Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 4

Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Green Beans, Day 4

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My parents bought this cookbook for me, Christmas 2008.  My memory is not that great, I’ll confess; I know the date because my mom lovingly writes in every cookbook she buys me.

I am a carnivore.  I have always loved meat.  There has never been a single day in my life that I’ve considered being a vegan.  I feel better when I eat meat.

Last night’s foray into this challenge included my husband, the non-chef of our household, because he can grill.  The grill mystifies me.  I can’t get the temperature right.  I constantly stand over the grill with a meat thermometer, worrying that I’m burning the very meat I love.  He instinctively knows the right temperature and times, so that is his one culinary job.

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The recipe also included a side dish – asparagus with a mustard-soy sauce.  Asparagus is not in season, but green beans are (from my CSA, and judging by the amount of green beans we’ve had to eat and freeze this summer, I’m going to safely say green beans are always in season – I’m sick of them!).

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The steaks are from Craig Angus Ranch, a wonderful family ranch just north of us.  I bought a quarter of a cow earlier this summer, and every cut has been delicious.  The rub for the steaks included paprika, thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  I didn’t have dried thyme, so I used a lavender salt blend instead.  I am not a fan of dried herbs.  There is an element of “fake” in them that is off-putting.  I love spices, but dried herbs are not something I normally use.

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What goes better with steak than potatoes?  I sliced two potatoes into thin discs and sauteed them in a beautiful Paso Robles olive oil.

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The results were pretty stellar.  Josh cooked the steaks to perfection.  The green beans were crisp and flavorful, and the potatoes were the right amount of crunch and tender.  It was a nice summer meal.

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Bon Appetit!

Beef Fajitas – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 3

Beef Fajitas – Day 3.  From Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman Cooks:  A Year of Holidays

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Day 3.  I knew I was making beef fajitas, because I needed a picture for my husband to post as a preview for our tailgating party at the War Memorial on Saturday (opening day for Wyoming Cowboys football).  My Aunt Dee-Dee just got this cookbook for me as an early birthday present.  I devoured the book (figuratively, not literally) on the ride home from her house.  I love Ree Drummond.  She is charming and pretty and talented.  She is also humble and funny.  Her blog and her cookbooks are full of pictures at every step, which is really helpful for novice cooks, and entertaining for me, who loves “food porn.”

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I happened to have every ingredient in this recipe (good sign), well, except limes.  I had a few limes, but they were dessicated beyond use, so I substituted the lemon juice in a fake lemon that I keep for canning tomatoes.

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I love bell peppers.  I’ve read that chefs eschew green bell peppers because they are too bitter, but bell peppers are one of my favorite vegetables.  I even had a purple pepper from our CSA (just one, let’s not get carried away).

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So here’s how they turned out.  I paired them with guacamole, the perfect fajita topping.  I appreciate that this recipe tries to add umami (with the worcestershire sauce), but it didn’t taste as good as my normal recipe, which includes a variety of dried chile powder (not the blends, the pure ground chile powder), garlic, and cumin.  It was still delicious, but I prefer my own version.

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Add beans and fideo, and you’ve got a fiesta!  Side note:  I was introduced to fideo in Trinidad, Colorado, Mission at the Bell, which my husband found on Yelp several years ago as we were moving his parents to Texas.  Fideo is a Mexican tomato-pasta dish, sometimes a soup.  I use it in place of rice sometimes.  You can break up thin spaghetti, but in the Hispanic foods section of the grocery store, they sell fideo pasta for cheap, I mean cheap, like 47 cents for a bag.  Sautee it, add some chile, salt, garlic, tomato sauce, and water, and simmer, and you’ve got a party.

¡Buen apetito!

Eli’s Asian Salmon – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 2

Eli’s Asian Salmon – Day 2.  From Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home.

