31 July 2015

Farro with and without Pasta

You may have noticed a running theme on this blog lately, and that theme is avoiding turning on the stove.  My little kitchen is surrounded by non-air conditioned rooms in a charming Craftsman bungalow that was built when the Rockies stayed cool in the summer. It is decidedly more charming come September. Right now we regularly have 95+ degree days, and our little evaporative cooler can't always keep up. So, I often prepare several things ahead in the early morning or late evening, when it's cooler, and then combine and re-combine those ingredients throughout the week. Those things include steamed vegetables I harvest from the garden or get at the farmer's market, pasta shapes, beans prepared in the pressure cooker, and various grains. (If you've been reading for a while, you'll know that I always have some cooked beans and grains in the freezer for times like this.) And of course, the farro obsession developed after that beautiful, life-saving salad at the train station in Milan a couple summers ago. 

Mediterranean Farro Salad, with or without pasta

Serves 2-4

1 cup cooked farro
2 cups cooked pasta shape (penne, farfalle…)--optional
1 lb. green beans, trimmed steamed
1 large ripe tomato, cored and chopped
1 6-oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts in their liquid
2 tablespoons chopped kalamata olives
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest and juice from ½ lemon
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Dump everything into a bowl, including the marinating liquid from the artichoke hearts.  Stir it.  Eat it hot, cold, or at room temperature.  If you include pasta, this should serve 4 (photo below); without, treat it as a salad that serves 1-2 (photo above).

28 July 2015

Gingery Pork Stiry Fry

I came up with this as a way of using some of our abundant pea crop earlier this summer; it is simple, comforting, and very easy to make.  You could make this year-round if you're that into peas, or replace the approximate amount of pea pods and peas with any green vegetables you like (broccoli seems like a natural, and some green bell pepper might be pleasant...).

For a vegetarian version, TVP or soy crumbles (like Morningstar) stir fired with a little Sambal Olek is a great, spicy alternative.

Gingery Pork and Double Pea Stir Fry

Serves 6-8

1 teaspoon neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
1 lb. ground pork
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 cups pea pods, trimmed
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
6 scallions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Jasmine rice and lime wedges for serving

In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and pork and cook, stirring constantly and breaking up the pork into small chunks.  When the onion is translucent and the pork is almost cooked (about 8 minutes), reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, ginger, and pea pods.  Continue to stir constantly until pea pods are bright green and tender.  Add the peas, scallions, sugar. Soy sauce, and cilantro and cook until peas are just done.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over cooked jasmine (or other) rice with lime wedges on the side.

24 July 2015

Eating Dim Sum at Star Kitchen in Denver

Cantonese food can be kind of bland, but I love the adventure of eating it as dim sum for an early lunch. There are a few places in Denver that serve it--I've already reviewed Empress here--but I think Star Kitchen has the best variety, and the freshest fish, in Little Saigon (which seems to be as close as we come to a Chinatown here).

Dim sum is served here from 10:30am to 3pm.  If you go close to 3pm, it's still pretty tasty, but not so fresh, and the servers don't get to eat their's until you've gotten to try from all of the carts, so they tend to sort of rush you through and quit early in order to have their own meal.  It's best to go from opening til about 1pm, but if you can handle eating your sim sum as an early lunch before noon, it will be as hot and fresh as it's going to get. Traditionally, dim sum is enjoyed mid-morning over some mahjongg, I'm told, so you're just keeping it authentic.  Ish. 

Star Kitchen is the real deal, and the cavernous room feeds mostly Chinese and other Asian locals. I always take this as a good endorsement. The fish is well-prepared and seasoned, and there's a much bigger variety on the menu than other places in the area. Vegetables are not terribly popular as dim sum, but the Chinese broccoli here is beautifully steamed and served with a generous drizzle of homemade, super-salty oyster sauce; it's actually one of my favorite things here. 

