30 December 2010

Hangover Food: A Love Story

Ever have one of those nights when you’re up too late with friends, you drink too much, then you all pass out on the floor until the dog licks your faces in the morning? With New Year's coming up, I get nostalgic about these things.  I know, it’s much more romantic and charming in your 20s than it is in your—ahem—30s, but it still happens (right? It’s not just me?) and the cure is always the same: a breakfast of protein and a little grease will slowly get you back on track. But don’t buy that “hair of the dog” crap—I’ve tried, and it's not a good idea.  Momma says no. 

I love this so much that I even make this when I’m sober. Then I have it with beer, but don’t do that in the morning! I’m watching you!

The Morning After Skillet
(feeds 4)

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup milk
Salt and pepper
6 eggs
½ cup shredded cheese
½ cup salsa
½ can black beans
Leftover veggies (cooked green things, mushrooms, onions) if you’ve got them
A couple handfuls of tortilla chip crumbs (check the bottom of the bag, couch cushions, your friend’s cheek…)

Beat milk, salt, pepper, and cracked eggs in a bowl and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium high; oil shimmers when it’s ready. If you’re going to get ambitious and toss in vegetables, sauté them to your preferred level of doneness and then toss in the egg mixture. Stir eggs constantly (you’re scrambling them) until they’re close to done, then toss in the tortilla chips crumbs, black beans, and the salsa. Continue cooking, and stirring, until the tortilla chips are a bit soggy, then stir in the cheese. Heat until cheese is melted and divide onto plates. Top with sour cream or plain yogurt if desired.

25 December 2010

Dark Lord of Vegetables

From now on, you will please refer to me as Queen of the Socialist Tubers and Bringer of the New World Order.

Merry Christmas, Everyone!  Even you, Sarah Palin!


23 December 2010

A great place for your sushi fix in Denver

Chain restaurants are bad, right?  We can all agree that Applebee’s, Chili’s, and the like should not be encouraged to keep pushing out mediocre fatty food with our money.  Local is best, but there is this hybrid, the “local chain”, that poses a philosophical problem.  I grew up in Chicago and then moved around the Midwest in college, and it was in Michigan, Iowa, and Indiana that I learned Chicago is the home base for a lot of national chains.  But when I moved to Denver, all tucked carefully away on the other side of the Mississippi in a much less populated part of the country, I learned about the local chains that you only find in Colorado and maybe western Nebraska or Wyoming.  For me, it was a no-brainer: I had the convenience of a chain location and the consistency in food quality that is implied, and greatly appreciated on the road in an unfamiliar location, but I was still supporting the local (albeit statewide) economy.  I still prefer the really local when possible, but I will take a  trip to Rockbottom Brewery any day over Arby’s.

Since I moved here in 2006, some of these local chains have gone viral, and now my parents email to tell me about the new noodle place (Noodles and Company) or Chipotle that just opened near Aunt Joan’s house.  But some chains remain a tight community, as is the case of Sonoda’s Sushi.  They opened in the Denver area over a decade ago and are going strong in their tacky (I say this with affection), tribute-to-the-80s basement location in LoDo on Market street along with the 6th Ave & Broadway location and their suburban sites in Aurora and Park Meadows.   The fish is good (though their claim that “If it was any fresher you’d have to catch it yourself” is always dubious in this landlocked state) and so are the drinks.  I suppose if you don’t like sushi you can enjoy their wide variety of cooked items, but why would you do that?  Just kidding—their menu is huge.  I won’t think less of you. 

Sushi rolls cover the spectrum from clean and traditional to adventurous fusion influences, but they do tend toward the traditional end, meaning that if you like covering up your sushi with lots of crunchy bits, you won’t have too much choice.  When I first started drinking coffee, I didn’t really like it but I was in college and everyone was going to those insipid B.O.-filled hippy zones with acoustic music and I wanted to fit in.  So I would order a coffee (this was before the days of Caramel Macchiato and the like) and put so much sugar in it that the level of the drink was higher when I finished.  My friend Stephanie Pedretti  would  call everyone’s attention to my beverage while I was preparing it to taste less coffee-like and we all had a good laugh.  But I digress…

I really like sushi, and I want to be able to taste the fish and enjoy its texture, is what I’m saying.  And I really like Sonoda’s sushi chef in LoDo.  They make good use of their eel, which is difficult to find around here, the crab is always real (and delicious), and they have an entire vegetarian sushi menu full of enticing combinations, rather than just the usual “veggie roll” which ends up being avocado and carrot.   The house sake, served warm, is also very good.  

