30 August 2013

Cook, freeze, and pack it for later: breakfasts

The end of summer vacation means big life changes for many of us as we adjust back to demanding work schedules. For me, this means returning to a lifestyle of driving hundreds of miles every week between various gigs and often eating meals in my car, between lessons, or during rehearsal breaks.  For you, it might mean that your kids have a complicated soccer schedule or something.  I don't know, it doesn't have to be about me.

When I was younger, I used to just stuff my face with Doritos or stop at drive-thrus when I couldn't stand the sound of my stomach growling any longer.  My metabolism used to be much more productive then.  Now I really value trying to maintain a well-balanced diet and eat things that won't make me feel like I want to die thirty minutes later.  So, the challenge is to cook good, healthy food now (or whenever you have the time) and save it for later when you don't have the luxury of sitting down to a civilized meal.

Breakfasts present a two-fold challenge: I am often sleeping as late as I can and running out the door, wondering if I remembered to put on deodorant; and I am usually too stupid to think first thing in the morning and would prefer not to have to make a decision about what to make (Obviously, since I can't even handle the deodorant responsibility with regularity). Therefore, it is important to have some breakfast materials ready for busy days, because skipping breakfast is a guaranty of a pesky blood sugar crash mid-morning, and we all know what that means: bad choices at the vending machine at 10am.

On a less hectic weekend, I can make and freeze enough breakfast material to last several weeks and allow for some variety through rotation.  This can all be done in a couple of hours.

These are not so healthy, buuuut.....

Croissants: buy some at Safeway.  They're delicious and you can freeze them in big zip-top bags.  Pull them out frozen and toast (see below) and you're good to go.  BUT, they're not very filling.  This can be replaced by a good, hearty multi-grain bread, sliced and frozen. Combine either with a

Hard-boiled Eggs: These are a staple all year for me.  You can boil a dozen and work through them in a few weeks.  All you've got to be able to do is peel them in the morning.

Muffins: I have posted many times about my muffins.  I love them because they freeze so well and don't take long to make.  You can pack them full of healthy stuff (bran, flax seeds, nuts, veggies) and it still tastes like you're eating a little cake for breakfast.  Here's a basic dough recipe which can be adjusted to suit your current ingredients on-hand:

Basic Breakfast Muffin Dough

Makes about 15 muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats (not quick-cook)
½ cup white flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons flax seeds
2 ½ cups shredded fruits and vegetables (apples, carrots, zucchini, etc. in any ratio)
½ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup milk (any kind)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs

½ cup chopped nuts
½ cup raisins or other dried fruit bits
½ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup dark chocolate chips
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
Dash nutmeg

Combine all wet ingredients (eggs, vanilla, milk, yogurt, shredded fruit and veggies) in a large bowl.  Add all dry ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine.  Pour into muffin cups and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack and place in a large, freezer-weight zip-top bag.  Freeze up to 4 months.

For some other flavor ideas, check out these older posts:

Chocolate-rhubarb Muffins
Cranberry Sauce Muffins
More Breakfast Treats (Island Muffins and Lemon-Tahini Muffins)

Recipe review: Smitten Kitchen's Pumpkin Muffins

Breakfast Burritos: These can be made with a variety of ingredients to suit your desires, rolled up and wrapped individually in foil, and then frozen.  They are a great, hearty treat in the morning and will definitely allow you to skip the mid-morning munchies.

Makes 10 

10 large tortillas
1 teaspoon olive oil
8 eggs
1/2 cup milk (any kind)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch paprika
shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup vegetables (broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, whatever)
leftover rice or cooked potato (optional, but I love potato, even mashed)
1/2 cup salsa

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and paprika. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and swirl around to coat the pan. Stir fry the vegetables until soft, then pour in the egg mixture.  Stir constantly to create scrambled eggs.  When eggs are done, pour in the salsa and cook off the excess liquid, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in cheese and potato or rice if using.

