Potluck Pleasures

The monthly potluck of the Boulder Media Women was yesterday evening. Thirty or 40 local writers, editors, designers and other media professionals gathered to chew the fat and chew on a lavish spread. The two hostesses, who provided beverages and a fabulous African stew (recipe, please!), had asked for guests to bring an “ethnic” dish. I originally wanted to make a Jamaican banana custard for dessert, but I didn’t have (and couldn’t get) five very ripe bananas. I decided that Italian was ethnic enough, so that’s what I made. Other BMWers were apparently of the same mind, because dishes included satisfying mix of dishes from many traditions, including quiche, cous-cous, a pasta dish or two, a couple of green salads, a silky bisque, a sweet potato dish, long Asian green beans and a fruit tart.

This fittata is equally good hot and at room temperature, and therefore is well suited to a potluck. I adapted the recipe from True Tuscan by Cesare Casella.

Ricotta Frittata

3 to 4 tbsp. olive oil, plus additional for drizzling on the frittata at the end
1 large or 1 1/2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1 to 2 tbsp. fresh herbs (marjoram, sage, thyme or other — individually or mixed), chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 large eggs (or 7 medium)
1 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an ovenproof skillet (I use cast iron) over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onions, herbs, salt and pepper, and saute about 7 or 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and begin to brown slightly.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine eggs and both cheeses. Stir until smooth and homogeneous (the lowest speed on a hand mixer works well). Add egg-cheese mixture to the sauteed onions and stir to incorporate the eggs. Cook on the stovetop until the eggs begin to set. Run a knife around the edge of the frittata. Transfer skillet to the oven. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until firm.

Remove from oven. Run a knife around the edge of the frittata. Place a serving plate over the skillet and turn the fritrata out. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Serves 4 as an entree, 6 as an appetizer or whatever number at a potluck.

I’m not the only foodie in BMW. Mary Collette Rogers, author of Take Control of Your Kitchen, is teaching a collaborative, hands-on cooking class featuring “warming winter dishes” in North Boulder this coming Sunday (November 19 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.). The cost is only $10, including eating the dishes prepared in class. Since time is short, it’s probably best to phone in reservations; 303-730-8960.

Celebrating First Bite Boulder

At the halfway point of First Bite Boulder, a local advertising, strategic planning and branding firm called the Sterling-Rice Group hosted a reception to celebrate the first annual city-wide restaurant week, whose name and logo it was instrumental in creating. Wine, beer, soft drinks and a quartet of hors d’oeuvres were set out in advance, but the real highlight of the evening was a demonstration by Hosea Rosenberg, executive chef of Jax Fish House. Focusing on seasonality and the impending Thanksgiving holiday, Rosenberg made half-a-dozen dishes with his own not-so-secret ingredient: sweet potatoes. These luscious autumn tubers are low in calories and pack a nutritional wallop.

Sterling-Rice’s client roster includes a number of food and beverage corporations (Nestle, Horizon Organic Dairy, Frito-Lay, Kraft, Kellogg’s Tropicana, Starbucks, Heinz, Quaker Oats, Fantastic Foods, Hellmans, Coors and Celestial Seasonings) and one of their top executives is culinary director Cathryn Olchowy (Johnson & Wales culinary grad and MBA holder), which makes it all the more remarkable that they took on a one-week, local restaurant festival.

Rosenberg made Sweet Potato Bisque (served in tall tall shot glasses), Sweet Potato Hash, Sweet Potato Corn Muffins, Sweet Potato Chipotle Gratin and Sweet Potato Souffle. The photo above shows him cutting the peeled sweet potatoes for his gratin (recipe below), which would be ideal for a Southwestern-themed Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, but could easily be reduced for fewer people:

Sweet Potato Chipotle Gratin

1 large yellow onion
3 tbsp. butter
salt and pepper
5 pounds of sweet potatoes
1/2 can chipotles in adobo
1 pint heavy cream
1 cup Gruyere or other Swiss cheese, grated
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated

Peel and slice onion. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and cook onions with a little salt and pepper until soft. Turn up heat and cook until onions begin to caramelize, being careful not to let them burn. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Peel sweet potatoes. Using a mandolin or slicer (or sharp knife), cut potatoes into thin strips. Oil or grease the bottom of a two-inch-deep baking pan and place an even layer of potatoes on the bottom. The “pattern” resembles shingles. Sprinkle with a small amount of the cheeses, onions, salt and pepper, distributed evenly over the sweet potatoes. Repeat process, ending with a layer of potatoes. Press down with a spatula to even the layers. Pour cream over the potatoes and top with remaining cheese. Cover with foil, being careful not to permit the foil to touch the cheese. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cheese is brown and bubbly. Remove from oven and pierce with a knife to make sure the potatoes are thoroughly cooked. Allow to rest before slicing; slice as you would a lasagna.

After we feasted on sweet potatoes, a group of us continued to celebrate. Sterling-Rice clients include Applebee’s and some other chain, but fortunately, we headed for Mateo, where we enjoyed the First Bite Boulder menu. See the Dining Diary on my website for a review.

An eyeball evaluation of First Bite Boulder gives it high marks. En route to Sterling-Rice’s offices and then to Mateo, I walked past a number of participating restaurants. While I didn’t see any out-the-door lines, most tables appeared occupied. And that was the whole idea.

First Bite at Aji

Aji is Boulder’s newest South American restaurant

My husband and a friend an I took advantage of the great prices during the First Bite Boulder promotion to visit Aji Restaurant, a South American restaurant east of the Pearl Street Mall and a few blocks from our home. The food was wonderful, the portions ample and the price appealing. For a review, please go to my website’s Dining Diary.

Beyond our own satisfying meal, I have to sing the praises of cities and participating restaurateurs that team up to offer well-priced meals for a special week each year. Denver does a Restaurant Week each February, following the lead of such culinary meccas as San Francisco and Seattle. Whatever these promotional weeks are called and whenever they fall on the calendar, they provide an opportunity for diners to try places they haven’t been or to return to a favorite without running up a huge bill.

‘The Joy of Cooking’ and the joy of cooking

The Joy of Cooking, the first cookbook for many of us and a standby for foolproof recipes of all sorts, is celebrating its 75th birthday — if a book can have a birthday, that is. I have shelves full of cookbooks and cooking magazines, and one of my pleasures is riffling through them when I need a recipe for something. I find that I go in waves when it comes to finding recipes — specific ethic cookbooks aside. At one point, the first book I pulled off the shelf was one by James Beard. At other times, compendiums of a year’s worth of Sunset recipes or one of the hefty volumes with a collection of recipes from Gourmet. Still at other times, it was something by Julia Child. When I’m in a Mediterranean mode, I rely on one of books by Franco and Margaret Romagnoli or Martha Rose Schulman. I mark up my cookbooks and my recipes, noting the date that I made the changes, any modifications that I made and whether the dish was particularly good or disappointing.

One volume that I use over and over is my own compendium of clipped recipes that I have organized, cookbook-like, by category in a large ring binder. I spent all of yesterday at REI in Denver for a snowshoeing promotion (I have written two snowshoeing books). It was after 4:30 when I got home, and I still had to whip up something a dish for a potluck that started at 6:00. I paged through my trusty noteboook and found a chicken recipe that did not call for anything I did not have in the house.

I previously made it on Aug. 31, 1989, and if I could identify the magazine I clipped it from, I’d credit it here. The recipe follows with my slight modifications. The original calls for heavy cream; I used more marjoram than called for, and I sliced the chicken differently from the original, because I didn’t want to bring anything that needed a knife to a potluck. Preparing this dish took only about half-an-hour, making it the perfect busy-day dish.

Chicken with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, trimmed
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1/2 cup white wine
2/3 cup half-and-half
1 tsp. dried marjoram (or fresh, if available)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped sundried tomatoes (I used jarred tomatoes, packed in oil, and drained them lightly)

Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Cut chicken on the diagonal into about 1/2-inches slices. Cut longer slices in half. In a heavy skillet over moderately high heat, melt butter. When the foam subsides, add chicken pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to turn the chicken pieces until they are opaque on all sides (about 5 minutes). Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon. Add shallot and saute, stirring, about 1 minute until softened. Whisk in wine, cream and marjoram until blended and smooth. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve.

