25 October 2013

Autumn in Jackson Hole...

Not quite as catchy as the original, but I'll take it over New York, actually. Visiting Jackson last week reminded me of its charm, and I though I'd share some of my favorite spots with you, dear readers, in hopes that you will make a stop in the Cowboy State to enjoy the splendor that is the Northwest corner.  A weekend is enough, and you should definitely not spend the whole time in town with the Tetons right there.


The Bird: great burgers and a chill vibe.

The Bunnery Bakery and Cafe: pleasant sandwiches, great homemade pie
The Kitchen: swanky new American with a generous helping of seafood
Nikai Sushi: the other stuff's OK, too, but this is my favorite sushi in Jackson

Phone numbe

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar: Gaudy Western tourism at its best.  You have to stop in this place.

Roadhouse Brewing Company: Original brews on tap served by beer nerds.

Snake River Brewing: Great beer, good food


Atelier Ortega: Chocolatier and dessert bar; the coffee's good, too!

Hungry Jack's General Store: The most practical place to purchase your ostrich boots.

Queenie & Co.: High-end vintage women's clothing

18 October 2013

Steamed Fish with Better-than-Tartar Sauce and Rice and Lentils Provencal

This recipe uses a lot of parchment paper and aluminum foil, but the waste makes clean-up so easy. The earth will forgive you.  Steam some vegetables while the fish cooks (or roast them in the oven with the fish) and you've got a light, healthy, slightly fancy-like meal ready in about 30 minutes including prep time.

Steamed Fish with Better-than-Tartar Sauce

Serves 4

4 medium filets of Swai, Barramundi, or some other delicate, mild white fish
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 sprigs fresh tarragon
4 bay leaves
1 garlic clove, pulverized with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle
Zest and juice of ½ fresh lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup thick plain yogurt
1 teaspoon capers
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 425°F. Lay out four generous squares of parchment paper for wrapping around the fish.
Rinse fish and pat dry.  Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt.  In the middle of each piece of parchment, lay down one bay leaf, one sprig each of oregano and tarragon, and then evenly distribute the sliced onions.  Lay one piece of fish on top of each pile.  Bring two opposite ends of the parchment paper straight up together and fold down towards the fish until snug.  Do the same with the other ends.  Wrap each piece of fish this way, then wrap each bundle tightly in pieces of foil. Place fish bundles on a baking sheet and bake at 425°F for 20 minutes. When finished, unwrap and serve on individual plates or a platter.

Meanwhile, assemble the Better-than-Tartar Sauce: combine all ingredients, garlic through salt and pepper, and stir thoroughly.  Serve alongside fish.  Leftovers can be stirred into mashed potatoes, tossed with pasta and steamed vegetables, or drizzled on any other vegetables or seafood.

If you have a little bit more time, serve with...

Rice and Lentils Provencal

Serves 4 as a side

1 cup jasmine or other long-grain white rice
½ cup red lentils (do not substitute a heartier lentil here)
3 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 oz. chopped mushrooms of any kind
1 large tomato, cored and diced
Mixed fresh herbs, chopped: parsley, tarragon, rosemary, basil, mint…

Combine all ingredients in a rice cooker or large saucepan and bring to a boil, then simmer until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed (it should be a little saucy), about 25-30 minutes.  You can check periodically and make sure the water hasn't evaporated; if it does, just add a little bit at a time until the rice is done.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

15 October 2013

Lucky Fins Grill in Greeley could be somethin'

A new restaurant has moved into the old Blockbuster in the Centerplace shopping center (lordy, I sound like I'm reviewing Olive Garden in North Dakota...which was good, by the way).  Will it last?  I have yet to crack the code on what people in Greeley like. (For example, why is Red Robin so popular? And who eats at 3 Margaritas?)  But this place just might be the right balance of hip decor, inventive food, and shortcuts to the keep the price down that it might last a while.

Lucky Fins is a Boise, ID based restaurant; the Greeley location is their second. The menu boasts an impressive selection of "fresh" (for Colorado) fish, fruity cocktails, and a good selection of local beers on tap. The vibe is techno-geek sports bar with spare, industrial decor and a laid back atmosphere.  I think this place could cater to people looking for a slightly hipper, more urban feel than they can usually find in Cowtown.  But there are some caveats.

