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5 Tricks For Eating Out With No Guilt

So you promised yourself that this is the year you’ll lose weight. No more eating out for you,...

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One of the best ways to prevent cancer from striking is through boosting your body's immune system naturally, which can all be done through clean and healthy eating. Here are the top 10 foods to include in your diet to reduce your risk of developing many types of...

5 Tricks For Eating Out With No Guilt

So you promised yourself that this is the year you’ll lose weight. No more eating out for you, right? No, says Franco Pisani, owner of Paravicini’s Italian Bistro and Sopra in Colorado Springs. You can make healthy food choices when eating out. “You don’t have to...

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5 Tricks For Eating Out With No Guilt

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Vegan Eats in Colorado Springs

If you’ve been reading this vegan column for as long as I’ve been writing it – more than three years – then you know that a good number of restaurants around town offer clearly marked, ready-to-serve plant-sourced options. But many restaurants don’t seem terribly vegan-friendly. And sometimes we end up at one of those because we’re meeting friends, family or colleagues for meals. So I’m sharing three strategies to sleuth your way to a delicious plant-based meal.

Tip 1: Review menus online

Whenever I’m invited to a restaurant where I’ve never dined, I look for the menu on their website or a Facebook page. I did that recently for a meal at The Famous and saw plenty of ways to get around the meat and fish for lunch at the steak house. Two of us opted to split two vegetable-forward options.

The grilled veggie sandwich ($13) is nearly vegan; just hold the cheese. Served on house-made rye and onion bread, the massive portion has smoky asparagus, peppers, mushroom cap and summer squash served with a fresh avocado half. The soft warm bread, creamy avocado and aromatic vegetables are exquisite. The Sesame Chicken Salad ($16) without the chicken is equally massive, as they increased the vegetables. Bright and colorful crunchy cashews, carrots, lettuce and cabbage are served over soba noodles with a serious kick of heat. This high-end salad and sandwich are worth every penny.

Tip 2: Talk to the chef or kitchen manager

When friends invited me to Hacienda Colorado, I figured eating vegan would be a sure thing. Beans, tortillas and rice are my kind of meal. But when I asked the server to confirm that the rice and beans were vegan, he came out with kitchen manager Robert Glerup. All of the beans are made with animal products, and even the tortillas (yep, hard, soft and the chips) are made with lard.

Glerup chatted with us and came up with an excellent suggestion. Celery or carrots are almost always in the kitchen, so we opted for celery sticks to dip in the salsa. He suggested the portobello fajitas ($15.99) in lettuce boats, and those sizzling plates of mushrooms and vegetables – with sweet carmelized onions – were meaty on their own. Served with a side of seasoned vegan rice, they made a hearty meal.

Tip 3: Follow restaurants and vegan and vegetarian groups online

My Facebook feed is filled with announcements from local restaurants about their special of the day or upcoming events. Sure, much of the food isn’t vegan. But now and then, something surprising pops up.

Last month, the Colorado Springs Vegan Events group hosted a "vegan restaurant week." I learned that the Golden Bee at The Broadmoor, one of the participating restaurants, had added a Monday night special. In honor of Meatless Monday, the chef creates the 100 percent plant-based Broadmoor Farms Buddha Bowl ($17).

In the vegan world, Buddha bowls (or hippie bowls) are commonplace. Fill a bowl with beans, greens and grains. The Golden Bee’s version is anything but conventional. A protein bomb with tofu, chickpeas, lentils, edamame and even quinoa (serving as a protein and seed/grain), it’s not as overwhelming as I assumed it would be. That’s likely because it’s served in a light, umami-rich broth over roasted sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables and cabbage. This is the dish that just might make your non-vegan dining companion covet your order and rethink his aversion to vegetable-forward dining.

