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

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

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.

A Simple, Smart Idea

This morning, at breakfast in The Sleigh Restaurant in the Hotel Park City in Utah, the waitress presented me with a black napkin, while the other four people at my table had white ones. I wondered out loud what made me so “special.” The waitress said that they always give a black napkin to anyone wearing black pants or a black skirt so that white lint doesn’t slough off on black garments. What a simple and elegant solution to a potential problem. It is such thoughtful — and well thought-out — touches that qualify this as a member of Leading Hotels of the World.

The Culinary Gap Closes

When I first started traveling far from New York City to ski, I would fly east to Europe for great hotel services, fabulous food, spectacular scenery and an energizing, engaging dose of Continental elan, and west to the Rockies for wonderful snow and comforting Americana. The Alps had the better ambiance and the Rockies had better skiing. I was in Europe last week and am now in Park City, Utah, and am struck by how much more similar the resort experience has become. Not identical, but similar.

Once upon a time, American ski areas mostly had American-designed lifts (Hall, Riblet, YAN/Lift Engineering), served predictable food (burgers in the base lodge at lunch, steaks and such in sit-down dinner restaurants), and provided nearby but not slopeside lodging (made-over farm houses, ski lodges, motels, etc.). Internationalism came from imported instructors, usually from Austria, who taught skiing. In Europe, Austrian resorts were 100 percent Austrian in all those aspects, French resorts were totally French, Italian resorts were completely Italian, and Swiss resorts were very Swiss, and hotel and food service (in town and on the mountain) were exemplary. I could tell where I was by the meals set before me.

Nowhere are the growing similarities between European and American resorts more evident than in food. Most European hotels operate on a half-board basis, with breakfast and dinner included, without any compromise in quality becase the eating audience is a captive one. Fine hotel restaurants of Switzerland and Austria now regularly serve such Italian dishes as gnocchi, pasta and Parmesan cheese-graced specialties. Swiss and Italian chefs are whipping up such Austrian classics as Wienerschnitzel and Tafelspitz. Fondue has crossed borders. Quality remains high, and service remains impeccable, even in fairly modest establishments.

Cuisines from the world over are now represented in American resorts, whether it’s a breakfast burrito in the cafeteria or Asian, European or Mexican restaurants, as well as the occasional American steakhouse. in the resort towns. But most of all, both independently owned and resort-operated restaurants offer an abundance of fine, creative fare. Sometimes it’s a pure rendition of a particular cuisine, and sometimes it’s a contemporary melding of international influences, fresh European-quality ingredients and fertile minds and high skills of excellent chefs. Such creativity, I might add, is still less accepted in Europe than technical excellence and classical perfection.

Nothing here in Park City better exemplifies the transition from standard American food to true culinary sophistication than The Cabin, the signature restaurant at The Canyons’ Grand Summit Hotel. The last time I ate there, it was essentially an upscale steakhouse. Now, the new chef Joe Trevino has introduced far more rarefied and creative cuisine. Our party of eight enjoyed the chef’s choice selections, which ranged from an amuse of a New England clam and chorizo with chorizo oil perched on a nest of basil sea salt to an exceptional two-tone creme brulee in a martini glass (photo, right) that actually had the consistency of zabaglioni rather than creme brulee. Appetizers, salads, entrees and three wines filled the “gap” between the amuse and the dessert. Jeff LaBounty paired desserts with each course. I have to say that the Weinbach Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Mambourg Cuvee Laurence from Alsace was in my mind, that dinners best in show. Then again, Iam very fond of Gewurztraminer.

Last night, I went to the famous Seafood Buffet at Deer Valley. It defines opulence and choice: two soups, two salads, two kinds of oysters (Washington State and East Coast), three kinds of sushi, two kinds of steamed crab, tiger shrimp, house-smoked salmon, and scallops served one at a time in an Asian soup spoon with a touch of sauce. I ordered a sampler of the hot entrees: seared ahi tuna with basil foam, shrimp-crusted bass, glazed halibut and other dishes that I’ve forgotten and didn’t manage to write down. The cook sears the tuna to order, so you can request it any way you want it. Carnivores can go to The Carvery station for prime rib or roast duck, but with seafood so fresh, it seems a sacrilege to do that. There are desserts, of course, and a decent wine list.

