Tag Archives: food

Aspen #FoodandWine

What a wonderfully relaxing vacation visiting Aspen a few weeks ago! Every morning Mark and I did a different hike, came back to The Timbers Club where we were the only ones enjoying the sunny pool deck, and then went out to delicious dinners in Aspen or Snowmass.

We accidentally found a perfect week to visit – the temperature was warm but not too hot, restaurants had reopened after the Off Season, and the town was still fairly quiet prior to the unofficial summer season kick-off: The Aspen Food & Wine Classic that brings chefs and foodies together for a huge, town-wide party. We were tempted to book our trip during that exciting weekend (which was this past weekend), but in the end, I’m glad we didn’t because we had zero trouble getting reservations at the some of the best restaurants, our hiking paths were quiet and there were probably more staff than guests at our residences.

Having done a bit of pre-research on the dining scene, I made a few reservations at Aspen’s heavy hitting restaurants: Chef’s Club by Food & Wine in the St. Regis Hotel (there’s also one in NYC), AJAX Tavern (the place to be seen apres-ski…although there was only one day left of skiing during our time there), and Matsuhisa (amazing sushi from chef Nobu Matsuhisa of Nobu restaurants around the world).

Not wanting to whip out my camera (aka phone) at these upscale establishments, unfortunately I don’t have any photos from these places.

Chef’s Club – A. I loved the decor: stark white with snowflake-inspired lattice across the ceiling; an open kitchen that was framed by rustic wooden beams, making it seem like you were peeking through a knot in a tree Keebler Elves style and a long row of seats facing in to the numerous chefs working within; contemporary, colorful pop art and drawings of famous chefs around the walls.

B. The food was decadent and over the top rich but beautifully executed and delicate. Mark and I split the branzino (served whole and upright like it was swimming across the plate) and the halibut. Both were buttery and delicious and the branzino was served in a sweet and spicy coconut curry broth with other seafood. The light and slightly sparkly Albarino I drank with my whipped ricotta appetizer was delightful, as was the stoney Sancerre I had with the fish.

C. Each year after the Food & Wine Classic, a new line up of chefs work at the restaurant, each creating his or her own unique dish(es). Since we arrived before the Classic, the new chefs weren’t yet installed, so the menu was made up of the “best of the best” of the prior year’s menus.

AJAX Tavern was good but standard food and nothing more to really comment on there.

Sushi at Matsuhisa was AH-mazing. I had yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno and a spicy crunchy tuna roll (that they made without mayo for me), and Mark had the miso black cod which was rich and flaky. Everything was so good. Not cheap. But delicious and the service was excellent as well.

Some other food highlights from our trip:

Sitting at the bar at the historic J-Bar in Hotel Jerome which has the original wooden lattice work behind the bar and tin ceiling tiles. After our morning hike, Mark had their famous Aspen Crud, which is a bourbon and vanilla ice cream milk shake.

J-Bar at the Jerome Hotel
J-Bar at the Jerome Hotel
J Bar
J Bar
J Bar at the Hotel Jerome
the restaurant part of J Bar

Taking the J-Bar bartender’s recommendation to go to a new cocktail bar, Hooch, where we had the bar to ourselves and the bartender mixed us all sorts of different drinks with rye and fernet (not together).

Dinner at New Belgium Ranger Station in Snowmass Village, where we had a salty pepperoni pretzel roll and New Belgium beer (the Colorado brewery that makes Fat Tire).

So I didn’t get to our Denver adventures yet…next time!

Easy Winter Peppermint Bark

One of my all-time favorite holiday treats is peppermint bark. I’m particularly taken with the Ghirardelli version which uses dark or milk chocolate layered with white chocolate, and what appear to be crushed up bits of candy cane.

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But I sometimes feel like store-bought chocolates can be a bit waxy and I strongly prefer dark chocolate to other kinds. (85% cacao is an excellent mid-afternoon snack to wake up and because it’s so strong, no fear of eating the whole bar!) It seems like most of the peppermint bark in stores has at least some element of white chocolate in it, which I could do without.

So I decided to make my own wintery peppermint bark with deep dark chocolate, crushed up candy canes, and a bit of peppermint extract for an extra minty kick.

Note that you can use other kinds of chocolate to suit your preference! It’s such a simple recipe, but you’ll need wax paper or even better, shallow silicone ice trays which will make perfect little rectangles! Or you could find some fun holiday shapes like pine trees! Or make your own Hanukkah gelt if you find a tray with circlular molds.

Here’s what to do:

Melt your chocolate. I chose a mix of 70% and 86% cacao which is bitter but still palatable as a dessert. (Pick your mix of favorite chocolates!) Use a glass bowl set over a pot of boiling water (not touching the water) and continually stir the chocolate until it’s a smooth glossy liquid. Start with either a bag of chocolate chips or 5 standard size bars. This will make enough treats to eat yourself and share with a few friends.

Depending on how much chocolate you use, you will want a candy cane ratio such that each bite gets some chunks. For 5 chocolate bars, I used a total of 8 regular candy canes (they taste so much better than those round red and white dinner mints). First I finely crushed up 3 candy canes in a Ziploc bag using a meat hammer (you could also use the back of a frying pan).

Once the chocolate was melted and smooth, I turned off the stove heat and mixed in my 3 crushed candy canes and ½ tsp of peppermint extract to really amplify the mint flavor which can get lost in the overpowering dark chocolate (guess that’s why it’s standard to use white chocolate).

Line a pan with a lip (I used a pretty small one since I only used 5 chocolate bars) with the wax paper so that the paper hangs over all the edges. Pour the chocolate mix onto the wax paper and use a spatula to spread it evenly (or evenly pour the mixture into your silicone ice trays).

 

Then, in the Ziploc bag, I crushed up the remaining 5 candy canes into a mix of small and medium chunks. Don’t crush them into too fine a powder or else you won’t get that satisfying candy cane crunch in your bark.

Sprinkle these crushed candy canes over the chocolate along with a smattering of sea salt (a trick I learned from Carla Hall on The Chew).

Refrigerate until hard. Either pop the chocolates out of the silicone mold or break up the large chocolate sheet into bite sized chunks with a knife.

Wrap them up in cellophane or craft paper and make cute tags for friends and family! Yum!

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