29 March 2016

Gooey baked black bean tacos

I'm not even sure this is a legit recipe.  It started with a bunch of leftovers: some cooked black beans, random scraps of different kinds of cheeses, and a few tortillas that had been sitting in the fridge for too long, getting all fridgey-tasting. I amended with some fresh and frozen vegetables, cranked the oven, and here's what resulted:

Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with some foil.

Taco filling: black beans, finely chopped onion, corn (fresh or frozen and thawed under some hot water), and sliced or crumbled cheeses (queso, pepper jack, smoked gouda, cheddar...).

To assemble: warm the tortillas a bit in the microwave so you can bend them (I recommend flour for their flexibility). Cover one half of each tortilla with the above ingredients in whatever ratios you have or prefer, and fold the top half of each tortilla over that filling, like you're putting it to bed.  Lay the tacos on the lined baking sheet and pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden.  Flip them over and cook another 5 minutes or so to avoid sogginess.

Make a little salad: toss some lettuce, fresh cilantro, red onion, corn, and red bell pepper together. Squeeze some lime juice over the top and sprinkle with a little salt.

Serve the tacos with the salad, sour cream, lime wedges, and your favorite hot sauces.

25 March 2016

Weekend links for a springy cocktail party!

Spring was both hilarious and tiring in the 90s.

Storm Regis sprinkled a little snow on us last weekend, but spring seems to have come back here in the Rockies, igniting everyone's fever anew. What do you do to celebrate the ability to sit outside looking like a J. Crew model? Drink and eat snacks while laughing hysterically, of course!  You may have to bundle up a little, and your mitten may leave a bit of lint on your canapes, but one can still dream...


This blushing whiskey sour is lighter on the whiskey and freshened up with lemon and berries, and it is divine.

Confectionalism.com is clearly run by mad geniuses, and this Coconut Lavender Lemonade is the proof. I might spike mine with vodka, though...

Mint is always the first thing to come up in my garden, even through the lingering snow, so I know I'll be able to make these Cucumber-mint Martinis very soon.


I LOVE the kale and sunflower seed dip here for scraping my veggies and crackers through.

These spinach balls  look amazing, and although I have not yet made them, I want you to know about them right now.

Apricot and goat cheese make great friends in these quick canapes from cookthestory.com.

Come on, these cucumber cups from Lemons and Anchovies are adorable! For the record, I fill mine with hummus and sprinkle with cayenne, however.

22 March 2016

Pasta with roasted broccoli and blistered grape tomatoes

Not many recipes are easier than this--pop everything into the oven and watch it cook; boil some water and make pasta; slap the whole thing together.  Variations are endless--the top photo is my original experiment, but the bottom shows what I made last night, which included onions, mushrooms, bacon, and spinach along with the tomatoes (yes, everything was still all roasted in the oven--just don't add the spinach until the end, and keep the tomatoes on a separate sheet so the bacon isn't soggy). Pair with whatever cheese you think works best.  Toss in some leftover meat if you want. Done.

Pasta with roasted broccoli and blistered grape tomatoes

Serves 4

1 lb. pasta
1 small head broccoli, florets trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces (save the stem for pickles!)
1 (pint) container grape tomatoes, washed and sliced in half lengthwise
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
Crumbled feta for serving

Heat the oven to 375⁰F. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the broccoli florets, tomatoes, and capers with the olive oil, vinegar, and little salt. Spread evenly and pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until broccoli is slightly browned in places and the tomatoes have burst.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in well-salted boiling water according to package directions.  Drain and dress with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes, and the garlic. Keep warm until vegetables are done, then stir them in.  Transfer to a serving bowl and toss with some crumbled feta cheese, if you prefer. 

18 March 2016

Comforting vegetable curry

I can't go too long without making a curry; there is nothing more completely satisfying to me than this simple, one-pot meal. (PS--It's also great hangover food, if you're still suffering from yesterday). That is all. 

