30 October 2015

Recipes for Halloween

I'm just kidding...I hate Halloween.  I mean, the little kids who come around to the door begging for food are funny when they can't see through their masks, and I enjoy giving them Mike & Ikes while drinking beer all afternoon, so I guess I do like this holiday.  But I never liked wearing a costume, not even as a little kid, and I know that makes me a social untouchable.  And I don't get the appeal of making foods that look like eyeballs or brains or whatever spaghetti and peeled grapes is supposed to be.  So I'm just going to share some of my favorite recipes for winter squash, because that's fall-like, and it's delicious.

You can use butternut, acorn, or whatever hard squash you find on sale at the store.  They're all pretty similar and interchangeable in these particular preparations.

Creamy Butternut Squash and Parsnip Soup

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
salt and black pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 parsnips, chopped
1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
plain yogurt and lime zest, for serving

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the broth, parsnips, squash, and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Working in batches, puree in a blender until smooth. Stir in the lime juice.

Serve topped with the yogurt, lime zest, and pepper.

Butternut Squash and Barley Risotto

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1onion, chopped
salt and black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup pearl barley
1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (2 ounces), plus more, shaved, for serving

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the wine and cook until syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the broth and barley and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, 24 to 26 minutes. Add the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley and squash are tender, 25 to 35 minutes more (adding more liquid if the risotto becomes too thick before the barley and squash are tender). Stir in the Parmesan.

Serve topped with additional shaved Parmesan.

Butternut Squash and Kale Lasagna

Serves 4

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the foil
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
salt and black pepper
1 butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds), thinly sliced
4 cups torn kale leaves (from 1 small bunch)
6 no-cook lasagna noodles
1 1/2cups grated Gruyère (6 ounces)

Heat oven to 350° F. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking, until foamy, 30 seconds. Whisk in the milk, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.

Spread a third of the milk mixture in the bottom an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Top with a third of the noodles, half the kale, and half the squash. Repeat, ending with the remaining lasagna noodles and milk mixture. Top with the Gruyère.

Cover the dish with buttered foil and bake until the filling is bubbling and the noodles are tender, 55 to 60 minutes. Uncover and broil until the top is golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes more. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Happy friggin' Halloween, muthahs. 

27 October 2015

Making a passable Hawaiian plate lunch at home

The first time I went to Hawaii, I thought, "I'm curious, but I bet it's not as great as everyone says" which is probably more revealing of my personality than anything else. I said the same thing about Vienna, and like Vienna, I totally fell in love with Hawaii.  I even loved the skeevy lunch counters scattered around Honolulu, and that is, strangely, what I crave when I wish I could fly back to Hawaii.

There's a place near us that serves great lunch plates, but it's not cheap, and the ambiance is all wrong--full of upper-middle class retirees in resort wear. Also, I have to drive there.  So, I tried out some recipes at home, and they worked OK!  Plus, I finally caved on my hated of slow cookers, so enjoy that, Mom.

My memorable lunch at  Ethel's Grill in Honolulu

Kalua Pork from www.pineappleandcoconut.com

Serves 6-8

1 4-6 lb pork shoulder or Boston butt roast
1 Tbsp liquid smoke
2-3 tsp red Hawaiian Sea salt (for a smaller roast, 2-3 tbsp for a larger)

Wash and pat dry the pork roast and place in the slow cooker. Pierce all over with a fork, pour the liquid smoke evenly over the roast and sprinkle liberally with the sea salt.

Place the lid of the slow cooker on and set the time for 8-12 hours on LOW. Check at about 8 hours for doneness. If not done, let go the full 12 hours, checking every hour.

