A friend called me a while back to let me know he was coming to Denver for an indefinite amount of time and needed a place to crash. That's just the way the guy is: spontaneous, which is one of his many charming traits (his strong Southern drawl is another). We met and bonded out here, but about three years ago, he decided to move back to rural Mississippi where he's from, to live off the land and get his head straight. I was saddened to hear the news, but I knew it was the right path for him.
As a farewell, we headed up to the mountains to soak in the majesty of the Rockies. It was my first time camping -- and the first time I witnessed how easy and fulfilling it is to cook for yourself. My southbound friend, both a cook and brewer by profession and for pleasure, sensed the excitement in me that night, and before leaving, gave me his coveted cast iron skillet as a parting gift; he only asked that I use it wisely and often. It was one the of best presents I've ever received and my very first tool in the kitchen.
Not about to let my friend down, I began cooking with it daily. I sauteed in it, braised in it, baked casseroles in it, never once washed it -- and eventually became one with my cast iron skillet. It retains -- and withstands -- heat better than any other cookware out there, which is why mankind has been using it for hundreds of years; it also happens to be an ancient ingredient in and of itself, adding subtle depth of flavor from meals past.
So when I got the unexpected call that its original owner was coming back to town, I knew the right thing to do was to once again make the very short drive up to mountains, skillet in hand, to try and convince him to come back for good.
Since the trip was last minute, I didn't have time to shop for dinner, so I grabbed what ingredients I could from the kitchen for some makeshift bean burritos just as my buddy rolled up.
On our way to the hills, we decided to stop by Golden City Brewery, an award-winning brewery located in the backyard of its founders just off Main Street in Golden, for a couple pints and some beer to go. We quaffed a few, got a growler of the red ale, and got back on the highway, thus turning our backs on citified civilization. We randomly found the perfect pull-off camping spot outside of Georgetown, right next to a beautiful creek on Guanella Pass and set up camp. At dinnertime, we built a roaring fire and I cooked a filling for the burritos in the cast iron skillet right on top of it, using an old t-shirt for protection, while my friend toasted the tortillas on the hot rocks surrounding the pit. We used the toasted tortillas as utensils to scoop and soak up the smoky filling straight from the skillet and drank the refreshing traditional ale straight from the growler.
We felt entirely human under the emerging stars, stomachs full of simple food and good beer, as the sun set behind the still-snowcapped mountains. And the plan worked: When we got back to Denver the next day, my buddy immediately started looking for a job.
Here's the burrito recipe:
A medium- or large-size cast iron skillet, preferably already seasoned 2 tablespoons butter 1 cup leeks, chopped (we picked some nice ones up from the grocer right across the street from GC Brewery) 1 cup mushrooms, chopped (I had some tasty buttons from Hazel Dell in the fridge) 1 can pinto beans 1 cup Mexican cheese Salt and pepper to taste Tortillas Wood-burning campfire
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1. In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over the fire until it starts to brown. 2. Add leeks, a pinch of salt, and place skillet right in the middle of the fire (make sure to protect your hands) and sauté the leeks until soft. 3. Add mushrooms and sauté until soft, tossing frequently, again being careful to protect your hands. 4. Add beans, including the liquid, remove from flame, and set on coals alongside the fire. 5. Cook the filling until its thick, about 10 to 15 minutes, and toss in cheese. 6. Stir to combine and remove from heat. 7. Place tortillas on rocks facing fire and toast.