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It may come as a surprise to learn that Colorado now ranks second in the nation for the most distilleries (after Washington state). There’s more to us than legal weed (yawn) and skiing.

I had the good fortune to research (ahem), curate and write Edible Aspen’s inaugural Colorado Craft Distillery Guide, which just hit the stands..

Photo love: Wood's High Mountain Distillery

Photo love: Wood’s High Mountain Distillery

From small-batch eaux de vie made with farmstead fruit to one of the nation’s greenest distilleries, we’ve got the intel on where to find the best tasting rooms, tours, grain-to-glass spirits, and bar programs in the state (there’s recipes, too).

These heirloom potatoes become award-winning vodka. Photo love: Woody Creek Distillers

These heirloom potatoes become award-winning vodka.  Photo love: Woody Creek Distillers

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Don’t miss acclaimed chef/restaurateur/author/snappy dresser/”Top Chef” judge Hugh Acheson, who will be giving a talk on “The New Home Economics” at the Basalt Regional Library. I’ll be moderating the event, which is $20 (including wine and guest appearance by Avalanche Cheese Company’s delectable goat cheeses).

Proceeds go toward funding the library’s educational programs, including its landmark Heirloom Seed Bank. If you’re unfamiliar with Hugh and his unibrow, he’s a force to be reckoned with, and one of the most talented, articulate, funny, down-to-earth chefs around. Don’t miss out on this special event.

P.S. Take a peek at Hugh’s new booklet, Pick a Pickle, and get inspired to put up a summer’s worth of produce.  The summer issue of Edible Aspen, featuring my Q & A with Hugh, is on the shelves.

BRLF Hugh Acheson Poster-3-page-0 (2)

 

 

 

 

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Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

Photo love: Anthony Bohlinger

If you’re like me, you’re a world-class procrastinator. That’s why I don’t feel bad about this 11th hour posting on how to throw an epic holiday apres ski party. I wrote this piece for the new winter issue of Edible Aspen because I’m the laziest cook on earth, which is one reason post-snow shindigs are the best- everyone is exhausted and presumably happy, thus expectations are minimal.

Despite being a slackass, I know how to rock an amazing cheese plate, and I love to entertain. My preference these days is to pair cheese with spirits. It’s easier than wine pairing, which can be tricky due to the tannins and oak. True, many brown spirits are aged in oak, but they generally lack the acidity that makes cheese pairing a bit dicey. I love few things more than an aged cheese matched with a great bourbon.

Currently in rotation at my house.

Currently in rotation at my house.  Photo love: Peach Street Distillers

For Edible Aspen, I decided to focus on pairing cheese plates with alcoholic punches (the latter not to be confused with what happens when you’re a bit belligerent after one too many). Punch as a generic beverage was created by British sailors in the 17th century, by way of India and the Caribbean. Because their beer rations would grow flat and sour from the heat, they added local spirits and fruit to the swill. The resulting concoctions were exceedingly popular in Victorian-era England (Christmas trivia: Charles Dickens was a fan).

By using a pre-batched punch (or any cocktail) recipe, you can prep a day ahead. Follow my tips, and you can have a killer cheese plate ready before the snow melts off your skis. Since we have some skilled mixologists here in the Aspen area, I asked three of my favorites- Anthony Bohlinger of Chefs Club at the St. Regis Aspen, Jimmy Yeager of Jimmy’s, and Joshua Peter Smith of Justice Snow’s– to create recipes to go with my savory and sweet cheese boards.

The results: some pretty kickass cocktails that take the pain out of throwing a holiday party. Unless, of course, you have a sock drawer to organize. I completely understand.


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citr

Photo love: Flickr user K.Hurley

As a native Southern Californian, citrus is in my blood. As a kid, I’d go on calls with my dad, a large animal vet, and we’d drive past mile upon mile of citrus trees. Without fail, he’d always pull the truck over, and we’d help ourselves to some tangerines or oranges. What’s a little theft in exchange for replacing a Holstein’s prolapsed uterus?

I came up with this refreshing, aromatic compote for a cooking class. This time of year, California farmers markets are flooded with a staggering array of citrus varieties, from rosy-pink Cara-Cara oranges, to tart, briny little finger limes. Regardless of what kinds you use, this dessert is a snap, and sure to evoke sunny skies and fragrant groves, with nary a strip mall in sight.

