Super excited for my friends at Beehive Distilling, who are some stellar guys making delicious gin. I’ve been using their Jack Rabbit Gin in lots of summer cocktails, and it is some tasty booze. They’re celebrating their launch at a big par-tay this weekend at The State Room, with drinks and terrific music. It’s gonna be a blast! Hope to see y’all there, Salt Lake locals. Get yer tickets, here.
Nothing heralds Spring quite like baseball season in our house. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a completely shallow fan of the game. I’m not super invested in a particular team, don’t follow stats with regularity, and am an inconsistent televised viewer. But I freaking love the experience of live games. When I worked for the National Park Service based out of Boston [this is pre-kids, y’all], I traveled a shit-ton for my job as a museum consultant, and a couple of my co-workers were also big baseball fans. We’d plan our summer evenings around visiting AAA, double-A, and single-A ballparks for games. We’d get there early, buy a hot dog and some peanuts, and drink draft beers which would invariably get warm long before we’d finish them in the humid dank heat of mid-summer in say, Virginia.
Both my boys play, and my hubster, The Macallan, has been a little league coach for forever. Sure, I love watching my kids’ games, but there’s nothing quite like seeing the pros [or in the case of our town, the Salt Lake Bees, a AAA farm team for the Angels] knock out nine innings. We plan our family road trips around visiting as many MLB ballparks as we can, since we’ve made a goal of hitting every major league stadium for a game before our youngest graduates from high school.
A couple of weeks ago, we took a break from the mayhem of shoulder season [in our house, it’s the overlap of the kids still ski racing, and the beginning of little league baseball #FML – hence, taking a month off from blog-writing. Sorry!], and went to a couple of preseason games in Arizona during “Cactus League” Spring training. One of the nicer surprises of the visit was checking out the Rockies/Diamondbacks practice facility Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Those folks know how to run a badass ballpark: gracious and helpful staff, parking was efficient and easy, the practice fields gorgeous, and the Rockies players were genuinely fan-friendly and signed tons of autographs for the kids pregame. There were even complementary sunscreen dispensers located around the ballpark, with free-flow SPF 30. Nice.As you’d imagine, I base a lot of my positive stadium experience on the adult beverage and food selection, and Salt River Fields did not disappoint. Lots of great microbrews on tap, terrific selection of ballpark standard fare as well as local nosh [fantastic street tacos and margaritas the size of your head!], and my favorite: 32 oz. sangrias. Choose red or white, mixed up with as my barely-dressed barmaid described, “wine, brandy, Sprite, and fruit juice.” Not what I’d use, but it’s an efficient and delicious vehicle for dispensing alcoholic refreshment. So, while my guys discretely ogled the halter-clad and short-short sporting drinks slingers, I appreciated the players warming up pre-game, and sipped [okay, guzzled] my humongous sangria. I find these athletes vigor, flexibility, and dedication to fitness as showcase exceptionally well in baseball pants inspiring. Very. Inspiring.
Mmmm, baseball. A little something for everyone.*
Here’s my version of white wine sangria, which is more flavor-packed than “authentic.” Mix it up on a scorching day for instant refreshment. Halter tops and tight pants optional.
White Wine Sangria with Melon & Mint [makes about 6 cups]
1 750-ml bottle dry white wine
½ cup Melon liqueur [like Midori] OR orange liqueur [such as Cointreau]
2 Tbs. [or more, to taste] agave nectar
1 cup honeydew melon, cubed into ½” pieces
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup seedless green grapes, halved
1 10 oz. bottle club soda, chilled
6 stems fresh mint
To a large pitcher, add all ingredients. Stir gently to combine. Fill six tumblers or large wine glasses with ice, and pour sangria over ice. Smack the mint sprigs between your palms [as if clapping], to release fragrance and place a sprig of mint in each glass. Split the fruit equally between the glasses as a garnish and for yummy boozing snacking.
* Yes, I realize this is shallow and objectifying the undeniable talent that it takes to mix drinks or play major-league baseball. But this blog is about mixing drinks and enjoying all that life has to offer, not about changing the rules of society. Everybody’s got their thing.
Last Spring, I wrote about our [mis]adventures at Grand Targhee with my boys’ downhill race team, the Brighton Competition Team, and shared a recipe for a traditional spicy Bloody Mary.The madness has continued yet again this season, with both kids competing in alpine race events all over the place. Usually on different mountains on the same day. #FML. The Macallan has finally embraced Google calendar and we’ve synched up our lives to get the boys where they need to go.