If eating vegan or plant-based is new to you, it can feel a bit overwhelming when dining out. But remember, all it takes is a quick scan of an online menu, a conversation with a friendly kitchen manager or following some of your favorite restaurants on social media to discover that delicious, plant-inspired menu items are there for the ordering – even at restaurants that don’t seem vegan-friendly. And speaking of that, don’t miss Phantom Canyon’s Vegan Beer Dinner on Jan. 12. Check out their Facebook page for all the details.

Colorado Springs Craft Distilleries

If you’re hunkering down at home this New Year’s Eve, create your own party by getting a little crafty with craft cocktails from craft spirits made by Colorado Springs-area distilleries.

Four local distillers – Black Bear Distillery, Distillery 291, Lee Spirits and Axe and The Oak Distillery – gave the lowdown on their craft.

Black Bear Distillery

10375 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls

"When you look at cocktail history in old books, it’s evident that the bartenders who crafted these drinks understood the value of quality spirits, fresh juices and good ice," says Victor Matthews, who transformed his Black Bear Restaurant into a distillery in 2013. "You make everything from scratch. the spirit, sweet vermouth, bitters, infusions, good ice, and squeeze fresh juices."This sounds daunting and scary, but it isn’t."

Dedicated to using non-GMO ingredients from small Colorado farms, Matthews said, he gets his corn from the Ute Mountain Tribe in Towaoc and his grains and honey from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers Coop. The result is award-winning spirits, which you can find at most local liquor stores, including Coaltrain Fine Wine Craft Beer Spirits, Veterans Wine and Liquor and Powers Liquor Mart. His labels include Black Bear Irish Style Whiskey, Black Bear Distillery Mountainshine, Black Bear Distillery Reserve Shine, Black Bear Distillery Rum and Black Bear Distillery Vodka.

While he’s all for making everything from scratch, he also recommends some store-bought ingredients to use in his "Celebration in the City: The Ultimate Manhattan" recipe that follows. And if you want to craft your own sweet red vermouth, you’ll need a half bottle of red wine and a clear spirit such as vodka, Everclear or gin.

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"Of course, we recommend the Mountainshine from Black Bear," he said.

Then you need to assemble some herbs and spices, such as orange zest, lavender, cardamom, thyme, black pepper and star anise.

"I sometimes put in some fresh ginger and cinnamon as well," he said.

Pour the wine into a stainless steel pot, add herbs, cover and simmer for five minutes. Add 1 cup of sugar to mix and dissolve fully. Let the mixture sit at room temperature about two hours or until cool. Filter into a clean, empty wine bottle and fill with clear liquor to fortify. Shake and cork.

"You now have homemade sweet red vermouth," he said. "Keeps in the fridge indefinitely."

Free tours and tastings for four or more by appointment. Details: 684-9648, blackbeardistillery.com.

Distillery 291

1647 S. Tejon St.

Former New York fashion and advertising photographer Michael Myers moved to Colorado Springs in 2004. After researching how to make whiskey, he set to work. But first he created a unique still. With the help of Colorado Springs craftspeople, he had his still welded and formed out of copper photogravure plates that he had used to print photography for an art show in 2001, shortly after 911. Some of those etchings face inward to add character to the spirits during distillation; others face outward so images can be enjoyed.

He fired up his first run on the still in September 2011 and now produces five whiskeys and one liqueur. He has earned national and international recognition for his spirits’ unique character and flavor, earning bushels of awards.

You can book one-hour tours of the distillery for $20 on Saturdays. Details: 323-8010, distillery291.com.

Axe and the Oak Distillery

1604 S. Cascade Ave., in the Ivywild School

Distiller Jason Jackson and partners Casey Ross, Eric Baldini, Sky Young and Scott White are making aged bourbon that is carefully blended and bottled. The corn and rye come from Ravencamp Farms in Hugo. They distill slow and low to keep the maximum flavor in the whiskey. Right from the get-go, their spirits have taken top honors in competitions.

While the distillery is at 4665 Town Center Drive, the tasting room and bar are at the Ivywild School, open 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Details: 651-2737, axeandtheoak.com.