CITRUS COMPOTE IN GINGER-STAR ANISE SYRUP

serves 4

5 cups water

¾ cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

4 slices peeled ginger, each about the size of a quarter, smashed

3 star anise pods

3 medium blood oranges, peel and pith removed and cut into 1/8” cross sections (be sure to remove any seeds)

1 Navel orange, skin and pith cut away (follow the contours of the fruit with a sharp paring knife), and separated into segments by freeing the sections from the membranes holding them in place with paring knife

2 medium pink grapefruit, such as Rio Star, peel and pith cut and away and segmented, as above

3 kumquats, cut into paper-thin slices

fresh mint leaves, julienned, for garnish

Combine water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and star anise in medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes, reducing heat if too high.

Strain liquid to remove ginger and spices, and add liquid back to saucepan.  Bring back to boil, then reduce heat to medium and allow liquid to reduce, about 15 to 20 minutes, until a syrupy consistency that just barely coats the back of a spoon (it will still be fairly runny).  Remove from heat, pour into a glass bowl, and chill for at least one hour.

To serve, add citrus to four martini glasses or compote bowls, and pour syrup over fruit.  Garnish with mint.

© The Sustainable Kitchen ®, 2000.

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A major haul in Colorado’s Lizard Head Wilderness. Those are not my hands…I may have eczema, but not man-hands.

Ever since I wrote a report on mushrooms in the fourth grade, I’ve been obsessed with fungi in all its glorious permutations. I spent many childhood hours tromping around after a rainfall, searching for elusive species. Yet, typical of my finicky palate at that age, I refused to even consider actually eating a mushroom. The horror.

Thankfully, things change, and some gluttons are made, not born.  I now enjoy eating wild mushrooms as much as I love foraging for them.

Although this recipe long predates an epic chanterelle harvest I did in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, it’s still my favorite way to showcase these meaty, woodsy-tasting golden mushrooms.  Hello, autumn.

WARM FINGERLING POTATO & CHANTERELLE SALAD

serves four as a starter

1 tablespoon + 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. fingerling potatoes, parboiled and drained, and cut into 1/2-inch slices

3/4 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, wiped clean and quartered if large, halved if smaller

1 medium shallot, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish

Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon unsalted butter and the olive oil.  When butter is foamy, add chanterelles and cook until golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Important: the first few minutes of cooking, the mushrooms will release their liquid- you must keep cooking until the liquid has absorbed and mushrooms begin to brown.

Add remaining half tablespoon butter, and sauté shallots and thyme with chanterelles for 1 minute.  Add potatoes to heat through, being careful not to break them up as you stir. Remove from heat.

Allow salad to cool in large bowl for several minutes, then add Champagne vinegar, more  olive oil, if needed, and salt and pepper to taste.  Garnish with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve warm.

©The Sustainable Kitchen 2001®

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I am so not a baker. I’m also of the school of thought that it’s either in your DNA or it isn’t, unlike cooking, which can be learned. Don’t believe me? A culinary arts degree, pastry internship at Chez Panisse, two years of employment at an Oakland bakery, and a brief stint filling in on pastry at The Providores & Tapa Room in London speak otherwise.

Raspberry Brown Butter Cake from “The Preservation Kitchen.”

Sure, I can make pretty decent quickbreads and cookies; I’ve even made a good cake or two. But when it comes to anything more complex that sifting and measuring, forget it. I can’t even ice a cake to save my life, despite the Nazi-like anal retentiveness of my European pastry instructor in culinary school.

At Chez Panisse, I managed to gain enough trust to be allowed to prep fruit and make truffles, but my tart-making privileges were quickly revoked. The last attempt I made at bread was nothing short of pathetic (I was also distraught after discovering that the 100-year-old sourdough starter I’d been given had exploded in my refrigerator…I’d killed history).

So I’m always in awe of people who can deftly crimp pie shells or turn out flaky croissants. When I first met my friend Kate Leahy, it was while working at aforementioned bakery. I was just a counterperson, which meant that I had to scale out cookie dough, make sandwiches, and fold tart boxes in my spare time (having failed at tasks that involved actual baking talent).

