We look back at our year in Western eats and share a quick and easy recipe.
It’s been a sweet and savory year as C&I’s food and drink editor. I’ve hopscotched and hoofed it across the Rocky Mountains, eaten more than my fair share of Western grub, kicked it with a chuck wagon cook, and more. So it’s time to look back at some of 2018’s Western Gourmet highlights.
A Feast by Firelight
I could build a replica of Bent’s Old Fort with the number of cookbooks that come across my desk each year. Among the myriad stunners these past 12 months is Feast by Firelight: Simple Recipes for Camping, Cabins, and the Great Outdoors. The cookbook is a game-changer for outdoor cooking. Feast by Firelight was also the prize of a giveaway for which readers were asked to submit their holiday meal plans. The responses were imaginative and touching. Ultimately, the book found a loving home in the randomly selected winner of Robyn Ardez, who wrote in her acceptance of the prize: “I love your magazine! and especially how you cover food!! I set up a base camp at my farm in Valley Center so I can practice gourmet camp cooking so when I go camping I can be camp chef. I look forward to using that book.” Read A Feast by Firelight and cook up the breakfast recipe from the book below.
My longtime fascination with chuck wagons reached new heights when I got to spend time with Kent Rollins, an honest-to-goodness cowboy and chuck wagon cook, and his wife, Shannon. The morning we spent together was filled with laughter, good eats, and a dynamic landscape, the kind of great stuff that made for C&I’s holiday spread feature. Read Holiday on the Ranch.
Munching at the Magee
Although I had done the research ahead of my trip to the Magee Homestead, a luxury resort ranch noted for its gourmet cuisine, I was surprised at not just the high caliber of the food but how well it played with Western adventures available to resort guests. I certainly wasn’t expecting to swoon at the experience of a two-hour trail ride through hay meadows, across creeks, and up sagebrush-swathed hillsides that culminated in a creek-side lunch of spicy pheasant burgers and rich beef burgers from the ranch’s Akaushi cattle, prized for excellent marbling and flavor, with the added delight of hatchet throwing and a refurbished chuck wagon. For more on my time at Magee Homestead, pick up the January 2019 issue of C&I on newsstands next week.
Salt Lake City
Photographer Robert Strickland and I traveled to the Utah capital for a story on Salt Lake City’s surprisingly excellent craft beer scene. Over the course of a few days, we sipped on brews that nearly knocked us off our bar stools. It wasn’t high ABVs that had us dizzy with stunned pleasure. Rather, it was the expertise that went into crafting a high-quality product despite tight regulations governing the alcohol levels of adult beverages in the state. Beer doesn’t have to be potent to be great. Then there was that dang pastrami burger, as great a burger as any I’ve ever had. So great was that burger that I featured it in the October 2018 Taste of the West feature. Read The Great Craft Beers of Salt Lake City.
State Fair of Texas Chowdown
From Fletcher’s corny dogs and butter sculptures showcased in the Creative Arts Building to the amateur cooking competitions in the aforementioned edifice and the Big Tex Choice Awards recognizing the belly-stretching talent of concessionaires, the State Fair of Texas is renowned for its culinary delights. Ahead of the three-week extravaganza at Dallas’ Fair Park, I munched my way through the finalists of the fried-food Oscars, the Big Tex Choice Awards. My favorite of the top 10: fried arroz con leche, deep-fried sweet crispy rice. Or as I described it: “If arroz con leche was served coated in puffed rice cereal, deep fried, served with ice cream, and coated with powdered cinnamon and caramel, I would not have hated it growing up. It’s an incredible, delightful option ... .” Read The Fried Foods of the State Fair of Texas.
The Old Pueblo, as Tucson is affectionately known, is one of two UNESCO Cities of Gastronomy in the United States and a few days grazing across the city in southern Arizona showed me why. Not only is Tucson situated on land with a 4,000-year history of agriculture, but the city is also home to El Charro Café, an old-timey Arizonan Mexican food where I reignited my love for fried ice cream, Anita Street Market, home to the best flour tortillas this side of the border, and Barrio Bread, an artisanal bakery led by Don Guerra, from whose shop shelves fly crusty pan rustico and sweet-and-sour walnut loafs. All of it is best washed down with one of Pueblo Vida Brewing Company’s brews. Aside from hazy, hoppy suds, the craft brewery is lauded for the label designs of its 16-ounce can. Each release commands a line of connoisseurs eager for the likes of the serape design wrapping the Embers IPA. I have one can left and am struggling to resist the urge to crack it open. Read A Stop in the Old Pueblo in the October 2018 Taste of the West issue.
