-ounces) can chickpeas

1/4 cup tahini, optional

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 lemon, optional

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon curry

Salt to taste

Dash paprika, garnish

Directions

  1. Drain and rinse chickpeas. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor or blender, mix together tahini and lemon juice for about one minute. This mixture gives the hummus an umami flavor and adds extra creaminess.
  3. Set a cup of chickpeas aside. Add the rest of the chickpeas along with spices and salt to processor or blender. Mix well for about one minute or depending on how smooth you want the chickpeas. You can also skip processing the chickpeas and add directly to the frying pan or skillet.
  4. In a frying pan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-to-high heat. Add the chickpeas you set aside once the oil is hot. If you skipped processing the chickpeas, then add all of them with spices and salt to the heated oil.
  5. Once chickpeas cook for a few minutes, mash them with a fork. Use caution, as some of the chickpeas may pop open from the heat. Once chickpeas are soft and mashed, add the blended mixture, if applicable.
  6. Cook for about five minutes while vigorously stirring with fork. This will mix the olive oil while keeping the mixture light and fluffy.
  7. Set in the refrigerator to fully cool. Top with paprika and garnish of your choice. Serve immediately.

    Mixing olive oil into hummus.

The essential elements of hummus are cheap, widely available and easy to make. It is primarily made from chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, and some common spices. There are so many different ways to prepare it, and different variations of it are limitless.

I went with a basic recipe, but I invite you to add your own creative flair and embellishments. Pine nuts, minced garlic, pesto, and roasted peppers are some great additions to this recipe. What do you think would work well with hummus? 

Hummus goes great on crackers, bread chips, vegetables and can be used as a sandwich spread. The chickpeas are very nutritious and contain protein, fiber, and manganese. I like to make a big batch of it and save the leftovers for all the uses mentioned above. It keeps well in the refrigerator and makes a great snack on the go. Processing the chickpeas and adding tahini is also optional, as I’ll explain in the recipe below. If you do not process the chickpeas, they will have a chunkier texture.

Hummus may be foreign, but it has successfully assimilated into American culture. Maybe we are a melting pot, or perhaps we are like hummus.

No matter what your background is, this recipe can be shared by friends of all stripes. We are more than hamburgers or apple pie, and the diversity of our food makes this country great. In a diverse world, food like this could bring us together.

Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.

277 martinis a night, Miner’s Claim owner Christian Harra wins ‘Best Bartender’

Miner’s Claim restaurant owner Christian Harra’s first job in the service industry did not involve mixing gin and vermouth.

Barely a teenager and living in Milford, Connecticut, Harra rode his bike down to a local Mexican restaurant where his friend washed dishes, hoping to get his foot in the door also.

“[The manager] didn’t have any work inside the restaurant but said, ‘Come in once a week and pick up cigarette butts.’

“And that’s what I did,” Harra said of the job that paid five bucks a week. “Until one night, when the back door opened up while I was picking up cigarette butts and I heard, ‘come on in.’

Christian’s “in” was washing dishes, which eventually led to bussing tables, waiting them, cooking and finally bartending.

Now 47, for the third year in a row, Harra was voted Best Bartender in this year’s Glenwood Springs Post Independent Locals’ Choice.

Christian Harra (courtesy Miner’s Claim)
MinersClaim3

Last Tuesday, while concocting margaritas, mules and other libations off the Silt staple’s 24-page drink menu, Harra also prepared 277 martinis — just another “Tini” Tuesday, Harra explained of Miner’s Claim’s 2-for-1 martini night.

Harra discovered his love for the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys following a few blurry spring break trips to Aspen during his college and culinary school years.

“Drinking, après ski, dinner — it was unbelievable,” Harra said of the Western Slope lifestyle he grew to love. “I was like, I’m moving out here.”

Harra did exactly that when he made the roughly 2,000 mile drive to the Roaring Fork Valley in a 28-foot U-Haul. Upon arriving Harra quickly made a name for himself with locals and celebrities, working in restaurants such as the former Rainbow Grill in Basalt.

Dry ice martini (courtesy)
Martini-Dry-Ice-2019

“[Hunter Thompson] used to come in. Came in twice. I had to kick him off the [Rainbow Grill’s] deck twice,” Harra said, explaining how the gonzo journalist would always order the same round of drinks.

“Three, triple absolute citron and lemonades, and he would never finish one of them.”

According to Harra, Thompson would leave a little bit at the bottom of the glass before moving on to his next drink. “At the end of that, [Thompson] would have a triple Chivas — again, he would always leave a little bit in the glass — and at the end of that, a quadruple espresso.”