Heat tortillas in the microwave until soft and pliable.  Fill each tortilla with an equal amount of filling, rolling each into burritos and wrapping each individually in aluminum foil.  Place in the freezer and eat within 4 months to avoid freezer taste.

If you remember to thaw out your breakfast in the refrigerator the night before, bully for you; if not, the toaster (dark cycle for bread, medium cycle for croissants) or microwave (2-3 minutes for breakfast burritos) will do just fine.

27 August 2013

Restaurant review: Eating with the aloha spirit in Windsor, Colorado

Windsor is a funny little town.  When we first moved here a decade ago, it was basically a collection of houses, some new, some old, and a couple of dumpy shops on Main Street.  By updating the downtown with a couple of good restaurants and some interesting shops, and centering on the large reservoir (we call them "lakes" in Colorado) just north of Main Street, it has since fashioned itself into something akin to a resort town.  It's worth a half-day trip if you're in the area visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or Fort Collins, and if you go, you should definitely stop by Okole Maluna for a meal.

Okole Maluna was opened a few years ago by two native Hawaiians with strong ties to the food industry, so they have an efficient system in place and real knowledge of the food they're producing.  The dishes are a mix of moderately priced (entrees run $9-$15 at night) high- and low-cuisine from the islands with some updates that pay homage to local ingredients. Like Windsor itself, the decor is moderately upscale, but with a casual, welcoming feel.  The night I visited, clientele ranged from business people and upper-middle class couples to young families with rugrats in tow (warning: it does get loud quickly when the kids come in to play), and the beautifully maintained salt water aquarium brought almost everyone to the back for a little gawking at some point during their meals.  Co-owner Juliet Higa, a registered dietitian with 25 years in the restaurant business, was waiting tables, greeting customers, and making the rounds to visit with customers about their food.

So, let's talk about the food.  I passed on the blue-collar Hawaiian classics like Saimin (ramen in a light broth with Spam and egg) and Loco Moco (hamburger with eggs, rice, and gravy), but I was happy to see them on the menu as a sign of authenticity.  The Hawaiian Pesto Udon was a satisfying bowl of thick-cut, chewy homemade noodles swimming in a macadamia-Thai basil pesto with golden baked tofu on top (chicken is also available).  The Kalua Pig sandwich had a generous portion of moist, smokey pulled pork piled high on a crusty white roll.  We actually had a view of the kitchen from our seat, where a clever little electric smoker was working overtime to produce all of the pork dishes on the menu.  And the Ali'i Plate was the real deal, with a mountain of that moist, flavorful Kalua shredded pork, two perfect sticky rice patties, a fantastically seasoned side of lomi-lomi salmon (thinly sliced smoked raw salmon and fresh tomatoes with onion and salt), and a tiny square of  dense Haupia, a traditional coconut custard, for dessert.    Everything was beautifully prepared with fresh, high-quality ingredients.  Menu items incorporating Ahi tuna are priced at market value, which changes depending on the season and availability, an honest approach to a rather precious ingredient here in Northern Colorado.

Ali'i Plate

Our server was knowledgeable about the menu and Hawaiian food traditions, patient in the face of some pretty corny jokes coming from our table, and food was ready in a reasonable amount of time.  The restaurant is definitely family-friendly, and in a town with a relatively high median income and a lot of young couples, that meant quite a few boisterous children wandering around and using their outdoor voices.  Dinner is served from 5-9, so if that's something you'd rather avoid, I would suggest edging toward the later side of service for some peace and quiet.

Okole Maluna is located at the corner of CO-392 (Main Street) and 5th Street, two blocks south of Windsor Lake.  It's a perfect stop after a little paddle boating at the lake, and if the weather is warm enough, you just might forget you're in the Rockies.

23 August 2013

Summer drinkin', part 3: the under-appreciated rosé

People often scoff at the girly-pink rosés that get passed around at weddings, and it's true, they can be cloyingly sweet and headache-inducing cheap.  But I rather like them in the summer, and there's a lot more variety than you might expect, if you only know what to buy.  Let's start a movement to give these refreshing wines the love they deserve.  I'm starting this morning.  

