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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Coyote Loops Freshest Salad and Hand Cut Pan Fried Croutons

I made this salad the night of my epic battle with the irrigation ditch to show off the cutting ability of the Super Bread knife after shredding with the willow roots. (link to Tales of the Super Bread http://newwestknifeworks.blogspot.com/ ). This is also probably my favorite thing there is to eat. Especially in the spring after a LONG winter in Jackson Hole of eating store bought vegetables. (Spring Jackson Hole is that time in June when we get a few days of warm weather. Often we just skip spring all together and go from winter right to summer, which you can always count on starting on the 4th of July. Unless it snows.) Fortunately, lettuce loves cold weather. Jackson Hole, which I normally think of as one of the least hospitable places in the US to grow stuff, is great for lettuces.

The recipe for this salad is very simple. Take whatever looks good from the garden and eat it. The point of the recipe is to encourage you to plant a garden. I guarantee that this very simple salad that was picked and served in less than a half hour will taste better than any salad the you can buy in a restaurant anywhere. Besides the incredible flavor the joy growing and preparing your own food can’t be beat.


1. Mixed lettuces. I eat all my lettuce when it is a baby (about 6 inches or smaller). It is oh so tender and lovely. Fresh out of the garden it is still crisp and delicious not flaccid and half rotten like store bought baby greens. This salad was a mix of arugula, baby mustard greens and several romaine varieties with fancy French names that I got from Seeds of Change. http://www.seedsofchange.com/ I like the appearance, texture and flavor of romaine very much so I plant a lot of it. In this salad I also thinly cut a couple of aspargus spears that had shot up in the garden. I thought they added a nice crunch. My wife didn't like the uncooked flavor

2. A big three-finger pinch to small handful of garlic, chive and shallot greens coarsely chopped. These are also popping up in the garden. Everything is still small this time of year so I just cut green stems off a few different plants.

3. A generous dollop of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, solid pinch of salt and course ground pepper.

Mix it together right before serving before you add the croutons.

Hand Cut Pan Fried Croutons

These are fast, simple way to use up old bread and add a delicious crunch to any salad. You can use any kind hardish bread. French baguette, ciabatta, whole wheat, dinner rolls, anything but wonder bread seems to work. I actually like to use bagels best of all. I didn’t have any around the house when I made this so I used a small baguette.

The standard for making croutons is to roast them in the oven. I find using the oven method often dries the bread out to much and you end up with a crouton that is to crunchy and almost cuts the roof of your mouth. With the pan fry you get a crisp, crunchy outside but still little chewy inside that can’t be beat.

Here’s how you make them.

Slice bread into thin slices. Depending on the size of the bread, I may stack the slices up and then slice them again into some nice, bite size shape. You need a sharp, long serrated knife to get a nice thin cut. If don’t have one, I know where you can get a good one.


This the Super Bread I used in the battle with the irrigation ditch as of yet unsharpened. Though it cut the bread well. I did hone it on my DMT diamond steel for about 30 seconds after this. I like to keep it really sharp.

Bread sliced under the watchful eye of Sous Chef Bucky

Throw the slices into a cast iron skillet or French steel pan.

Then turn the burner on high.

Pour a generous amount of olive oil on top.

A nice pinch of salt and a couple twists of pepper.

Stir or flip the contents until nicely mixed. Spread the croutons out evenly. I like to us a pan large enough for one layer of croutons. Don’t worry too much about them being neatly spread out and all having perfect contact with the pan.

Your first time you can stir them occasionally or, if you have the skill, flip them using the pan. Until they have a nice toasting on the outside. They can be very lightly toasted but still crisp or dark brown almost burnt. I prefer them all of the above which is what you get when you don’t worry about them being to evenly spread out in the pan and you use the advanced technique.

The advanced technique: What I do now having made them many of times is put them in the pan then turn it on. By the time the pan has gotten nice and hot and they are golden brown on one side. I give them a quick flip in the pan, turn it off and forget about it. When everything else in the meal is prepared. I pour them on top of the salad; toss them in still a little warm. Delicious!

( Here’s where the picture of the salad with the croutons mixed in goes. Unfortunately, being as this is the first New West recipe blog attempt and there may have been too much PBR and wine used in the filming of this recipe. You will have to use your imagination in what it all looks like together.)

