August 25, 2012
Last week Niwot restaurant Colterra graciously (and deliciously) hosted several local food bloggers other food media people for a talk about the restaurant, as well as several delectable small plates. Colterra has long been a favorite of mine in Boulder County, but gained even more esteem points after I had the chance to find out a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes.
Executive Chef Michael Drazsnzak spoke extensively about the philosophy espoused by both Colterra and Salt (both created by chef Bradford Heap), their relationship with local farmers, and the wonderful dishes that were provided for us to sample. The restaurants strive to provide food that is local, healthy, sustainable, and promotes humane animal husbandry. Recycling and composting are both near and dear to my heart, so more points were scored with me when I heard that Colterra has only one trash can-sized container for landfill, but multiple containers for recycling and composting.
I’m always thrilled to see restaurants sourcing their food from local farms and ranches, and Colterra definitely makes this a high priority. They acquire produce and meat from Full Circle Farms, Dooley Farms, Munson Farms and Long Family Farms (to name just a few), as well as from the small garden spread around the Colterra property. They have recently partnered up with a farmer to raise eight Berkshire hogs, contributing edible compost from the restaurant for feed. I love that! Another thing that impressed me was the fact that they visit the farmers quite frequently, allowing them to get an idea of what is growing and will be ready to harvest soon, so that they can plan new menu items.
Now on to the lovely small plates we sampled. The first was Pork Rillettes (a dish similar to pâté) and quick pickled cucumbers with a bit of mint, on toasted bread and a bed of lettuce. The Rillettes was wonderfully rich, and perfectly complemented by the light, fresh pickled cucumbers. (As Chef Drazsnzak described the process of making the Rillettes, talking about the addition of butter, bacon fat, and extra-virgin olive oil, I had a quick mental image of my posterior expanding, but that didn’t stop me from finishing both pieces! All part of splurging one night a week, and eating healthier at home the rest of the week.)
As good as the Rillettes was, the second course was actually my favorite. This was a salad made of local organic tomatoes and fried bread with sweet corn and green beans. Add to that some olive oil, wonderfully vibrant aged balsamic and a bit of basil, and I was really blown away by the clean, fresh, gorgeous flavors. This kind of dish really underscores how locally harvested produce can elevate food to new levels, because it’s packed with so much more flavor.
The final dish was a melon salad with prosciutto, mint, and peashoots. The cantaloupe and honeydew were local, and the prosciutto even counted as more local than most, hailing from La Quercia, makers of artisan cured meats, in Iowa. La Quercia (translated as ‘The Oak’) was the first to bring the tradition of acorn-fed pigs to the United States with their ‘Acorn Edition’ meats. Completely delicious!
In addition to providing wonderful food at both Colterra and Salt, the Bradford Heap Restaurants brand also does catering, as well as offering cooking classes. I think I may just have to attend one of their classes in the near future!
August 18, 2012
I always look forward to trying a new flavor of Pappardelle’s Pasta. I had been eyeing the Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo for some time, but haven’t made a lot of Thai dishes in the past, so I was somewhat hesitant. I finally decided to get some though, and thought I’d do something with grilled shrimp and stir-fried vegetables to go with it. I had some bell pepper and wax beans from the Farmers’ Market, so I figured those would be perfect for a Thai dish. (Sure, Thai food uses green beans or (green) long beans, but I’ve always thought of wax beans pretty much equivalent to green beans. But they have the added bonus of keeping their color when you cook them, unlike those disappointing purple beans!)
One of the main features of Thai food is its wonderful balance of hot, sweet, salty, and sour tastes. I wanted to try to do something using authentic Thai flavors for the sauce, so I did a bit of internet searching, as well as paging through my newly acquired copy of Culinary Artistry to get some ideas. Culinary Artistry is a great book recommended to me by a woman at Sur la Table in Boulder. It has lists of different herbs and spice combinations, as well as different ingredients used in the cooking of various countries. It also has a lot of great information from many famous chefs. For my Thai sauce I decided on fish sauce, coconut milk, lime juice, soy sauce and brown sugar.
After I mixed together everything for the sauce, it tasted pretty good, but was way too thin, so I added a bit of corn starch so it would thicken once I added it to the vegetables. I enlisted my husband to grill the shrimp, which came off the grill looking absolutely gorgeous. I was really pleased with the overall result – not only was it incredibly tasty, but it was a really beautiful dish!
