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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.

New Castle celebrates Cinco de Mayo with 2nd annual block Party Saturday

For the second year in a row, the small town of New Castle will throw a big block party to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Saturday.

“I think one of the important things is that this is something that all parts of the community come to,” Town Councilor Bruce Leland said of the Cinco de Mayo Block Party now in its second year.
“The Council is very supportive of anything that lets the members of the community get together, meet one another and have fun together.”

The town closes off a portion of Main and Fifth Street for the block party that features live music, food, drinks, a piñata and face painting.

Mariachi band Entusiasmo Norte will provide the live entertainment and local area establishments including Elk Creek Mining Co., Hogback Pizza, 2 Coronas Mexican Bar & Grill, Baires Empanadas, Spirits of Downtown New Castle and Glenwood Canyon Brewpub will supply an assortment of tastes and sips.

Attendees may purchase food and drink tickets at the block party.

Admittance into the closed off portions of the downtown, however, remains free of charge.

All net proceeds from food and drink tickets will benefit New Castle’s River Center.

Founded in 2010 the nonprofit River Center provides numerous outreach programs and classes to the local community with the help of countless volunteers.

“[The River Center] provides food for kids, they provide coats in the winter and there is probably seven or eight outreach programs that they do to help people in need,” Leland said.
The Cinco de Mayo Block Party takes place on May 4 between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“I actually was told that many, many years ago they used to have a block party on Fifth Street,” Dr. Lauren Roper of New Castle Dental explained.

Roper, herself, helped bring back the Cinco de Mayo Block Party last year and was determined to keep the family-friendly event alive. “We wanted to bring that back. And, since it’s Cinco de Mayo … and we’re on Fifth Street it just all seemed like something fun to do.”

mabennett@postindependent.com

Food column: Vegan cassoulet is the essence of spring

This time of year is simply glorious. The world is greener, and flowers are blooming everywhere. As we pack away our sweaters, and dust off our summer clothes, many of us may feel sluggish and slightly out of shape from a long winter of inactivity. I certainly do, at least.

If you missed out on your New Year’s resolution of living healthier, it’s not too late to start. Indeed, we are entering into a new era of warm sunshine and outdoor living. Plenty of exercise and healthy eating are the foundations of living well.

The obstacle to a healthy lifestyle is time. There never seems to be enough of it. As adults, unfortunately, we do not get summer off to exercise and prepare nutritious food. Sometimes we have to choose one or the other.

While I urge all of you to find time to exercise, I would like to offer a healthy and easy recipe that can help fuel your summer. Vegan cassoulet has it all: vitamins, minerals, protein, and it is easy to make. It may sound fancy, but it is essentially a hearty vegetable and bean soup.

Cassoulet (pronounced ka-sue-lay) is French in origin and not normally vegan. The original dish is a casserole that contains sausage made from pork, goose, duck and sometimes mutton. It also includes pork skin and white beans.

Like I said, it is not the most vegan friendly meal. You can find cassoulet everywhere in France. It is often sold in jars at grocery stores and charcuteries. There are also many variations that include, of course, different kinds of meat. The key ingredient in cassoulet is the white beans, so that gives me somewhere to start to make it vegan.

Actually, I believe that any dish can be vegan, if you are creative enough. Cassoulet isn’t particularly difficult to transform into a vegan approved recipe either. My recipe simply omits the meat, but it is certainly possible to replace meat with meatless crumbles or other meat substitutes.

You can’t really go wrong. Not only is cassoulet easy to make and healthy, it is also very delicious. It has a light, sweet delicate flavor but is also very filling. You can use fresh vegetables that take more time to prepare, but if you are truly crunched for time, then frozen vegetables can be used instead.

My recipe for cassoulet includes beans, carrots, leeks, celery, garlic, olive oil, thyme and bay leaves. Each one of these ingredients packs a powerful punch of nutrition, which fuels our bodies and mind. The beans provide protein, fiber and healthy calories with lower carbohydrates.

These things are all essential for our bodies and brains. If you are vegan, then it is important to find such sources of protein. Even if you aren’t vegan, these nutrients are essential to human health. With exercise, they also can help you look and feel great. Who doesn’t want that in the summertime?