Prices listed are based on the going rates in Northern Colorado and southern Wyoming, by the way.  Sorry, East Coasters!

2010 Santi Infinito Rosé, approx. $8
Fruity and mild, great with grilled and/ or fruit-flavored poultry.

2011 El Coto Rioja Rosé, approx. $9
A slightly heavier, more floral wine with an orange undertone, it can stand up to BBQ chicken, flank steak, and pork.

2011 Le Rosé de Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Rosé, approx. $10
Floral and berry-like, this works well with fried shrimp, oysters, or calamari.

2011 M. Chapoutier Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé Belleruche, approx. $11
Paler in hue, and subtler in flavor, this wine stands in wherever you might serve pinot grigio. Try it with spicy Indian or Thai food.

NV Poema Brut Rosé Cava, approx. $11
On the dry side and with plenty of bubbles; great for a toast or an aperitif.

2011 Tariquet Rosé de Pressée, approx. $12
Sweeter and slightly thicker than the others, this works well with egg dishes or light seafood.

2011 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris, approx. $12
Herbaceous and rich, this also works well with spicy ethnic food.

2011 Château Bonnet Bordeaux Rosé, approx. $12
Delicate with peach undertones, this actually pairs quite well with tomato, as in a simple bruschetta appetizer.

2011 Mas Cal Demoura Qu'es Aquo, approx. $16
Crisp and full of berry flavor, this works exceptionally well with a burger.

NV Ewald Gruber Punkt Genau Zweigelt Rosé, approx. $18
Slightly fewer bubbles than Poema Brut Rosé Cava listed above, but still a great stand-in for champagne if you want a softer edge.

2011 Parajaxx Napa Valley Rosé, approx. $20
This is really a medium-red in disguise, and only slightly fruitier than a Merlot. Pair it with duck or beef.

21 August 2013

Summer drinkin', part 2: guide to wines

Back when I wrote part-time for the abysmal Examiner.com, I was often scrounging for topical articles to get through the summer months between festivals and gardening tips.  I wrote this little guide to summer wines that got quite a few hits, and hope it can still be of some use.  At least, it could be an excuse to crank up the grill and get a bottle or two this weekend...

German Riesling: Classic Midwestern picnic wine, these run the gamut from sweet and fruity to dry and minerally. They're also incredibly food-friendly (the sweeter varieties work well with spicy foods like Thai and Indian). Guntrum Riesling Royal Blue is a great dry variety; Schloss Vollrads Reisling QBA, Rheingau is sweeter without being cloying.

Vinho Verde: This light, airy, and half-sparkling Portuguese wine is one of my favorites as an everyday substitute for champagne (and no headaches later). Terrific with salads and seafood, the crisp, green-apple flavor is not too sweet, not too dry. Try Sogrape Vinhos Gazela, which has a tinge of lime in it, or Broadbent Vinho Verde with its subtle apricot hues.

Gamay: Thought I was only going to mention whites for summer? Burgundy's other red, Gamay, is a lighter cousin to those thick, velvety reds that work so well around Christmas time. Lightly acidic with berry notes, serve this slightly chilled at picnics with everything from salami and hotdogs to salads and grilled chicken. Try Georges Deboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes, Cru Beaujolais, France, which is the definitive Gamay available in the states. Maison Louis Jadot Beaujolias Villages is another option available locally; I like it for its bright currant flavor and peppery finish.

Syrah: Long equated with budget Australian labels (which is a nice quality, I think!), Syrahs can work with heavy, wintery foods and light, grilled foods equally well. This is the red to serve with your grilled pork, lamb, or beef. For the lighter side of Syrahs, try Bonny Doon Le Pousseur orArnot-Roberts Clary Ranch, both from California. They have a gentler finish than the Australian varieties often do.