Spicy Red Hot Thai Curry Orzo with Shrimp, Bell Pepper and Wax Beans
4 oz Hot Thai Curry Orzo
10 oz shrimp (fresh or frozen)
1+1/2 bell peppers, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
5 green onions, chopped
1/2 lb wax or green beans, ends trimmed, and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tsp sesame oil, divided
6 basil leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1+1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp coconut milk
4-6 tsp brown sugar (start with the lower amount, and add more if desired)
2 tsp canola oil
1+1/2 tsp cornstarch
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce (except the cornstarch) together. Taste and adjust as necessary – you might want more coconut milk, lime juice, or sugar, depending on your taste preferences. In a small bowl or mug, add a teaspoon or so of the sauce to the cornstarch, and mix well. Add a couple more teaspoons of sauce, and mix again until the cornstarch is dissolved. Now add the dissolved cornstarch to the sauce, and mix well. Set aside.
Cook orzo as per package directions. It’s okay if it’s done before everything else. Just set it aside and you can add it to everything at the end to heat it up again.
Peel Shrimp if needed. Toss in 1 tsp sesame oil. Grill on high heat (use a grill tray or basket if needed) about 2-3 minutes per side. If you’re lucky and can con someone else into doing this part, have them time it so that it will be ready about the same time as the vegetables.
Heat 1 tsp sesame oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beans and cook for two minutes. Add the pepper, and continue to cook until the beans and pepper are crisp tender (it seemed to take between 8 – 12 minutes – I got different results in my two rounds of this dish). If the beans start to brown before things are tender enough, you can turn the heat down a bit, or add a couple teaspoons of water.
Add the green onion and the sauce (and your pasta if it has cooled completely), turn the heat down to low, and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened.
Add the pasta to the vegetables and sauce if you haven’t done so already, and stir well. Plate (or bowl) the pasta, top with shrimp and basil.
August 10, 2012
It wouldn’t be a proper foodie summer without a farm dinner. (It’s fun to see where you food comes from, and great to meet local farmers.) I perused the local offerings, and was intrigued by one that was to be put on by Five, a group of (five) superstar Denver chefs who put on events in different locations. This particular farm dinner was to be hosted at Two Bear Farms in Wheat Ridge. Two Bear produces organic eggs, so the dinner was to heavily feature eggs. Works for me – I rarely eat eggs at home, so bring them on! I signed us up, and on an evening in July that was providing some pretty menacing looking rain in Boulder, we headed down to Wheat Ridge.
Fortunately, the rain hadn’t yet made an appearance that far south-east, so once we arrived at the farm (which is quite tiny – but you don’t need as much room if you’re not growing a lot of crops), it was nice and dry. We walked over to the enclosure for the chickens, who were all out enjoying the early evening air. Well, honestly, I have no clue if that’s what they were doing – who can really get inside the mind of a chicken? But it sounds nice and poetic. Let’s just say they all seemed pretty relaxed, content, and were just walking around pecking at the ground. I always love to see chickens on a farm that truly has an open area for them to move around in. (Partly because sometimes one or two will just burst into a run for 20 feet, which I find highly amusing to watch (of course I’m sure people could say the same thing about my running style, but I digress)). Contrary to the aroma one might find at over-crowded chicken farms, the three smaller organic farms we’ve gone to which had chickens had pretty much no adverse smell.
The first food served was hand-passed appetizers. My favorite overall was the mini fried-egg sandwiches (made with quail eggs). Seriously – aren’t they adorable? And they were delicious, too. I kind of wanted about five of them. (Five? Get it?)
I think the gorgeous award for the evening probably went to the red beet-pickled Two Bear Farms hen’s eggs with horseradish egg salad and golden beet caviar.
The dining area was three long rows of tables under a tent (fortunately, since it did actually start raining later in the evening!). You’ll notice my currently open and in the process of being enjoyed bottle of Dry Lavender Soda. I normally don’t drink caloric beverages (opting instead for artificially sweetened ones, in brazen contrast to my bent on healthy eating), but this stuff had significantly fewer calories than regular soda, and really was quite good.
One of the things that I really love about going to various dining events is the people you meet. You might find yourself sitting across the table from the chef of a budding new restaurant in Denver, a couple who does design and planning for new restaurants, or a former contestant on Master Chef. It’s fun to talk about food with others who are as into it as you are. Even if your expertise only extends to dining out or being a home cook, you can still talk about foods you’ve tried, different preparations, or the food you are eating at the dinner. It’s also a great opportunity to ask someone who works in the industry questions you’ve always had about restaurants or catering, or what have you.