Lee Spirits

110 E. Boulder St.

Cousins Ian and Nick Lee opened Lee Spirits in 2013.

"My cousin and I discovered that no one was making pre-Prohibition American dry gin, the gin that was commonly used in cocktails before Prohibition," Ian said. "We both love cocktails, so when we discovered that we couldn’t make classic cocktails correctly with the ingredients at our disposal, we decided to make the gin that we were missing."

Their gin is getting noticed in part by the way it’s distilled.

"What sets our gin apart from others is that we do a distillation technique called single shot," said Ian. "This is the technique Americans used to create gin prior to 1920."

How good is the gin?

"The award that put us on the map in a big way was us tying Hendrick’s in the gin category at the New York International Competition in 2015," he said. "Nearly all of our products have won awards at a handful of different major competitions."

Their gin lineup: dry gin, lavender gin, strawberry ginger gin and ginfuego (infused with peppers and spices). Liqueurs include forbidden fruit, creme de rose, creme de violette, creme de cocoa and alpine liqueur.

Their speakeasy tasting room, Brooklyn’s on Boulder, is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, and 5 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays. Visit leespirits.com.

5 Bordeaux Wines Under $30

As recent wine industry reports show blended wines gaining popularity, I wonder how much of that is Bordeaux. I suspect little. And I suspect that is largely because of price.

When I first got interested in wine, I could afford even top Bordeaux on occasion. The famous château of the Left Bank (of the Gironde estuary) communes of Margaux, Paillac, St. Estephe, St. Julien and Graves – plus the Right Bank communes of St. Emilion and Pomeraol – get most of the attention. But their prices are beyond what most can afford.

Bordeaux values do exist, though. Wines from the Left Bank, particularly those carrying the Cru Bourgeois label, offer admirable quality for significantly lower prices. Here are three Cru Bourgeois to serve as an introduction.

– Château Aney. This domaine, built in 1850 by the Aney family, is between St. Julien and Margaux and has been owned by the Raimond family since 1972. The wine is made in a more traditional style at only 12.5 percent alcohol with a judicious use of oak, a balance of earth and fresh currant, drinking with finesse. The 2012 ($24) is 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 7 percent cabernet franc, and 3 percent petite verdot.

– Château Maurac. Situated just outside of St. Estephe, Maurac has been a Cru Bourgeois since 1932, and the quality continues under new owner Claude Gaudin. The 2012 ($25), at 50 percent merlot and 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, struck me as more modern in style with tangy red and black fruits, a touch of oak and a lush texture.

– Château Greysac. This domaine just north of St. Estephe was built in the 1700s. Its wine has been a favorite of mine since I began drinking wine in the late 1970s. It was nice to see it show well here. The 2012 ($26) is 65 percent merlot, 32 percent cabernet sauvignon and 3 percent petite verdot. It is earthy, spicy and minerally, presenting black currant fruit with authority.

On the Right Bank, the satellite regions of the Côtes de Bordeaux are worth seeking out. The region – encompassing the villages of Blaye, Castillon, Cadillac and Francs – can deliver extreme value. Also, many of the producers pursue organic and biodynamic practices. Here are two good ones.

– Château Puygueraud. This estate is in Francs, the most rural of the Côtes de Bordeaux and known for prehistoric Lascaux cave paintings. It is owned by the Thienpont family, which also owns the highly regarded Vieux Château Certan in Pomerol. The 2014 ($20) is 75 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent malbec. It offers juicy black currant, touched with tobacco, spicy herbs and generous tannins.

– Château Hyot. With roots in nearby Saint-Émilion since 1750, the current generation of the Aubert family continues the tradition, with their daughters overseeing vineyards, winemaking and marketing. The 2014 ($25), 60 percent cabernet franc, 20 percent merlot and 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, has juicy blackberry and red currant accented with toast, forest and licorice notes; it’s balanced with an elegant but firm texture.

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