Carrots are high in antioxidants that fight free radicals which can damage your cells. They contain beta-carotene and vitamin A, which can fight disease and help vision. Celery is rich in vitamin K and high in folate, vitamin A, potassium and vitamin C. Leeks and garlic are highly nutritious and low in calories. They contain manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, selenium and of course, fiber. Olive oil is famously associated with “the Mediterranean diet” that some proponents claim can increase the duration and quality of life. All together, these nutrients are potent and necessary for well-being.

It does not matter if you are vegan or just wanting to be healthy, it is always best to eat a plant-based diet. In my opinion, meat can be optional, too. If there is a particular recipe you love, then get creative with it, and surely you can make it healthier and appropriate for your dietary preferences or requirements. If you need inspiration, use the internet to see what others have done. There are also plenty of tricks for making preparation faster too. Use frozen instead of fresh, or cook enough to make leftovers. Find something that works best for you and roll with it.

My vegan cassoulet took me less than an hour to make. I was feeling a little decadent, so I also added some browned breadcrumbs when it was finished cooking. I know, I’m a glutton. I was able to get all of my ingredients at our local City Market.

I look forward to making this again after I harvest vegetables from my garden, but for now, I had to settle with store bought produce. You can certainly add or substitute different vegetables and spices. Just stick with white beans — northern or cannellini — to keep the French happy.

I made enough to have several days worth of leftovers, and I feel healthy and satisfied after eating it. Now I’m ready for summer.

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

Vegan Cassoulet

(Serves five to seven people)

Ingredients

2 cans white northern beans, undrained

2 leeks

6 carrots

6 celery ribs

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil

6 sprigs thyme, fresh

4 bay leaves

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 tablespoon curry

6 cups water

2 tablespoons vegetable bullion

pinch of pepper and turmeric

1 cup bread crumbs (optional)

Directions

1. Wash and dry the vegetables and herbs well.

2. Combine vegetables and herbs in large soup pot over medium heat. Drizzle olive oil and stir well until mixture is coated. Cover mixture, occasionally stir, and cook for about ten minutes.

3. When time has elapsed, and vegetables are soft, add beans and liquid from can to the pot. Add water, bullion and stir well. Then add spices and pepper to taste.

4. Cook covered on low heat for about 30 minutes.

5. Optional: While soup is cooking, you can make your own breadcrumbs by using a food processor to process the bread of your choice into crumbs. Add the crumbs to baking pan, and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil. Bake for about 15 minutes until crumbs are browned. Store brought breadcrumbs are fine too.

6. Ladle soup into bowls, top with breadcrumbs, garnish with thyme, and serve warm. Enjoy, and go do something outside.

From gluten-free to nonalcoholic, Colorado at the forefront of beer’s next transformation

Colorado was a beer state since before it was a state. Adolph Coors and partner Jacob Schueler opened what was then the Golden Brewery in 1873, three years before Colorado achieved statehood. A century later, Colorado was at the forefront of the craft brewing movement when Boulder Beer launched in 1979 and laid claim to the title of first licensed “microbrewery” in the country.

In an industry that’s seen its growth go flat in recent years, beer makers are on the lookout for, and, in many cases, already working on the next wrinkles to throw into their tanks that have potential to scoop up new drinkers or boost interest from existing ones.

No surprise, Colorado is expected to be at the forefront of next wave of beer alternatives, industry advocates say.

“Colorado has been known as the hotbed of innovation in beer for several decades,” Andres Gil Zaldana, executive director of the Colorado Brewers Guild, said. “Consumer preference in the recent decade or so has shifted to more of a health and wellness perspective and that really fits with Colorado in general. We all like to run, hike and bike.”

To read the full story on The Denver Post website.

Tips to get your grill ready for summer

There are die-hard grillers who don’t see why a little cold or sleet should stand between them and a juicy grilled steak. The rest of us in colder climes throw a cover over our grills for the winter and wheel them into a garage or storage spot, wheeling them out months later as the mercury climbs back up.

None of us, however, can assume that last year’s grill is ready to roll as soon as we fire it up.

