28 July 2014

A Month of Smoothies: Week 4

This is the end of my month long experiment with smoothies.  It has been a fun adventure to start off the days, and as you can see from these recipes, you can basically toss in any combination of liquid, fruit, vegetables, and ice or yogurt to get your morning started.  Add some nuts, seeds, and/or oats and you've pumped up the calories a bit in a healthy way, which will keep you fuller for longer.  And if the green color freaks you out, just add more red berries.  Red berries are always the answer.

Coconut-Kale Smoothie

1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup frozen pineapple
1 cup chopped kale (Steaming or blanching this and keeping it in the fridge works well if you don't love the raw kale taste)

Blueberry Pie Smoothie

1 can (14 oz) light coconut milk
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 bananas
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup pecans (chopped)
2 tbsps maple pure syrup
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2 tbsps shredded coconut

Pina Colada Smoothie

1 cup fresh pineapple chunks
1 cup light coconut milk
1 bananas
1/4 cup ice cubes
2 teaspoons honey

Oatmeal Pumpkin Smoothie

1/4 cup pumpkin (canned, not pie filling)
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp maple syrup
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup greek yogurt (plain)
3/4 cup coconut milk

26 July 2014

(long) weekend trips in the Rockies

I am currently taking a long weekend in western Wyoming, but thanks to the magic of modern technology, I am able to simultaneously post while (I can only hope) I am drinking excellent local brews or hiking in amazing places. Once you're in the area, there are so many great road trips you can create for yourself; I'll fill you in on our excursions when we return, but here are some of the ideas we tossed around. If you notice a lack of world-famous attractions listed here, I'll warn you that we like to get off the beaten path, and I figure you don't need me to tell you how to get to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Ouray, "Switzerland of America", CO

Colorado: Drive from Denver south on US-285 through the Pike and San Isabel Forests to Salida. Head East on US-50 to the Curecanti National Recreation Area and on to Montrose, then South on US-550 down to beautiful Ouray, Colorado. OR, you can head West on I-70 out of Denver all the way to funky Grand Junction, stopping in Glenwood Springs for some local beer and a dip in the hot springs, then head South on US-50 to Montrose and on to US-550 to Ouray.

Visit the Travel section of this blog for more ideas in Colorado.

Ridiculously picturesque Helena, MT.

Montana: Go from the real, live Western city of Billings to the charming college town of Bozeman by heading West on I-90. From there you can head South on US-191 to West Yellowstone in Idaho. OR head North on US-287 from Bozeman to Helena and the Helena National Forest. We haven't ventured here yet, but it's next on the list.

Wind Cave National Park, SD.

Black Hills/Badlands, South Dakota: You can easily spend a pleasant day in Rapid City, and the local brew pub is pretty good. From there, you can head South on US-16 to the amazing, and enormous, Custer State Park and further south to Wind Cave National Park for a very fun and informative tour of the caves. By the time you get all the way down there, the hot springs of aptly named Hot Spring, SD are not far, so you might as well go. OR, head East on I-90 for otherworldly Badlands National Park, stopping on the way at Wall Drug for that terrible coffee they advertise on billboards as far West as Jackson, WY. Oh yeah, Mt. Rushmore really is awesome. Go there, too.

Sinks Canyon State Park, WY.

Wyoming: I've already posted about Saratoga and its lovely free hot springs pool, charmingly slow-moving Lander and nearby Sinks Canyon State Park, and everybody's favorite, Jackson.  This weekend, we're headed up from Cheyenne to Casper on I-25, where we leave the interstate and head West on US-26 to Boysen State Park and then north on WYO-789 to the Hot Springs Park in Thermopolis (have I mentioned how much I like hot springs?). Then we'll catch WYO-120 up to Cody through breathtaking Wind River Canyon, visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and hit Buffalo Bill State Park west on our way to Yellowstone. Haven't decided how to get home, but if it drops us off in Rock Springs, at least we know there's some good beer.

