Category Archives: Spices

Quiet Opening for The Source

Denver food market will put a culinary shine on RiNo

Photo courtesy Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau (
Photo courtesy Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau (

Restaurants often have what they call soft openings to work the kinks out of plant and personnel and to provide customers for cooks and servers alike to practice on before their official openings. The Source, a vast, food-oriented marketplace created out of a huge, shuttered foundry in Denver’s River North (RiNo) district, can’t really have a single soft opening, because it has multiple occupants with different timetables. The concept is akin to Boston’s fabulous Faneuil Hall Marketplace or San Francisco’s wonderful Ferry Building Marketplace.

The Source opened last week with its first tenant trickle. Comida, which began as Boulder County Food truck and later opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Longmont’s Prospect New Town, is now serving its wonderful Mexican eats in The Source. The trickle will become a flood in the near future as such diverse businesses as a micro-brewery, a distillery, an artisanal bakery, a real butcher, a coffee roaster, a cheese shop, a spice store and more, all sharing space in an old 19th-century steel foundry on Brighton Boulevard —  will make The Source a destination. After Comida come Babette’s Artisan Bread and Acorn, an offshoot of Boulder’s OAK at Fourteenth. Some of The Source’s businesses carry familiar names, while others are new ventures.

The Source is at 3550 Brighton Boulevard north of downtown Denver.

Oaxaca in the Roaring Fork Valley

Aspen’s Zocalito is restaurant, rum bar, chile purveyor and more

ZocalitoTo Aspenites and visitors hungry for south-of-the-border fare, Zocalito Bistro on the Hyman Street Mall exerts a magnetic pull whether for drinks and tapas, dinner or dessert. Cookbook aficionados page through Zocalito To the Source, a beautiful cookbook sprinkled with favorite recipes. To replicate Zocalito’s recipes, home cooks stock up on dried Oaxacan chiles, imported from Mexico ad not Oaxacan in name only.The restaurant and chile purveyor has a website page that is labeled “Oaxacan Travel,” which is a blog about the owners’ travels to Mexico.P1020098

Describing their quest for special chiles to import, chef Mike Beary wrote about “Finding the Rare Chilhuacle Chiles for Importation” on the restaurant’s blog:

“As we pulled through the gate to Felix’s house I couldn’t help wondering what his wife was fixing us for dinner. After all, we had arrived in Cuicatlan barely 24 hours ago and only met Felix early this morning. Now, after spending eight hours with him in his fields, where he was growing the most beautiful chilhuacle chiles I’d ever seen, Felix didn’t hesitate to invite perfect strangers into his home. We piled out of Roberto’s Suburban very hungry– it was 3 p.m., and we hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Then it hit me. The aroma pouring out of the kitchen meant one thing: mole negro!”

I have never been to the restaurant, and I don’t own the cookbook, but I did receive a package of chiles that I’m eager to try. It came with recipes, and I’ve also been perusing other cookbooks for a model recipe in which to use robust Chihluacles chiles, both black and red, that Zocalito imports and distributes.
Zocalito Latin Bistro on Urbanspoon

Marczyk’s Spice Trade-In ‘Contest’

Time to retire antique spices — and perhaps win a new spice “wardrobe”

Old spices like this can net the winner a dozen vibrant new ones.
Old spices like this can net the winner a dozen vibrant new ones by Spicely Organic.

Marczyk Fine Foods wants to know: Has your pantry harbored a jar of Durkee cinnamon or Cross & Blackwell curry powder for 20 years or more?  I can do better than that. I still have some really ancient rijstaffel spices from Indonesia that a friend brought me from Holland. They were old when I movd them from New Jersey in 1988. I keep them as a souvenir of the one extraodinary dinner we prepared together a very long time ago. The flavor and aroma of these ancient products left the building a long time ago.

To entice people to try the fresh and flavorful line of Spicely Organic products, Marczyk’s Fine Foods and Fairfax Fine Foods are running an “oldest spice” contest. If you’re in Denver, take those antique spices in to either location by January 7, and the oldest spice of all wins a Pete’s Picks Pack of 12 Spicely Organics spices and a $10 gift card. The rules are simple: All entries must be in their original containers with a “use by” or “sell by” date clearly marked. Also, there must be some spice in the container. The winner will be announced on January 9 and the antique will be displayed at Marczyk’s at 770 East 17th Avenue, Denver 303-894-9499. Fairfax is at 5100 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, 303-243-3355.