I do also appreciate that when I am at Sonoda’s (at least on Market Street), the food seems to be more important than the décor.  Sure, the place is clean, and I have no problems parking my fanny on the toilet seat, but the place is a little dorky.  Enormous, deep blue aquariums behind the sushi bar make me feel like I’m in an episode of Miami Vice circa 1986, and the giant checkerboard floor looks like it’s been there (though well cared for) since the ‘50s.  Coupled with that “junior high party in Kristen McKenna’s basement” look of the random cement pillars scattered around the room and the pop music piped in a little too loudly to hear your waitress, the truly fantastic food and friendly service become even more special, like you’ve stumbled into a secret gem no one knows about and it’s all just for you. 

It’s not all there for you, of course, so plan accordingly.  Happy Hour is Monday-Friday 4:30-6pm (and at the LoDo/ Market Street location, also Friday & Saturday from 10pm-12am), featuring 2 for 1 drinks—that includes large carafes of sake—and a 15-20% discount on food.  You won’t be the only one there. 

And don’t worry—I’ve cut the sugar out of my coffee.

I bought a lot of sushi the other night...please buy my book and help a seafood snob.

17 December 2010

Pass the artisan sea salt, asswipe

It may not surprise you all that much to learn that I do a fair amount of my grocery shopping at a “natural food store”.  I do, after all, live in Colorado, a state that is just littered with these places; furthermore, since I tend to eat more tahini, tempeh, and other oddities than the average Safeway shopper, it’s my only choice for said items.  I do not delude myself into thinking I’m something special for going to Sprouts instead of King Sooper’s (that’s a weird name for a store though, right?), nor do I take my shopping choices lightly.  My desire for healthy (and sometimes very fatty but exotic) food is often in direct conflict with my extreme cheapness as a human being.  

Can't you just imagine what a good
person you'd be if you shopped here?
And so it is with some trepidation that I venture out to Sprouts every week, where the floors are a blonde “beechwood” (I think they’re fake), the lighting is a mellow, earth-friendly shade of fluorescent, and all of the magazines and the skin care products have that certain smug look to them.  The sense of pride in identity when I enter these stores is palpable to me, and a fair number of the Mercedes-driving, Dansko clog-wearing, manicured and frosted clientele around me seem to be buying it along with their “free range” bacon and imported cheddar cheese. 

It would be hypocritical of me to simply mock these people, for I am, in some small way, one of them.  Yes, I’m wearing  grass-stained jeans from Goodwill and a t-shirt that says “I Love Carbs”, so I don’t think that the pretty ladies in line would like to claim me, but I am shopping there.  I just keep wondering if I have any kindred spirits—do people think critically about their journeys to the bulk section to get Muesli and bulgur wheat?   Am I the only one experiencing a mixture of satisfaction at eating tasty food and self-loathing for fueling this smug culture? 

I have been buoyed by several recent articles attempting to tackle this very issue, most of them hilariously entertaining, to boot.  A couple of years ago (but I just found it), The Independent (UK) published an article debunking popular myths about organic food.   So, did you know that organic farmers still use pesticides, just different kinds?  And organic animals certainly aren’t cleaner: “In 2006 an Austrian and Dutch study found that a quarter of organic pigs had pneumonia against 4 per cent of conventionally raised pigs; their piglets died twice as often.”  Now, I’m not saying organic piglets are weak little sissies, but it just goes to show that you have the same variety of health in every animal.  I ate casseroles based on cream of mushroom soup as a kid, and I haven’t died yet! And did you know that organically reared cows burp twice as much methane as conventionally reared cattle?  Who wants to eat stinky, hippy cows who belch all the time?