Steamed BBQ pork buns are solid, and the dense, football-like fried pork dumplings are weirdly sweet and satisfyingly salty at the same time.  I also love the pan-fried leek dumplings, shrimp & cilantro dumplings, steamed meatballs, and fried fish balls. The sticky rice in lotus leaf is generously filled with sausage and ground pork and well-seasoned, and the fried sesame balls are a nice, relatively light dessert item.  But my favorite dish, pictured below, is the fried calamari.  As you can see, it was a huge pile of the battered, fried little guys along with quite a lot of fried jalapeno slices.  The batter itself is nicely salty and actually has a good deal of minced onion in it, so it's kind of like eating really good onion rings with calamari meat in the middle. 

There's something luxuriously appropriate about getting dim sum in the summer.  It's cool and dark inside, you're not in a rush to get anywhere, people keeping dragging carts towards you with all kinds of crazy things on little plates.  And you eat a little too much and are amazed by it all.  Why not?  The world is your oyster. 

Star Kitchen 
2917 W Mississippi Ave #5, Denver, CO 80219
(303) 936-0089
Monday - Friday: 10:30 - Midnight
Saturday - Sunday: 10:00 - Midnight

Clockwise from left: fried calamari with jalapenos,
Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, and fried pork dumpling. 

21 July 2015

Tomato and Garbanzo Salad

Back in grad school in the late 90s, I was trying to be all grown up by reading Health Magazine and trying out the variations on stomach crunches they offered every month.  Their claims to any scientific understanding of what they were printing were dubious at best, and the tiny little asides with "recipes" seemed to prove that they thought the need to eat regularly was a weakness, and enjoying that food an inexcusable luxury. BUT, there was one little mention, just once, of a brilliant, simple salad that I found delicious and have been making in the summertime ever since. It was a mere combination of fresh tomatoes and chick peas dressed in some red wine vinegar.  I have since altered it slightly, but I never tire of the version I currently make (below).  If you want to make this a little heartier, toss it with some hot or cold pasta or a cooked grain like bulgar, barley, or farro.

Tomato and Garbanzo Salad

Serves 2, or 4 with grain or pasta

2 large tomatoes, cored and chopped into bite-size pieces
1 can (or 2 cups) garbanzo beans
¼ red onion, diced
½ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro (or a combination of the three)

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Add the tomatoes, beans, onion, and fresh herbs and stir thoroughly to combine. Taste for salt and serve either at room temperature or chilled.

17 July 2015

Great food (and travel) porn from around the web

I spend way too much time lusting over others' food and travel photos, but it's such a cheap way to transport myself. Here are my most-used bookmarks this week...

Camille Styles' gorgeous styling (and delicious-sounding ideas) in "20 Easy Pasta Recipes" somehow makes me love pasta even more (which I didn't think was possible).

How can Nicole Franzen make Paris look even more appealing than it already does?

The grace and gentleness of Heidi Swanson's photography on 101 Cookbooks just makes you feel like a calmer person.

@mouhaya's photos on instagram are bright and cheerful.

Bram Reusen makes me want to hop a plane to absolutely everywhere.

14 July 2015

It's so hot, I can't even

I can't handle the thought of eating anything cooked this time of year, let alone standing over a hot stove to prepare it.  Here's what I ate for lunch today.  It's great with white wine.  Lots of it.

Nectarine and Corn Salad

Feeds 1 for lunch

1 nectarine, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen corn, thawed/cut off the cob
1 radish, thinly sliced
¼ cup slivered pea pods
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chiffonaded
2-3 fresh mint leaves, chiffonaded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl.  Eat.

10 July 2015

Two from the garden

Thanks to unseasonably rainy and cool weather here in the Rockies this summer, we still have an abundance of rhubarb and some very happy peas.  (More on those peas next week...). How to celebrate? Pasta and pie, of course!