Comforting Vegetable Curry

Serves 6-8

Small head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 large carrot, cut into ½-inch thick rounds
Olive oil
½ yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 serrano pepper, minced (remove seeds for a milder curry)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
2 cups cooked chick peas, drained
½ cup coconut milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes with liquid
¼ cup raisins
Salt and black pepper to taste
Cooked basmati rice, for serving
Garnishes: Fresh chopped cilantro, lemon wedges, plain yogurt

Heat the oven to 425⁰F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower and carrot with about a tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper and spread in a single layer.  Roast until the vegetables are just beginning to get browned, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat another teaspoon or two of olive oil in a large sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and serrano pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until soft and fragrant. Add the mustard seeds, ginger, and all remaining spices and continue to stir until the seeds begin to pop.  Add the chick peas, coconut milk, vegetable broth, can of tomatoes, and raisins. Stir to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer, covered, until warm.

When the roasted vegetables are done to your liking, add them to the curry mixture on the stove,  Taste for any additional needed seasoning, and serve over rice with garnishes at the table. 

14 March 2016

Christ, here comes St. Patrick's Day

I go back on forth on this one: are we failing to take the Irish people and their rich, complex history seriously when we merely use their holiday as an excuse to wander piss-drunk through the streets of every town across America (even Casper, Wyoming, for goodness sake)? But from across the pond, that's what it looks like they are doing in Ireland on St. Pat's, so are we good? Screw it, it's fun to drink.  Here's Denver's version this year:

Denver St. Pat's Day Parade Week includes performances of River Dance (oh, my!) and a ridiculously early parade (March 12).  But there are always the bars.

1735 19th St.
Fadó  is the Irish expression meaning "long ago". The term, commonly used as the preface of old Irish stories, has become the name of one of Denver's most popular pubs, located just a stone's throw from Coors Field, the home of the Colorado Rockies in Lower Downtown (LoDo). Blending the best of the old with the best of the new, Fadó's decor and friendly staff evoke images of the great old pubs of Ireland whereas the style of operating - the music, food and beverages - connects more so with the contemporary pubs and bars of modern Ireland.

SO WHAT?: Fadó holds a popular Pub Quiz every Thursday night starting at 7:30 p.m., and it's sure to get rowdy this week! 

Sheraton Hotel, 16th Street Mall
Bringing some OK Irish charm to the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver, Katie Mullen's is a welcome addition to this shopping district's pub scene. The owners also operate four bars in the North West of Ireland, making this authentic-ish?

SO WHAT?: Katie Mullen's Full Irish Breakfast, featuring two fried eggs, sausage, Bachelors baked beans, brown bread, bacon rashers and black and white pudding. Come to think of it, you may not need lunch after this breakfast. 

2030 Larimer St.
The food is really comforting here. Just minutes away from Coors Field, Scruffy's is the perfect place to grab a pint or enjoy some traditional Irish pub fare - shepherd's pie, bangers & mash, and much more. While you're there, say hello to Andrew Toole, the pub's owner, who is often manning the bar or chatting up the locals.

SO WHAT?: On Wednesday and Sunday, Scruffy's hosts a traditional Irish music session beginning at 7 p.m.

2376 15th St.
My Brother's Bar is a Mile High City institution known for its Beat Generation clientele - this was renowned Beats Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady's watering hole of choice in the 1950s.

SO WHAT?: The sunny patio in the back of My Brother's (below) is kind of like a little slice of heaven. 

54 S. Broadway
Amidst the indie rock clubs and cutting edge boutiques of South Broadway, you'll encounter the Irish Rover, a relaxed and friendly pub. Enjoy a pint or two, chat with the locals, sit by the fire place or on your high stool at the bar. Beware, though, television screens abound with sports flickering from all directions.

SO WHAT?: The Irish Rover's got a huge rooftop patio. We love us some rooftop patio in the Mile High City! (Seriously, it's awesome.)

221 W. 13th Ave.
OK, this one's actually British-style, and it's located just down the street from the Denver Art Museum. It's pretty cozy and chill.

SO WHAT?: The extensive menu of single malt whisky 16 pages long!

11 March 2016

Crispy tofu cutlets to replace your chicken katsu

...or whatever you like to do with chicken cutlets. I haven't been able to get over my plate lunch craving lately but didn't want to bring dead animal flesh into it, so I decided tofu would fit the bill just fine. Serve with proper macaroni salad (see link above) and some brown rice and you'll barely miss Hawaii. Well, I can't promise that, actually.

