Summer foods that can be prepared in advance
May 27, 2006
“Good-bye, God, we’re going to Virginia City.”
That’s an excerpt from the diary of a young Missouri girl, upon learning her family’s intention to move West.
OK, she actually said Bodie. But it was with at least some degree of the same sentiment that my wife, Ardi, and I decided to sell everything and go all in on a 133-year-old building in Virginia City as the home for our restaurant.
Named after its original owner, the Werrin Building was built in 1873. Originally, it housed a grocery store on the first floor and an 11-room boarding house upstairs. A listing in the 1866 Pacific Coast Directory specified “groceries, provisions, wines, liquors and cigars.”
The inhabitants of the second floor were most likely single miners or small families with the living quarters consisting of two rooms, presumably a bedroom and a sitting room with a cook stove.
Some of the welders who worked on the structural part of the renovation claimed to smell bacon cooking on occasion. One of them in particular saw flashes of light on the stairs and even put a name – Margaret – together with the room he was working in.
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By the time they had finished, he had taken to using a ladder to access the second floor, choosing to avoid the ghost and stairs entirely.
It’s interesting to note that food and beverage were viewed as signs of prosperity during Virginia City’s heydays. The six-story International Hotel, which played host to all sorts of celebrities and dignitaries, served meals comparable to those found in New York or Paris.
The presence of thousands of oyster shells in archeological digs is seen as a sign of opulence. On display at the Mark Twain Saloon are two 120-pound, solid-silver champagne buckets – from a set of four that was used at the Washoe Millionaire’s Club.
These guys were definitely livin’ large.
So what’s the connection between Virginia City’s past and the Mexican-inspired food that we serve at Cafe del Rio? Let me try.
Before mechanical rock-crushing devices were invented and employed, a technique developed hundreds of years earlier in Mexico was used. It involved dragging a heavy stone over a rough surface on which the ore-bearing rock had been scattered. If the rock yielded little, the Spanish word was “borrasca.” But if they were lucky and the rock was rich, the word was “bonanza.”
The two recipes that follow are good for summer entertaining in that they can be prepared ahead of time.
In fact, the cheesecake should be made at least a day ahead to allow it to set up completely.
Toss the salad just before you’re ready to eat.
Tortilla Chicken Salad
Serves 6 to 8
Approximately 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 ounces salad oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 ounces soy sauce
Juice from two limes
1Ú4 bunch rough chopped cilantro
Marinate the chicken for six hours, or overnight. Grill on the barbecue or sauté until done. Allow to cool, then cut into bite-size pieces. Reserve.
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded at cut into 2-inch juliennes
1 small red bell pepper, 2-inch juliennes
6 ounces peeled, julienned jicama
1 large mango, peeled, cut from pit and julienned
2 ears of corn, cooked and cut from cob
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 Romaine lettuce hearts, 1Ú2-inch wide julienne
8 corn tortillas, julienned and fried crisp
4 ounces crumbled Mexican Cotija cheese (or grated Parmesan)
11Ú2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 serrano chili, seeded and minced
1Ú2 cup rice wine vinegar, approximately
2 cups corn oil
Juice the orange, lemon and lime and place the juices in a measuring cup. Add enough rice wine vinegar to make 1 cup total.
Combine the juice/vinegar and everything except the oil in a food processor or large stainless-steel bowl.
With the motor running (or using a whip, whipping constantly), add the oil slowly. Taste for salt. Reserve refrigerated.
Set aside about 1Ú4 of the cheese and tortilla strips for garnish. Combine the chicken and salad ingredients in a bowl and toss with as much dressing as you like. Place in a serving bowl or platter and garnish with remaining cheese and tortilla strips.
Apricot Ancho Chili Cheesecake
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
1 box Nilla Wafers
6 ounces melted butter
In a food processor, grind the wafers to coarse crumbs. Add melted butter and pulse until just combined. Press the crumb mixture into a 10-inch, spring-form pan, working it up the sides as much as possible.
Bake the crust at 375 for about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Let cool.
1 cup apricot jam
4-5 dried ancho chilis, or 3 T. pure ground ancho chili
Stem and seed chilis. In a dry, hot pan toast the chilis in a single layer for about a minute, just until you can smell them.
Place in a bowl and cover with hot water for about 20 minutes. Drain the chilis and puree them in a blender. Force the purée through a strainer to remove bits of chili skin.
Add to the apricot jam and refrigerate. Will last at least two weeks.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees
11Ú2 pounds cream cheese
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 T. fresh lemon juice
2 cups sour cream
Using a standard mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the vanilla to the lemon juice.
Add the eggs one at a time, waiting for each to be incorporated before adding the next. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides using a rubber spatula, then run the mixer again to incorporate any scrapings. Add the sour cream and beat thoroughly for about 2 minutes.
Pour half of the batter into the prepared crust. Using a tablespoon (or a squeeze bottle, like we do), dot the batter with about 1Ú4 of the jam mixture. Using a toothpick or paring knife, swirl the jam around to evenly distribute it.
Add the rest of the batter and dot and swirl another quarter of the jam.
Bake at 300 degrees for one hour. Check the cake by shaking it gently. It should be jiggly like custard, but not liquid.
If liquid, bake for another 15 minutes and check again. Turn off heat and leave the cake in the oven with the door closed for about one hour.
Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Cut into 12 pieces using a hot, dry knife. Drizzle with remaining jam.
• Brian Shaw, and his wife, Ardie, owns the Cafe del Rio, 394 S. C St. in Virginia City.