Not All Lambs Are the Same

Excepted from an Interview with Nick de Toldi at

There is only the need to buy the most prime and expensive cut of lamb for the sort of dishes such as Rack of Lamb or the famous “Baron d’agneau de Pauillac”, a roast including the 2 legs and the “saddle” typically served at the prestige dinners of the wine chateaux beatween Margaux and Pauillac.

But, I explained to Nick that in Colorado, we frequently encounter Basque sheepherders while hunting Dusky Grouse and Sharptailed Grouse here in September.  And, their sheep are eating nearly a pure diet of sage brush, which is very strong-tasting.  The mule deer that come from the mountains are very strong and gamey as a result of this same sage brush diet, as compared to our white-tailed deer which feed off of the farmer’s grains of the plains.

I compared this to our farrier who raises a special breed of lamb for the table and sells them by the whole or half.  They are pricey, around $300 to have a whole one butchered and packed.  He feeds them a special diet to have them fattened and the best tasting, and they are harvested while they are very young. 

He reiterated that for the slow braised dishes, you want the heartier and older lambs, while for the quickly cooked chops, you want the young corn-fed or grass-fed varieties.

By |October 8th, 2011|Cuisine, Recipes|Comments Off on Not All Lambs Are the Same

Cento Italian Tomatoes

I used to buy whatever canned tomatoes were on sale in from the grocer.  Then I started to realize that tomatoes on the vine, never tasted the same from one to the other, so why should they in the can.  And, tomatoes in Italy, never tasted anything like those grown in America, in part to their soil and in part to their seed. 

San Marzano, Italy, is like the Bordeaux region of tomatoes.  But you need to be careful as there are tomatoes that are labeled San Marzano, but grown in the US – referring to the type of seed, not the location of growing. Whatever brand you buy, you need to make sure it’s Denominazione di Origine Protetta certified, if you want to make sure it is from San Marzano. 

These Cento DOP Certified San Marzano tomatoes are the best that can be bought in the US, but cost nearly $5 for a 28 oz can, if you can find them.  Cento has a San Marzano varietal that’s non DOP, but grown in Italy, which sells for around $2.50for a 35 oz can.   Then there’s the “Italian Style” Cento’s which are grown outside of Italy, maybe even in California, but are Italian style in that they are Roma tomatoes, and cost under $2.00 for a 28 oz can.

We find a real difference in tasting the “Italian Style” Cento’s to those made in Italy, and those made in Italy are worth the small extra cost.  And if you can find them reasonably priced, the DOP Certified San Marzano are worth double the cost of the “made in Italy” tins,, as they are noticeably, however slightly, better.  Simply put they are the best in canned tomatoes, if you can afford them, get them.

By |October 8th, 2011|Cuisine, Recipes|Comments Off on Cento Italian Tomatoes

Ten Tips for Becoming A Better Grouse Hunter

Have an Uncle Who’s Part Indian.  I am not being cute or clever.  My heritage is part Sioux Indian and there is something to be learned from our Native Americans when it comes to forest craft, it’s not just all folk-lore.  While Indians have a legendary reputation for being quieter and more stealthy in the woods, it’s for good reason, but we could argue whether that is due to nature or nurture.  Whatever the reason and if you weren’t born with it, see what you can learn from someone skilled in this manner of stealthy stalking and it doesn’t matter if it is applied on big game or upland birds, it’s better than the alternative of bashing through the woods scaring every grouse out of the other end of it before you even step foot in the beginning of the other end of the woods.  Better yet, adopt an “uncle” born or skilled in these crafts.
Learn to shoot a shotgun and learn to shoot it well.  We attended Buz Fawcett’s Wingshooting Workshop many times now, in efforts to become Master Shotgunners.  If you hit what you can see and learn to shoot instinctively, you will be a better grouse hunter.
Bring a picnic on the grouse moor.  You never know when you will need fortitude from the elements or simply from your own psyche, if it’s a less than stellar day.  We always bring a French picnic, complete with some red wine, pate’ from birds gone by, cheese course, salad and other treats.
Stuff enough shells in your bag, but not too many to begin to think you you have enough to afford to miss.  My friend, Paul, grew up in rural Nebraska and his father was a professional assassin for coyotes and other predators, working […]

By |October 8th, 2011|Cuisine, Picnic, Recipes, Travel, Wingshooting|Comments Off on Ten Tips for Becoming A Better Grouse Hunter

Vanilla Taste Testing, Mexican versus Madagascar

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, behind only saffron.  The sap of conifers and coal extracts, used to make artificial vanillas do not come close to competing with pure vanilla.    