Either remove the pork from the pot and shred with a fork and return to pot or shred in the pot when its done. You can remove some of the liquid and shred then add some back in to keep the pork from drying out.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad from favfamilyrecipes.com

Serves 6-8

1 lb box of Elbow macaroni
1/4 cup Carrots finely chopped
1/4 cup Onions very finely minced
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/4cCup milk
1 Tbsp sugar
fresh cracked black pepper
Paprika (optional)
1-2 Tbsp vinegar to taste

Prepare macaroni according to instructions on box. Afterwards, rinse with cold water and drain again. Stir in vinegar and let cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Add finely chopped carrot and mix well. Add finely chopped onions and mix well. Combine mayonnaise and milk. mix well, then add to macaroni. Add salt, pepper and paprika to taste.

Chill before serving.

Basic Sticky Rice

Serves 6-8 as a side

2 cups short grain white rice
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar

This can get really fussy, or you can just approximate it.  Cook the rice with the salt according to package directions, either in a sauce pan or a rice cooker (my preference). When it's done, stir in the sugar to taste. 

23 October 2015

The Great American Bar

Actually, I don't even know what that means.  I hate coming up with titles for these posts.  In a country this vast, "Great American" anything varies widely.  In the Northern Great Lakes, it would have to include some table shuffleboard and a Friday night fish fry; in Chicago and Boston, it's Irish. I suppose in California, wheatgrass is probably involved somehow.  But out here in the Rocky Mountains, I love a good Western bar, complete with taxidermied animals on the walls and some grand old pile of wood imported from a nearby ghost town's old general store. Maybe it would also have a little something special, like bar stools with pistols for arms (see Saratoga, below).

I spend a lot of time driving around Wyoming, and I never tire of these local gems, which often also serve some great local beer on tap and occasionally even know how to make a good Manhattan. In many of these towns, it's easier to find a good bar than it is a good restaurant, and I suppose the right amount of gin is just as filling as a small sandwich, albeit slightly harder on your liver.

If you're ever out this way, here are my suggestions; they also correspond to the towns I like to visit (with a couple of exceptions):

Casper: The Wonder Bar has pretty terrible food, but a terrific set of taps, including their own local brew and highlights from some of the best beers around the state. Be forewarned, local Casper College students swarm this place on the weekends, and I've been there more than once on St. Patrick's Day when I was just bypassed for a pat-down by the local cops patrolling the front door. If you're looking for a quiet drink with friends, maybe try a Wednesday night.

The Wonder Bar, home of Wyoming State Brewing, Casper

Cody: Buffalo Bill's Irma Hotel (Restaurant and Saloon) has that classic, grandiose wooden bar polished to a high gleam, and a decent selection of Western beers and whiskeys. It's pretty quiet in here most of the time, and you'll definitely hear some old geezers talking about hunting season.

Buffalo Bill's Restaurant and Saloon, Cody

Jackson: Million Dollar Cowboy Bar downtown hosts a lot of dead animals on the wall, and plenty of Country-Western dancing on the weekends. If that's too much for you (as it is for me), try the Silver Dollar Bar in the Wort Hotel. It's got more of a luxe, gold-rush feel to it, and the cocktails are great.

Silver Dollar Bar in the Wort Hotel, Jackson
Jelm: The Bar & Dance Hall at Woods Landing Resort is a great place to watch swing dancers do their thing on the historically registered dance floor at night, though I'd stick to the beer if you stop for a drink. Still, it's a truly Western, small=town experience, as is all of Jelm. Come to think of it, this resort IS all of Jelm...

Woods Landing in the thriving metropolis of Jelm
Laramie: As the token liberal college town in the state, Front Street Tavern opted to go without the soul-crushing, dead stares of elk on the walls, but it does have a certain warm, inviting vibe thanks to the elaborate salvaged bar from nearby Fort Laramie. The taps highlight Wyoming and Colorado beers, and the cocktails are generally very well-made.  As a bonus, they're adjoined to (and run by) Sweet Melissa's vegetarian cafe, and until about 9pm you can order food from their delicious menu and have it brought over. This place is not for the faint of heart on the weekends, though--bring earplugs and be prepared to wait ages for a seat.