Penzey’s Now Open on Pearl

New spice store on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall

Today is the first full day for the new Penzey’s Spices retail store in Boulder. (It opened for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon because they were ready, as Kim told me when I stopped by this morning.) It is located on the Pearl Street Mall,, just east of Broadway — and around the corner from born-in-Denver-born Savory Spice Shop on  Broadway between Pearl and Spruce. Bottom line for cooks is that if you need herbs, spices, spice blends, rubs, seasoned salts, soup mixes or any other flavor enhancers, this is the place to go. Penzey’s Spices, 1219 Pearl Street, Boulder; 303-447-2777. Savory Spice Shop, 2041 Broadway, Boulder; 303- 444-0668. This is not the first place in Colorado with both stores close to each other. In Littleton, Penzey’s is at 2500 West Main Street and Savory Spice is at 2560 West Main.

Denverite Stars in Food Show Debuting April 24

Food Network spins off The Cooking Channel, making way for new talent on the original

On May 31, The Food Network is begetting The Cooking Channel. The new channel will replace the Fine Living Network and will feature some familiar food faces, including Emeril “Kick It Up a Notch” Lagasse, the terminally perky Rachael Ray and Bobby “Throwdown” Flay,

New kitchen talent filling the vacuum on the original Food Network includes Janet Johnston, who with her husband, Mike, owns and operates four locations of Savory Spice Shop (Denver, Littleton, Boulder and Lowry Town Center/Denver). Janet will share her spice savvy on a new show called “Spice & Easy” which was shot in the Johnstons Denver home and in the Platte Valley location of Savory Spice Shop. Six episodes will premiere on April 24.

Regarding the new channel, the New York Times wrote that the Cooking Channel “is lining up low-key programs targeted at a hipper crowd interested in the grass roots of food culture.” Not just cooking and eating, but the roots of food culture and such important current topics as obesity, eating disorders, agriculture and nutrition.

The Times piece continued, “The Food Network, which made its debut in 1993, essentially invented the modern era of food television. Its knack for spotting hosts who could appeal to viewers while pan-searing a chicken breast made it a ratings powerhouse…. But in recent years, other channels have elbowed into the kitchen, often with edgier fare. This month, TLC announced two new food series and two food specials. Bravo revealed it is developing a spinoff of its ‘Top Chef’ franchise, ‘Top Chef Desserts,’ as well as a game show called ‘Commander in Chef.’ Meanwhile, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,’ on ABC, has consistently been the top-rated show in its Friday night time slot among adults ages 18 to 34.” The Times also cited PBS for its excellent cooking shows.

The Johnstons and the Savory Spice Shop are not new to television generally or the Food Network specifically. In August 2008, they were featured on the Denver episode of Food Network’s “Road Tasted with the Neelys,” and since then, Janet and Mike have appeared on episodes of “Paula’s Best Dishes” and “own Home with the Neelys.” As for the Savory Spice Shop, in addition to the four stores that the Johnstons operate, they recently embarked on the franchise route with one shop opening in Colorado Springs and another coming up in in Santa Rosa in California wine country and another in Austin, Texas.

Osage Gardens’ Fresh Herbs Available Year-Round

Western Slope organic herb farm pioneered organic greenhouse-grown herbs in Colorado

Next time you pick up a small clamshell box of fresh herbs in the middle of winter, nod a silent thank you in the general direction of New Castle where Tom and Sarah Rumery (right) and their Osage Gardens crew plant, tend, harvest, pack and ship culinary herbs all year-round. In their carefully managed greenhouses, they have raised organic “herb-riculture” in these climes to a high art. Unless you have your own greenhouse or a suitable sunny window and a green thumb, and can pick your own for immediate use, you won’t find any fresher herbs than Osage Gardens’.

When the Rumerys and their three daughters, Tara, Theresa and Molly, family settled on two acres just west of New Castle, which is just West of Glenwood Springs, they put in tomatoes and basil in a small greenhouse next to their home. They started selling to local grocery stores in 1992, and their single-greenhouse operation became several. Before long, they wanted more land for — you guessed it – additional greenhouses. “Tom is a grower,” Sarah says simply, “and he wanted to grow more food.”

Five years later, the Rumerys found the right land: 20 ideal acres (with six more added later) a bit farther west, the present Osage Gardens location. You can see the spread just south of Interstate 70. Originally an alfalfa field with no buildings on it, their land is zoned for agriculture. Although the Colorado River flows nearby, their water comes from the Flattops Wilderness between April and December and from their well during the remaining months. The water is pure. The land is flat, sunny and does not have a history of heavy chemical application.

