Like for many, when I am home I am grounded. I feel centered by the mountains, relaxed by the clement air, excited by the company of family and of course the food we make together. I can’t conjure up many other ideas that are as spell-binding as the feeling I get from Colorado winters and summers, and…wait, why did I move to Boston again? At least the short stint of getaways back home have me appreciating those things I love most about the Rockies, friends and family, and the one thing that I do best while around both, cooking.
It holds true in my family that foodies beget foodies. For my Dad it was love at first sight when he met my Mom, as she, shaking his hand with one hand, cradled a robust jar of fresh, homemade pesto in the other. (My dad grew up with full-blooded Italian Mother and Grandparents). Naturally, my sister and I found no escape from nightly family meals thoughtfully prepared and blooming with freshness and seasonality.
During my last trip home we prepared a number of classic favorites as well as a few newbies: see below for my Dad’s famous, cracker-thin crusted pizza, and next, Mom’s mastered beer can chicken, and pour moi, an effortless summer post-meal sweet.
Gordy’s Favorite Pizza
By Gordon McLean
I prefer really thin pizza crust. Like the style that originated from Napoli, Italy. Almost a chewy, crispy, cracker consistency. When you roll it out you can nearly see through it. That also makes it somewhat frag
ile and tricky to handle. It helps if you use two pizza peels each generously coasted with corn meal, which acts as ball bearings. I use two peels especially because the first pizza will be immediately inhaled, so you’d better have the second one ready to shove in the oven the second you pull the first one out to start the pizza-fest.
Anyway here goes (with an assist from American Pie by Peter Reinhart):
Combine in electric mixing bowl with dough hook:
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¾ plus 2 tablespoons cool water
Mix on low for 4 mins., let rest for 5 mins. Then mix again on medium for 4 more mins. Dough should be tacky but consistently balled up. Remove and work on floured surface, pressing the edges into the middle for two minutes. Form into a ball and place into an olive oiled prep bowl big enough for the rise. Cover with plastic wrap and leave on counter.
After 1 hour, punch down. Place into refrigerator for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight.
Take dough out of bowl and place onto floured surface. Cut in half, then each half into thirds. Each one of the six pieces will become a canvas. Flatten a piece with the palm of your hand and then begin to run the dough through your fingers, round and round letting it hang down to stretch evenly. Once you’ve gotten it to take on a circular shape, place on the peel and finish off using a rolling pin to get dough as THIN as you can without it ripping. Lots of flour underneath and a little corn meal helps. Shake the peel to ensure it will readily release when placing into the oven.
Next, brush shaped dough lightly with olive oil then load up with your favorite ingredients, but not overly so. I love, but not limited to, a little sauce, garlic, herbs, fresh greens, olive pieces, anchovy, roasted red peppers, pancetta, homemade ricotta (see recipe below) or bits of other interesting cheeses, and whatever else you might find in the fridge. Finally, into the oven on a stone as hot as you can get it, 500-550˚F. Depending on your altitude you’ll want to closely watch this living, bubbling creation. It’ll transform into a sublime meal in a matter of 12-18 mins. Meantime, you’d better have gotten that second one ready to go!
And now the last, most important step…Pour a glass of Italian red wine and dig in. Boun Appetito!
With one fabulous meal already conquered, we made our way from Denver’s Front Range up to the Vail Valley for a few days of mountain gallivanting. The weekend was dotted with such activities as morning hikes up both Beaver Creek and Vail mountains—where yellow bellied marmots, blue bells, and remnants of beaver dens were spotted—and afternoons spent lounging beside water and watching as all but two microscopic clouds filled the perfect, periwinkle-shaded sky. Thoughts of work as a gardener back in Boston were at a distance, and for one of the first times all summer I felt, even just for a bit, I that I could fully and effortlessly enjoy the blooming wildflowers. This mountain getaway was a treat for all the senses, with one beaming highlight, beer can chicken.
Beer Can Chicken
By Heidi McLean
Beer can chicken is a funny sounding, silly looking dish, but the results are worth the snickering. A hen squatting on a can of beer inhaling its malty liquid and sizzling on a grill can be one of the more delightful and delectable ways to cook this small fowl. For the purist, you perch a whole chicken atop a can of any ‘ole beer and roast away.
But the cheating cook that I am, I found a slick but less classy workaround to the sometimes awkward chicken-on-a-can method. At the local cooking store, in this case Kitchen Collage in Edwards, Colorado, I found a small contraption – an oval grill pan with holes with two can-sized cylinders attached. This pan not only allows you to use another liquid, like wine, but you can roast a variety of vegetables in the chicken drippings. Yes, it’s quite good.
So for the recipe, whether you use a can of beer or the ready-made grill pan, first prepare your chicken. I like to put thin slices of lemon and sprigs of thyme under the skin, and then our favorite Bobby Flay coffee-ancho rub under and on the skin. Place chicken carefully but firmly on the opened beer can so it does not tip over and make a mess of your countertop, grill or oven. Roast for an hour or so until the skin is a lovely, crispy brown and the legs a little wobbly.
A few cautions: do not substitute a beer bottle. Do open the can of beer before settling the chicken on top. If roasting in the oven, put the chicken carefully in a roasting pan allowing enough head room for the standing fowl.
A hard act to follow, Mom’s beer can chicken could have easily been the soul dish on this night’s menu. Instead though, divine inspiration (if you believe in that kind of thing) is the only explanation for the dessert we enjoyed afterwards. A cherries atop fresh, homemade ricotta (see recipe below), atop hazelnut brittle (not so homemade this time, but come back during the holidays!). The fleshy and tart summer cherry became smooth by the creamy, salty ricotta, but then deliciously punctured by the sharp, candied hazelnuts.
Home never tasted so good, or so I always leave thinking. The reality is, nothing ever tastes as good as when it’s made at home, with friends and family, and set against the backdrop of the most stunning mountains west of the Mississippi.
To make homemade ricotta:
2 quarts whole milk
2 cups buttermilk
1 pinch salt
In a sturdy pot slowly bring the milk and buttermilk almost to a boil, stirring or whisking constantly. Stir over heat until the mixture begins to separate and curds form on the surface. Add salt. Use slotted spoon to remove curds and place immediately into a small colander lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Once all curds are transferred to cheesecloth, bring corners of the extra cheesecloth together at the top and secure with a piece of twine or a twisty-tie.
Leave to drain for several hours, or refrigerate overnight. Ricotta is ready to eat when most of the liquid is drained.