This is the weird-smelling grocery
store in my neighborhood.  
Click here to enjoy Slate’s Troy Patterson rip the Planet Green network to shreds in 2008, including the pronouncement that host Adrian Grenier and his buddies are “douches”.  (And don’t even get me started on taking dietary advice from Gwyneth Paltrow.  She doesn’t even look like she enjoys food.)   It’s not the earth movement’s fault that they keep attracting douchey actors to their cause, but it does lead me to my next musing, which is: do average people shopping at Vitamin Cottage also have to be douches?  Because it sometimes seems that way.  Honestly, the old ladies at Safeway are a lot more courteous about sharing the aisle than at Sprouts, and there’s no dress code.  

Slate comes to the rescue again in a December 2009 article entitled, “Buy Local, Act Evil” Their findings?  Smug shoppers can sometimes be gigantic jerks.  In a University of Toronto study, “subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.”  So, no, you are not a better person because you purchased that sulfide-free, fragrance-free shampoo at $16 per 8 ounces; you’re just poorer.  (But don’t get me wrong—if you have sensitive skin or dry hair, buy the shampoo!  It’s fine if you’re not in love with yourself because of it.)

Finally, all in the name of poking a little good, sarcastic fun, I love “Shopping for the most expensive possible dinner for two at Whole Foods”.    By taking snobbery in grocery shopping to its logical limit, author Noreen Malone manages to spend $443.48 on what sounds like a pretty weird-ass meal.  But I’m sure the locally sourced frisée at $12.77/lb. is much tastier than Romaine lettuce. 

Now, there might be some value in purchasing certain produce items from the organic section. New Jersey’s Environmental Center has a helpful guide of the most pesticide-ridden fruits and vegetables out there, and it might be worth considering skipping those chemical-drenched apples if you can get some that are slightly less beautiful and a whole lot less toxic.   And in the spirit of full disclosure, I readily spend more on Greek-style yogurt because I like it so much better than Dannon.  I cringe every time I see the price, but I do it anyway, because breakfast deserves to be a happy time.   Especially on Mondays. 

But in the debate over whether to get “organic”, “free range”, “cruelty free”, or “high self-esteem” eggs, it might be good enough to stick with the cheap stuff at Safeway.  Buy what you want--just don't be a butthole, OK?

10 December 2010

Recipe for North African Party Dip

It's party season!  From now until New Year's Day, when the food hangover finally becomes permanent(ish), your friends will be more willing to come over and help you polish off your infused vodkas than at any other time of the year.  I don't like being tied to the kitchen the entire time my guests are over, so I prefer to make as many things ahead as I can.  Case in point: dips.  Throw some stuff in a food processor, pour it in a bowl, and you're done.  Perfect.

North African party dip

I love how incongruous those words are together.  The “North African” is a reference to the spices used, which attempt to pay homage to Arabic and North African cuisine, and the party dip is…well, essential! 
Use this as a dip with crackers, raw veggies, or bread; and if you want to be a real piggy (I love this stuff), spread it on a sandwich or toss it with some pasta and steamed veggies for a light meal. 

1 garlic clove, smached
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 jarred roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 teaspoons black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
Drizzle olive oil

Place garlic and walnuts in a food processor and pulse for thirty seconds.  Add peppers, cheese, and all spices and blend.  While blending, drizzle in a little olive oil through the top feeder until the dip has a creamy consistency.

03 December 2010

Drinkin’ in LoDo

There are a lot of bars in the LoDo neighborhood of Denver, Colorado.  So many that it seemed a crime to not take advantage with my very own, private bar crawl.  Is that OK, or is it sad when it’s just a 36 year old woman and her husband who has the day off from work?  

Before we started, we took our Groupon coupon (is that how you’re supposed to say it?) to Mangiamo Pronto! at 1601 17th Street.  Meh.  My Panini was mostly bread, though my husband’s hand-tossed pizza was pretty pleasant (after adding plenty of salt).  The coffee, however, is very good here.  If I lived in the neighborhood, I can imagine developing a cappuccino problem. 

