Chefs Honored for Best Beer Pairings

Culinary competition featured nine chef, 37 beers & 18 dishes.

Pairsine-logoThe 2015 Pairsine/Taste of Elegance beer-pairing competition is in the can, so to speak. Nine Front Range chefs each prepared  two dishes to pair with beers that were winners in an earlier phase of the competition. A panel of judges (including yours truly) selected the Best Chef overall Billy Chartres of Stuft A Burger Bar, Fort Collins, and Most Creative Chef, an honor that went to Steven Chandler of the Omni Interlocken,  the Broomfield resort hotel where the event was held. People’s Choice honors went to Darrell Jensen of Samples World Bistro in Longmont.

Chefs and their assistants prepare tasting portions of two dishes for the crowd of Pairsine guests.
Chefs and their assistants prepare tasting portions of two dishes for the crowd of Pairsine guests.
Maia Parish, me, Jean-Luc Voegele and Rudi Helvig. Jean-Luc Voegele, a judge this time, has been a frequent winner of Pairsine events, both food and wine pairings.
Maia Parish, me, Jean-Luc Voegele and Rudi Helvig. Jean-Luc Voegele, a judge this time, has been a frequent winner of Pairsine events.

There always seem to a few dishes prepared by more than one chef but executed differently. This year, Chandler and Tim Berry  of Boulder’s Fate Brewing Company both made spring rolls. Chandler’s were soft and spicy; Berry’s held together and were crisp. William Merwin of The Blue Star in Colorado Springs and Kirk Spare of the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, not far from the Omni in Broomfield both made fried chicken. Merwin’s was cut into small tasting pieces that were skinless and crustless; Spare’s was hot and crisp. Merwin and Jensen both prepared versions of arancini. Merwin’s had a hint of coconut and accompanied cocoa-braised short ribs; Jensen’s rice balls encased chili con carne with cheddar in the middle.

The next event will be the 11th annual Denver International Wine Festival, October 28-30, and I’m looking forward to it already, since wine is more up my alley than beer.

Luscious Brown Palace Nibbles

Fabled Denver hotel’s party fare.

The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa hosts the CLHA fundraiser.
The Brown Palace Hotel & Spa has remodeled its 242 guest rooms — and puts out a delicious spread,

The Brown Palace, Denver’s most iconic hotel, hosted a media event to show off its beautifully redone guests rooms, and hosted a little cocktail/wine/beer reception. Chefs prepared savories on the spot, while sweets came from the bakery on tiered stands along with some finger sandwiches, just as they would for the traditional tea served every afternoon in the soaring lobby. BLT sliders, crabcakes, seared scallops and selections of sweets and savories were presented, and Brown Palace Pale Ale brewed in Parker was introduced.

Slider buns and not-iceberg lettuce waiting for the bacon to be cooked.
Slider buns and not-iceberg lettuce waiting for the bacon to be cooked.
Thick bacon slabs in the pan for BLT sliders.
Thick bacon slabs in the pan for BLT sliders.
Seared scallop on bed of grains.
Seared scallop on bed of grains.
Tower of sweets from the afternoon tea service are THE BEST. Served with  Devonshire clotted cream, the scones had me swooning.
Tower of sweets from the afternoon tea service are THE BEST. Served with Devonshire clotted cream, the scones had me swooning.

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Caponata for a Summer’s Evening

Southern Italian appetizer a seasonal treat.

Photorealistic vector. Colorful fresh group of vegetables.
Photorealistic vector. Colorful fresh group of vegetables.

Caponata has long been one of my favorite summer appetizers. Eggplant, tomatoes and onions make for a heavenly combination. There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks in southern Italy. Over the years, I’ve made many different variations. Here’s the one I contrived for July 2015. I didn’t measure anything, but caponata is not a dish that requires precision, so have at it.

MIse en place for my latest version of caponata.
MIse en place for my latest version of caponata.

Caponata

1 eggplant
Salt
3/4   cup +/- extra-virgin olive oil
1 half medium red onion, chopped
1 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2-3 celery ribs, chopped
1/3 cup large black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
2-3 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
1/3 cup red -wine vinegar
1 (14- to 15-oz) can whole San Marzano tomatoes in juice, drained and chopped

Peel eggplants, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Spread on half of a kitchen towel in a jellyroll pan. Sprinkle with salt, then cover with other half of the towel and weight with a second baking sheet topped with cast-iron pans for about 30 minutes.

Salting the eggplant and pressing out the moisture is a step in many recipes. Sometimes, it is also necessary to squeeze out any remaining water by hand.
Salting the eggplant and pressing out the moisture is a step in many recipes. Sometimes, it is also necessary to squeeze out any remaining water by hand.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup oil in a heavy  skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the onion, and cook stirring occasionally, until pale golden (6 to 8 minutes). Add celery and garlic, and cook, stirring, occasionally until onion and celery are golden brown and soft (about 10 minutes). Add eggplant cubes and cook about 10 minutes Add olives, capers and sugar and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10  minutes. Stir in vinegar and tomatoes, breaking tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Caponata inrgedients simmering in the pan.
Caponata inrgedients simmering in the pan.

Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. If sauce is very acidic, add  a  bit more sugar (to taste). Transfer to a bowl and keep warm, covered. Cool room temperature and let stand, for at least 3 hours. Stir before serving.

