Finding a Forum: Denver Restaurant Review: Il Posto

I wrote this review for publication in The Daily Camera. Turns out I was misinformed about being able to venture outside Boulder and Broomfield county in search of culinary experience.
Enjoy my take nonetheless.

Foodie Field Trip: Denver Il Posto

Daily Offerings at Il Posto

Daily Offerings at Il Posto

I’d travel far and wide in search of a precisely prepared plate of risotto. When hearing about potential perfection lurking in Denver from a friend who runs an award winning travel newsletter about all things Italy, I stood at attention and followed her orders, heading to Il Posto to judge for myself if said specimen was indeed the holy grail of ravable riz.

During her diatribe about Il Posto’s risotto, Kathy explained that Chef Andrea Frizzi’s incarnation doesn’t use butter in its preparation. Il Posto’s embodiment relies only on fine evoo and full flavored cheese to add richness to the offering. As a person with a zealot’s veneration of butter, I found this to fly in the face of all risotto reason, but her endorsement generated enough curiosity for me to find out just how magnificent butter-less risotto could be.

Risotto, if you’ve been living under a rock since the early 80’s and don’t know, is an Italian dish made from high starch rice such as arborio. Because creating great risotto is all about proper technique and unwavering dedication to stirring at the stove, it’s elusive to find a well executed plate of it at a restaurant. Risotto takes the preparers complete attention and must be served immediately, rather than sit and wait for a busy chef’s divided and multi-tasked attention.

On the night of my visit, Il Posto was offering two different types of “risotti.” I chose the Risotto Cavoletti di bruxelles alla griglia, broccoli spigarello ($21), loosely translated: risotto with brussel sprouts, an heirloom variety of broccoli rabe and a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto region of Italy. I also ordered an Assaggini (first course) of “fungi”; hedgehog and hen of the woods mushrooms, kuri squash, crispy salsify, ugli fruit , almond oil and quince ($12). I shared the mozzarella di bufala served with finocchione, basil and black Hawaiian sea salt ($13).

To my delight, the fungi dish arrived as an enlivened canvas painted with creamcicle orange, earthly brown, and spring green, framed by its stark white rectangular platter. So artful, I wanted to hang it on my wall rather than eat it. At first, I was skeptical about the components of this – mushrooms, ugli fruit and quince? I though for sure this would be a cacophony of flavors and an assault on my senses. My tongue’s verdict however was in opposition; a crunch of fried salsify, the acquiescence of quince gelatin, the buttery bite of seared mushrooms all combined into a textural and flavor symphony that played over and over in my head.

House-made buffalo mozzerella and finocchione piles were precisely placed in stacks along the oblong platter. Having overdosed on caprese salads long ago, this version sans tomato with the addition of savory salumi could be the trigger that hooks me into abusing mozzarella again. Fresh basil flavor perfumed without overpowering. Granules of black salt peppered the platter for an appealing presentation.

My companion sampled an Il Posto signature dish; handmade pappardelle with marjoram sausage ragu, oyster mushrooms and Grana Padano cheese ($15). The neighbors at the next table agreed that there was nothing spectacular to report about this dish, as they’d ordered the same. The pasta dough was rolled a touch too thin to retain a to- the- tooth temperament. Slathered with mediocre bolognese, this was served in a massive round bowl, belittling the ribbons of semolina.

A wonderfully crisp Prosecco may have been the perfect choice from the impressive Italian wine list to enliven and prepare my taste buds for my main dish. The risotto arrived unadorned aside from the islands of melting cheese and buoys of bright brussel sprouts and boutique broccoli rapini. While the portion size was small for the twenty-one dollar price tag, the chef proved to be a veritable arborio vigilante. I imagined him standing on guard watching, waiting for the precise second that the grains absorbed the exact amount of stock needed to make each firm grain collapse into velvety oblivion upon chew.

While clearly prepared with surgical precision, the omission of butter was something I still missed. This risotto was delicate, dainty and demure, I didn’t leave full. Risotto prepared this way would be well suited as a lunch, an appetizer or a side dish rather than a main course. My preference is still a richer preparation with the succulence that only butter can add.