On-mountain lunches have been terrific as well. On our way into town from the Salt Lake City airport, we had on-the-road lunches from Wild Oats Market at Kimball Junction. At Park City Mountain Resort, we had soups, sandwiches and such at Legends Bar & Grill, a slopeside pub, and Deer Valley, we ate at the also-slopeside Royal Street Cafe, which has both self-service and table-service components. If you go, order a blue pisco to start, then graze on yellowfin tuna tartare with herb chips, the shrimp and lobster “margarita” layered with papaya salsa and guacamole, and the crawfish bisque — and perhaps another starter if there are several in your group. Consider the salad, sandwich, hot entree and/or dessert as a bonus. For my part, the unusual berry-mint-booze beverage and the apps were just fine.

Deer Valley really raised a high bar on ski resort fare when it was established a quarter of a century ago, it set a high bar that other resorts have fortunately followed. Now, the food, ambiance and service of our best are on a par with Europe. As I noted, we are growing more similar.

Cook’s Fresh Market is Back!

When I was researching Culinary Colorado, Cook’s Fresh Market was a bright spot in and near the Denver Tech Center. It was all things to all foodies: a gourmet grocer, produce market, cheese shop, butcher and fish purveyor; a place where hungry people could go for house-made soup, good sandwiches and more to eat in or take out; an on-the-way-home stop for high-quality prepared foods; caterer, and even a place for cooking classes. Then, landlord problems caused owners Ed and Kristi Janos to close the doors. The couple said they would reopen elsewhere, and Denver foodies held their collective breath. They can breathe again, though the Tech Center’s loss is downtown Denver’s gain.

Cook’s Fresh Market has reopened at 16th and Glenarm in the heart of downtown. If and when you are in Denver, stop in and take a look — and a taste. I never walked out of their old store empty-heanded, and I’ll bet the same will be true at the new location. Ed and Kristi are both graduates of the legendary Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, he in 1977 and she 15 years later. In 1993, Ed passed the grueling 10-day Certified Master Chef (CMC) exam, becoming one of only 68 such high-level culinarians in the United States.

In another unrelated development on the Denver gourmet retail scene, David and Kate Kaufman have sold The Truffle, a cheese and fine specialty foods shop at 2906 East Sixth Avenue, to Rob and Karin Lawler, well-credentialed on the Denver food scene. Rob is a chef and Karin has been a server and wine buyer. The Lawlers plan to shut down for a couple of weeks after the first of the year and reopen with a slightly broader selection of fine foods. Meanwhile, another local culinary couple, Pete Marczyk and Barbara MacFarlane, are still at the helm of Marczyk’s Fine Foods, their upscale grocery story and more at 770 East 17th Avenue.

What’s "Chile" in this Blog?

In the U.S., there is considerable confusion over whether the hot peppers in the capsicum genus of produce and/or the hot stew of Southwestern, Tex-Mex and border style of cooking are spelled “chili” or “chile.” There’s no confusion about the spelling of the country, however, which is always Chile. In the ‘Labels’ list of topics covered in this blog, Chile refers to the country, not to the food.

Pre-Theater Bites in Denver

Patrons of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts don’t exactly have a vast choice of places to grab a bite before a show. There are full-service restaurants as far afield as the 16th Street Mall and Larimer Square, and I’ve written about a number of them on the “Dining Diary” portion of my website, but quick-bite places right there? There haven’t been too many, but now there are three.

Today, Backstage Coffee opened in street-level space on 14th Street, just beside the steps that go up to the complex’s arcade. It has good pastries, coffee drinks, ice cream, burritos, soft drinks, wines by the glass and more to come. We grabbed to-go fare on the way to a 6:30 curtain — a ham and cheese croissant for my husband and a burrito for me. It’s the first coffee-teria in the complex since funky, spacious Pablo’s closed months ago to make room for a real estate sales office.

In the arcade is the Theatre Deli — hard to find because it’s tucked in behind the parking garage elevators. We’ve only bought stuff there once and were underwhelmed by the sandwiches. A better bet is the Hot Ticket Cafe in the lobby of the Helen Bonfils multi-stage building. It offers a limited menu of quality items, operated by the owner of Jay’s Patio Cafe in the Highlands East neighborhood.

It isn’t always practical to have a full dinner before a show, but I’m grateful when rumbling stomachs don’t compete with the actors.

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.