Pasta Carbonara with Fresh Peas

Serves 4

8 ounces bucatini or linguine
2 cups fresh peas, shelled
1 clove garlic, minced
4 strips thick-cut bacon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper or to taste

Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. About 3 minutes before it is done, stir in peas.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Set aside, reserving grease. In a large bowl add eggs, garlic, 1/2 cup Parmesan, chopped herbs, salt and pepper, and whisk until combined.

Stir the bacon and add to the egg mixture. When the pasta and peas are done, drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the water. Immediately stir the pasta, peas and the 3/4 cup water into the egg mixture, stirring quickly so the eggs don’t scramble. Let stand 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to thicken the sauce. Serve each portion topped with 1 tablespoon of the remaining cheese.

Rhubarb Slab Pie

Serves 8-10

1 sheet pastry puff, thawed
1 lb. rhubarb, chopped
⅔ cup sugar
¼  teaspoon ground cloves
½  teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon demerara/turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Chop the rhubarb into ¼" pieces and toss it with sugar and spices in a large mixing bowl. Allow to sit about 10 minutes, then stir in the flour to absorb the juices.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out your pastry as much as you can without allowing it to break. Carefully transfer to the baking sheet.

Lay the filling in a mound in the middle of one half of the dough; you’re going to close it over like a book, so plan ahead for that. Fold over the top pastry sheet and crimp the edges.Cut slits on the top for the pie to vent and sprinkle with a tablespoon of demerara/turbinado sugar if desired.

Put in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling through the slits.

Variations of these photos are also on instagram. Follow DrinkFoodTravel here. The filters make everything way cooler.

07 July 2015

Chana Masala in a hurry

Chana Masala is simply chick peas in a tomato-curry sauce.  Fair warning: the only way this will be "in a hurry" is if your chick peas are already cooked.  You can cook them to your liking ahead of time--I like to make a big pot in the pressure cooker and keep them in the fridge for the week for various applications, like salad or roasting for a last-minute appetizer.  You can also use canned, which I think is perfectly acceptable in such a flavorful sauce.  The longer you let it simmer, the deeper the flavor gets, but you can spend very little time actually cooking it and then let it sit for a while, or you can have a brighter version by whipping it together at the last minute and eating it as soon as the rice is done.  (PS--you can also keep cooked rice in the freezer, making this recipe even faster if all you have to do is nuke it while you make the sauce.)

Chana Masala

Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Two 15- to 16-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon garam masala 
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons grated fresh or jarred ginger
2 large tomatoes, diced (or one 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Hot cooked rice, optional
plain yogurt for serving, optional

Heat the oil in a wide skillet. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and jalapeno and continue to sauté until the onion is golden.

Add the chickpeas, garam masala, curry powder, turmeric, ginger, tomatoes, lemon juice, and about 1/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer, then cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. This should be moist and stewlike, but not soupy; add a little more water, if needed.

Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Serve on its own in as a stew or over rice. Plop a dollop of yogurt on top if you like. (I do.)

03 July 2015

Summer in Estes Park

Estes Park, Colorado, is one of those mountain towns that's probably more heavily inhabited in the summer than in the winter.  Because skiing is nonexistent in this town, it serves instead as a great escape from the heat down in the Front Range for locals, and as the home of the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain National Park to the rest of the world.

I'm not even going to try to cover the park here.  There are books and books out there, which is probably a good indication that my little old blog post will be inadequate. Instead, let's talk about the town itself.

Restaurants are not amazing here, but they're trying.

COFFEE/BREAKFAST: A must before a long hike in the Park, right? Kind Coffee is the alternative to Starbucks, with well-made cappuccinos, a beautiful, sun-drenched store, and mediocre pastries. I love going here in the afternoon for a pick-me-up when the daily rain shower starts, and when it's over, I take my leftover coffee outside and walk along the river behind the store.

