Sunday, October 23, 2011

Colorado Peach Burger

I thought of this nifty little entree while wondering what I was going to do with the few peaches I had left towards the end of peach season. After giving it some thought, I hit upon this idea, and it was even better than I thought it would be. I liked the way the sweetness of the sliced peaches offset the savory burger and the sharp cheddar cheese; this is one I made more than once, much to my own pleasure and that of my family.

This goes well with fresh cut french fries seasoned with sea salt, and a good medium-bodied beer. :-)


1 lb. ground beef
1-2 fresh (not canned) peaches
cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

  • Form the burgers into patties, season with salt and pepper, and place on the grill.
  • While the burgers are cooking, peel, pit, and slice the peaches. Be sure to slice the peaches vertically rather than into wedges.
  • The last few minutes of grilling, place the peach slices on the burger and cover with the cheese (the cheese keeps the peaches from sliding off), leave on just long enough for the cheese to soften and begin to melt.
  • Once the burgers reach desired doneness, remove from grill and let rest for 2-3 minutes.
  • Place on roll, add condiments (but do so lightly...remember, you want to enjoy the mix of the peaches and burger!) and enjoy!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Spectacular souffle!

One dish that has always intimidated me was the souffle. In fact, until recently, I didn't even own any souffle dishes; fortunately that has changed.

Not too long ago, my son and his friend and I went to the D Bar Dessert Bar in Denver. My son tried the "Booz-flay," their Grand Marnier souffle (I sampled was quite tasty), then during a recent episode of Master Chef, the home cooks were making souffles for a challenge, and my son asked me if I'd ever made a souffle (I hadn't), and why I hadn't. I really didn't have any good reason other than not owning the dishes, so I decided to remedy the situation.

I picked up the dishes at Peppercorn in Boulder, and pulled the recipes from The Joy of Cooking, my go-to resource when I'm making things I've never made before but for which I need a recipe. I decided to get over my souffle making phobia by making both an entree souffle and a dessert souffle for the same meal; I opted for the Cheese Cockaigne savory souffle and the chocolate souffle for dessert.

The instructions for both were straightforward and easy to follow, which was great. In fact, I realized that making a souffle is actually much easier than I thought it was going to be. My biggest concern was the possible effect that altitude might have on the souffles, but the elevation of Denver proved to have a negligible effect (had to cook them a bit longer is all).

Both souffles turned out light and airy and incredibly rich. I served the cheese souffle with a side of a bowl of organic grape tomatoes to balance out the dish and add some acidity to the meal. The next time I make a cheese souffle, I think I may tinker with the seasonings a bit, since I do feel the cheese souffle as it was written could have benefited from a bit of an "oomph," as it were. It wasn't bad, just a bit...bland (sort of). Some garlic or herbs would have done well.

The chocolate souffle was equally rich, especially when topped with the vanilla sauce as recommended in the book, which added a sweetness to it as well. Next time I make this one, I'll use a darker chocolate (this was almost milk chocolate) and perhaps a touch of cinnamon then top it with a whipped cream or the like.

So...the lesson here: while souffles are definitely temperamental and require careful attention, they aren't quite as difficult as they are made out to be, and they are definitely worth the effort.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Restaurant reviews: Snooze and The Crushery (Denver, CO)

I recently spent a day touring local bookstores in Denver, and while I was at it, my fellow adventurer and I decided to make eating locally a part of our day, starting with breakfast at Snooze on Colorado Boulevard followed by lunch later at The Crushery on South Pearl Street.

Snooze is located various places throughout the Front Range of Colorado, with the most recent store opening on Pearl Street in Boulder. I like Snooze for its use of local food as much as possible. On the weekends, it's not at all unusual to find a line of customers waiting for a table, often with at least some of those customers waiting outside. I happened to visit on a Wednesday and got there at 9:00 a.m., so the line was nonexistent and the wait was minimal.

Snooze has a funky decor, somewhat reminiscent of a 50s style diner but with a touch of a George Jetson feel. The staff has been friendly and fun to talk with all three times I've been there (this was my third time, and my second breakfast there), and the organic, Guatemalan coffee is rich and flows freely and often.

