Monthly Archives: October 2013

What’s More Practical Than a Cocktail? DRAM Apothecary Puts Specialized Knowledge to Practical Use in the Real World

Bitters are to craft cocktails, what salt is to baked goods.
An important elevation.
I’m always surprised when I don’t see salt in the recipe for any baked good.
It’s the secret of great bakers – that seemingly small addition – that draws out more fully the other flavors.
I feel similarly about bitters in cocktails, and baked goods too, actually.
While they may not draw out the other flavors like salt does, they enhance the overall flavor, making it exponentially more than it would otherwise be.
Until recently, it’s been a secret of great bartenders, used rarely at home by the resident cocktail maker.
The origin of bitters: a tincture of any number of esoteric roots and herbs, with an alcohol base, first came to our shores as cure-all tonics in the 18th century.*
We, in Colorado, have an incredible local resource for them – DRAM** Apothecary – in Silver Plume.
This town, long-known as one of ghosts, seems like the most appropriate place for this kind of craft.
Both the town and the craft, are steeped in mystery and legend and magic.
If you have a quick look at their web address, the word that stands out is drama, which makes perfect sense to me.
Shae Whitney, Owner, Herbal Alchemist and Colorado native, collects herbs and barks from the mountainside surrounding her space.
This is as local as it gets.
Alchemizing her experience as a bartender, with her love of the plant world, DRAM was conceived.
Having studied food science, herbalism and botany in college, her apothecary is a rare example of putting such specialized knowledge as this, to practical use in the real world.
And what’s more practical than a cocktail?
She offers 5 flavors of bitters: Hair of the Dog, Wild Mountain Sage, Honey Chamomile, Citrus Medica and Black.
She also makes two loose teas: Cascara Coffee Cherry Chai and Cascara Coffee Cherry Tea.
All are available for order through the website.
When I was there recently, she also had a Pine Syrup available to purchase, though it’s not yet available for sale on the website.
Keeping limited weekend hours, to leave as much time as possible to work her craft, when open to the public, you can have a specialty cocktail and small bites, making the 50 miles between Denver and Silver Plume feel like nothing to get this kind of experience directly.
Worth the drive as a destination visit, or also as a stop to/from the mountains.
To make bitters, it’s a process much like making extracts, where the bitter element[s], along with the flavor element[s], infuse in liquor.
Vodka, gin, white rum, whiskey and brandy are all great liquor options.
But, unlike the ease with which the home cook can get their hands on vanilla beans, or citrus, to make homemade extracts, getting hands on bitter herbs and barks takes more ingenuity.
This is why I like to leave it up to the professionals.
And if that sourcing comes from my beloved Colorado mountains, all the better to leave it in her hands, literally.

DRAM Apothecary

On the website, Shae generously shares a number of recipes for cocktails and food.
A recent cornbread recipe she posted using her Wild Mountain Sage Bitters will be cooking up in my kitchen this Fall, for sure.

A feature I wrote for Boulder Weekly on bitters, including the work of DRAM, and also, Cocktailpunk from Boulder:

**DRAM, as explained on the apothecary’s website, is the term for a unit of mass or volume in the ancient Apothecaries system.

The Source: Boxcar is There for Coffee. Crooked Stave is There for Beer. If Accommodations Were Available, I’d be There for Overnights.

