January 2010 Archives

Zolo ain't no ordinary Mexican joint

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When we pulled up in front of the restaurant called Zolo in Boulder, Gordon said, "this place looks expensive." I assured him that Steuart said it wasn't. Then I noticed some college-aged kids in the bar and felt confident if they could afford Zolo, so could we.

We had learned about Zolo because our friend of a friend has worked there for 15 years. Michele happened to be working on Sunday night so we asked to be seated in her section. Although she responded warmly to our smiles and hellos, she clearly didn't remember us until I reintroduced us. She gave us a 10 minutes heads up on the happy hour almost being over and encouraged us to order up. We had the coin margaritas which were as Michele promised, the best ever! And we selected several small plates (tapas?) from the happy hour menu. A blue corn fried oyster on a Mexican slaw, the sope with three fillings and smoked pork ribs that gave new meaning to falling off the bone! We were off to a very good start. Each taste was better than we could have imagined.

I was satisfied with just the small plates, but we were on a roll and decided to try some more small plates off the dinner menu. We opted for the Swiss chard, duck hash, and the polenta grits cake. Wow! This ain't no ordinary Mexican joint. The chard tasted like it was sautéed in bacon drippings. The grits cake reminded us of scrapple in taste and texture, but tasted like it might in fact be good for you and the duck hash was tender pieces of duck confit mixed up with a variety of seasonal veggies.

It was hard to bypass dessert after loving all that had come before. Gordon said the only thing he wanted was the flan. It was presented innovatively in a sort of bell jar with the top tilted against the glass. Topped with marmalade, Michele advised us to stick the spoon to the bottom and grab some caramel and mix it with the custard together on the spoon. Wowzaa!  Fantastic!

We loved Zola. It was exciting and new, classy but reasonable, nicely lit and terrific service! Thanks Michele for an awesome evening.

Pizza in Lakewood

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When I've moved to a new place, one of the first things I do is try out all the pizza places until I discover one that's really good. I've lived in rural places where the locals are still trying to find a good pizza. When Virgilio Urbano moved to Lakewood he went out looking for a good pizza and ended up having to figure out how to make his own.

Luckily for us tonight, we stumbled out of the Lakewood Cultural Center with a bunch of friends looking for a glass of wine and a place to talk a little and landed in Urbano's restaurant aptly called Virgilio's (S.W. corner of Alameda and Wadsworth).

Can you make a New York style pizza without New York City water? Tom asked. Sure, said Urbano, but most guys start a restaurant with the recipe they stole from somebody's restaurant in New York and don't change it to account for the water they've got. Yeast is a live thing, and you can kill it was highly chlorinated water, he said. Lakewood city water, luckily works just fine. What makes his crust so thin, crispy and well, perfectly textured, is the fact that Virgilio's uses very little yeast proportionately to the flour: 1 oz of live yeast to 50 lbs of white flour.  And then he lets the dough rise for a long time. "We never use dough the same day we make it," he said.

Julia Child says the same thing in her baguette recipe. Long, long rising times. It give the dough a change to develop flavor. And like Julia Child, Urbano made pounds and pounds of bad pizza dough before he figured out how to make it. When he moved to Denver, desperate for a good pizza, he started experimenting, and through out so much dough that it blew the lid off the trash can rising.

Luckily, it's a 15 minute drive from in-town Denver, 40 minutes for our friends from Boulder, to a great New York pizza.  The regular cheese pizza is a great opportunity to revel in the crust, but the Margherita, with Virgilio's homemade mozzarella cheese and fresh basil, is irresistible -- even to a bunch of people who'd already had dinner.

The wine's decent and not marked up like other places. For under $50 we had a huge family pizza and a bottle of wine.

I can't remember exactly what he said when Urbano told us it was his first restaurant because I was testing his dough in some garlic knots I was enjoying as a teaser, but the gist was: He's not a chef, didn't go to culinary school, just knows what tastes good because his mother made it for him, and that's what he wants to eat. Since he can't get his mother's cooking, he learned to make it himself, and now he's sharing it with us.


