Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Denver Restaurants: Euclid Hall

My shortest restaurant commentary ever.

It was a dark and stormy night.   Well, dark anyway.  We sat upstairs in a dim corner.   I couldn't really see my food.  But I could taste it, and it, the duck poutine, was amazing.

The End.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shoe Love Update

I wanted to give you a quick update on the shoe love that we had going on over the past two months.   The deadline for the Soles 4 Souls Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge was November 14.   I found out on the 15th that my blog made the Final Five based on shoe donations.   On Wednesday they will announce the winner.   But there are no losers in this game.   Every pair of shoes is a win for those in need.

My sister wrote about the shoe drive on her blog at work.  When she saw that people were liking it on FB and sharing it on Twitter her response was  "Who do I know that retweets things?"  Click here to read about the shoe love that Regis University has for S4S. 

If you have shoe love of your own, visit the S4S page to learn how to get involved!

And a quick shout of appreciation to the folks at Flip Flop Wines
who sponsored the Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge.   
We celebrated a friend's birthday with it earlier this month.  Cheers!

Denver Restaurants: Ondos

Pintxos on Toasted Bread

I'm pretty convinced that sangria makes life better.  I've pretty much perfected my red sangria and it is an essential staple for the summer.  I can scarcely imagine City Park Jazz without it.   One of my friends recommended Ondos to me for their sangria and happy hour specials.   We had a coupon that was not valid for happy hour, so we stopped by around 8pm on a Thursday just for a little snack.  I think I'll have to go back for happy hour so I can try all the different pintxos...and maybe the red sangria.

This photo is not my best work, but these Croquetas were delish!

White Sangria

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cranberry Maple Sauce and Thanksgivings Past

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!   What a joyous day to celebrate family, friends and all our blessings.   This morning I was thinking about where I've been for Thanksgiving over the past 5 years.  I usually see my family at Christmas, and the nature of the hotel business is that our office is only closed on Thanksgiving Day, so sometimes I work on Black Friday (better making money than spending money).   It's been quite an adventure the past few years. 

2006 - Baden, Switzerland - My friends had just moved there a few months before and this was their first major American holiday living abroad.   We had Swiss raclette for Thanksgiving dinner.    I just looked at some of the pictures today....we had a great time!
2007 - Denver, Colorado - I cooked an early dinner with a friend who had to work at 2pm.    I think after that I must have started on my holiday baking.

2008 - Monterey, California - Our family decided to take Thanksgiving to the West Coast.   I remember enjoying a great dinner that included turkey...and sushi...and mimosas
2009 - Denver, Colorado - I was adopted by some friends and enjoyed dinner, football and Mario Kart.

2010 - Curacao - We spent the week in Curacao (Dutch Caribbean).   It poured rain in the morning and in the afternoon we went to an aloe plantation and an ostrich farm.   Non-traditional and memorable.
Today - We have been adopted by a family who will make sure we have "greens" in addition to all the other Thanksgiving treats.   We've been warned that dressing up is forbidden and that even jeans with a sweater is too much.

I picked up a fantastic book at the library last week The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas.  I don't even think I have enough time to try all the recipes I bookmarked in the next month.    Today while I was baking the pecan pie that I'm taking to dinner, I had the time to try out the Cranberry Maple Sauce.  It is quick and easy, as promised by the good people at Southern Living.

Adapted from The Southern Living Big Book of Christmas
*The original recipe called for 3/4 cup of maple syrup and 1/4 cup water, but since I only had a 1/2 cup of maple syrup left, I adjusted the measurements and did not feel cheated in any way.

 1 12oz package of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar, packet
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of one clementine, plus the juice squeezed into the sauce (in tribute to my Grandma, who made a delicious cranberry relish that was made with ground cranberries and orange zest)

Combine all ingredients into a heavy saucepan.   Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes until the cranberries begin to pop, stirring often.   Let cool. 

What are you thankful for this year?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Martini

You know she's a good friend when she sends you a message that says "I drove by a sign for pumpkin spice need to look into this."   There is a limited time of year that you are able to find pumpkin liquor.   I went to Cornerstar, which is a huge liquor store, assuming that if anyone had it, they would.   Did you know that you can find gingerbread and caramel apple liquor this time of year?  Neither did I, but it's in the same aisle as sloe gin...and Bols Pumpkin Smash.   I had never heard of Bols, but they've been around since 1547 (where, I don't know).   The staff at the liquor store appreciated my sense of adventure commenting that the bottle will last forever and that I can always cook with it if I don't drink it.   Based on popular response yesterday, I don't think I'll have to worry about finishing the bottle this holiday season. 

