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Monday, June 5th, 2017

Recipe: pheasant and morel vol au vent

It seems that everyone is checking out for the summer. People are on vacation and no one is reading blog posts. I get it. I get that. If I didn’t feel the compulsion to document my summer activities and my summer recipes (because OCD), I’d go dark over here until Octoberish. I’ll admit I often wonder if I stopped blogging throughout the summer, would I ever pick it up again in the fall? But hey, I probably use my recipe archives more than anyone, so I keep growing it for me and hence, for you. Besides, how else could you experience Neva’s progression from a crazy bad dog to a crazy good dog?


neva enjoying her first paddle of the season (and staying on the board)

a storm cell lets loose over fourteeners in the distance



After spending the past several weeks witnessing reports of spring morel flushes starting in the southern US and spreading north along the East Coast and into the Midwest, and the West Coast reports chiming in throughout, we in the Rocky Mountains have begun to see our flushes. Of course, our morels are going gangbusters after the harvest is nothing more than a memory for the rest of the country, but our time is NOW. I only started foraging black morels (the kind that grow in the Colorado high country) last spring when I found them near Crested Butte by accident. Searching similar environments back home on the Colorado Front Range yielded two very separate and very lonely specimens in 2016.

When you are just starting out on your own, it’s hard to know if you aren’t finding mushrooms because it’s a bad year or they don’t grow there or you’re looking in the wrong environment or because you suck at foraging that kind of mushroom. But now I am into my second season, so I can add the dimension of time to my morel data. Yes, they came up again in Crested Butte, but better than that – Jeremy and I found a motherlode on the Front Range based on what we know about morel environments and what we scoped out last fall. Countless hours and miles of reconnaissance, tracking snowpack and precipitation history, studying satellite imagery and topographic maps have paid off because SCIENCE WORKS!


a little party of morels (4 in the picture, but 12 total)

a pretty nice haul



My foraging buddy, Erin, has also been on the prowl for black morels on the Front Range since last spring with an even worse record than my two mushrooms. She found one. We email one another about mushroom hunting in the dead of winter, contemplating places to check when the snows finally recede. We research, document, study, archive, search for, and have lengthy discussions about mushrooms. Erin and I had a foraging date set for the morning after Jeremy and I found the motherlode, but we hadn’t decided on where to go because we didn’t know where the morels were at the time. I don’t give away my mushroom spots to anyone except for Jeremy (natch) and Erin. Erin is my partner in foraging crime. We are both afflicted with this extremely nerdy obsession/sickness and we happen to be damn good hawkeye foragers. It was time for a Righteous and Proper Mountain Girls’ Foray, so I took her to the magical kingdom of morels. Biggest haul ever! [We left our pups at home because the environment would have made Banjo unhappy and I’m pretty sure high-energy Neva would have crushed every single morel underfoot, twice over, before we could even get eyes on them.]

erin harvests a morel

twofer!

and that’s just her share – what a happy girl



When you spend seven hours crawling through the woods giving yourselves eyestrain headaches and experiencing highs and lows (finding and not finding morels) like a drug addict, it’s inevitable to talk about a whole host of topics, including your plans for the morels. My early haul morels are almost always slated for recipes that I want to test and shoot for the blog. Once I meet that quota, the rest will be sautéed in butter and stored in the freezer for winter or dried for various projects. Today’s recipe came about because my neighbors’ teenage son gave me two whole pheasant breasts from a hunting trip last fall as a thank you for a career brainstorming session with me and Jeremy. Game birds pair nicely with wild mushrooms, and now I had both!

morels, bacon, salt, pepper, brandy, egg, puff pastry, shallots, water, cream, butter, pheasant breasts



I decided the recipe would have to involve diced pheasant meat because all but one of the breasts had been torn through with pellets. Pheasant and morels served in puff pastry? Yes! How about some bacon? Yes! And some cream and a splash of brandy? Aw, hell yes! After several hours of walking cross country through the mountains in a Tai Chi-esque semi-lunge looking for morels, I don’t feel like making puff pastry from scratch when I get home. These morels don’t clean themselves and these recipes most certainly don’t make and photograph themselves. It’s okay to use store-bought puff pastry, as long as it is good puff pastry. Vols au vent are basically little baskets of buttery, flaky puff pastry deliciousness with space to hold even more deliciousness of your choice. It’s like an edible cup with all the calories you’ll need for the week.