So much has already been said about The Source in Denver – a food and drink lover’s true paradise – that I wanted to wait to write about it until I’d experienced it a few times and seen it take its place in the community.
My first stop is always Babette’s, because no matter what time of day I get there, I want the best pick of what’s still available.
Laid out on slab marble counters, are their day’s offerings.
What usually comes home with me is the French baguette [a must], ham + cheese and chocolate croissants.
My next stop is always Americanum Provisions right next door.
I’ve gotten locally-grown apples [that went into the eyes-roll-back-in-head Apple Cake], fingerlings [roasted], chives [snipped into homemade ranch dressing as well as chicken noodle soup], Deliciousness preserves [they carry a variety] and more.
Just this week, they are adding weekly shares of raw milk and raw honey.
Really, how cool is that?
It’s a truly delightful shopping experience.
Americanum shares space with beet & yarrow floral, and a meat counter called Meathead [named with a sense of humor rarely found regarding meat].
I always ask beet & yarrow to make me a few arrangements.
They have a bevy of cool vases, and among them, my beloved Ball jars, so a couple of branches or stems in each and I’m set.
I can support local, and beautify my home, without spending too much [cash I need for spending at other Source sources!].
Then, it’s on to Mondo Food, where I typically grab a wedge of cheese, a couple bags of pasta, and some spices from their Wall of Spice [read more about that in previous guest post by K. Grundstein].
If I’m meeting friends for lunch, we meet at Comida.
If I’m there after 4p, I grab a drink [or two, but who’s counting] at CapRock Farm Bar, which anchors all of The Source.
Where an anchor is typically referred to as those big stores at the corners of malls – CapRock sits right in the middle of the space.
It’s a clever design, and there’s something cool about a bar serving artisan booze as the focal point, that I can really get behind.
Happy Hour includes $6. Gin + Tonics [the purest way to taste their gin, aside from the tasting tray they do] and Bees Knees [a classic].
You can also buy their limited supply craft spirits there – gin, vodka, eau de vies and more.
If I’m meeting friends for dinner, we meet at Acorn [read more about that in my previous post on them].
The Perfect Pour liquor store just opened – and you can bet I’ll be filling my cabinet with their finds when I’m there next.
Boxcar is there for coffee.
Crooked Stave is there for beer.
If accommodations were available, I’d be there for overnights.

3350 Brighton Boulevard
9a – 11p – an incredible 7 days a week

Apple Cake That Will Make Your Eyes Roll Back in Head from Overwhelming Delight [it’s that good]

You know how there’s [common sense] caution labels on products, so we don’t hurt ourselves?
There should also be caution labels on certain cakes, so we don’t go into a blissful, but potentially dangerous cake revelry, from which we may descend into gluttony, which as you know, is one of the 7 deadly sins.
This cake should come with such a caution label.

Bottom Glaze
4 T butter
1 c brown sugar

Heat in saucepan to combine, pour into bottom of baking dish
It will begin to set up a bit, but don’t worry, it will turn into a true glaze when the cake bakes

6 medium apples [your choice], sliced thin*, and place in a layer [or two depending on size of your baking dish]

1 2/3 c flour
1 c sugar [I used 1/3 c homemade date sugar and 2/3 c natural; I feel like the date sugar added a richness, so get some if you can]
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 1/4 t cinnamon
1/2 t fine sea salt [I added more salt than original recipe** called for and glad I did; balances the extreme, but delicious sweet bottom glaze]
4 T butter [original recipe calls for 10 T of butter (!), so by all means, go that route if you’d like; I subbed apple butter for 6 T; could also sub applesauce]
6 T apple butter
2 large eggs, plus another yolk
3/4 c milk [original recipe called for buttermilk; I made with 2% – your choice]
Combine, and pour over layer[s] of apples

350* 45m or until toothpick comes out clean
Don’t be alarmed when eyes roll back in head from overwhelming delight.

*To me this is a serious key to incredible apple cakes and pies.
There’s nothing as off-putting as big, gloppy pieces of apple.

**Original recipe came from the Whole Foods app, where you enter ingredients you have on hand and they give you recipe choices.

Seattle Fish Company is a Denver Legacy, Carrying it On with a Modern Sensibility. [Go Fish! A Cheer.]

