A few months back, I got a Facebook message from my friend Tiffany, who runs Offbeat + Inspired, one of my favorite blogs. She and I had struck up a friendship over the summer when we co-hosted a dinner in Lexington, KY, where she lives. She had an urgent question: "Can you go to Jackson Hole, Wyoming with me and my blogger friend Jana?"
Jackson Hole?! I LOVE Jackson Hole. I'd been with my family before, but it was, well...almost 20 years ago. My only memory of it was that I absolutely adored it. The mountains, the horses, the winding roads... It's paradise. The catch? I had to leave in a week. Some things, though, just work out, and I got the time off work to head to Wyoming with a good friend, and a soon-to-be good friend to shoot a video for Jeep.
I've gotten a few really opportunities since MasterChef ended, but this one was by far the most epic. I won't work with brands I don't believe in; I really, really like Jeep. So to get to drive around a brand-spanking-new (red!) Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel through one of the most gorgeous places on earth with two of the coolest chicks I know? Sign me up. Full disclosure (because advertising lawyers are scary–trust me, I know): I got paid to do this; the whole trip is sponsored by Jeep. (But let me be the first to tell you: it didn't feel like work!)
Without further ado: here's the video!
The idea: we'd be "glamping" (glamorous + camping = Glamping). We'd visit local shops to style our gorgeous campsite, create a fabulous outdoor meal with the help of a world-class chef, and snap as many photos as we could along the way. All in all, not a bad gig, right? The weather was gorgeous; the scenery was postcard-perfect; and the company was superb. We started our Jackson Journey as friends; we ended it as sisters.
The real highlight for me (food nerd that I am) was visiting a local farm to dig up–literally–ingredients for our dinner. The closest I get to farming in New York City is visiting the Union Square Greenmarket. But actually digging up beets and carrots myself? That was untrodden territory. The work we did on the farm (note: we did about .001% of what the workers there do on a given day) gave me a real understanding of the sheer amount of human effort it takes to grow the delicious ingredients we cooks often take for granted. Working on a farm is no joke, and I walked away with an even deeper appreciation for the men and women who give life to the things I rely on to live my passion.
The dinner itself was gorgeous. Picture it: golden sunset light filtering through the aspen trees, California rosé sparkling like a pink gemstone in everyone's glasses, and horses galloping by in the near distance as we toasted to new friends and our beautiful surroundings.
The best times we had in Jackson Hole were the moments I could never do justice to in any photo or caption: cruising down the mountain-lined roads with friends, giggling and giddy, music turned up, laughing at newly-minted inside jokes and stopping for bad gas station coffee. Of all the good things that have come my way since MasterChef ended, going on this adventure with Tiffany and Jana tops the list–no contest.
But it wouldn't be an adventure without food, right?! We were incredibly lucky to get to work with Chef Wes Hamilton, a local chef with a really impressive resumé. He's the real deal: he runs the Couloir restaurant, one of the most respected in Wyoming. He's got mad skills, and he's a super humble dude. It was an honor to help him prepare the camp meal.
We also visited Persephone Bakery, an adorable and cozy space filled with the most delicious pastries and freshly baked bread you could imagine. While others sipped tea and nibbled on brioche buns, we bopped around with our phones and cameras, snapping pics (bloggers gonna blog, am I right?). We also learned how to make marshmallows from scratch; I usually hate marshmallows, but when they're freshly made, it's a whole other ball game. They were light, ethereal, and scrumptious. Just goes to show, no matter how much you know about cooking, there is always something new to learn, and I left feeling completely inspired–or maybe that was just the sugar high ;-)
Below, I've included some recipes for a meal inspired by the one we made with Chef Wes (we enjoyed bread from Persephone to start the meal). These are not exactly what we and Chef Wes created, but they're in the same spirit. Enjoy!
Thanks for coming along on our Jackson Journey. I can't wait to share more post-MasterChef journeys with all of you! Happy cooking!
RECIPE: GRILLED HANGER STEAK WITH GREEN HERB SAUCE, GLAZED CARROTS, & BRAISED MUSTARD GREENS
1 hanger steak for every 2 guests you want to serve
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh parsley, minced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
a few bunches farm-fresh baby carrots (rainbow carrots if you can find them), peeled and halved
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 bunches fresh mustard greens, chopped
1/2 white onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
loaf of fresh bread, sliced, for serving and sharing
1. Heat a Dutch oven or large pan over medium-high heat. Melt the butter in the pan, then add the carrots, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down and stir in the sugar. Stir to melt. Add a little water, turn the heat down, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender.
2. Heat another Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. Melt the 2 T. olive oil with the 2 T. butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and saute for about 5 minutes, until starting to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the sherry vinegar to deglaze. Add the mustard greens and about a cup of water. Turn the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the greens are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning.
3. Fire up a grill (if you're outside). If you're inside, get a grill pan screaming hot. Ideally bring your steak to room temp, and liberally season it with salt and pepper. Place it on the oiled grill and leave it–don't touch. Flip it after 3-4 minutes (maybe less if the steak is very thin; more if it's quite thick). Cook on the other side until the steak is medium-rare or cooked to your liking. Set aside on a cutting board to rest.