And some helpful links to plan your trips:

Colorado Tourism Board

Montana Tourism Board

Western South Dakota Travel Info

Wyoming Tourism Board

25 July 2014

Homemade Creme de Menthe and a couple of (not too cloying) cocktail recipes

If you grow mint in your garden, your problem is never keeping it alive, or wondering if you'll have enough for that favorite recipe.  It becomes a weed--albeit a tasty, useful weed-- that overtakes everything around it. I finally got serious and dug trenches along either side of our mint and sank leftover pieces of flagstone into the ground to keep it from reaching out into the oregano and sage, but I still have random clumps of it popping up amidst grassy expanses throughout the back yard.  I make so many mojitos every summer I should own stock in Bacardi.  I chop it into every salad, fruit and vegetable based, hot and cold, that I make. And now I make my own creme de menthe for myself and for friends.  It doesn't have the toxic charm of that neon green stuff you buy in the store, but it's delicious and couldn't be simpler.

Homemade Creme de Menthe 

1 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves (divided)
1 1/2 cups vodka
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water

Tear the mint leaves up a bit to release their oils. Place in a sealable glass jar and pour vodka on top. Shake and let steep for 2 days up to a week.

After steeping is complete, strain mint leaves from infused vodka. Return infused vodka to the jar.

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, and let simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool, then add syrup to mint-infused vodka. Keep your creme de menthe in resealable bottle.


Serves 1

1 ounce gin
1 ounce dry vermouth or sake
1 teaspoon creme de menthe

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake thoroughly, strain into a martini glass, and enjoy.

Emerald Isle

Serves 1

1 ounces gin
1 teaspoon green crème de menthe
2 dashes bitters

Place all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake thoroughly, strain into a martini glass, and enjoy.

Irish Flag: layered shot drink

Serves 1

1 part green crème de menthe
1 part Irish cream liqueur
1 part Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Pour the crème de menthe into a shot glass.
Float the Irish cream liqueur on top of the crème de menthe.
Float the Grand Marnier on top of the Irish cream liqueur.

21 July 2014

A Month of Smoothies: Week 3

This week's smoothies are brought to you (partially) by the power of coconut milk, which I sometimes have leftover after making a small batch of curry.  Actually, these drinks are turning out to be a great way to use up produce and other odds and ends in the kitchen.

If you find yourself using a lot of bananas in your smoothies, as I have been trying to do, you can slice and freeze the ripe ones and store them in sandwich baggies in the freezer until you're ready to use them.  If you do this and there is also ice in the recipe, you can leave out the ice.  And of course, add water whenever they turn out thicker than you want.


Pink Power Smoothie

1/2 cup chopped kale
1/2 cup raspberries 
1/2 cup strawberries 
1/2 cup chopped pineapple 
1 small banana 
1/4 cup almond milk 
1/2 cup Greek yogurt

Banana-Kale Smoothie

1 banana
1/2 cup chopped kale 
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt 
1/4 cup skim milk 
2 tablespoons unsweetened apple sauce 
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seeds 
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup crushed ice

Green Tropical Smoothie 

3/4 cup light coconut milk
6 oz fat free Greek yogurt
3/4 cup fresh pineapple, cubed
1 ripe medium banana
1 cup spinach
2 tbsp sweetened shredded coconut
1 1/4 cups ice

Coconut-Mango-Carrot Smoothie

1 cup sliced carrots
1 mango, sliced
1 (6 ounce) tub Vanilla Greek yogurt
1 cup coconut drink
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups ice cubes

18 July 2014

Ideas to Steal this Weekend, plus one recipe from me

This weekend I'm all about weeding, trimming, and harvesting in my vegetable garden.  It'll be a while before those prized tomatoes are ripe enough to eat, but here in Northern Colorado I have summer squash, radishes, the beginnings of beets and raspberries, and herbs galore.

Sunset magazine has some pretty, easy recipes to add a little variety to your summer squash-laden meals. The pattypan squash with eggs cooked inside looks so cute!

You Grow Girl's idea for pickling radish seed pods is genius.  I can't wait to try these.