First stop after buffering our stomachs with some food was Wynkoop Brewing, just around the corner at 1634 18th Street.  I will admit that I am a fan, from afar, of Denver mayor and most likely Colorado governor-to-be John Hickenlooper.  He seems far less stupid than your average politician and even likes public transportation, so even if the beer at his brew pub was lackluster, I would be inclined to like it.  But actually, it kind of sucked.  My husband (alright, his name is Jason) asked for the most bitter IPA they had, and the bartender proudly presented him with the Mile High IPA.  It was somewhat bitter, but also had a strange, unbalanced middle note to it, almost as if the warmth of your saliva could transform it into a Hefeweizen.   That is a cool magic trick, but not what he ordered.  His second pint, the chili beer, was also disappointing.  We’re accustomed to—and very fond—of Coopersmith’s Sigda’s Chili Beer in Fort Collins, with its crisp lager-ness and spicy chili flavor.  This chili beer would be great for someone who doesn’t like spicy things, as it mostly just smells like green chili, but you know, the quality of the beer was kind of off, too.  My Cowtown Milk Stout, one of my favorites on a fall day, was not ready to be tapped—it was absolutely sweet.  So much for the Hick’s quality control…

On we went to a couple of the bars located in some of the swank hotels in the area.  I know, you’re picturing a sad crowd gathered around in a Holiday Inn bar somewhere listening to “Hotel California” on tinny speakers, but Denver’s hotels have worked the kinks out of the system.  You’d hardly know that you were in a hotel, except that you are greeted by a door man and get a glimpse of the luxurious lobby before heading in to grab your martini. 
Ship Tavern

Several blocks away is the Brown Palace (321 17th Street) with two options: Ship Tavern, set up to look like…the Titanic?  That Molly Brown almost sank on?  A little morbid, but clever, and it’s a quiet enough old-school pub/sports bar hybrid.  Then there’s the Churchill, a cigar bar with fancy booze.  Ship Tavern is cute—you can see what it looks like to the right—but I can easily find a pub at home.  What I cannot find is a martini bar that’s all dark and sexy and filled with leather furniture, and so it was to the Churchill we went.   Besides the usual wines and cocktails, be sure to browse their extensive list of vodkas, single-malt scotches, and small-batch bourbons.  The hushed voices and muted personalities of the very scientific, very exacting wait staff make you feel like a wheeler-dealer in 1930s Manhattan.
The Churchill

Cruise Room
On a recommendation from a friend, we also wanted to head back up the street to The Cruise Room, housed within the luxury boutique hotel, The Oxford (1600 17th Street) .  This bar doesn’t open until 4:30pm, so there will be no luxurious lunchtime sipping for you.  The bar is designed to look like an Art Deco bar on a cruise ship (I am not boat-obssessed, I swear), and it’s pretty charming.   I only wish they had something more comfortable to sit in than a booth—the dark lighting and narrow frame of the room seemed to call for something more intimate, like some couches where you can drunkenly make out while you wait for your drinks (just kidding).  The Cruise Room calls itself a martini bar, and sure enough, there is a two-page menu of very sweet, dessert-like martinis for those of you who don’t like the taste your booze.  They can also make a classic martini to your specifications, and again, they have an impressive collection of scotch and bourbon. 

The Corner Bar
I have read and heard so much about The Corner Office (1401 Curtis Street) that I had to take a look. Yet another martini bar, this one serves actual food, with a penchant for semi-Asian fusion in the appetizer section.  Their signature martinis and cocktails are just as sweet and childish-sounding as The Cruise Room’s (I suppose you have to do it if you have a bar), and the beer and wine selection is limited.  The look is Mad Men era, and it’s mainly a sleek place for 20-somethings to meet up after work and grab an overpriced bite and a drink.  If you’re my age, you might feel a little conspicuous, but I can still remember that my single, carefree self probably would have liked this place.  My mid-30s, more experienced drinking self wanted a better bar menu. 

All the bars were stunningly decorated, if I haven’t mentioned.  And if you’re coming from out of the city, be forewarned that you pay for the high rent and expensive interior designers.  I never would have noticed this until I spent some time living in a tiny town, but the martinis average $9 per.  I’m just sayin’.

Hey, wanna buy my book?  It's real funny, I swear: go here.