Gardening notes:

YOU SHOULD PLANT A GARDEN. Our family’s grocery bill goes down 60% in the summer due to gardening. If you do the math, on what I save in grocery bills I make $50-$100 per hour in the time I spend in the garden. It is so easy. Besides sharpening implements (link to sharpening page) and building a fire this one of the first things mankind figured out how to do. People spend way more time on their lawns and landscaping than I do on my garden. MOST IMPORTANTLY: The freshy, freshy food from my garden, simply prepared, tastes better than anything I have ever had in a restaurant and I’ve eaten at some good restaurants.

Tips on Planting Lettuce

1. Plant early and often. I plant fresh lettuce seeds every week or two. That way there is a fresh supply of baby lettuce all the time. Arugula grows really fast and bolts quickly. June 10th I’ve already planted it 4 different times. No big deal 5-10 minutes once every couple weeks.

2. I seed lettuce very heavily spread evenly through out an area. No rows. I find it keeps down weeds, stays moist and doesn’t need watered as much. Most importantly, the lettuce grows really tightly and compactly together. When you pull one out the others quickly fill in any open space. A small space turns into the lettuce version of the Horn of Plenty.

3. Corey’s planting technique. Lettuce seeds like to be basically on top of the soil. Most seed packs say 1/8-inch depth. Spreading an 1/8 of soil on top of seeds is not very easy. What I do is sprinkle the seeds heavily (think like planting grass seed) in a well-tilled mostly flat area. With my fingertips just lightly scratch the surface. Visualize lightly scratching someone’s back. Be careful not to push the seeds all together into one spot while you are doing this. I then give the surface a firm pat down with the flat of my hand. (Play the bongos). Add water. Nice light spray not a fire hose or the seeds will get washed all into one place.

3. I like to mix two varieties together. Lots of the time a green and a red variety. That way if one variety doesn’t feel like growing for any of the myriad of mysteries of why plants do what they do, you are bound to get one variety to go off.

4. Try to keep the seeds wet for the first week. This is the only thing that takes some diligence. It will work to some degree no matter what but you want the lettuce to really come up densely this is the key. In the spring this is easy if you live somewhere where it rains a lot.


The Bread Knife Showdown

The Blade Show in Atlanta, GA put on by Blade Magazine is the largest knife show in the world. Even though I have been making and selling knives for over ten years I never attended the big daddy of them all before. I figured it would be a bunch of rednecks buying knives to stab each other with. Actually, in some ways there was plenty of that but it was also so much more. The highlight by far was seeing all the work by the makers of one of kind hand forged knives. I have traveled the country for ten years doing the countries best Juried Fine Art and Craft Shows and I can say without a doubt that the guys at the upper end of making hand forged knives are at the highest level of skill and craftsmanship of any medium in any art form in the country. They work they do is absolutely incredible.

One reason I wanted to attend the Blade Show is that every year they give awards for the best in many categories like best folding knife or best hunting knife. I started producing my new Super Bread knife this year and I really wanted to see how it would stack up against what else was out there. The awards are given out a banquet on Saturday night. I accidentally stumbled into sitting at the table with the Spyderco Co. I chatted with Sal Glesser and his family and top staff. Really cool. The first knife I ever bought was a Spyderco and I’ve carried one in my pocket pretty much ever since.

Alas, when the award for kitchen knife of the year was handed out they did not call my name. It went to Chris Reeve a true legend in the cutlery world and maker of some of the finest small production folding and fixed blade knives in the world. He brought out a line of kitchen knives for the first time this year. The knives looked pretty cool in the display case but to my expert eye they looked a little suspect in the performance category.

I wasn’t surprised not to win. I actually expected the award would go to Shun/ Kershaw’s new Bob Kramer line of kitchen knives. They had a PR coup de taut with an article in the New Yorker Magazine in November. It being my first time there and being that my colorful handles may be a little to light in the loafers for the stab each other, tactical knife crowd, I was a long shot at best to win.

A quick note on by brothers of the redneck. I grew up with chickens and horses, drove a tractor, wear carharett's, chew Copenhagen, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon and whiskey and have been known to get a sunburn on the back of my neck while fishing, so when I slander them, I do it as only a brother can.

After the banquet is some classic drinking in the bar at the Waverly Hotel attached to the convention center. It is known as “the pit” because the bar is sunk into the floor. You will walk by a table and there are 6 guys sitting there with 4 or 5 knives sitting in front of them like the are playing poker for blades. You might also see a guy walking around carrying a sword. Legend has it that as many important knife deals happen in The Pit as at the Blade Show. It is certainly true that you can have drinks with all the legends of the cutlery world in one night.