As skilled as this chef was with most of the items we sampled, I will note that service and portion sizing did not seem to warrant prices as high as they were. When paying a king’s ransom for rice, I’d expect doting and professional service, and/or notable ambiance. Waiting 10 minutes before being greeted, over 25 minutes to place an order or ask questions of our harried server, and not receiving any follow up was inexcusable. By the time she checked in, we were no longer interested in dessert.

Environs are simple: open kitchen, chalk board menus, cherry wood tables, wooden board flooring, and plain white walls. Wine storage lockers line the back wall of the space and a garage door entryway anchors the decor.

If you’re a seeker of risotto experiences I’d suggest checking in at Il Posto for lunch. Saunter over in the spring when the garage door is open. That way you can experience all of the culinary positives, prices will be lower, the ambiance will be in the people watching outside and you can be the judge of your very own plate of “risotti” without rolling out too much dough.

Stranger than Kitchen: Strange Restaurant Sighting #1: One Pho Joint, I don’t want to “enter”

Finding Umami

I found this great little description and history of Umami today and thought it prudent to share. One can’t be a great improvisational chef without mastering the 5 flavors and learning to balance a dish. Figuring out what Umami is, will help in your quest.

Full story can be found here with audio

Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter … and Umami  by Robert Krulwich

So here’s a question you don’t hear every day: How many tastes can a person taste?

There’s sweet, of course. Then sour. Then salty. And when the Greek philosopher Democritus took up the question several thousand years ago, he added bitter. So that makes four.

Democritus said (not because he did any experiments; being a philosopher, he thought for a living) that when you chew on your food and it crumbles into little bits, those bits eventually break into four basic shapes.

When something tastes sweet, he said, it is because the bits are “round and large in their atoms.” Salty is isosceles triangle bits on your tongue, Bitter is “spherical, smooth, scalene and small,” while sour is “large in its atoms, but rough, angular and not spherical.”

And that’s it, said Democritus. Everything we taste is some combination of those four ingredients.

And that made sense to Plato, and made sense to Aristotle, and pretty much ever since even modern scientists have said that’s the number: four.

When taste buds were discovered in the 19th century, tongue cells under a microscope looked like little keyholes into which bits of food might fit, and the idea persisted that there were four different keyhole shapes.

An illustration of taste buds from Gray’s Anatomy of the Human Body. When taste buds were discovered in the 19th century, tongue cells under a microscope looked like little keyholes into which bits of food might fit, and the idea persisted that there were four different keyhole shapes.
So four it is. Four it was.

And then, along came Auguste Escoffier.

What the Chef Tasted

Escoffier was a chef. Not just a chef, in Paris in the late 1800s he was the chef. He had opened the most glamorous, most expensive, most revolutionary restaurant in the city. He had written a cookbook, The Guide Culinaire. And, says science writer Jonah Lehrer (a colleague of mine on NPR/WNYC’s Radio Lab), he also created meals that tasted like no combination of salty, sour, sweet and bitter; they tasted new. Escoffier invented veal stock.

And should you choose to listen to our broadcast on Morning Edition, you will hear Jonah and me “cooking” (the sounds were snatched from sound effects records, but I think you will drool anyway) what was then considered a spectacularly new sauce that seemed to deepen and enrich the flavor of everything it touched.

“It didn’t just taste good,” Jonah says. “This was an epiphany. This was the best food you ever tasted in your life.”

But because it was neither sweet, bitter, sour, salty nor any combination of those four, as far as the scientists were concerned, it wasn’t real. People may smack their lips, drool, savor and pay enormous amounts of money to M. Escoffier, but what they were tasting wasn’t really there. It was all in their heads.

What the Japanese Soup Lover Tasted

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, a chemist named Kikunae Ikeda was at the very same time enjoying a bowl of dashi, a classic Japanese soup made from seaweed. He too sensed that he was tasting something beyond category. Dashi has been used by Japanese cooks much the way Escoffier used stock, as a base for all kinds of foods. And it was, thought Ikeda, simply delicious.

iStockPhoto.com
Soy sauce contains the taste glutamate, but the Japanese call the flavor “umami,” which means yummy.
But what was it? Being a chemist, Ikeda could find out. He knew what he was tasting was, as he wrote, “common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but… not one of the four well-known tastes.” Ikeda went into his lab and found the secret ingredient. He wrote in a journal for the Chemical Society of Tokyo that it was glutamic acid, but he decided to rename it. He called it “umami,” which means “delicious” or “yummy” in Japanese.