Those factors combined with their own farming practices earned Osage Gardens its Colorado organic certification in 1996 and its national certification after the US Department of Agriculture established its organic standards in 2002. Osage Gardens is also third-party certified by International Certification Services.

Green Winter Wonderland

In the warm months, Osage Gardens plants outdoors, but indoor agriculture continues around the calendar in 17 temperature-controlled greenhouses. Herbs thrive in boxes and raised beds filled a slightly acidic combination of a crushed volcanic rock called scoria that contains more than 70 minerals and compost. Tom describes it as “live soil.” These beds (right) are not boxes with bottoms but rather frames so that plants’ roots grow down into native soil. The growing medium is top-dressed with compost derived from leftover plant material. Thousands of ladybugs released at Osage Gardens control pests, and insect-eating grasshoppers are welcomed too. Yellow sticky tape, like flypaper, along the edges of the raised beds completes the pest control.

A few of the greenhouses are kept warm and moist to serve as nurseries where young plants are started from Osage Gardens’ own seeds and nurtured as long as they need to be. Then, plants are given a bit of tough love in the “hardening-off house” until they are ready to be transplanted to their permanent growing area where reach picking size. Each type of herb receives the amount of light, temperature and water that suits it. Temperature control is accomplished by a combination of factors. In winter, when the sun is low, grow lights enhance the natural light and in-ground heat pipes keep the soil warm. In summer, air streaming through wet walls cools down greenhouses that would otherwise overheat in the high sun. Shade cloth, fans and ventilation are adjusted as needed.

Currently Osage Gardens packages and sells 21 herbs (arugula, basil, lemon basil, purple basil, Thai basil, bay leaf, chervil, chives, dill, edible flowers, flat leaf parsley, kaffir lime, lemon grass, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon, thyme), plus poultry blend and pesto. They sell more basil than all other herbs combined. They use some of it in their own pesto, which is currently available at the farmers’ market and hope to produce in commercial quantities in the near future. Osage Gardens is also known for its tasty tomatoes, great lettuce and fabulous flowers to grace tables where fresh food is served.

The farm’s two dozen employees are divided into two crews. One is responsible for plant care and picking both in the greenhouses and in the field. The other team works in the aromatic packing room. Other than affixing labels to the plastic clamshell boxes that you see in the market, everything is hand-done. Osage Gardens’ retail customers phone in their very specific requests three times a week, meaning that herbs are picked to order, trimmed, weighed, packed and ready to be picked up by Clark’s and Village Market in the Roaring Fork Valley within hours, or trucked to Front Range customers. “We like to have products in the stores within 24 hours,” says Tom. “That way, the customers get the shelf life.”

At Osage Gardens, there is no such thing as “harvest season.” More accurately, harvest season takes place 12 months a year. However, there is a definite seasonal variation in what people buy when. In summer, demand is high for basil and, with the growing popularity of mojitos, for fresh mint. From Thanksgiving on, they sell thousands upon thousands of packages of their poultry mix – a beautifully balanced combination of sage, rosemary and thyme. These herbs by themselves are also popular with cooks who like to combine seasonings themselves when it’s time to stuff a turkey.

Now it’s January, and my refrigerator contains some fresh dill to use either with salmon or potatoes, oregano and basil for marinara sauce and some rosemary which just was too good to pass up. Other brands of fresh herbs (including house brands) are also available in Colorado supermarkets now, but Osage Gardens was the first and the most local — unless you do have herbs growing on your window sill. Call 800-613-9096 for more information.

Hidden Gunbarrel Gem Serves Indian and Other Asian Cuisines

Boulder restaurant is the place for fresh fare from India, Nepal and Tibet

You don’t just stumble upon Gurkhas Restaurant. You need to go looking for it. Though tucked into a back corner of the Gunbarrel Shopping Center’s quadrangle, it is worth seeking out for its exceptional specialties from India, Nepal and Tibet. The owners previously ran the Annapurna Restaurant in Loveland but felt that there was a bigger (and more appreciative) audience for their careful and authentic renditions of specialties from the subcontinent and the Himalayas in Boulder, where many people have ethnic, spiritual, emotional or touristic ties to the region.

