All posts by Claire Walter

New Year’s (Kitchen) Resolutions

Shape-up suggestions for the cooking year ahead

In an article on the front page of the food section in today’s Denver Post, writers Ellen Sweets and Tucker Shaw and food editor Kristin Browning-Blas suggested that readers “spend a little energy now to get the kitchen back in tip-top shape” following a holiday season filled with cooking and baking. Their article is worth reading in its entirety, but here is a list of their good counsel — and what I’m resolving to do about them.

Sharpen Your Knives: They suggest having them professionally sharpened now and again — and I’ve done that, now and again. When the Cooking School of the Rockies (now the Culinary School of the Rockies) had a volunteer assistant program, I took advantage of the knife-sharpening services whenever I was working on a day that the truck rolled in. Coincidentally, the Post’s business section recently featured one such service in a front page business story.

Refresh Your Spices: Mine really need refreshing. I do cook through mainstream ground spices and herbs fairly quickly, but some of the exotic ethic seasonings — Indian, Chinese, Indonesian. Thai — linger and linger. In fact, I should probably be too embarrassed to admit that some of my Indian spices moved to Colorado with me from New Jersey in 1988 — but the fact that I am doing so publicly might motivate me to toss and replace them. We have wonderful Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores, as well as a couple of dedicated spice shops in Denver, so there’s no reason for me to keep these almost-flavorless powders around….except I’m habitually too thrifty to throw them out.

Replace Your Sponges: I do replace them when they get too grody, but whenever they need a bath, I stick them in the dishwasher. The Post writers also suggest nuking them in the microwave as a maintenance tactic, but I’ve never tried that.

Clean Your Oven: I’m pretty conscientious about this, because I hate to bake in a dirty oven. My Viking range’s self-cleaning oven makes conscientiousness pretty easy. While it is self-cleaning, I soak the stainless steel racks in a strong ammonia solution and remove the residue with steel wool.

Toss the Live Stuff: The Post food team suggests replacing baking soda, baking powder, self-rising flour, yeast and such every few months. Of those, I only have baking soda and powder, and I’m afraid I’m not too good on keeping fresh products on hand.

Arm & Hammer in the Fridge: Sometimes a box is in there, but not right now. Thanks for reminding me.

Get Wired: They suggest the availability of music to listen to while cooking. We have a good radio with satellite reception in the next room, which I listen to mostly when preparing a big meal for a lot of people — Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. They also think an Internet hookup in the kitchen is useful. We have wireless networking in our house, so I wouldn’t need a hookup — but I also wouldn’t dare have my laptop in the kitchen. The potential for disaster is just too great.

Can the Jars: The writers remind readers to toss old and unrecognizable items that lurk in the back of the refrigerator. I’m pretty good at doing this anyway, but I’ll go through the shelves again.

Cull Your Cookbooks: They think a cookbook that hasn’t been used in a year or two should be off the shelves. I could no sooner do that than cut off my left arm. I always mark up the recipes that I’ve made, date them and note the changes — and how the dish turned out. I couldn’t part with any of them. Sorry.

Organize Those Loose Recipes: I keep them organized in looseleaf notebooks — a fat one with most of my recipes, one just with Asian and Mexican dishes and a third with Cooking School of the Rockies recipes (plus those from other cooking classes). I treat them like cookbooks, marking them up as I cook along.

Clean Out the Utensil Drawer: I last did this when my son got his own apartment a few years ago and outfitted him very well with extras. I do keep nostalgia utensils, some that were my late mother’s, that I’ve hung on the wall. I use just about everything that’s left.

Wash the Walls: I don’t think so! It might be necessary, but this is not a task that I will take on. I periodically take down the stuff that’s hung on the walls or perched on top of the cabinets, but that’s as far as I’ll go.

Get on Your Knees: The Posters remind us to “give thanks for the good meals you had in the past year and the ones yet to come.” While there, they suggest scrubbing the baseboards. I’m off the hook, because my kitchen cabinets go to the floor, and there’s hardly any additional wall or baseboard showing.

Fight Fire: They also remind readers to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. We have one, and we’ve fortunately never had to use it. Another reason to get on our knees with gratitude.

Happy, healthy and delicious 2007 to all!