Crispy Tofu Cutlets

Serves 4 (1 cutlet each)

1/3 cup canola oil
Kosher salt & ground black pepper
1 large egg
1 teaspoon of finely torn seaweed (use the nori you get in sheets to make sushi)
1 cup panko
One 14-ounce package firm tofu, drained and sliced 1 inch thick, then cut in half (2 make 4 rectangular cutlets)

Season tofu with salt and pepper on both sides. Beat the egg in a medium bowl. Spread the panko, combined with the nori and about 1/2 teaspoon salt, on a plate. Dip the tofu slices in the egg, then coat in the panko. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Fry the tofu over moderate heat, turning, until golden and crispy, about 8 minutes. Serve piping hot with Sriracha mayo on the side. 

08 March 2016

Spring Road Trips: Utah

Bryce Canyon NP

My husband and I both teach, and so, as grown adults, we are still able to enjoy that magical invention known as "spring break".  When I was growing up in the Great Lakes region, that title was often a cruel joke, and I recall more than one college-era spring break spent snowed in at my apartment  watching movies on PBS and eating chocolate chips right out of the bag because I had given up on life.

Thanks to global warming, and also moving out West where life is so much easier, I can hit the road and enjoy a multitude of scenery and climates.  I'm focusing on Western states here because they truly are road trips for me, but it's not terribly expensive to fly out and rent a car for a few days if you want to join along in the fun.  Remember to  book on Tuesdays or Wednesdays for the cheapest flights. And whether you're flying or driving, review some of my very basic tips here for making it as fun as possible.

You don't have to be a Mormon to love Utah. Obviously, you'll fly in to SLC if you're too far to drive. Or if you're driving, SLC is still a terrific little city to visit, and it will definitely be your best chance at eating and drinking well. I have extolled its virtues before, and I still think it's a good place to visit. Check out Gastronomic Salt Lake City for more restaurant reviews, if you're into that sort of thing. Honestly, the rest of the time I just like to hang out in the downtown area and marvel at its utter weirdness (and of course, its progressive public transportation system). Then, get out of town...

Did you know how many stunning national parks there are in Utah? And every single one of them is, like, the most insane, Mars-looking place you've ever seen.  And you can't stop taking pictures, which turn out to be useless because they cannot capture the pure amazingness that is Utah. Here's a short write-up of the big ones, but I really cannot do any better than National Geographic's guide, handily published for free right here.
(stolen from National Geographic)

Capitol Reef National Park

Although less popular than some of the other Utah parks, Capitol Reef National Park. has consistently fewer crowds, meaning you’ll get a far more intimate experience with nature than previously afforded.

Two miles east of the visitor center is the park’s most popular hike, the Hickman Natural Bridge. One of the best hikes in the state, the natural bridge traverses 133 feet over a small stream. From the trail, you’ll be able to view one of the white sandstone domes that lends the park its namesake.

After exploring the rocky terrain all day, take the scenic byway to the small Mormon town of Fruita. Venture into the orchards, and spend the afternoon picking fresh fruits. For a small donation, you can take some of your harvest on the road to fuel your next adventures.

Arches National Park

Known internationally for the dramatic Delicate Arch, Arches National Park will have you spinning in circles while thinking, “Huh, I’ve seen pictures of that before.” Arches boasts over 2,000 naturally-formed arches, forming red monolithic bridges and awe-inspiring windows in the rock.

Some hire a guide to help you navigate through the labyrinth of spires and hoodoos that comprises the Fiery Furnace. This hike, named for both the heat the canyon retains and the bright red color of the walls and pillars, leads you through narrow passages of swirling and towering rock.

For family groups, the easy 1-mile Arches Window Primitive Loop will take you to see the north and south window arches that serve to frame the outlying scenery.

Zion National Park

A short 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas is Utah’s most popular park, Zion.

Experienced hikers will want to experience Zion’s most popular trail, the Narrows. The hike will take you between the 1,000 foot cliff sides and into the shallow waters of the Virgin River below. Yes, you will get wet. But spring means the waters will be warmer than they will be the rest of the year. For those not willing to get wet, you can also view the Narrows from the wheelchair accessible Riverside Walk. Emerald Pools is a fun 3-mile hike, perfect for families with kids.

If hiking isn’t your thing, you can appreciate Zion’s natural beauty from the Zion Park Scenic Byway. You might even spot some of the local wildlife like the Peregrine falcon or bald eagle that call Zion home. More advanced adventurers can take on the sheer rock walls with rock climbing. And many canyoneering outlets in the area can take you rapelling, bouldering and exploring.