I would watch Kate–all five-foot-one of her–hucking around 10-quart mixing bowls for the standing Hobart mixer nearly as tall as she, or blithely crafting wedding cake roses out of fondant. She says she learned to bake “the old-fashioned way, through trial and error, but my parents were very kind, especially when I got carried away with the baking soda.”

On a totally random, but incredibly awesome side note, Kate lived in the Philippines as a young child, because of her dad’s job. She once told me about the time a sewer rat came up out of their home toilet, an incident that would leave me permanently constipated. In fact, that’s my worst nightmare, right after a cockroach nesting in my ear.

Apologies for interrupting a heartwarming food story with this image.
Photo love: Flickr user Rosebud23

After the bakery, Kate went on to culinary school, and has worked as a line cook at some of the nation’s most prestigious restaurants, including Radius (Boston), Terra (St. Helena), and A 16 (San Francisco). Then, not satisfied with conquering the savory side of things, she got an MS in Journalism at Northwestern.

After working as a food editor and freelancer for a number of years in Chicago, she co-wrote 2008’s IACP-winning A 16 Food + Wine cookbook (don’t let the other names on the cover tell you otherwise) and on April 3, her latest book, written with acclaimed Chicago chef Paul Virant (Vie), The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, was released.

Kate–I swear I’m not her publicist–also has another major cookbook coming out, SPQR: Modern Italian Food and Wine (SPQR is A 16’s sister restaurant), written in collaboration with co-owner Shelley Lindgren and executive chef Matthew Accarino; release date October 16.

Anyway. The point of all this is that Kate is awesome and talented and you should buy her book. What’s it about, you ask? I’ll let her describe it:

The premise behind the book is giving people a fresh way to think about preserves. We weren’t just concerned with providing recipes that challenge cooks to think beyond strawberry jam, but also giving readers ways to use the preserves in meals. When you can turn a pickle into a sauce or vinaigrette, it becomes much more than just a condiment. Paul summarizes his strategy like this: ‘I eat what I can and what I can’t, I can.'”

I asked Kate for a summery recipe and she generously provided me with a cake that even I can’t screw up. Now let’s see if she can solve my sewer rat issues.

To order Paul and Kate’s book, click here. For more about Kate, go to her website, A Modern Meal Maker.

 RASPBERRY BROWN BUTTER CAKE

Recipe from The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux, by Paul Virant with Kate Leahy (Random House, 2012).

What separates this cake from similar creations is the brown butter, which gives it an almost savory edge, and the vanilla bean, which is infused into the hot butter. While delicious with tart, fresh raspberries, you also can make this cake with frozen cranberries and lemon zest in the fall and winter. A spoonful of summer berry jam added to the batter also works as a stand-in for fresh fruit.

Makes 1 cake

6 ounces salted butter

1 vanilla bean

1 cup sugar

½ cup all-purpose flour

3 eggs

1½ cup raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan or small rectangular pan.

2. Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Mix in the seeds and bean and continue to cook the butter until it browns. (It will turn amber in color and smell like toasting nuts.) Immediately take off the heat to prevent the butter from scorching. Remove the bean and reserve for another use. Cool the butter to room temperature.

3. In a medium bowl mix the sugar and flour together. Whisk in the eggs, and then drizzle in the butter. Scatter half of the raspberries in the bottom of the cake pan and pour the batter on top. Scatter the remaining raspberries on top. Bake for 35 minutesor until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the top no longer looks raw.

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In honor of National Grilling Memorial Day, I’ve decided to rerun this post on how to make the most kickass burgers you’ll ever taste. Really. Happy holiday weekend!

I have Depression-era parents. That’s why I grew up eating freezer-burned heels of bread, and why there are spices in my mother’s pantry older than I am. One useful culinary thing Mom did teach me, besides making braising liquid for pot roast with Lipton’s Onion Soup mix (totally trailer, but so good), is to stretch my pennies by mixing egg and breadcrumbs into ground meat when I make hamburgers. Not only does this make for a lighter, juicier burger, but they taste pretty kick-ass when you liven up the grind with minced shallots, garlic, and chopped fresh herbs.