Yesterday I was helping host a baby shower, which had a fall theme, so I brought the ingredients and we served them in shot glasses and espresso cups for sipping.   I'm going to enjoy the pumpkin season as long as I can.

I used Bols Pumpkin Smash, St. Brendans Irish Creme and Smirnoff Vanilla Vodka, but you can use your choice of pumpkin liquor, vanilla vodka and Irish creme.

In a martini shaker mix equal parts (ie a shot each):
pumpkin liquor
vanilla vodka
Irish creme

Then add:
a dash of cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
a generous splash of cream
ice for shaking

Shake, shake, shake until the cocktail is cold and delicious.   Serve in the shot glass, espresso cup or martini glass of your choosing.   Brown sugar for rimming is optional.   Cheers!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Recipe: Pumpkin Pie Fudge

I've never made any fudge that wasn't the traditional chocolate, so I was intrigued when I saw this recipe over on The Cultural Dish.   It is a great fall treat and got good reviews from everyone I shared it with.   Fudge is by nature VERY sweet.  I posed the question on facebook as to how I could make fudge sweeter.   The #1 recommendation?  Frost it.  That made me laugh. 

Fudge is the kind of treat that you can cut into small pieces in order to share the autumn love with more people.   The original recipe suggested a 9x13 pan (or an 8x8 for larger pieces).   I compromised by using my 9x9 silicone pan.     

Click here for the recipe.  I didn't make any modifications other than omitting the nuts.  **Candy in Colorado Note - when you use a candy thermometer, you will usually cook the candy about 10 degrees lower than what's posted in the recipe - and that's at a mile high.   If you live up higher, it's probably more than that.**

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already next week.   I love that Thanksgiving because it is not commercial - simply a day to enjoy food with family and friends.   My sister and I have been adopted by a family for the holiday...they are worried that we've never had "greens" at a major holiday meal before.   I've been assigned to make a pecan pie.    I'm going to try the Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie recipe I saw in Cooking Light.   If it's successful, you'll see it posted here.   What are you thankful for this year?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recipe: Hi-Hat Cupcakes

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have moved beyond the realm of standard cupcakes and moved into fancy cupcakes.   A friend and I finally got together for our cupcake baking adventure.   She has a great cookbook:  Cupcakes by Elinor Klivans, and had earmarked the Chocolate Covered Hi-Hats as our culinary adventure.    Looking at the picture in the book, I didn't know if our finished product would measure up.   But it did.   All the pictures in this post were taken by my friend with friends is much more entertaining and in the case of these cupcakes, four hands were better than two. 

This recipe is all about the frosting and the dipping.   We opted to use cake mix to make the chocolate cupcake base.   We had two kinds, the Sprinkles brand from William Sonoma (apparently the only thing you can buy in the store with a $10 gift card) and a triple chocolate mix from Duncan Hines.  The key thing about baking these cupcakes is not to overfill.   You do not want a muffin top when you start dipping a top heavy cupcake into chocolate.   Once you have baked and cooled your cupcakes, you are ready for the next step.

Cooked Frosting?
This was my first time cooking a frosting.    The white frosting has almost a marshmallow-like consistency.   It holds up amazingly well for the dipping stage. 

1 and 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Put sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar into a heatproof container.   Beat with hand mixer 1 minute until foamy.   Put heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.   Beat on high for 12 minutes (until the frosting reaches 160 degrees) and forms stiff peaks.    Remove bowl of frosting from heat, adding vanilla and almond extracts, beating 2 more minutes.   Fill a pastry bag full of the icing and put a big swirl on the center of the cupcake (up to 2 inches).    Put iced cupcakes in the fridge to chill.

Dipping a cupcake?
The picture in the book reminded me of a dipped ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.   I still love a good cherry dipped cone if I can find one.    The same scientific principle that stops your ice cream from falling in the vat of cherry coating must be what works in these cupcakes.   The frosting "adheres" well to the cupcake and once chilled it can stand up to the quick dip.