What to do to get your grill ready for service again:

A THOROUGH ONCE OVER

Look for signs of rust or cracks in the metal or grill lines. It’s also possible that little critters may have found their way into the grill, and need removing. Get the least squeamish person in the family to do that.

A grill in need of some upkeep after sitting outside unused during the winter months. Shutterstock.com

Tips to get your grill ready for summer

WIPE DOWN THE OUTSIDE

Amanda Haas, a cookbook author who works with Traeger Grills, says: “Lots of grills are covered in grease, dust, and pollen when you lift that cover after a long winter of hibernation, so give the outside a thorough scrub down. Keeping it clean will extend the life of the grill and help prevent accidents due to sticky or greasy surfaces.”

You probably can get away with warm soapy water, but there are also products for cleaning specific kinds of grills.

DON’T FORGET THE INSIDE OF THE LID

Whether you use gas or another type of grill, the inside of the lid will likely have buildup from the previous year. Not only does it look gross, it also can be a fire hazard. Use a strong brush, possibly the same kind you use to clean the grill grates, or maybe a nylon brush, depending on the grill material. Personally, I don’t care about scratches inside the lid of my grill — I’m just happy when it’s clean.

A paint scraper is also handy for cleaning out built-up gunk.

CLEAN THE INSIDE

Do all of the following with the gas off, if applicable.

Clean the “flame tamers,” right over the gas burners underneath the metal grilling grates. A skewer, toothpick or paper clip are good for making sure all the little holes in the burners are open and unclogged. There are also tiny wire brushes made for this purpose. Later, when you test the grill, peek to see if any holes are still clogged. Then, once the gas is off again, give those openings an extra go-over.

Empty the grill of all ash and debris from the previous year (remove the grate to do this).

Make sure that grease pan is empty! Ideally, you would have emptied it at the end of last season, but in case you forgot, this is a big one, as grease fires are a hazard. Check this about once a week if you grill regularly.

CHECK THE FUEL LINE

One insider tip for making sure your gas line is uncompromised is to brush the outside of the gas tubes with soapy water and then run the gas. If you see any bubbles along the tubes, there are leaks and the tubes need to be replaced. If you see bubbles where the tubes connect into the grill or gas tank, these might just need tightening.

GET THE GRATES SPARKLING CLEAN

Start the season with clean grates, both for sanitary reasons and because you want to kick off your grilling with a beautiful clean grill and beautiful clean grill marks on your food. For a gas grill, turn all the burners to high, shut the lid and let the grill heat for 15 minutes. Open the lid and hopefully everything stuck to the grill will have burned off. Then, just give it a good scrub with a grill brush or grill scraper. Make sure no bristles get stuck on the grill rack. A wadded-up piece of foil held with tongs also does a good job. You can give the clean grate a light brush with oil while it awaits your next grilling session.

Haas advises, “If it’s been awhile since you’ve cleaned your grill grates, remove them and take a nylon sponge or hard bristle brush to them along with some tough cleanser. Make sure to rinse and dry them thoroughly before placing back on the grill.”

STOCK UP ON FUEL

If you need a new tank of fuel, go grab it before you marinate those chops (and consider a backup tank so you never get caught short in the middle of a fleet of sausages.)

If briquets, wood or pellets are your fuel of choice, lay in a supply of those. Jay Buzaid, owner of Powerhouse Appliances in New Milford, Connecticut, says that if you use hardwood charcoal or pellets, then take a close look at any unused fuel from the previous year. If there’s any mold, it all needs to be tossed. If it’s clean and dry, use it.

“In the summer, extreme temperature fluctuations from hot to cold cause moisture to build up, and sometimes the hardwood pellets and charcoal get wet from condensation — especially if the grill is in the sun,” he says.

He tells customers that wet hardwood charcoal can be dried out, but he recommends tossing wet pellets. Regular grill use can help prevent this problem, and he also suggests storing pellets in the manufacturer’s bag, which is designed to help them stay dry.

FIND A SAFE PLACE

If possible, your grill should be at least 10 feet from your house, and not near an open window. It should be situated on a fireproof and stable surface like concrete or brick, if possible. Make sure it’s somewhere you can monitor at all times when the grill is going. And make sure there isn’t an overhang, to prevent fire or carbon monoxide buildup.