20 August 2013

Cultivate Denver: you get what you pay for

I attended the second annual Chipotle Cultivate Festival in Denver's City Park last week. It was a free event designed to advertise Chipotle products, basically, but it also boasted great-sounding live bands and plenty of opportunities to sample local beers, farm products, baked goods, and all things food from Colorado. Since Chipotle got its start in Colorado, and since Denver has become such a great food city, I cast aside my cynicism about the corporate sponsor and headed down for a day of what I hoped would be a great opportunity to find even more local purveyors to love.

The highlight of the day was definitely the beer tent, as it should be in Colorado.  The tasting tent was packed with 12 local breweries and 2 Colorado wineries, each offering $2 tasters (4oz. each) and $6 cups (12 oz.). It was a terrific opportunity to sample some of the state's best beers, and although each brewery intelligently limited themselves to two or three flavors for ease of serving, they all seemed to choose great beers that represented their aesthetic well.  Prost's Dunkel beer took me right back to that summer I spent getting drunk in Bavaria, Denver Beer Co's keffir lime IPA was wildly unique, and Bull and Bush's grapefruit IPA was sublimely balanced. The tab ran up quickly, but the opportunity to have so many of the best beers in the state all at once was reason enough to go to Chipotle.  So, at least they got that right.

Food options included Chipotle tents (more on that later) a surprisingly small "Artisan's Hall" where you could meet local farmers and small food business owners and try their products, usually at a surprisingly steep price. Accordingly, it wasn't terribly busy when I was in there mid-afternoon, except for the one stand offering tiny free samples of their pickled cucumbers and beets.  I know it was already free to get in, but almost everyone at a farmer's market either has samples set up at their table or is willing to offer samples upon request; it's how you get to know the product and decide to commit to it.  A small pulled pork sandwich for $10 would sell a lot better if there were little samples of the pork.  I really considered a struedel, but didn't want to buy one the length of my forearm in case I didn't like it.  Local artisans should seize this opportunity to hook new customers by offering samples to show us what we just can't live without.  Or perhaps this wasn't allowed so that we would be more likely to stick with Chipotle food...

Now, the Chipotle tents: besides the tacos, everything available was unfamiliar territory to me as an occasional Chipotle customer. This seemed exciting--perhaps this was a taste of new menu items to come? I had read about the new Asian Shophouse Bowls they were rolling out on the coasts, and there they were at Cultivate.  There were also gorditas (2 for $6), and $6 esquites, a refreshing cabbage and charred corn-based salad dressed with crema and pickled onions.  The description promised some other vegetables, but I couldn't find them under all the crumbled cotija cheese.  Likewise the gorditas, made with pleasantly pillowy flatbread, were largely a mountain of crema and cotija with a little meat and chopped carrot underneath. The Shophouse Bowl seemed to underwhelm everyone in my group, as well, though again, the description sounded promising.  As my husband noted, even when there was no one else in line (and therefore no rush), the food was slopped together, assembly-line style, as quickly as possible, and this could easily account for the lack of balance in the ingredients and haphazard presentation (our gordita filling was about 50% off the flatbread when we got it).  This is the fast food model, so I imagine this is how the food would be made if these dishes make an appearance at our local Chipotles anytime soon, but if that's the case, they have some tweaking to do to their construction models.

Finally, and one of the main reasons so many in the crowd attended Cultivate, there were the bands and the celebrity chef demonstrations.  I made it in time to see Cold War Kids and Richard Blais, darling of reality cooking-elimination shows Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars.  His schtick was pure (mediocre) comedy.  The food was already prepared (of course), and besides vaguely describing it, he didn't discuss it at all.  There was absolutely no cooking instruction whatsoever. Instead, he danced around, playfully calling audience members "NERDS" and making jokes about his wife and kids. I can only hope Amanda Freitag had a little more interest in the subject matter earlier in the day.  Again, it was a free show, but try, Richard.  Just try to be a chef, OK? We know you've got it in you.

Cold War Kids looked crowded on the small stage and sounded entirely unbalanced and garbled.  As a travelling musician, I know you are subject to whatever in-house sound crew you get at each location, and the Denver City Park guys were not kind to this band.  I love their 2006 debut album, Robbers and Cowards, and that's mostly what they played from.  I don't know what they sound like live anywhere else, but it was an epic fail of overly loud drums and unintelligible vocals at Cultivate.