Umami

Glutamate is found in most living things, but when they die, when organic matter breaks down, the glutamate molecule breaks apart. This can happen on a stove when you cook meat, over time when you age a parmesan cheese, by fermentation as in soy sauce or under the sun as a tomato ripens. When glutamate becomes L-glutamate, that’s when things get “delicious.” L-glutamate, said Ikeda, is a fifth taste. When Escoffier created veal stock, he was concentrating umami. When Japanese made their dashi, they were doing the same thing. When you bite into an anchovy, they are “like glutamate speedballs. They are pure umami,” Jonah writes. “Aristotle was wrong. Plato was wrong. We have five tastes, not four. But when Ikeda’s findings were published,” Jonah says, “nobody believes him.”

So Who Was Right?

It turns out, almost 100 years after Escoffier wrote his cookbook and Ikeda wrote his article, a new generation of scientists took a closer look at the human tongue and discovered, just as those two had insisted, that yes, there is a fifth taste. Humans do have receptors for L-glutamate and when something is really, really yummy in a non-sweet, sour, bitter or salty way, that’s what you’re tasting. In 2002, this became the new view. It’s in the textbooks now and scientists decided to call this “new” taste, in Ikeda’s honor, “umami.” If you want to get an umami headache, add some monosodium glutamate to your next bowl of noodles.

The Moral

In his new book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, Jonah tells eight stories that share a common theme. In each case, (he chooses Marcel Proust, Walt Whitman, George Elliot, Paul Cezanne, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Wolf and, yes Auguste Escoffier) an artist is busy about his/her work and happens to observe something or sense something about the real world that scientists have not yet noticed, or that scientists say is not true. But because artists are so good at describing what it’s like to experience the world, so intent on delivering the truth of what it feels like to be alive, so intuitive, in each of these eight cases, the artists learn something that the scientists don’t discover until years later.

Art, Jonah reminds us, describes the same world that science does; art just does it by a different route. And sometimes, more often than you would suppose, the artists get there first.

Turkey Noodle: Save your christmas carcass for some mean turkey noodle

I’ve had many a sick friend dial me up in the hopes of obtaining a container of my chicken noodle. To me turkey noodle is just as good, if not better. Not one to keep secrets, I’ll divulge  my recipe to you for your post christmas meal. Make this, store extras in your freezer and you too can dole out portions to the sick and weary in your circle this winter. 

1 pot turkey/chicken stock (see prior recipe
Turkey or Chicken Meat cooked (picked from carcass)
Peeled Carrots- cut into chunks
Peeled Onions-cut into chunks
Celery-cut into chunks
Parsnips-cut into chunks
Fresh Dill-de-stemmed
Red B Potatoes-cut into quarters
Salt- some
Pepper-some
Noodles- Pre-cooked and added after so noodles don’t get mushy, unless you like them that way. 
Substitutes: Rice, Gluten-Free Noodles, Quinoa
 

Ok, so there aren’t exact amounts, this is improvisational cooking. Use what you have, use what you like. If you’re like my mother, this recipe can be made without even cutting the vegetables and just throwing them in whole. (she doesn’t like to cook and avoids steps she deems “unnecessary”) While it is sort of nice to dig into a boiled onion with a spoon and watch it come off in layers into your bowl, personally I think it’s a nice touch to actually chop the vegetables into large chunks for visual appeal.

Two key ingredients to my soup are FRESH DILL and PARSNIPS. Without either ingredient this soup won’t be as good. Don’t use dry dill, it’s a lame substitute. I usually use an entire bunch or more of fresh dill and equal amount of parsnip to carrot. This gives the soup a nice fresh sweet flavor. Sometimes, I omit the potato, sometimes I don’t. Do what you like, but don’t omit the dill or the parsnip.

Simmer ingredients until even someone with a cold remarks on how good the house smells, or until the veggies are tender. Skim any scum that rises to the surface. Personally, I don’t like to de-fat my soup, fat is flavor. Savor it.

