Dishing It Out
Reading through the three cookbooks produced by the Junior League of Denver serves as an armchair tour of Colorado's recent culinary history. The now legendary Colorado Cache, published in 1978, featured an intriguing mix of salt-of-the-earth favorites (Spaghetti Pie, Corn-Broccoli Bake, Perfect White Cake), exotic-sounding foreign classics (Twelve-Boy Curry, Coq au Vin and Feijoada, a Brazilian black-bean stew) and a few late-'70s oddities (Sauerkraut Loaf and Scarlet O'Horseradish Dressing). A more telling sign of the times, though, was the emphasis on cocktail-party fare: These days, who has the energy -- or the inclination -- to make Molded Corned Beef Salad or Aspic With Shrimp and Asparagus? The Water Chestnut Bacon Wraps, on the other hand, withstand the test of time -- right down to the suggested use of a microwave, so daring for 1978.
Water Chestnut Bacon Wraps
2 6 1/2-ounce cans water chestnuts, drained
1 pound bacon
1 12-ounce bottle catsup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce to taste
2 tablespoons dark molasses
Cut bacon strips in half and wrap around whole chestnuts; secure with a toothpick. Place chestnuts on a microwave roasting rack in a glass dish and cook until bacon is crisp, about 1 minute per chestnut. Mix the remaining ingredients and place in a shallow glass serving dish. Place chestnuts in the sauce and microwave for 1 minute until the sauce is thoroughly heated. 40 pieces.
By 1987, when the Junior League of Denver published Crème de Colorado, Colorado cooks were much more interested in international cuisine, and they were willing to tackle such complex fare as the thirty-ingredient Lasagne Verdi e Bianco or Poisson en Croûte, a daylong undertaking. Bigger, heavier and more professional-looking than Cache, Crème still included some simpler dishes -- Chutney Cheese Ball, for instance, or Brown Sugar Cookies. Today, though, this collection has the feel of a teenager who wants to act grown up and has mastered some of the rudimentary skills but is still playing at adult-level sophistication. Witness this recipe for Sole With Grapes in Avocado Sauce:
Sole With Grapes in Avocado Sauce
1 cup plain yogurt
1 small avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup green grapes
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
salt and ground white pepper to taste
4 large sole fillets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Place yogurt, avocado, garlic, basil and lemon juice in blender. Process until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan. Add grapes and set aside for no longer than 2 hours.
Combine wheat germ, flour, salt and pepper on large plate. Dredge fish in flour mixture to coat well. Heat oil in large non-stick skillet. Add fish and saute until lightly brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Heat avocado mixture over low heat until just warm; pour mixture over fish and serve immediately. 4 servings. (The avocado sauce tastes rich and creamy, but don't be fooled, yogurt is the main ingredient.)
The Junior League got down to business with 1995's Colorado Collage. The same format and size as Crème de Colorado, Collage boasted the added luxury of full-color food photos, so that cooks could finally compare their efforts, along with suggested menus for gatherings and recommended wine choices. "Après Ski With Friends" featured Flatirons Fondue, Baked Tortellini Soup and Baked Pears With Rum and Cream, while "Dinner With a View" started off with Garlic Vichyssoise, progressed to Scallops and Fettucine and ended with Tiramisu. Full of dishes that dazzle, including Provençal Beans With Lamb, Collage contains no cheese balls or Jell-O molds parading as aspic. This is Serious Food.
Provençal Beans With Lamb
2 cups dried Great Northern white beans, rinsed, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed again
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or rosemary
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups dry white wine, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 pounds lean lamb meat, cubed
In Dutch oven, combine beans, celery, onion, fennel, mustard, thyme, salt, brown sugar, and 1 cup of the wine. Add enough water to cover. Heat to boiling, cover partially, and simmer until beans are tender, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and lamb. Brown lamb on all sides and add to bean mixture. Add remaining 1/2 cup wine to same skillet and deglaze pan, scraping up any browned bits, and add to bean mixture. Bake 2 hours, stirring occasionally, adding more wine or water, if necessary to keep moist. 6-8 servings.
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