The Perfect Meal

New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni wrote a feature for today’s paper on the mythical perfect meal in New York, in which he fantasized a mix-and-match menu from restaurants all over the city. I’m not going to give this too much thought, but off the top, my perfect Colorado meal from the past year might be something like this:

For the appetizer, chef Kevin Taylor’s remarkable Home Made Soft Egg Filled Ravioli with Ricotta, Parmesan and Truffle Oil, a signature dish served at his Prima restaurants in Boulder and Denver — and perhaps others in his culinary empire as well.

The soup course would be a tossup between The Kitchen’s renowned tomato soup, a signature at this divine Boulder eatery, and the Jerusalem artichoke soup at Mel’s in Denver that was as gorgeous as it was delicious.

The best salad, hands-down, was the Caesar salad prepared at tableside at the elegant Penrose Room in The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

In addition to flawless, thoughtful and careful service and drop-dead views, the Flagstaff House’s triple-header Ruby Red Trout, King Salmon and Diver Caught Scallop with Crisp Polenta Cake, Shiitake Mushrooms, Leeks and Caviar Butter Watercress Sauce, a one-plate feast, is my entree of choice for ’06.

Dessert is a toughie. Again because it recently passed my palate, the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake with Ginger Ice Cream, Passion Fruit Creme anglais and Nutmeg served at Boulder’s Black Cat Bistro was a particularly memorable dessert. I actually ordered another wonderful choice but tasted this one, which was even better. Or, the top dessert might have been the Crisp Dark Chocolate Dome with blackberry filling and blackberry sauce (photo right) at Q’s in Boulder’s Hotel Boulderado. A toss-up indeed.
Special mention has to go to the cioccolato caldo con frittelle, a glass mug of of hot chocolate (a blend of French and Mexican chocolates into a dark brew, not thick but extremely flavorful) topped with whipped cream and accompanied by small sugar-coated fritters, sort of Italian beignets. Boulder’s Trattoria on Pearl serves this unusual and totally fabulous drinkable dessert.

I can hardly believe 2006 passed without a visit to Boulder’s award-winning Frasca or to L’Atelier across the street. Both of them would surely have served contenders for every course. For wine choice, I’ll put myself in the capable hands of sommeliers at Frasca, The Penrose Room (or its sister restaurant, Summit, across the street from the hotel) or the Flagstaff House anytime — budget permitting — to recommend the perfect wines to go with the perfect meal.

For more on these and other restaurants I was privileged to try in ’06, go to my website and click on ‘Dining Diary.” Bon appetit!

Christmas Eve – Dinner Menu

I grew up with Austrian-born parents, for whom Christmas was always Christmas Eve. The 25th was always the day after. I have continued thinking of it that way. My husband and I invited a crowd over on the 24th, and below is what we served. I’ll be happy to post any of these recipes if anyone wants them, so just ask:

Hors d’Oeuvres

Cherry tomatoes filled with pesto
Marinated shrimp – Recipe that I once clipped from someplace and have in my looseleaf recipe notebook.
Mushrooms in phyllo cups, baked – An adapted version of the similar hors d’oeuvre I served at Thanksgiving
Home-made guacamole and blue corn chips

Dinner

Roasted Smithfield ham
Braised goose from The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman
Anise-Pear Cranberry Sauce from Sunset’s 2003 Recipe Annual
Roasted winter vegetables using whatever winter veggies were available in post-blizzard Colorado (see my travel blog’s December 23 posting for the strange shopping experience)
Sweet and sour red cabbage from a clipped recipe in my notebook
Vegetarian casserole brought by vegetarian friends

Desserts

Chocolate-poppyseed trifle made with cake from the Viennese Pastry Book by Lilly Joss Reich; I messed up the recipe (too much chocolate, not enough egg whites) and salvaged a hardly risen cake by crumbling it coarsely, adding some rum, and folding in whipped cream and rum-soaked raisins.
Friends brought several kinds of home-baked cookies, chocolate bundt cake and brownies

We uncorked several kinds of red and white wines — some that we had at the ready and others that guests brought — plus harder stuff and non-alcoholic drinks for those who prefer either of those.

Merry and Happy to All.