I like to add the noodles into the soup after it’s cooked, this way the soup has a cleaner, less starchy flavor, plus it keeps the noodles intact and not in little bits on the bottom of your pot.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Baby It’s Cold Outside: Turn Trash Into Tasty: with your holiday refuse

I’ve been making a lot of soup lately, tasty, comforting, hearty soup. It started right after Thanksgiving, when I couldn’t in good conscience throw away the turkey carcass. That meticulously picked over heap of bones and gizzards became the eventual foundation for three different soups that I’ve been both enjoying and gifting since Last Friday;  turkey noodle, Indian curried butternut squash, and roasted garlic, yellow lentil.

I get a lot of queries from friends about soup. To me, soup is one of the easiest dishes to make. As long as you use quality ingredients, and a flavorful stock, soup pretty much makes itself. I encourage you all to demystify your stock pot, make a huge pot of chicken/turkey stock, then sift through your refrigerator conjure some RCOM and come up with some soup sensations of your own.

Soup Stock Basics:

A good stock pot: This is a kitchen must-have. Invest a bit of money in a large, heavy duty stock pot, Don’t get it at the dollar store. If nothing else you can flip it over and use it as an instrument during your next drum circle.

Bones: I’m not talking about the terrible TV show with that guy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can use fresh or frozen animal bones; chicken, turkey, pork, beef, veal or other. Bison, venison, horse, dog, even human bones would all work too if that’s what you’re into. Ew!

I typically don’t roast poultry bones before making them into stock. If making a beef or veal stock I would. Since I made turkey stock for the soups I’ll be breaking down for you, I’ll just talk you through turkey stock for now.

Mirepoix: Don’t get scared, mirepoix is just a fancy french word for carrots, onions and celery. I used equal parts of each for the stock.

Sachet dEpices: Again, chill! Those Frenchies have a way of complicating everything. All this means is BAG O’ HERBS: Specifically, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, cloves, and black peppercorns. Typically, I skip the cheesecloth bag all together as I just drain the whole pot anyway. Save the environment, skip the cloth.

H2O: Copious amounts of fresh, clean water

Salt: Yes, salt.

Ready?

In your stock pot, coat the bottom with a neutral oil, clarified butter, or chicken fat. Heat on high, add cut up chunks of mirepoix, sweat mixture. (sweat, just like it sounds, let the veggies cook until they start to smell, but better than your armpit when you do) Add hacked up bones, add spices. I only added bay leaf and parsley stems as the carcass was intensely flavored with rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage already.  Cover with water until everything is submerged. Lightly salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Cook. Skim fat, Cook some more. Cool, drain and store.

Was that so hard? I think the hardest part is finding enough matching tupperware lids to fit the storage containers.

Next blog post, I’ll tell you how I made the Turkey Noodle, you’ll want to know, it was delicious.

STK- Thanksgiving 411

Are your sweet potatoes in a slump?

Lumpy gravy got you down?

Don’t let people trash talk your turkey!

This year, I got your back.

Just for you, I will be available for FREE cooking/food advice while you’re preparing your Thanksgiving meal. Includes best practices, questions, serving ideas, and how to fix a perceived cooking disaster.

Hours: Tuesday 10 am-6pm. Wednesday 10 am to 6 pm or Thursday 9 am – 2pm (Thanksgiving day).

Cawl me, we’ll tawk turkey: (phone number removed)

Holiday Gift Idea for Foodie Friends

Want to impress your guests with the art of Improvisational cooking prepared by a professional chef, in your kitchen? 
Chef/Food Critic, Liz Moskow has limited booking available for Stranger than Kitchen dinner parties.
Email her today, it’s a steal at only $25/pp. Minimum 6 people for 2 hours.
The Perfect Holiday Gift:
Stranger than Kitchen Gift Certificates: You can purchase a gift certificate good towards a 6 person chef created meal for the foodies in your life. (Note, food used is provided by host, not chef)
$150 for chef services
Romantic In-Home Dinners: Chef cooked/served:
Catered 3 Course Dinner for 2: $150  Catered 4 Course Dinner for 2: $200
Catered  3 Course Dinner for 4: $250  Catered 4 Course Dinner for 4: $325

This includes chef’s shopping time, cost of groceries is the responsibility of the host and will be reimbursed upon presentation of receipt

If you wish to cover the cost of groceries in your gift certificate, that can be arranged. Contact Liz for more info.

