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archive for appetizers

with intention

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Recipe: matsutake tempura

I’m delighted to finally flip my calendar to September! Even though it typically gets hotter over Labor Day weekend before the mountains give it up to the autumn chill (and this year was no exception), I welcome September with open arms. Here in the high country, we run late getting around to spring and summer, but are rather punctual when it comes to autumn, and even early on winter – thank goodness! That’s definitely why I feel my summers are crammed full of activities, because true summer is short in the mountains and it’s when everything seems to happen.


neva is more cuddly when she gets lots of exercise

a field of pearly everlasting as the sun drops



A few weeks ago I took a mountain biking class in Boulder, because I wanted to reduce my chances of crashing into things. Something the instructors said over and over was, “…with intention – as in life, as with everything.” They wanted our actions on the bike to be intentional – to ride the bike instead of letting the bike take us for a ride. But I really liked the non-bike part of that, too: WITH INTENTION. It really does apply to everything. Take mushrooms for example.

I’m not the type of person who feels a compulsion to put every single mushroom I find in my mouth. You may laugh, but so many new people on mycological forums seem hellbent on not doing their homework and getting themselves into the hospital or even the grave. I’m selective about the mushrooms I forage and I’m careful about the ones I drop in my bag. Jeremy and I have established a rule that unless you are 100% certain of the mushroom you are inspecting, it does not go into the bag (and potentially into someone’s gut). Just about every variety I forage has an imposter that could make you sick or kill you. I first learned to hunt porcini with an incredibly knowledgeable and careful forager. From there, I have happily stumbled across chanterelles and morels and oyster mushrooms on my many hours spent hiking the mountain forests. But for the first time ever, I set out to find a mushroom I had never seen before, did my homework, went straight to a place that seemed like the ideal environment, and found that mushroom. We found a lot of them. Right place. Right time. Right on. With intention.


hello, you shy beautiful mushroom

behold the matsutake



The name matsutake means pine mushroom (matsu = pine, take = mushroom) and yeah, the name is Japanese. This underground wonder smells strongly of spicy cinnamon (red hots candies, to be specific), with a helping of pine resin and funk, and is highly coveted in Japan. Theirs is a brown matsutake which grows in Asia. Ours is a white matsutake, also called American matsutake. They are delicious cousins. Matsutake differ from all of the other mushrooms I forage because they grow underground, only popping above the forest floor when they are relatively mature. But looking for subtle mounds in the forest duff (we call them shrumps = shroom + humps) can reveal matsutake or a whole host of other mushroom species, some toxic. You have to look at the identifying characteristics and give it a good whiff. Erin and I pulled an itty bitty mushroom that looked just like a matsutake, but had no odor. NOT a matsutake and hence, does not go into the bag. Rules.

it’s a party!

a girl gets her matsutake

as they get bigger, the veil breaks, revealing the gills



There’s a lot that happens in my brain the moment I find a new edible mushroom. There is pure joy over the “proof of existence” and that huge adrenaline rush at having found it. Then I start to wonder if there are more or if this was a sort of fluke single occurrence. You always want to find more, not simply because cooking a lonely single mushroom is a bit of a sad thing, but to see the different stages and forms that this specific mushroom takes as well as the varying environments it can inhabit. If there are a lot of them, you learn which ones are more desirable (clean and worm-free are desirable to me) and which ones to leave alone to do their mushroom jobs. And then there is the question of how to cook the mushrooms. Most of the others are no-brainers: mushroom meet butter and skillet. But the matsutake is not like most other mushrooms. The last thing you want to do is mask the delicate cinnamony-piney flavor. So I went with the other no-brainer for mushrooms: tempura. Japanese cooking technique with a Japanese mushroom? Sounds about right.

matsutake, ice water, flour, mirin, soy sauce, hondashi granules, baking soda, egg, sugar

wipe the tops clean with a damp cloth

gently peel the outer layer of the stipe

slice



**Jump for more butter**

cooking with mom

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

Recipe: chinese buddha’s hand melon (chayote) salad

Is there anyone else out there who feels they can’t leave on a trip without first cleaning the house? Because I’m one of those people. In the past, we would clean the house when we had guests coming over or when we left on a trip. Now, because we split our time between Nederland and Crested Butte – I find myself cleaning both houses more than I ever wanted. I just hate coming home to a mess, so this is present me doing future me a favor. But last week after spending the whole weekend in hunter education and then coming home to do laundry, clean house, and pack for Crested Butte – it was a miracle that we were able to leave at all. In fact, I didn’t think we were ever going to get out of our neighborhood because we went back to the house three times for four different things we had forgotten, but remembered just as we headed down the street.


we made it to crested butte and we were greeted by this

found some lovely porcini

still quite early, but a few chanterelle patches were popping up

and lots of amanitas (poisonous, but beautiful) are a good sign



On our latest trail run, I decided to get a little more climbing in and ran the same route as Jeremy – just slower and not as far. My goal was to reach the first basin and turn around, but because Jeremy and I have different ideas of what a stream crossing is, I ran up out of the basin thinking the NEXT basin was my target until I met Jeremy as he was running down. Well, I’m glad I did because I saw a black bear on my climb! We only ever catch glimpses of black bears, mainly because they don’t want any trouble and are quick to avoid people. In addition to the bear sighting, I heard a couple of grouse, ate some wild raspberries and wild strawberries (so good!), and stopped to admire the wildflowers and views.

