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.