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Villa Napoli Pizza

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The woman standing behind the counter said the pizza was the best in town. Villa Napoli in a former fast food place was recommended to us by the nearby hardware store guy and he sounded trustworthy.  I am always skeptical if I have to order at a counter and wait why my drink in a paper cup is handed to me.

For the $1 tip given in advance she did bring the pizza on a steel tray with two paper plates stuck under it.  We were sitting outside, sipping from our straws watching the traffic go by on 64th Ave.

Plenty of spicy sausage, which was very good, was on top of a very nice, very white, light pizza dough.  The center was a bit running so it wasn't perfect to eat without a fork - none was offered. The crust had a little less substance and chew than some of my all time favorites, but cooked perfectly crisp on the edges. The tomato sauce was homemade and had a great flavor.   All in all a very nice pizza.

So, if you're ever between Simms and Ward Road on 64th Ave, and need good homemade food, Villa Napoli Pizza is reasonably priced and makes possibly the best pizza in the neighborhood, if not Arvada.

Schlosser & PHO

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Pho - in Denver is - cheap. Pho is beef broth, rice noodles, nearly raw meat, chili, bean sprouts, lime and a mounded pile of green-leaf herb, usually Thai basil and a saw-toothed cilantro.

Fast-Food-Nation.jpgEric Schlosser wrote about our desire for cheap food in Fast Food Nation. He spoke at Denver University last night as part of the Denver Post Pen & Podium series. I was one of the many believers who filled the auditorium to hear Schlosser talk about how fast food has killed our food supply. How Ray Kroc made a fortune making our food Uniform, Cheap and Fast. I wouldn't be caught dead in a fast-food place, but I do find myself willingly going out for a PHO.

One taste worldwide. That's what Schosser said was McDonalds slogan. The thought of that, he said is 'really creepy.'  And I'm feeling proud of myself for being an adventurous eater dining at local-ethnic places. I won't conform; I want to eat everything and I want it different every time. I breath in the Pho broth that I slurp up with a horde of other diners who are less discerningly dumping in chili sauce and other strong condiments. I try places with nice ambiance and those where we're packed in on cheap cafeteria tables. I form an opinion that Pho79 has a much more balanced and aromatic broth than Pho95 just down the block on S. Federal.

Then Schlosser said another creepy thing: one fast-food burger patty born in 2011 can contain meat from up to 100 animals. He reiterated what we, the audience, already knew about how long the scare of an outbreak of food-borne illness can last. Problems are hard to contain because of mass distribution, we can't easily trace trouble to a source and then correct the cause. Take for example, the salmonella eggs last summer. Think of mad-cow disease.

pho.jpgThen, I thought about my Pho restaurants. I don't ask where the beef broth comes from. Or the beef. Of course, there's the language barrier. I don't speak Vietnamese. Maybe what I want is ignorance, and it's accompanying bliss. Maybe that's what the food industry has been trying to provide for me and the fat people walking into McDonalds. Ignorance and bliss.

A woman in the audience at DU asked, 'I'm a vegetarian so I don't have to worry about what you're talking about, but what do you think about alfalfa now being Genetically Modified?'

Alfalfa, he answered, is a perennial. (I didn't know this or that it's now GMO) The concern, he continued, is that once a genetically modified perenial is introduced, it will propagate. No reining it in when we decide we don't want genetically-modified alfalfa. And yes, he said 'when.'

Because as Schlosser pointed out our food system changed without our knowledge over the past 40 years. We didn't debate it, vote for it. It changed without our knowledge because industrial food suppliers didn't, and still don't, want us to know what's in our food - it would scare us. So, slowly local butchers became rare, tomatoes became tasteless, one-off diners disappeared and mcRestaurants propagated. Behind the curtain was the industrialization of fruits and vegetables and cultivators turned to assembly-line workers. Until we started demanding organic and local. And this is why Schlosser thinks we are on a path to change the food system back to something better.