So, now that summer is finally here (yes, I realize it’s September but I live in Seattle), I thought I’d celebrate by firing up my metaphorical barbecue (I also live in an apartment at the moment), and share with you my tips for making a better burger.

*Remove your ground meat of choice from the fridge half an hour before you plan to make your burgers. You’re going to be adding stuff to it, and it will bind better if the meat isn’t too cold. Allow about one-and-a-half pounds for four people, depending upon what else you plan to serve. It’s always better to prepare too much than too little, and leftover burgers are great crumbled into stir-fries, pasta sauce, or scrambled eggs.

*Open a beer (personally, I prefer cocktails or wine but raw meat flecks and smeary fingerprints on glasseware is just not sexy).

*Dump the meat into a large bowl. Add one egg and one or two largish handfuls of panko or breadcrumbs; make them yourself with leftover bread or score some discounted day-old stuff from a bakery or local dumpster. Storebought stuff works, too. Add another egg if the mixture seems too dry. The point of these two ingredients is two-fold. The egg adds moisture and acts as a binding agent, while the breadcrumbs increase your yield and ensure your burger won’t end up festering in your colon for the next several months.

*Be sure to wash your hands after handling the egg and raw meat, and keep them separate from any utensils or ingredients you plan to use on raw food. E. coli is also not sexy.

*Add to meat one large shallot, minced, and at least three cloves of garlic, also finely minced. I always add a dash or four of soy sauce or Worcestershire, for added flavor. Throw in a handful of chopped Italian parsley or chives. Ground lamb with mint is also wonderful.

*Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix well using your hands until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. To determine if your seasoning is right on, fry up a pinch of the mixture. Form into one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick patties by scooping the meat into your hands and gently! patting them into shape. Resist the urge to fondle too much, as it will compact the meat, making for a dry, tough burger. If you make them slider-sized, you’ll be able to double fist, clutching burger in one hand and beer in the other. I may not like greasy glasses, but I’m a huge advocate of eating and drinking ambidextrously.

I always make a slight indentation in the center of each patty, because that’s what my mom did to prevent “shrinkage.” I have no idea if this is true or not, but it does make you look like a wise old kitchen sage. You can make the burgers up to a day ahead; if you’ve got a crowd, place a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap between layers to prevent them from glomming on to one another. Bring up to room temperature before grilling.

*Preheat your grill or flat-top. Have another drink while you’re waiting.

*When coals are ashy and white and you’ve got some flame going, lightly oil the grill using a damp rag dipped in cooking oil. If you’re using a pan, get it smoking hot and brown both sides of the meat for better flavor. Try to refrain from cooking past medium rare if you’ve thrown down cash for good meat.

*Toast your buns. Artisan or Wonder Bread, they’ll taste better and it will help prevent the condiments from making them soggy.

*One more drink. Eat. Enjoy. Make friends or significant other clean up.

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Lamb makes great burgers, too!

Sourcing

Depending upon your budget and the state of your arteries, you can opt for lean ground beef (around the eight- to ten-percent fat range), or go big on something 20- to 25-percent fat. Hamburgers are not the place to skimp on fat–it’s a necessary component, whether you use ground chuck, sirloin, or round. I recommend grassfed- and -finished beef for health, humanity, and flavor reasons, but bear in mind it’s lower in fat and shouldn’t be cooked past medium-rare.
Chuck is the most popular and economical, and provides a good fat and flavor balance. When purchasing, look for a bright, pinky-red color, and if cellophane-wrapped, avoid anything gray, leaky, smelly, or otherwise bio-hazardous. Tempting as it may be to purchase the preformed, opaque-packaged, phallic “chubs,” refrain. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth eating gussied up pet food.

If you’re on a tight budget, however, even if you buy the $2.99/lb. ghetto
grind, it will be vastly improved by the addition of a truly great egg. Pasture-raised chickens snack on foraged bugs and decaying vegetation (Those of you with McNugget crumbs around your mouths shouldn’t look so horrified) and the results are exceptionally rich, orangey-yellow yolks packed full of all kinds of that healthy antioxidant crap. They’re a great, inexpensive protein source on their own, and so much better than pale, watery, flavorless commercial eggs that are god knows how old.

Bon appetit!

[Photo love: burger, Flickr user Adam Kuban]

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