24 February 2012

Breakfast Quinoa

My husband loves eating oatmeal for breakfast.  When I join him, I’m famished by 9am.  My solution? Quinoa is loaded with protein to keep you going all the way through to lunch.  If you don’t need as much protein as I do, however, you can certainly try this dish with rice, steel cut oats, wheat berries, or any other hearty grain you fancy.

Breakfast Quinoa

Serves 4

2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 cups quinoa, rinsed and well drained
1 ¼ cup water
1 ¼ cup almond or soy milk
1/3 cup dried cherries or other dried fruits
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1-2 teaspoons brown sugar, to taste

In a large stock pan, heat the butter over medium high heat.  When it is melted, add the quinoa and cook, stirring constantly, until it begins to brown and gives off a nutty scent.  Add the water, milk, dried cherries, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, and cloves, stirring well to incorporate.  Lower heat to low, cover, and cook 30-35 minutes, or until tender and quinoa has absorbed extra liquid.  Stir in brown sugar to taste.  I like to top mine with a little vanilla yogurt, as well.

22 February 2012

Restaurant review: Euclid Hall in Denver

I had read about Euclid Hall in Food and Wine, and I usually trust their taste.  This beer hall with hip cuisine boasts an impressive local beer menu and some interesting plates for lunch or a heavy snack.  Their cutesy “study hall” theme ranks beers by their complexity: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, etc. come with their own definitions of what level of complexity we should be tasting and a listing of appropriate beers from their vast offerings.  However, I found that the beers were lacking some complexity overall; being married to an extreme IPA fan, I can’t say that any of the IPAs listed were particularly strong or deep in flavor, though I applaud them for including so many on the menu.  There were a few Belgian sours, which do not interest me in the least, but if you’re going to get really esoteric, I guess that’s one way you could go.  And so began my journey into the world of Euclid Hall: unique, but not in a way that appeals much to my taste.

Did you know that EH makes their own mustards, and will provide a sample platter of all four upon request?  Awesome, right?  I freaking LOVE mustard!  But all four of them were heavy on the horseradish (and I mean HEAVY--like, totally unbalanced heavy) and shockingly sweet.  All four of them were like spicy desserts.  Really?  Not one of them could be sour?  Or spiced up with something besides a gob of horseradish?  Nice idea, but not well executed.  Same goes for their house-made sausages.  We got a tiny little guy for $4 (really, four, five bites, max), and it tasted heavily of liver with some cheddar cheese hanging out of it.  What is so special about that?

The Brussels sprouts casserole was right up my alley, and it found it pleasant.  But for $6, I got a tiny crock of about six bites of nicely steamed sprouts sitting on top of a runny cheese sauce and covered in a thick layer of those little canned “French-fried onions” you used for the top of your green bean casserole in 1970.  Tasty and possibly kitschy, but interesting?  No.

After quickly devouring our puny but pricey portions of disappointing food, we soured on the idea of ordering a plate of poutine, which at $9 per plate, had obviously lost its blue collar roots.  If I seem to be complaining about the prices a lot, it’s because I wasn’t satisfied enough with quality. So, although the idea of a plate of fries covered in cheese curds and smothered with gravy and my choice of wild mushrooms, duck, or steak sounded brilliant, I had already become a skeptic after the mustards, and I feared that a brilliant ideas would once again be executed badly.   I will say that, in a completely full first floor, not one table seemed to show any evidence of having ordered the quirky house dish.

Happy hour offers some pretty serious pints, wines, and well drinks for $3 each, daily from 3-6pm.  That’s a good deal.  I enjoyed my favorite Left Hand beer, Milk Stout, on Nitro tap, and it was lovely.  The Pottery Barn-like decorating coupled with “hip” music for thirtysomethings was also not terrible, though it made them seem like they were trying really hard.  As a place to stop in for a beer at the right time of day, I could imagine putting Euclid Hall on my light rotation if I lived in the neighborhood.  But as a place worth driving to experience, I must disagree with my favorite foodie magazine.  This place is all flash and very little substance.  If you want smart, well-prepared food, go to Le Central  If you want a good beer list, you’d be just as happy to Breckenridge near the stadium.  No lie.