The first time Harra had to speak with Thompson was when he lit up a joint on the restaurant’s busy patio. The second pertained to the author turning the restaurant’s deck into a revealing photo shoot of his personal assistant.

“I’m like, ‘Hunter, come on, we talked about behavior,'” Harra laughed.

Miner’s Claim restaurant in Silt (courtesy Miners Claim)
minersclaim-gpi-071319-4

At the age of 25, Harra purchased a 3-bedroom, 2-bath cabin in Silt that was zoned for commercial use. Working by day with his father to turn the dwelling into a restaurant and sleeping on its bare floors at night, Harra opened Miner’s Claim in 1999.

Twenty years later, the majority of the restaurant’s original crew — including 2019’s “Best Chef” in Locals’ Choice, Oscar Sanchaz — has remained intact. A crew Harra considers family.

Loved by locals, Miner’s Claim in 2018 squeezed 10,028 pounds of lemons, oranges and limes and made 15,681 martinis — almost five times that of the town’s population.

“I love my locals,” Harra said. “That’s what we are, a locally driven restaurant.”

mabennett@postindependent.com

Weekend Dish column: Just a picnic in the park

A good picnic makes eating outdoors feel comfortable and at home. I’m writing this column while eating a picnic and relaxing in the park. 

For Independence Day this year, I spent the day hanging out at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs. Hazel Miller, from Denver, headlinied the celebration with her band. There were bouncy castles, hula hoops, drunken dancers and a laser show finished the night. 

While there are a few food vendors, I didn’t see many people eating. I certainly do not have that problem with this grand meal that I packed.

Eating a picnic on a beautiful summer evening never gets old. It is an exercise of preparation and nature. Most of the work of putting together a picnic relies on meticulous preparation. I have a few tricks and tips that can improve the process. 

A general rule of thumb that I follow is using the same essential ingredients across dishes. Also, you must always bring a blanket and pack your food in a proper wicker picnic basket. Most importantly, you have to be chill about eating food that is not always piping hot. 

Creamy Spinach Dip

Serves three to four people

Ingredients

2 cups parmesan cheese

1 cup fresh spinach

2/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 cup cream cheese

1 tablespoon pesto

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

Directions

1. In a food processor or blender, mix the parmesan cheese, sour cream mayonnaise and cream cheese. Blend until the mixture is uniform and creamy.

2. Slowly add garlic and then spinach leaves. Blend thoroughly until the mixture has a uniform consistency.

3. Serve with crackers or toasted bread.

It is important to pick recipes with ingredients that you can use across meals. For my Independence Day picnic, pesto was my secret weapon. I included it in three separate dishes, and it is sensational in everything. 

Using the same ingredient saves money and makes preparation more of a snap. Pesto also tastes good at any temperature. Always try to prepare foods that are still palatable at any temperature. Eating outside can be an uncooperative experience sometimes, and you never know how long you will have to wait before you can eat.

I chose pesto as my staple since it is perfect for summer eating. It is also versatile and can be added to many dishes. You can easily make pesto at home by blending fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan cheese. 

Simply search Google for pesto recipes to learn how to make it. If you don’t have time, then there are plenty of store-bought options that work very well. The savory garlic and cheese perfectly balance the lightly sweet flavor of basil. Pesto tastes like summer. While pesto does taste great at any temperature, you should always try to keep it refrigerated or on ice as much as possible. Food safety is critical, especially during the summer. 

Pesto pasta salad

Mixing cheese and pasta.

Ingredients

1 package pasta

1 (12 ounces) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

3/4 cup pesto

1 cup fresh arugula

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Al dente is best.

2. Drain and rinse for about 20 seconds with cold water.

3. While pasta cooks, in a medium bowl whisk together pesto, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper for dressing.

4. In a large salad bowl, combine the pasta and dressing by stirring gently. Then add red peppers, arugula, and cheese. Still until mixed completely.

As I looked around Two Rivers Park, I saw plenty of hungry-looking or drunk people who should probably eat something. I always come prepared. I have a small feast spread out on the warm blanket to photograph. The lady sitting next to me wanted to eat my picnic. She kept making eyes at my food, but I think she finds it strange that I was taking photographs of my dinner, so maybe that scared her off. 

I also clandestinely brought a bottle of red wine, in case I wanted to dance. While I made three dishes from scratch, I included some fruit and City Market vanilla cream pie to complete this feast.  

For this picnic, I made spinach dip, cold pasta salad, and chicken pesto sandwiches. It took a little work to put this together, but I am glad that I did. My secret weapon elevates this from the average picnic. 