CHECK YOUR TOOLS

Did you leave those tools lying on the grill under that cover all winter? Mmmm, been there.

Take a good look at your tools, and if you think they aren’t shipshape, consider investing in new ones. A worn-down grill brush doesn’t clean well, and a basting brush that wasn’t properly cleaned before the end of the season may need replacing. Get a good instant-read thermometer for measuring the internal temperature of meat; it’s one of a good griller’s secrets to success.

Haas loves having long, stainless steel tongs, an oversize spatula, a perforated pan for grilling veggies, and small kitchen towels to protect hands as she puts food on and off the grill.

So now that you’re ready to grill, the only big decision left is … what’s for dinner?

Food column: Galactic birthday cake is an out-of-world experience

Another trip around the sun, and I find myself a year older. On April 17, 1984 — sometime in the afternoon — I made my world debut. I was healthy and already had a full head of hair. I also had a bright red, triangular birthmark between my eyebrows. When I was a little older, my mom told me that I landed in a strawberry field and some strawberry smudged on my face. It must have been a crash landing. To this day, when I get mad, the birthmark angrily glows on my forehead.

Over the years, I have noticed that so many people were born during the month of April. My mom, aunt and cousin have birthdays within days of each other. It kind of makes me wonder what’s going on nine months earlier in August!

Anyway, I have always enjoyed having a spring birthday. The weather is usually beautiful, while new flowers push their way through the soil. Even if it snows, at least I can take the day off to go skiing. There are so many possibilities in April. Some years, I have even celebrated my birthday on Easter, and the Easter Bunny became my springtime Santa.

No matter when you celebrate your birthday, it should be a special day where things go your way. We all have our own rituals, but the idea of a birthday celebration itself goes back to ancient Egypt. The earliest mention of a birthday party was in the Bible and referred to a Pharaoh’s coronation. When a pharaoh was coronated on his birthday, he was considered a god, so birthday celebrations became very important to the Egyptians. Later, the Greeks revised the tradition to celebrate the lunar goddess, Artemis. They offered her a moon-shaped cake with candles to reflect the moon’s radiant glow and beauty.

Initially, early Christians rejected birthday celebrations, since they were rooted in pagan traditions. But over time, Christians saw the wisdom in celebrating birthdays, and Jesus Christ would go on to have the most famous birthday of all.

Modern birthday cakes emerged several hundred years ago in Germany, where the Germans would celebrate Kinderfest — a celebration meant for young children. They placed a lit candle on the cake to symbolize the light of life, and a modern tradition was born. Since then, baking supplies became cheaper and more standardized, so people around the world started to celebrate birthdays with cake, candles and of course, presents.

There are so many different kinds of birthday cakes to indulge in, including chocolate, red velvet, vanilla, lemon, buttercream sprinkle and even carrot cake.

For this column, I had the difficult task of choosing one kind of cake to make. I love them all, and I can’t say I have a favorite. I have always been partial to carrot cake, but I wanted to try something different this year. When I did some research, I found so many creative options from geode cakes to cakes with realistic flower blooms sprouting from them. Then I found something that would make Artemis proud: a galaxy cake.

Galaxy, or mirror, cakes are coated in a colorful glossy glaze made from chocolate and gelatin. Different colors are mixed into the glaze, so they appear marbled and psychedelic. Various colors can create different effects. Mix in some edible glitter and sanding sugar, and you can create a starry galaxy across the cake.

If you look up galaxy cakes online, you can see how they are works of art. Admittedly, I am not an experienced baker, so I’m nervous about the results. The cakes I bake usually require minimal preparation and are dumped together in a baking pan.

The galaxy cakes I have seen require perfection. The frosting needs to be evenly spread, and the glaze has to be exactly 90 degrees to properly coat the cake. There are many steps in the process, so I’ve greatly simplified the recipes I’ve found. I’ve also included some tips and tricks that I learned to make this even easier. Check out my simplified galaxy cake recipe below.