17 February 2012

Prepared foods that are worth the purchase

I generally try to make everything I can from scratch, but there are times when the perfectly spicy, garlicky bottle sauce (I'm talking to you, Sriracha) is the only thing I can imagine adding to a dish to make it right (like these vegetarian chorizo tacos).  Here are some of my favorite prepared foods. Sorry, out of town folks, shopping info is only local.  But I think you can order anything on Amazon these days...

5. Por Kwan Vietnamese Pho Paste: The intriguing mix of beef flavoring, Chinese Five Spice, onion, and garlic makes up a great instant bowl of Pho, the Vietnamese beef soup that is suddenly insanely popular.  It also spices up any other kind of soup or stew; use it in place of regular beef stock for a more interesting flavor.  Order it online from Amazon or pick it up at Bangkok Asian Market in Fort Collins.
4. SWAD Coriander Chutney: This spicy, slightly sour chutney with cilantro and cumin flavors is great on crackers or tortilla chips, and it even makes a great sandwich spread.  A friend introduced me to it at an Indian potluck and I can't stop eating it.  Find it at Rice 'N Spice in Fort Collins.
3. Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce: The iconic sweat-inducing, garlicy sauce is a great substitute for kethcup on your fries and an easy addition to sauces, soups, or chili that needs a kick.  No need to mince garlic or empty your jar of cayenne pepper--the little bottle with the rooster on it does it all!  Find it in most grocery stores in the Asian section; I get mine at Safeway.
2. Ras-Ka Ethiopian Sauce: Homemade in a Fort Collins kitchen, this spicy tomato-based sauce is perfectly seasoned--no doctoring required (and I hardly ever say that).  Stir it into steamed vegetables, sauteed meat, or cooked lentils and serve with rice for an authenitcally Ethiopian experience. Available at the Fort Collins Food Co-Op or online at www.ras-ka.com.

1. Thai Kitchen Sweet Red Chili Sauce: It starts sweet (think sweet and sour sauce), finishes spicy, and is surprisingly addictive.  I dip anything and everything in it--french fries, tortilla chips, pretzels, egg rolls...come to think of it, I may have a problem.  Available at any grocery store that sells Thai Kitchen brand; I get mine at Sprout's.  

15 February 2012

Recipe for mini quiches

I belong to a book group that meets once a month; as the joke goes, it's really a food and booze group with accompanying book discussion.  We have a gluten-free member, a vegetarian member, and a member who is allergic to nuts, and I enjoy the challenge of accommodating everyone's dietary needs while also making something that is edible and portable.  This month I made these mini crustless quiches in a muffin pan as an experiment, and they turned out pretty well.  I have no idea what the hell I'm going to do next month--any suggestions?

Mini Crustless Quiches

Makes 12

12 eggs
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
8 Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon finely diced red onion
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided
12 thin slices of fresh Roma tomato

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Generously grease a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, mustard, cayenne pepper, salt, and oregano.  Stir in the spinach, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, onion, and 3 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan.  Ladle egg mixture into muffin tin cups, distributing evenly and trying to get a variety of vegetables in each cup.  Place in the oven and bake 10 minutes.  Remove from oven--eggs should be almost set, and top each quiche with one thin slice of Roma tomato and a pinch of the remaining tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.  Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.

Mini quiches can be served warm or at room temperature, and they can be frozen for up to one month--just place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until hard, then put them all in a freezer weight zip-top bag.  To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight or pop in the microwave for about 30 seconds each.

10 February 2012

Eating Greek in Salt Lake City

On a recent, all-too-brief trip to Salt Lake City, I wondered what I was going to find to eat and drink in the notoriously homogeneous capital of the Latter Day Saints.  In the neighborhood near University of Utah, though, you'd never know there was a history of teetotalism--the streets are lined with the same artisanal cafes and charming coffee shops you might expect to find in any college town.