Commercial vanilla extract (if pure and not of the artificial varieties) still usually has a base simple syrup  added to the extract to give it sweetness.  To make home-made vanilla extract, free of artificial ingredients and sweeteners:


1 vanilla beans
1/3 cup vodka
glass jar with tight-fitting lid


Use a sharp paring knife to cut lengthwise down each vanilla bean, splitting them in half, leaving an inch at the end connected, if your jar allows; otherwise this step is only important in ease of removing the extract without the bean, as you can simply sieve the extract upon pouring.  Put vanilla beans in a glass jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid (small French mason jars work well). Cover completely with the vodka.  Shake every once in a while.  Store in the pantry, in a cool dark place, for 2 months or longer to allow the flavors to absorb into the alcohol. This lasts indefinitely. You can keep topping it off with vodka once in a while, if you wish to make it last longer, as the flavor will concentrate with age.  Another favorite of preserving is vanilla sugar,which you make by putting a split vanilla bean into a jar of white, granulated sugar.   You simply use the vanilla infused sugar and omit the addition of the extract in a recipe.  One tablespoon of vanilla sugar has the flavoring power of 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Vanilla is native only to Central America it took until the 19th century to cultivate this orchid, in order to produce the vanilla pod (beans),which need to be pollinated by bees or hummingbirds.  As the orchids are only open […]

By |October 5th, 2011|Cuisine, Recipes, Sweets|Comments Off on Vanilla Taste Testing, Mexican versus Madagascar

Fresh Figs

From August until October (or just really September and a week or so of October, at least here in the Wild West groceries stores–and, even then you may have to special order them), California figs are here in season, though occasionally you’ll find them from other parts of the world, whether they be Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Calimyrna, Kadota, Sierra, or more exotic types.  Figs have a bad reputation from their sisters, prunes, which are about as similar as a Chardonnay and a Port.  We love figs, we hate prunes.  In fact, prunes developed such a bad image, in part because the only decent dried prune is a Newton and in part due to the bad dried figs sent in Christmas baskets round the world, that the California growers have changed their names to “dried figs.”  American ingenuity and marketing skills at work, but a dried fig still tastes like a prune, which is nothing like a fig.

Figs are delicate and therefore only keep refrigerated for 5-7 days, less unrefrigerated.  Hence, the reluctance of groceries to keep them in stock, as they often rot before they sell and Americans have largely lost touch with what to do with them.  We buy them buy the pallet when in their short season and simple arrange the ones we won’t eat in a single layer on a pan and put in the freezer, transferring them to sealed freezer bags when frozen, keeping them in the freezer, for up to 6-12 months.

Our favorite way to eat them is simply raw, slicing off the stem and tougher bottom skin.  Serve on an antipasti platter, or simply with some French cheeses, fruits, and a baguette.

Or, another favorite, try cutting a deep X into […]

By |October 5th, 2011|Cuisine|Comments Off on Fresh Figs

Blue Grouse Hippies

Jeff and I started hunting for blue grouse together nearly twenty years ago, having met each other our rookie years in the courtroom.  In fact we met as I spied Jeff trying to hide an issue of Shooting Sportsman in his client’s file, as we sat next to one other on the barrister’s seats waiting for the judge to call the cases of the day.  We starting talking and I found out his father, Roger Hill, wrote one of my favorite books, Fly Fishing the South Platte.

Jeff went on to say this was a blessing and a curse, as his father was a retired nuclear physicist and that he never got to enjoy soccer and things like that on the weekends, as his father simply left every weekend day saying, “I am going fishing , do you want to come along?”  There being no alternative except staying home alone, Jeff obliged and became a serious fly-tier, angler, and shooter of his own.  We immediately started hunting together, a journey down the sporting road which lasted many years and which I hope will continue when he finds time away from his new family.  His dog at the time was a hard-headed English Setter pup, which matched well in the field with my Britanny of field-trial lines who was on his first year afield.

After many years of driving dirt roads and discovering dead ends on maps, we discovered the promised land of blue grouse together and promised to never divulge its location to any outsiders, or any other grouse covert we discovered together, for that matter, under threat of death or sending sultry clients to deal with such indiscretions.  After one of our first days on the mountain in the shadows of the mountain, we found […]

By |October 3rd, 2011|Colorado, Cuisine, Dog Training, Recipes, Wingshooting|Comments Off on Blue Grouse Hippies

French Mustards and Home Made Mustard

French mustard is nothing like american mustard, though the closest thing is perhaps American brown mustard, a bastardization of the English brown mustard and really nothing like the French ones.  Oh sure, we have the Grey Poupon, made famous by the posh-teasing commercials of my childhood and I don’t think anyone doesn’t know the phase, “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”  But the truth is, Grey Poupon, isn’t really that posh, nor very good, as far as French mustards go anyway.