I’ve lived in Denver for almost 20 years.
I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard of Seattle Fish Company until just last year, when I saw they were a major sponsor of Leigh Sullivan’s Denver Five.
I’m sure I have eaten their fish many, many times over those years, and just not known it, since they supply some of the great restaurants in Denver.
They’re also a supplier to Whole Foods, which I was happy to hear.
Their tagline is, “If It Swims, We Have It” and has been the same since the company’s founding by the Iacino family in 1918.
I love it.
It’s clever, but also shows the breadth of their reach.
Or, should I say depth.
As impressed as I often am about entrepreneurs in this day and age, think about the vision and resources it took for an entrepreneur to get a new business off the ground – or out of the sea – near the turn of the century.
It’s amazing.
Especially the idea of a fish company in landlocked Colorado.
Celebrating their 95th year in business this year, they source all kinds of fish, through their varied relationships across the world, including what they consider the best hybrid striped bass available, from the Faucett family right here in Alamosa, Colorado, a second-generation producer using a closed containment system.
As a certified Marine Stewardship Council supplier, they care deeply about sustainability, understanding its importance strategically, operationally and as a matter of engagement and just plain good business.
Supplying no less than 7 1/2 million pounds [!] of seafood each year, from their warehouse in Stapleton, 21 trucks deliver throughout the state.
I learned all of this at an incredible educational lunch hosted by Seattle Fish at Il Posto.
Celebrated local chef, Andrea Frizzi, and his staff of chefs, prepared a bevy of fish dishes for us.
We enjoyed both a Mackerel and Bluefish crudo, which highlighted each fish’s freshness.
The Bluefish tasted like sushi – it was that good.
The Mackerel was garnished with gorgeous green apple ribbons, and celery leaves were used to heighten the freshness and flavor.
The most memorable, was a Porgy with sweet potato bisque poured over it at the table.
With fresh rosemary, it tasted like Thanksgiving.
We don’t often think of fish as a Thanksgiving staple, but it was so good, and Thanksgiving is so near, I may have to recreate it for my holiday table this year.
Go Fish!

There Are Few More Comforting + Satisfying Dishes for a Sunday Morning Than Homemade Biscuits + Gravy

I am not a Southerner.
Without this geographical pedigree, I was intimidated at the idea of making from-scratch buttermilk biscuits and gravy.
I order them when I see them on menus – and Sassafras [owned and run by Southerners], here in Denver, has an especially delicious iteration.
As Fall came, along with colder temperatures, I found myself craving this dish on a recent Sunday morning.
I just had to push through the fear and get myself into the kitchen.

2 c flour
1 T baking powder
1 t sugar
1/2 c melted butter
1 c buttermilk
1/2 t salt
Note: Pepper optional if you want a spicier biscuit; really you can add most any other spice you like: for a sweeter biscuit, cinnamon would be great, as would nutmeg – and for a more savory version, sage or rosemary.

Combine + use biscuit method most comfortable for you: either roll out and cut, or do like I do, and pinch off a golf ball size piece, roll in hand [sprayed with cooking spray to avoid sticking], flatten with palm and place, touching, on baking sheet. 450* / 15-20m

It’s funny now to think how much the thought of making homemade gravy intimidated me, because I came to learn, like béchamel, it is one of the easiest things in the world.
7 T flour
5 c whole or 2% milk [1% or nonfat, not substantial enough]
1 T bourbon smoked – or plain smoked – paprika*
1/2 t salt
Lots of pepper
Note: I realize ‘lots’ isn’t a technical term, but to me, the pepperier [also not a technical term] the gravy, the better; even if you do a sweeter biscuit, the sweet and savory combination would be fantastic; this, also like béchamel can be bland, so yes, season to taste, but err on the side of more to amp up flavor.

Stir together, adding 1 T of flour at a time to incorporate and lessen likelihood of clumps. Bring to rolling boil; you won’t know how thick the gravy is until it comes to a boil. If it’s thicker than you prefer, you can always add more milk to get it to your preferred consistency.

The traditional gravy is sausage, but I wanted to create a veg version as well, so I cooked the gravy first, then divided it into two bowls, adding roasted mushrooms [425* / 10m] to one, and cooked breakfast sausage, cut on the bias [bias = pretty], to the other.
Sausage gives it serious flavor – and I’m convinced ground sausage would be an even better way to go, since the links don’t infuse the gravy as ground would – but I also liked the roasted mushrooms.
I’d liberally seasoned the mushrooms with salt and pepper; it’s my feeling that roasting vegetables is the very best way to prepare them, and extracts the most wonderful flavor.

This recipe makes enough for 12 biscuits + gravy.
While you’re at it, you could always double the gravy recipe so you have it on hand for later in the week to put on top of toast, or add to egg noodles for dinner.
So. Good.