Cultivate could be a great opportunity to sincerely herald local food producers and their products, which might go a long way in mitigating the damage caused by the confession that Chipotle's food is filled with GMOs.  I know, I know, they're really working on it.  Of course, they were feeding us the stuff for years while smugly boasting about how fresh and filled with "integrity" their food is. This little road trip they're on feels like more of the same--pretty words backed by little substance.  Coming soon to you in Chicago...

19 August 2013

Summer drinkin', part 1: cocktails

For anyone whose lives are touched by a school year, the summer is quickly fading, and with it, those carefree evenings of drinks with friends on the porch (and patio, and living room, and eventually while sitting on the front sidewalk crying) and piles of grilled veggies and meats to accompany them.  I'm mourning the loss with a retrospective of my favorites from the summer, and I insist on continuing to drink all of these things until it's too cold to sit outside with a martini glass. So, here's to the next four months!

Arkansas Punch

Serves 6

1 1/2 cups bourbon
3 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups orange juice
sparkling wine or club soda
fresh mint leaves and lemon slices (optional)

Pour bourbon and fruit juices into a punch bowl and stir to mix. Top with sparkling wineor club soda to taste, garnish with mint leaves and lemon slices, and serve.

Campari was so ubiquitous when I was in Italy last summer that I'll always associate it with sumer drinking!

Serves 1

2 oz. Campari liqueur
2 oz. dry white wine (Pinot Grigio would be perfect)
Club soda

Pour the spirits into a tall glass with ice cubes and top with club soda. Garnish with a slice of lemon.

Cowboy Roy

Serves 1

2 oz. rum
2 oz. vodka
6 oz. orange juice

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a tall glass and enjoy.

Gin Spritzer

Makes 1 drink

2 oz. gin
2 teaspoons lime juice
4 slices cucumber
tonic water

Combine cucumber slices, lime juice, and gin in a cocktail shaker and mix thoroughly. Strain into a short glass over ice and top with about 4 oz. tonic water. Garnish with lime and cucmber slices if desired.

Last Days of Summer

Serves 4

1 cup orange juice
1 cup apple juice
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup amaretto
1 orange, cut into thin slices

Pour all ingredients into a pitcher and stir. Fill four glasses with orange slices and 3-4 cubes of ice and pour equal amount of punch on top.

Leap Year Cocktail
Alright, Leap Year is in February, but the lemon is so summery.

Serves 1

1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Grand Marnier
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Blend and strain into a martini glass; garnish with a twist of lemon if desired.

This is a great appertif before dinner with friends on the patio.

Makes 1 drink

2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. maraschino cherry juice
dash Angostura bitters
lemon twist and maraschino cherry for garnish

Combine gin, vermouth, cherry juice, and bitters in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into a martini glass; garnish with a twist of lemon peel and a maraschino cherry.

Mexican Martini
My attempt at the Tradicional martini at the restaurant Rio Grande in Northern Colorado...

Serves 1

2 oz. tequila
3/4 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1 tablespoon lime juice

Pour all ingredients into cocktail shaker and mix with plenty of ice. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lime wedge if desired.

The Southside

Makes 1 drink

2 ounces gin
¾ ounce lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
Two sprigs of mint
A few drops of Angostura bitters

Fill a shaker a quarter full of ice and add the gin, lime juice and syrup, one of the sprigs of mint and the bitters. Shake for about a minute, then pour the mixture into a cocktail glass.

Summer Shandy

Serves 4

12 oz can of limeade or lemonade concentrate
4 light beers

Empty the limeade concentrate into a pitcher. Fill the empty concentrate can with vodka and add that to the pitcher as well. Depending on your taste and circumstances, another half can of vodka is acceptable. Add the beers and stir with a long spoon until the concentrate has broken up.

