Friday, January 30, 2015


Dehesa in Spain

Spain harbors an agricultural area known as the dehesa. It's pretty darn cool and I think you should know about it. I learned about the region through reading Dan Barber's The Third Plate. An excellent read on sustainable food systems. I truly think anyone who eats should read Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and when you find yourself thirsting for more move onto Dan Barber's The Third Plate. Have a book club with friends or your significant other and discuss these books. The way we eat affects our health, in part (a large part in my case) our happiness, and the natural resources we rely on to survive. We should know more about it.  Plus, it's all so interesting. I promise.

People call the dehesa in Spain an ecoagricultural system. Really it's just the way livestock and crops have been managed in the area since the middle ages because it works. The dehesa largely still represents the original landscape of grasses and oak trees. The ecosystem provides important habitat to many species. The Spanish learned to work with it.

 Instead of ripping up all the trees and tilling under all the natural grasses, the natural landscaped was embraced. The oak trees provide acorn forage for renowned Iberian pigs, which are said to produce the best ham in the world. The trees also protect against soil erosion by decreasing runoff. Livestock such as pigs, sheep, and cows all fertilize the land, which then supports crop production such as barley and oats. Everything in the system works together without depleting the area of its natural resources or destroying ecosystems. Neat, right? Most definitely. 

In the US, we have become far removed from these natural agricultural systems. Luckily we have some hope. We just need to pay more attention. I do think more people are paying greater attention to what they eat. Eating more food locally and talking to the people growing your food is a good start.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are a pretty awesome way to support local growers and learn more about the source of your food. CSA's provide you with a share of a specific local farm's bounty. These farms usual have a much greater awareness of how to grow food, while supporting the farm's natural systems. Participating in a CSA will also connect you more closely to what can be grown in your region. You will eat 6 tons of lettuce in the spring. You may not love it but you will begin to understand what a healthy local food system can provide for us. It's also fun. Grab a friend or a significant other and take on the challenge of how to make all those darn greens interesting. Talk to your farmer about it. People connecting to people. It's powerful stuff. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crispy baked oven fries

Today we are going to talk about fries. What a good day. In my house, we are no stranger to fries. Ask me about restaurants in Boulder and it's very possible I will report to you first on the quality of their fries. That is, if they are the kind of restaurants that serve fries, which is to say the best kind of restaurant.

Mountain Sun. If we were to have a discussion about my favorite restaurants in Boulder, this would top my list. The beer, the service, and the food all combine to create a magical experience of warmth and comfort. Then we have the fries. These are no frills fries. Pure, unadulterated fries at their pinnacle. Some of their fries come out crispier and others a little soft. They have a nice golden brown glow.These fries are not to be missed.

The thing about fries though, if we are being honest, is we can't enjoy their fried in oil goodness all the time and not be concerned about our hearts. Enter the baked oven fry. The baked oven fry is a real art. I have made countless batches seeking to attain that crispy golden exterior. These oven fries will not disappoint. The secret is cornstarch. It gives them the crisp we desire. They are almost as satisfying and wonderful as their fried counterpart. Almost.

Crispy baked oven fried 
Serves 4

3 medium sized russet potatoes, cut into 1/2" fry strips
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

I cut square fries but really any 1/2" thick shape will work. To cut square fries, I cut a little slice off the top, bottom, and sides of the potato to make it more of a square shape to start. Then I halve the potato lengthwise. From the half, I slice lengthwise every 1/2" to get my rough square fry.

In a large bowl, sprinkle cornstarch over the potatoes and stir until all the fries are coated. Add your oil and stir until coated. Finally, add your salt and pepper and stir until coated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spread potatoes evenly over the baking sheet.

Bake 40-45 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Greek lamb tostadas

This week I turned 29. Whoa. As many have pointed out to me, turning 29 means next year I will be 30. Forget 29. It's just a precursor to being 30.

