Black bear eating from my apple tree, August night, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Recipe Time: Rhubarb Orange Preserves

We do a lot of canning around here, even in the summer heat.
A quick share this week of a recipe that I think I've finally perfected. The addition of orange peel and nutmeg, and making sure to vary the size of the rhubarb pieces has really improved the final product. Don't be surprised, friends of mine, if you find a jar of this yumminess in your Christmas stocking this year.

Rhubarb Orange Preserve
2-1/2 lbs. rhubarb, before processing
½ cup fresh orange juice (I got this much from one smallish orange)
½ cup water
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
6-3/4 cups sugar
2 packets liquid pectin
Coarsely ground rind of 1 orange
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
Red food color as desired

1. To give the final preserve a variety of textures, I divided the rhubarb into three batches. Batch number one I chopped really fine in the food processor, batch two not quite so fine, and the last batch was coarsely chopped so some larger pieces would remain.

2. Put orange and lemon juice and water in a a large saucepot with the chopped rhubarb. Add the orange rind and nutmeg to the rhubarb and cook at high heat for about 10-15 minutes, until boiling. Add as much red food color as you wish to color mixture, or omit entirely.

3. Stir the sugar into the rhubarb. Add ¼ tsp. of butter to prevent foaming. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.

4. Quickly add pectin to mixture and stir, returning to a full rolling boil for exactly one minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

5. Fill half-pint jelly jars with the preserve and process in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes. Let jars stay in hot water with lid off until cool, then remove jars to countertop where seals on lids will eventually “pop.”

NOTE: This preserve turns out runnier than jam but a little thicker than syrup. It is delicious on toast or English muffins, ice cream, yogurt, stirred in oatmeal or other hot cereal, or spread on pancakes.

 Teri Kman’s own recipe, based on several years of experimentation with lots of rhubarb!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Red Mountain Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

I realize that I've blogged about this spectacular place before, but having just visited again for the first time this year, I had such a great morning there I thought I'd share again.

We here in Larimer County are blessed with some fabulous parks and open spaces, perfect for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, boating, and just relaxing in. While many people are aware of the National and State Parks, many of the Open Spaces are overlooked. What that means for you as a visitor is fewer crowds and a more natural experience. I suggest that local residents pick up the latest version of the "Larimer County Natural Resources Recreation Map." You can find these in all our libraries, as well as other venues. The map is free of charge and shows several updates from the 2011 version. It's handy to have around when you find yourself with a day ( 5 hours minimum) to spare.

While the county administers many spaces, parks, reservoirs, and trails, this post is about Red Mountain Open Space, a very secluded, quiet, and beautiful area near the Wyoming border. It features a pleasant, moderate hike of about two miles that takes you through a gorgeous canyon and along a ridge offering stunning views of the landscape. This is a foot-traffic only trail, and keep in mind, dogs are not allowed in this Open Space.

The map will direct you to the Open Space by heading north of the town of Wellington, on County Road 15. There are signs along the way directing you to either Red Mountain to the west, or Soapstone Prairie Open Space (another wonderful, isolated, unspoiled paradise) to the east. I however, prefer approaching Red Mountain from the west off Highway 287, heading toward Laramie. There are no signs, but simply take the right turn to County Road 80. You'll drive past the Park Creek Reservoir and some free-ranging cattle (slow down!), and you'll probably see a few pronghorns along the way. When you hit County Road 19, take a left (north) and then you'll quickly reach County Road 21. There should be a sign there directing you northwest to the trailheads at Red Mountain.

Entering the canyon. A geology buff's dream. Several interpretive signs point out what minerals the strata in the rocks depict. And the signs give you an idea of geologic age.

Since this space opened a few years ago, I try to visit at least twice a year, and there has never been more than one other car in the parking lot on any of our trips. It is bliss for those who seek quiet and solitude. Here are a few suggestions from me to ensure your visit is most enjoyable.

While hiking in the gorgeous canyon is breathtaking (look up at the cliff swallow nests made of mud on the canyon walls), the canyon is rife with biting deer flies. Be sure wear insect repellent or long sleeves and pants.