16 August 2013

Potatoes and beans: the non-burger burger

It's late summer, and I just want to drink beers and grill burgers every day!  But that could get pretty monotonous, and I want my shorts to continue to fit into fall.  I'm not always a fan of fake burgers--they often taste and feel like sawdust.  But these patties are moist, flavorful, and like a pile of salad on the grill. They also don't require any fancy ingredients, so no trips to the stinky hippie store are necessary. Guilt-free, non-irritating summer fun! Yeah!

Potato-Bean "Burgers"

Makes four large patties

1 cup canned black beans (white or kidney could also work well)
1 carrot, grated
1/2 onion, diced
3 potatoes, grated
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup corn
1 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying

Mash the beans with a fork or a potato masher. Add the remaining ingredients, except the oil and mix until well combined.

If frying, heat the oil on medium-high in a large frying pan.  Cook patties 7-10 minutes on each side or until golden.  If grilling, coat hands with oil, then pat both sides of all patties.  Grill over high heat 7-10 minutes on each side or until golden, being careful not to let the patties break when flipping.

13 August 2013

Gluten-Free Blueberry Lemon Squares, fresh and non-smelly

I taught at a music camp for a few summers in grad school, and aside from the 1890s style uniforms and cabins so rustic you could see through the walls to the outside, the lemon squares were perhaps the most memorable recurring event in my life there.  The cafeteria staff did not exactly excel at cooking, but the baked goods were generally pretty edible.  The lemon squares were delicious--dense, chewy, and cloyingly sweet, just like the ones I ate in childhood.  But for some disturbing reason, they smelled like wet dog.  If you held your breath while taking a bite, the experience was heavenly, but that was the only way to avoid the unmistakable smell of a freshly dunked poodle who might have just emerged form the nearby lake.  It was weird and creepy, and as you might imagine, there were two distinct camps of eaters: those of us who didn't want to turn down free food held our noses, and those who spent most of their salaries off-campus eating fancy things like identifiable cuts of meat thought we were pretty pathetic for putting something that smelled like dog in our mouths.  

Lemon squares are ubiquitous in the Midwest, making most of their appearances at potlucks in church basements and lakeside picnics, where diners can be serenaded by the gentle hum of water skis being dragged by a 1983 fishing boat with an unreliable motor attached.  I missed those little guys from my days at music camp and before, but wanted to find a way to feel just a little less guilty about eating them.  Using wheat alternatives seemed like a good place to start.  The dog smell has never been a problem, and I think it's probably best if I don't explore what caused it in the first place. 

Gluten-Free Blueberry Lemon Squares

Makes 16 squares

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
3/4 cup organic sugar
3/4 softened butter
1 Tbsp of lemon zest

In a large bowl, mix together flour, oats, baking powder, sugar, lemon zest. Cut in butter and egg. Mix until dough is crumbly and all flour is well blended. Use about half of the dough to form the bottom crust of the squares. Line an 8x8 inch (20x20 cm) pan with parchment paper. Pat the dough down to form the crust.
Bake at 350F for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14oz)
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup of lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries

In a medium bowl, mix condensed milk, egg yolks, and lemon juice well. Add in the lemon zest and blueberries. Stir gently. Pour the filling over the cooled crust. Spread evenly. With the left-over dough, crumble over the blueberry-lemon filling. Bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
Refrigerate for an hour before cutting.

09 August 2013

Is it time for brunch yet?

Ugh, what a week.  It's been hot, I vacuumed, I flossed every night...damnit, I deserve a treat!  Brunch food is always so decadent to me because, well, I don't usually get to sit around stuffing my fat face for hours and drinking, despite my best efforts.  But, combine the most basic baking ingredients known to mankind with fresh fruit currently available in my back yard, and I certainly have reason to stage a brunch.  So what if it's Friday?  Close enough.

Roasted Blueberry and Rhubarb Crepes with Honey and Butter

Serves 2

1 cup diced rhubarb
1 cup blueberries
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted

greek yogurt
whipping cream
ice cream

Preheat oven to 400˚. In a bowl, toss together blueberries, rhubarb, honey, and cinnamon. Place on parchment and roast until soft, 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and lightly mash.

