Dining at ‘The Beastro’

June 3, 2016

Mullen-It-Over

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Word is out. Our dining establishment here in West Des Moines, known as The Beastro, is wildly popular with the local hoof traffic. Each day we unwittingly and unwillingly serve dozens of diners—herds of hungry families, some with twins and even one with triplets!  Our discriminating customers have cultivated tastes, and they brazenly graze upon our landscaped buffet of crudités all hours of the day. Our ongoing efforts to shoo them back into their woodland habitats are usually met with sarcastic snorts and evil doe eyes. (An oxymoron?)

IMG_0958When our impromptu meal service first began almost 20 years ago, our guests were more into guerilla dining—furtive nibbles here and there, followed by a frenetic dash away, dash away all. Now, our regulars linger contentedly over a beautifully composed snowball hydrangea or dew-misted clumps of impatiens. The bright daylily beds in the back yard have been reduced to gangly, beheaded stalks, making an odd tableau from our kitchen windows. And those cocky sweet potato vines with their chartreuse “hey-everybody-look-at-me!” leaves were so popular that we couldn’t keep up; we finally had to take them off the menu.

A few weeks ago, I placed a luxuriant mound of potted pink petunias in the center of our patio table. The next morning I ambled out to find my table centerpiece was now only a few bare stems sticking out of the soil. One late night as I walked past our all-glass front door, I had quite a start. There, on the front porch, stood a fur-coated customer glaring in at me. I suppose she was miffed because we had stopped serving those pungent arborvitae and giant-leafed hostas she loved so much. Probably our local nursery suppliers are lamenting that we buy smaller and smaller quantities of annual and perennials. When it comes to futility, we are slow learners.

IMG_0962Last year, we had to make an unplanned purchase—a new stone fountain, otherwise known as The Beastro Bar. The old one got knocked over and broken one night when some of the regulars were playing rowdy games (learned from their reindeer cousins, no doubt). They quaff plenty of water from this new oasis. I think it’s because our delicate fern salads have those tickly fronds that stick in their craws. Of course, our plantings appeal not only to the deer; we also have birds, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, foxes, an occasional coyote, and one very odd fellow—you’ll see him at the end of this post.

Every day, the routine begins anew. Some little birdie tweets that the herd is gathering at the Mullens to graze in our garden of eatin’ and chug on “bubbly” from the fountain. As many as two dozen at a time have been known to show up. Those party animals can keep it going all night long.

September 2010 005Word of muzzle spreads quickly. These epicureans previously turned up their snouts at some of the cultivars the garden centers promote as “deer-resistant”. Not anymore. Now they nosh away on the trendy new introductions and encourage their friends to sample these fancy plants too. Every now and then, Bob and I stop and ask ourselves, “Should we just throw in the trowel and close down our alfresco operation? We must be gluttons for punishment because The Beastro continues on. Deep down, though, I think we know how this story is going to end.

Foodiva

Has all that talk about eating plants and flowers put you in the mood for some fresh new  salad recipes? I hope so! The first one, Composed Italian Egg Salad, is a savory luncheon salad. I was inspired by recipes belonging to two of my friends, Lynn McCollum (Marinated Shrimp) and Connie Beasley (Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus), and then I combined some of those elements with my own ideas. (I haven’t included Lynn and Connie’s original recipes due to space limitations.)

Composed Italian Egg Salad

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Composed Italian Egg Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

All the elements of this salad can be made a day ahead, so putting it together is easy on the day of your lunch or dinner.

For Marinated Shrimp

  • 1 pound raw de-veined shrimp, shells and tails removed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 small cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 tablespoon creamy horseradish
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut in chiffonade
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • Fresh ground pepper

In a bowl, stir shrimp and olive oil together, coating shrimp well. Spread  shrimp evenly in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 or 16 minutes, or until shrimp are firm white/pink. Remove from oven to cool. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients in a medium-sized bowl with a lid. Add the cooked shrimp and stir well. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or more. Stir occasionally.

For Deviled Eggs

  • 8 boiled eggs (I often boil a couple of extra so I can throw in a couple of extra yolks into the filling)
  • 1/2 cup (more or less to achieve desired consistency) Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Grey Poupon Country Dijon Mustard

Cut the eggs in half. Scoop yolks into small bowl. Add mayonnaise and mustard. Stir and mash until well-mixed. Stuff the egg whites with filling. (May pipe yolks into the whites with a pastry bag, if preferred.) Place gently in a container with a lid, and refrigerate.

For Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

  • 16 fresh asparagus spears, cleaned and trimmed to equal length of 5 to 6 inches
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 slices proscuitto, cut in half lengthwise (LaQuercia is the best)

Place the asparagus on a plate and drizzle olive oil over it. Roll the asparagus in the oil to coat well. Wrap a half a slice of prosciutto around each asparagus spear. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes (or until prosciutto looks browned). Remove from oven and refrigerate.

For Vinaigrette

  • 1 small clover garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh-ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Grey Poupon mustard (regular or country style)
  •  1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

Place everything in small bowl and whisk together until mixed well. Refrigerate.

Remaining ingredients

  • 10-ounce package baby arugula
  • Shaved fresh Parmesan cheese
  • Microgreens (optional)
  • Roasted sunflower seeds (optional)

To assemble

Whisk the dressing once more and pour the amount desired over the arugula (a handful or two per person) and toss together. Spread on four large plates. Arrange the four deviled egg halves in the center like a star, leaving room at the very center to pile 6 or 7 marinated shrimp. Place four prosciutto-wrapped asparagus like spokes between each deviled egg. Top with shaved Parmesan. Place a few of the microgreens on top of the shrimp and deviled eggs. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds, if desired.

The second recipe is a side salad and leans toward the sweeter end of the spectrum, Cherry and Apple Salad. I borrowed elements of my friend Jean Williams’ wonderful recipe Decorating Day Salad (recipe not included here) as inspiration.

Cherry and Apple Salad

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Cherry and Apple Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 1  5-ounce package dried cherries, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Grey Poupon Country Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons cherry preserves
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups chopped unpeeled Granny Smith apples
  • 4 to 5 green onions, thinly sliced including some green parts
  • 1 cup pine nuts (can toast them if preferred)
  • 10-ounce package baby greens (i.e., baby spinach, spring mix, or romaine)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, blue cheese, or shaved Parmesan (your preference)

In a small pan, stir together the cherries and wine and bring to boil, reduce and boil until all liquid is gone and cherries are plump (about 5 minutes or so). Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lime juice, mustard, olive oil, vegetable oil, cherry preserves, salt and sugar. Stir the apples and onions into the dressing and refrigerate for at least an hour (up to 4 hours) before serving. To serve, stir in the baby greens and the cooked cherries. Toss to coat. Pile onto 6 salad plates. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Top with cheese.

 

In her cookbook, The Art of Salad Making, published in 1968, Carol Truax said, “Every salad you serve is a picture you have painted, a sculpture you have modeled, a drama you have created.”

That’s lovely, isn’t it? But in 2016, aren’t we all just trying to get a meal on the table before Dancing with the Stars comes on? Making the salad look pretty is often low priority. Sure, I’ve served my share of iceberg lettuce hunks drenched in bottled dressing. (Why is it called iceberg lettuce, anyway? An iceberg, according to my Oxford Dictionary, “is a large floating mass of ice, detached from a glacier and carried out to sea.” Hmmmm. Oh, I get it! Think of iceberg lettuce as “pale lettuce chunks severed from the main lettuce head and set afloat in a sea of Wishbone Italian.”)

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I enjoyed this memorable Composed Caesar Salad while in Santa Fe. That chef knew how to give it some tszuj!

I digress. I think we all, myself included, could be nobler in our salad building. Anyone can toss together some fresh leaves, but it takes takes a bit of tszuj* to make it memorable. In no time at all, a freshly whisked dressing can take a salad to the next level. I usually have items on hand, such as homemade croutons, toasted sliced almonds, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, etc. to add the crunch factor. You probably have your own supply of salad toppers in your bag of tricks. (*A sincere thank you to television personality Carson Kressley for bringing this fabulous word into popular parlance. You will want to google tszuj for just the right brush stroke on the pronunciation. Don’t overuse it. Pluck it from that word salad spinning around in your head when the moment calls for it. Then load it up on the tongue and let it roll on out!)

 

 

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Edible flowers in Nicki’s garden: Top left: David Austin rose; top right: Itoh peony; bottom left: lavender; bottom right: allium.