Like many Spanish tapas, caponata can be eaten at various temperatures. I like it at room temperature, served with thinly sliced good-quality Italian or French bread,

Veuve Cliquot Bubbles Into Colorado

French champagne’s three local stops.

VeuveCliquotTRuckThe bright yellow Veuve Clicquot en Route truck makes three promotional stops through Colorado next week.  Each one is a special mid-summer celebratory treat. Contact each venue for details and reservations.

  • The first is at the Four Seasons Denver on Thursday, July 16,  from 6  to 9:30 p.m. where Veuve Clicquot hosts a rooftop summer pool party featuring music from DJD, a Clicquot Photo booth, fun giveaways, and of course, Clicquot specials. Cool off with Veuve Clicquot N.V Yellow Label for $25 by the glass or $100 by-the-bottle.
  • On Friday, July 17, there’s bubbles and barbecue with Veuve Clicquot at Acorn.  The restaurant in The Source in RiNo offers its Wood Fire BBQ Dinner for two with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot costs $100 and a BBQ Dinner for one with glass of champagne is $40. There’s music from 6 Million Dollar Band.
  • On July 19, Ajax Tavern at The Little Nell in Aspen hosts Sunday Funday with Sarah Simmons, celeb chef and owner of New York’s Birds and Bubbles. From 3  to 8 p.m., she puts out a custom dinner package including her signature fried chicken, traditional fixings and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label for $100, presumably for two.

Zocalito: Oaxaca in the Mountains

Bright & tasty Mexican regional fare in Aspen.

P1030770Turn from Aspen’s Hyman Avenue Mall into a small alley. Go down a flight of stairs into a corner of Mexico.  Atmospheric lighting recalls Mexico after dark rather than blinding sunshine. Sit back and contemplate the interesting and unusual menu. While waiting for the food to arrive, look around at the bright folk art.

Colorful folk art from Oaxaca occupies a prominant corner of Zocalito's front room.
Colorful folk art from Oaxaca occupies a prominant corner of Zocalito’s front room.

The food, which is flavorful and beautifully presented, echoes Oaxaca, the southern Mexico city known for culture and cuisine. It is the city where mole was born. What better Mexican food cred?

Chips and an unusual salsa makes a shareable starter. It is called pico de gallo on the menu, but is unlike any I've had before. Smoky chipotle sauce with the addition of corn kernels, chopped tomatoes and intriguing flavors topped with sou cream and guac.
Chips and an unusual salsa makes a shareable starter. It is called pico de gallo on the menu, but is unlike any I’ve had before. Smoky chipotle sauce with the addition of corn kernels, chopped tomatoes and intriguing flavors topped with sou cream and guac.
Steamed mussels in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, red onion and a Guatemalan-inspired achiote sauce
Steamed mussels in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, red onion and a Guatemalan-inspired achiote sauce.

Continue reading Zocalito: Oaxaca in the Mountains

A Pyramid Scheme for Good Food

P1030741There has been a restaurant on the second floor of Aspen’s Explore Booksellers as long as I can remember. The legendary bookstore has had several owners. The current owner(s), an LLC,  now operate(s) the Pyramid Bistro with a high ceiling, simple settings on bare-wood tables and a lovely, almost Zen-like ambiance that livens up with the tables are occupied.

 The best table in the place: a four-top niched into a windowed alcove.
The best table in the place: a four-top niched into a windowed alcove.

Chef Martin Oswald continues the tradition of wholesome, fresh food on a meat-free menu. He describes himself as a “nutritarian” and had devised a principled menu. Vegetables and grains? In abundance.  Poultry and seafood? Yes. Mammals? No.  Fresh and wholesome? Indeed.

Chewy rustic bread with basil-forward pesto.
Chewy rustic bread with basil-forward pesto.

Continue reading A Pyramid Scheme for Good Food

T&L Taps The Source for Top Food Hall List

Prestigious magazine cites RiNo landmark on world list.

TheSource-logoWhen Travel & Leisure published its list of The World’s Best New Food Halls, I was thrilled to read that The Source in Denver made the hallowed list of just 12 around the globe — that is, the whole world.  I’m a big admirer of renascent urban neighborhoods, and RiNo exemplifies urban creativity. T&L wrote:

The Source, Denver

The 15 vendors and restaurants at The Source, a repurposed 1880’s brick foundry building, range from sour beer specialists (Crooked Stave) to locally beloved coffee purveyors (Boxcar Coffee Roasters) and a taco truck-turned-modern taqueria (Comida). Don’t miss: wood-fired Colorado trout from Acorn, sister restaurant to Boulder’s renowned OAK at Fourteenth.
This recognition comes just as Zeppelin Development has announced that it is building an eponymous 100-room next door. If there was still a shred of doubt that RiNo is Denver’s most innovative and exciting areas, this should put all that to rest. The hotel, scheduled to open in early 2017, will feature an eighth-floor- rooftop deck with a beer garden and pool; a second 25,000-square- foot market hall with 20-foot ceilings; a ground-floor craft brewery;
a signature independent restaurant joining the great eats in the original; open market-style shopping areas with as many as 12 additional vendors; food and beverage counters, and more. The operators of Boulder’s Hotel St. Julien have been selected  to run The Source Hotel.

Claire Walter's Colorado-oriented but not Colorado-exclusive blog about restaurants, food and wine events, recipes and related news. For address of any restaurant, click on the Zomato icon at the end of the post.