I ordered the Breakfast Pot Pie, a rosemary sausage gravy served in a puff pastry with an egg on top and hash browns on the side.

Now I'm pretty fussy when it comes to sausage gravy, and it is a rare restaurant that does it right. (For the record, I have yet to find a hotel restaurant that does it right.) Too often the "sausage gravy" served in restaurants resembles a thick, heavy paste that might or might not have some flecks resembling sausage in it and is almost never seasoned properly. I am happy to say that Snooze does it wonderfully. The sausage and seasonings were in perfect balance, and the addition of veggies to the gravy in my pot pie were tender yet crunchy. The puff pastry was light and flaky; wasn't at all soggy, and the creaminess of the egg only added to the pleasure of the entree.

Unfortunately, not as much attention to detail was given to the hash browns, which resembled and had a similar texture to the frozen version found in most supermarkets. When done correctly, as is the case at Root Down, another Denver establishment that focuses on local food, the potatoes can be a wonderful treat on their own (see my review of Root Down here); the hash browns at Snooze seem almost an afterthought, and that's too bad. The potatoes were mushy and lacking in both seasoning and flavor, requiring a dose of sat and pepper with hot sauce or ketchup to rescue them from utter forgetfulness. My cohort for the day ordered the Ham Benedict, which he said was excellent and found the flavors and textures of his entree in a wonderful balance, but he agreed with my assessment of the hash browns, which also came with his meal.

Our hearty breakfast carried us over well until mid-afternoon (we were full without feeling weighed down or at all uncomfortable), at which point we found ourselves on South Pearl Street. Wandering down the street, we found The Crushery. Neither of us had ever been there but were both in the mood for something not expensive but good.

At first glance, The Crushery seemed to be your regular, cool sandwich shop, offering both paninis and bagel sandwiches of the breakfast and lunch variety, but a menu tucked under the sandwich menu quickly betrayed the uniqueness of this place: The Crushery is the first affordable restaurant to take advantage of the principles of molecular gastronomy, in this case with its offering of -321 Ice Cream, made-to-order ice cream using liquid nitrogen. There was no way I could resist this.

But first, lunch. As extensive as the ready to order menu was, it seemed lacking vegetarian options, at least on the panini side, and there weren't that many appealing options for an al a carte sandwich, so I decided to try the Reuben, another meal that is a favorite of mine but is hard to find done well. The Crushery's version was quite satisfying and tasty; the sauerkraut wasn't overpowering and the bread was crunchy and crisp. (Though the pickle that came with it was a bit on the soggy side.) The iced latte I ordered was well balanced, with smoky notes and no trace of bitterness, and as an added bonus, was served in a compostable cup. The ice cream was...well...amazing. I created a chocolate ice cream with cinnamon and sea salt combination that was far better than I thought it was going to be, and it was decadently rich with a texture that silk would envy.

The first step of the process is choosing the base, whether  a traditional ice cream base, yogurt, sugar free, or vegan. After that, there is a plethora of options to add in: various syrups, spices and herbs, nuts, fruits, and so on; almost anything you can think of is offered. The ingredients are poured into a mixer and after things are thoroughly blended, the liquid nitrogen is added in, creating a wonderful "mad scientist" visual effect as the ice cream is created. Within minutes the frozen treat is done and served. According to the staff, the ingredients are frozen so fast that the ice crystals are super small, thus creating the aforementioned creamy texture. Quite simply, this was (is...I have since gone back) the best ice cream I have ever had, period.

Both of these restaurants are happily different from any establishment that offers similar fare, and both are very affordable. Ultimately, both only reinforce that eating at locally owned, independent restaurants is always (or at least as much as possible) the way to go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Restaurant review: Root Down in Denver, Colorado

I recently had the good fortune to not only go out to brunch for the first time (yes, ever...shh.), but also to enjoy quite a tasty meal at Root Down in the Highlands neighborhood in Denver.