Yield: If not making for a potluck where people tend to take a small portion of (almost) everything, I estimate that it would serve 6 as an entree, perhaps accompanied by rice or noodles.

Powells Has Landed

When I was a kid growing up in Connecticut, my favorite treat place was the Ice Cream Parlor (or maybe Parlour) in Westport. This recreation of a Gay Nineties ice cream parlor had small marble tables, wire-back chairs, an old-fashioned soda fountain (that made free ice cream sundaes or banana splits for anyone with a birthday) and employees in old-style garb. The boys wore striped shirts, white pants, suspenders, straw boaters and, for a while, faux handlebar moustaches. The girls’ outfits were similar to square dancers’ dresses.

Powell’s Sweet Shoppe has now landed on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. There’s no sit-down eating, there’s gelato instead of Borden’s (or whatever the Ice Cream Parlor/Parlour dished up), and the staff isn’t costumed. But oh, that penny candy to tickle the kid in us all. Lollipops, dots, small candy bars (including half-forgtten retro brands), jellybeans and M&M’s in all sorts of colors, filled candies, animal-shaped candies, gum, Pez refills (and dispensers to put them in) and much more. There’s even fine chocolate in bars or by the piece for the grownup in us, but that’s not why I’d go there.

Powell’s is based in San Francisco, and while I’ll still support buy boxes of Belgian-style fine chocolates from Colorado-based Belvedere Chocolates a couple of blocks away when I need a gift for a chocoholic and Rocky Mountain Chocolates when I’m wandering by and want a small chocolate fix. But when I want something cheery and smile-provoking, or when I just want to get in touch with my inner sweet-toothed child, I’ll be heading to Powells.

Boulder Dining Deals

First Bite Boulder (Nov. 11-18) is a week-long opportunity to try a new eatery or return to a favorite at a good price. Three-course meals at some of the city’s best restaurants from Aji to Zolo will be just $26 per person. Beverages, tax and gratuities are, of course, additional. Go to First Bite’s website and click on ‘Restaurants’ for a complete list, as well as click-on menus and, in some cases, links to on-line reservations. I’ve been to many of these restaurants myself and have posted writeups on my website ; click on ‘Dining Diary’ and use the clickable index to see whether I’ve reviewed the restaurant that interests you.

Chilean Food, Part Two

I’ve finally gotten to try a few restaurants (and also have found the apostrophe on this keyboard), so here goes.

One of my favorite features of an SATW convention is athe Dine Around, where attendees select or are assigned restaurants, which they visit in small, normal groups. My husband I were sent to one of a dozen restaurants in a Borderio, a sort-of mall with places to eat, drink and buy cigarettes (there is a dedicated Marlboro shop).

We were assigned to La Tabla, an Argentine-style steakhouse. This was odd because at our table for eight were two vegans and one non-red-meter eater. The decor is contemporary gaucho with red tile floors. Cowhides on one wall. Spurs and stuff hanging from the rafters. The waiters are costumed as for the pampas.

We were given a choice of two appetizers, carpaccio of beef or carpaccio of salmon. Both came sliced paper thin and arranged in circles on the plates. The beef was OK, but the salmon was drowned in so much lemon that all I could taste was the the citrus. Even the capers could not assert themseles. For the main course, we had a choice of beef or salmon. (The vegans were accommodated with a plate of pasta.) For a side dish, the waiter gave a choice of souffle potatoes or souffle potatoes. The steakwas a thick cut that was flavorful enough but not especially tender. The salmon was dipped in a batter, sprinkled with sesame seeds, overcooked and blanketed in a gravy that everyone agreed tasted like beef but we were told was soy. The side effect was to make the batter soggy. The souffle potatoes were wonderful — crisp hollows of French fry-size sticks. They actually presented us with the regular dessert menu, and the postres were all OK. The most interesting was a large apple pancake.

The disappointing salmon was vindicated the next night, but I have to go. I promise to describe it next time I have computer access and time to use it.

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.