Galaxy Cake

Serves four to six people

Ingredients

2 packages white cake powdered mix

2 containers butter cream frosting

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons corn syrup

8 teaspoon gelatin powder, unflavored

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup water, room temperature

1 cup white chocolate, high cocoa butter

1 cup chocolate, cacao baking

1 tablespoon butter

Pinch of flour

1 teaspoon colored sanding sugar

1 teaspoon edible glitter

Food coloring

Directions

1. Bake cake mix per package instructions. Before pouring batter, make sure to rub butter and sprinkle flour in the backing pan. When finished backing, set cakes on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Be careful when removing cakes from pans.

2. While the cakes are baking, place containers of frosting on the stovetop to slightly warm them. When the cake is cooling, remove frosting from containers into medium bowl. Beat gently with a fork to fluff.

3. Place the bottom layer of the cake on a floured surface such as a wood cutting board or cake plate.

4. Pile a large amount of frosting on top of the bottom layer of the cake, and gently spread with a spatula or large butter knife. This frosting layer won’t be visible when cake is finished, so don’t worry about making it perfect.

5. Gently place the top layer on top of the frosted layer, and make sure both layers are vertically aligned. Add frosting to the top the same way as before. Then frost the sides of the cake and smooth with spatula or knife. It helps to rotate the cake, while gently pressing the edge of the spatula or knife on the frosting. Try to spread evenly, but don’t worry if some crumbs are mixed in. This is the “crumb layer” and will be covered later.

6. Place cake in freezer for 15 minutes. After the time has elapsed, add the second layer of frosting to the top and sides. Try to spread as evenly as possible. Once second layer is added, gently place a paper towel, with smoother layer facing down, on top of the cake. Use your fingers on top of the towel to gently smooth the top and sides of the cake.

7. Place cake in freezer for one hour. While the cake is freezing, combine sugar, corn syrup, condensed milk and water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat while stirring.

8. Pour the lukewarm water over gelatin powder in medium bowl. Stir gently with a spoon until mixed, and let sit for a few minutes.

9. When the contents of the saucepan begin to simmer, remove from heat and stir in the wet gelatin until it is dissolved.

10. Place white and dark chocolate in separate medium bowls, and pour hot liquid over them equally. Leave for about five minutes. Stir with whisk until completely melted.

11. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into equally divided bowls. The number of bowls depend upon how many colors you wish to use. Keep white and dark color mixture separate and mix with appropriate colors.

12. Add colors to each bowl and slightly stir. Once the glaze has cooled to 90 degrees, pour each bowl over the frozen cake to create color swirls. Consider elevating the cake, so the droppings have a place to go. Once finished pouring, wait about 5 minutes, and use a warm knife to remove any excess drippings. Serve right way, and most importantly, enjoy your birthday or whatever it is that you are celebrating!

Short ribs in beer and cider vinegar make great tacos

Carne deshebrada, literally meaning “shredded beef,” is a common offering at Mexican taco stands. It’s made by braising a large cut of beef until ultra-tender and then shredding the meat and tossing it with a flavorful rojo sauce made with tomatoes and/or dried chiles.

Although short ribs are a bit nontraditional, their ultra-beefy flavor made them an excellent choice. To achieve flavorful browning, we raised the beef up out of the braising liquid by resting it on onion rounds; the ambient heat browned the short ribs just enough for this dish.

Next, we created a braising liquid that would infuse the beef with flavor and later act as a base for our rojo sauce. Beer and cider vinegar provided depth and brightness, and tomato paste boosted savory flavor. Smoky-sweet ancho chiles gave the sauce a rounder flavor and a gentle, spicy kick.

Cumin, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and bay leaves added warmth and complexity. Once the beef had finished cooking, we pureed the braising liquid into a sauce with a smooth, luxurious consistency. A bright, tangy slaw provided a nice counterbalance to the rich meat. Use a full-bodied lager or ale such as Dos Equis or Sierra Nevada.