Custom Gift Certificates Available

Personal, Professional Catering:
Looking for a professionally catered event in your home or office this holiday season?
Chef Liz can cater events up to 75 people with a planned or un-planned menu. Tapas, hors d’oeuvres, buffet-style or plated/served. Anything is possible. Inquire today.
Check out the Stranger Than Kitchen blog for photos and examples of what could be created in your kitchen.

Stranger than Kitchen Part Deux

Oh, none of this “I’d” talk. So unlike the STK master. I will hook you up with plenty of the summer’s dried porcini’s, YOU will supervise the preparation, and then we’ll know exactly how this should taste. Deal?

That was me being called out by Preston, the host of the last STK after posting an un-tried recipe. Never one to back away from a challenge, I headed back to his home for round two. In attendance was an entirely new group of very interesting folks all eager to taste the goods. I deviated slightly from the plan conjured in the prior post. I also broke a few of my own STK rules this night as the menu was pre-planned and less improvisational. However the exact preparation, I schmay-drayed (as my mom would say.) I  knew a couple of the participants, so the group wasn’t entirely stocked with strangers, and I gave Preston some pre-prep directions on marinating the meat and soaking the porcini’s in oil. Sue me.

(schmay dray: To fake it, fudge it, wing it or other wise fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants)

Inasmuch as I am the toughest critic when it comes to my own cooking, the lamb was nothing short of spectacular. If you like lamb and porcini mushrooms, this was a home run. It paired well with a few choice Bordeaux wines graciously provided by some of the participants.

Lamb and Pork Loin Meat Marinade: Marinate overnight

Red Wine
Porcini mushroom stems
Fresh thyme
Orange Zest
Salt
Pepper
Olive Oil

I went with thyme rather than rosemary as listed on the prior post as I thought that rosemary might be overwhelming for the mushrooms. The thyme really added a lovely autumn essence and paired well with both the pork and the lamb. After a night of marination, the meat was easily cut into chunks for skewers.

Skewer and coat with pesto;

Porcini Pesto: Blend together in a food processor or blender all ingredient and about 1/4 of the oil. Slowly add in the rest of the oil to emulsify the pesto.

3 cups Porcini infused olive oil
2 cups Soaked  dried porcinis
1/2 # pine nuts: lightly toasted in saute pan
5T lemon juice
2 ea shallots
1T salt
2t pepper
1/4 cup Feta cheese
2 T Fresh thyme
 
Grill kebabs on a hot grill, watch for flare-ups the oil from the pesto and the oil from the lamb can incinerate your meat if you aren’t careful.
 

We had plenty of pesto left over, which is great because it would make an amazing topper for gnocchi, ravioli or just plain ole fettuccine. I also think it would make a helluva salad dressing.

Lemon Soaked Red Potatoes with Orange and Lemon Zest and Fresh Oregano

10 med Red Potatoes cut into 1/3 inch slices  (par boil in salted water)
Drain and dry , spread on a roasting pan
Add:
2/3 Cup Olive Oil 
Fresh chopped garlic
Salt
Pepper
Fresh Oregano
Lemon zest 
1 cup Lemon Juice 
Orange zest
Roast in a 400 degree oven until browned 
 

Tomato Cucumber and Feta Salad with Fresh Dill: Mix together all ingredients, drizzle with balsamic syrup

2 Cucumbers, peeled and de- seeded cut into  1/2 moons
3 Tomatoes, cut in chunks
1/2 bunch fresh dill
1 Cup Feta Chunks
1 T Fresh Garlic
1 Cup celery hearts (cut thin on bias) including leaves
1/2 C Olive Oil
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar  (reduce in a saucepan to create a syrup for garnish)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt tt
Pepper tt
Sugar tt
 

Preston made some porcini risotto for the group. I was reminded how much even the best of home cooks can stress when preparing for an audience. The risotto was wonderful the stress was needless.  If I could impart anything substantive about cooking to anyone who may read this blog, it would be this:

Tips on how to cook for a group:

  • Cooking should be fun! Most disasters with food can be avoided, averted, or fixed so enjoy yourself.
  • Food preparation should not be a stressful experience.  RELAX, it will all be ok, or it will be a- little- less- than- ok and that’s ok…….IT’S JUST FOOD!  Less stress, more wine!
  • Cook with wild abandon, try new things, experiment, become a kitchen eccentric! Why not? In the immortal words of my grandmother, although a bit crude;

“It all turns to shit in the end”  -B. Moskow

I’ve chosen to remember that as it pertains to food, I think you should too.

 
 

Porcini Pesto Para Ti

So, I lied! I promised from my last post that I would include a tried and true recipe for porcini pesto marinated lamb skewers. It wasn’t my intention to lie to you, tempt you with a delicious recipe idea and then cruelly refuse to provide you with the key to its preparation. You see, when I returned my attention the next day to the prized porcini, it was too late. Infested with tiny little white worms, eating the delicate flesh I had to dispose of it quickly rather than pulverizing it into a wormy mushroom paste. While likely higher in protein, I don’t think I’d want to sample that, so sorry.To make amends howeever, here is what I think I “would” do to make a porcini pesto, or any other prized mushroom pesto.

Porcini Mushroom Pesto- Photo credit to Preston Sowell

Shallots
Lemon Zest
Pine Nuts, Almonds, Pecans, or other nut
Dried Porcini Mushroom Dust
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

I would puree the above ingredients together in a food processor or pulverize with a mortar and pestle.

You can use garlic, but I chose shallots as they are more delicate in flavor and garlic might be too competitive for the porcini flavor to shine. If using portabellos, I’d say…….go for the garlic gusto!

Ideally, I’d marinate the lamb/beef/pork tenderloin in some olive oil, rosemary and red wine for a day, then coat it with the pesto and let it macerate another day. Grill the kebabs to order.Brush with more pesto before serving.  Accompany with a lovely tomato/feta/cucumber salad with fresh dill, Perhaps some lemon soaked roasted potatoes.

Let me know when you decide to make this, I’ll come right over.

Very Inter..esting!

On my way to my most recent STK event, I was tuned into NPR on my car radio. A segment on “All Thing Considered,” with Melissa Block, was airing about changing demographics and their impact on advertising. Part of  the segment discussed the Dos Equis ads for “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” If you are not familiar with these clever ads, they depict an older, distinguished yet rugged man of ambiguous origins. He’s adventurous, sexy, well traveled and most importantly, his reputation precedes him wherever he goes. The ads are riddled with funny tag lines about him; “If he were to pat you on the back, you would list in on your resume.” “Both sides of his pillow are cool.”, “When in Rome, they do as he does” and other witty, clever sayings such as these. Perhaps this segment was a prelude of the evening to come and the people I had the pleasure of meeting and cooking for that night.

Recent Facebook Status Updates of some of the participants in this installment of STK:

  • Just got beaten out of the San Pedro market in Cusco for filming them making soup out of a critically endangered species of frog… Now I need a still… Sending the fastest runner in our group for a fly-by shot. Fun, fun.

  • In perfect Costa Rican DMV style, they say if I leave the country for good with the camper, I must leave the license plates in CR, but they say I cant leave the country without license plates…


  • If anyone sees a RATTLESNAKE while they’re out in the Boulder area please let me know ASAP (call anytime). Need one for a high-speed photography project. YES, I am trained to handle them and have done so 100s of times. Yes, i’m serious, no it won’t be harmed


  • I’ve seen a bald eagle and a UFO this morning. great…now I’m one of “those guys”. crap.


  • For evidence sake, I am the first one here for my flight. Perhaps I will help the airport janitor sweep off the runway before my plane arrives…Shoo chickens and iguanas~Shoo!


  • in Hong Kong after 20 hours of flying from Africa… onto Shanghai. Phew… feeling like I am faaaarrr from home. Miss you!


  • Found a boat – using a baker’s peel for a paddle – Peruvians highly amused. Headed into the field in the morning. Happy to be leaving the city. Peru independence day(s) = drunk bands, fireworks and canons going off all night.