Also, there is very little shade here, so try to get there as early in the morning as you can, or opt for a cooler, overcast day.
Trickling stream in the canyon. Lots of dragonflies--bring your field guide to identify them.

Pack a cooler with lunch and enjoy your meal at one of the shaded picnic tables. Bring plenty of water--there's none available at Red Mountain, but they do have very clean and modern outhouses.

Be on the lookout for wildlife. Because (I think) the trail is so unused, animals tend to be out in the open and not familiar with humans. On our recent visit we saw pronghorn, mule deer, cottontails, lizards, snakes, and golden eagles.
"Where the deer and the antelope play."

Red Mountain also features 40-plus miles of horseback riding trails. Hope to do that some day. The horse trails also allow mountain biking. Definitely going to do that next time.

Feeling fenced in? You'll love the freedom of wide open spaces, no noise pollution, and having a park all to yourself. Try doing that at a National Park in the summer.

Oh, and if you get your hands on the official map, you'll see that Red Mountain and Soapstone Prairie Open Spaces are connected by some long trails. How much stamina do you have on that horse, mountain bike (or on your legs)?

For those of you who do not live in the area, be sure to consider this lesser-known destination if you elect to vacation here in the northern Colorado/southern Wyoming area. While the big parks get most of the press, these undiscovered gems are often the ones you'll be talking to your friends about when you get home from your vacation. Here's the link for more information about all areas open for recreation that are administered by our county:

Thousands of cliff swallow nests can be viewed in the canyon.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cool Salads for July Fourth

Well, like the rest of the country right now, it's hot here in Northern Colorado. Had a few 100-degree days, with more scorchers yet to come. If you're like me, it's not a lot of fun to cook in the heat. We've been grilling outdoors and supplementing meals with nice, cool salads. I thought I'd share some of my favorite combinations/concoctions with you, and would love to hear about any others. I don't use recipes for salads, but if you're a halfway decent food-alchemist, just knowing the ingredients and your own personal preferences for salty/sweet/sour, you can create variations on my themes.

Spinach salad with grapefruit is the kind of salad you want to make fresh--maybe 15 minutes before you eat it. I toss spinach (baby leaves work great) in a bowl with just a dab of olive oil, then sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt. Then, I peel and rip apart a grapefruit right over the bowl, to catch the juice. Break the grapefruit into bite-sized segments. Throw in a handful of golden raisins and nut halves (walnuts, pecans) and toss. Then, drizzle on just enough honey for a nice balance of sour/bitter and sweet.

Quinoa salad in my house varies with the stuff I have on hand. We prefer this grain because, unlike rice or pasta, it packs a ton of protein. Boil 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups water for 12 minutes. Let it sit in the pot with the lid on for another 5 minutes. While still warm, transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and either lemon juice or rice vinegar and stir. Then I add fresh mint (cilantro is good too), a can of chickpeas, and diced red and green bell peppers. (If I have cucumber around, I skip the green pepper and dice a cuke instead.) I also throw in a handful of shelled, salted sunflower kernels, and if I have it, some feta crumbles. Then I drizzle with a bit of honey--just enough to curb the tang. Stir this up and let sit at least a half hour and then place in the fridge. Best eaten the next day.

Finally, my sweet potato salad is a fine substitute for the less-nutritious white potato variety. I boil a few sweet potato chunks in a covered pot just until tender--about 12 minutes. Then I transfer the drained potatoes to a bowl and just slightly mash them. Drizzle with olive oil, honey, and the juice of one lime. Toss in a handful of dark raisins and some flaked coconut (both can be omitted). Snip fresh rosemary over it all, add a little salt, and stir. Once again, put in the fridge after about 30 minutes and eat cold at least 4 hours later, allowing the flavors to be absorbed.

By the way, one barbecue standby that is highly nutritious (high fiber and protein, low in starches) is that familiar Three-bean salad. My only suggestion is to cut down on the amount of sugar used, perhaps by substituting sugar with Stevia.

Happy Independence Day! Stay cool.

Quinoa  Salad
Sweet Potato Salad

Spinach Salad with Grapefruit