29 January 2016

Winter: It snows a lot, and also people watch football

You might be surprised to hear this, but I'm not much up on all of the various sportballs that are in season throughout the year.  I used to get invited to people's shabby apartments to watch the Superbowl when I was in grad school, but eventually people gave up on me.  I do know that drinking and eating fatty snacks are a part of that tradition, and for that reason, I almost regret never joining the festivities.  But really, you can drink and eat garbage without having to watch people ruin their lives with massive concussions any ol' time, right?

Which brings me to the other thing I am tired of hearing about on Facebook: snow.  It has snowed here in the Rockies, it snowed somewhat in the Southeast last week, it snows a terrible amount every week in the Great Lakes.  It is winter.  You don't need to complain about it, though you can post beautiful photos of your magically transformed backyard (sans whining) and/or fun outdoor adventures all you want, and I will "like" every single one of them.  I don't spend all summer whining about having to sweat, because for some reason no one can relate to this complaint. You should not spend all winter whining about getting to snowshoe and wear awesome sweaters, because I think that is stupid.

That was all a slightly offensive prelude to winter things I want to celebrate this weekend, and hopefully with the help of these links to clever peoples' sites, this list will enrich your weekend, too. New year's resolution: be more sassy. Check.

Drinking: Thank you, Bustle, for encouraging day drinking with the delicious-sounding spiked hot chocolate recipes. #4 (picture above) is definitely my favorite.

If you're feeling sad that tequila is getting left out here, try adding it to your mulled hot cider in place of rum (better try both): dump a gallon of apple cider into a Dutch oven or similarly large vessel, and add 1 large orange studded generously with cloves (great project for someone stationary who's not helping enough), 2 cinnamon sticks, and 1 dried star anise (optional). Simmer over medium-low heat until it's good and hot, and let it cook for as long as you like--the flavors get stronger with time. Add the rum or tequila directly to your cup to avoid cooking off the precious alcohol.

Eating Garbage: Or not.  Oh My Veggies has some great ideas for indulgent snacks that seem pretty junky, but aren't that bad for you. These Oven baked pickle chips are THE BEST:

Going Outside: I've posted pretty recently on showshoeing and ice skating in the Rockies, and if you're not coming out here anytime soon, you can easily search for opportunities to do the same in your neck of the woods.  Add to your list of stuff to look up: sledding.  Don't you miss it?  And if you don't miss it because you never did it as a kid, then you really owe it to yourself to get out and sled now.  Because there are few activities that make it OK for a grown adult to roll around on the ground and scream bloody murder while narrowly missing head-on collisions with large trees.  It's a real rush, I tell ya.

25 January 2016

Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew with Kale

This recipe is an adaptation from The Awesome Green's creation, which I loved in theory, but I found to be lacking any kind of acid.  If you don't need that in your food, I encourage you to try Ana's original recipe, which is really solid, but just a little sweet for my taste. I also altered the flavoring a little with the garnishes I used, partly because it's what I had on hand, though it also suited my other variations.

Once again, this is a super fast, easy recipe that is filling, vegan, and cheap to make. Maybe it's time to create a favorite soups page for January??

Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew with Kale
(adapted from theawesomegreen.com)

Serves 4

2 tsp coconut oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 inch ginger piece, peeled and minced
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp turmeric
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
¼ cup red lentils, rinsed well
2 tablespoons tomato paste
A pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh kale leaves, finely chopped
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons creamy peanut butter
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Toasted peanuts, to garnish
Chopped pickled jalapeno, to garnish 
Lime wedges for serving

Heat the coconut oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fry until translucent.
Add the garlic, ginger,cumin, and turmeric for a minute or two, until fragrant.

Add sweet potatoes and lentils, stir to combine, then add the water, cayenne, and tomato paste. Bring to boil and let simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the peanut butter and stir to incorporate. Transfer the stew into a blender and pulse enough to have a mostly smooth base with some visible sweet potato chunks. Add a little more water if it's too thick. 

Return stew to the pot. Add the kale leaves and cook for five more minutes.
Season with freshly ground black pepper, and garnish individual with cilantro, peanuts and jalapenos. Serve with lime wedges. 

22 January 2016

Winter destinations for people who love winter

When you search for "winter vacations" and its variations online, you tend to end up with listings for Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the like.  But what about those of us who don't want to escape the beautiful twinkling snow, crisp, refreshing air, and breathtaking silence you find in nature during the winter? Don't we sweat and look at scantily clad people enough in the summer months? If you are looking for a getaway meant to celebrate winter, but perhaps without so many of the crowds and dollar signs you'll see in the usual spots (Jackson, Aspen...), consider....