So, from some of the posts above, you might be able to ascertain that I was cooking for a group of eclectic, well traveled souls. Participants included:

Catherine: documentary film maker, Kyle: Overland explorer/ ex-adventure travel company owner, Kate: food and restaurant PR expert/owner D I S H publicity, Steve: Experiential marketing exec, Joel: entrepreneur/founder of Bradley Pass a leather camera accessory company, Preston: Senior environmental scientist/modern day Indiana Jones, and Harper: an adorable and extremely mature 7 year old and champion sleeper.

Not only was this group the epitome of “interesting” but they were all what I would consider to be “extreme foodies” They know good food, they talk about it and they seek out unforgettable food experiences. I hope I delivered for them.

My sous chef for the evening, Kyle, had filled Preston (the host) in on what was to transpire in the kitchen. I could immediately tell when opening the fridge that there had been some shopping preparation done in anticipation of my arrival. The fridge was stocked with fresh and delicious raw ingredients for me to whip into a gourmet meal. In addition to the fresh offering of herbs, cheeses, and meats in the fridge, I was overwhelmed by the overabundance of dried exotic mushrooms brimming from Prestons cabinet.

I had heard from Kyle that he and Preston did a bit of mushroom foraging for fun, but had no idea how into it they were. There were multiple jars of dried mushrooms to behold. Painstaking hours of mushroom hunting must have gone into the stash in the pantry. There was no choice but to come up with a dish that used these gems as the centerpiece.

I must admit, I haven’t cooked much with dried mushrooms, but thought that a dust made from them would do well coating a seared meat. Although the meal came out well, I would suggest that rather than using a dust, I would instead next time create a pesto with the ground mushrooms, as I think the method I used didn’t emphasize the delicate mushroom flavor of the porcini as much as it could have. I also would have made some sort of lamb stock/wine reduction sauce instead of the tomato romesco, to more closely compliment the flavor rather than compete with it. Instead of chops like I made, I would have instead cut the lamb into chunks, marinated them in the porcini pesto and roasted them in a hot oven or skewered them for the grill. Now I’m not sure which recipe to give you: the one I made or the one I would make if I could turn back time, like Cher… but with taste. So likely in my next posting I will follow up with recipes “I should have made”

This is what I made:

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Fried Asparagus Tip Garnish

Porcini Crusted Lamb with A Creamy Tomato Romesco Sauce

Gorgonzola Polenta with Garlic “Chips”

Crispy Sauteed Kale with Olive Oil 

Sweet Potato Puree

(to substitute for polenta since there was a corn allergy at the table)

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Fried Asparagus Tip Garnish: 

So there has been asparagus in virtually every refrigerator I have peeked into since the inception of STK. I think asparagus is one of those seemingly “gourmet” items that people pre-stock their refrigerator with in anticipation of my arrival. It’s one of those items that people must just perceive as fancy; it has however, never been my favorite. You have seen me roast it on more than one occasion since the idea of it steamed is just vile to me. Mushy steamed asparagus with a congealed hollandaise to me is one of those dishes that should go the way of the dinosaur, or at the very least be banished to a very dark and inaccessible dungeon somewhere. Somewhere far away from me never to see the light of day. I was bored with myself and my propensity to make a balsamic marinated roasted asparagus and so I challenged myself to mix it up this time. It was a rare day in Boulder, a day of torrential rain and so I decided a delicious soup would fit the bill. I sweated the asparagus minus the tips in a saucepan with butter and some onion. To that I added bayleaf and chicken stock and let the mixture simmer. I finished the soup in the blender with the addition of heavy cream, salt and pepper. To garnish, I heated olive oil in a sauce pan and in essence deep fried the tips until they got crispy. I had never fried asparagus before, but it added a texture dimension and a richness to the soup when added as the garnish.