Over President’s Day weekend—one of the busiest weekends at every ski resort, just sayin’ in case you are already making vacation plans for next year—my older son Tim Collins raced slalom and giant slalom at Snowbird. One of my favorite traditions of ski racing, and hell, any outdoor sporting event, is the tailgate party. In the past year, our home mountain team has paired up with Summit Ski Team of Park City and put on a seriously festive tailgating party, that is [dare I say it] the envy of other race teams. Well, at least we have the best bar and loudest cowbells.Think of moving everything from your truck ONTO the mountain at whatever resort you are visiting: tents, chairs, tables, grills, coolers, bars. You name it. A parent on the Summit team has even become the envy of pretty much every race dad in the Intermountain Division by mounting a grill on SKIS = the GrillSki. Yes, you can slide your grill to the tailgate spot. Ingenious. It’s up there with the ‘shot ski’ as best re-appropriation of old gear.
On Monday, our family’s contributions to the party were a couple of different kinds of Bloody Mary mix and an XL bottle of vodka. Each of these recipes makes about 1 quart, so increase quantities as needed. A plastic gallon jug, for instance, is perfect for pouring mixers for a crowd. If we’ve got the space and muscle, I like bringing pint Mason jars to serve the drinks; just put ice and all of your ingredients into the individual jars and they become both the shaker and the glass. Keep all the lids on hand to seal up the jars for mess-free clean up and transport.
Sriracha-Lime-Thai Basil Bloody Mary Mix
As one race dad said, “This isn’t a cocktail. This is the best freakin’ breakfast I ever had in a glass.” Aw, y’all say the sweetest things.
3 ½ cups [about 28 oz. +/-] tomato juice or original V8 juice
¼ cup Sriracha hot sauce
½ cup packed [about 2 large heads] Thai basil leaves
Juice of 3 fresh limes
To a small food processor [or large-mouthed quart jar so you can use a stick blender] add all ingredients EXCEPT for the tomato juice. Blend thoroughly, until basil and onions are minced but not a gooey slushy mess. Add herb mix to the quart jar along with tomato juice, replace lid, and shake to combine. Add some crushed black pepper and sea salt to taste. Mix up with a ratio of 2 parts Bloody Mary mix to one part vodka. Serve over ice. Garnish with a sprig of Thai basil and a slivered scallion.
Cajun Smoky Bacon Bloody Mary Mix
You can either make your own bacon salt—cook down 3-4 strips of smoked bacon until crispy, drain on paper towels and cool, then add to a food processor with a pinch of smoked paprika and ¼ cup kosher salt and buzz until all minced together—or use a commercially available blend. If you have time, infuse your vodka by adding all those leftover bacon drippings to 2 cups vodka, chill for a couple of days, and then strain through a double layer of cheesecloth before use.
3 ½ cups [about 28 oz. +/-] tomato juice or original V8 juice
¼ cup Crystal [or other Louisiana-type] hot sauce
1 Tbs. smoked paprika
1 Tbs. bacon salt [plus additional for dipping the rim of the cup]
2 tsp. liquid smoke
Juice of 1 large fresh lemon
Combine all ingredients in a quart Mason jar and shake like crazy. If desired, rub the rim of the cup/glass with a lemon wedge and dip in additional bacon salt. Mix up with a ratio of 2 parts Bloody Mary mix to one part vodka. Serve over ice, and garnish with pickled okra, a strip of bacon, olives, or whatever you’ve got on hand.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock while trapped in a sea chest and thrown to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, you know that Utah beer makers are kickin’ some serious ass, and throwin’ down some wicked clever names at national and international brewer’s competitions. Recently, 60 lucky folks attended the 2nd annual Utah Craft Beer Dinner, slurping up some award-winning suds alongside a table of impressively mustachioed brew masters representing four of Utah’s top breweries: Wasatch Beers, Red Rock Brewery, Uinta Brewing, and Epic Brewing. All hosted at the ever-lovely and luscious Finca restaurant. I was lucky enough to sit with my buddy IPA (aka Hoss on Hops), who actually knows A LOT about beer. Hoss wrote a terrific blog review of all of the beers at the dinner, and you can read all about what a real beer aficionado thinks over there. I thought they were all super tasty, and wonderful with the pairing menu. Yup, that just tapped out my beer knowledge (badap-bap-pssshhh).
Finca (and Pago) owner Scott Evans, along with executive chef Phelix Gardner pulled out the big guns for this celebration of all things hops and yeast. Oysters on the half shell with a playful coriander mignonette, grilled citrus salad, a rich Verduras y Castillas—that would be fall veggies in sherry cream with house-smoked bacon and pull-apart-with-butterfly-wings-succulent braised short ribs. Duck confit Empanadas were delicious with Uinta’s Sea Legs Smoked Porter, my vote for sexiest label. (I don’t know if they have that category at the Brewers competition, but they should).
