30 December 2014

Brunchy biscuits and clever links

'Tis the season for long, slow brunches with friends and family.  I love making things that can be prepped ahead (see links below), and I especially love these cream cheese biscuits fresh from the oven (though they also freeze and reheat perfectly well). Plan ahead to make the most of your holiday laziness this weekend!

Cream Cheese + Chive Biscuits

Makes about 25 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup freshly chopped chives
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into piece
1/2 cup cream cheese
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and soda, salt and chives, stirring well to coat. Using your hands, add the butter and mix until coarse crumbles form. Add in the cream cheese and combine with a wooden spoon it until there are a few larger chunks of cream cheese and it's worked into the flour.

Add the buttermilk and stir until it is just combined. Over mixing will yield a less fluffy biscuit. Add some flour to your work space and place the dough on top. I sprinkle some additional flour on top of the dough, then use my hands and pat it into a circle that is about one inch thick. Take a biscuit cutter or the (clean) lid to Mason jar and cut the biscuits into rounds. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until slightly golden. These are best served warm when the cream cheese is still soft.

Goes well with some brilliant ideas from around the web:

This Roasted Vegetable Queso Frittata on Buzzfeed, of all places!

These whimsical Eggs in a bacon cup from The Midnight Baker

I also recommend a good, thorough browse through this lovely collection of brunch cocktails from Delish.


26 December 2014

Baby Bok Choy in Mushroom Gravy

Oh, so much pork and potato and cookies and UNCLE!  It's time to clean up a little, don't you think?  I happen to have just the thing (pictured here with baked tofu, but you can leave that out if you want):

Baby Bok Choy in Mushroom Gravy

Serves 4

1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 pound baby bok choy, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
8 oz. white button mushrooms, thickly sliced
8 oz. dried shitake mushrooms
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons Chinese black bean paste
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon red miso paste
1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Jasmine rice for serving

Place the dried shitakes in a medium sauce pan with 2 cups of salted water  Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer 20 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.  Remove the mushrooms and thinly slice them; reserve the cooking and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots and cook until tender, about five minutes.  Add mushrooms and ginger and continue to cook until button mushrooms are tender and have given off their liquid, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the black bean paste, rice vinegar, and miso paste to the leftover mushroom cooking liquid and whisk to incorporate.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water into a smooth liquid.  Add this to the sauce and whisk to incorporate thoroughly.

Add the sauce to the skillet with the mushrooms and stir constantly until it thickens.  If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little bit of water.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the baby bok choy.  Cover and gently steam until the bok choy begins to wilt but still retains a bright green color, about 10 minutes.

Serve over rice and garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

PS--Happy Boxing Day, UK!

23 December 2014

Charitable giving for the holidays

Look, things have gotten a little bit ugly this winter. And maybe you need to shake off the bad vibes regarding American policemen, Bill Cosby, and rapey frat boys on campuses across the country.  Maybe you didn't plan ahead and now have to produce some meaningful holiday gifts, pronto.  I'm not here to judge you.  If you want to feel good about your spending in these last shopping hours before Christmas, might I suggest some of the country's top-rated charities? (hand-selected to align with my own vision of the ideal world, of course...)

ANIMALS: Who hasn't bemoaned the fact that you cannot take home every cat or dog you see freezing outside this winter?  These guys are doing their best, and could use your help:
American Humane Association
Wildlife Conservation Society

CIVIL RIGHTS: Could it possibly be any more obvious this holiday season?
ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)
Center for Constitutional Rights
National Right to Work Legal Defense & Education Foundation

Environmental Working Group
Food and Water Watch
Government Accountability Project
Public Citizen Foundation

American Red Cross
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America – N.O.
Fund for Global Human Rights
Global Fund for Women
HealthRight International (formerly Doctors of the World)
Human Rights First
International Planned Parenthood Federation – Western Hemisphere

There are so many more compelling groups not listed here. Don't take my word for it--investigate your own favorites at Charity Watch or Charity Navigator.  And happy holidays, or whatever you say. 

19 December 2014

A sugary, butter sauce to dress up any holiday dessert (and weekend links)

The next calorie-laden family feast is just around the corner, and I'm collecting dessert recipes.  The best thing I ever do in the kitchen?  This ooey, gooey butter-rum sauce, which you can pour over any kind of cake, pie, or ice cream.  Or just dip everything you eat into it while it's hot.  Here it is over gingerbread cake:

My favorite rum sauce (cake no included):

1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon rum
A generous pinch of salt

Combine all the sauce ingredients together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved, and the sauce is smooth.

*             *             *           *          *             *

I may or may not have the ambition to try some of the particularly beautiful desserts gracing the web this holiday season, but here are my favorite ideas, if you're still working on your menu:

These Mini Black-Bottom Cheesecakes from Delish look delicious and reasonably easy. Gaaaah cheesecake...

Macadamia-White Chocolate Brownies sound like a great idea, and I love the food styling for this photo at The Nest.

OMG look at these beautiful Mini Cheesecakes with Wine Gelées from Food and Wine!  If anyone makes these, can you please post a photo?!

Aaaw, these cake pops from The Girl Who Ate Everything are too cute. I hate making cake pops because you have to wait between steps, but I would joyfully eat those if anyone tried out the recipe and brought them to my house...ahem...