Root Down is located on the corner of Osage and 33rd on the site of an old service station, and the part that was the service station has been cleverly incorporated into the building's design, including a separate section for families with small children. The overall feel and atmosphere of the restaurant is one that enables diners to feel equally comfortable in jeans and t-shirts or button down shirt and khakis.

The Root Down is a unique and interesting restaurant, from the setting and atmosphere to the menu, which changes seasonally and features local and organic produce (as well as meats, cheese, and coffee) as much as possible. Fortunately, while other restaurants charge a premium for local and organic food, the brunch menu at the Root Down is priced well within the budget of most people.

When we arrived, we were greeted quickly and told it would be a 30-45 minute wait for a table; the place was bustling for sure. We ended up waiting about half that time before being seated on the covered deck (the covering  was a definite bonus today since it was 90 degrees and sunny).

Our server appeared pretty quickly, and was friendly and energetic. We didn't see her a lot, but I attributed that to the crowd there rather than slow service. We placed our orders and while my blood orange mimosa and coffee arrived fairly quickly as did my son and his friend's orange juice, the food was rather slow in coming out (again, I'm attributing that to the size of the crowd that was there).

The food was absolutely worth the wait. There were three of us in the group, and we all ordered something different and sampled each others (of course) before digging into our own.

My son's friend ordered the Hazel Dell omelette with goat cheese, mushroom duxelle, caramelized onions, sage sour cream with organic home fries. The mushrooms were cooked tender without being soggy or slimy; the onions added a nicely sweet tang to the fluffy and well-cooked omelette. (Comments on the home fries to come.)

My son ordered the house made chorizo omelette with smoke mozzarella, tomato compote, micro cilantro & organic home fries. I found the chorizo flavorful with a nice slow burn in the mouth, complimented nicely by the smoked cheese, and the compote was a sweet counterpoint to the spice and smoke.

Eggs Benedict has long been one of my favorite breakfast entrees, and I am a fan of shellfish, so I got the Avocado Crab Cake Benedict with Herbed-Creme Fraiche Hollandaise, served with lemon dressed greens and organic home fries. In three words: Oh. My. Gosh. The Benedict was wonderfully rich and ever so slightly decadent. The egg and crab blended well and the creaminess of the avocado added a wonderful layer of both flavor and texture. The greens provided a nice cleansing to the palate between bites, enabling each successive nibble to be as interesting and exciting as the first.

We were offered and accepted both ketchup and hot sauce for our home fries but ended up using neither. These were the first home fries I've ever had that were absolutely perfect just as they were. Crisp exteriors and soft interiors were joined with perfect seasonings that stopped them just short of french fries but put them well on the other side of your stereotypical home fries.

I had just enough room for a dessert, and after looking over the dessert menu, was glad I did. I decided to try the banana "creme brulee" pie with peanut butter-chocolate crispy crust and sweet whipped sour cream. The banana flavor was not overpowering, which can often happen with banana desserts, and the crunch of the crust offset the silky texture of the brulee and whipped cream perfectly. The green chartreuse I chose as my drink to go with the dessert didn't sour the flavors in my mouth at all, and in fact, offset the treat quite well.

The Root Down possesses a wonderfully casual elegance that makes for an excellent start to a weekend morning. The very reasonable prices for their brunch menu makes going to the Root Down easy on the wallet, and the presence of both the familiar and slightly exotic spins on favorites provides culinary interests for both the fussy eater and the enterprising foodie. Whether a local or a visitor to Denver, the Root Down is not to be missed.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Vegetarian Eggs Benedict? Yes, please!

Eggs Benedict has long been one of my favorite dishes, and while normally I prefer it with Canadian bacon, I also like to take a break from meats once in a while. This tasty variation is a definite favorite of mine.

Vegetarian Eggs Benedict (serves 1-2)
  • Toast an English muffin
  • Place a slice of tomato on each half 
  • (I added some sliced avocado as well since I had one and love avocado)
  • Top with poached egg: I used duck eggs from Rocky Plains Meat in Dacono.
  • Pour Hollandaise sauce over each half
  • I topped mine with fresh cracked pepper

Serve while hot and enjoy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tasty spring salad: grilled chicken with pasta, asiago, cherries, sugar snap peas and walnuts

This quick and easy springtime salad is perfect for a family or a crowd, and the mix of sweet and savory, crunchy and tender makes it a pleasure to eat.