Some wine to top it off (Jordan Callier photo)
wine

With my blanket, picnic basket, and midsummer feast, all of the preparation paid off at Two Rivers Park. A little wine helped as well. 

A picnic is a communal experience with nature, family, friends or even our communities. I pack everything I need so that I can feel more at home.

Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.

Chicken Pesto Sandwich

Serves three people

Sandwiches

Ingredients

1/2 pound chicken deli meat, sliced

1 baguette loaf

1 cup fresh arugula

1/4 cup pesto

2 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 ball fresh mozzarella cheese

2 Roma tomatoes, sliced thinly

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Slice baguette loaf into halved pieces, then brush butter or olive oil on each half and then toast until golden brown.

2. In a small bowl, mix pesto, mayo, and remaining oil. Spread on golden toasted baguette bread.

3. Place layers of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and arugula on one half of the bread. On the other half, layer a healthy serving of sliced chicken. Press both sides firmly together to make a fantastic sandwich.

Grilled avocados gave this chicken salad a smoky depth

We set out to create a fresh, bright chicken salad inspired by the flavors of Mexico.

A simple tequila-lime mixture boosted the chicken’s flavor both in a quick marinade before cooking and, when cooked down with some orange juice, as a reduced sauce drizzled over the chicken after cooking. Grilled avocados gave the salad more smoky depth.

We cooked the chicken over the hotter part of the grill to get a good char while cooking the more delicate avocados at the same time on the cooler side. To bring the salad together, we created a bright, tangy vinaigrette by combining lime juice and olive oil with cayenne and honey for well-rounded flavor.

GRILLED TEQUILA CHICKEN WITH ORANGE, AVOCADO AND PEPITA SALAD

Servings: 4

Start to finish: 1 hour

Chef’s Note: Ripe but firm avocados are critical for successful grilling. If your avocados are overripe, skip seasoning and grilling and simply peel and slice the avocados before assembling the salad.

1/2 cup tequila

1/2 cup water

6 tablespoons lime juice (3 limes)

4 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and pepper

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

3 oranges, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 ripe but firm avocados, halved and pitted

6 ounces (6 cups) watercress, chopped

1/3 cup pepitas, toasted

1 shallot, sliced thin

Whisk tequila, water, 3 tablespoons lime juice, garlic, and 2 teaspoons salt together in bowl until salt is dissolved. Transfer 1/2 cup marinade to small saucepan. Pour remaining marinade into 1-gallon zipper-lock bag, add chicken, and toss to coat. Press out as much air as possible, seal bag, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour, flipping bag occasionally.

Let oranges drain in colander set over large bowl, reserving juice. In second large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup oil, honey, cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 pepper, and remaining 3 tablespoons lime juice together; set aside for salad.

Before grilling, brush avocado halves with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper. Remove chicken from marinade, let excess marinade drip off, and transfer to plate.

— For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour two-thirds evenly over half of grill, then pour remaining coals over other half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

— For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn other burner(s) to medium.

Clean and oil cooking grate. Place chicken on hotter side of grill. Cook (covered if using gas), turning as needed, until chicken is nicely charred and registers 160 F, 8 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, place avocados cut side down on cooler side of grill and cook until lightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer chicken and avocados to cutting board and tent with aluminum foil.

Add drained orange juice to reserved marinade in saucepan, bring to simmer over medium-high heat, and cook until reduced to 1/4 cup, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk dressing to recombine, then add watercress, pepitas, shallots, and drained oranges and toss gently to coat; transfer to platter. Peel grilled avocado, slice thin, and lay on top of salad. Slice chicken on bias into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, lay on top of salad, and drizzle with reduced marinade. Serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 566 calories; 349 calories from fat; 39 g fat (6 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 36 mg cholesterol; 364 mg sodium; 26 g carbohydrate; 8 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 18 g protein.

Saturday Foodie: The secret to perfect French fries

French fries are as American as baseball. They are ubiquitous in our culture and a staple of the fast food industry. Like many great foods, the origins of French fries are not clearly known, but they can be a symbol of national pride or politics.

Although they are called French fries, both the French and Belgians claim them as their own. According to a National Geographic article on their history, some believe French fries came from tiny river villages in Belgium and were served with fried fish. 

The French say that fries live up to their namesake, and were sold by vendors on the streets of Paris. Both countries fiercely maintain that they created fries. The Belgians have gone so far as to petition UNESCO to designate French fries as a national icon.

Ingredients
Jordan Callier

No matter where French fries come from, they have been a staple of American culture for nearly a century. As popular as they are here now, they were not always that way. 