We’d heard rumors that Finca’s massive paella pan would be pulled out for the event and weren’t disappointed. How big is it? Well, let’s just say we are tempted to sneak into Finca and pull it off the wall some snowy morning so we can take our whole family sledding on it, dogs included. Or, put to it’s intended use (feckingkilljoys) you make one bangin’ maldito Paella with house-smoked chicken, roasted local-foraged mushrooms and black garlic for six dozen of your closest friends.
Confirming that these guys take their final salvos seriously, Epic Brewing rounded out the meal with Big Bad Baptist Imperial Stout, a respectably shitface inducing 10.5% alcohol beer brewed with cocoa nibs and coffee beans and aged in High West Distillery barrels. It’s terrific on its own, but paired with Finca’s delicate churros snuggled alongside a chocolate-stout beer dipping sauce it put us over the top. Happily so. I’ll be sending The Macallan with my beer shopping list to Epic’s Brewery Cold Case (at 825 South State Street – OPEN Sundays!) to go with all those holiday cookies I’ve told myself I wouldn’t eat this year.
Ratatouille. Conjured in savory memories, it’s a fragrant eggplant-basil-and-tomato-y meal, served with crusty bread and a big glass of house red wine at a laid-back Montmartre bistro. It’s 1987, and I’m with my girlfriend Woodford Reserve (on the rocks with a splash of spring water) knocking around Paris.
We were in France and England during the summer between high school and college, and thanks to her parents’ superb restaurant picks, progressive ideas and generous wallet we travelled, and ate, and drank very well on our jaunt. Well, better than I did for many years to follow, anyway.
Fast forward to 2007. Over 20 years, I’ve finally (in my humble opinion) mastered a pretty kick-ass ratatouille in my home kitchen, a fact of which I’m inordinately proud. I revel in finding the perfect glossy eggplant, the juiciest yet firmest plum tomatoes, and most gorgeous zucchini my garden or the market has to offer. It’s wonderful atop a graceful swirl of pasta or buttery mound of polenta; or served as I remembered it in France, sopped up from a shallow bowl with generous crusts of bread. For the longest time, my kids thought it was just another chunky pasta sauce; and until Sprite started eating only white food in first grade, both boys ate it all the time without question.
And then along came Thomas Fecking Keller. Mastermind chef behind the food styling for Disney/Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille.
Don’t get me wrong. I will eat Keller’s food whenever I get the chance. And, I LOVE this movie. I love the theme behind it; that “anyone can cook.” I love the message—even preschoolers get it—that great soul-and-body nourishing food is about balance and flavor and freshness, not about how fast you can get it from a cardboard container into your mouth. I love that drinking the occasional glass of wine by reasonable adults is neither demonized nor glorified; it’s just part of enjoying a great meal. I love that the main female character is a culinary badass and has short hair, clogs, keeps her clothes on for the entire movie, and does NOT sing a goddamn peep.
And I loved hearing my children say as the credits rolled, “Mom, let’s make ratatouille!”
I spent all day with them making it: chopping, then individually sautéing each vegetable until just al dente. We gently folded each perfectly cooked vegetable into an enameled Dutch oven, then covered it with parchment paper and slowly roasted it at a low temperature for most of the afternoon. My boys took one look at the glorious results and said, “what’s THAT? ”
They were expecting Thomas Fecking Keller’s version: as they call it “Ratatouille, all stacked up.” Which I eventually figured out how to make, and it’s also pretty kick-ass. But now they expect EVERY thing in our tiny kitchen to come out plated as beautifully as a goddamn Bon Appétit feature spread. When I told this story to my buddy French 75, he said “what did you expect? You brought this shit down on yourself.”
And I totally did.
I entirely support the notion that you eat with your eyes first, and that a beautifully composed plate should be at every meal served at our table. It really doesn’t take that much longer to orient your vegetables attractively and put a little saucy swirl and some herbs on the plate, and I think in the long run it makes great food more attractive, accessible and approachable for more people. Especially the shorties.
I just wish I didn’t feel backed into a corner to do so by a little rat named Remy, who’s possessed by a plating genius. Fecking Keller.