When I asked chef and food-loving friends what they like to add to their gravy:
John DePierro, exec chef at Bones in Denver, said when he’s feeling frisky, ghost pepper salt from Denver’s own Savory Spice Shop.
*Charles Buscemi said smoked paprika and I’m glad he didn’t say plain paprika; the smokiness gives this gravy excitement.
Jess Ryan said chile pepper flakes, and occasionally vanilla, and/or maple syrup to bring out the sausage flavor [I think the vanilla and maple syrup ideas are genius].
Glen Glen said garlic salt.
So, there you have it – all kinds of possibilities!

Corner House Fall Tasting Puts Me in the Mood of the Season

There was something special about this experience in the wide and varied dishes we got to try during a recent media tasting showcasing the new Fall menu at Corner House.
When we conceptualized and hosted chef events through FORK, a key component of those was to have the chef introduce their food, whether it was presented family-style or in courses, and tell us their inspirations for each dish, where notable ingredients came from, their overall food philosophy.
We instinctively knew this mattered – the stories behind things – and that people care and connect in a more meaningful way to the experience when they’re able to hear those stories directly from the person who created the dishes.
Because that happened during this tasting, it, along with the incredible food, enchanted me.
Take the crispy chicken thigh, with balsamic onions and Spanish rice.
I noticed how the rice was clumpy – in a good way – and also had a slight crunch.
These two characteristics are indicative of authenticity.
Cocolon [co-co-loan] – which is an important element of rice cooked in the Ecuadorian style – is the name for the crunch.
I know this, because I’ve eaten my fair share of rice cooked by my Ecuadorian mother-in-law.
There’s even a restaurant in Guayaquil, Ecuador by the name.
You first add the rice to the butter and/or oil to toast it – like the method for risotto.
Some hardcore cocolon enthusiasts add a step at the end, after all the liquid has been absorbed, turning the heat up high for 30 seconds or so, to create a full layer of this crunch on the bottom of the rice.
It’s my husband’s favorite part.
When I asked the chef if he had any Hispanic [Spain and Portugal] or Latino [Latin America] in his background, he told the story of growing up in a primarily Mexican part of Denver, and learning much about the culture.
The story helped me understand his food more, and endeared me to it.
The other standout dish was the mussels with San Marzano broth.
Such an incredible dish in fact, that when I got home from the tasting, I immediately added it to our Things That Will Change Your Life for the Better list.
I wrote:
“I’ve eaten mussels at many places in my time, and none – not even the ones I once had with chorizo in the broth [as we all know, chorizo is hard to beat] – have come close to the beautiful flavor in this dish. Put grilled ciabatta with chive aioli on the side for dipping, and it’s stratospherically good.”
We tasted many other things, including a couple of frisee salads – one with fried egg, which to me, is a perfect thing to put with a lettuce-based salad – as well as the Alamosa striped bass with lima bean and braised frisee, which was warming and hearty; great options for the non meat-eaters.
We also got to try a couple of desserts – a peach cobbler, and a s’mores [you had me at s’mores] panini.
Both were wonderful, and just a matter of mood as to which you’d choose when dining there.
Chef explained to us how important meeting the dining needs and preferences of the neighborhood are, and I loved hearing that.
So many chefs are hardheaded [she says lovingly] – as most artists are – about executing their vision in their work.
I understand this, but when it comes to restaurants, a happy middle way has to be achieved.
People have too many dining options to return to a place that doesn’t fully consider them.
Just as a great writer considers the reader – while still telling the truth as they see it – a great chef does the same for their diners.

A Pilgrimage to Mondo Food’s Cooking Mecca, Otherwise Known as The Wall of Spice, Is Encouraged [and a recipe for Arroz con Pollo!]