Front Street Tavern, Laramie

Riverton: Not a place I would normally visit unless for business, but Bar 10 is actually great. Despite the blaring country-western and troubled 20-somethings screaming about guns and (pro) Tea Party sentiments, I had a delicious Manhattan with what had to be home-infused cherries.  The aesthetic is a mix of hunting saloon (wood panel, dead critters) and 1930s oil boom with rich-colored stained glass and bronze fixtures.  As a bonus, this is also probably the best restaurant in town.

Bar 10, complete with flaming stained glass, Riverton
Saratoga: Snowy Mountain Pub and Brewery is located in the Saratoga Resort and Spa (the one with the teepees over the hot tubs--so adorable!). The bar is dark, covered in wood, and filled with animal trophies (so is the local grocery store, by the way), and the beer is really fantastic.  I have loved everything I've tried. Go here, but skip the restaurant--it is also very Western, and it's awful if you're under 90. (Pro tip: if you are over 90, you can leave your dentures at home and still slide that meal into your gullet.)

Saratoga Brewery--notice the pistols for arms on the stools!

On a personal note, I have been to a number of these bars with my most stalwart travelling friends, Verismo Trio.  There's no one I like exploring Wyoming with more.  They're probably not reading this post because they're too frickin' important, though.

VT at Bar 10 this week.
Scott: "Are you going to blog about this?" Me: "Probably not."

20 October 2015

Roasting some things for dinner

As you've heard me say before, roasting vegetables is the best.  It takes very little work or skill, as long as you keep an eye on the stuff so it doesn't burn down the house.  And it seems to make everything mellower, sweeter, nuttier, and just plain more digestible. Here, I combine my love of roasting vegetables with my new-found appreciation for sumac.

Sumac, in powdered form, is most often used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It's tart and bright, and emphasizes (or mimics) mild citrus flavors beautifully. Za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, is merely sumac, salt, roasted sesame seeds, and thyme, and it is heavenly.  I put it to work with a couple of additions to make my acorn squash (above) and cauliflower (below) more interesting.

Marinade for one medium acorn squash, one head cauliflower, or equivalent amount of other vegetables):
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sumac
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest and juice from 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and coat vegetables.  Pour them out onto a baking tray covered in parchment paper and bake at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, flipping once during the cooking process to brown on both sides.

I added some to my drunken pintos and brown rice, as you can see below. (Along with some of Heidi Swanson's genius roasted kale.)

16 October 2015

Weekend links celebrating fall!

It's fall, and I love my middle-class caucasian rituals, whatever you think of them.  In fact, I am wearing my tall boots over my jeggings, swaddled in my claustrophobia-inducing, chunky knit infinity scarf as we speak. I am also wearing a lime green puffy vest, so eat it.  Oh sorry, I'm getting overly defensive for no reason, because I can't even see your eyes rolling into the back of your heads.

I love the idea of Molly Yeh's Cauliflower Swiss Soup with a hard cider for dinner (that's her photo):

Persimmons are ripe now, and they remind me fondly of my short time as a Hoosier (not many things make me think fondly of Indiana, by the way).  I love a James Beard quick bread recipe utilizing this precious, short-season fruit. 

I used to go apple picking with my roommates in college, which was a fun homework break and also a cheaper way to eat apples (we took the half-rotten ones on the ground for a discount). Here in the Denver area, my fave is Ya Ya Farm and Orchard 6914 Ute Highway, Longmont, where you can pet the sweet goats, eat cider donuts, and take a beautiful hike along the orchard.

I love this shop's funky scarves with random accessories built in:

What's wrong, not feelin' my fall love? Maybe you and Matt Bellassai can commiserate:

13 October 2015

What to do with a problem like ricotta...