National Geographic explains that Thomas Jefferson likely introduced fries to America. He allegedly first encountered them in France (possibly from those Parisian street vendors) and liked them so much that he brought the recipe home. One of Jefferson’s slaves was trained as a chef, and his recipe described shaving raw potatoes and then deep frying them. These were called pommes de terre frites à cru en petites tranches. Although Jefferson loved these fried french potatoes, it took them a century or so to catch on with Americans. Since then, French fries have become a juggernaut in our consumer culture. 

Sliced and soaked potatoes
Jordan Callier

They are synonymous with the instant gratification of fast-food living. We can’t resist the question, “do you want fries with that?” They even have become politically polarizing in our recent history. At the beginning of the Iraq War, France opposed the invasion of Iraq. As a response, the cafeteria in the House of Representatives started serving “freedom fries” as an act of protest against France. The name did not catch on, and we still enjoy “French” fries today.

While potatoes alone are quite healthy with low-fat and quality carbohydrates and starches, French fries are deep fried in hot fat. They are not the best for your waistline nor overall health. Just like other unhealthy delights, they are best served in moderation. I have noticed that the French fries I make at home are never quite as good as the ones I have in restaurants. There are even Twitter wars between fast food restaurants over who serves the best fries.

I decided to do some research about why fast food fries always seem to taste better than those prepared at home. When I make fries at home, I simply slice up raw potatoes and fry them in olive oil. Then I add salt or any other seasonings and eat immediately. These potatoes seem to lack a deeper flavor and crispiness that I so enjoy while eating out. When I researched how to make the best potatoes, I discovered a more complex method. 

Frying the potatoes
Jordan Callier

Making professional French fries is quite a process, and some of the steps are surprising. I located several recipes that follow the same pattern. I have taken these steps and compiled them into my own recipe to share with you. I accidentally burned my first batch by using olive oil. I figured out my mistake, so you don’t have the same experience. Instead of oil, use tallow, lard or shortening fats for frying, since they have higher burn points.

If you want to make these potatoes at home, then it is necessary to follow the basic steps of this recipe. It is fine if you want to substitute seasonings or even the frying fat. While soaking them, you can optionally add corn syrup and dissolved bullion to the water which infuses the potato slices with a savory flavor. Many restaurants use a deep fryer, but if you don’t have one at home, then a wok or large frying pan works well.

Since I’m not a food scientist, I can’t fully explain why these are so good. I believe soaking them infuses them with flavor while removing excess starch. Lightly frying then freezing them makes them crispier, which is an essential quality of fries. For best results, use beef tallow as your frying fat, since that is closest to what fast food restaurants do. If you don’t eat animal products, then vegetable shortening is fine, too. 

I was amazed at this process, and I can say that it definitely makes a difference for perfect fries.

French Fries

Serves 4 to 6 people

Ingredients

4 russet potatoes, sliced

1 1/2 cups beef tallow, vegetable shortening or other fat 

1 tablespoon bullion (optional)

1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)

pinch of salt

Directions

1. Slice potatoes in wedges or julienne style. Make sure they are thicker than how you want them served, since they lose mass during this preparation.

2. Soak potatoes in a large mixing bowl of water for several hours. For extra flavor, add dissolved bullion and corn syrup. I used vegetable bullion for my preparation.

3. When slices are finished soaking, lay them out on a towel to absorb excess moisture. 

4. Heat the tallow or shortening in a large wok or frying pan over high heat. Once the fats have melted and are clear, carefully add the slices. Fry for about two minutes, then immediately remove from frying pan. Save the fat for later.

5. Place slices on a baking pan and immediately freeze. Leave in freezer overnight or at least for a few hours, if you are pinched for time. If you are not going to cook the entire batch, then leave extra potatoes in freezer until later.

Sliced potatoes

6. After the slices are thoroughly frozen, reheat the wok or pan and melt the fat again over high heat. Gently add the slices to the melted fat and fry until they are golden brown. Make sure the slices have enough room in the pan to be completely surrounded by the cooking fat. All sides need to cook thoroughly.

7. Remove the fries and place on a towel to soak up extra grease. Add desired seasonings and serve immediately.

Food column: When life gives you lemons, make lemon bars!

Lemons are everything. They have so many uses and are very affordable. While the origin of lemons is a bit murky, their worldwide appeal is undeniable.

Citrus fruits, including lemons, are the highest-value crop in international trade today, according to statistics from the Department of Agriculture. Their popularity could be attributed to many factors. For me, it all boils down to a lemony scent and sweet, sweet dessert.   

It’s strange to think that something so sour and acidic could also be sweet and savory, but sugar does indeed make everything better. 