Well, after a few whiskeys, I started to get a little ornery and started talking some smack about the Kitchen of the Year Award. One thing led to another and I ended up throwing down the gauntlet to Chris Reeve. In true Wyoming Cowboy style, I challenged him to a bread knife showdown at high noon the next day at the blade show. This did take some courage and a few whiskeys. Not only is Chris Reeve a legend in the knife industry but is also a very large, somewhat salty, South African expat with a “special forces” mystic. He took it in the good fun I intended and we had several cocktails to cap off the night. I’m sure he thought it was all bar talk, little did he know I went to bed with a plan.

I awoke the next morning feeling like one of my redneck brothers had actually stuck one of their tactical knives in my head. I needed vindication and a little hangover wasn’t going to slow me down. Chris was waffling a bit in the morning but I knew his pride wouldn’t let him back down. So here is the contest that I pulled together.

Three Judges:

Rene’ the Executive Chef from the Waverly Hotel. Complete with chef coat and French accent

Jim Schlender Publisher of Blade Magazine

A Women from the audience who was a self described avid home cook.

The contestants

Chris Reeves slicer “2009 Blade Show Kitchen Knife of the Year”

Kershaw/ Shun Bob Kramer Bread Knife. This is the latest offering from the Seki, Japan based manufacturing juggernaut. They have dominated the kitchen cutlery market for the last 5 plus years. Certainly the odds on favorite to win.

At the last minute Murray Carter went from being a judge to entering a 7-inch straight edged Santoku shape. Pretty brave since that is a very small knife for a slicing contest. Murray is the most famous maker of one of a kind hand forged traditional Japanese Chef knives in the US. He definitely added another level to the legit factor of the contest.

New West KnifeWorks Super Bread.

As the new guy, I was siked to just be hanging with these boys.

The challenge

Each judge cut a tomato, a ham, a hard ciabatta bread and a very soft challah bread with each one of the four different knives. They rated how each knife cut each different food on a scale from 1-5. The highest possible score was twenty points per judge for a total of sixty points.

I would say it was equal parts determination and luck that what started out as drunken bar talk turned out to be a pretty legit contest.

Final score was as follows out of a possible 60.

Chris Reeve slicer: 37

Murray Carter Santoku: 42

Kershaw/ Shun Bob Kramer Bread: 50

New West KnifeWorks Super Bread: 55

What can I say? Victory is sweet. Some other highlights were that it was photographed and videoed by Blade Magazine. The Show organizers liked it and want to take it another level next year.

Since I hosted the whole thing in Chris Reeve’s booth, I can’t say enough about what a good sport he was and I am a little nervous about what he may cook up for some payback for next year.

link to the super bread

Tales of the Super Bread

Epic battle of man versus nature turns into opportunity to test the Super Bread knife.

My ½ acre property sits in the middle of old ranch land in Jackson Hole WY. Some is still ranch, most is smaller Gentleman’s Ranchettes. Irrigation ditches dug mostly by hand in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s run throughout the area. Due to many years of neglect, the later 5 years on my watch a large willow tree’ s roots had grown over a culvert in the irrigation ditch that runs under my driveway. Legally property owners are responsible for the water being able to flow through their property.

This year the roots had grown so large that they were obstructing the flow so much that it was flooding much of my upstream neighbors lawn. The water started running through the ditches a couple of days before I was to depart for the 2009 Blade Show in Atlanta, GA. It takes a few days for it fill and flush the winter’s debris. Not until I was literally leaving did it become clear that my roots were backing water up into the neighbors yard.

I made a few feeble attempts to clear it with a pick and pry bar. I quickly realized I would need power. I got a neighbor who has a mini backhoe to come and clear it the next day and I left town.

My neighbor came over as promised and dug a deep trench clearing out the front of the culvert. Unfortunately that only revealed the fact that the roots had grown deeply into the culvert and some of the willow root mat that he had scraped free had gone into the culvert and plugged it entirely. Some valiant neighbors pitched in and cleared the blockage and got it back to original poorly draining state.

My kind and understanding neighbors waited patiently in their new wetlands for my return a few days later. After trains planes and shuttle buses I returned to Jackson at 2:45 AM. The next morning I was overwhelmed with work from being away and was under the understanding the problem had been taken care of. At 5pm my neighbor came over wearing waiters. He had shut off the ditch and was going to work on my culvert. I was of course embarrassed and immediately threw on my waiters and got out every tool in the barn that might allow me to clear the roots.

The lower two thirds of the 30-inch pipe was a solid mass of willow tree root. It was like a giant SOS pad with quarter inch to half inch steel cable running through it. Heavy strikes with a pick or digging bar would mostly just bounce off.