Fruit Salsa

I’m still working through the gift basket of ripening fruit and so whipped up the following salsa to bring to another party. Boulder continues recuperating from a major snowstorm (see the December 20 and 23 entries on my travel blog), so by the time I got to the supermarket, the shelves and produce bins were bare. Had I been able to buy fresh cilantro, I would have done so just in order to add it to this easy recipe. I bought Terra brand Sweet Potato and Beet Chips and Stacy’s brand Cinnamon and Sugar Pita Chips to dip into the salsa.

Fresh Fruit Salsa

1 ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 ripe kiwi, peeled and diced
1 ripe pear, peeled and diced
1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
Juice of 1/2 half fresh lemon
Grated lemon peel (I grated the peel off half a lemon, the pressed out the juice)
1 tbsp. +/- Balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sea salt

Combine and serve immediately or chill, covered, until ready to serve.

The Alpine Epicure

Earlier this month, I joined a group previewing three European mountain resorts in three countries in three days that are being offered by a tour operator called Baobab Expeditions. Problem was, there was hardly any snow. The skiing ranged from pathetic to non-existent, but the food was first-rate. I promised to share some of those meals, and I am finally getting around to doing so. Most hotels offer a half-board plan that includes breakfast buffet and table-service dinner in each room charge, so people tend to eat in a lot. Here are a few highlights:

Dinner at the Hotel Schweizerhof in St. Moritz, Switzerland, was a tad formal — starched white linens, immaculate flatware and glassware, a candle on each table, a very young but very correct waitress — and I note this as a comment, not a complaint. A slice of venison sausage with goat cheese came out as an amuse bouche. The scallop carpaccio consisted of sliced scallops atop a mixed salad with red and yellow peppers and eggplant on the side. A long-braised beef dish called Tafelspitz is a Viennese specialty popular throughout central Europe. The Schweizerhof’s version consisted of two generous slices beef with parsleyed potatoes, spinach and a pitcher of smooth horseradish sauce on the side. The black potato gnocchi was braised, along with a touch of greens and moist prawns. the assemblage was mounded into a pyramid shape, napped with mild pesto and garnished with whole basil leaves and finely chopped tomatoes. We sipped Schloss Salnegg 2002 chardonnay with our dinner.

The mountain known as the Corvatsch provided the only even vaguely decent skiing of the whole trip on a handful of runs accessed by the first stage of the cable car. The second stage was also operating just so that guests could take in the grandiose views and eat lunch in the Stuebli Panorama Restaurant. Warm bread and sweet butter were the prelude for and accompaniment to the local air-dried beef that is known as Buendnerfleisch in Switzerland and bresaola across the border in Italy. it was followed by a choice of a hearty vegetable soup with barley or a tomato soup with croutons and a float of olive oil and cream. The entree choice was fabulous spaghetti either Bolognese or marinara, each with a pesto frill around the rim of the soup plate. Dessert was a to-die-for chestnut cake (photo top right) with
sliced star fruit and Chinese gooseberry as garnishes.

The Chesa Veglia, now in the heart of chic St. Moritz, was built
as farmhouse in 1770 — six years before the Declaration of
Independence. It is now an stylishly rustic restaurant where a dozen of us sampled a procession of specialties, encouraged by flowing Malanese pinot grigio. Every single offering was well prepared, so I present only a list — those items that I managed to jot down, in any case.

To start: Arugula salad. Sliced Salmon with artichokes. Tomato-mozzarella caprese. Polenta with wild mushrooms. Buendnerfleisch.
Pizzas (hand-tossed and cooked in a wood-fired brick oven,
photo, center right): Margarita (tomato-mozzarella-basil,
photo, bottom right). Cheese and black truffles (not as photogenic as the margarita but about the best pizza I’ve ever
had; despite the bounty, I ate two slices). “Napolese” with
mushrooms and anchovies. Quattro staggione (cheese, mushrooms, olives, sausage). Vegetarian (eggplant, zucchini, yellow peppers). Entrees: Entrecote. Grilled lamb chops. Small roasted chicken. Side dishes: Baked potatoes with rosemary. Roasted vegetables. Dessert: Tiramisu. Panacotta. Fresh fruits. House-made ice cream. Little baked things. Burp!
The next day, because it was raining in St. Moritz and wet snow was falling in the mountains, three of us who opted to stay in town had lunch at the Cafe Hauser, a classic European patisserie, confectionary shop, coffee house and restaurant. Soups, sandwiches, light meals and children’s selections dominated the lunch menu. The fennel soup was rich and creamy. Roesti, the classic Swiss specialty of pan-cooked slivered potatoes, cannot be considered a light dish, even with warm sliced salmon on top (photo left). Round ricotta- and herb-filled We shared a charming little stainless steel dish of panacotta for dessert. Most of our selections weren’t light, nut the cafe did have light fare for those who wanted it.