Grilled chicken salad with cherries, sugar snap peas, asiago, and walnuts

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 lb pasta: penne, rigatoni, or similar shaped pasta
8 oz. fresh cherries
8 oz. fresh sugar snap peas
1/2-1 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. freshly grated Asiago cheese
Fresh zest from 1 lemon
~1 c. mayonnaise
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Fresh spinach, lettuce or mixed greens

1. Lightly coat the chicken with oil, season the chicken with sea salt and black pepper, grill until cooked, set aside to cool.
2. Cook the pasta according to directions, set aside to cool.
3. Clean the sugar snap peas, trimming off stem ends as necessary.
4. Remove the stems and pits, from the cherries, then cut into quarters.
5. Dice the chicken breast, add to pasta.
6. Mix in cherries, peas, and walnuts.
7. Add mayonnaise, stir.
8. Mix in lemon zest and cheese.

Serve on a bed of greens (fresh spinach, lettuce, or mixed greens. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4-6

Monday, June 20, 2011

Asparagus awesomeness

Spring/early summer is one of my favorite food seasons (okay, let's be honest here, I don't think I have a least favorite food season, but anyway....) because with it comes asparagus. Asparagus is a fairly new food to the list of foods I would eat, simply because until 3 or so years ago, the only time I'd had it, it was served to me rather mushy, slimy, and essentially flavorless. I was offered some by the ladies of Jay Hill Farm while at my local farmers' market a few years back; initially I declined, but then after talking with them about how to prepare it and  basically being "dared" to try it again, I bought some, took it home, cooked it according to their directions...and went back and bought some every week after that until asparagus season was over. As with many foods in my diet, I generally only eat asparagus seasonally, which means I get it for roughly a month to a month and a half, so I enjoy it as often as I can.

Typically I either grill the asparagus or sautee it in Meyer lemon infused olive oil and butter with a little fresh ground black pepper, but this season I was given one recipe and came up with my own method of serving asparagus that have only added depth and dimension to what is now one of my favorite vegetables.

The first is a recipe that comes from the previously mentioned Jay Hill Farm. Asparagus with spring garlic and Asiago is simple, easy, and quick to make, and is a nicely complex dish to serve. The link to the recipe is here, the entire dish takes 15 minutes to make, which is a huge bonus when pressed for time at home, and the ingredient list doesn't necessarily require purchasing anything out of the ordinary, aside from maybe the Asiago cheese:

1 lb. Fresh Asparagus
1 bunch Spring Garlic
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Butter
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 to 2 Tbsp. Freshly grated Asiago Cheese

For this recipe, I picked up a small brick of Asiago and grated it myself, which I would definitely recommend doing, simply because there is a definite taste difference between freshly grated and pre-grated cheese of any sort. As you can likely tell from the picture, I did grate a bit more than the 1-2 tablespoons in the recipe, but I love Asiago, so I admittedly went a little crazy.

My next method of serving asparagus is a simple sauteed asparagus with hollandaise sauce and sliced fresh strawberries. I love the fact that asparagus season and strawberry season overlap, giving me the opportunity to have this sweetly savory side dish that I served with grilled pork chops. I would definitely not use frozen strawberries for this dish: the flavor and texture just wouldn't even come close to the same. My recipe for the hollandaise sauce comes from the ever-indispensable Joy of Cooking, a book that should be a staple in every cook's kitchen. I used the quick whole-egg hollandaise recipe simply for convenience and not wanting to deal with separating the eggs (I admit that I used an organic, bottled lemon juice for this recipe). NOTE: if you've never made hollandaise sauce before, it is HUGELY important that once you start, you don't stop until it is ready to pour onto the plate. Hollandaise requires constant stirring and will overcook and curdle quickly. If it does, you can rescue it by putting it into a blender, but it's better to not have to do that in the first place.

So what are you waiting for? Asparagus season is almost over! Get cooking!