With the help of some neighbors, I worked until dark in theigh deep water and managed to clear the culvert to about three feet deep into it. It was a little discouraging in that the deeper we got into the culvert the deeper the roots seemed to be going.

The next day in the full light of day I was able to make a more accurate assessment of the situation. We had successfully cleared three feet into the pipe. Unfortunately, it was clear that the SOS pad ran a total of 12 feet deep into the culvert, so another 8 feet needed to be cleared. The other problem was that I couldn’t reach any farther into the pipe with the various digging tools I’d been using.

Peak run off on the Snake River and several days of rain were compounding an already bad situation. The irrigation ditches on the West Bank of the Snake are a warren of trenches and headgates that cowboys have been digging for over a century to provide flood irrigation to their hay fields. No single person knows where they all are. By turning off the water in my ditch I was sending the water off into other ditches. It was only a matter of time before an angry rancher in his pick-up would be coming over six guns blazing or more likely a 2nd home owning dude rancher in his range rover with a lawsuit. Time was of the essence.

A backhoe and new culvert was the obvious solution. There was just not enough time to put the logistics together. Not to mention the several thousand dollars that would have been involved was not exciting. My neighbor and actual born and raised Wyoming rancher described some strange contraptions he had seen engineered for the task. Though I do have “an awesome set of tools” in my knife shop the idea of designing, building and testing the ultimate tool for the job again didn’t seem like it would work with urgency of time involved. The water was still rising!

Though I am sure ridiculous situations like this happen in every region of the US. This to me was the classic example of a time when a cowboy is faced with a big problem and there is no one to call for help. Two iconic Western phrases came to mind “Cowboy up” and “gitter’ done”. It was clear there was no alternative but to go frogman into the pipe.

Though I think there is no formal training program for working in a 30 inch pipe two thirds full of freezing water that was snow a couple days before. I was well suited for the job. Years of whitewater kayaking, training in cave rescue as member of the local search and rescue team and of course years of working with a kitchen knife did have me well prepared for one of the nastiest, silliest, situations I’ve had to tackle in a lifetime of ridiculous activities.

All that was left was to figure out what tools I would try out for the hand-to-hand combat with the Willow root mass. The nice Swedish hatchet I use for hunting was an obvious possibility. Having just arrived home from the Blade Show and a decisive victory in the Bread knife/ slicer showdown, I knew my new Super Bread knife would be the most likely tool to have any luck against natures SOS pad. (click here for the full story on the Bread Knife Showdown http://newwestknifeworks.blogspot.com/ )

After layering up in all of Patagoina’s finest wading gear and a headlamp I crawled/ swam into the pit. (A quick technical note, if you find yourself in a similar situation in the future I would recommend a full wetsuit, probably a 4/5 of 5/6. Waiters are great for standing in water but full submersion, not so much.) After a few deep breaths to brush aside the confined space, drowning panic, I was ready to get to work. I immediately realized there wasn’t nearly enough space to swing the hatchet, so it was Super Bread or nothing.

I made few initial stabs into the mat and was pleasantly surprised that the super bread sunk right in. I then made some long slashes to try to cut some chunks lose. It passed through the mat like I was Luke Skywaker wielding a lightsaber. At this point, I started to get excited. This beast had turned back a 30 pound digging bar with 200 pounds of Ohio corn-fed, born again cowboy on the end and the super bread was going through it like it was tofu.

I’ve only been making the Super Bread for 6 months and I don’t have any seconds or returns yet so I had to use a brand new unused one. Brand new they are wicked sharp. The question was how long the edge would hold up. I had 8 feet of SOS pad and steel cable to shred up. My knives have exceptional edge holding but I figured at some point in the project I would need to at least touch up the edge. Again, I was very pleasantly surprised. I was able to cut a 2ft x 2ft x 8ft channel through the root mat without any sharpening. I could feel the cutting edge slowing down a bit by the end but it still cut through nature’s steel wool with ease.

An hour after I started the culvert was clear and there was nothing left to do but dry off and celebrate with a Pabst Blue Ribbon!

So besides being the finest bread knife and all around slicer you will ever own, if you run into a twenty year old mat of willow tree roots it will work nicely on that as well.

Check out my recipe for Coyote Loops freshest salad with hand cut, pan fried croutons. I cut the croutons that night with same Super Bread unsharpened from the days work.

Link to Coyote Loops Freshest Salad: http://newwestknifeworks.blogspot.com/