Ratatouille “All Stacked Up” (serves 4)
Keller’s version is a gorgeous layered casserole, which he then deconstructs for plating. That’s beautiful and awesome, and is a great way to make this recipe, too. I use 4” round mini springform pans with removable bases to bake the vegetable layers in, which the kids love to pack themselves for individual flavor preferences. I also add mozzarella cheese and sometimes a sprinkling of Panko to this dish, even though it’s not at all authentic (hell, nothing about this is authentic, so why stop there?) It just makes it more gooey, crunchy, and yummy.
4 Tbs olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 medium eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 medium yellow squash
3-4 plum tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, cored
1 medium onion
2 medium balls fresh mozzarella (or 1 cup shredded mozzarella)
1 small bunch basil leaves (12-16 large leaves)
½ cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs) – optional
Slice the eggplant into very thin (as thin as possible) rounds. Spread in an even layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and sprinkle generously with kosher or sea salt (about 2 tablespoons). Let sit for about 20 minutes, then turn over the eggplant slices and sprinkle with a bit more salt. Let rest for another after 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, slice all of the remaining vegetables cross-wise with a very sharp knife or mandolin, making your rounds as thin as possible. Sprinkle all of the vegetable slices with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Slice the mozzarella balls into thin rounds (or crumble) if using fresh cheese.
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the eggplant slices from the rimmed cookie sheet, and squeeze gently to remove as much liquid and salt as possible. Don’t worry about completely removing the salt from the eggplant slices, it will add great flavor to your dish. Wipe all the excess liquid from the cookie sheet.
In a large cast iron skillet, heat about 2 Tbs. oil over medium heat. Add garlic slices and stir constantly to avoid burning; when the garlic starts to soften and brown (but not burn!) remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside in a small bowl. In batches of 3-4 slices of eggplant per time (so as not to crowd your skillet), add eggplant to the oil and cook gently until slightly softened on each side and just starting to brown. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices, adding more oil if needed.
Slightly oil the rimmed cookie sheet with olive oil. Place four 4” mini springform pans WITH THE BASES REMOVED on the sheet pan, spacing equally. Starting with a slice of eggplant on the bottom, fill each pan (or stack) with equal parts of each vegetable type and basil leaves, alternating layers of each type of veggie, and layering about halfway through with half of the cheese. Put more cheese near the top layer, and press down gently as you go to compress the layers as much as possible. If using springform pans, really pack those suckers full, the veggies will cook down quite a bit. Drizzle the top of each tower with about 1 tsp. olive oil, the reserved garlic slivers, and sprinkle on top about 1 tablespoon Panko if you like a little crispy accent.
Place on the center rack of your oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until brown on top and bubbly. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes to let layers settle. To plate, slide a wide spatula underneath the tower (or underneath the edge of the pan), gently wiggling to make sure the eggplant is not stuck to the cookie sheet. Run a small sharp knife around the inside edge of the springform pan to prevent sticking, then gently slide the spatula-laden tower to your serving plate; pull the spatula free from under the tower, then pull the springform pan straight up to release that baby onto your plate. Garnish with a drizzle of oil from the pan and a sprig of basil.
Now grab a big glass of wine – you deserve it!
Several folks asked me why I didn’t use the perfectly wonderful opportunity of Cinco de Mayo to share some Southwestern and Mexican-inspired food and cocktail recipes on the blog. After all, I lived in New Mexico for a while and for 8 years in Arizona. But I didn’t get it done in time for the 5th because my man The Macallan and I were IN Cabo San Lucas, Mexico last week my friends, celebrating our 19th anniversary. Without kids. And quite frankly I was too busy fishing, reading on the beach, and drinking margaritas to send a remote post to the blog. It was RESEARCH, y’all.
Cabo is justifiably famous for its spectacular sport fishing. The Macallan originally proposed we’d fish four days, but I whittled it down to two with a possible third if we didn’t catch anything after two days. We hired a guide service, Baja Anglers, for one full day exploring the spectacular beaches on the Sea of Cortez with Grant, and day fishing by boat off the coast of Cabo san Lucas with Capt. Alex and Luis. We had a terrific time and caught a LOT of fish, which you can see photos of on the Baja Anglers blog (or follow me on Instagram at “abourbongal”).
After a long day of fishing, the last thing I feel like doing is going back to the rental condo kitchen with its lousy knives, matchbox-sized cutting board and sketchy non-stick pans. Ugh. In Cabo, several restaurants have “we’ll cook your catch” specials: you proudly present your fishy triumph to the waiter and voila! 15-20 minutes later the chef sends out a delicious meal. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. At Solomon’s Landing, we had our fresh-caught mackerel prepared in ceviche, cooked with a lemon-pepper sauce, crusted with coconut and fried, and in a Spanish-style tomato based sauce. The next day, we dined on mackerel cornmeal crusted and deep fried at Maro’s Shrimp House chased down with margaritas the size of our heads.
