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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**

double your pleasure

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

Recipe: double chocolate tarts

My in-laws were supposed to come out for a visit with us in Crested Butte last week, but had to cancel their trip at the last minute. When we host guests at our house, we pretty much clear everything off our schedule to entertain said guests. So we suddenly found ourselves with two days wide open and a little fresh powder on the mountain to enjoy.


and he did enjoy it

the clouds made way for a view of the town of crested butte below



Neva got to go for a couple of skate skis, an uphill ski on the mountain, and a run through our neighborhood up to the lake and back. All of this in addition to her daily training. She does rather well on paved paths and roads, but she is definitely more distracted on trails. Right now, we are toggling between snow and sunshine in the mountains, the trails in a constant state of melting out. I imagine that we’ll get to hit the real trail training with Neva soon, but until then, she’s doing alright. Meanwhile, the flowering trees are bursting with color down in Boulder and the rest of the flats. I must admit that the sight of that chartreuse spring green makes me a little giddy. I even opted for a trail run over a skate ski today, and found my first sign of local mountain spring.

the morning sun gets to work melting out yesterday’s snow

crabapple blossoms in boulder

an emerging pasque flower, the first to bloom in our mountains



In addition to the two open days we got as a result of the cancelled visit, we wound up with six extra chocolate tarts, which I had planned to serve as dessert. But chocolate tarts are easy enough to give away to neighbors. Go figure! This was the sixth batch of tarts I had made in the month of March. It all started when Eileen texted me as I was grabbing lunch in Steamboat Springs. She wanted to know if we’d be in Crested Butte the following weekend for a birthday dinner party for our friend, Wendy. It just so happened we WOULD be in town that weekend and was there something I could bring? Eileen suggested dessert, so I contacted Wendy’s daughters to get the scoop on her favorite flavors/desserts. Two things stood out: dark chocolate and raspberries. How about a dark chocolate tart with raspberries? Easy peasy, or so I thought.

cream, cocoa powder, flour, chocolate, powdered sugar, butter, more butter, grand marnier



I was fairly certain this recipe would work out, but I always make a point of testing a recipe before the real deal, just in case. Good thing I did. The crust, which seemed to behave nicely for just about everyone else in the world (it’s a recipe from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking), was a complete jerk. I suspect it has something to do with my high elevation, but it was quite frustrating to see it stick to the parchment during the blind baking. Luckily, I am friends with a lot of experienced and professional bakers – so I asked for advice on Facebook and got a slew of suggestions.

mix the flour and cocoa powder

beat the powdered sugar into the butter

add the flour and cocoa mixture

beat until just combined

wrap and chill



**Jump for more butter**

the best kind of mess

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Recipe: breakfast mess

You may have had trouble commenting last week after we updated the spam filter because it wasn’t letting any comments through. I think it is fixed now. Do let us know if you encounter problems. Thanks! -jen

We finally pulled the trigger this past week and sent Neva to doggy training camp. I had mixed feelings about leaving her as we drove away. On the one hand, I am quite attached to that little girl. On the other hand, Jeremy and I felt we had gone as far as we could working with Neva, and that we needed professional guidance. I say “we” because it’s not all on Neva. She is in very good care for the next couple of weeks and early reports from Claire show Neva has made great progress in a short time – and she’s having fun! This is promising and I feel we have made the right decision for her and for us. I’ll share our experience in a dedicated post after Neva finishes camp for those of you interested in how all of this pans out. In the meantime, you can follow her training on Instagram at @backcountrybuddies or Facebook at Backcountry Buddies Dog Training.

It has been awfully quiet without our pup roaming about. Jeremy and I both have a habit of walking into a room and scanning around for Neva – usually lounging on the couch, in her bed, on the floor, by the deck door. But a no-pup house means greater flexibility in our schedules, so we took the opportunity to spend a weekend away. First we indulged in a couple of days skiing at Steamboat Springs, then we hit up Devil’s Thumb Ranch on the way home for a morning of skate skiing at their lovely Nordic Center. It was a sort of mini skication even though I know everyone thinks all we ever do is ski (mostly true).


hello steamboat springs!

trees plastered in snow

kampachi with apple and grilled avocado at yamakawa (formerly known as yama)

black out: walu walu marinated in squid ink served with squid ink-infused tobiko

snow, sun, and fun at devil’s thumb ranch nordic center

jeremy takes another lap

a pretty sunset to close out a great weekend



Breakfast tends to be an oft neglected and skipped meal in our house. I know they say it is the most important meal of the day and I do make an effort, but sometimes it is all I can do to eat a piece of fruit. Other times I am not terribly excited about what is on offer because I am not such a fan of sweet breakfasts. It is likely the fault of my Chinese immigrant upbringing that I would choose a savory bowl of congee loaded to the gills with spicy pickled radishes, shredded pork, ginger, green onions, and a soy sauce egg over say, a doughnut. Now, if we have house guests, I make the effort to provide a proper breakfast. Sometimes it is sweet, sometimes savory, sometimes a bit of both. My favorite is when there are leftover hash browns, bacon, biscuits and sausage gravy or whatnot the day after the guests have left, and we pile everything on a plate or better yet, a bowl, and call it good. That’s because it is SO good. Jeremy and I refer to it as breakfast mess and it’s awesome because you can put whatever you like in it.

Free will can be a terrible thing (just look at rush hour traffic), but in this instance it’s the best thing ever. You know how breakfast menus give you a choice of bacon OR sausage? When we make a breakfast mess, we opt for bacon AND sausage. Not too much, mind you, but a little bit of each is beautiful to behold… and eat.


making sausage gravy

frying up the bacon



**Jump for more butter**