Ice water was promptly poured into aluminum beakers, and a trio of rolled papadams with two dipping sauces (below) appeared as we contemplated the sizable menu. In addition to soup, salad, appetizer, bread, side dish and dessert selections, the entrées are further subdivided into Nepali Specialties, Tandoori Specialties, Basmati Rice Specialties, Lamb Entrées, Chicken Entrées, Sea Food Entrées, Vegetarian Entrées and Tibetan Entrées. Gurkhas is predictably vegetarian-friendly, but it is also one of the very rare restaurants serving goat meat — the others usually being restaurants catering to the Hispanic community. Wine, (mostly imported) beer and non-alcoholic beverages similarly provide something for a range of tastes.

Three of us started our dinner with a shared Gurkhas Sampler (below), a pile of four vegetable pakoras, two chicken pakoras and 2 samosas. Each plump samosa was stuffed with chunked vegetables, primaily potato. The vegetable pakora was the best — shredded, battered, crisp-fried vegetables. The chicken version was the least successful of thre three, because the thin chicken didn’t stand up well to the high heat and really had dried out to leatheriness. One of the spices, or a combination of spices, turned the pakoras as red as a bindi, the distinctive red dot that many Indian women wear on their foreheads. We never did find out what the red spice(s) was/were, though we did ask.

We also shared a salad and another bread. The Kuchumber Salad (one of the charmingly spelled items on the menu) was was actually more a mixed salad of cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots with a light lemony dressing. The garlic naan (below) was hot and rich and glistened with just a hint of oil and sprinkled with rough-cut fresh herbs– truly wonderful. Then, we dipped into three main dishes and tasted from each others’ selections.

I was not familiar with Beigon Bharta, but a dish of minced eggplant cooked down with tomato and onion sounded really good to me. And it was. Only the small seeds gave away its eggplant foundation. Like the chicken and the shrimp and everything else on the menu, this thick spicy dish was distinctively seasoned with a mixture of herbs and spices that are blended in house.
Gurkhas’ Chicken Tikka Masala (below) is an aromatic stew consisting of cubed, marinated chicken breast in a creamy tomato sauce that is cooked in a tandoori oven. Both combine well with rice — of course.

Gurkhas marinates its tandoori shrimp (below) and cooks it to a bit of crispness on the outside and moistness on the inside. The skewer was removed in the kitchen, and the shrimp presented on a sizzling platter with a summer garden’s worth of vegetables.

Gurkhas Restaurant prides itself on these custom blends but also in obtaining fresh and seasonal ingredients, and handing them over to professional chefs to cook. Diners are given a choice of mild, medium or hot for most dishes. We all ordered medium, which like Baby Bear’s porridge turned out to be just right — a palate-sparking kick but not so spicy that the flavors were masked. We tried to identify a particular seasoning or two, but couldn’t. Benjamin Sunuwar, who is from Kathmandu but came to the Texas to study business and eventually came to Colorado, won’t tell us what they were. I really can’t blame him. The dishes are so distinctive that Gurkhas probably wants to keep the details a secret.

Sunuwar said that the lunch buffet, enjoyed mostly by patrons with Western tastes, tends to feature dishes on the milder side, while dinner offerings are more complex, spicier and optionally hotter. He said that on weekends, dinner patrons are 90 percent Asian. I assume that Gurkhas puts on extra staff on weekends, because when we were there, service was attentive and considerate, but painfully slow. Only two tables were occupied by mid-sized parties when we arrived on a weeknight a bit after 7:00, and we were the last to leave. Other than the ice water, there were mystifyingly long waits for everything from the beverages to the bill — mystifying because there were so few of us dining at the time. That might have been an aberration, but if not, don’t go if you’re really hungry or in any kind of a hurry. But otherwise, try it, because the food is really good.

Price Check: At dinner, soups and salads, $3.99; appetizers, $3.99-$6.99; Nepali Specialties, $8.99-$12.99; Tandoori Specialties, $12.99-$14.99; Basmati Rice Specialties, $9.99-$12.99; Lamb Entrées, $12.99-$13.99; Chicken Entrées, $9.99-$12.99; Sea Food Entrées, $13.99; Vegetarian Entrées, $9.99-$13.99; Tibetan Entrées, $9.99-$10.99; tandoori bread, $1.99-$2.99; side orders, 99 cents-$1.99; desserts, $1.99-$2.99. At lunch, Gurkhas puts on a $9.99 buffet with a partly changing menu with dishes from India, Tibet, Nepal and also China.

Gurkhas Restaurant is in the Gunbarrel Shopping Center (I think the northwest corner, in back). The address is 6565 Gunpark Drive, Boulder; 303-530-1551.