Souping the Soup

Porcini Crusted Lamb with A Creamy Tomato Romesco Sauce

I’ll leave the details of the alternate improved lamb recipe for the next posting. Kyle had somehow passed his duties of Sous Chef onto Preston and instead became a culinary voyeur and a much welcomed personal sommelier in charge of liquoring up the chef.  Preston the “Prince of Porcini” thus had a challenging time pureeing the dried porcini into a powder using an underpowered blender. I added to the dust, salt, pepper and a bit of dried thyme, massaged each piece with olive oil and coated with the dust. Seared in a hot pan the lamb chops were finished in the oven and dolloped with a generous serving of fresh creamery butter as they rested from their roast!

I served the lamb with this tomato romesco sauce:

Sweat chopped onion and garlic in a pot with olive oil, add canned chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, finished with a bit of heavy cream for body and to balance acidity. ( I may have added a teaspoon of sugar, I can’t remember, taste yours and see if it needs it. What can I say?)

Gorgonzola Polenta with Garlic “Chips”

To make garlic chips heat thinly sliced garlic in a pan with cold olive oil. Allow the oil to get hot while the garlic is swimming. You must carefully watch the garlic as it cooks to prevent it from burning. If you’ve over cooked these they get very bitter and well you may as well throw them away, nothing more vile than burnt garlic except maybe steamed mushy asparagus. When the garlic gets a nice light brown color spoon the slices onto a paper towel. Reserve the oil as it is now “garlic infused olive oil” You’d pay a pretty penny for that product in Whole Foods.

Watch the garlic slices carefully so they don't burn

I heated a sauce pot of 2/3 chicken stock, 1/3 cream in a pot until simmering. Add to that your cornmeal and stir. Stir like you’ve never stirred before. You want to keep stirring polenta so that you don’t get lumps and until it develops a nice sheen to it and starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Somewhere in the midst of this stirring add as much gorgonzola as you can stand to the mix. salt and pepper. When you are done, add more gorgonzola oh and butter, lots of butter! You might want to note that at a recent doctor visit when told I shouldn’t be eating dairy, I cried and told the doctor that I in fact “like butter more than I like most people”  Knowing this, take the addition of “lots of butter” with a grain of salt. Serve this decadence with a few chips of garlic atop.

Crispy Sauteed Kale with Olive Oil 

I don’t really care if you say you don’t like Kale! Try this recipe anyway. Using the aforementioned garlic infused olive oil resulting from the garlic chip process, heat it up in a saute pan until smoking. Then add the well washed and chopped kale into the pan small batches at a time to avoid overcrowding. Overcrowding will have you boiling/steaming your kale rather than searing it to crispy deliciousness. Add salt and pepper. Serve…..That easy! That delicious!

Sweet Potato Puree

I made this to substitute for the polenta as one of the attendees has a corn allergy. Attuned as I am to the plight of people with food allergies, I easily substituted a delicious and rich sweet potato puree for the gorgonzola polenta orgasm that I prepared for everyone else. Boil and drain peeled sweet potatoes. In blender add sweet potatoes, salt, pepper, cream and puree until mostly smooth. Finish with butter. (obscene amounts of butter if you dare)

As a chef, you often critique your own creations as well as the creations of others. There is always something you would do differently, or better or do without next time. I guess that is what interests me most about improvisational cooking, the way it can change from moment to moment, one meal to the next. The creation of new recipes that never would have otherwise existed unless given certain constraints of ingredients and time. Cooking has and always will be an interesting endeavor for me that keeps me trying new things. Sharing this meal with some of Boulder’s eclectic foodie folks certainly kept me on my toes.

I didn’t get to make a soup out of critically endangered frogs, or have to shoo iguanas or anything other than kyle’s picking fingers out of the kitchen, but it was an enjoyable evening nonetheless.

I also added to my “interesting” collection of friends by offering up my cooking talents that night. In return Preston offered to take me along on a recent porcini finding mission way up in the hills outside of Nederland. I watched and learned as my guide searched high and low for signs of the illusive porcini. At one point in the day, I swear he spotted one from 100 yards away through the trees.  (If there was an appropriate most interesting man in the world dos equis quote for amazing porcini finding skills, I would certainly add it here.) I found some myself (beginners luck) and tonight I will STK a dish for myself out of what I have in my own cupboards that will highlight the delicate yet delicious flavor of the porcini. I will also dry what I don’t use and be sure to make that pesto. I’ll report back to you what I find.

The most interesting people in Boulder