16 December 2014

Eggplant-Curry Sauce with chick peas and cauliflower

With a clever technique stolen from traditional Indian Baingan Bhurta, this recipe uses blended, roasted eggplant to thicken a coconut-based curry sauce.  The list of ingredients may look long, but once you invest in these spices, you'll want to use them all the time.  And most importantly, this dish is a comforting, exciting feast while you're waiting for the next big holiday meal as an excuse to pig out.

Eggplant-Curry Sauce with chick peas and cauliflower

Serves 6

1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
½ yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup cauliflower florets (fresh or frozen)
1 cup frozen peas
1 can (15 oz.) chick peas
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Basmati rice for serving

Heat the oven to 380°F.  Toss the eggplant with a little bit of oil and salt and spread into a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast until soft, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sauté the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, turmeric, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds and toast until seeds begin to pop (4-5 minutes).  Add curry powder, garam masala, cayenne, black pepper, salt, tomatoes, cauliflower, and peas.  Stir to combine, reduce to low heat, and cover; allow to gently simmer while you wait for the eggplant to be done.

When eggplant is done, combine in a blender with the coconut milk, vegetable broth, and lemon juice. Blend until chunky-smooth, and stir into the skillet along with the chick peas.  Heat through, season with more salt and the black pepper, and sprinkle the cilantro on top. Serve over rice.

12 December 2014

Wild Rice Crustless Quiche

Is it too late to make suggestions for your leftover wild rice?  Because this brunch-dinner-anytime recipe is definitely a keeper.  Really, any leftover rice will work well here, but since I still had wild rice in the freezer from my Thanksgiving feast, that's what ended up in the bottom of this simple crustless quiche for brunch last week.  Sub any veggies you like, as well. 

Wild Rice Crustless Quiche

Serves 6

4 slices bacon
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage or rosemary (or a mixture)
1 heaping cup cooked wild rice (or wild rice mix)
6 eggs
½ cup milk
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup shredded cheese of your choice ( prefer smoked cheddar)

Heat the oven to 325 °F. Prepare a 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until crisp.  Drain on paper towels and reserve about 1 teaspoon of the grease.  Crumble bacon when cool enough to touch and set aside.

While bacon cooks, combine eggs, milk, yogurt, mustard, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl and whish thoroughly.

Place the skillet back on the burner and increase the heat to medium.  Cook the onion, garlic, and mushrooms in the bacon grease until onion is soft, about 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the fresh herbs and wild rice.

Spread the rice mixture evenly in the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the egg mixture over the top and place in the oven to cook for 20 minutes.  Then, sprinkle the bacon and cheese evenly over the top and continue baking for another 15 minutes or until the quiche is firm and a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

09 December 2014

Gifts for the traveler in your life

Whether you travel by car, plane, or train (ah, but who does that in this country? Stupid lack of public transportation *shaking tiny fist*), sometimes being on the road is just a little uncomfortable.  Or maybe it's just a good excuse to use cool gadgets.  I hate large and/or overpriced things, but I would be totally into receiving any one of the following for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus...


Audio-Technica QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphones I don't like flying near kids. Unfortunately, everyone has kids. These ear buds successfully quiet them while providing pretty good sound quality for your music or audio book, and they even come with a nifty volume control slide built into the wire for easy access. 

The Branch Earphone Splitter allows up to three people to listen to the same music, audio book, or movie at once.  It's cheap, tiny, and keeps you from drifting off into the crappy movies you pay for on the plane out of sheer desperation. 

Not sure if your bag is overweight? Use the tiny portable Heys Touch Scale to find out. It's also fun to strap your cat up and see how much he's weighing these days, along with any inanimate objects that fit easily on to the hook...

Tired of holding up your phone and/or asking random strangers to take your picture?  Don't get a stupid selfie stick--get the Keizus Quadropod + Clamp.  The photo on eBay shows a smart phone ever-so-smartly wrapped around a tree for some reason, but I think it would be nice to just stop holding my phone in my cramped hands when reading on long trips. 

Sleep phones are a dorky looking (but very soft and plushy) headband with a wireless, bluetooth-enabled set of headphones inside.  Having trouble getting to sleep in your weird-ass Motel 6? Turn on a podcast about the Senates's performance or the Supreme Court's terrible decisions, crank up the sleep phones, and you'll be snoring in no time.

Ultra-Compact External Battery Charger for SmartPhones and Other Portable Devices This nifty little guy is the size of a tube of chapstick and is one of the cheaper options on the market. 


La Fresh Travel Wipes, because after you've been in the car for fourteen hours, it's nice if your family doesn't have to smell your truly rotten self right away.  Come to think of it, these antiperspirant wipes, too. And sunscreen wipes. Yeah!

Not Your Mother's Girl Powder Volumizing Hair Powder sops up the grease when you can't get to a sink with some proper shampoo, and it comes in a travel-friendly, non-aerosol application (we're OK with powder on airplanes these days, right?)

Scrubba, the world's first pocket-sized washing machine! After a few days, and particularly if you are trying to pack light, you need more than your hands in the hotel sink to get some of your stuff clean. Click on the link for a cute demo video. 

Tide To Go Mini Instant Stain Remover because sometimes you eat spaghetti while wearing a white shirt, or any number of foibles that happen both close to and far from home.  I keep these in every bag I ever use when I walk out the door. 


eBags Pack-it-Flat Toiletry Kit has lots of compartments so you won't spend five minutes digging around for your floss after a long night, and it really does pack about as close to flat as you can get.

Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder allows you to make your clothes as flat as they can possibly be (I promise it's even better than rolling), and even a blazer comes out looking relatively wearable. 

05 December 2014

A happy hour tour through Northern Colorado (with a little Denver thrown in for good measure)

I wasn't very positive earlier this week when I reviewed Uncle in Denver:

A serving of superiority makes the ramen so much better...

But it made me think about all of the places I genuinely love to visit, and how lucky I am to live in this part of the country, where, overwrought snobbiness or not, people care about interesting beers and tasty, healthy bites. So, in honor of all those serious cooks and thoughtful brewers, I thought I'd share a list of my favorite places to  do my favorite thing: drink and eat snacks.  That's right, it's a HAPPY HOUR TOUR across Denver and NoCo!  


I've reviewed the Cruise Room, off the lobby of the Oxford Hotel, before, so you can read all about it here. And while they don't offer a special happy hour per se, it's worth a stop to have a martini in the swankiest bar in LoDo. Cocktail Menu

Highland Tap & Burger is large yet cozy inside, and the noise during happy hour is at a moderate din, just enough to make you feel not so alone.  The wait staff knows the menu (meaning, they've clearly tried most things on it) and makes you feel at home. They've got a good selection of taps, but their happy hour cocktails are pretty special (and boozy).  Happy Hour Menu

Linger is super-chic and the waiters are so fancy in their black outfits, but it's still pretty laid back despite the outwardly snobby trappings.  Their food is a creative, fusion-esque take on street food from around the world (please, please get a chicken bun if you go), and their cocktails are equally appropriate as works of art or as a way to kick back on Friday afternoon. Happy Hour Menu

Fort Collins

Ace Gillett's is a Prohibition Era-style speakeasy in the basement of the Armstrong Hotel.  You can go down though the hotel lobby or the unmarked side entrance from the street, and it's all dark and cozy when you get down there.  The happy hour menu is a great deal, and the drinks are some of the best-made I've had.  These bartenders have standards. Menu

The Astoria is more for slinking in after you've had enough to drink that you need some carbs to soak up the poisoning.  Along with another beer.  But the place serves great small plates of homestyle Cuban food, and the drinks are simple and nice.  I reviewed it fully right here just about a year ago, and I still think it's charming as hell. Menu

Jax Fish House has delicious fresh apps and tasty cocktails that are pretty mild on the alcohol content, but they're a great compliment to the peel and eat shrimp, mussels and frites, or my personal favorite, the dynamite seafood sliders with house-made kimchi.  Their happy hour also runs every day of the week, making it a great score post-afternoon hike at Horsetooth Mountain Park. Happy Hour Menu


I know, right?!  There are places in Greeley now!  Well, one.

1908 Speakeasy is not perfect (their bartenders are young and need your guidance to ensure you're happy with your drink), but they're trying, and it's a cute attempt at recreating Ace Gillett's.  Located in the basement, underneath Kress Cinema, there's no sign--just a dark little bar that does a pretty good job of looking 1930s-ish.  The menu is dedicated to recreating Prohibition Era favorites, but beware: anything with lemon juice is going to be really lemon-heavy unless you warn the bartender to go light on that ingredient.  If you exert that little bit of control, however, you'll be just fine.  The fried macaroni and cheese balls are oh-so-bad for you, but oh-so-worth-it.   Drink Menu     Food Menu


Henry's is a pretty generic looking fake-Irish pub with sports on television screens throughout the restaurant.  But their taps favor some great local breweries, the bar tenders know what they're doing, and the smoked salmon platter with dill cream cheese, capers, red onion, pumpernickel, and hard boiled egg is actually a great snack to share. The service is friendly and the menu is comforting and junky, perfect in cold weather. Menu

Next Door is downtown, a short walk from Henry's, and boasts a similarly NoCo-proud tap list.  They also make some great cocktails. A major part of the menu is small plates, so it lends itself well to a happy hour stop. The menu gets updated regularly, but in its current incarnation, the quinoa cake with Manchego cheese, smoked paprika aioli, and micro greens is actually delicious with prosecco. Happy Hour Menu

Pourhouse Bar and Grill has been in Loveland since before their downtown was cute, and happy hour runs all day Sunday (11am-6pm Monday through Friday).  They deserve to be rewarded with a visit for their generosity alone, but they also deserve your patronage for their extensive Scotch menu, local-centric taps, and lots of good red wines.  Their appetizers are pretty tan (read: lots of fried stuff), but the sweet corn and portobello rangoons are quite nice. Drink Menu  Food Menu

03 December 2014

A serving of superiority makes the ramen so much better...

I have wanted to eat at Uncle in Denver since they opened. I mean, just look at this beautiful photo of their work that welcomes you upon visiting their website:

I know, right?!  And you know I loves me some ramen. So, I finally went last week on Thanksgiving Eve (after a delicious stop at Station 26 Brewing in the Park Hill neighborhood.  You should go). Here's how that went down:

Uncle does not take reservations.  They state it plainly on their website, so I'm not saying I wasn't warned.  I figured at 5:30pm, practically senior citizen dinner hour, it would be slow, but when we got there, the waiting area was ass-deep in hungry hipsters.  Contributing to the seating issue was the fact that it's very tiny, hot, and loud in the restaurant. Well, it contributed to my issues, anyway.