Chocolate Coating:
2 cups chocolate chips (we used Ghiaradelli)
3 tablespoons canola oil

You can use the same pan of simmering water you used for the frosting to melt the chocolate and oil in a heatproof bowl.   Once the chocolate is melted, pour it into a small deep bowl, in our case a mug, and let cool for 15 minutes.  

Then it's time to dive in.   Take the chilled cupcake and quickly dip the frosted top in the melted chocolate, using a spoon to cover any of the white if necessary.   Pop them them back in the fridge after the dip to allow for the chocolate to set.   Prepare to awe your family and friends.

Guaranteed to Impress

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Worldwide Shoe Love

The fun part about the Soles 4 Souls Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge has been spreading the word about S4S and the need for something as simple as adequate footwear everywhere in the world.   My sister and I have been sharing my blog posts as well as pictures and creative status updates via Facebook, letting us reach our neighbors here in Colorado as well as friends all over the world.   Our family friend Ann is currently in Babati, Tanzania waiting for a container ship of donated school supplies to arrive for Amka Afrika School.  She saw my post about the shoe drive on Facebook and offered to give a pair of shoes to someone locally in Tanzania to support our efforts (above).   At the most basic level, that's what it's all about.   A pair of shoes going to someone who can use them.  Wherever.  Whenever.  However.          

Can you guess which one is Ann?
Her passion is education and she's working hard to make a difference!
All shoe donations for the Flippin' Good Deeds Challenge need to be made this weekend.   All shoe donation forms need to be submitted by Monday at noon central time and on Tuesday we'll see if we make the final leaderboard.  My sister and I have seen more shoes in the past month than ever before, outside of a shoe store.   It's been a great run.   Literally. 

The holidays are approaching - did you know that the challenge sponsor, Flip Flop Wines, will donate a pair of shoes to Soles 4 Souls for each bottle purchased?   If you bring a bottle of wine to someone as a gift or serve it at home, you'll be doing something great.   You don't even have to say anything.  It will be your little secret.  Helping the world, one pair at a time. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Recipe: Toblerone Bars

Are you troubled by the question of "What to do with a six pack gift box of Toblerones?"  The obvious answer is to eat them.   By putting them up in the cabinet, they are out of sight and out of mind.   Except for the one that I melted and used for ice cream topping.    So now you know three things to do with a Toblerone:  1) eat it   2) melt it over ice cream  3)bake with it.   Pondering what I could make with them without having to go to the store, I settled on using my recipe for butterscotch blondies, but replacing the butterscotch with Toblerone.   They aren't very blond, but they are moist and yummy.   Now, what to make with the leftover peanut butter cups from Halloween?

3/4 cup butter/margarine, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (3.5 oz) Toblerone bars coarsely chopped

Heat oven to 350.  Line a 9x13 pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.   Beat butter and sugars in large bowl until creamy.  Add eggs, beating well.   Stir together the flour, soda and salt in a small bowl.   Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, blending well.   Stir in Toblerone and spread into prepared pan.    Bake 30 minutes (Colorado time) until golden brown.   Cool, use foil to remove from pan and slice into pieces of your choosing (large for you, small for your friends).   

I've still got 3 more Toblerones to go.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Saving Soles: A Visit to the Cobbler

For the past month I've spent more time than normal thinking about, lifting, sorting, and collecting shoes.  (You didn't know?  Check out my posts about the Soles 4 Souls Flippin Good Deeds Challenge here, here or here).   So last week when the sole on the heel on my brown dress flats fell off on the train, I decided to take action rather than pushing them to the back of the closet hoping they would fix themselves.   A week or so one of my co-workers took his shoes to the cobbler.

Cobbler.   Apple Cobbler.  Peach Cobbler.  Blackberry Cobbler.  Shoe Cobbler?  It's an image I associate with Disney movies, fairy tales and picturesque German villages.  In our "throw away" society, I didn't really think about people who repair shoes.   But then I started to think about my shoes.   I invest in my work shoes.   Payless shoes don't cut it for very long.   

Let's say I paid $50 for my shoes at Nordstrom Rack a year ago.   I work 48 weeks per year (gotta love my 4 weeks of vacation).    I wear them twice a week.   Then this past year, I've paid $.52 each time I've worn them.    Considering that same $50 would only buy me about 11 peppermint mochas at Starbucks, I'm getting a lot more value from my shoes.   Hopefully the $12 I paid my local cobbler today will keep my shoes in business for another year.    Now (according to my wildly scientific shoe math) I am paying roughly 13 cents per day worn (assuming I still wear them twice a week 48 weeks per year) to recoup the costs of repairing my shoes.  If I didn't repair them I wouldn't be wearing them at all, and it would cost me much more than $12 to get another pair of similar quality.  