I always do the same thing with herbs--chop various handfuls into salads, stir into cooked rice or other grains, and plop into soups.  And of course, there's pesto.  But Chow Hound, FreshHerbs.com, and Mother Earth Living have some great ideas for incorporating unexpected herbs into desserts.  I'm glad to know there's hope for my rosemary plant, which is starting to look like the crazy cat lady's hair from The Simpsons.

I never get sick of simple roasted beets, but these Dark Chocolate-Beet Brownies? Yes please!

Photo from http://thewaytomyfamilysheart.blogspot.ca.

I'm waiting for a special occasion to make this beautiful chocolate and raspberry tart.

From louiogbearnaisen.dk.

Honestly, though, I never get sick of tossing veggies with pasta.  This recipe, which I look forward to being able to make every summer, attempts to copy those fried, fatty zucchini treats on appetizer menus in a healthier way.  A little bit healthier...

“Fried” Squash Pasta

Serves 4

1 pound stick pasta (linguine, fettucine, spaghetti, whatever…)
2 medium summer squash or zucchini, cut into ¼” thick rounds
1 small yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
Zest and juice of one large lemon
Handful fresh basil, chiffonaded
Red pepper flakes and grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Bring a well-salted pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.  

Meanwhile, place squash rounds in a medium bowl (this can be your future serving bowl) and combine with about 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt.  Coat well and spread in a single layer onto a baking sheet.  Place in a 375°F oven and bake 10-12 minutes.  When the undersides are browned, flip each piece of squash over, sprinkle the onion slices all over the baking sheet, and place back in the oven for another 8-10 minutes, or until onions and squash are golden. 

When pasta is cooked, drain and return to the pot.  Add the lemon zest and juice, minced garlic, about a teaspoon of olive oil, and salt to taste.  Stir well to “cook” the garlic.  Add the cooked squash and onions when done and stir well.  Serve the pasta in a nice bowl with the basil sprinkled on top and crushed red pepper flakes and cheese on the side.

14 July 2014

A Month of Smoothies: Week 2

Did you like any of last week's smoothie recipes?  I've got some kale and an overripe avocado sitting around, so here's hoping some of these will work...

Raspberry-Avocado Smoothie

1 avocado, peeled and pitted
3/4 cup orange juice
3/4 cup raspberry juice
1/2 cup frozen raspberries (not thawed)

Green Smoothie

2 ripe medium bananas
1 ripe pear or apple, peeled if desired, chopped
2 cups chopped kale leaves, tough stems removed
1/2 cup cold orange juice
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup ice cubes
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

Banana Spice Smoothie

2 ripe bananas
2 cups vanilla kefir
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup ice cubes

Cucumber-Kale Smoothie

2 cups spinach and kale
1 frozen banana 
1 frozen cucumber 
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 tablespoon chia seeds

12 July 2014

Weekend Links

From Proud Italian Cook

It is oh, so hot here in Northern Colorado right now, which means I'm looking for new recipes that I can cook ahead and eat cold in the middle of the day.


This beautiful salad with squash ribbons is a feast for the eyes and only takes minutes to put together.

I love this clever way to use up kale in my garden from Eats Well With Others.  It has coconut, noodles, and basil--it might just be perfect! Might not make it too spicy until the temps cool off, though...

From Gimme Some Oven

Gimme Some Oven is a great blog, and I appreciate this slightly upscale version of an old Midwestern potluck classic, crunchy ramen noodle salad.  I always wanted my mom to make this for picnics...

I did manage to escape the heat this week with a quick trip up to Laramie, WY, where they have a fantastic new brewery called Coal Creek TAP.  Bree was very welcoming and knowledgeable about the beers, and she steered me toward some great choices: a lightly smoked porter, the hoppy Samurai, the super citrusy Laradise, and the Anodyne, named after a great old Uncle Tupelo song (and everyone knows that beer + Uncle Tupelo = extra awesome). I may just spend the rest of the summer sleeping on their sidewalk.

11 July 2014

Visiting Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Golden Gate Canyon State Park

I spent last week with family in the deep recesses (well, the drive was slow, anyway) of Golden Gate Canyon State Park in the foothills of Colorado. It's a great place, not too far from civilization, and filled with beautiful, varied hikes.  I highly recommend a visit.  If you go:

Here are the general factoids.

