Christmas dishes paired with cannabis | SummitDaily.com

Christmas dishes paired with cannabis

When the holidays arrive, local chef Jessica Catalano can't wait to experiment with puff pastry — and cannabis.

"I think anything with puff pastry is just so quintessential when it comes to the holidays," Catalano says. "They're so flaky and buttery and delicious. It just warms you to the core."

The Saturday after Christmas, Catalano was trying to decide how to best combine her favorite treat with one of her favorite ingredients. It's the first Christmas season with legal marijuana — a sort of landmark holiday for cannabis connoisseurs — and to celebrate, Catalano is leading a slate of cooking classes for the "All Things Cannabis Christmas Experience" at Cultivating Spirits, one of the state's only cannabis-minded event services.

The experience costs $299 per couple and comes with three sessions: a THC infusion course, a guided tour of the neighboring High Country Healing dispensary and, to top it off, a three-course, non-infused meal prepared by the chef. Tonight is the final Christmas event, but the seasonal courses are held throughout the year, along with weekly infusion and THC classes.

Yet Catalano's menu for the cannabis Christmas isn't weighed down with old-school edibles like cookies, brownies and gummy bears. As author of the 2012 cookbook "The Ganja Kitchen Revolution: The Bible of Cannabis Cuisine," a top-selling marijuana cookbook available everywhere from Amazon to Sears, she's interested in much more than sweets.

And so is Philip Wolf, founder of Cultivating Spirits. Both he and Catalano are advocates of weed's luxurious side, and he believes the holidays are a near-perfect time to showcase the unexpected refinement of Colorado's newest industry.

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"During the holidays, people want to be celebratory," Wolf says. "Anything that's unique around the holidays, people love to do that. For us, it's a natural fit to pair the holidays with what we do and it's exciting that this is the first year we've been able to do this."

Infused dining

The Christmas cannabis experience begins with an introduction to THC infusion, led by Catalano in the modern, high-end kitchen at the Cultivating Spirits Eatery, home to dozens of private and scheduled cooking events throughout the year. It's the first space of its kind in Summit County, where the popularity of marijuana getaways like the Silverthorne Bud and Breakfast has drawn a range of cannabis tourists.

To give the Cultivating Spirits classes an intimate vibe, most in-depth sessions are limited to 10 people. It's private and relaxing, especially for individual couples, and Wolf says the range of attendees has been eclectic, from 30-something Front Rangers looking for a night on the town to 70-year-old Texas natives battling chronic arthritis and other ailments.

"People are astounded because they're having a great time doing something that's only in Colorado," Wolf says. "We have people who come just for the medical benefits, then we have people who just want to get dressed up and do something different, all while they learn about cooking and food and cannabis. It's a huge experience."

For complete newcomers to the marijuana world, Catalano goes over everything a cook needs to know before experimenting with infusion: dosage, extraction methods, THC content (the chemical that creates the high).

"Cannabutter," or butter infused with cannabis, is one of the most popular and versatile extraction methods, right behind other fat-based substances like olive oil and coconut oil. Before the course, Catalano preps various infusion stages — grinding the cannabis, cooking the butter and cannabis mixture in a double boiler — to give attendees a visual guide for every step. With butter, infusion typically takes two hours from start to finish.

THC dosage is a hot-button issue after Denver-area hospitals saw a rise in children accidentally eating marijuana candies, and Catalano stresses the importance of proper dosage. Like any kind of cooking, it comes down to math. The state recommends 10 milligrams of THC per serving, but the chef begins as low as 5 milligrams, then encourages cooks to experiment at home until they find the right dosage.

After the infusion course and dispensary tour, the evening is capped with a three-course meal from Catalano. She writes the menu as she wanders through the grocery store, where seasonal ingredients are a must — after all, cannabis as an ingredient knows no bounds. Like the infusion course, the meal itself doesn't contain cannabis, but she leaves attendees with ideas about how to get creative at home.

"Every meal depends on what's fresh and what's in season and what's the best," Catalano says. "I take that and pair it with the theme of the night, and this one is holidays, so that means family."

The gift of cannabis

True to Wolf's vision for Cultivating Spirits — the website has a mission statement, something even four-star restaurants don't have — Catalano's infusion class is more than a crash course on getting stoned. It's about the smart and responsible ways to consume cannabis, something that's close to the founder's heart.

"It's more about helping people understand what this plant can do for you," Wolf says. "We want to get away from the misnomers. There has been so much negativity surrounding this drug. We want to show why it's beneficial to your lifestyle and why it can be beneficial to society if consumed in a responsible way."

The educational aspect is also a must for Catalano. As a kid in upstate New York, she suffered from constant migraines until she first tried marijuana as a teenager. Smoking helped ease the throbbing at first, but over time, she found that cuisine was a much better vessel for treating chronic pain. It fits with her overall food philosophy: Cook what you love to share with your loved ones.

"When I do a cannabis event, what I'm really doing is sharing the medicinal benefits," says Catalano, whose book has detailed instructions on proper dosage for infused foods. "The act of teaching someone they can heal themselves holistically, using these natural ingredients, it's just important to me. It's a perpetual love thing, the sort of thing they take home."

And that's the true takeaway for Catalano and Wolf. While the meals aren't infused, pairing those take-away moments with good food and good wine feeds into the holiday spirit. Cannabis is just another ingredient.

"When I was younger, I never thought this would be a reality," Catalano says. "I'm very blessed to be here in Colorado. This is normalizing cannabis, like growing tomatoes. It's a beautiful gift to be able to share this with people, basically giving them the gift of knowledge when it comes to cannabis."

Know your dose

Cooks have used cannabis to infuse foods for decades, but as edibles become more popular – and controversial – understanding dosage is a must for anyone: chefs, casual consumers, parents, children. Here are the basics:

– Know your metric system. As a reminder, every 1 gram equals 1,000mg. There are roughly 3.5 grams in an eighth-ounce of marijuana.

– Know your strain. If a strain is tested at 10 percent THC per gram (aka 1,000mg), it contains 100mg of THC. This is a good baseline for at-home cooking.

– Know your math. Say the cannabutter you made for a cookie recipe has 12 grams of cannabis (1,200mg of THC). The recipe yields 24 servings. Divide the THC content by the servings to find the dosage: 100mg per cookie.

– Know your potency. There are two ways to figure out THC levels in Colorado. First, ask the dispensary where you bought the strain (laws are changing to make THC labeling mandatory, but until then, ask). If the dispensary doesn’t know, try an online search with the strain name. Most strains are “stabilized,” meaning Glass Slipper from one grow has the same potency as Glass Slipper at another.

– Know your servings. The recommended serving for first-time users is 10mg, but chef Jessica Catalano suggests starting at 5mg (as in, split your cookie in half) and increasing from there.

Source: “Simple Cannabutter Recipe” from Cultivating Spirits and Jessica Cantalano.

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