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Condo Cooking

2012 February 7
by Thehousedaddy

For the last couple of years we have been really lucky to spend the holidays in Aspen.  I know how lucky we are.  It is our very favorite place to be, and the only drawback is we can’t take our dog Samantha with us.  Every year we rent a condo from an old college friend who runs a real estate and property management company in the Aspen Valley.  Tim at Frias Properties has taken care of us for the last eighteen years.  Be it for a long weekend or an extended stay, they have more condos in town than anyone.  For the last three years, we have stayed in one that is very close to the gondola.  Not only can we see all of Aspen Mountain from our window, but also we can walk to the lift in our ski boots.Most of what you have heard of Aspen is true.  It is an amazing place that has some of the best skiing, food and culture in the world.  It is home and playground to the rich and famous, but it is also home to many locals who live in a community that is old and grounded.  In DC, most people work for or are connected to the government in some way.  Aspen has a similar relationship with the ski industry and many friends work directly and indirectly for the industry.  Those who live there are part of a town with an incredible history and vibrant local population.  Our family is very lucky to feel a part of this community.  I went to school with many locals who were born and raised in a town that attracted adventurous people who were seeking a lifestyle and way of life that is truly unique.  Most of my friends were delivered by the only physician in town, Doc Crandle , who treated a serious throat infection I developed while visiting Aspen in college.  This incredible place has the ability to integrate different economic classes better than most places I have seen.  The ski hill is the best example of this.  If you are a ski bum working 5 jobs, as I once was, and can barely scrape together enough money for rent and food you ride the same gondola car as the guy with the 12 million dollar house who has his own jet.  You get on the hill and in some ways you are equals.  I have often seen the power structure shift to favor the lower guy on the economic scale as the rich guy usually can’t ski as well or doesn’t have the local knowledge of where to ski.  Regardless, once on the hill there is no hierarchy based on wealth.

That being said, we can’t afford to eat out every night.  Condo cooking is a fun way for us to relax at the end of day and enjoy food with our friends and family.  The challenge is that we don’t have the pantry of our home that has the incredible depth.  In some ways it makes cooking more simple and basic, which is good, because we are usually very tired at the end of day and cooking for hours on end isn’t preferable.  The other thing that influences our condo selection is the proximity to the market.  Aspen has two main markets.  We usually need to go to both in order to make our meals for the whole week.  The City Market is your basic Giant or Safeway with a decent number of items.  Generally we can find better produce since Aspen is closer to CA than we are in DC.  We also continue to stay here since it is only one block away and opened 24 hours (we are usually there two times daily).  I have a bonus card that gives you amazing savings and we bring it with us every year.  Clarks is a little further, but has a better gourmet/vegan/asian/gluten free section.  We always need to visit Clarks for the gluten free soy sauce and spices as well as things like Arborio rice and polenta.  It also has a better selection of specialty produce like mushrooms and shallots that we use for some of our meals.

Since we usually have lunch on the hill or come back to the condo for leftovers, we generally just do breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is basically the same as home but with more options.  Virginia will make her gluten free muffins and we will have pancakes or oatmeal depending on what the kids feel like eating.  If we make pancakes we always do a gluten free version with almond flour and corn meal and a regular of almond flour and whole wheat.  You never know if Buckwheat will stop by for some breakfast before skiing or after an early morning skin up Buttermilk.  We also always have humus on a toasted English muffin or pita for Howie if he makes it over in the morning.

We have a few go to meals when we are there, consisting of warm, winter dishes that are easy to make and universally loved by our local friends who eat more healthfully when we are in town.  We typically have après ski in the condo and everyone stops by after work or skiing for wine and snacks.  The condo is small and cooking and socializing can all happen at the same time.  Usually Virginia stops skiing a little earlier than the rest of us and gets the après set up.  Truffle oil popcorn is a staple in Aspen.  Crackers and dips are also a mainstay.  We usually have a white bean or hummus dip, olive tapenade, and guacamole and salsa. Sometimes we even have cups of warm lentil soup.  The trick is not to stuff your self with the snacks before dinner.  

This year Chanukah and Christmas overlapped so we celebrated both in our own secular style.  We decided on potato latkes our first night.  Our condo this year was outfitted with a blender so we developed a new way to make them.  Pealed potatoes, an onion, salt, pepper and a little corn meal was all we needed.  The knives and pans are always an issue, so part of the challenge is making do with what we got.  We were able to blend it all by adding a little water and olive oil to the mix.  We then made pancakes and served them with roasted broccoli, romaine salad, and topped with either tofu sour cream or salsa.  We are not applesauce on our latkes kind of people, but if you are you can cook them in veggie oil and not add as much salt and pepper.  Jew or non Jew, who doesn’t like potatoes?  The meal is filling, and even though we had tofu sour cream it wouldn’t have been enough protein had we not had the hummus and warm lentil soup as a snack while we were cooking. 

Another tradition we have is Christmas Eve risotto with Howie, Minnie and Hooper.  While I usually cook most of the meals, this is truly a Virginia dish.  I am not always a fan of risotto since I feel like the Arborio rice is too white, but it has become a tradition that has grown on me.  We have made brown rice risotto, but it really isn’t the same.  This dish is a little different than we would make it at home.  Our dearest friend who usually has every meal with us when we are in Aspen has gout and one of his no eat foods is cauliflower.  The cauliflower, which has appeared in many of our posts, has the ability to give richness and creaminess without using cream or cheese.  For Howie, we do without.  Since we don’t have a risotto pan, we sauté mushrooms, garlic, pearl onions and frozen limas in a pan at the highest possible heat so they get caramelized and crispy.  In another shallow pot we put in the Arborio rice with onions and garlic and slowly add white wine and veggie stock while constantly stirring.  This process takes some serious time and attention, but with everyone in the one main room eating snacks, drinking and telling stories of the day, it is fun and easy.  As the rice starts to look translucent and absorbs the added liquids, we taste to see if it is close to being done.  We would add the veggies sooner if we had our at home risotto pan, but we make do with the tools we have.  It is important to get all the juices from the sautéed veggies into the rice mix.  We then cook together until done.  This is one of the few dishes we plate and we usually drizzle some truffle oil on top and sprinkle a little fresh basil.  We served with roasted asparagus and a salad.

Sadly I didn’t take pictures, but we usually make risotto balls the next day.  Since we are burning a serious amount of calories skiing all day we don’t feel so bad about the carbo overloading.  We take the cold leftover risotto and form it into golf ball sized balls by hand.  I then coat in corn meal and put on a well oiled cookie sheet.  We then broil them in the oven with the door cracked and turn them so they brown evenly. Even though they have the same ingredients as the risotto in its non-balled form, it tastes totally different.  If there are any left, they also make a great breakfast.  I will continue this series with different meals that you can make with a few ingredients and crappy pans.  Truth is that we usually enjoy what we make more than what we get when we go out to most places.  Nothing beats having Gloor and Maggie stop by for a visit, staying for dinner and chowing on vegan gluten free meals and having Howie and Hooper fall asleep on the sofa.  Noah and Sasha are always ask with concern if it is just us for dinner as they look forward to having the gang every night.  It is fun, however, to get out and see the other side of Aspen and rub shoulders with the same rich and famous you saw on hill and our annual tradition of Christmas cocktails and a wonderful dinner out hosted by Jim with Mary, Dan and the Louderback family is an event we look forward to and hope to never miss.

One Response leave one →
  1. sherry pyle permalink
    February 8, 2012

    ahhh…i’m feeling so peaced-out right now! thank you.

    so great to see pictures of noah and sasha – please give them my love (and to you and Virginia too). miss you guys!!! xoxoxo

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