My favorite main course of the evening was Hosea Rosenberg’s Homemade Cavatelli “Carbonara” with Two Bear Farms Egg Yolk and Pancetta. Most of the courses were served family style, so I didn’t get quite as much pasta on my plate when I passed it down as I would have liked, but it was still very enjoyable. Rich without being overwhelming, it made great use of the farm’s eggs.
There were several other main courses, but unfortunately I didn’t get good photos of any of them. They included Pickled Colorado wild striped bass by Mark DeNittis, Chicken fried beef tongue by Samir Mohammad, and coq au vin blanc by Jenna Johansen.
Oh, but then there was the unbelievably delectable element of the dessert course by Jessica Scott. She made three desserts, but the purple velvet cupcakes with jalapeño cream cheese frosting were hands-down the best. I know that no description I give will do them justice. Yes, jalapeño cream cheese frosting might sound a bit odd, but having eaten and enjoyed quite a bit of gourmet chocolate with chilis, I knew how well that worked together. The cream cheese frosting had just the flavor aspect of the jalapeños without the heat, and for some reason, when mixed with the chocolate cupcake taste it was complete bliss.
I had to include a picture of the red and black brownies, because all lined up on giant serving trays, they just looked too pretty not to share.
August 3, 2012
As soon as 2R’s Farm starts selling their purple potatoes at the Boulder Farmers’ Market, I can’t resist the urge to buy some nearly every week. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know of my affinity for brightly colored vegetables, and my special attraction to anything purple. So for most of the second half of the summer, we have a lot of purple potatoes. When I set out to make this dish, I discovered I was a bit scant on my supply, so I had to supplement with a few emergency red potatoes from the grocery store. (Next time I’ll be sure to grab an extra handful of the purples.)
For my last post, I shared my recipe for tzatziki potato sausage salad. This week I decided to make a potato salad based on one of our favorite recipes – Southwestern Potato Salad from Cooking Light Magazine. To avoid cooking too much in the kitchen since it’s so hot out, I decided to grill the peppers, onions, and sweet corn. I cooked the potatoes in the microwave, since honestly, I find that just as easy as doing it on the stovetop. You don’t want the peppers and onions to be too cooked, so just grill enough to get a bit of char on them.
Chipotle Black Bean Potato Salad
adapted from Southwestern Potato Salad in Cooking Light Magazine
1+1/2 lbs new potatoes
1+1/2 red bell peppers
1 red onion
3 ears sweet corn (about 1+1/2 cups kernels)
1 can black beans
1-3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
3 tsp olive oil, divided
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika (or regular if you don’t want more heat)
1/2 tsp ground chipotle chile (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 -1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
liquid smoke (optional)
Cut the potatoes into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces, and cook in boiling water until tender, either in the microwave or on the stovetop. (About 15-17 minutes in the microwave). Drain and set aside.
Cut the tops and bottoms off of the bell peppers, and then cut the pepper into 4 flat pieces (remove the seeds). Cut the red onion into about 1/3 inch thick slices. Remove the husks and silk from the sweet corn, but leave the ‘handles’ on.
You’ll want your grill on medium heat, and ideally use a basket or a grilling tray for the onions and peppers. Brush all the vegetables (both sides of the flat ones) with the first tsp of olive oil. Place everything on the grill.
After about 3-5 minutes, once the bottom sides are just slightly charred, flip the peppers and onions, and turn the sweet corn by 1/3. After 3-4 more minutes, once the peppers and onions are just slightly charred on the other side, remove them from the heat, and turn the sweet corn again. Grill for an additional 3-4 minutes, then remove the sweet corn as well.
Let the vegetables cool, then cut the pepper into about 1/2 inch pieces, and dice the onions. Cut the kernels off of the corn cobs.
Dressing: Finely mince 1-3 of the chipotle chiles (depending on how hot they are, and how hot you want the potato salad). Combine the chipotle chiles, lime juice, hot smoked Spanish paprika, salt, and black pepper. Stir well, then taste. If you want more heat, add the ground chipotle.
Combine the potatoes and vegetables in a large bowl, then add the dressing, and stir to combine well. Taste and add a few shakes of liquid smoke if you want a smokier taste. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving.
per serving, 4 servings: 325 cals 5.2 g fat 9.5 g fiber
per serving, 6 servings: 215 cals 3.3 g fat 6.3 g fiber