Ricotta cheese, like hotdog buns, often comes in the wrong size container.  The result is that you are frequently either short of, or very long on, the amount you need for any given recipe.  My solution is usually to avoid buying the stuff for lasagna and subbing in well-drained cottage cheese, which I like better, anyway.  But once in a while I get a hankering for some cheese-filled ravioli and I get stuck with leftover ricotta.  If you have this problem, too, fear not.  There is help.

The last-minute party dip:

Hot Rosemary-Garlic Ricotta Dip
In a small ovenproof skillet, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom over medium heat. Add a few cloves of sliced garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to color, then immediately top with a layer of ricotta about an inch thick. Drizzle generously with olive oil and sprinkle with finely chopped rosemary leaves. Bake in a 375-degree oven until bubbling on top. Serve immediately with toasted baguette slices.

Big-assed balls of cheese and spinach:

Traditional Gnudi
Serves 6
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus 1 cup for coating
2 cups homemade marinara sauce, heated

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a large bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese, eggs, and yolks. Stir in nutmeg, salt, pepper, and flour. Form mixture in to small, flattened balls.

Dredge the formed gnudi in flour to coat, tapping off the excess. Slide formed gnudi into the boiling water. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan; work in batches if necessary. Remove the gnudi using a slotted spoon after they float to the top and have cooked for about 4 minutes.

Arrange gnudi on a platter and lightly drizzle with marinara sauce.
A super-fast pasta sauce:

Pasta con la ricotta
Serves 4-6 people
1 lb. of short pasta (penne, rotini, etc.)
8 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
A garlic clove, peeled and slightly crushed
Olive oil
6-7 oz.of ricotta (or to taste)
Salt, to taste
Grated parmesan cheese (to taste)
Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn

Put the water on the boil for the pasta.

Meanwhile, begin your sauce: add the tomato, a drizzle of olive oil, the whole garlic clove, the basil, and a pinch of salt to a heavy saucepan or pot and let it simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, just enough to lightly cook the tomato and meld the flavors—or, if you like you can keep it at the barest simmer until the pasta is done. Remove the garlic clove.

When the water comes to a boil, salt it generously. Then add your pasta and cook it al dente.

When the pasta is done, drain it—but not too well—and add it to the pot with the tomato sauce over very gentle heat. Mix well, then add a few dollops of ricotta, enough to coat the pasta nicely but not enough to ‘bury’ it. Add a bit of the pasta water if the mixture seems too thick. Then add grated parmesan (a spoonful per person should do) and mix again. Taste and adjust for seasoning. (Remember, ricotta is rather bland and you’ll need to season well.)

Top your pasta and ricotta with some more grated parmesan cheese if you like, and serve immediately.

Bonus: baked leftovers in a casserole dish with more cheese spread on top:

Baked Pasta with Spinach and Ricotta
Serves 8
12 ounces small pasta (penne, shells, etc.)
1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 clove garlic, minced
10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess liquid
Pinch of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and black pepper, to taste
4 cups marinara sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. Cook the pasta according to instructions for al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan, and egg. Stir until smooth. Add the garlic, spinach, nutmeg, dried basil, crushed red pepper, and salt and pepper.

Put half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish and top with half of the marinara sauce. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture on top of the sauce in an even layer. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella cheese over the mixture. Cover with the remaining pasta and the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the mozzarella is melted and the edges are lightly browned. Serve warm.

Note-you can prepare this dish one day ahead of time. Cover the pan with foil and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook. You can also freeze the leftovers. 

And of course, the recipe that got me in this mess in the first place (but could also be the way you use up little bits of leftover ricotta):

Rachel Ray's Wonton Ravioli
Serves 4
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup thawed frozen spinach, finely chopped and squeezed dried
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 small lemon, zested and juiced
Salt and pepper
40 square wonton wrappers
4 butter
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, shallot, egg and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Arrange 10 wonton wrappers on a clean work surface. 
Top each with a rounded tsp. of filling. Moisten the edges with water and, working with 1 at a time, fold in half to form triangles; press down around the filling to seal. Transfer the ravioli to the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Repeat with the remaining wrappers.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, drop in the ravioli in 2 batches, letting the water return to a boil between batches. Cook until the ravioli bob to the surface, about 3 minutes per batch; strain.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, swirling, until it browns and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat immediately. Stir in the lemon juice, capers, and half of the parsley; season.