But it's OK, because Highland Tap & Burger is right next door, and that place is huge. So I gave the hostess my digits (is that so totally dated lingo?) and went next door to drink. That place is good, so I'm going to fill you in on that in another post.

We were told the wait would be 25 minutes. Fine. I was a quarter of the way through my Moscow mule at HT&B when I got a very excited text AND voicemail telling me a table was ready and I had 8 minutes to return and claim it.  I wimpered a little and slammed my very strong drink (OK, I got some help with it) and, lightheaded, stumbled next door.

There was no table ready, and we ended up sitting for the remainder of our originally promised 25-minute wait crammed into a tiny space with said hungry hipsters.  I mean, they were clean, but I still would have preferred to be back in the dark, cozy-yet-spacious bar where that huge copper cup of vodka had gone unloved (consumed, but underappreciated, anyway).  Shame,  I think it tasted good, but it went by too fast to tell.

Our "table" was two awkwardly high stools at the bar, where we got to watch the cooks put together the food.  It was kind of cool to watch what they were doing, but it was also the hottest, most humid, and  noisiest part of the little space being called a restaurant.  And I kept kicking over my purse at my feet, which sucked. Disclaimer: I was buzzed, and I am short, so maybe this wouldn't be a problem for everyone. Maybe just don't carry a purse to Uncle if you go.

Our view from the bar.

So, for the food and service: our waiter was a douchebag extraordinaire, complete with "kindly brontosaurus" posture (I'm on to you, dude!), patronizing voice, and that age-old question: "Alright, have you visited us here at Uncle before?"  Here's why I hate that question:

  • I'm not visiting you like you're my aunt I haven't seen in a while.  I am exchanging money for a service. You are a business.
  • No, I have not been here before, but your menu is very easy to understand and there isn't much on it, so I think I'll be OK.
  • I am not a moron, so please stand upright and stop using your sing-songy voice. 
Now, I have been treated to special free things for being a virgin before, and if that had happened, it would have negated all of my above complaints. But as I suspected, Uncle does not play that game. 

Our waiter also asked if we wanted any drinks to start (their drink menu is actually pretty pedestrian, and how many of these dishes could possibly go with red wine?!). I told him his neighbors had already gotten our drink money, and he rolled his eyes.  OK, it was lame, but I'm still proud of that one, so there you go. 

But you know what?  I'm in a hipster neighborhood in Denver, which is almost akin to Seattle these days with the skinny jeans, bow ties, and nerd glasses, so I merely rolled my eyes back and got ready to dig in to the menu.  The carefully crafted broths, homemade ramen noodles, and steamed buns would be worth the mild irritation.  

We ordered pork belly steamed buns, which comes two to an order.  They look like this: 

It's a slab of fried pork belly with sliced cucumber and scallions and dressed with hoisin sauce.  The bread was really soft and puffy, so that was nice.  The pork had nice flavor and tenderness, but it didn't seem seasoned at all.  It desperately needed some salt at the very least.  Black pepper also would have been nice. And the hoisin sauce was all at the bottom of the bun, so the pork itself was naked, and at the end I got a mouthful of sauce on what was left of the bun. Except for the part that just drizzled onto the plate.  That was my pork belly steamed bun.  $7. Boo. 

Then we got bowls of ramen. I was excited about the kimchi bowl with shredded pork, matchsticks of daikon radish, and a soft egg.  My dinner companion got the spicy chicken, which boasted a creamy sesame broth, bean sprouts, scallion, and a soft egg (that's it to the left).  I was skeptical of the creaminess, but it was actually delicious.  The broth was earthy, bright, and had a present umami flavor.  I don't know what was in it (miso? tahini?), but it was delicious and really unique.  My broth was just spicy with heavy vinegar and salt present.  I guess that describes kimchi, too, but when I make a kimchi stew at home, I make sure there's something else going on in the broth besides that.  I mean, kimchi is a condiment, right?  So it can be over-the-top strong as long as there's something else to balance it.  This was not the case with Uncle's kimchi broth.

The vegetables were nicely cut and laying on top of the bowls; not much to say there.  The eggs were very nicely cooked and, when broken, really added some pleasant richness to the broths.  And the noodles were quite good.  Super chewy and stretchy, they were really satisfying to eat, and the enormous bowls we were served had generous amounts of them in each.  But in the end, it's about the broth for me.  I mean, yes, the noodles too, because they are homemade (though Uncle claims no credit for making them in print, which leads me to believe that they are coming from somewhere else). So, then there's the broth, which provides all the flavor, and is also the main ingredient by volume and weight, in the bowl.  The spicy chicken was worth trying, but the kimchi was not.  And for $14/bowl, you might be just as happy trying similar-looking recipes from The Food Lab or Just One Cookbook.

My age might just be showing, because I found the crowded, noisy quarters slightly uncomfortable, the wait and corresponding, overly controlling texts annoying, and the extreme sense of pride Uncle seems to have in its soup and unseasoned pork a little comical.  So, go ahead and squeeze into your tightest olive green skinny cords and flannel shirt, polish up those enormous 80s-style plastic frames, and give it a try.  But be prepared for the slightly empty feeling you have in heart afterwards.