cut out the bases and rings of the vols au vent

dock the bases

brush with egg wash

layer the rings and brush the tops with egg wash



**Jump for more butter**

oysters on oysters

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Recipe: broiled oysters with oyster mushroom ragout

It’s May 1. Again. I actually love this time of year when we start to see the faintest hints of green in the mountains and the pasque flowers are adding splashes of lavender where there were only the browns of a winter-ravaged landscape before. Down on the flats, the flowering trees are in the second act of their show and everyone has a bounce in their step because it FEELS like real spring. But May 1 is also the day I lost my sister, so it’s a bittersweet time. I started out buying flowers in remembrance on this day over a decade ago. They were for her, but over the years I have come to understand that they are for her and for me – a gentle balm for this sorrow deep in my chest.


for kris… and for me



Jeremy was on travel for the first half of last week, so it was just the girls – me and my little Neva. I made sure to take her out for her training and fetch sessions before it started snowing mid-week, and on our walk home Monday evening, she was attacked by another dog on our neighborhood trail. It was one of those situations where both dogs were pulling to greet each other and then the other dog (who was twice her size) suddenly jumped on Neva and bit her twice before I could beat it off and its owner wrestled it to the ground. Ugh. I was so upset with myself and that idiot dog owner (because he knew his dog was aggressive). Luckily, Neva didn’t have any open wounds and only lost a few tufts of her hair. The look she gave me when she cried out broke my heart. I held her and comforted her as I checked her over, but she was over it within a couple of minutes and back to her happy-go-lucky self. I don’t drink, but I could have used one.

my snuggle buddy



It was also the week of Erins. Over a decade of living in the mountains has turned this former social butterfly into a bit of a recluse. I used to put up with a lot of drama and crap from people who sucked the energy out of me, but I’ve stopped engaging with toxic individuals and life is infinitely better without the bullshit. I like my time alone, or with my dog, or with my guy, or in the mountains away from other people. And I like my one-on-one time with good friends I love and trust – like Erin and Erin.

meeting up with denver erin at t|aco for a hosted lunch

hunting and scoring giant, gorgeous oyster mushrooms with mountain erin



To cap off the week, we got snow, and quite a nice bit of it! It seems that the only people who are never surprised and/or upset by mid-spring snowfall are the folks who backcountry ski and ride the stuff. It is not uncommon, it just works against conventional thinking which is based on some unrealistic expectation from other geographical locations. No, we are WAITING for it. It feeds our souls. Saturday brought a good 18 inches to our local backcountry, so Jeremy and I skinned up to get some turns in the very fluffy, very mid winter blower powder. If you had told me it was February, I would not have have questioned it.

so so so so so happy!

jeremy hoofs it up for another lap

jeremy can’t get enough of the pow pow



Saturday was our fun day, and Sunday was Neva’s fun day. The storm cleared out overnight and Sunday morning was blue skies and sunshine. We took Neva out early before the snow slopped up with rising daytime temperatures. Our expectations were low, because it’s Neva, and she had been cooped up in the house for a couple of days. But you know what? She was the best she has EVER been in the backcountry. She wasn’t perfect (far from it), but she didn’t pull nearly as much and she looked up at Jeremy every few steps. She encountered lots of other skiers, snowshoers, dogs, and distractions and she was a pretty good girl. We still work with her daily on basic training and focus, and I think it is finally translating to the backcountry. The best part? She had a great time. Yay Neva!

looking to jeremy

putting her best paw forward



Going back to that great big beautiful perfect oyster mushroom that mountain Erin was holding in the photo… we foraged that and several other equally perfect oyster mushrooms standing in cold-ass water above our knees, carefully dodging poison ivy stalks, random thorns, and barbs on barbed wire fences. It was cold enough that we brushed ice off of the mushrooms before dropping them into our bags. I’ve always considered oyster mushrooms to be second class citizens to the likes of porcini, chanterelles, and morels. However, the more I find them, the more I love them. Sure, they don’t have superstar status, but they are beautiful, and fun to forage, and delicious. The night before I met with Erin to go foraging, I thought – wouldn’t it be great to make something with oyster mushrooms and oysters? Yes, it would be so great.