First, let's talk about what was truly terrific.  The Ahi poki on the appetizer menu was wonderful.  Generous chunks of raw sushi-grade tuna were accompanied by a small seaweed salad and a flavorful, light sauce, as well as ginger and wasabi.  I could eat that treat every day. Then there was the Mediterranean Mahi-mahi on special the night we visited, and it was excellent in every way.  The fish was cooked perfectly--flaky yet moist. The sauce was creamy, but much lighter than an Alfredo, and flecked generously with fresh herbs. The lemony rice pilaf was actually flavorful, fluffy, and a great compliment to the fish.  And the grilled vegetables included a great assortment of squash, artichoke hearts, broccoli, and more, and were lightly seasoned and left crisp-tender.  This was an excellent meal.

However, those grilled vegetables did taste a little bit like propane, revealing a probable short cut in the grilling process on that chilly October night.  And the other dish we ordered, the lobster tacos with lavender butter, were slightly better in the hypothetical than in real life.  The lobster was very well prepared--tender, buttery, and mild.  The fresh pico served on top was a lovely compliment.  And the lavender butter was...well, it was so intriguing I had to try it.  But in the end, the tacos tasted like well-prepared fish tacos that had been rubbed with a bar of soap.  I think there might be a reason you don't normally sea lavender butter on lobster tacos.  Any amount probably would have overwhelmed the delicate flavors underneath, and this particular preparation certainly did.

The beers on tap were great.  The cocktails were mostly geared towards those who prefer a little booze with their sugar water.  This will probably go over just fine with their main clientele, middle-aged Weld County citizens who have just gotten done shopping at Target a few doors down and want to treat themselves to something different.  I tried the cucumber-lime saketini, and it was powerfully sweet and limey; I don't think that could possibly have been fresh lime juice in there.  Or if it was, there was also a simple syrup thrown in for good measure.  It went down easily, but it was awfully bright and slightly artificial tasting.

We were treated to a free dessert of Captain Crunch Fried Ice Cream.  Sounds interesting, right?  Like the lavender butter, it didn't work as well as it sounded.  There was so much oil in the crunchy coating that it mostly tasted like canola, and very little like Captain Crunch.  This could be fixed, though, and I would encourage them to do so.  Because without the weird canola oil flavor, this would have been pretty fun to eat.

In general, I think these guys really know how to cook fish, and they care about the quality of their ingredients.  The more creative-sounding menu items were the most disappointing for me, but when it comes to preparing seafood, the kitchen's skills are solid.

Every weekend, some special seafood is flown in and featured on the rotating menu board.  Happy hour is 4-6pm on weeknights and offers some drink discounts. The service is friendly and the wait staff are generally knowledgeable about what they're selling. If you're in town from New York or Japan or some other riparian location, you're probably going to roll your eyes at this place.  But if you have been limited to land-locked seafood restaurants in the Rocky Mountain West, I think this place can definitely keep up with your needs. I will happily give them more chances to wow me; I think I'll just avoid the lavender butter in the future.

11 October 2013

Cold weather: a great excuse to drink!

Alright, it has already snowed here in Wyoming and northern Colorado--like, a lot.  If that doesn't make you want to break out the rum, you must be a better person than I.  Or just crabbier!

Cinnamon Toast
Makes 1 drink

  • 1 1/4 ounce(s) Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
  • 6 ounce(s) hot apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon(s) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon(s) cinnamon

Add hot apple cider and Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum to a glass rimmed with sugar and cinnamon.

Serves 1

  • 1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon
  • 1/2 ounce dark rum
  • 1/2 ounce port
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Or perhaps whiskey is more your style...

Chancellor Cocktail
Serves 1

  • 2 ounces blended Scotch whiskey
  • 1 ounce ruby port
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes orange bitters

Stir well with cracked ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass; it should pour a luminous garnet red.

Serves 1

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • club soda
  • 2 ounces rye whiskey or bourbon

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Add a large ice cube. Pour in the rye (or bourbon). Serve with a stirring rod.

04 October 2013

The laziest pasta dish you might ever make from scratch

Fall always makes me crave Brussels sprouts.  Perhaps because it's when they go on sale?  This dish requires minimal work and minimal cleaning afterwards; the vegetables roast in the fat rendered from the bits of bacon tossed in, and the whole thing is tossed with some vinegar-laced pasta at the end.  It's comforting and slightly reminiscent of sauerkraut.

You can replace the Brussels sprouts with chopped green cabbage, green beans, broccoli, or some frozen peas (just toss them into the pasta when it's almost done cooking).