But the organic food movement is being criticized, Schlosser said, being called 'Elitist' by Sarah Palin. Yes, organic, non-processed food is more expensive, he said. "Right now it's only 1 percent of our food production, but calling it elitist is like calling seat belts elitist. The wealthy will always had access to good food. It's the poor who are suffering most (from the change to cheap, uniform and industrial food.) Just look at obesity rates, he said: 1 in 3 nationwide; of the poor: 1 in 2 people are obese.

If I'm an elitist because I support organic food, someone will probably also assume I'm a liberal - because I am open mind and will order tripe and tendon in my Pho.

But I'm Conservative - that's what I really am - Schlosser pointed out, saying that he, and I, want to conserve the land, keep our resources clean and uncontaminated, and we want people and animals treated with respect. The big-business pork lots and corn- and soybean-subsidy funded industrial farms are UnAmerican.  I'm the true American.
This American makes a Fresh Dinner: I look up the recipe for Pho.  If I want that taste must I go out where the beef isn't guaranteed to be organic or decently treated.

'Rock candy. Buy Pho spices in a packet. If you've read any of my blogs or articles you know I hate recipes like this. Corn syrup is not necessary for my health, but I'll bet it's in the rock candy and maybe the spice packet, too. And I can't read non-Roman characters even if the ingredients are labeled.

I know Pho is generally made with beef stock, and instead of opening a can, I use homemade beef stock from a cow whose previous address I know. Added to that are a couple of star anise, a nutmeg, clove, cinnamon stick, white pepper, (from Savory, my local spice shop), an onion outer layer, a slice of fresh ginger, sage from the garden and a tablespoon of local honey. And some anchovy paste. Anchovies are what fish sauce is made from, and I know that my tube of anchovy paste is made in France where they have regulations about what they put in food. I'm not so sure about the fish sauce. It's minor, I know, but I'm on a mission tonight. To make a cheap meal in a pure way.

The rice noodles ingredient are rice flour and water. They're the extra large variety, meaning wide, and so they need to boil for 8 minutes. Yes, the package came from half way around the world, and I'm looking for a better option.

pho-ingredients.jpgRaw beef (flank steak, organic) has been in the freezer and it is cut thin. Bean sprouts, cilantro, Thai basil, slivers of fresh red chili pepper and lime are brought to the table. I substitute more lime and chili slices to avoid using the bright red chili sauce that we can't resist buying in the Asian market. The particular chili I'd bought just wasn't very hot. That's the trouble with natural produce - it's just not as consistent as "One Taste Worldwide."  But it was hot enough for sinus-clearing and smell enhancing. We slurped our soup and thought about what spice I'd used too little, and which one I'd used too much.

At one point, I squeeze in another wedge of lime and 'wow' it was zinging. Perfection. Right there in my bowl. Later, I ladled in another few spoonfuls of the left overs, I realized again how perfect it had been. The next taste is not much worse, but is constantly changing. I get very subtle new impressions with every bite. I want more of this. I want different basil options next time, my own cow's tripe and tendon. I want to make chili sauce. I want my little elitist arugula sprouts to get bigger so they can join in the PHO.

Lunch at Los Mayas

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mayas.jpgOld Style Food at Los Mayas, Santa Fe:

The main dining room is open enchiladaMaya.jpgair, and at night someone plays classical guitar at Los Mayas, a very funky building on Guadeloupe and Alameda aAdobado.jpgcross from the Hotel Eldorado.

They are open on Sundays for lunch we found out as we stumbled in. Los Mayas is old Hispanic influenced American food, not New Mexican. So, enchiladas are not their specialty. The cheese ones with red sauce were good. The relleno was small -- made from a small poblano chili rather than the big, long Anaheim, or  New Mexico chili, as they call them in New Mexico since they were first grown here, and then transplanted to Anaheim, California.
The relleno was very tasty, battered and fried with a nice enough green chili vegetable sauce. But it was small. The adovado plate - adovado is chili caribe stewed pork - had all the right flavor and tenderness on the teeth. And just a bit too much salt. On my plate was the fish of the day. A fried red snapper with a green olive caper sauce. We'd all decided it was a risk worth taking - getting the fish -- because the menu talked about how they selected local and fresh ingredients and had an interesting sounding ceviche. It was the best choice of the four.