Miso Noodle Soup

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For two:
3 cups water
2 tablespoons red miso paste
2 spring onions, chopped
10 small shitaki mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon good rice wine vinegar

Soba noodles

Bring the water to a boil in a 2 qt. saucepan, add the miso paste and whisk until it's combined, then add green ends of the onion to also flavor the broth. Let them whole so you can fish them out before serving. You can add the mushrooms as is, but I sauteed them in the sesame and olive oil in a small skillet before I added them to the broth. Then I added a small packet, about an inch around of the soba noodles, let them heat while I cleaned up a little, maybe a minute. Then I covered the saucepan and turned off the heat. Just before serving, remove the green ends of onion, REMOVE HALF THE NOODLES and reserve them for another meal. They will have thickened the soup a little and taste great when you eat them for lunch later. Make sure the soup is warm, add the vinegar, ladle into bowls and top with a few left over spring onion bits.

Oysters and Sashimi Menu

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Menu for a simple Asian meal

The main course was an assortment of sashimi fish, which was to be preceded by miso soup and a half dozen oysters. The table was set for main course, so were eating the oysters with chopsticks. I was on the second oyster before I realized how much easier this was than dragging an oyster away from its shell with a tiny fork. I like to keep my condiment tastes separate from my main food thing, at least at first, so I took a pinch of onion, ate it, then pinched an oyster. The onion has a way of opening your smell organs, and then the salty meat of the oyster just tastes so much better. Bread with butter, keep the whole process down to earth, and can be held with the fingers.

Just Add Champagne

It was a weeknight, so we're only going to drink one bottle of wine with the entire meal.  I've always had a hard time finding something to drink with Japanese food, but I know I prefer a French-style bubbly wine with oysters, so we opened a Chandon California Brut Classic that was on sale around New Years for about $15 at Argonaut.

The champagne brought out the sweetness in the oysters, the heartiness of a miso noodle soup and the beetiness in the grated beets that garnished the sashimi plate. It was such a wonderful choice that I wondered if anyone else agreed with me, and I found this link at the Wine Spectator.

Follow the next link to find my recipe for Miso Noodle Soup, and if you're a cook with nice knives who feels comfortable making sashimi, here's what Steuart did to make the main course quite nice. Steuart cut sashimi-grade tuna and salmon in small pieces and fit each one on a cucumber slice. Then, he grated fresh beet and daikon radish and placed it on a center island of seaweed salad. A great soy sauce from Pacific Mercantile in downtown Denver lead the condiments that also included the stinging green stuff made from real powdered wasabi and a pile of pickled ginger we bought (already pink) at Whole Foods with the fish.

We picked up each little bit on it's own, each of us making our own parade of tastes.

Cookery Competitons - Scottish Style

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Who knew when I entered the first cookery competition (and lost it) that it would be the beginning of some kind of  a new career?

In the Sunday Times in Scotland, an article appeared in the food section of the newspaper. It was about an upcoming competition at the the Turnberry Hotel, a 5 star resort on the west coast of Scotland, a renowned golf course and world class spa. It sounded nice to me!

So I sent in my application for the competition with an Alternative Christmas Dinner menu. I was selected to go to the hotel and prepare a 3-course meal in 3 hours. ( This was circa 1996, and before any reality TV)  All preparations were to be done in the stadium-sized kitchen of the hotel. All went well on the day with the exception of cooking the chocolate mousse cake in a convection oven. I hadn't had any experience with a convection oven, and even though I checked the cake half way through the cooking time, it had already been overcooked. So, I had to go back to the beginning and start that dish all over again.

The second time I entered the competition I made it to first place with an ambitious menu of:

  • Oyster ravioli
  • Breast of duck
  • Chocolate mousse cake.

A classic. It still sounds good for a holiday menu after all these years.

This year, just before the holidays, while cooking Christmas cookies, Terry invited me to the New Year's gala  dinner at her place. I proposed to recreate a dish that I had made for this competition in Scotland some years ago (and I do believe that I won because of this dish.)

I knew it was a brilliant idea when I originally thought of it. Simplicity= an oyster, some lemon beurre blanc, a dab of  butter and some fresh pasta to hold it altogether. I  worked on my pasta making and practiced and practiced until I had it!  it was perfection.