SHREDDED BEEF TACOS

Servings: 6-8

Start to finish: 3 1/2 hours

1 1/2 cups beer

4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1/2 inch pieces (1 cup)

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large onion, sliced into 1/2 inch-thick rounds

3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes

18 (6 inch) corn tortillas, warmed

1 recipe Cabbage-Carrot Slaw (recipe follows)

4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)

Lime wedges

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 F. Combine beer, anchos, vinegar, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cloves, and cinnamon in Dutch oven. Arrange onion rounds in single layer on bottom of pot. Place beef on top of onion rounds in single layer. Cover and cook until meat is well browned and tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to large bowl, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and set aside. Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer into 2 cup liquid measuring cup (do not wash pot). Discard onion rounds and bay leaves. Transfer remaining solids to blender. Let strained liquid settle for 5 minutes, then skim any fat from surface. Add water as needed to equal 1 cup. Pour liquid into blender with reserved solids and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to now-empty pot.

Using 2 forks, shred beef into bite-size pieces. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Add beef and stir to coat. Season with salt to taste. (Beef can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; gently reheat before serving.)

Spoon small amount of beef into each warm tortilla and serve, passing slaw, queso fresco, and lime wedges separately.

Cabbage-Carrot Slaw

Makes about 8 cups

1 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 head green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (6 cups)

1 onion, sliced thin

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage, onion, carrot, jalapeno, and oregano and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Drain slaw and stir in cilantro right before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 521 calories; 187 calories from fat; 21 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 94 mg cholesterol; 846 mg sodium; 44 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 35 g protein.

New Basalt eatery offers The Whole Empanada

When Yanina Dobarro sought a small kitchen where she could make traditional Argentine empanadas earlier this year, she initially planned on just selling them wholesale to other outlets.

But when she found the right location to rent, the space lent itself to opening a small cafe where customers can grab empanadas to go or eat them there. The Whole Empanada opened March 18. Her experience after exactly two weeks in business has convinced her she made the right choice.

Customers have been rolling in, empanadas have been rolling out.

Dobarro acknowledged she had no idea what makes empanadas such a big hit.

“Maybe it’s to have something new,” she said with a smile and shrug. “They’re easy to eat. They’re good.

“I trust this product very much,” she added. “I don’t know why people like it but they do.”

She said she makes them exactly the way they are made in her native Argentina, where nearly everyone eats empanadas.

“It’s like the Argentina pizza,” she said.

The menu features two favorites, Poncho Beef and Fran Chicken. The former has seared ground beef, sauteed green and while onions, red bell peppers, carrots, boiled eggs, green olives, herbs and spices tucked into a bread exterior.

The menu also boasts the Gaston Humita, which substitutes meat with whole sweet corn and mozzarella cheese, and her personal favorite, the Missy Caprese, with mozzarella cheese, sun-dried tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Each empanada is about the size of a medium-sized fist. They sell for $3.75 each or $33 for a dozen. They are also available frozen, 10 for $25.

She knows the Roaring Fork Valley has a soft spot for empanadas because she used to operate Francesca’s restaurant in Aspen with her former husband. She decided last year to start her own business selling empanadas wholesale to grocery stores, gas stations and other outlets. She couldn’t find an affordable space in the upper valley but a site opened in the business center along Willits Lane in Basalt that houses such businesses as Valley Lumber. She’s located at 31 Duroux Lane, Suite G. It’s just off the elbow in Willits Lane, so it will be a hop and skip for anglers fishing the Roaring Fork River at Hooks Bridge this summer. Vehicle access is Duroux Lane. The Whole Empanada is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dobarro said business is hopping enough that she will concentrate for now on making empanadas for sale out of her business. Once she adds an employee or two, she plans to get the wholesale business cranked up. She ordered an empanada maker that was shipped in from Argentina. She’s not mechanically inclined, she said, but used FaceTime with representatives of the manufacturer to figure out how to get the high-tech contraption put together. It can make 1,000 per hour, though as a one-woman operation she is making them by hand. She makes large sheets of dough, cuts out each empanada, fills it and then wraps the dough around the filling.

Dobarro first started coming to Aspen in 2002 on a J1 work visa. She is now working on citizenship — a process that some people find “scary” but she said she is undaunted.

She decided not to go with an Argentine-influenced name for her business. She wanted to embrace her new home country with a more American name. She chose to do a word play off of the phrase “the whole enchilada.”