Whisk together flour, salt, eggs, milk, and melted butter until smooth. Heat 8″ skillet and lightly grease with butter. Place a scant 1/4 cup of batter in pan. Tilt the pan so that the batter covers the entire pan and cook for about 30 seconds. Flip and cook for another 15 seconds. Place done crepes on a piece of parchment paper (be sure not to fully stack crepes.)

To serve, smear roasted fruit mixture in crepes and serve with favorite toppings from above list.

06 August 2013

Some of my favorite hikes in Northern Colorado

Gem Lake, RMNP

There are tons of online guides for finding hikes in Northern Colorado and the Denver area, but when I started searching recently with my own criteria in mind (shade, nearby beer), I couldn't find any variety in the listings.  Everybody thinks that you should spend as much time in Rocky Mountain National Park as you can, and I agree--that park is amazing.  It reminds me of just how incredible and diverse this country is every time I go, and since I only live 47 miles away, I go as often as possible.  But my most of my favorite hikes there generally take a half-day and/or a whole lot of energy.  The restaurants in Estes Park are terrible, and so is the beer. What about when it's hot out and you want some shade?  And some food and beer? What about when your sea level-dwelling friends and family come to visit and they hate you for taking them on the "easy" Gem Lake hike (that happened)?  And then there's the tourist traffic in the summer, which is welcome because that's how we make our money in Colorado, but it can get a little tiring if you know where you want to go and don't want to walk at a snail's pace, stopping in front of every crappy "Native American" jewelry store along the way.

Here are some great, quieter spots with hikes that will offer beautiful views, proximity to good beer and food (a must), and occasionally some shade, all without killing you if you're not from around here or it's been a while since you got out of the office.

In Boulder-ish:

Betasso Preserve, Canyon Loop Trail: This trail looks pretty easy, but we were surprisingly tired and hungry by the end.  There are some moderately steep sections, and the starting elevation is a bit higher than some. It's a 3.3 mile loop that takes you through some great shady areas and down some narrow paths you must share with bikes, but the park does a great job of controlling the traffic.  Every day, there is a sign that announces which direction bikers must take (and there will be a lot of them!), so walkers are encourage to go in the opposite direction.  If you're with someone who doesn't want to work up a sweat, stop in either direction at the first overlook with a bench, which provides a great view of the city of Boulder, and come back to the trail head to wander the short nature trail that takes you behind the bathrooms off the parking lot.

Forsythe Canyon West of Boulder

Forsythe Canyon: This 2-ish mile out-and-back trail is rated "easy" by most sources and has several shady sections as you walk along a waterfall, a stream, a lake, and through a canyon with some great wild flowers in June and July. Great sights and a pleasant stroll for groups with mixed physical abilities.  Dog allowed.

Eldorado Canyon State Park: There's a fee to park at this one, but they deserve it, don't they?  After all, they're providing you with this beautiful park.  Sorry for getting all political on you. There are several hikes here of varying difficulty, and they are all terrific.  The Streamside Trail is the shortest (.5 mile one way) and follows close to the sides of the creek and canyon walls. The Fowler Trail takes you .7 miles (one way) and provides great views of the canyon. The Rattlesnake Gulch Trail is more difficult, traveling 1.4 miles up to the ruins of the Crags Hotel that burned there in 1912. Another trail goes from the hotel another .8 mile loop and features a view of Colorado’s continental divide. The Eldorado Canyon Trail is the longest, 3.5 miles (one way), eventually intersecting with the Walker Ranch Loop Trail.  Great picnic spots abound in this park. 