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I’m already challenged and exasperated.  I spent an hour and a half, hungrier by the moment, scouring for a recipe I felt like making and eating, and wherein had the majority of the ingredients in my kitchen.  Ina is something of a personal hero for me.  She was in a high-powered career when she decided to take a risk and build a culinary empire.  Hmmmm …

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I was missing three ingredients for the sauce, but I substituted for two of them.  The salmon was sockeye, so it wasn’t the rich buttery salmon that the recipe called for either.  But I followed the instructions as closely as I could.

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The recipe called for a 500 degree oven.  It turns out, this nearly burns the panko crust before fully cooking the salmon, so I turned down the oven, covered it with foil.  Crisis averted.  Another of my chef instincts; I felt 500 was too high, and it was.

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I paired the meal with ingredients from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share.  If you don’t know what a CSA is, let me explain.  You pay a local farmer to grow a full or half share of vegetables, and every week you get a basket of whatever is in season.  In theory, yes, it’s a fabulous idea.  In reality, I am sick of tossing out wilted and moldy rainbow chard (that I cannot stand), trying to eat lettuce (not a huge fan), freezing green, yellow, purple, and whatever else plentiful beans they have grown, testing weird things like kohlrabi (which tasted like crunchy pieces of dirt), finding 1001 ways to make zucchini not taste like zucchini, and trying to use up vegetables that don’t make sense.  Some of them are ending up in the freezer so I can add them to stews this fall and winter.  I think even a boot would be tasty if braised long enough with a fatty piece of meat and  bottle of red wine.  The produce I love best – berries, stone fruits, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, herbs – are rationed like it’s the Great Depression. Next year I will go back to shopping at farmer’s markets, where I can select my favorite things again.  Wait, I was telling you what I paired with the salmon ….

I cut the kernels off an ear of corn and sautéed in lemon olive oil, then at the end, added diced cucumber and tomato, fresh ground black pepper, and a dash of salt.

I then tested the purple green beans.  They actually turn green in the water, and the water left behind is green.  I don’t know where the purple went.  It’s an enigma.  After I blanched and shocked the beans, I sautéed them in a miso-soy-lemon sauce and added slivered almonds as a contrasting garnish.

IMG_4307_fotor Before and After  IMG_4308_fotor

The rest … eh, the jury is out.  It’s not my best meal ever, but it at least got me to think creatively, look through recipes, and realize that most of my cookbooks do not really cater to the home chef.

IMG_4311_fotorAllez cuisine!

 

Gazpacho – 110 Days of Cookbooks, Day 1

And so it begins … the 110 Days of Cookbooks Project, Day 1.

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My mom sent me home today with beautiful tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden.  I knew some would meet their fate in gazpacho.

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My gazpacho traditionally involves ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, garlic, onion, green bell pepper, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  The end.  It’s a bright, fresh recipe that I make in the summer to start meals.  It’s also a dish I order when we dine in tapas restaurants – the perfect light starter.

After searching a few indices, I selected Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World – “Basic Red Gazpacho.”  I believe I got this cookbook, as I do many, from Amazon.com.  Obviously, I cannot post the full recipe, as it is copy-righted.  However, I will include pictures of my ingredients, preparation, final outcome, what I’d change, and what I’d learned.

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I went so far as to weigh the tomatoes.  Part of this mission is to learn new tricks and tips from chefs and home cooks, including proper ratios, and new ways of challenging myself and getting out of my culinary slump.  I never use recipes exactly.  Like … ever.  Never.  I halved this recipe, as there are only two of us, and I’m not going to be wasteful.

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Then I set up my mise en place. I admit, the bread seemed to be a very odd addition, but I’m following the recipe exactly.

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I followed the instructions, put the ingredients in my Cuisinart, and blended away.  Whoops, I missed a small step with an ingredient.  Carry on.

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Now here is where I must interject and alter my rules slightly.  I learned to cook both from an exact recipe (from my mom) and from throwing a bunch of stuff together and seeing what happens (from my dad).  My dad’s method has served me far better as I’ve grown my culinary skills (no offense, Mom, you are still an equally excellent cook!).  I only put in 2/3 of the water recommended, and it still was far too much.  The soup ended up being far too watery.  I added half as much more tomato and blended again.  I taste-tested, the gazpacho was okay, definitely not as robust as my normal concoction.  I am refrigerating it overnight, and will try it again in the morning.