You can camp in one of the two campsites or get adventurous and purchase a backcountry permit; rent yurts or modest cabins; or if you have a large group, rent the cabin at the working ranch (ambitious, looking-to-learn types) or Harmsen Ranch Cabin (sitting around stuffing faces and drinking beer all day types).  I can tell you that Harmsen Ranch Cabin was really nice.

Panorama Point in the park

There are not only a ton of great hikes with beautiful views, but several small ponds for fishing, biking trails, rock climbing spots, horseback riding available for rental, and so, so many picnic areas.  We spent a lot of time exploring the ins and outs of Mule Deer Trail and Panorama Point, which were walkable from our cabin.  Dude's Fishing Hole, reachable via Snowshoe Hare Trail, is an idyllic spot with some modest rocks for kids to climb, and we watched the Fourth of July fireworks from City Lights Ridge, where we saw at least a dozen different suburban shows going on all around Denver.  You can see the entire metropolitan area from here.

How adorable is Idaho Springs??

Casino meccas Black Hawk and Central City are the nearest towns, but Idaho Springs isn't far away, either, and it's accessible from the aptly named historic stretch known as Oh My God Road.  Visit Tommyknocker Brewery and Restaurant if you go. Golden is about a 45 minute drive, and it's a good place to load up on groceries and get your fill of touristy cuteness before leaving the land of straight(ish) roads.  Buffalo Rose is a pretty skeevy looking townie bar from street view, but the food is delicious. The Cuban sandwich is the bomb.

A view from Oh My God Road. No guardrails necessary. 

Loving the Thai noodle

There is this fantastic place in Portland called SenYai Noodles--it's actually part of Andy Ricker's delicious empire, which includes Whiskey Soda Lounge and PokPok.  They're all worth visiting, but what I especially like about SenYai is its casual, noodle-centric menu.  As you know, I HEART CARBS, and I am no snob towards ramen.  Neither is Andy Ricker. SenYai specialized in Thai-style noodle dishes, because the good people of Thailand are apparently in love with noodles morning, noon, and night, as well.

Portland, however, is a long drive from NoCo, so I have had to get crafty and create my own little SenYai at home.  It's not as hip as the real thing, but I don't have to put on shoes, and I can usually coax a cat into my lap while I eat.

Disclaimer: these recipes contain shortcuts to accommodate American grocery stores and people who don't have all freakin; day to make a pot of noodles. I make no claims towards authenticity. These dishes are best served with a lovely glass of Cha Boraan while listening to Dengue Fever (I know they're Cambodian-American, but I love them, and you should, too).

Kuaytiaw (Thai Street Vendor Noodles)

Serves 6-8

About a gallon of beef or pork stock
1 package angel hair pasta
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
3-4 cups bean sprouts 
1/4 cup ground pork 
2 Tbs kimchi
2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach 
3-4  scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro  
Lots of Pepper and lime wedges for serving

Heat the stock in a large pot; when it boils, cook the pasta according to package directions. Do not overcook.

Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan, cook the ground pork with the garlic and ginger until it is lightly browned and cooked through, taking care to break the meat up into small crumbles. Remove from heat and drain all but two tablespoons of the oil from the pan. Stir in the kimchi to heat through. 

When noodles are done, add the cooked pork, scallions, fish sauce, and spinach to the pot and stir to combine.  Place equal amounts of bean sprouts in the bottom of each serving bowl and ladle soup on top. Sprinkle cilantro on top, season with black pepper, and squeeze lime over the bowl before eating. 

Gai Pad Kee Mao ("Drunken Noodles")

Serves 6-8

6 ounces of wide rice noodles or fettuccine pasta
peanut oil for frying
1/4 cup of chopped shrimp (optional)
1/2 cup of chopped chicken (optional)
1/4 cup of firm tofu, cut into small cubes
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1 tablespoon white miso paste
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon ground red chili
1/4 cup bean sprouts
1 tablespoon chopped mixed red and green jalapeno peppers
1 coriander plant, chopped
1 cup fresh Thai basil leaves
3-4 red jalapenos, julienned and freshly ground black pepper to serve

Soak the noodles in water for about 15 minutes; take about a third of them and cut the ribbons into short pices (about 2" long). The remaining two thirds of the noodles should be plunged into boiling water, and cooked until "toothy" then removed and placed on the serving plate. Conversely, if using fettuccine, cook in boiling water according to package directions, drain, and divide as in preceding directions.