When you’re going for wow factor, edible flowers might not be top of mind. They are a unique and eye-riveting garnish. Many of them can have a bitter or floral taste so they should be used sparingly. Just a few blossoms or petals can create a gentle surprise; use too many and it can be an unpleasant blast to the tastebuds. Go with the old “less is more” rule. The only flowers that are clearly safe to eat (or to use as garnish) are those that are clearly marked and/or grown as “edible”. Otherwise you run the risk of ingesting herbicides, insecticides or worse things. Common flowers that are not considered poisonous and are therefore edible (if grown correctly) are nasturtiums, pansies, marigolds, violas, roses, and more. At certain times of year, some grocery stores will stock these flowers in the packaged herbs section of the produce aisle. Or they might be found at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market (held every Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to noon, May through October). By the way, the Downtown Farmers’ Market is consistently ranked as one of the finest farmers’ markets in America. More than 20,000 people and 200 vendors fill the streets every Saturday. How could it not be among the best? Our produce is grown in some of the richest soil in the world!

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Nicki chats with her little goat. He does not eat her flowers because he’s not a real goat.

The lovely edible-flower photos were taken by my friend Nicki Wiederstein. A woman of many talents, she is a landscape designer as well as an RN. She and her husband Ed have gorgeous display gardens on their family farm in Audubon, Iowa, showcasing how trees, shrubs and flowers look in the landscape and how well they survive. Her specialty is in rare and hard-to-find species. She retired this year from garden installation and the nursery to spend more time with her family.

If you can’t find edible flowers locally, another excellent source is Gourmet Sweet Botanicals. Check out this website. The colors and varieties are breathtaking!

Last Bites

It’s not possible to do justice to the topic of salads in this post, but if you are looking for inspiration beyond the pale (as in “beyond iceberg lettuce”?), then visit Julia Sherman’s spectacular blog, Salad for President. Also, her Salad for President: The Cookbook will be published in the spring of 2017.

Exquisite food photography and mouth-watering recipes for salads and other vegetarian dishes can be found in two more excellent cookbooks: Plenty and Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. I didn’t know vegetables could be that beautiful.

June 2009 DL 215
I found this guy on our deck one morning. I don’t know who or what he is!

I’m beginning to understand why the deer, rabbits and other sylvan creatures continue to mow through the our plantings. I have an uncontrollable urge to munch on a few hydrangeas right now!

Thank you for dropping by! My next post will be on June 17th. Please come and visit. Invite your friends, too!—Tracy

 

 

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18 thoughts on “Dining at ‘The Beastro’

  1. Love, love this!! Your frustration over the critters is why we love living in the country. The first time someone asked to hunt our land, my reply was “don’t shoot MY deer!”. LOL So the question is……do the joys of watching all of them outweigh the struggles of keeping up a beautiful landscape, or not??? 🙂

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  2. Creatures creatures everywhere!!!!! Excited for new salads recipes. I just wish some of the creatures would eat their leafy meals somewhere besides all of our backyards. Thank you dear Tracy for another wonderful blog😘

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  3. Lovely salad recipes, Tracy! The animal on your deck is a woodchuck. I hope he did not leave a large “gift” on your deck like he did on mine….

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    1. And thanks to you, Nicki, for coming through after my very last-minute request for edible flower pictures! I love your little garden goat! :o) Cute picture! So nice of you to help me out!👍

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  4. Another great “Mullen It Over”! I love your beastro-bistro too and would be happy to graze there anytime!

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  5. I’m loving all the beasts in this post!! Did you happen to see that last little guy on February 2nd? Looks like a groundhog!

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    1. Thanks, Linds! I had plenty of pix to choose from, of course! I think it was actually springtime a couple of years ago when I saw that fellow. His face and paws cracked me up! A groundhog, huh? I had never seen one up close. :o)

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  6. KNOWING HOW MUCH BOB LOVES ANIMALS, I KNOW YOU WILL CONTINUE TO LEAVE A DIVERSE BORGISMORG FOR THOSE LOVELY CREATURES. HAVE YOU CONSIDERED ADDING A GARDEN FOR EVEN MORE VARIETY. IT WOULD BE A WONDERFUL OUTDOOR PROJECT FOR BOB WHEN HE REALLY RETIRES! YOUR FBIL

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  7. Great Friday Blog with my coffee – Thanks! I love salads. Those look delicious. I have to try them all. Not everyone shares my view, but I do enjoy the wildlife, and I don’t mean singing and dancing late at night. Those creatures in your back yard are beautiful in nature even though they have made a huge salad of your plantings. Who knew they would eat flowers?! You live in the woods and everything that goes with… Enjoy! GREAT PICTURES!

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