Dinner Groups

June 19, 2011

One of the most enjoyable things about food, is discovering other people who have the same fascination as you.  For the past couple of years my husband and I have gone to dinners put on by a ‘hush-hush’ dinner group in Denver.  We’ve also gone to a couple farm dinners.  Until we started doing this, I can’t say I’d ever had a conversation for more than a few minutes with anyone else in which past food experiences were shared – recommended local restaurants, food experiences while travelling domestically as well as internationally, cooking experiences with unusual foods that you don’t see every day in your standard supermarket.  It has been so much fun to discover that other people are into food as much as we are, and like to try new and interesting things.  We have met chefs, restaurant managers, as well as others who are just into good food.

I also discovered the woman who will probably always remain my favorite pastry chef in the world, Ginger Reynolds. The dessert she made for one particular dinner was truly a phenomenal, unparalleled creation. The description of the dessert, ‘cioccolato nocciola torta & crema espresso’ is almost insulting in it’s failure to encompass how wonderful it was. I was so full I almost felt sick, but told my fellow diners that I was determined to just ‘push through and finish’, because there was no way that I was not going to finish every single bit of that dessert.

HUSH is a mobile restaurant concept, formed to give chefs that aren’t currently the star at their places of employment a chance to show off.  After subscribing to the mailing list, you receive emails announcing upcoming events.  We have eaten dinners in a mod interior design gallery, a motorsports gallery, and on the roof of a luxury condo complex.  The most interesting and enjoyable dinners we have experienced with the group featured chef Ian Kleinman, formerly of O’s in Westminster, but now with The Inventing Room.  Chef Kleinman is a molecular gastronomist, which basically means he uses science to do weird things with food.  Like making exploding whipped cream with liquid nitrogen.  And Sriracha cubes – little gelatin like cubes of flavor.  And charcoal oil, which imparted a smoky grill taste to shrimp without requiring a grill.  And one of the best tasting items of the evening – coconut milk sorbet that took only 2 minutes to make with liquid nitrogen.   The menu follows, with pictures when we remembered to take them as opposed to just digging in.

First Course:
Grilled shrimp Carpaccio, dried chilies, carbonated citrus cells, charcoal oil, peeled cherry tomatoes and cilantro
Second Course:
Fried chicken consomme, buttermilk dippin dots, peeled and compressed celery, cornbread foam

Third Course:
Coconut milk sorbet with braised pineapple, strawberry champagne jelly and vanilla bubbles

Fourth Course:
Sous vide Tasmanian pepper encrusted sirlion in butter and tarragon, smoked milk pudding, sriracha cubes, candy cane carrots and demi glace caviar

Fifth Course:

Flexible white chocolate with nutella powder, liquid nitrogen malted ice cream, exploding whipped cream and peanut butter pop rocks

And then the farm dinners.  These are put on by Meadowlark Farm Dinners, which is a group that brings in their bus and huge grill, and prepares a multi-course dinner on the farm, using produce picked fresh from that particular farm.  For items that the hosting farm doesn’t supply, they work with other farms or ranches nearby.  We have gone to two of these dinners.  The first dinner we attended was at Cure Organic Farm at Valmont and 75th, and included a wonderful tour of their farm.  One of the highlights for me was the unique chicken enclosure, which was a pretty huge enclosure that included trees and grassy areas that the chickens could run around in when they were being kept out of the fields during fox breeding season.  Normally they are moved around in a mobile chicken coop for a variety of feeding areas.  I’ve never really seen chickens out running laps before, but these looked like some healthy, energetic chickens.  We also got to see the greenhouse, the re-purposed washing machine they use for washing greens, the quonset huts that the interns working the farm live in, and of course the pigs and piglets, newly added to the farm that year.

The next dinner we went to was at Red Wagon Organic Farm, also on Valmont.  The table was quite a hike from the parking area, but was set up in the middle of fields and truly gave you a unique experience.  The farm tour was quite interesting as well.  Aside from the fact that they have so many varieties of vegetables (I got very excited listening to all of the heirloom tomatoes they had planted), they are doing some  interesting work with row covers and ‘plasticulture’ in order to speed up the growing season and increase the health of the plants.  Row covers are basically a somewhat translucent cover that keeps the plants from having to fight the wind, and lets them enjoy some warmer temperatures.  They have some research information on their website about this, should you care to read more.  The food at the farm dinners is always quite good, but perhaps not the most creative or absolutely top-notch food we have eaten.  But given the fact that they are cooking on a grill and in a bus in the middle of a field, it’s pretty impressive.  And you simply cannot beat produce that was picked that recently, in that close proximity to the table at which you are eating.  My only complaint is that sometimes the bug spray just doesn’t fend off all of the mosquitoes that join the table after the sun goes down.