28 November 2014

Travel Guide: Denver's Art District on Santa Fe

Thanksgiving has passed, and shopping insanity has begun.  I implore you to shop locally wherever you are this year for Black Friday, and whenever you happen to be in Denver next, consider visiting the super-cool Art District on Santa Fe. It's a neighborhood with over 60 galleries, restaurants and shops located just a few blocks from downtown Denver, Colorado, and several of the gallery spaces also host casual, integrative performances like the ones we used to do with Telling Stories (R.I.P).

Location: Just East of I-25 and South of US-287, straddling 6th Avenue up and down Santa Fe Drive (hence the name). There's a great interactive map to help you get around.

Favorite galleries: Ugh, there are so many.  A good sampling might include Denver Photo Gallery, Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Consortium 861, VERTIGO, Kashi Kari Gallery, and Bhar Art Gallery, which has free poetry and tea every first Wednesday from 8-10pm.

Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Arts is an Art Deco lover's dream.

Other cultural good stuff here: Colorado Ballet, Stories on Stage, Spark Theater, and the improbable Awaken: Gymnastics-Inspired Fitness, among others.

Drink and Food: Black Sky Brewery, El Noa Noa Mexican Restaurant, iSushi, mmm...COFFEE!, and Renegade Brewing. Yes to all of these.

Events to plan for: First Friday Art Walk, held every first Friday of the month; Preview Night, a more intimate gathering in the galleries held every third Friday of the month. And of course, check the calendar before you go for specific events.

25 November 2014

Two Thanksgiving Cocktails to Call Your Own

As the relatives approach and your grocery bill runneth over, it's probably time to sit back and enjoy your life a little while you still can.

Cucumber-Rosemary Gin and Tonic

Makes one drink

2 oz gin
5 oz tonic water
3 cucumber slices
1 sprig of rosemary
juice of 1 lime wedge

Place the cucumber slices at the bottom of the highball glass. Squeeze lime juice into glass and slightly muddle the cucumber. Add sprig of rosemary and fill highball glass with ice. Add gin, tonic, and stir gently. 

Cranberry-Sage Margarita

Makes one drink

1 wedge lime
course salt for glass rim
2 ounces Silver Tequila
2 Sage Leaves and 3-4 Fresh Cranberries
1 oz Cranberry Juice
½ oz Triple Sec
¼ oz (about 1 teaspoon) Agave Nectar

Wet the outside of the glass with a wedge of fresh lime. Then squeeze the juice into your cocktail shaker.

Roll the edge of the glass in salt. Set glass aside.

Muddle the sage leaves and fresh cranberries into the tequila in a cocktail muddler or glass. Pour the Cranberry Juice, Triple Sec, Agave and the muddled tequila mixture into a shaker. Shake all of the ingredients together vigorously.
Fill the salt-rimmed glass with ice and strain the margarita mixture into the glass. Garnish with fresh sage leaves and float a few fresh cranberries on top (you can freeze them so they keep your drink extra cold.)

18 November 2014

It's time for the obligatory Thanksgiving post!

Well, isn't it?  I rebelled last year and you all punished me for weeks afterwards with lousy numbers of hits, so here's what I'm thinking: let's take some of the classic flavors of this brilliant food-obsessed holiday and apply them to different bases.  What do you say?

Sage: We could all use a cocktail or two on Thanksgiving.  I never thought tequila was appropriate for any holiday other than Cinco de Mayo until I moved to Colorado, where it is almost as well-loved as beer. How about a Tumbleweed? Trust me, it works:

Makes 1 drink

1 oz. lemon juice
6 fresh sage leaves
2 oz. tequila
1 oz. honey syrup*

Place sage leaves in a cocktail shaker and muddle with a wooden spoon.  Add all remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker becomes too cold to hold.  Strain into old fashioned glasses over ice.

*Honey syrup: combine equal parts honey and hot water; whisk to incorporate.

Rosemary: I like pork. I like rosemary with pork.  I like apples with pork, too, but sometimes it gets too sweet for a main course.  The rosemary in this recipe cuts the cloying sweetness and lightens up a little bit of the fattiness of this cider-cream sauce (but don't worry, you'll still have to unbutton your pants after the big meal, if that's what you're going for):

Pork and Apples with Cider Cream Sauce

Serves 6

1 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 12 (2-inch thick) slices
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

2 tablespoons butter
3 Granny Smith apples, unpeeled and thickly sliced
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup apple cider
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To prepare pork, place medallions (slices) between sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a meat mallet or a heavy skillet, flatten each piece to an even thickness of about ¼ inch.  Remove plastic wrap and season both side of medallions with salt and pepper.

Heat a 12-inch sauté pan or skillet over high heat.  Add vegetable oil.  When oil starts to smoke, place half the meat into the pan and sauté on both sides until well browned and thoroughly cooked.  Transfer to a plate to keep warm.  Repeat the process with the remaining medallions.

To prepare apples, reheat pan over high heat.  Add butter.  When hot, add apples, shallots, rosemary, sugar, and salt.  Sauté until apples are golden brown and tender, about 8 minutes, shaking pan occasionally. Transfer apples to plate with meat.

To prepare sauce, add cider, broth, and rosemary to pan.  Cook, whisking to scrape any brown bits, over high heat, about 5 minutes.  Add heavy cream; reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture thickens to sauce consistency, 5-10 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Return apples and pork to the pan with the sauce.  Simmer approx. 7 minutes or until pork seems tender and infiltrated by sauce.