Lesson Learned Today:  Even though I am trying to learn new recipes and techniques, I must still follow my own instincts.

¡Buen apettito!

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110 Days of Cookbooks

I lost my cooking mojo; I’m guessing about March 17th when the movers started packing up my beautiful Reno kitchen, and when my husband had to put me in the Yukon kicking, screaming, and crying like a petulant child, to head back to the cold, frozen, over-populated Rockies.  Fast forward five months in Denver, and my culinary dreams have not advanced.  It’s time to change that.

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I love cookbooks.  Anyone who comes to my home notices the big bookshelf my husband built for me, and that four of the five shelves contain exclusively cookbooks.  I made the digital leap to Kindle five years ago.  Now I mainly read on my iPad, through Oyster, my new obsession in apps, and through Kindle.  I do have cookbooks through Oyster and Kindle, but there is something so deeply lustful about hardbound cookbooks that I will probably never shake.  The glossy pictures seduce me to try new things, and overwhelm me so much I end up choosing a meal that I’ve cooked a hundred times before. I cannot remember the last time I even followed a recipe exactly, even when baking.  For me, recipes are a springboard for my own ideas.

My cookbook collection is eclectic.  I counted the cookbooks in my living room – 110.  I am sure there are some trapped in boxes begging to be a part of this blog, but for now, let’s stick to the 110 I can easily access and account.  Recently, my aunt found several vintage Nebraska community cookbooks for me.  I have cookbooks dating back to my early cooking years all the way through the accomplished (okay, semi-accomplished) cook I am today, from Julia Child to Thomas Keller to Rick Bayless and everything in between.

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A brilliant idea hit me today, as I returned from visiting friends and my parents from Wyoming.  I have to get back to cooking and writing, and I have to do one thing differently every day to get out of my slump.  My mission is to select one different cookbook every day, choose one recipe, make it, and write about it.  Logistically there will be days I’m not home to cook, but I find that rules, even my own, are acceptable to break occasionally!

It will be an adventure.  Join me!

Happy 4th of July!

Many of you are getting ready to watch fireworks, perhaps surrounded by swarms of small children and mosquitoes.  The Johnsons are sitting comfortably in their living room, enjoying the feasts of the day, and a peaceful evening.  After all, we did see fireworks from our upstairs hall window the other night, after Josh made sure it wasn’t someone trying to murder us with a spray of bullets while we fell asleep.  I do love fireworks, but we see them at ballparks, and occasionally, unexpectedly late at night we were are trying to sleep.

I started the week out by making pan-fried dumplings, one of life’s greatest pleasures for me.

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Then we hosted our good friends for dinner:  pepper-sauce marinated tri-tip,
cheesy scalloped potatoes, and asparagus with warm bacon vinaigrette.
I received rave reviews from my favorite food critics.

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I made Josh a rustic rigatoni dish with ground pork,
homemade (yes, my own canned tomatoes) tomato sauce, and cheese.

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We got back to our honky-tonk roots last night at the infamous Grizzly Rose, only to realize, we
don’t have honky-tonk roots.  We mostly watched in awe as hundreds of young 20-somethings line-danced,
elbow to elbow, to what sounded like the same song over and over and over.
At least my drinks were free (Ladies Night).
The highlight was the band playing one of our faves, “East Bound and Down” by Jerry Reed,
a song that came out long before these kids were born.

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I love salmon.  I whipped up this seared salmon dish today for a light lunch.
Seared salmon with a lemon-pepper crust, sauteed spinach, fresh corn, and a tomato-olive-lemon sauce.
It tasted just like summer!

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Josh brought home elk steak after a boys trip in Jackson a couple of weeks ago.
Some women ask for jewelry or trinkets, but
he knows I would much rather have sustainable interesting food with which to create in my kitchen.
Elk is very lean and muscular.  It takes a hearty marinade to loosen it up a bit.
Look at these beauties, marinating in a rosemary olive oil/blackberry balsamic/soy sauce.