Except I beg to differ. This year is the last year of my twenties. Every year in your twenties seems to bring new and significant life events. When I was 22, I graduated from college. When I was 23, I began dating (again) the guy I would marry. When I was 25, we would move in together. When I was 26, Blake proposed in mountains. When I was 27, we were  married in those mountains. When I was 28, I completed my master's degree. My twenties brought so many amazing life changing adventures.

So I plan on taking 29 by storm. I will be young and reckless. Or at least my version of young and restless, which includes endless outdoor adventures, a Canada road trip, staying up past my bedtime with a good book, and lots of good food, wine, and beer.

The good food is nothing new, of course. Good food always. These greek lamb tostadas are really good food. I love lamb. I also love tzatziki. In the past two weeks, we enjoyed these tostadas and my favorite chicken souvlaki smothered with extra garlicky tzatziki. The ground lamb in this dish is packed full of warming spices. Served over a crispy pita with lettuce, tomatoes, feta, and olives, this dish reminds me of a greek version of a taco salad. Good, simple, eats.

Greek lamb tostadas 
Serves 4, adapted from Date Night Out

Spiced lamb
Zest from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground lamb

1 cup 2% milk greek yogurt
1/2 medium cucumber, diced
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon dried dill
2 tablespoons fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 pita breads
1 head chopped romaine
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
1/2 cup olives, halved

You can season the lamb 1 day to 2 hours in advance. It's not a huge deal if you miss this step and do it right before. Whisk together cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, mint, and red pepper flakes. Mix seasoning together with lamb using your hands. Store covered in the fridge, until ready for use.

To make the tzatziki stir together the yogurt, cucumber, vinegar, lemon juice, clove, dill, mint, honey, salt, and pepper.

Heat a large nonstick saute pan over medium high heat. Once hot add the lamb, breaking it up with a spatula. Cook about 8-10 minute until slightly browned and cooked through. Drain oil.

Toast the pitas in a toaster. On top of the pita layer lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, feta, cucumber, olives, and tzatziki.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Malay Street Noodles

Last post I made you fairly healthy muffins. Now I'm making you something vegan. I hope you didn't just see the word vegan and immediately navigate away from this page. I might have. Blake pointed out it was vegan after we had devoured it. We both immediately ran to the fridge in search of some cheese.

Alright, that's not true. This dish is vegan and wonderful. I know I have said before that Blake and I both love meat but from an environmental standpoint meat is one of the most resource intensive foods humans consume. Especially beef. We try to limit this impact by eating vegetarian for lunch and a few dinners a week. Vegetarian can be delicious. Apparently even vegan can be delicious... occasionally. Come with me on this journey of eating Malay street noodles and you too will agree.

Did I mention this dish also contains tofu? If you are still with me, I admire your willingness to have a tofu adventure. Tofu and I are not the best of friends but I enjoyed it here. The tofu is stir fried in a wok (a large saute pan will work fine too) with bok choy, brussel sprouts, garlic, and rice noodles. The whole shebang is then doused in a sweet soy chili sauce spiced with cumin and coriander. This sauce is so simple and so good. The whole thing takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. I highly recommend it.

Malay street noodles
Serves 3, adapted from Plenty

11 ounces pad thai rice noodles, prepared according to the package directions (found in the Asian aisle)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili paste and extra to serve (also found in the Asian aisle)
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil (olive oil can sub)
1/2 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces firm tofu, cut into 1/2" thick strips
2 cups brussel sprouts, thinly sliced on a mandolin or by hand
1 bok choy stalk, cut into large chunks (leaves and stalk)

Prepare rice noodle according to package directions.

Whisk together coriander, cumin, chili paste, and soy sauce, in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a wok or large saute pan, heat oil over high heat. Once hot, add the onion and the garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes to soften. Add tofu to the pan and stir occasionally for 3-4 minutes. You want the tofu to get a little golden brown.

Add the brussel sprouts and bok choy. Once it wilts, 3-4 minutes, add the prepared rice noodles. Cook the noodles for about 4 minutes. You want them to brown and crisp slightly.