The much more flavorful ones are not pulverized like the typical Grey Poupon and are whole grain, in France.  We prefer these ones for serving on their own, with something like pâté.    We find the best ones to be Vilux, which is brown mustard if you can find it in specialty stores, which is sweeter and more full-bodied than the Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard, and we also like any of the whole seed mustards, including the ones by Grey Poupon, such as their Country Dijon or Harvest Course Ground mustards.

Or you can make homemade mustard, as our friend, Shawn, does:
Le Parfait french canning jars or use a Mason jar
12 ounces of stout beer
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 c. brown mustard seed
1/2 c. yellow mustard seed
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4. cinnamon
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. ground cardamom

Place in mason jar and cover with wrap for 48 hours then place in a food processor for 3 minutes.  Place in jars and it’s good to eat the next day.  Keeps for six months in the fridge.





By |October 3rd, 2011|Cuisine, France, Recipes|Comments Off on French Mustards and Home Made Mustard


The word tapenade comes from “tapeno,” the Provençal word for caper, which is a versatile topping on crostini (dried slices of baguette toasts) for appetizers, a topping on grilled salmon, a marinade for roast chicken, lamb, or beef.   The Italians use it as a quick pasta sauce or pizza topping.

Use either black or green olives, oil-cured or brined. Oil-cured are easier to work with (if pitting the olives yourself), but brined can produce a great impact, too. Traditionally, tapenade is made with anchovies and capers.

The best anchovies are fresh white ones, but the ones from Colliore in the Languedox-Roussillon, or the Basque coastal regions are also top shelf.  Barcelona  has sweet and meaty anchovies, which are so prized they are never exported.  If you can find salt-packed Italian anchovies in the States, you won’t be disappointed.


1 1/2 cups olives, pitted, any kind will do, black or green, oil cured or brined, your choice, but we like Provencal black olives and castelvetro olives, from Emilia Romagna, which has a nice contrast of cured and soft versus hard, fresh and salty, finely chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped.
1 T. capers (preferably salt cured), rinsed in a colander, and then coarsely chopped
1 t. minced fresh thyme and/or savory, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1-2 boned fillets of anchovy, preferably fresh white anchovies, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil as needed
Red wine vinegar or lemon juice, to taste (about 1-2 tablespoons)
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper


Finely chop together the olives, capers, garlic, herbs, and anchovy.  Add 1 tablespoon of oil and pepper and mix together with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice and olive oil.

You may need to add salt or more vinegar and/or lemon juice. […]

By |October 3rd, 2011|Cuisine, Recipes, Starters|Comments Off on Tapenade

Smoked Salmon Bagel Sandwiches

Lox is a cured salmon fillet, usually sliced thin.  Typically it is served on a bagel, often with cream cheese, onion, tomato, cucumber and capers. Lox can be crumbled into small pieces and added into scrambled eggs, sometimes with chopped onion.

I have to confess, I never much cared for lox.   At least, not when compared to freshly caught and smoked salmon, as lox is far too often too dry or too salty.  Freshly smoked salmon is better, especially if you caught it yourself, fly fishing.

While the Kokanee salmon run is on here in Colorado, we like to keep a few for smoking, as they die in their breeding rituals within the month of their run up the river anyway, so it seems a waste not to take advantage of their great flavor.

And, the Togiak River is quite possibly the best King and Silver Salmon river in Alaska, from which our friend, Rim Chung, had just returned with some its delicacies. Numerous anglers who have fished all over the world describe the Togiak as incomparable for its salmon runs, as well as for its nearby trout and grayling fishing. All of the Alaskan and Northwest wild salmonoids are worth smoking, whether it is the Copper River salmon from your market, or something farther down the Sporting Road.

We like our smoke salmon flaked on a hot, buttered bagel, topped with cream cheese and sprouts.  It doesn’t get simpler than this, nor better.  Voila!

By |October 3rd, 2011|Cuisine, Fishing, Recipes|Comments Off on Smoked Salmon Bagel Sandwiches

Fig Molasses

Fresh figs are in season in the States from mid-September, just a short few weeks until mid-October, so get them now while possible from your grocery or specialty grocery.  And, if short of the real thing, you can buy the dried variety of which the best may be Trader Joe’s Dried Black Mission Figs.

Or pick a bottle of Dolci Pensieri di Calabria (fig molasses).  This is pure vigs, dark and syrupy, a result of combining the figs with sugar.  Drizzle over fish, chicken, pork chops, waffles or pancakes, ice cream, fruit salad, salad dressings or marinades too.

It is a substitute of honey on the fruit-salad, with fresh pineapple and maraschino.  We like it drizzled over ice cream, fresh ricotta or any cheese like blue, Parmesan or Pecorino, stirring into yogurt, glazing a pork roast or flavoring pan juices.

By |October 3rd, 2011|Cuisine, Recipes, Sweets|Comments Off on Fig Molasses