We have had some great conversations with people at these dinners, and have met nutritionists, farmers, and people who are just local food-loving, farmers’ market-attending foodies.  The picture  below is the view right across from me at the table while the fellow diner across from me was out of his seat.

My view at the Meadowlark Farm Dinner at Red Wagon Organic Farm


I love the Boulder Farmers’ Market.  There are a ton of  booths with wonderful produce and locally produced food, some great local places in the food court, and it’s got a fun, friendly feeling.  I’ve even had some conversations with complete strangers about food.  Today’s score consisted of the following:  Garlic scapes, onion scapes, arugula, baby lettuce, spinach, broccoli raab, chocolate mint, Pappardelle’s basil garlic pasta and Street Fare fig-gruyere, chocolate-pistachio and key lime mini cupcakes.

Pappardelle’s is a Denver-based artisanal pasta company that sells to restaurants, hotels, and at local farmers’ markets.  They have a huge array of loose pasta in their stand which you order by weight.  I’m always hard-pressed to decide which kind I want to try next, they are all so gorgeous looking.  Street Fare is a great concept – the kitchen at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless gets put to use during what would otherwise be downtime to make great mini cupcakes.  The first set I bought at this stand were absolutely exquisite.  These ones turned out to be not quite as phenomenal, but were still very good, and as it is such a great cause, I’m definitely willing to give them a few more tries to return to the sublime state of the first cupcakes I got here.

But on to preparing the vegetation.  I love the way just picked vegetables look and smell.   They are so much more vibrant looking, and they smell…well, fresher, obviously, but somehow more pure, more whatever-vegetable-they-are.  You chop green garlic, and it’s not stronger smelling than the garlic you buy in the store, but somehow more essence of garlicky.  Well, hokey sounding philosophy aside, they are just better than shipped and stored vegetables from the store.

Prepped vegetation ready for cooking

I’d never cooked broccoli raab, but some quick research showed that you could simply blanch it in boiling water for a minute or two, and then saute it over medium heat with olive oil and garlic for about 10 minutes.  I decided that I’d use some of the green garlic from last week’s market with that.  Since green garlic is milder than regular garlic, I used up the eight or so stalks I had left, chopping it as you would green onions.  Broccoli raab has a fairly strong bitter taste, so the pecorino romano and garlic would serve to counter that a bit.

Sauteed Broccoli Raab
1 bunch of broccoli raab
6-8 green garlic stalks, finely chopped
crushed red pepper flakes
pecorino romano or parmesan, shaved
salt to taste

Wash broccoli raab, and trim the end of the stems.     Cut off larger stem pieces, and cut into 2-3 inch pieces.  In batches, blanch  stems and leaves in a large pot of boiling water – 2 minutes for stems and 1 minute for leaves.  Remove with a slotted spoon and put in an ice bath or cover with ice to stop cooking.  Drain and pat dry.

Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, and then add  the green garlic and a few sprinkles of crushed red pepper flakes.  Saute until tender and just starting to brown.  Add the broccoli raab, and continue to saute for about 5-10 minutes, until desired tenderness.  (I just pulled a stem piece out, cut a bit off, and tried it to see if it was tender enough.)

Sprinkle with salt, add shaved pecorino romano, and serve.

Broccoli Raab with Green Garlic and Pecorino Romano

As for the pasta, I was happy with the recipe that Papardelle’s had for the last pasta I bought from them, so we used a modified version of the one they had for the basil garlic trumpet pasta — shrimp instead of clams, onion scapes instead of green onions and garlic scapes instead of garlic.  My husband was the primary cook on this one.  The sauce turned out just a tad bland, but we found that adding a bit of salt brought out the flavor, and made it quite enjoyable.

Basil Garlic Trumpet Pasta with Shrimp, Onion Scapes and Garlic Scapes

There will be arugula and greens aplenty for the rest of the week.  I just wish I could find a better way to dry washed greens.  Whenever I search online, it seems that people are generally happy with their lettuce spinners, but I don’t find that they get the greens anywhere near dry enough.  I end up using a clean dish towel and rolling the greens in it even after I use the salad spinner.  Too bad a hair dryer would no doubt be too powerful…
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