Post by guest writer, Keri Grundstein

When opened a physical location in The Source at the beginning of September, it was a run-don’t-walk situation.
The website is an amazing resource of ingredients that makes a foodie’s heart pitter-pitter-patter.
The physical manifestation of that much gloriousness had to be seen.
I was crossing off days on my calendar, counting down to September 1st like a 6 year old waiting for Santa to shoot down the chimney.
Mondo Market did not disappoint – the space is filled with a well-curated selection of the meats, cheeses, and pantry staples that can be found on the website.
Olives, and garlic, and jellies, OH MY!
I could gawk for hours (but I try to self-limit, because nobody wants to be ‘that creepy girl at The Source who stares’).
The real pièce de résistance of Mondo Market is what can only be called The Wall of Spice.
A fixture along a good portion of the back wall consisting of an installation of tall shelves FILLED with a dizzying variety of bulk spices. Triumphant in both size and selection, it can’t be rushed by with a cursory once over.
It deserves time.
This is because the true joy of The Wall of Spice is in the discovery of just what, exactly, there is to be had.
Tried-and-true favorites like whole nutmeg, varieties of basil and beautiful dried lavender (hint – Lavender Lemon Drop Martini, people!) mix in with creative blends guaranteed to inspire all kinds of culinary greatness from your kitchen.
Smoked Toasted Onion Mustard, perfect Bloody Mary Mix (pause for reverence), “Mike’s Tuscan Prime Rib Rub”, which I find myself rubbing on every cut of meat that comes through my kitchen, and Tomato Basil Chipotle, to offer a few mouth-watering examples.
When I see The Wall, I hear angels sing.
I kind of black out.
Spice hoarding ensues.

The aforementioned Tomato Basil Chipotle has spawned a new version of an old favorite in our house, giving my Arroz con Pollo a secret ninja flavor kick. Except I am terrible at keeping my own secrets, so am sharing it with you. Thank you, Mondo Market, for The Wall of Spice.

Arroz con Pollo
What You Need
4 chicken leg quarters, bone in, skin removed
2 T Mondo Market Tomato Basil Chipotle Seasoning
1 cup medium grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 medium onion – medium dice
1 green pepper – medium dice
1 can chopped tomatoes, drained of juice
Olive Oil

What You Do
Rinse and dry chicken pieces
Reserve 1 t of seasoning, and use the remaining amount to coat all of the chicken pieces, rubbing seasoning into meat; place in zip top bag and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight
To Prepare Dish:
-Coat the bottom of a large skillet or stovetop-safe casserole with olive oil and heat on medium high
-Place chicken pieces in pan and cook on each side for 5-6 minutes (get some good color on there, give them a chance to start cooking, and seal in all of those juices)
-Remove Chicken from pan and add onion and pepper to pan, adding oil if needed, stir until onion is translucent, add rice and stir to coat in oil
-Add stock, reserved seasoning, and the tomatoes and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the skillet to deglaze and release all of those beautiful flavorful bits from browning the chicken into the rice mixture
-When boiling, return chicken to the skillet, cover and reduce heat to low
-Simmer covered on low for 30 minutes, NOT removing lid – Seriously – NO TOUCHY! It will be fine, I promise
-Turn off heat, uncover, and remove chicken, stir rice mixture; it will absorb any juices as it sits
-Plate rice and top with chicken

The Oak Sleeps in the Acorn, as Poet James Allen Says. Acorn Will Tower, No Doubt.

The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream.
The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs.
Dreams are the seedlings of realities.
-James Allen

