Ken Ohlinger, the executive chef at Ranch House Restaurant, and wife Kelly Conner stick to the cornerstones of home cooking and sustainable agriculture in their Tabernash mountain home.
After graduating from New York's Culinary Institute of America in 1997, Ken worked in various kitchens ranging from the Residence Hotel in Aschau, Germany, to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee and the Lake Placid Lodge in New York's Adirondack Mountains. At 31, the Omaha native now heads up the Ranch House Restaurant at the luxurious Devil's Thumb Ranch resort in Tabernash.
"We have this indoor grill in our kitchen," says Ken. "I had actually never seen one before, but now we use it all the time in the winter." His favorite 30-minute marinade? "I use rosemary, bourbon, and brown sugar."
Ken recalls his mother's beef stew, which simmered on the stove each holiday. Kelly makes her own variation. "I do a Mexican pot roast—I put a Southwestern rub on the roast and add yellow rice, black beans, and corn."
The family fruitcake recipe was on the verge of extinction, so Kelly volunteered to keep it alive. "It's my great-great-grandmother's recipe," she says. "The family still raves about it, and my grandmother wants me to start making it now, so we're going to start a new holiday tradition this year."
Kelly is the family pastry chef, and she goes all out when making holiday cookies. "I love this website called Candyland Crafts. They have a huge assortment of things like edible glitter and specialty sugars." (www.candylandcrafts.com)
"I started collecting these when I was in Germany," Ken says, holding up a small, squat mug called a krug. "You buy the krug and leave it at the neighborhood pub, and that's your mug when you go there." He also has decorative steins he's collected from Bavaria and other places he visited.
"We put out a ton of appetizers for our poker night get-togethers," says Ken. The couple serves up homey nibbles such as tater skins, fried mac 'n' cheese, and fried pickles alongside blackberry-lime margaritas or "radlers," a mix of beer and lemonade.
Eat Your Veggies
Ken and Kelly both love Brussels sprouts. Kelly cuts the veggies in half and roasts them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Ken removes the bitter middle leaves, then blanches and sautés his Brussels sprouts in butter.
Ken makes huge batches of soup in the winter and freezes them for quick meals later. "I do a smoked bacon and tomato soup that I serve with Camembert grilled cheese sandwiches."
RECIPE: Mexican Pot Roast (Serves 6)
Slice the onions and place in the bottom of a Crock-Pot. Rub your choice of Southwestern seasoning over the pot roast, and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large pan and brown the beef on both sides. Put the roast into the Crock-Pot on top of the onions. Add 1 to 2 cups of beef stock or water. Turn on low and cook throughout the day.
Before serving, cook rice separately according to package directions. Drain corn and black beans before adding to the Crock-Pot; cook until heated through. In a sauté pan, cook the squash.
Shred pot roast and serve, with or without tortillas.