this is why i trail run



Foraging and trail running are two things we generally try to avoid doing with Neva. On those days, we’ll take her for a fetch session or a bike ride – something high energy and fun, but quick. And then days like today, we’ll take a rest morning and make it all about Neva. She got to fetch and swim at the lake, go for a hike, fetch and swim some more, go paddling – which involves more swim-fetch, and then a few more fetches while Jeremy packed up the paddle boards. You don’t think she’s spoiled, do you?

on our hike

diving off the paddle board to get her ball



Two weeks ago, I had my parents come up to my house to make and shoot a couple of their recipes with me. A week prior, I had tasked them with writing up the recipes and emailing them to me so I could review the recipes and plan the shopping list. As some of you may recall, my parents don’t use “recipes”. Mom is far more obliging than Dad and will give it her best effort when translating a dish into writing. Dad is practically a lost cause because he’ll write down a recipe, all the while declaring that he doesn’t NEED a recipe, and then proceed to change it twenty different ways *while* you are cooking according to said recipe. I know this is payback for my teenage years.

shopping with mom for buddha’s hand melons (chayote)



Today’s recipe is a crunchy, refreshing salad that my mom likes to make in summer. I am totally hooked on it and when the days are hot, I could eat a whole batch in one sitting for dinner. Buddha’s hand melon, also known as chayote, is a vegetable that you can eat raw or cooked. I’ve always seen them in the Asian markets, but never knew what to do with them. Mom’s preparation involves salting the sliced melon, and then tossing it with a sweet and sour dressing. Simple.

buddha’s hand melons, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, vinegar, chili garlic paste (not pictured: sesame oil)



First, you’ll need to peel the outer skin off the melons. You can use a sharp knife or a potato peeler. They can get slippery, so do watch your fingers! Don’t worry about peeling the bottoms as you’ll trim those after you slice the melons in half. The core of the melon is tougher than the meat of the melon, so we slice the melon around the core.

peel the skin

cut away any remaining skin from the ends

begin slicing the melon flesh around the core

discard the core



**Jump for more butter**

summer part 2

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

Recipe: elote (mexican street corn) fritters with lime crema

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Hi guys, I finally caught up on answering comments from the past 6 weeks. My apologies for being a slacker, but you know… stuff and things. xo -jen

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Whenever the snows begin to melt in late spring and the sun rises higher in the sky like an overachiever, I start to panic internally about the onslaught of summer. I call it an onslaught because it feels like an assault – the intense sun burning the skin on my arms, seeking relief in our basement because the rest of the house is so hot, pine pollen dusting everything with a thick coat of yellow. But the oppression eventually (hopefully) gives way to the southwestern monsoon some time in July, which delivers relief in the form of daily afternoon cloud buildups, big temperature drops, and that oh-so-heavenly release of rain that washes over the land, the animals, the trees, the flowers, the rocks, everything. The monsoon was a little late getting here this year, but it has finally arrived. It is spectacular. For me, there are three parts to summer in the mountains: 1) the sucky part with the hot, dry, and pollen-filled air 2) the delicious part with the monsoon rains and 3) the cooldown which is really pseudo-autumn. We are now well into summer part 2, and it is glorious.


bluebells at 11,000 feet

blue columbines greet the day

at the top of my 2000 ft. climbing trail run to 11,500 ft.

paddling long lake in the indian peaks wilderness

snow and ice floating on blue lake (indian peaks wilderness)

cascades and parry’s primrose

happiness is a colorado mountain dog

thank you for the rain, clouds



You know what else I love about summer part 2? The arrival of local Colorado Olathe sweet corn. You all probably don’t know about our amazing Colorado Palisade peaches or the Olathe sweet corn – we eat it all up such that there isn’t any left to ship out of state, so it’s a secret *wink*. Ever since we moved to Colorado, I only buy corn in summer when it is at its sweetest and most delightful. We like to eat it straight up boiled or grilled, but every now and again I’ll splurge on the calories and make Mexican-style corn (elote). And then last week I tried a recipe that makes our summer trail runs very necessary – elote fritters.

white corn

brush a light coat of vegetable oil on the cobs

grill the ears until moderately charred

cut the kernels off the cobs



There are three ears of corn in this photo sequence, but in hindsight, I would have used four ears (which I indicate in the recipe below). I grilled my corn, because it’s easy for me to do and because I like that charred flavor and texture. If you are grill-less, then you can boil or steam your corn, cut the kernels off, and brown the kernels in a little vegetable oil in a skillet or sauté pan. Once the kernels are ready, they get added to butter-sautéed onion and jalapeño.

minced jalapeño, minced sweet onion, butter, salt, corn

fry the onion and jalapeño in butter until just soft (but still crunchy)

add the corn

let the corn cool



**Jump for more butter**