Cranberry: You have to have dessert, and I've already taken away the prospects of pumpkin pie (see below).  How about cornmeal, cranberry, and white chocolate instead?:

Cranberry-Cornmeal Shortbread

Makes about 12 bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325°F with a rack in center. Combine room temperature butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, flour, cornmeal, and salt in large mixing bowl. Beat with wooden spoon until combined but not too creamy. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chips.

Pat dough into an 8-inc square baking pan to shape the dough into a large square, then to turn it out onto a cutting board. Make parallel cuts to form long 1-inch wide strips, then cut each of those strips in half crosswise to produce sixteen to eighteen cookies approximately 1- by 4-inches. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until just beginning to turn golden on the bottoms, about 20 minutes. Place pan on cooling rack until cool enough to touch, about 20 minutes.

Pumpkin: I thought it would be nice to move pumpkin to the savory category this year, and I also thought it would work with wild rice.  So I searched to see if anyone else had already come up with any brilliant recipes before I tried to reinvent the wheel, and sure enough, Farm Girl Gourmet did it better than I ever could have.  She even got some peas in there: Farm Girl Gourmet's Roasted Pumpkin & Wild Rice Salad

Turkey: I am not a fan of turkey, as those of you loyal to this blog know.  I am also not a fan of Tofurkey, which is a much less controversial statement.  I'm not going to try to replicate either of these flavors because I think they're terrible. Instead, I would like to direct you to the rosemary-tinged pork recipe, above, or to the lovely mushroom and potato pie (isn't that another Thanksgiving Flavor?!), below:

Mushroom and Potato Pie

Serves 6-8

1 pre-made pie crust
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb. mixed mushrooms, sliced
1 large Russet potato, peeled and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried thyme
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar (or other) cheese

Prebake the crust: place in the oven and turn temperature to 425°F (no need to preheat); poke the crust around the edges with a fork and place in the oven for 10 minutes, or until it starts to look dry on the surface.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and potato and cook, stirring often, until potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes, or until liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and stir in the garlic, salt, and thyme.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, and mustard. Season with black pepper if desired.

Sprinkle half the cheese in the bottom of the pie crust. Top with mushroom mixture, pour egg mustard over that, and sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F and bake one hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

14 November 2014

Inspirations, with links

I may not do the Facebook thing, where I post what I'm grateful for every day until everyone I know and love unfriends me, but I'm plenty grateful. As a writer, blogger, musician, and teacher, I am graced by the presence of many people every day who are kind, generous, thoughtful, hard-working, intelligent, talented, humble...anyway, I know a lot of super cool people. And they are all inspirations to me in one way or another (and often, in many ways!): the flutist who develops new techniques for playing and general wellness after suffering from debilitating injuries; the teacher who insists on creating a nurturing environment in his studio despite the harshness of the "real world" out there; the colleagues who so generously share their advice on getting gigs and taking care of finances; the students who work so damn hard every day and always believe me when I tell them what to do; and even the random fellow blogger who logs on and gives me the thumbs up for a recipe post or restaurant review now and again.

This weekend, I'm celebrating all my professional and social (Platonic) crushes and exploring the great life lessons I can cull from their work.

Heidi Swanson talks about maintaining her blog thoughtfully over the last 12 years on 101 cookbooks. I don't care if you never blog, this poetic essay about deliberately and devotedly practicing your craft should make us all want to be better people.  (It is also great advice for bloggers, BTW.)

When I am home working all day on multiple projects, my head can start to spin.  I'm glad I'm not the only one.  I've been trying to incorporate the Pomodoro Technique into my life, and it's really helping. It's also nice to get online and see how many other people are struggling with the same stupid thing as me--staying focused!

Bullet Proof Musician may sound like a highly specialized blog for music geeks, but with posts about dealing with sleep deprivation, public speaking skills, work-life balance, and performance anxiety, I think Dr. Noa Kageyama is being truly generous in sharing his research, experience, and practical advice with the world to help us all just calm the hell down and enjoy our work.

I've really been digging my new Thug Kitchen cookbook, and their blog is a great place to share and appreciate others' recipes, as well.  I will admit that the insistence on using as many swear words as possible per recipe gets a little tiresome (really guys, we already think you're cool as shit), but the mission to create super delish, easy recipes from vegan ingredients while schooling readers on issues like environmental waste and world hunger is truly awesome.

Serious Eats is such a great food blog.  I learn all kinds of things from it. And maybe this shouldn't go into the "inspirations" category, but I sure do appreciate their article about how to buy affordable Scotch that's worth drinking.  Because I still don't know what I'm doing in that aisle of the liquor store.

Also Scotch eggs.  I love Scotch eggs. 

11 November 2014

Road (and food) trip across Georgia

After a whirlwind 10 days through Georgia (with, impossibly, four stops in Milledgeville, home of "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo"-?!?) and into South Carolina, I think I could go at least 48 hours without eating or feeling hungry!  But despite the bloat, I wouldn't have skipped any one of the amazing meals I ate on the road:

Strong coffee and a homemade giant cookie, to keep me awake until Athens at Blackbird Coffee, 114 W Hancock St, Milledgeville GA

A veggie and hummus sandwich on homemade marble rye and Louisiana voodoo chips tucked away in an industrial park at Southern Sweets Bakery, 186 Rio Circle, Decatur GA

Poached salmon with pesto and an appetizer of the tenderest escargot on the planet at Circa 1875 Gastro Pub, 48 Whitaker Street, Savannah GA