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky is located in Gallatin County, just one hour from Bozeman, Montana to the north, and one hour from Yellowstone National Park to the south. It's small, but is nevertheless home to award-winning restaurants and is a veritable sportsman's paradise.

Durango, Colorado

I could have picked a lot of places (I was veering towards Ouray, honestly), but Durango is a nice compromise between remote and plentiful. As one of the four corners, you can easily pop into New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona to round out your Facebook states map, or whatever you call that stupid thing.  It's an actual town with a college, so you can find good places to eat and get a decent coffee. And you're surrounded by trails with beautiful views.

Hood River County, Oregon

Hood River is a small town hear a great city. Located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area between Mt. Hood and the Columbia River, it is only an hour east of Portland. It is beloved for its recreation opportunities (particularly windsurfing, kiteboarding, cycling and mountain biking, hiking and skiing), but it's also home to four breweries, a growing wine industry and a thriving food scene.

Park City, Utah

This might be the most populist choice on the list, but I love Park City.  I also adore nearby Salt Lake City, and you can easily enjoy both in one trip. Like the rest of these towns, there are good restaurants and lots of options for outdoor recreation, and as a bonus, there's a little film festival in January that sort of takes over the town, while still managing to have a down-home feel.

Royal Gorge Resort, Soda Springs, California

This place is like heaven for cross country skiers. Located right off of I-80 in Tahoe National Forest, it is a self-contained haven with great trails, accommodations, and food. If you want to keep it simple and just park yourself in one spot for a weekend without all the tourists from the tri-state area in front of you, this is the place.

19 January 2016

Easy blended soups for the year

Mark Bittman's newest cookbook, Kitchen Matrix, is the most practical, improvisatory cookbook I have ever read.  It is exactly how I cook--the recipe serves as a basic set of principles (ratios, food groups that compliment each other), and the actual ingredients can vary within that general formula.  He does provide measurements and discuss techniques, for those of you who don't feel comfortable with this method, but each master recipe is laid out with variations, like a master class on soup, or miso, for instance.  

I have been enjoying my own alterations of his variations in the book, particularly at night, when all I really need is a salad before bedtime, but the cold temps have me craving soup instead.  A few vegetables, some water, and a good blender will make these a reality in 30 minutes, tops. 

Puréed Asparagus Soup

Serves 4

1 pound asparagus, trimmed and roughly chopped
½ yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed
2 pieces whole wheat bread, broken into big pieces
2 cups tightly packed spinach
½ teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil to drizzle and/ or plain yogurt (optional)

In a Dutch oven or large stock pot, place the asparagus, onion, and garlic. Add water until vegetables are just barely covered, toss in about a teaspoon of salt, and cover.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until very soft.  Stir in the spinach and bread and let it soften for a minute or two, then pour everything into your blender.

Blend until smooth, then pour back into the pot.  Stir in the Herbes de Provence, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve in individual bowls with a little olive oil drizzled on top, or a scoop of plain yogurt. You can also serve with extra lemon wedges if you like more acidity. 

Curried Potato and Cauliflower Vichyssoise

Serves 4

1 small head cauliflower, roughly chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
½ yellow onion
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon curry powder
4 cups water
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro to garnish (optional)

In a Dutch oven or large stock pot, combine the cauliflower, potatoes, onion, garlic, cumin, curry powder, and water. Add two teaspoons salt, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very soft, 15-20 minutes.

Pour into a blender and purée until smooth. Pour back into the pot and add the lemon juice and yogurt.  Heat through, 3-4 minutes, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped fresh cilantro to individual bowls if desired. 

15 January 2016

Favorite snowshoeing spots in the Rockies!

Snowshoeing doesn't get its due--it's a great form of exercise, allows you to go off trail in deep snow when you would otherwise miss out on all kinds of views, and there is virtually no risk of breaking bones or tearing ligaments, unlike skiing.  It's not sexy like those downhill chases in James Bond movies, but I'm not sexy, anyway. Are you sold yet?  Here are some perfect spots to try out your new favorite non-sport:


Durango: Colorado Trail

Estes Park: Rocky Mountain National Park (try Bear Lake & Hidden Valley)

Evergreen: Echo Lake at Mt. Evans

Glenwood Springs: Hanging Lake Trail

Golden/Black Hawk: Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Steamboat Springs: Rabbit Ears Pass


Bozeman: Bohart Ranch

Helena: MacDonald Pass

Missoula: Lookout Pass, Pattee Cannyon, Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, Seeley Creek