Divide the ravioli among 4 plates, drizzle with the butter sauce and top with the remaining parsley.

(Freeze uncooked ravioli in a single layer on a baking sheet, then transfer to resealable bags. Drop frozen into boiling water.)

09 October 2015

Travel Guide: Sheridan, Wyoming

Sheridan is a small but financially comfortable community in northern Wyoming, situated between the Tetons and Mount Rushmore in the Bighorn mountain range. As home to the Ucross Foundation, they pride themselves on their artistic community and sponsor some pretty charming events, like Biketoberfest in early October.

The Bighorns offer hiking, biking, snowshoeing, fishing, and hunting.  Ucross and the small downtown host art galleries and upscale boutique shopping. And although the number of restaurants may seem small, many of them are delish.  Here are some of my favorites:

Frackelton's Fine Food & Spirits serves an upscale, new-American menu. Try their inventive cocktails and anything with local wild game in it. (PS--that's their roasted squash bisque with crispy sage leaves above.)

Red Velvet Bakery & Tapas is SLOW SLOW SLOW, but the pour-over coffee and homemade quiche really hit the spot for breakfast or lunch. You're just going to play with your phone while you wait, anyway, right?

Wyoming Cattle Creek and Company is the place to get your steak fix, along with a delicious home brew from adjacent Luminous Brewing Company. They also have a surprisingly OK wine menu.

And speaking of more beer, Black Tooth Brewing really is spectacular. If you don't want to go to the brew pub (but why wouldn't you?), make sure to get some on tap at the tiny but excellent NO NAME BAR on the edge of downtown.  Better yet, go to both.

Wyo Theater in the historical downtown area hosts a wide variety of musical and theatrical acts throughout the year in their gorgeous Art Deco building (on the historic register, of course!). Check ahead to see what tickets you should be purchasing for your visit.

The Carriage House Theater houses the Trail End museum, a great way to take in some local history of how Sheridan was settled and grew.

The Ucross Foundation is a kind of a research-and-development lab for the arts, hosting artist residencies and displaying inspiring art in their small gallery. It's about a twenty minute drive from Sheridan, which is in itself a work of (natural) art.

02 October 2015

Green chile in everything!

Pumpkin-spice-everything seems to be heavily in fashion every September through November, but what I get excited about is the fresh roasted Hatch chiles I can get at my local farmer's market. Every Saturday morning, I can smell them roasting from my front porch as I have my morning tea, and I follow the smell by foot all the way downtown, where I have my choice of mild, medium hot, or "x-hot" (which I'm pretty sure would actually kill me). After the brutal sun and dry Colorado heat of July and August, they are abundant by September, and our local guys spend all morning cranking the simple, antique-looking roaster to fill up zip-top bags with the goods. I'd never enjoyed their splendor before moving out West, and I can never get enough. 

If you can get your hands on some roasted green chiles, a few bits of advice:
  • Try to remove the skins while the peppers are still warm in the bag, and they are at their sweatiest.  As they cool, the skins begin to re-adhere, making your job more difficult. 
  • Don't rinse them under water to help remove the skins, no matter how tempting.  The flavor gets watered down and less vegetal. 
  • Try a bite before choosing to remove the seeds.  You can control the heat this way--if the peppers are very hot, go ahead and scrape them out, but if you got "medium" and wish you had gotten the "hot", leaving the seeds might help bump up the heat a little bit. 

You can chop and freeze portions in bags to add to soups, a pot of beans, green rice, scrambled eggs...etc. etc. etc. For instance, 

Green Chili Deluxe

Green Chili and Potato Gratin

throw some in your New Mexico breakfast burritos