Penne pasta in red pepper and goat cheese sauce and fried green tomatoes drizzled with Vidalia onion-bacon buttermilk dressing at Last Resort Grill, 184 West Clayton St, Athens GA

Pulled and ground pork sliders and a delicious Moo-Hoo draft brewed locally at Trappeze, 269 North Hull St, Athens GA

Spicy peel-and-eat shrimp and mussels with fennel at Pearlz Oyster Bar, 936 Gervais St, Columbia SC

A pork chop the size of my torso and a mini shepherd's pie made with pulled pork at Manchester Arms Pub, 1705 Virginia Ave, Atlanta GA (College Park neighborhood)

The only delicious banh mi I have every eaten, made with ground pork and served with a side of fish sauce for dipping at Immaculate Consumption, 933 Main St, Columbia SC

True soul food served on the line: fried chicken, butter beans, collared greens, a biscuit, and of course, sweet tea that hurt my teeth at The Bears Den Dine In, 1191 Oglethorpe St, Macon GA

Virginia oysters served with a housemade cucumber dressing, light-as-air gnocchi with octopus and lobster, and fizzy vinho verde at Seven Lamps, 3400 Lenox Rd, Atlanta GA (Buckhead)

A giant tamale made with pork shoulder and served with green chile-mole sauce and inventive bourbon cocktails at Alma Cochina, 191 Peachtree St, Atlanta GA (downtown)

07 November 2014

Packing like you mean it (and tips for being your own travel agent)

I travel a moderate amount, both by car and by plane.  I do it enough that I keep standard packing lists at this point to avoid ending up in the middle of nowhere without clean underwear (although as you'll see, I am stingy about how much I pack).

Don't bring what you don't need.  Do the math with your particular airline and decide which is cheaper, checking a bag or stuffing everything into a carry-on (it varies widely these days).  Then, pile everything out on the bed by priority and fill your chosen bag until you can't fill no' mo. (FYI: After being raised on the flat folding method and resisting the conversion for years, I am now a roller.  I believe in it.  Try both and see what you like.)

  • Underwear: enough for four days. Wash in the sink using the hotel shampoo when necessary.
  • PJs: pack something lightweight in case the room is hot, throw in a thin sweatshirt or use a sweater in case it's cold.
  • Overcoat: use something that can do double-duty as a robe, extra layer in bed, or indoor layer if possible. If you need a dressy coat, wear it on the plane. 
  • Shoes: something comfortable enough for casual to moderate walking that will also be acceptable for professional dress + one "sporty" pair (running shoes or active sandals) for higher-level activity. Despite the tedium of security, consider wearing the biggest shoes you plan to bring, like boots. 
  • Toiletries: Think ahead and hoard hotel shampoos, conditioners, and lotions for any trips where you will NOT be staying at a hotel later. Pack them now if you are staying at an actual person's house so you're not mooching any more than necessary off of them. A contact lens case works great for small amounts of BB cream, foundation, face of eye cream. And use multitaskers whenever possible: Body Shop Coconut Oil Hair Shine is my hair cream, my body lotion, and my lip balm.
  • If you read, use the smallest device you can still stand to read from. tablet --> Kindle --> phone.
  • I always throw in one small notebook and a pen to scratch out ideas.  The randomness of sitting in an airport or on a plane for a long period of time allows the mind to wander to some pretty weird, wonderful places sometimes. 
  • Load up your phone with helpful travel apps (see below), addresses, and music.  This can be your portable office, music player, GPS, alarm clock, phone...don't bring extra stuff to perform any tasks your phone can do.
  • Food stuffs: I always throw in a spoon, some instant oatmeal packets, instant coffee, and a bag of nuts so that I don't let my hunger get the best of me when there's no decent food around. Tea bags and Emergen'C are pretty obvious on this list, too. 
  • Neti pot: if you ever use one, bring it.  Get one of those plastic ones from Rite-Aid that you can't easily break.  If you start feeling a little under-the-weather or are getting really dried out from your hotel room, this will stave off a full-blown cold.  I promise.

  • Ear plugs.  Do not leave without ear plugs.

It is luxurious to have a back seat to throw in some extra things, but it sucks to make ten trips to unload and load the car, especially if you are also fumbling with your hotel key to get into the side door each time.  Don't be a piggy, but I like to add:

  • Extra shoes, coat, sweaters; add one bag of bulky stuff you might like to wear. 
  • My very own pillow.  Ah, so luxurious to not wake up with a stiff neck. 
  • A bowl and a mug for my instant food stuffs, listed above
  • Fruit. Mmmmm, fiber. 
  • A screw-cap bottle of wine. Because. Shut up. 

Planning ahead with travel websites...

bing.com/travel: Helpful for hotel and plane tickets, this site's "price predictor" has never steered me wrong (when available), and you can sign up for alerts on prices, too. kayak.com will also give you alerts.

cheapoair.com, however, sometimes has cheaper deals, so once bing tells you to buy, look there, too.  And check the home websites for any airline you're considering.  You will sometimes get the best deal from them (or in the case of Southwest, the only deal).

hipmunk.com: if you're ever lucky enough to go someplace where train is also an option, hipmunk will analyze ways to get to your destination (well, only plane vs. train) by price, duration, departure or arrival time, and level of "agony" (things like multiple connections, pricey tickets, etc.). The agony part is funny to me.

travelocity.com: this seems to yield the most competitive results and the best overall prices for rental cars for me, hands down, every time.