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The finished product: Josh, while utterly inept in the kitchen (self-admitted), is a master at the grill.
He never needs a meat thermometer (as I do), yet he cooks meat to the perfect temp every time.
Here’s the elk rib steak, with my berry gastrique (a technique I learned from my dad, who hunts elk),
frites, and corn on the cob.  Yes, a true summer meal!

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A Louis & Martini Cab Sav, to remind me of home (Reno).
It didn’t quite taste the same, but close enough.

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Lastly, I leave you with an All-American dessert:
Homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries.

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Happy 4th of July to one and all!  Thank you to our military personnel and their families, for your selfless and brave service to our country.

Denver Shenanigans

All right, we’ve been here three months, but it feels like eternity.  Would you judge me if I said I shed a few tears when Guy Fieri visited Reno in last night’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode?  Fine, judge away.  Reno rocks.

Every day, I feel like I am in that NASA control room from Apollo 13, when Gene Kranz asks, “Let’s look at this thing from a standpoint of status. What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good?”  And his guy says, with extreme exasperation, “I’ll get back to you, Gene.”

So, let’s talk about the good… New Mexican cuisine – THAT is what is good.  Inspired by our fave breakfast spot, Doug’s Day Diner, I made a red chili and green chili to go over beef tostadas.  Home run!  I could eat Mexican food every day (turns out, most days, I do!).

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Tired of seeing this meal?  Good, me neither.  Chicken-fried-chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy are my go-to when we are having a craptacular day.  I tried a new recipe for this one, I thought it was stellar, my dear husband likes the old version.

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A Rockies baseball game on a beautiful, sunny Thursday afternoon (never mind the altercation we saw in traffic that ended up with a man collapsing and the paramedics surrounding him moments later, sadly, it’s city life to hear sirens regularly), and ignoring the 8 million e-mails I had waiting for me for the punishment of taking a few hours off. IMG_3835_fotor

Let’s have a party!  My dear friends, Lowell and Lenee’ were in town, with their beautiful baby.  I invited some friends over, cooked all day, and enjoyed seeing them again.

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Here’s some of my dining success:

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Deviled Eggs (which I think are the devil, because I can’t stand eggs or mayo, but it’s pretty fun to make).
Macaroni Salad (still the devil, but it’s my husband’s request and it got him through some hard times).
Chocolate-Covered Strawberries (I’m glad I tasted one, since they were gone in the blink of an eye).
Raspberry-Mint-Vodka Libation (Probably consumed too much).

And then, drama struck, because nothing about living in this hellhole we call Denver is easy.  My husband got bit by our neighbor’s bulldog, which he innocuously bent down to pet it.  I may have over-reacted, but I felt justified in doing so. I’ve never been to the ER (I’m 38), and I was a bit freaked out.  Fifteen stitches on the chin.  Our ER providers were very nice, and it was nothing like the TV shows.  They were calm and polite, and of course, my husband cracked jokes the entire time.  Neither of us had eaten at the party (which is par for the course), and my macaroni salad was what he requested to eat when he got home.

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So I have to take comfort in this view, which is quite nice.  But if you know of any exorcists or priests who can exorcize the demons in this damn house, let me know.

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Craft Cocktails (Subtitle: How I Will Survive Denver)

I know, I’m being unreasonably harsh on Denver.  But Denver has not exactly been easy on me.  However, let’s start this out with some positives.

What’s Right in Denver:

  • Craft cocktails, by far and away, I am in love.  Some of the most creative and cool people I’ve met here have been my bartenders and servers.  I cannot even comprehend how they can blend such amazing flavors into one glass, but I am on a quest to find out!
  • Some really stellar restaurants.
  • Some really funky cool bars.
  • Some of the people.
  • Mountain view from my backyard.
  • Rain.  After living in desert climates for 8 years, I welcome back the rain.