Cafe Pascal Words of Warning

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Do's & Don't's at Pasquals:

Café Pasquals. We'd been there for lunch in April and had a wonderful experience. Many times, I've waited outside for nearly an hour for breakfast. Everyone know Pasqual's grand reputation and one of our group had never eaten at this long standing Santa Fe restaurant right on Don Gaspar and Water St. So we go, midweek, June 2010.

"They're pretty proud of their breakfasts," said the one who was new to the place. The prices were shocking me, too.

I'd had enchiladas last time and the red sauce was wonderful. It was covering one half of the Huevos Rancheros one of us ordered with both red and green chili. The red one was the best half. The green chili was chilies only, not a real thing in itself. The black beans were slightly undercooked.

I had the Huevos with a Relleno. It was okay, a nice chili stuffed with cotijas cheese. In the interest of healthiness, it wasn't fried but baked and the batter was a little like a crepe. Not bad, but not the best choice in this fresh-oriented restaurant. My mistake. I think the waiter may have forgotten to bring me a tortilla ... as he'd forgotten that two of the four of us would also be needing silverware.

The chorizo burrito was good, fresh, probably local sausage and the roasted tomato sauce on it and my relleno was different - like a warm fresh salsa -- and very good. The toast on the traditional two-egg and potato breakfast was home-made, thick and golden brown. Raspberry jelly was high quality.  

There was not too much food, but after spending $20 per person, we felt this would have to serve as lunch and probably dinner, too.

Do: go for lunch in the off season. Order red chili, enchiladas, fresh vegetables, homemade desserts.
Don't: hold out for their breakfast, read their menu like you are in a Mexican restaurant, expect to stay on budget.

L'Asia Restaurant Denver

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L'Asia : Bargain Fine Asian.
A treat for MidWeek.

On Tuesdays and Wednesday nights, l'Asia, a Denver fusion-style Asian food restaurant offers 1/2 price appetizers. We made a meal of it. And these four choices went particularly well with the 'every-night' two for one Saki-tini's: Saki and match-stick ginger with some other additions that were not sweet, not too strong.

Green-lipped New Zealand mussels were baked with a light, slightly sweet and hot cream sauce, sprinkled with sesame seeds. The spring rolls were packed with shrimp, cilantro and rice noodles, easy to grasp and tasty with the slightly curried peanut sauce. Well balanced: taste and more. See picture below.

The calamari had a spicy breading that made eating the fried squid worth it. These were not tubes or tenacles but thinly cut strips of calamari steak. Consistent in texture and taste. Our favorite of the four hors d'oevres.

The crab cakes were the last appetizer we tried and was a little dense compared to the lightness of everything else we'd ordered. In all that gingery sauce, it even looks heavy in the picture. And when we we weren't saying 'wow' as many times as we had with the other dishes, we knew we'd had enough.

I'm looking forward to visiting this restaurant just across the street from Pablo's on 6th Avenue again, and giving the entrees a try.

The calamari -- lightly breaded, peppery with a sweet and spicy sauce. Sits here on a bed of edible, desirable greens with light-as-air noodles.

Thumbnail image for enchiladas_finished.pngpoblano_relleno.jpgThumbnail image for SantaFe-Pasquals.png
Enchiladas, Red, Green, Rellenos and a Strawberry Shortcake.

Colorado Mexican food is different than New Mexico Mexican and the most obvious place where New Mexico's cuisine excels beyond all other versions of Mexican food is in the enchilada.

At Cafe Pasquals on Water and Don Gaspar in Santa Fe, they have perfected the enchilada and several other things as well. You can find many of these in the Cafe Pasquals Cookbook, that was designed by one of the woman sitting at the table on this beautiful spring afternoon in April 2010.