Travel Apps I like:

Gas Buddy: helps you find the cheapest gas in your location.

Hotels.com: I use this one because I have an account with them.  You can make reservations on-the-fly when you see what town you've ended up in the for the night and each reservation counts towards a free night (plus, hotels.com often has lower prices than the ones posted on the vacancy sign outside the establishment in question).

FlightAware Flight Tracker: Track your flight, look up other flights in the vicinity to help airport personnel get you on the right flight when you've missed your connection, and get updates on flight status.

In two weeks: surviving the airport, just in time for Thanksgiving!

04 November 2014

Drink, Food, and Travel in Idaho Falls

I visited the Idaho Falls area last weekend for a gig.  It was kind of rural and much more temperate than I (ahem), so I didn't know if I would be able to participate in my favorite kind of tourism, but I was so pleasantly surprised.

Brownstone Brewing has beer, food, and coffee. Like my favorite beer place in Laramie, WY, I think beer and coffee are a logical partnership, don't you? The food is standard pub fare, and the beer range is pretty German influenced, along with a Nut Brown and a Czech Pilsner. The cappuccino's not bad, either. Kind of a sports bar vibe, but it wasn't too over-the-top.

Idaho Brewing has the ugliest website, that's for sure! They offer the typical, all-over-the-place spectrum of brewpub choices, including some fruity beers and a long list of seasonal choices. The Oatmeal Stout is a creamy meal in a glass.

Snow Eagle Brewing is a brewery and a Japanese restaurant! What?! Their Snow Eagle Pale Ale was perfect with sushi, which was deftly prepared. And I love that they have a link on their website to area attractions in Idaho Fallshttp://www.snoweaglebrewing.com/local-area-attractions.  Such civic pride!

Vino Rosso, while also boasting a rather amateurish looking website (graphic designers, I found your next market!), has a great wine selection, and the Devils on Horseback grilled cheese (brie, bleu cheese, and bacon-date jam) is pretty fantastic.

I was going to tell you about the local attractions, but since Snow Eagle has already done it for me, enjoy this link (also mentioned above). But in short, this place is gorgeous. Running along the beautiful Green Belt, which trails the Snake River, was an inspiring way to start the day. The Falls are created by a dam in the Snake River, and it's a pretty dramatic sight right in the downtown area!

I drove up from Jackson, which of course, is also an OK place to visit (and less temperate, by far).  Read my travel guide for Jackson here.

31 October 2014

Halloween Drinks for the Grown-Ups

When we are home for Halloween, we usually splurge on a giant bag of Mike & Ike's and wait for the little kids to roll in, because they are so damn funny.  I don't know why, but we tend to get a lot of the really little ones, the kind who can't quite make it up the stairs to our porch and who are too shell-shocked to say "trick or treat" when we open the door.  They may be too young to be eating all this candy, actually.  So, we drink, hand out the crappiest candy in the world, and laugh at our neighbors' kids.  Yes, I realize how lucky we are that no one has tried to burn down our house or roll the yard.  Yes I do.

I always fantasize about making a party of it, but no one ever wants to come over to drink and laugh at little kids.  That's weird.  But if they ever did, I would serve punch, like maybe one of these:

Southern Pineapple Punch

1 (2-liter) bottle ginger ale, chilled
1 (12-oz.) container frozen pineapple-orange juice concentrate, thawed
1 cup mango nectar
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups Southern Comfort (optional)
Crushed ice

Mix it all together.  You now have Southern Pineapple Punch

Cranberry-Key Lime Punch

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
5 to 6 cups chilled club soda
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice
1 cup vodka
Garnishes: Key lime slices and fresh cranberries

Combine 2 cups fresh cranberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until cranberries begin to pop. Pour mixture through a wire-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, discarding solids; cool completely (about 1 hour). Stir in chilled club soda, fresh Key lime juice, and vodka. Serve over ice. Garnish with Key lime slices and fresh cranberries

Warm Spiced Sangria

8 black peppercorns
6 whole allspice
6 whole cloves
2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
3 (3- x 1-inch) orange rind strips
3 cups orange juice
1 1/2 cups apple cider
3/4 cup sugar
2 (750-milliliter) bottles dry red wine
1/2 cup brandy
1 orange, sliced
2 small Granny Smith apples, sliced

Place peppercorns, allspice, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and orange rind strips on a 5-inch square of cheesecloth. Gather edges of cheesecloth, and tie securely with kitchen string. Combine orange juice, apple cider, sugar, and spice bag in a 6-qt. slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH 2 hours. Stir in wine, brandy, orange slices, and apple slices. Cover and cook on LOW 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Discard spice bag before serving.

Sparkling Pear-Brandy Cider

2 cups chilled pear nectar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup brandy
2 (750-milliliter) bottles sparkling apple cider, chilled
1 (1-liter) bottle club soda, chilled

Stir together. Do not shake.

Montgomery Punch

2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup brandy
2 (750-milliliter) bottles chilled sparkling wine
1 (375-milliliter) bottle chilled dessert wine
Garnishes: orange slices, lemon slices, cranberries 

Stir together. Do not shake.
Now, I'm not trying to tell you how to live, but doesn't this seem so much more civilized for your Halloween party?  Try one out and write about how it turned out in the comments below. Happy Halloween, everybody!