German Pasta

Serves 4

1 pound noodles (linguine, fettuccine, or something else relatively wide)
1 ½ pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into quarters
½ yellow onion, diced
1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
8 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch wide pieces
½ cup apple cider vinegar
zest of one small lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
sour cream or plain yogurt for serving

On a foil-lined baking sheet, evenly distribute all the chopped vegetables so that none are overlapping.  Scatter the chopped bacon evenly across the top.  Place in the oven at bake (no need to preheat) at 425°F about 25 minutes, or until bacon is crisp.  Stir the vegetable around a couple of times during this process to make sure nothing burns.

Bring a salted pot of water to boil.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain, place in a large serving bowl, and stir in the vinegar and lemon zest.  Toss with the oven-roasted vegetables and bacon, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with a dollop pf sour cream or plain yogurt on top.

02 October 2013

The anti-arsenic Clif Bar

During certain times of the year (like now, which is why you are getting other people's recipes today--shut up if you don't like it), I barely have time to sleep or use the toilet, let alone eat a nutritious, well-balanced meal. My choices while driving between rehearsals and concerts are generally tan-colored fast food or energy bars (strangely, they are also tan-colored).  I have long chosen energy bars thinking that they were good for me, but lo and behold, they're filled with arsenic.  Awesome.  So now I have to make my own, damnit, and I'm not happy about it.  Luckily, these homemade options are delicious, easy to make (and to find ingredients for), refrigerate and freeze well, and are non-carcinogenic.  I've posted one of these before, but here are my top picks for reasonably healthy, filling snacks on the run:

Pumpkin Peanut Butter Oatmeal Bars (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
from Averie Cooks 
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 cup oats (whole rolled, not quick cook; use certified gluten-free if necessary)
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice (reduce/increase to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (reduce/increase to taste)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Optional: Add raisins, nuts, chocolate/white/peanut butter chips to the mixture.
Combine all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir by hand.  Spread batter (it will be pretty moist) into a foil-lined and spayed 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan.  Bake at 350F for 22-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  The bars may still look underdone, but that’s ok because they will continue to set up as they cool.  Allow to cool very well before slicing.  Store extras on the countertop, refrigerator, or in the freezer for long term storage.

Peanut Butter Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies with Carob / Chocolate Chips

2 ripe bananas, mashed until smooth & creamy
1/3 cup peanut butter ~ creamy or chunky 
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 scoop vanilla protein powder ** (can be made without, cookie will just be lower in protein)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups quick oatmeal  ~ uncooked  (or use old fashioned oats for more oatmeal texture)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (peanut, walnut, or your favorite)
1/4 cup carob or chocolate chips (**optional)

Preheat heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix mashed banana & peanut butter until completely combined then add in the applesauce, vanilla protein powder & the extract~ mix again until all are completely combined.

Add in the oatmeal & nuts to the banana mixture & combine.  (** add the optional carob / chocolate chips at this time if you want them mixed throughout)

Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

Drop cookie dough, by spoonfuls, onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet & flatten cookies into circles. (** if you just want the carob / chocolate chips on the top of the cookies, add now)

Bake cookies approx. 20-30 minutes (some like their cookies less cooked, some cooked more - try it both ways to find which works best for your tastes) or until golden brown & done.  Remove from oven & let rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then move to cooling rack.  (if you want the traditional fork tong marks on the cookies, use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to score the tops of the cookies while they're still warm)

No-Bake Energy Bites 
Makes about 20-25 balls

(PS--These are amazing right out of the freezer.)

1 cup (dry) oatmeal (I used old-fashioned oats)
2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
1/2 cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs (optional)
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
1 Tbsp. chia seeds (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.
Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. (Mine were about 1" in diameter.) Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Heidi Swanson's Oatcakes from Super Natural Every Day

Makes 12

3 cups rolled oat
2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
 2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup flax seeds
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup peanut or coconut oil
1/3 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup natural cane sugar (we use brown sugar in my house)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the top third of the oven.  Butter a standard 12-cup muffin pan.

Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts in a large mixing bowl.  In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the oil, butter, maple syrup, and sugar and slowly melt together.  Stir just until the butter melts and the sugar has dissolved, but don’t let the mixture get too hot.  You don’t want to cook the eggs on contact in the next step.

Pour the oil mixture over the oat mixture.  Stir a bit with a fork, add the eggs, and stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough.  Spoon the dough into the muffin cups, nearly filling them. 

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges of each oat cake are deeply golden.  Remove the pan from the oven and let cool for a couple of minutes.  Then, run a knife around the edges of the cakes and tip them out onto a cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.