Kind Coffee, 470 East Elkhorn Avenue

Notchtop Bakery has perfectly fine coffee, but nothing fancy, and they also serve looseleaf teas (standards and their own blends) in French presses for the tea drinkers in your group.  They bake all of their own goods, which are delicious, and they also serve a pretty satisfying plate of eggs.  They're only open from 7am-3pm, so I like to make this my breakfast stop. It's a bit hidden within the Safeway shopping complex off Big Thompson, so maybe use a GPS for this.

Notchtop Bakery & Cafe, 459 E Wonderview Ave

LUNCH: Please do yourselves the favor of eating at the buffet (or off the menu, if you prefer) at the tiny and charming Nepal's Cafe.  It's basically Indian food, if you're nervous about what the Nepalese eat, it is delicious and kept fresh on the buffet, and the old couple who own the place are sweet, sweet, sweet. It's also located along all those touristy shops and galleries, the perfect place to be when it starts raining around 1pm, which it will, every single day. 

Nepal's Cafe, 184 E Elkhorn Ave

DINNER: This is where it gets obvious that you're in a mountain town, which are not generally known for their fine cuisine.  I am a sap, and the very first place I ate two days after moving to Colorado was Grumpy Gringo, so I still go there.  It's on the edge of town when you first enter, it's fine (but not amazing) Tex-Mex fair, and the patio has a perfect mountain view.

Grumpy Gringo, 1560 Big Thompson Ave

Sweet Basilico has simple, unsurprising Italian food that is cooked well.  I have often gone here for a late lunch after a big hike, but going for dinner means you can enjoy the interesting wine list, as well. I always get a plate of pasta with my choice of sauce and protein or veggie. The pesto with mushrooms is great. The pizza is very good, too. 

Sweet Basilico, 430 Prospect Village Dr

There are several expensive restaurants that promise a fine dining experience with amazing local cuts of meat. Most of these places are full of shit (I'm looking at you, Nicky's).  But if you must take the plunge, Appenzell is quite good, and a bit newer, which gives me hope for the future of my Estes Park dinners. Happy hour is from 3-6, and the cheese plates and tapas are nice (and probably enough if you went to Sweet Basilico or Nepal's Cafe for lunch).  The wine list is nicely varied. 

Appenzell Restaurant and Pub, 1100 Big Thompson Ave.
(970) 586-1122

Housing is all over the place, from simple motels to luxury vacation rentals. Book early.

In town, take advantage of the greenbelt while your lazier family members are still snoozing. Pick it up from the beautiful Estes Park Visitor's Center and walk along the river, behind the shops and good old Kind Coffee.

Estes Park Visitor's Center
500 Big Thompson Avenue
Not unlike my memories of Wisconsin Dells, there is a small contingent dedicated to maintaining a retro collection of family-friendly activities.  The dorkily named Fun City offers mini-golf, go-karts, water slides, bumper cars, and paddle boats, and it's smack in the middle of downtown.

Fun City
455 Prospect Village

Ride the Aerial Tramway from downtown up to Prospect Mountain.  It's not as spectacular as a ride in, say, the Alps, but it's pleasant and it's not going to freak out Grandma, either. 

Aerial Tramway
420 E Riverside Dr.

There are an inordinate number of shops in town--you'll know you've hit them when you start dodging large groups of slow-moving pedestrians wandering in the middle of the road, zombie-style, from one "Indian" jewelry shop to the next.  There are a lot of t-shirt shops, but embedded among all the crap are a few beautiful galleries, too (once again within walking distance of Kind Coffee on the greenway).  When your hiking blisters are well-developed enough to take a break from the park, it might be worth the wander. Once. I also like to stop at the sort of scuzzy, delightfully townie Wheel Bar in the midst of it all to gather my courage to continue. Have a brat and a beer. It'll get you through. 

Wheel Bar
132 E Elkhorn Ave
(970) 586-9381

Oh, also, this is the Stanley Hotel:

The Shining was filmed here.  You have to pay just to go in and walk around. Let me know if it's worth it.