Sunday, January 3, 2016

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Laramie, Wyoming

 The Location: Laramie, Wyoming
2013 population: 31,814; 83.6% white, 8.7% Hispanic. Per capita income: $22,441.

Prior to being colonized by the United States, the region around Laramie was home to the Sioux/Lakota tribe. The town of Laramie was first founded in the 1860's, and was built as a tent city next to the railroad line. The city was initially part of what we call the "Wild West" and subjected to a lot of the lawlessness that went along with it before being stabilized and "civilized".

Laramie, or perhaps all of the state of Wyoming, comes across as full of contradictions. Wyoming, as a territory, was organized in 1869. Women were granted equal rights by the legislature. Laramie was the first city in the United States to have women serve on a jury, in 1870. It was also home to the first woman to cast a ballot in an election, on September 6, 1870. It's the first city to ban smoking in public places. However, it is also home to the University of Wyoming, where the Matthew Shepard murder took place. For a place that from its inception was a beacon of what we would today define as liberality, it also has some shockingly conservative attitudes as well.

Supernatural Factoid: Actor Jim Beaver hails from Laramie.

The Food: Turkey Jerky and Three Sisters Stew

Wyoming's food seems to be as contradictory as its history and values. The two themes I came across most while researching food for this state were: Cowboy food and Native American food. So, I decided to run with it and find a recipe that represented each of those halves. Beef and buffalo are big in Wyoming, but they are not big with me, and I've always wanted to make jerky, but that meant finding a different protein source. Enter, the turkey. I modified two recipes I found online and combined them into my own recipe. I think it turned out pretty good for a first attempt!

Turkey Jerky
1 Tbsp. liquid smoke (Tip: If you are having trouble looking for this at the grocery store, check out the bbq sauce aisle. It's a good bet you'll find it there.)
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 tsp. mesquite flavoring liquid (I could not find this in the store and dumped in some chili powder instead. I think it turned out pretty good this way!)
2 tsp. light brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1 lb. turkey breast, sliced thin (I used the cutlets that come pre-cut, the Jenny-O brand. I cut them in half but they were the perfect thinness to begin with.)

Combine the liquid smoke through the salt in a gallon-size ziplock bag. Mix well.
Add the turkey slices, and cover all the turkey slices in the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator 12-24 hours.
When ready to prepare the jerky the next day, pour the turkey slices and the marinade into a pot, and simmer until the liquid reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. (I didn't actually test the temperature, I just made sure it looked cooked on both sides.)

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees. (Note, my oven's lowest setting is 170 degrees. If yours is this higher temperature too, you may want to put the turkey in for less time. Try 2.5 hours and then test for moisture as described below.)
Drain the turkey slices from the marinade. Pat the turkey slices dry with paper towels. Lay the slices of turkey directly across your oven racks. (Place foil or a sheet pan under it to catch any of the slices that may slip off.)
Prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon to allow moisture to escape.

Continue to cook the turkey this way for 3-6 hours.
After 3 hours, test a piece by allowing it to cool,and then bending it. If there is any moisture present, continue to dry longer, checking every so often.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months in the refrigerator, or up to 6 months in the freezer.

 My jerky tasted awesome! A bit spicy, but I liked that. It was a bit crunchy in some bites, which means it dried out too much, as I said in the notes, this was probably because the temperature was just a bit higher than it was supposed to be. Probably a half hour less would have been perfect. It was way easier to make than I ever expected it to be. If you have been curious to try making jerky but are worried that it might be too complicated, don't be! Try it out! It's a fun project.

Three-Sisters Stew
I came across this name a few times in my researching and decided to use a vegan version of the recipe. According to Native American lore, there were three sisters: Corn sister, bean sister, and squash sister. Those three sisters provided all the nourishment the people needed, and because of this, they were planted together. The corn grew tall and the stalks allowed the beans to grow up without needing stakes. And the squash grew at the corn and bean's feet, making for easy harvesting. And science has proved the truth of this lore, because these three food items eaten together form what is known as a complete protein. Animal proteins are complete proteins because they contain every type of amino acid in them, but vegetarian protein sources are incomplete. Corn, beans, and squash, combined together, contain all the amino acids, which make it a complete protein source, and a boon for vegetarians and vegans. There are versions of these stew with meat in them, but I felt it wasn't needed. The three sisters are the star of this dish, and they deserved to stand out on their own, especially since I was making turkey jerky as well. I didn't need more meat than that!

1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, cut into short narrow strips
1 (14- to 16-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 cans (drained and rinsed) pink or pinto beans
2 cans corn kernels, drained
1 cup homemade or canned vegetable stock, or water (I used water)
1 (4 oz.) can chopped mild green chilies, drained
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder or mesquite seasoning, or more, to taste (I used chili powder)
1 tsp. dried oregano
Dash cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place squash on a greased sheet pan and roast for about a half hour, until browned and cooked through.
Heat the oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until the onion is golden. Add the squash and all the remaining ingredients except the salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. 
Simmer gently, covered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
If time allows, let the stew stand for 1 to 2 hours before serving, then heat through as needed. The stew should be thick and very moist but not soupy; add additional stock or water if needed. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve in bowls.
This was really tasty! The squash is sweet and helps temper the spices in the stew. I am curious how it will taste reheated, but it was very good fresh too. It worked really well with the turkey jerky and was perfect for a snowy day like it was here today. It felt very winterish. I highly recommend this recipe!

Turkey Jerky recipe

Turkey Jerky recipe

Three Sisters Stew recipe

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