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What is Less-than-Right in Denver (probably most any urban location, just so you know I’m not solely picking on my new locale):

  • Effing traffic!  Honestly, it never freakin’ ends!
  • It takes an entire day to run errands (see: traffic).
  • Tardiness, which is my pet peeve (see: traffic).  I twitch if I know I’m not going to be 5-10 minutes early.
  • All Whole Foods are not created equal (the closer to my house they are, the smaller and less convenient they seem to be).
  • Pollution.
  • Bugs … everywhere … like colonies of millers and mosquitoes living in my garage and outside my windows, ready to freak me out every time I open the door.
  • Poverty.
  • Dinginess (yes, the city is dirty).
  • People are way too psyched about pot.  I don’t care if others do it, but it’s a topic that I have spent too time upon without caring anything about it whatsoever.
  • People are not excited enough about ranching and farming and eating local.
  • And, of course, the fact that our builders continue to ignore the things they promised to finish for us when we closed on our house.  Nagging someone to do his/her job is not a productive or happy use of my time.

So this morning I set out for Whole Foods, a mere 26 miles from my new house, but it’s the one that has a seafood counter, a meat counter, bakery, and a large produce section.  These are my criteria.  I wish I could be less high maintenance on these points, but I read too much, I love to cook, and food is my true passion.  Try as I may, I am having a difficult time sourcing ranchers, and the farmer’s markets have not yet started here.  It was much easier in Wyoming and Nevada.

I put the top down on my shiny red car, because no matter what circumstance, if I’m driving with the top down, I can’t be in a dismal mood.  Thankfully, Air Supply came on the 80′s countdown, and it was the beginning of a nice drive with my old music.  I cruised with my GPS, which is strictly off limits when my dear husband, the human GPS, is in the car.  I stocked up on fresh produce, meats, and seafood.  I found an awesome liquor store down the street from WF with amazing selection, prices, and men who mildly flirted with me (and even carded me!), took the box of booze out to the car for me, and opened my car door for me.  I’m a feminist, but chivalry still appeals to me.  By the way, if I see someone in need, I won’t hesitate to open doors or carry boxes.

I am proud to report, my friends, that I left my GPS off for the ride home, and made it with no panic, no wrong turns, and no international (or domestic) incidents.  I pulled to the side of the road when an ambulance blazed by, only to stop at 24 Hour Fitness.  How’s that for a good reason not to go to the gym?  And how much does that ruin a Saturday, not only are you at the gym, but then you get hauled away in the meat wagon?  No bueno.

So I came home, made myself my regionally-famous hummus (which so far, no restaurant, no matter how amazing, can outdo), and started a craft cocktail.  It needs work, but it will sure take the edge off spending 3 hours only accomplishing procuring food and booze for the week.

Denver Day Delight (I challenge you to come up with a better name, but I’m prone to alliteration.)

IMG_3798_fotor For one cocktail:

Muddle 6 raspberries in a shaker (No more, no less!  Just kidding, use however many you want.)
Add:
1 teaspoon of honey (I use local, because “they” say it helps with allergies)
1 ounce vodka (Breckenridge was my choice, local and smooth)
1/2 ounce grapefruit schnapps
1/2 ounce orange liquor
A few ice chips

Shake vigorously to blend for a few seconds.  Then pour into a cocktail glass with a really cool big ice cube ball (molds available at Amazon, but probably anywhere else).
Pour 2 ounces of orange juice over the top.

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Enjoy with sunshine.

 

A Tale of Two Coleslaws

So, one of the coolest parts of living in Denver is that we do have kick-@ss friends here.  We were lucky enough to be invited to our dear friend, Jarrett’s 40th birthday party (my husband and I are staring at 40 in 2015, so this is a preview of next year!).  His request – coleslaw, the may0-y kind.  Of course, I can’t just make one thing for a party, so I have two – a mayo-y slaw and a more fruity-vinegary slaw, mainly because his wife, Michele, and I are two peas in a pod and prefer this version!