Add your sauce and toss gently to combine. Remove from heat and enjoy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Whole wheat lemon blueberry muffins

Have you resolved to make big changes this year? I personally try to make resolutions daily. I also have lifetime resolutions like spending as much time as possible outdoors, enjoying and appreciating hanging with my husband and our dog, exploring everything, and learning new things all the time. So when January first hits, you will not find me cleansing. Drinking juice and only juice for days is not in my future. That sounds sad.

Part of my lifetime resolutions include enjoying chocolate cake and pizza but also balancing that with the occasional vegetable but only the most delicious vegetable. I will eat healthy but I will not sacrifice delicious. I certainly think you can have both. This whole wheat lemon blueberry muffin strikes a little balance. I believe in whole wheat. It makes for strong morning runs and sustains me on long hikes. In these muffins, yogurt and a little coconut oil keep them moist. Blueberry muffins are one of the great joys in the world. For me, lemon only makes them more wonderful. I resolve to enjoy these muffins tomorrow and again the next day. 

Whole wheat lemon blueberry muffins 
Makes 10 muffins

1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons granulated sugar 
Zest of one lemon 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted 
7 ounces greek yogurt
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs 
3/4 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Whisk together both flours, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. 

In a large bowl, use your fingers to press together sugar, lemon zest, and juice until the mixture looks like wet sand. Whisk in the coconut oil and yogurt, until combined. Add eggs and vanilla extract and whisk to combine. 

Add flour mixture to wet mixture and use a spatula to stir, until combined. Add blueberries and stir, until evenly dispersed.

Divide mixture into 10 of the muffins cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes of clean. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Belgian beef stew

New Year's Eve was wild at our house. I'm talking mayhem. If you can define mayhem as eating and playing board games, which in my house we do. Our plan for New Year's consisted of making a 3 course meal and pairing each course with a different drink. This is how we have fun.

Although in the midst of a rowdy game of monopoly, I did ask Blake if we were doing a disservice to our twenties. Shouldn't we be downtown partying with the other young whipper snappers?
Immediately we both answered no. Let the youngins have their fun, while we have ours. We even made it to midnight, which I counted as a success.

The first course of our dinner was a sundried tomato caesar salad from my new Date Night In cookbook by Ashley Rodriquez. This cookbook is wonderful. It includes menus for fun date night in occasions. The salad was so good. We paired it with a riff on a French 75 cocktail. Ours included prosecco, gin, grapefruit juice, and St.Germain's. The main course was the Belgian beef stew I'm sharing with you today paired with False Summit, a Belgian quad beer. Finally, riesling poached pears for dessert paired with a dessert wine.

We spread the meal out through the evening, cooked together, talked, and ate. It was one of my favorite New Year's Eves on file. The Belgian beef stew I'm sharing with you here was the highlight. Beef, onion, garlic, Belgian beer, mustard, brown sugar, spices, and vinegar all simmer on the stove together for 3 hours. The result is tender meat in a thick, deeply flavored, dark Belgian beer sauce. We served the stew with oven baked fries splashed with a little vinegar and dunked in mayo. Pretty amazing. Perfect for winter. Perfect for celebrating.

Belgian beef stew
Serves 4, adapted slightly from Date Night In
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck or well marbled cut of beef, cut into 1" cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups dark Belgian beer (we used a dubbel)
2 dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dijon mustard

Sprinkle beef with 1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper.

Add butter and oil to a dutch oven over high heat. Once hot, add beef and brown on both sides, 2-3 minutes a side. Remove and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic to dutch oven. Sprinkle last 1/2 teaspoons of salt over onion and garlic and stir. Cook for 10 minutes until onion are golden, stirring occasionally.

Add meat back to the pot and add beer, herbs, red wine vinegar, brown sugar, and dijon. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Cover leaving the lid a little ajar to vent. Cook on the stove top 2 1/2-3 hours until stew is thick and meat tender.