Red Lodge: Lake Fork trails, West Fork Road

West Yellowstone: Yellowstone Pass

Whitefish: Whitefish Trail, Round Meadows, Glacier National Park

South Dakota

Black Hills: Iron Creek in Spearfish Canyon, Roughlock Trail at Savoy Lodge, Eagle Cliff Trails, Big Hill Trails, Mickelson Trail, and Old Baldy


Casper: Casper Mountain Nordic Center

Jackson: Teton Pass, Grand Teton National Park

Laramie: Happy Jack / Vedauwoo trails

Saratoga: Brush Creek Visitor's Center and trailhead

Sheridan: Sibley Lake and Cutler Hill

12 January 2016

A swoon-worthy roasted chicken recipe

How do the French do it? A beautifully browned, succulent roasted chicken is what everyone aspires to, isn't it?  And yet it's such an intimidating project to recreate your favorite French restaurant's signature dish.  I say, don't bother.  Use chicken thighs (the best meat, in my opinion), slice up your potatoes paper-thin, and relax on the sofa with a glass of wine while this cooks.  It will be just as transcendent, perhaps without a little bit of the presentation. Throw in a green salad and you've got a guest-worthy meal on the table in an hour.

Herb Roasted Chicken Thighs with Potatoes

Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence (can sub dried thyme or 1 Tbsp of fresh chopped herbs such as thyme or tarragon)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds chicken thighs, bone in, skin-on, trimmed of excess fat
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 large Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and thinly sliced (1/8-inch thick or less)
1 cup sliced, peeled shallots (can sub thinly sliced onion that have soaked in water for 10 min)
3 to 4 whole garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
Several whole sprigs of fresh tarragon or thyme (optional)
More salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°F. Sprinkle all sides of chicken thighs with kosher salt and set aside.
In a small bowl whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, herbes de Provence, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
Spread a teaspoon of olive oil over the bottom of a large (9x13-inch) casserole dish. Cover the bottom of the dish with the thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Distribute the sliced shallots over the potatoes, and sprinkle again with a little salt and pepper.
Place the chicken thighs, skin-side up, on top of the shallots. Wedge the garlic cloves between pieces of chicken. If you have fresh herbs such as tarragon or thyme, you can wedge them in along the border, between the chicken pieces and the dish. Whisk the vinaigrette again and pour it over the chicken, spreading it with your fingers to make sure the chicken is well coated.
Bake uncovered in a 375°F oven for 50 minutes, or until the thighs are well browned and cooked through. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. (Note if you find the potatoes still need a bit more time, just remove the thighs to a plate to rest and cook the potatoes an extra 10 minutes or so.)

08 January 2016

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Mustard

Can one ever tire of Brussels sprouts? No, you're wrong--one cannot.  I defy you to try this and tell me it isn't the easiest, most delicious side you have ever made.  Or at least in the top 20...

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Lemon and Mustard

Serves 4 as a side

2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1 small yellow onion
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon prepared grainy mustard
Zest and juice of ½ a lemon
Salt and black pepper to taste
¼ cup slivered almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 375⁰F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Clean Brussels sprouts, removing cores and outer leaves.  Peel the onion.  Grate the sprouts and onion with the biggest side of a box grater and place in a colander to drain. Place on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, lemon zest, mustard, and salt and pepper, and massage to combine.  Spread in a thin, even layer across the baking sheet and place in the oven.  Cook until tender, about 20 minutes, the remove and sprinkle the almonds on top.  Replace to oven and continue to cook until almonds are toasted, then remove.  Pour into a serving dish, sprinkle with the lemon juice, and taste for seasoning.  Serve hot or at room temperature with meats, fishes, egg dishes, over pasta, or stirred into a plain risotto. 

05 January 2016

Pasta with Kale and Lemon

This dish comes together quickly, it's cheap to make, and it's filling.  It's also a riff on a classic (pasta with olive oil and garlic with bread crumbs), making it appropriate to serve to last-minute guests with your best $6 bottle of Pinot Grigio. 

Pasta with Kale and Lemon

Serves 4

1 pound bucatini or linguine
Olive oil
1 large bunch kale, washed and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and black pepper to taste

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

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, warm 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs, stirring constantly, until golden.  Scrape onto a small plate and set aside. 

Return the pan to the heat, adding another teaspoon or so of olive oil. Add the onion and some salt, stirring occasionally until very soft and fragrant.  Add the kale and a little more salt and continue to cook until kale is wilted and bright green.  Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until it just becomes fragrant (or cook longer for a mellower garlic flavor).

Drain the cooked pasta.  In a large serving bowl, combine the pasta, kale mixture, zest and juice from the lemon, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, and salt and black pepper to taste. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on top and serve with more cheese and lemon wedges on the side.