If desired, the tofu can be marinated in some soy sauce to which a couple of sliced chilis are added.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the oil, and when it shimmers, stir fry the noodles until crispy. Remove to a plate and add the remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring constantly, until cooked through (if you want the sauce thickened add a little flour or cornstarch mixed with water) and then pour over the boiled noodles. Add the fried noodles, jalapenos, and black pepper to the final dish as a garnish.

07 July 2014

A Month of Smoothies: Week 1

I just turned 40 last week, and I don't feel so good.  I think it's probably just all the beer and cocktails I've been drinking for the past two weeks; nevertheless, now seems like a good time to try to pack more fruits and veggies into the old, crumbling shell that carries my organs.  So, I know all those smoothie pinners on Pinterest get really annoying with their otherworldly fitness glow, but I promise that when I take you on this month long journey to find palatable smoothies with me, I will not be a douchebag about it.  I'll post four recipes that seem non-disgusting every Monday morning this month. And I'm pretty sure you can put booze in these, if you need to.

Green Tea, Blueberry, and Banana

3 Tbsp water
1 green tea bag
2 tsp honey
1½ c frozen blueberries
½ med banana
¾ c calcium fortified light vanilla soy milk

1. Microwave water on high until steaming hot in a small bowl. Add tea bag and allow to brew 3 minutes. Remove tea bag. Stir honey into tea until it dissolves.

2. Combine berries, banana, and milk in a blender with ice crushing ability.

3. Add tea to blender. Blend ingredients on ice crush or highest setting until smooth.

For remaining smoothie recipes, simply combine ingredients in the order listed in a high-speed blender. I'm using a Vitamix.

Fruit and Oat Smoothie 

1 cup quartered strawberries
1 sliced banana
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Ginger Peach Smoothie

2 handfuls baby spinach
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 cups frozen sliced peaches
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/4 cups water

Avocado Pear Smoothie

1 ripe Hass avocado
1/2 cup silken tofu drained
1 cup pear or apple juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups ice

This is not me. She seems like a douchebag. 

03 July 2014

It's almost the weekend, again!

I've been enjoying a little family time at Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Colorado for a few days, and I must say it is stunning.  So much great hiking, I could never get through this whole park!  But when I get sick of cooking my own food over an open fire in this fresh air (boo hoo), it's nice to pop into nearby Golden and eat at the skeevy-looking, but totally delicious, Buffalo Rose.  Trust me, and get the Cuban.

You're about to get inundated with smoothie recipes because my 40th birthday is just around the corner, so I love that the folks at The Mason Shaker have devised a way to shake shake shake their way to a kale smoothie without ever having to clean a blender afterwards. (And yes, I realize I'm about seven months late to the health party.)

From The Mason Shaker

Speaking of my birthday, can I please have this cake by Caroline Chirichella over at  La Cucina Della Prima Donna all to myself?

From La Cucina Della Prima Donna

01 July 2014

Independence Day means burnt food.

I mean that in a good way, of course.  Any country that celebrates it birth but sitting outside in the summer, grilling everything in sight and drankin' beer has potential.  I have hope for us.

I've done this kind of post every year around this time, and I don't have any new recipes for the grill.  If I'm being totally honest with you, I really only grill salmon and potatoes over and over again. But, if that's not American enough for you, here's a recap of some other grilling recipes I developed (and ate!) during my time over at The Examiner, along with some other experiments I've created over the years.  Happy Independence Day, 'Merica.

Chili-rubbed Pork Tenderloin

Cumin-Lime Corn

Grilled Shrimp, two ways

Kabobs: Greek Meatball and Asian Chicken

Dressed-Up Hotdogs (please forgive me)

Potato-Bean Burgers

Spicy Marinated Tofu