I’ve got at least 20 years of experience under my belt, or in my ski boots, whatever the case may be, but I still think high altitude cooking is a royal pain. The Lodge at Snowbird is 8100 ft above sea level, which means water boils at around 185F. It means the little white Zolfino beans that I lovingly carried all the way from the Italian village of Anghiari, that usually cook in 45 minutes, are still rock hard 2 1/2 hours later. It means pasta that should cook in 16 minutes was done in 8 minutes. There is no rhyme or reason.
It’s not that temperatures don’t mean the same, but is a rare steak rare at 140F, or is it bleeding red, or that funky grey overcooked color?
Do you know anything about Snowbird? It has a reputation for being a tough, rugged, testosterone mountain, but in reality, it’s a tough, rugged, testosterone mountain. The ratio of men to women is roughly 750 to 1. Maybe I’m exaggerating. I refer to the hot tub as being a “man tank” bubbling away with tired man flesh. The occasional women who show up are ogled like pin up girls from the 1940’s. There is a certain tough girl glamour for those of us who ski with the boyz. Connected to the hot tub, is a large heated swimming pool and that’s where our clan usually gathers, and the conversations range from the weather (it’s an obsession), the conditions in Mineral Basin, did you hear the avalanche bombs this morning, and what’s for dinner.
The ‘what’s for dinner’ part of the conversation is always the most serious. Fresh food ebbs and flows depending on if anyone has gone down into the valley to shop, or has someone passed along some mountain stash, or is it time to break out the frozen vegetables? If we tap into Kevin’s stash of canned goods, then things are dire.
It’s like playing an endless game of Chopped. In your mystery basket tonight you have: 1 package of scallops, 2 boneless pork chops, 2 cajun sausages and 1 orange bell pepper and an onion. Too easy! Cut up the pork and sausage into bite size pieces. Thinly slice the onions, thickly slice the pepper and saute the ingredients until done.
Remove from the pan and add a few chili peppers, chopped garlic and quickly sear the scallops. Finish with a zap of soy sauce and hot sauce. Toss together. Finish with finely chopped fresh basil and serve over rice.
For last night’s finale dinner, we started with one tri-tip steak, but the party was too big for just one tri-tip, so we added shrimp to the mix. The last bit of fresh broccoli needed to be eaten. Salad greens were a distant memory, but we had celery in abundance. And there was a last minute request for couscous. So here it is, dinner made in 30 minutes.
Sear the tri-tip. Have staff open all the windows and doors so we don’t set off the smoke alarm. It’s good to be the Queen of the Kitchen with a minion of hungry men willing to do my bidding.
While the tri-tip is searing, chop the broccoli and thinly slice the last of the ginger.
Give a trusted kitchen companion the super sharp mandolin and let him slice the celery for the celery and blue cheese salad. Keep a close eye on the companion so that we don’t wind up with finger salad.
In the shrimp pan add all the remaining garlic cloves in the house, a few chili peppers, a small glug of olive oil, a knob of butter, a bay leaf, a few shots of hot sauce. Turn the heat on medium low.
Add the remaining frozen peas to the boiling couscous water, add some Vadouvan spice that you had forgotten all about, add the couscous, turn off the heat. One dish done.
Saute the broccoli. Realize the men folk are wolfing down almonds. Grab a handful and chop them up to finish the broccoli.
Turn up the heat on the shrimp pot.
Check on the tri-tip which is resting comfortably.
Toss the shrimp (with their shells on) into the pan and toss vigorously. Complain loudly that there isn’t enough heat. It’s good to get a disclaimer out there early. No one is listening anyway. Hit the shrimp with a good sized glug of cognac. Remove the shrimp from the pan, add another knob of butter and let it melt and mingle with the spices. Add a few more shots of hot sauce, a couple of squirts of Worsteschire sauce and the rest of lemons left over from the cocktail making frenzy that went on while you were cooking.
Slice the tri-tip, drizzle generously with truffle oil and sit down with the gang.
Serve. Eat. Laugh a lot. And that’s what high altitude mountain cooking is all about. Sort of makes cooking at sea level boring, doesn’t it?
I’m already missing the clan, but I’m certainly happy to be a member.