“If everything goes as it is now, I think it will be very busy this summer,” Dobarro said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Callier food column: A taste of the Roaring Fork Valley’s Italian connection

Buon cibo is “good food” in Italian. To Italians, it can also mean so much more. While Italy feels so far away from us here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we are still deeply connected.

Northern Italians were among the first wave of migrants who tamed this land. There were no highways, and railroads were considered state-of-the-art travel, but these settlers persevered and established themselves for generations. Their culture, work ethic and cuisine have helped create our local identity.

I am one of their descendants. My great-great-grandparents, Jeremie and Cecile Gerbaz, brought their eight children to Woody Creek from Detroit. The couple originally immigrated from a tiny village in northern Italy called Doues.

They settled near Aspen and put their boys to work on their new ranch. Life was surely difficult for them, but they thrived there. Their children would go on to be county commissioners and successful ranchers. They even have a road named after them in Woody Creek.

During the hard times and the good, they used food to bring the family together. Like many large families, there were certain rivalries between siblings, but these could be put aside over wine and the breaking of bread.

The winters were difficult, but the summer could be bountiful. They raised potatoes and other crops that would sustain them during the long, cold months. Polenta was a staple that I even ate while growing up.

I have always been told that northern Italians loved it so much here, because it reminded them of home. I never knew this to be true until I visited their old village, Doues, in Italy. The village is in a valley called Valle d’Aosta, which is an alpine paradise. It is nestled in the Alps and is close to Switzerland and France. The valley is heavily influenced by French, Italian and Swiss cultures. One can see these influences everywhere, from language, clothing, architecture and cuisine.

The cuisine of the region is known best for its strong and rich ingredients of polenta, potatoes, cheese, meat and more meat. Did I mention cheese? The region also produces fontina which is a creamy cow’s milk cheese, with a mild, earthy flavor with a touch of honey sweetness. It is delicious and great for melting. Fontina makes wonderful fondue, which is a regional speciality. They also have the best pizzas served in remote huts and shanties.

I have been lucky enough to visit Val d’Aosta. I have distant relatives there who have stayed in touch with the American family, and they graciously invited me to their home in Doues. The area is idyllic like a pastoral dream. Ancient villages line the valley all the way to Switzerland. The back of the Mater Horn presides over the area, and the Alps rise at impossible angles. Not only is the landscape indelible, but the food is sublime.

Eating dinner is an act of grace and communion and always taken seriously. Every meal is intimate and can last hours. Supper usually begins with a light salad and several strong aperitifs. From there, it progresses to a soup, first course, second course and dessert.

Wine is mandatory throughout, and a digestif and espresso are served with dessert. It is considered rude to refuse food or not clean a plate. I never had that issue, but I did cry once in a bathroom, because I feared I couldn’t eat or drink anymore.

After living there for several weeks, and eating home-cooked meals, I left with a deep appreciation of the food and culture. I was able to gather some recipes from local cookbooks and my own family to share with you. I decided to bring a little of Italy back to Colorado.

We must not forget our ancestral connections and how they still shape us. Recipes tell tales of our struggles and triumphs, and these are my family’s stories. All recipes accompany this story.

APPLE FRITTERS

(Serves four people)

These are served as an appetizer. The apples must be cut small enough to cook quickly and evenly, while the breading browns. After flipping them in the frying pan, make sure to gently press down with spatula. They are slightly sweet, so they can also make a light dessert.

Ingredients

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup beer

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon sugar

3 apples, sliced or cubed

pinch of lemon peel, grated

pinch of salt

oil for frying

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, stir together egg, milk, beer, flour and salt into a smooth batter.

2. Add apples to batter and stir until coated. Let mixture stand for about 30 minutes.

3. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. Drop spoonfuls of mixture and fry until both sides are golden. Serve immediately.

LA FAVO

(Serves four people)

This is a classic pasta, tomato sauce and white bean dish. You can also use fresh fava beans, but they require extra prep time. They are ideal with short cut pasta such as ditalini, but I had a hard time finding that type. Instead, I used the “Italian Trottole” that I like so much. To experiment, you could add a splash of red wine, garlic or other kinds of creamy cheeses for different flavor possibilities.