With summer approaching, I daydream about hot afternoons and cold lemonade. Even though drinking pure water is far healthier, many of us find lemonade to be incredibly thirst satisfying. Acid actually stimulates salivation which tricks our bodies into feeling hydrated. 

Not only are lemons and copious amounts of sugar mouthwatering to drink, but they make delicious desserts.

Yellow wonder

I knew I wanted to create some sort of lemon dessert for this column, but I struggled to find something that I could modify to make my own. Coincidentally, I was browsing Reddit recently, and I stumbled across a simple lemon bar recipe that would be perfect for me.  

It is easy to prepare, but there is also space to make it more unique and personal. Specifically, I replaced some of the butter with coconut oil in the crust for a flakier and more exotic flavor. I also added lemon zest to the filling for texture and color, based on what other Reddit users were recommending. 

If you aren’t familiar with Reddit, it is a content and threaded discussion platform, and the sixth most visited website in the U.S. Users can post most types of content, and then other users can comment and vote on the post. I have come across so many different creative ideas there. 

Since Reddit is peer-moderated with content that is voted up or down, the highly rated posts usually indicate the quality of their content. It is also helpful to read some thoughts and suggestions from other folks who have tried the recipe.

Some of these other users commented that they substituted lemons with different citrus fruits such as grapefruits and oranges. I needed my lemon fix, but if you want to make something different, then please try using other fruits. The “Redditers” recommend it!

The recipe I found has been upvoted 14.6k times and has 201 comments. The top commentator said, “…the recipe is incredibly easy and forgiving to make. I highly recommend this to [those] who want to learn how to bake sweets but not confident in their skill level yet.” Other users enthusiastically agreed, so I decided this was worth a shot. 

Lemon Bars recipe

Serves six to eight people

Ingredients

Shortbread crust

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup coconut oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups high altitude flour

Lemon filling

2 cups granulated sugar

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

6 large eggs

1 cup lemon juice, fresh or bottled

lemon rind

pinch of sugar, powdered or turbinado 

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lay parchment paper along the bottoms and side of a medium baking pan (recommended). If you don’t have parchment paper, rub butter and sprinkle flour in pan instead (optional).

2. For the crust, in a medium bowl, mix the melted butter and coconut oil with sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Stir thoroughly until the mixture has the consistency of wet sand.

3. Gently spread and then press the crust mixture evenly into the baking pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until edges are browned.

4. For the filling, sift together sugar and flour into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice and mix until sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is a uniform consistency. 

5. When crust is finished baking and warm (not hot!), gently pour the filling over it. Bake for about 25 minutes to boil down filling or until the center is firm and doesn’t ripple when pan is tapped.

6. Best served chill, so cool in refrigerator for at least two hours. Sprinkle lemon zest and powdered or turbinado sugar on top. Cut into squares, and store in a refrigerator short-term or freezer for longer term storage.

Source: https://bit.ly/2DXbXRY

Personalize your creations

For me, cooking is a lot like writing, and it helps to read someone else’s words for creative inspiration.

I had most of the ingredients in my pantry, so I only needed fresh lemons from City Market. For under $5, and with common ingredients, I could make enough to feed six to eight people. I forgot to use parchment paper, and I kind of regretted it. The crust is fragile and tends to stick to the pan. If you don’t want to use paper, then try using nonstick cooking spray or spread butter and flour on the pan.

After I juiced the lemons, I kept the rinds and boiled them down in a small saucepan. Not only did my house smell fresh, but this liquid also has many potential uses at home from cleaning to skin care. 

Lemon peels have antimicrobial properties and pleasing scents, so they can be used as counter disinfectant, garbage disposal cleaner and microwave refresher. The juice can also be used to keep fruits from browning and as a facial mask that brightens skin. Never throw away your lemon peels, as they have many useful applications.

Those who have read my columns before are probably noticing a pattern. I love many different kinds of food, and I’m always trying to make easy and fun dishes, so I usually turn to the web for inspiration. 

Finding good, simple recipes can be challenging, so where does one begin? I have always used Pinterest as a cookbook, but now I have learned that Reddit also has thousands of recipes. I found an amazing recipe that I know has been highly-rated by others. Fellow users also offered some creative ideas to tweak this recipe further.

You can make these dessert bars with lemons or any citrus fruit of your choice. You could even mix types of fruit such as lemon and blueberries or oranges and strawberries. 

When we make recipes our own, they become personal stories to tell instead of someone else’s poetry. If you need inspiration, look to what others have done.

When life gives you lemons, make anything you want. Just make sure to save the peels. 

Jordan Callier is an avid foodie and business owner in Glenwood Springs.