oyster mushrooms, thyme, oysters, lemon, egg, butter, bacon ends, salt, shallot, garlic, olive oil, black pepper (not pictured: dijon mustard)

prepped



The recipe has three components: raw oysters on the half shell, an oyster mushroom ragout, and an aioli. I had to replace the aioli from the original recipe with a different version because it turned into a watery mess. That might be because I halved the recipe, but the second version worked perfectly. For the ragout, you can use any edible mushroom, but I do suggest a mushroom with good flavor (not white button mushrooms). And you don’t have to buy bacon ends, you can use thick-sliced bacon instead since it all gets diced up. As for the oysters, there are places that will shuck them for you, but I prefer to shuck my own oysters. Both the aioli and the ragout can be made ahead of time.

smash salt and garlic into a rough paste

whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, and dijon mustard together

whisk in a thin drizzle of olive oil until thick

stir in the garlic mash



**Jump for more butter**

crested butte: montanya distillers tasting room

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

I can’t tell you how many times I have walked past Montanya Distillers Tasting Room on Elk Avenue and dismissed eating there because I thought all they had was rum. It’s true that they have rum, really good rum and lots of it! But they also serve great food, the kind of bites you crave a few days later after a hike, bike, or ski. We went in for the first time last summer and keep returning for the noshes as much as the sips.


in the heart of downtown crested butte



Inside there are several tables, booths, and a bar on the first floor. Upstairs you will find some tables, a cubby hole play area, and the distillery, where you can request a tour. During summer months, Montanya expands to two dog-friendly outdoor patios. Open daily, the tasting room offers free tastings of their three craft distilled rums: Montanya Platino, Montanya Oro, and Montanya Exclusiva. There is also the extensive cocktail menu which you shouldn’t and probably can’t pass up. This is coming from me, someone who prefers to eat rather than drink her calories.

the distillery



The cocktails come in all manner of creative flavors and combinations that incorporate Montanya’s rums (obviously) and rum infusions like Thai spices, cucumber, vanilla, or jalapeño. Their martinis include the likes of White Room (Montanya Oro Rum, vanilla infused Montanya Platino Rum, orgeat, fresh cream, and crushed almond) and Smoke Show (Montanya Oro Rum, cold brew coffee, chai spices, smoked clove, cardamom). Maybe you want a cocktail on the rocks? Try Fiery Passion (habanero and pineapple infused Montanya Platino Rum, passionfruit, fresh lime, mint, agave, seltzer) or Strawberry Jive (Montanya Platino Rum, fresh strawberry, agave, fresh orange and lemon, local basil, mint). But it’s not all fancy, fruity, totally awesome concoctions – they’ve got you covered with the classic Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Daiquiri, and Mojito to name a few. On those especially snowy après ski days, consider warming up with hot cocktails such as Hottanya (Montanya Oro Rum, local Third Bowl ice cream, butter, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, whipped cream) or Wassail (Montanya Oro Rum, mulled cider, cranberry, spices, citrus bitters, orange twist).

And don’t fret if you’re a teetotaler! You will not be relegated to water or iced tea. Montanya’s mocktails are every bit as enticing and delicious as their cocktails… without the booze, of course. The Green Hornet combines fresh lime, cilantro, jalapeño, agave, and seltzer. I recently ordered the Bluebird – a delightfully refreshing combination of fresh blueberries, ginger, honey, lemon, and seltzer. Montanya’s drinks are all so fun and exciting, and there is something for everyone.


left: dark and snowy (montanya oro rum, fresh lime, housemade ginger beer, fresh mint, seltzer) and right: beach bum mocktail (pineapple, cream of coconut, orange, pomegranate)

maharaja (montanya oro rum, north indian spices, fresh pressed ginger, fresh lime, cardamom)

boat shoes (cinnamon infused montanya oro rum, agave, passionfruit, pineapple, mint, coconut, cardamom)

left: creamsicle mocktail (orange juice, sweetened cream, whipped cream) and right: kokomo (montanya platino rum, fresh lemon, fresh lime, cream of coconut, housemade ginger beer, fresh mint)

hanoi sunrise mocktail (blood orange, fresh lime, simple syrup, thai bitters, seltzer)



**Jump for more butter**