Coleslaw

IMG_3774_fotorMakes about 12 cups

1 large head of green cabbage, sliced and diced into small pieces
4 carrots, grated into submission
1/2 onion, grated finely
2 teaspoons salt (I used course sea salt)
Several grinds of freshly-ground black pepper

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In a large container, add the cabbage, carrots, salt, and pepper.  Let sit while combining the sauce.  Hint:  You can use a food processor, but I love my cleaver and grater.

Sauce:
2 cups mayo
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (I love unfiltered)
3/4 cup sugar (I used raw cane sugar)
2/3 cup whole milk

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Combine the sauce ingredients until well blended, and then stir into the slaw mix.  It is best if you let it sit for several hours (i.e. make it in the a.m. for an evening BBQ).

 

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Vinegary-Fruity Cole Slaw

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1 head cabbage, diced finely
2 carr0ts, shredded
2 apples, shredded (I prefer Granny Smith)
2 stalks rhubarb shredded
Zest of 1 lemon

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Sauce:
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup apple cider vinegar (I prefer unfiltered)
2/3 cup organic can sugar
1 teaspoon seat salt

To the mixed veg, add the well-stirred sauce, stir, and refrigerate for several hours.

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The Denver Chronicles

Forgive me, Friends, for my lack of posting.  Moving to Denver has been every bit as challenging as I expected.  Nothing has gone well, from our house still not being finished to every house, utility, and post office debacle one can imagine.  Moving to Reno was so easy, moving away was definitely difficult.  But, I am trying to adjust and make the best of it, because I have super cool friends here and I meet new super cool friends every day.  Here’s a montage in pics …

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Watermelon Cucumber Cocktail before the Kentucky Derby.

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Awesome girls night in with my new girlfriends.  I cooked an Asian dinner, and I thought I rocked it!

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Not a golfer, but I had fun with my friend Michele and her two friends in a Diva golf tournament, complete with vodka shooters.

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The Red Lady, at the Arvada Tavern.  Craft Cocktails are my new obsession.

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Pretty flowering tree in my yard … before the snow killed the blossoms.
Have I mentioned I am not thrilled about living in the cold Rockies?

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Amazing grass-fed steak at Arvada Tavern.  My husband chooses the coolest restaurants.

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Lady of the Pines craft cocktail at the Arvada Tavern.

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Cucumber mint vo-jito at Marco’s (vodka, not rum), my own request.

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My lovely daughter (in pink) before Prom.

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Peruvian dinner!

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Marco’s in the DTC, our favorite bar.

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Sangria at Los Dos Potrillos, our fave Mexican restaurant.

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The lovely house-warming plant that our friends at Marco’s gave us after we closed on our new house.  We love them!

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Our amazing realtors, Jill & Greg, after finally closing on our house.  We love them dearly!

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The Brooklyn pizza at Marco’s (half no cheese for me).  Delightful – VPN pizza!

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Our dear friends at Marco’s.  They made our temp living awesome.
Rocktinis and Fireballs!

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Finally, we are moving in, over 15,000 pounds of our stuff, delivered in several crates.
Yes, I know this because it was clearly printed for us to see – over 7 tons of stuff.  Want to bet that 6 tons of it was for my kitchen?

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Casualty of the move – a Silverhorse Winery wine glass shattered.

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They didn’t stop bringing in boxes labeled “kitchen.”

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Funky diner in Commerce City.

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Watching “Bar Rescue” and marveling at how our new rug really ties the room together.

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Beautiful morning scene from the backyard.

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And before the first of two days of tornado warnings.

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Sunrise.

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Finished putting away the “Great Room” goods.  Put away, not organized, mind you.

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Perhaps where the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers hang out.
Next to the impossibly small, disappointing Whole Foods that is closest to my house (no butcher counter, no fish monger, limited produce selection, but still lots of “non-food” food products).  Hashtag – first world problems.

So I’m ready to cook for you.  Come on over!