It’s difficult to write about Acorn here, without first writing about Oak at Fourteenth.
The love I feel for Oak has already been well documented.
The food is approachable and ethereal at the same time, and this is a true joy.
But what has elevated my love to the level of true, is the good, humble, kind people behind it – namely, Steve Redzikowski and Bryan Dayton; Steve is the food man, and Bryan, the beverage man.
Both, good men.
Friends were trying to coordinate my birthday dinner this year and I told them my top choice was Oak.
When one of them called to see about arranging it, Steve himself took the call, and the time to generously explain why it would be a challenge with the size of group we anticipated.
It had to do with how many of the restaurant’s dishes come out of the wood-fired oven, and taking individual orders and timing would be difficult.
But, he could not have been kinder about it.
I’ve never been so happily disappointed in my life.
I’m someone who cannot separate the person/people, from the experience.
If you’re a jerk, but your food/drinks are amazing, I just can’t overlook it.
Thankfully, I don’t have to face this dilemma with these guys.
Once, when dining at Oak with my husband, who’d had flowers delivered to our table before we arrived, Bryan personally came over to ask what the occasion was.
When my husband explained it was just because, Bryan patted him on the shoulder and said, “Good job, man”.
These guys have now opened Acorn in The Source in Denver.
I had the fun of eating there with friends the other night, and though it naturally has a lot to live up to, in the shadow as it is of the Giant Oak, I wasn’t disappointed.
We took a smart approach, I think, and ordered 9 dishes total to share at the table, so we could get a full understanding and experience.
Braised Meatballs and Polenta, Fried Pickles with green goddess aioli [a request of the Louisiana girl in our group], Kale and Apple Salad [MUST], Tuna Tataki, Seared Scallops, Grilled Short Ribs with Red Wagon Farm Carrots, Butterscotch Pudding, Almond Flour Chocolate Cake with Banana Ice Cream, and Caramelized Brioche with Palisade Peaches, Cinnamon Ice Cream and Point Reyes Blue Cheese.
Some Infinite Monkey Theorem Rose with the first plates, and a Tawny Port with dessert, and there’s not much more you can ask of life.
The savory highlights were the kale and apple salad, scallops and short ribs.
The sweet highlight was the caramelized brioche, no question.
And Palisade peaches, anytime, anywhere, are a pleasure and luxury.
The company was wonderful – so many great stories and laughs – which always enhances the beauty of a meal like this.
I have no doubt Acorn will tower.
Lucky, lucky Denverites.

If you’d like to also read the piece on Oak I wrote earlier this year, here it is:

3350 Brighton Blvd

Yes, We Need Light, but We Also Need Bread: Let There Be Bread

Yes, this is an entire post about bread.
I once stopped a sandwich order at the deli because I’d made my selection based on the bread it was said to be on, but saw the guy making it with a different bread.
When I asked if they had the original bread, they were out and so was my order.
Ruined the whole excitement about the sandwich.
Yes, bread is that important.
When I moved to Denver from NYC in 1994, you could not find a decent loaf of bread.
This was a real cramp to my style, accustomed as I was to having my pick of spectacular breads from spectacular bakeries all over the city there.
I didn’t expect the same bread[th], but I couldn’t believe I couldn’t even find one good loaf.
Now, thankfully, all of that has changed.
I’ve been known to make the half-hour drive to Denver Bread Company, just to buy their house round [great anytime, but especially good grilled, to make panzanella].
And now, I will be known to make the equally timed drive to Babette’s at The Source, for their French loaf.
And maybe a croissant or five.
Bread is both a science and an art, and I respect how difficult it is to produce loaves that are consistent.
Especially in the high altitude of our city.
Both Denver Bread Company and Babette’s do this beautifully.
Grateful Bread is also the bread talk of the town, though I’ve only eaten theirs once [that I know of], at café max on Colfax; it was wonderful.
The fact that I can even name 3 baking powerhouses in Denver [and there are more], is an accomplishment for this city, and one I’m grateful for and delighted by.
Nelson Mandela wisely and accurately said:
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
And from Omar Khayyam: A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.

Recipe for Homemade Chili Seasoning – Just in Time for Fall

I like to make my own spice blends.
It’s easy, and feels like a sense of accomplishment at the same time.
Who knows what preservatives are in the packets at the grocery store, so it’s also a peace of mind thing.
Just in time for Fall – a recipe for homemade chili seasoning:

Homemade Chili Seasoning
1/2c chili powder
1/2c cumin
T black pepper
3T paprika [if you can find bourbon-smoked, all the better]
2T garlic salt
T onion powder
t red pepper flakes [can do up to a Tablespoon of these, depending on how spicy you like things]
T parsley

This makes enough for a few meals, plus a 1/2 pint Ball jar to store.
I call it chili seasoning, but it’s great in other things, like guacamole, and hummus as well.
You could also use it as a dry rub for white meats – chicken, pork, turkey.