Oyster Ravioli: A basic, very thin fresh pasta dough, a perfectly shucked oyster, a dab of butter, and make it extra slippery with a lemon beurre blanc.

Google it up. You won't find anything. I promise you this is as original as it gets.

Let me know if you try it,


Carbondale Gastronomy

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Finding a great restaurant in an unknown area is like  a treasure hunt for me! So, before we headed up to Glenwood Springs on Christmas weekend I was on a mission to find the best restaurant in that area. The restaurant I had decided on was Six89. It was on Main Street in Carbondale which is an easy drive from Glenwood Springs.

Having made reservations for 8:30 pm, we found ourselves hungry before the designated time, so I phoned the restaurant and asked if we could get in a bit earlier.

" Do you mind sitting at the bar?'

Of course not. I love dining in the bar. There were only two hightop tables in the bar area and all the barstools at the bar were empty which made for a nice quiet space. I was delighted! As it turned out, it was a big plus to have a quiet table in the bar as the dining room was full of large tables and noisy patrons. In the bar, we could talk and not be distracted by anything but the food. And so we began to choose our dinner.


We started with a cocktail. They had a Colorado vodka which I opted for in a cosmopolitan. We took our time reading the menu and decided to have a few small bites and then to go for the 3 course prix fixe which included a starter, main and dessert for only 26.99!


We were surprised with an amuse bouche that consisted of lamb salami with a savory cream. A bit on the fatty side, but unusual and interesting.

The small bites we chose were a west coast oyster which was a bit on the puny side for us Yankees. And a wonderful cheese burrato which consisted of homemade mozzarella wrapped ricotta with sundried tomato and fried basil served with an herbed crouton. Now that was yummy!


For a starter, I chose the vegetable risotto wrapped in kale and dipped in Bolognese sauce. It went down well and everything was in balance including the Colorado Pinor Noir that we had chosen by default. The other starter was a salad with roasted beets, dates and chick peas on frisee greens with bacon and goat's cheese. WOW! I couldn't get enough of that!


We had quite a time deciding on the main courses, but in the end we opted for the Colorado lamb... twice. One dish was the shoulder served on blue cheese grits and the other was a lamb shank garnished with pea shoots, cauliflower and chick peas. Both were cooked to perfection and tasted entirely different in texture and flavor.


The desserts were a fine finish as we ventured into a pumpkin tart with a graham cracker crust and an egg foam that was caramelized, I am guessing with a blow torch. And the pina colada sorbet was fresh and creamy.


The service was impeccable without being snobby. The waiter knew his stuff and was patient and timely in spite of the holiday crowds.


 We left satiated and content that we had indeed found a truly wonderful and exciting restaurant.

New Years Breakfast Green Chili

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I made green chili for scrambled eggs New Year's morning.

When I was getting the vegetables together, I pulled the stems off the mushrooms and made a little mushroom broth. (About a cup of water in a 1 qt. saucepan). Then, I sautéed onions in good olive oil. Then made a roux by adding a tablespoon of flour to the onions and oil and cooked this for a few minutes on a very low flame. Stirring them occasionally.

About 15 minutes had gone by; I strained the broth from the mushrooms into the roux, stirred it until the roux and broth were one, and then opened a snack-size bag of green chilies that I'd cleaned and stored this past fall. I first added the juice that had settled in the bag as they were defrosting on the counter, then chopped them while still slightly frozen. These went into the soup, and I worked on the potatoes left over from last night that I was cubing, then baking to go with my eggs and chili breakfast. That's another recipe entirely, easy, and perfect when I sprinkle on Aleppo, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes from Savory Spice shop.

Just before I scrambled the eggs, I cooked the whole small Crimini mushrooms a la Julia Child. She recommends you sautés them in a little butter and olive oil until the butter foams, not touching, not crowded in the pan. I used my French skillet and I can just roll them up the side and let them turn over. The second side being heated is the top so I can watch the stem side sweat and fill with mushroom liquor. When the tight caps are full I slid them into the chili. This vegetarian chili had the pleasant flavor surprise of a pork chili but instead of having a lump of tasty pork we had a buttery, more tender, and very flavorful mushroom.