My hostess told me that SLC's nightlife changed for the better when the Olympics came to town in 2002 and this  charming, if previously isolated, valley in the mountains was opened to the world.  She took me to Aristo's, a terrific little Greek place around the corner from campus and minutes from downtown.

Besides the usual comfort dishes (spanakopita, fried calamari, and other college-kid fair), the menu offers some sophisticated and very well-prepared meals served with sides of lemon rice with lentils and grilled vegetables.  The fish selections (salmon, swordfish, and halibut the evening I visited) are particularly well prepared and surprisingly fresh; although SLC is land-locked, it serves as a hub for Delta Airlines, my hostess informs me, allowing for daily deliveries of fresh seafood from the Southeastern coast.  Entrees are well-presented and well-balanced.  Of course, you can still fill up on the fatty stuff if you prefer--the pastitisio comes in an individual baking dish that looks like it could easily feed a family of four.

Finally, despite stereotypes to the contrary, Aristo's, like so many other modern restaurants in the new SLC, offers a full wine list to cover most tastes. (Though they might still be getting used to the idea--what other tourism site has a page devoted to the state's liquor laws?!)  It's a great neighborhood cafe like one you might stumble upon in Berkley, CA or Boulder, CO, and well worth the stop if you're in the area.

Greek Lemon Rice with Lentils

This is my take on Aristo's standard side accompanying entrees.

Serves 4-6

1 cup long grain white rice
½ cup green lentils
3 cups water
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Bring 3 cups of salted water to boil in a large stock pot.  Stir in the lentils and mustard, cover and reduce to a simmer.  Cook 10 minutes, then add the rice and cover again. Check occasionally to make sure there is enough liquid--if not, add in ¼ cup increments until cooked. Cook until the rice and soft and fluffy and the water has been absorbed, about 10-15 more minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice, drizzle with olive oil, and seaosn with salt and fresh black pepper to taste.

03 February 2012

Alright alright, I'll make Superbowl food

After the brief 80s revival that occurred in the late 90s (or judging by the sound of indie bands today, perhaps it's ongoing), I thought I'd gotten over my nostalgia for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and neon sweatshirts, but I feel a wave of it coming on lately.  Suddenly Spandau Ballet is amusing instead of irritating, and I have found myself craving the Good Housekeeping-approved recipes of my childhood at an alarming rate.  Did anyone else eat 7 Layer Dip at every party from 1982 to about 1994?  Was it just a Midwestern thing, or just a low-class thing (if so, I'm OK with it)?  I have been craving it for weeks--both the unimaginative,Taco Bell-like flavors and the memories of the Harvest Gold and/or Avocado kitchen appliances that helped make it possible.

I thought I might try to update the dip a little to suit my super-classy, grown-up tastes.  I'm also pretty excited about the fact that I am now old enough to drink beer with this junk, which probably negates the need for the higher quality ingredients.  Gimme a holla if you remember this delectable American classic, and share your own variations below!

Aaaaaw yeah, baby.

7 Layer Dip 2.0

Serves somewhere between 1 & 16

2 lbs mixed mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (16 ounce) can black beans
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 cups shredded cheese 
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
1 cup guacamole
1 cup salsa
1 cup mixed olives, chopped
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green onions

In a large skillet, saute mushrooms, garlic, and onion with a little salt. Drain in a colander and set aside cool to room temperature.
In a 9 x 13 casserole or serving dish, spread the black beans, season with salt, and sprinkle with the lime juice.  Smash the beans a bit with the back of a wooden spoon and spread evenly, creating a layer about 1 inch deep.   Sprinkle 2 cups of shredded cheese on top of beans. Sprinkle mushroom mixture on top of cheese. Spread sour cream very slowly on top of mushrooms. Spread guacamole on top of sour cream. Pour salsa over guacamole and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining shredded cheese. Sprinkle olives, tomatoes, and green onions on top.
Serve at room temperature with pita chips or those delicious, middle-aged fashionable multigrain tortilla chips they're selling now.