Western Gourmet Inbox
This year has a been a great one for food and drink at C&I, but, I am perhaps proudest of the launch of the food and drink e-newsletter, Taste of the West. Sharing a name with the annual editorial package I spearhead with an excellent roster of contributors, the Taste of the West newsletter. The monthly dispatch project was born out of the plethora of potential content and the lack of space with which to share it Or as I put it, I found that there are “more stories that I can feasibly fit into each issue of C&I or on our website without sacrificing sleep.” So far I've taken readers hopscotching through Denver restaurants and a food hall and across the carb-loading heaven that is Tucson. Subscribe to the Taste of the West newsletter.
Bonus Entry: Carnitas Lonja
A chance visit to a San Antonio, Texas, restaurant that specializes in pork carnitas, that is pork bits fried in its own fat, ended with one of the best meals I’ve had all year. A tad sweet and completely luscious, the specialty at Alex Paredes’ Carnitas Lonja is a case study in how focusing on one thing can lead to magisterial excellence. I know, I’m laying on the superlatives pretty thick, here. However, one bite of the strands of pork, crunchy here and smooth there, wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla and finished with a spritz of lime and an earthy red salsa, and you’ll be typing out hyperbolic descriptors too.
Coconut-Quinoa Breakfast Bowl With Lemon and Blueberries
Goodbye, oatmeal. Hello, quinoa breakfast bowl. Inspired by a recipe from cookbook author Heidi Swanson, this healthful, energizing, protein-rich breakfast masquerades as a decadent dish you’ll want to eat all day! It’s fun to set up a toppings buffet so each camper can make his or her own bowl. If traveling light, you can substitute dried fruit for fresh fruit. Bring a can of coconut milk, and save extra for adding to coffee or drizzling over Firelight Quinoa Granola Clusters [recipe featured in the Feast by Firelight cookbook].
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or a mix
1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
¾ teaspoon coarse sea salt (preferably sel gris)
1 cup fresh blueberries or other seasonal fruit
1 cup quinoa*
1¼ cups water
1 cup coconut milk (Note: Use whole coconut milk, full of good fat and flavor. Light coconut milk has added water.)
2 tablespoons honey
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together the nuts, coconut oil, and ¼ teaspoon of the salt and spread in a single layer. Toast in the oven until the nuts turn caramel brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a second baking sheet and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag in a cool, dark place for up to 2 weeks.
Transfer the prepared nuts and the berries to small bowls with spoons for self-serving, or serve directly out of the containers.
In a medium pot, combine the quinoa, water, and ¾ cup of the coconut milk. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, then cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 12 minutes. Quickly uncover the pot and stir the quinoa to check if it’s done; the liquid should be completely absorbed and the quinoa full and fluffy. If needed, continue to cook for 1 – 3 minutes more. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and cover the pot to keep warm.
Just before serving, drizzle the remaining ¼ cup coconut milk and the honey into the quinoa and stir to combine. Using a Microplane, grate lemon zest over the top and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Spoon into campers’ bowls and let each camper top their quinoa with blueberries and toasted nuts. Store leftovers in an airtight container, chilled, for up to 5 days.
* (Note: Quinoa has a bitter coating called saponin. Nowadays, most quinoa is prerinsed to remove the saponin, but to maximize flavor and be sure it’s not bitter, follow these steps: In a pan over medium heat, toast the quinoa until they start popping and smell roasted, 5 – 8 minutes. Then, rinse in a fine-mesh strainer before using.)
Photography: (From Top) Courtesy Carrie Baird (Magee Homestead), Robert Strickland, (MidPhoto) Courtesy Magee Homestead/VOCA Public Relations, Robert Strickland, Courtesy State Fair of Texas, Courtesy Visit Tucson, Courtesy José R. Ralat, © 2018 by Christina Holmes (Feast by Firelight).
Recipe reprinted and adapted with permission from Feast by Firelight, text and illustrations © 2018 by Emma Frisch. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs © 2018 by Christina Holmes. Feast by Firelight is available for purchase online at Amazon.com and other retailers.
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