Now that I’m back home, I’m more than happy to pull out my gorgeous cutting board and super-sharp hefty knives to do all of the slicing and dicing necessary to pull together my own citrusy ceviche. Sure, it’s not going to be as fresh as we had in Cabo, but every delicious bite reminds me of Mexico.
Don’t skimp on the citrus juice here: all of that acid is necessary to “cook” your fish. After marinating for a while, you’ll see the fish change from grey to firm, opaque, and white. A miracle of food science! And please use fresh-squeezed juice, not that stuff in the bottle.
1 lb. firm fresh fish or shellfish (like snapper, halibut, scallops, shrimp, or any combination of these) cut into ½ inch cubes
½ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice (or a combination of lime & lemon)
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
½ cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped (about 1/8 cup)
1 Tbs. olive oil
A generous pinch of sea salt
A splash of tequila (about 1 Tbs.)
To a non-reactive casserole dish (ceramic or glass), add all of the ingredients. Very gently toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Stir again after 20-30 minutes to make sure all of the pieces of fish are covered with lime juice. Depending on the type of fish and how big your cubes are, the ceviche should be ready in about an hour. Garnish with avocado wedges and more fresh cilantro leaves, and serve with tortilla chips. I like mine with plenty of heat, so I add a few shakes of Mexican hot sauce (like Tapatio) to my plate.
Spring brings along with it the dubious refined culture of the mid-day cocktail. Think mint juleps, Planter’s punch, mojitos, and of course the hangover brunch standards: Mimosas and Bloody Marys. In my Memphis-based undergraduate days, we trained during much of the year to get ready for studied diligently, then barely survived enjoyed a series of late semester parties, culminating in a music festival called “Rites of Spring.” Awfully pagan for a church affiliated private liberal arts school, hmmm? Good times.
I’ve moderated my own daytime drinking propensity in the decades years since in response to semi-responsible adulthood: graduate school, keeping a job, parenthood, PTA meetings, those goddamn pesky “empty” alcohol calories that every fascist nutritional resource tells you will haunt you and your belly fat thighs ass liver and muffin top mid-section forever. And they do, my friends, they do.
But there are certain events in one’s life that call out for the return of day drinking an occasional mid-afternoon cocktail in its inherent subversive naughty splendor: Super Bowl Sunday. Mardi Gras. The Kentucky Derby. Volunteering at your kids’ school for “Pioneer Week” field trips. Independence Day.
And, here in my adopted mountain home: Spring Skiing.
Case in point. Our family unit ventured to Grand Targhee, WY last weekend for an extended ‘Spring Fling’ two-day ski race event in which our older son, Tim Collins, competed. We met up with about 10 other families from our home mountain and awesome guests. We arrived at the mountain at 8:30 am each day to get our kids outfitted with their race speed suits, their racing bibs, their surly attitudes, and their appropriately-waxed skis. Then the parents took turns trudging up the slope to set up a ‘base camp’ at the race finish—a good 200 yards straight uphill. My man The Macallan valiantly delivered tent poles, coolers, and backpacks. I
mercilessly nagged supervised, and tried to finish my coffee before it cooled.
Waiting at the tent each morning after a couple of runs by noon, were the combined efforts of a few but mighty genius minds: Gallons (yes, gallons!!) a pitcher of super-peppery homemade Bloody Mary mix, several quarts of hooch hidden in duffle bags a bottle of Five Wives Vodka (Utah’s own artisan spirit), and some jalapeño-stuffed green olives for garnish. Served in red Solo cups non-breakable slope-side beverage containers, this was, my friends, the nectar of the ski gods. Ullr and Loki were undoubtedly looking after us in their own pagan fashion: Rites of Spring, now all grown up. Kinda.
Slope-side Bloody Mary (makes 1, multiply as needed for your crowd)
In a cocktail shaker with 3-4 cubes ice add:
2 oz. vodka
One 5.5 oz. can original V8 juice
½ tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. prepared horseradish
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes hot sauce (I like Crystal)
1 tsp. Okra pickle juice or green olive juice
A couple of generous cranks of fresh-ground coarse black peppercorns
A generous shake of bacon salt or Old Bay Seasoning
Shake until combined. Pour the whole shaker into a heavy glass or red Solo cup. Garnish with pickled okra and/or several skewered green olives.
Until next ski season, SKOL and Slainté, my friends!
*Please imbibe responsibly, and for cripes sake watch your sodium levels. We’re not getting any younger, you know. Geez.