Bryce Canyon National Park

From Zion, it’s a 2 hour drive to your next destination, Bryce Canyon. Made popular by its brilliant colors and awe-inspiring “hoodoos,” Bryce will prove to be a treat to hikers and campers, alike.

Although many of the popular hikes will require investing a few days, Bryce’s trail system often intersects, meaning you can combine trails to make your hike as long or as strenuous as you like. Their shuttle service will actually pick you up and drop you off at the trailheads, meaning there’s no need to retrace your steps.

Due to Bryce Canyon’s high elevation, amateur astronomers will want to camp out at one of the two campsites and stargaze. The park’s stargazing programs provide telescopes that allow you to see thousands of stars in the night sky, the Milky Way reaching across the sky, and on moonless nights, even Venus and Jupiter.

Canyonlands National Park

Just 45 minutes outside of Arches, and the largest National Park in Utah,Canyonlands offers something for every kind of adventurer.

Two rivers divide the massive park into three distinct districts: Needles, The Maze and Island in the Sky. The Needles District, named for its abundance of pinnacles and spires, provides the most trails for day hikers and enough variety to suit any skill level. The Maze, a labyrinth of rock and stone, is only properly suited to experienced travelers who can take care of themselves out in the wilderness. This area is more remote than any of the aforementioned hiking spots.

You’ll probably want to start in the most popular district, Island in the Sky. The mesa protrudes 1,000 feet up out of the deep canyons, providing stunning and ethereal views of the surrounding desert, red rocks, and flowing Colorado River. Want to skip the hiking? Take to the road and drive the 20 miles of scenic roadway. Early mornings and late afternoons will provide you with complimentary warm sunlight to capture photographs with the best light you can't buy.

Darling SLC in the summertime.

04 March 2016

Fried potatoes with "things"

If, as Mark Bittman reports, a poorly done paella is "rice with things", does that make my play on patatas bravas "potatoes with things"? I used to love getting a little bowl of the classic Spanish snack at The Astoria in Fort Collins, that crusty old Cuban bar on College Ave. that really had the whole "decaying Havana" look down.  It was a perfect tummy buffer after too many cocktails, but sadly, The Astoria is no more, and now I must make my own comforting potato dishes at home. I didn't actually whip this up in a drunken stupor, though the leftovers could certainly serve that purpose; I made it to go with black bean tacos, and the leftovers worked equally well with fried eggs for breakfast. I added some vegetables, because I usually do, and that is how my patatas bravas became "Potatoes with Things".

Potatoes with Things

Serves 4 as a side

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium Russet potatoes, thinly sliced and cut into thumb-sized pieces
1 packet Goya Sazón
1 small yellow onion, chopped
½ red bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, cubed
½ cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
1 small serrano chile, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
Black pepper to taste
Sour cream and lemon wedges for serving

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the potatoes and the Sazón and stir to combine and coat with the oil.  Add about 1/8 cup of water to the pan, lower the heat to medium-low, and cover.  Cook until potatoes begin to soften, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic, serrano, and remaining vegetables, stir, and cover again; cook another 5-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Season with cilantro and black pepper and serve hot with sour cream and lemon wedges on the side. 

01 March 2016

Gingery fried rice with kale and mushrooms

I love recipes that utilize leftovers.  In fact, I love creating new things with leftovers so much that it's even a category on this blog "leftover recipes".  Fried rice is about as classic a leftover dish as lasagna, and I can never get enough. And leftover fried rice, in turn, makes an excellent breakfast. (what?! there's egg in it!)

Ginger Fried Rice with Kale and Mushrooms

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon peanut oil
4 large eggs, beaten
½ yellow onion, chopped
2 cups finely chopped kale
2 cups mixed mushrooms, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
4 cups cooked white or brown rice
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce (to taste)
3-4 sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges for serving

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil. Add the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Cook the eggs over moderate heat, stirring, until just set, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop.

Return the skillet to the heat and add a little more oil if it’s dry.  Add the yellow onion, kale, and mushrooms and season with salt. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and mushrooms have released their water, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the rice, vinegar and eggs, soy sauce, and cook, stirring, until well mixed. Spread the rice evenly in the skillet and cook without stirring until golden and crispy on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the scallions and cilantro and serve with lime wedges and hot sauce on the side.