Glen Haven/Estes Park area:

We love Crosier Mountain, in the town of Glen Haven, just east of Estes Park.  If you're visiting RMNP and want a good workout without the crowds during vacation season, had down (East) on US-34 and take a left in Drake, where you see the sign for Glen Haven.  At 1857 miles in elevation gain, this is not the hike to take your kids on, but if you make it the entire 3.7 miles to the top (there's a little scrambling along steep but stable, wide rocks at the end), you'll get a 360 degree view of the area.  There's not a lot of shade on this one, and it's rated "moderate to strenuous", making it a bit more work than the others I have listed here, but it's a great hidden gem when the crowds at Estes Park are getting to you and one of our favorites, so I wanted to include it here.

Fort Collins area:

Of course, Horsetooth Reservoir and Lory State Park (both have an admission fee) offer myriad wonderful trails and riparian landscapes.  Poudre Canyon has quite a few nice trails, too, so I'll just single out...

Young Gulch in Poudre Canyon

Young Gulch is in the Poudre Canyon, northwest of Fort Collins. It is 9 miles round trip and an easy to moderate hike, rising 1,000 feet in elevation. Much of the canyon is shaded, making it a great place to go in August.  It's popular in the summer, so arrive before 11am to ensure parking is available. The trail winds along a creek. It starts out fairly level in a meadow with ample wildflowers and then leads into the tress about a 1/2 mile in. If you hike during late spring, you can find a small pool in the rocks with a beautiful waterfall flowing into it. The last mile does get quite steep, and if there is still snow on the ground it can slow you down a bit.  If you don't do that last bit, you'll still have gotten a great show. 

The historic Hall Ranch just West of Lyons has some great trails that are longer than they are steep, so you can turn back at any time if someone gets tired or cranky.  Hall Ranch is rich in wildlife. It is considered a crucial nesting habitat for numerous birds. Predatory birds such as golden eagles hunt here and are always on the lookout for a feast of prairie dog or squirrel. White-tailed deer and rabbit are also commonly seen from the trail. One of the better places for observing wildlife at Hall Ranch is in the meadow at the junction of Bitterbrush and Nelson Loop.  The oldest rock in the area is about 1.7 billion years old and the youngest is approximately 62 million years old. The rocks are a mix of sandstone and granite. Bitterbrush Trail is 5.9 miles one-way, and a lot of it is in the sun, so you could save this one for winter when other trails are snow-packed and the cool weather encourages a longer walk.  However, the town of Lyons is a lot of fun in summer.
Nearby food/beer: It's not as obvious as Boulder or Fort Collins, where you are surrounded by great breweries and restaurants, but you should stop at the original Oscar Blues in Lyons,.  It's good pub food, fantastic beer, and  has a great relaxed, grubby vibe like Lyons itself. This is definitely my favorite town in Boulder Country.  There is also a little family farm along the South side of the road on the way back to town with an inconspicuous sign selling "Fresh Eggs" in the summer.  Stop and get the eggs.  They are amazing, and so are the owners. 

Adorable Lyons, CO

02 August 2013

Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce

I threw this together when I was looking for something to serve alongside some delicious grilled salmon last week, and it was perfect.  The leftovers have subsequently been terrific, and I revived them with a little lemon zest stirred in before handing the whole thing over to Chef Mike(rowave).  The heavy cream is necessary to prevent curdling--if you use anything lighter, your sauce will look more like cottage cheese than sauce. However, if you must substitute something lighter and/or non-dairy, be sure to heat it very slowly on a low temperature, and when it begins to separate, vigorously whisk in about a tablespoon of flour and it should be alright.

This can easily become a meal with some grilled shrimp, toasted chickpeas, or just a healthy helping of steamed veggies.

Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce

Serves 6 as a side, 3-4 as a meal

1 garlic clove, minced
¾ cup heavy cream
¼ cup vegetable stock
3 tablespoons lemon juice
¾ pound linguine
Salt and black pepper
 ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the cream, stock, lemon juice, and garlic on low and simmer, uncovered, for fifteen  minutes.  Add salt and generous amounts of black pepper to taste.

When pasta is done and draining, stir herbs into lemon sauce and allow to wilt slightly.

In a serving bowl, toss the pasta with the grated Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes.  Pour sauce over the top and toss again.