I'm eating the enchiladas, with red sauce, of course, and someone else has the green chili. And we start a recurring discussion about the merits of the two.

Blue corn tortillas at Pasquals add another earthy note to the already earthy chili and with the simplicity of the cheese and onion insides, I think red is best. The combination is something that New Mexicans have been working on 10months out of 12, every year since there was a New Mexico. Only for two months of the year would fresh green chilis be available. They didn't have a bushel stored in their freezer like I do today.

After having enchiladas here, at the Shed and then at Harry's Road House in Santa Fe, this is what we learned from a native ... Green chili on chicken, mushroom, spinach enchiladas, red on plain cheese and onion.

My green chili loving friend doesn't agree and heads into the morally relativist chasm saying "it's just personal preference." I disagree. I think there are better combinations, and lesser ones. Look for the upcoming rant about this on

Green chili is for rellenos -- which are fresh chillies stuffed with cheese. The above picture is a fresh poblano chili stuffed with chicken and cheese from the Santa Fe Bar & Grill. The salads here were big, fresh and a nice alternative to Mexican food if you're ever in Santa Fe long enough to get tired of enchiladas.

Back to Pasquals because it was the best meal we had during the four day trip. Fantastic enchiladas but also a great fresh kale and ricotta salade cheese salad, a great BLT and then our waitress told us -- desserts that will make you swoon more than you're second-grader boyfriend.

I picked the fresh-made strawberry shortcake and everyone else pooh poohed the idea of dessert, told me not to spend the money or the time. No one wanted to share. I guess they didn't have that great an experience in second grade.

So the waitress said, I'm bringing a shortcake and if you three woman don't eat a bite of it -- while I eat it in front of them -- she'll give it to us for free. The shortcake was a perfectly light hand-made biscuit, not-too-sweet, with perhaps a hint of nutmeg. The strawberries were fresh and slightly syrupy in something that seemed very native to them. The whip cream was freshly whipped not grainy sugar competing with the strong, sweet taste of the berries. And the sprig of fresh mint just made the whole a smelling and tasting pleasure.

My friends were the masters of self-control. They did not take a bite. Note my satisfied grin.

Santa Fe Sangria

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Drinking in the Spring

Down in the capitol of our neighboring state, New Mexico, I'm happy eating New Mexico Enchiladas everyday, every meal.

On this trip, my friends were happy to drink Sangria every day, every happy hour out in the perfect dry New Mexico spring weather under our friends apricot tree. So, let's share Sangria secrets.

The first version was made by my friend Sandy who sliced fruit (oranges, strawberries, lemons and limes) into a big travel container and poured a bottle of red wine over it. Added a few tablespoons of Grand Mariner. Then we drove 6 hours from Breckenridge to Santa Fe, while the brew stewed.

That afternoon, we mixing it in the glass, with about a 1/4 of a glass of sparkling water. It was fruity and strong, but not too sweet which was just perfect with crackers and cheese.

The second day, my friend Rae mixed another batch according to a secret recipe given to her by the chef at Relish, one of the nicest restaurants in Breckenridge. The fortified liquor she used was brandy, and she added the fruit: kiwi, strawberries, oranges just before serving.

The wine was both red and white, and she did make the simple sugar. Because the fruit wasn't soaking, we were able to enjoy this sangria on the third day as well.

1 bottle red wine
1/2 bottle Pinot Grigio
1/2 cup Cranberry Juice
1 cup orange juice
1 cup Brandy
3/4 cup Triple Sec
3/4 cup Simple Syrup

The first one is a Sangria I suggest for cooler weather (and fruits available then) and that was what the weather looked like at 9,600 ft. in Colorado when we left. The other was perfect for the 75 degree afternoons in Santa Fe, and the fresh kiwi, oranges and strawberries were fresh and nice to eat, but with less kick than the purple pear slices we had the first day.

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.


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,


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