Livigno, just across the border in Italy, not surprisingly puts more emphasis on Italian classics and no Austrian specialties — and Buendnerfleisch has become bresaola. We ate a big square table at the Hotel de La Posta’s dining room, where the food was house-made and simple but quite good. The salad bar was outstanding, with an array of produce and condiments and a fleet of olive oil and vinegar bottles so that every diner could select his or her favorite combination. No bottled French or ranch dressings here! The skiing in Livingo was so marginal that the lift company didn’t charge for the three little lifts and two short runs that were open. The intrepid skiers and snowboarders toughed it out on that one run, barely covered with hard snow, with a occasional drizzle. I wandered around town and met my colleagues for a casual al fresco lunch before heading across another border to Austria.

I knew that dinner at the Hotel St. Antonerhof would be extraordinary when I saw the table covered with a lace cloth and illuminated by white tapers, and each place set with four forks, four knives and two spoons (photo left). My documentation compulsion failed me somewhere along the way. The dinner began with an appetizer of sushi-grade tuna, chopped and sliced, with horseradish sauce served on a glass plate with a frosted rim. It finished with an obscene tower of dark chocolate filled silky mountains and surrounded by delicious nibbles.
Throughout, the Austrian wines flowed, the conversation hummed, and my notebook, pen and even camera didn’t see much action. In hindsight, I wish I had taken more notes and more pictures. I guess I’ll just have to return.

Winter Fruit Crisp

Problem #1: Eating a generous holiday basket of delicious fruit before it spoils.
Problem #2: Making a quick good-enough-for-company dessert.
Solution: Combining the fruit filling from an old Bon Appetit recipe for a Rustic Pear & Apple Tart (October 1992) with the Any Fruit Crisp recipe from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Here it is, complete with my customary tweaks. The most time-consuming part was peeling and slicing the fruit, and even that took less than 10 minutes.

Apple & Pear Crisp

Crust:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
1 large Macintosh apple, peeled and sliced into 1/3-inch slices, halved
1 large Delicious apple, peeled and sliced into 1/3-inch slices, halved
1 large Bartlett pear, peeled and sliced into 1/3-inch slices, halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. ground mace
grated peel of one lemon
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Whipped Cream:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
2 tbsp. brandy, liqueur or schnapps (I used Amaretto, because the original Bon Appetit version called for slivered almonds, which I didn’t have)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and egg in the food processor fitted with a steel blade until well combined but still crumbly. Place sliced fruit in a large bowl. Mix sugar, mace and grated lemon peel in a small bowl. Combine sliced fruit and sugar-lemon-mace mixture. Butter a square 8-inch pan. Pile fruit into pan and top with flour-sugar mixture, spreading to the edges of the pan. Pour melted butter to cover topping. Bake 45 minutes to one hour, until top is brown and crisp. Whip cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Beat in sugar and booze. Serve warm crisp with flavored whipped cream.

Serves 6.

Spicy Stuff

I’ve been meaning to stop at Savory Spice Shop at 1537 Platte Street in Denver’s booming Platte River Valley for months (turns out, the store has been open for more than two years), but kept saying, “Next time.” Next time came this afternoon, en route back from the REI Flagship. Just walking in the door provides an enticing sniff-feast — a mix of coordinating, competing, and altogether complimentary aromas that made me want to sniff everything, taste everything, buy everything.

Simple shelves are lined with bulk spices — some whole, some ground — and an impressive array of custom blends of herbs and spices. I restrained myself and bought only a few — mole seasoning plus three with Colorado names to send out as stocking stuffers (Four Corners Peppercorn Blend, Summit County Salt-Free Seasoning and Mt. Eolus Greek Seasoning — 14,083 feet. I’d already paid when I tasted the addictive air-dried corn — and immediately picked up a couple of baggies. It’s a little crunchy, a little sweet, and a lot of tasty. I felt I had to leave before I overloaded on one of everything. Next time, I’m not counting on self-restraint.