Ingredients

16 ounces short cut pasta

1 can northern beans

6 ripe tomatoes, crushed

1 can tomatoes, crushed

1 shallot

4 slices Italian Bread, cubed

1/4 cup butter

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup Fontina cheese, sliced thinly

Directions

1. Drain beans and save liquid separately.

2. Cut shallots into pieces and melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and cook until shallots are soft and transparent. Add crushed tomatoes and bring to boil. Turn heat down and simmer.

3. Cook the pasta in water and drained liquid from beans until pasta is al dente.

4. Drain pasta and add to the tomato sauce, and stir in the beans. Turn heat to low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

5. Fry the cubed bread in a pan with butter until bread is golden and crispy.

6. Stir fontina cheese into pasta until melted. Top with toasted bread cubes and serve immediately.

FRECACHA

(Serves four people)

Frecacha is a fancy way of seeing meat and potatoes. Be sure not to over boil the potatoes, as they need to hold up while you simmer all ingredients together for an hour. The cinnamon and nutmeg make this more exotic than average mean and potatoes dishes. Use those with caution. Cooking time can vary, depending on how soupy you prefer.

Ingredients

2 large white onions

2 large potatoes, boiled and cold

14 ounces beef round steak

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon salt

4 cups beef stock

pinch of pepper, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon powder

Directions

1. Boil potatoes in a large pot for 25 minutes. Remove from water and cool.

2. Slice the onions and cook in butter over medium-high heat until they are soft and transparent.

3. Cut beef and potatoes into slices and add to the pot of onions. Sauté over medium-high heat for about five minutes.

4. Stir in beef stock and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on a low heat for about an hour. Stir in salt and spices. Add more to taste, as needed. Serve after fluid has browned and reduced.

Food column: Pizza, pizza

Pizza may have originated in Italy, but it has become an American favorite.

According to PMQ Pizza Magazine, the United States pizza market grew to $45.1 billion in 2018, and there were 75,243 pizzerias in the U.S. alone. The fact that a pizza magazine exists speaks to the immense popularity of pizza. The worldwide pizza market has also expanded to $134 billion in 2017.

There are many variations of pizza in the U.S. and worldwide. Popular American pizzas include Neapolitan, California-style, Chicago deep dish, Chicago thin crust, Detroit-style, New England Greek style, New York thin crust, St. Louis-style and tomato pie: New Jersey style.

Around the world, there are other variations of pizza such as the Chinese bing, Indian paratha and naan, Finissh rieska, German zwiebelkuchen and many others. There is something universally appealing about the combination of crispy bread, grease, cheese and savory toppings. Who doesn’t love pizza?

I am also proud of this Italian delicacy as a descendent of Italian immigrants. While the exact origins of pizza are not clear, it is generally believed to have come from the Roman empire. Modern pizza was conceived in 16th century Naples with the combination of galette flatbread, tomatoes, cheese and herbs.

Tomatoes were not widely known to Italians then, but they were recently brought back from the New World. As pizza evolved in Italy, the margherita pizza became a symbol of Italian pride by representing the national colors with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

Pizza was finally introduced to Americans in the late 19th century, when Italian immigrants brought their beloved food with them to the East Coast.

Until the mid-20th century, pizza was limited to small pizzerias and home kitchens. This changed after World War II, when service people returned from Europe with a newly acquired taste for the Italian treat. Since then, pizza has proliferated and become a multibillion dollar industry.

As much as I love pizza, I have to admit that I have not tried to make it from scratch. It never seemed complicated to make, but I always opted for the instant gratification of delivery or pre-made pizza.

This column has been an opportunity to prepare new recipes, so I decided to try making my own pizza. I found a great recipe for margherita pizza on Pinterest, and I am pleased with the results.

My close friend, Angie, also loves pizza and wanted to join me for this meal. She suggested making her fruit pizza for dessert. Over many years, her family has perfected a fruit pizza recipe, and we decided it would go well with the margherita pizza.

Fruit pizza is yet another delightful variation of the many pizza recipes out there.