The moral of the story?  It's cheaper to find your local cobbler and repair a pair that you love than to buy a new pair.   But....if you have gently used pairs that you aren't going to wear, please donate them to someone who will. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Illinois Weekend: Morton Arboretum & Naperville

Squirrel enjoying a snack
When I was back in Illinois two weeks ago I also spent a day out of the city with a friend.   Our conversation went like this?  Is there something you particularly want to do?  No, but if it's nice, I'd like to be outside.   She did a great job suggesting the Morton Arboretum.  It's fall, there are leaves changing colors, you get a little fitness, and learn about nature.   We just won't mention the giant caramel apples.   The kind that are sliced, put in a boat, covered with warm caramel and then covered with all your favorite nuts and crushed candy bars.   A fantastic fall day all around. 

The arboretum has a current art exhibit called Nature Unframed
The pictures above and below are a part of the exhibit

Many of the trees were still a week or two away from changing colors.
This one was ahead of the curve.
Tapas at Tango in Naperville
Bacon wrapped plantains and scallops...yum!

Finished off by stopping off at Gelati for dessert

Sunday, November 6, 2011

DU Vin Festival Wine Dinner 2011

You know you're at the right building because there is a pineapple on the sign.

What?  You didn't know?  The pineapple is the international symbol of hospitality.

Everyone loves a free dinner.   Even better when it's five courses.  With wine.  Lots of wine.  Ruffino wines to be exact.  Our company bought a table for the event and we were the lucky ones who enjoyed an evening being served (we work in a hotel...we spend all day every day taking care of others).   Take eight people who work in hospitality, who know a lot about food, wine and service, and you know the conversation will be lively.  Every new wine was an excuse to toast the table.   As much as I like food, I think that I enjoy things on a simpler level and I don't tend to analyze all the ingredients and whether their flavors and textures compliment each other....but it's very entertaining listening to my friends who do.  For me:  Do I like it?  Check yes or no.  For the seniors in the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management this is one of their big projects.  I think back to my senior projects at Illinois and this was an entirely different, very impressive, animal.  Three of the seniors have been / are employees at our property.  It made us proud.   And of course we gave the most enthusiastic applause to the students who are "ours." 

As always, I'm taking pictures of the food.   But then I fest.  No pictures of the wine.   Oh well.  You know what wine looks like.  Know that wine was enjoyed with each course.   Cheers!

Shrimp BLT with Roasted Pork Belly

Pappardelle Bolognese

Seared Sea Scallop

Roasted Leg of Colorado Lamb
conversation over this course went like this:
Friend:  I like food in a more rustic style
Me:  So, you like big hunks of meat
Friend:  That's what she said
(toasting our glasses)

Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake – Vanilla Gelato

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Size 12 Woman in a Size 8 World (of shoes)

You could feel the disappointment this morning at Nordstrom Rack.    It was the semi-annual large size shoe event (10.5 - 13).   Big footed women of south Denver had made the trek first thing in the morning hoping to get their hands, and feet, on some stylin' shoes.   One lady said that she had driven up from Colorado Springs.  We're bunched in the back of the store trying not to trip over each other (we have big feet, that makes it challenging).  Why were we sad?   There were only two racks, top to bottom, of size 12 shoes.

Other than Nordstrom / Nordstrom Rack and Payless (which are the opposite ends of the shoe spectrum) there aren't many options to go shoe shopping in person.   I'm thankful for sites like Zappos and Shoebuy that carry pink tennis shoes, orange gogo boots and other, more practical, shoes for the big footed.   

For the size 12 woman, you don't usually get to make a spontaneous shoe purchase.   You're with your girlfriends and you stop at DSW.   They are trying on all kinds of cute sandals (summer) and sexy boots (winter).  You futilely scan the rows looking for the colored stickers that identify the size 11 or size 12 shoes.   You've almost given up hope.   Then you see it.   One pair in your size.   You grab the box like it's Christmas imagining that you will have a fun new pair to wear out tomorrow.  No dice.   They are orthopedic shoes in a charming shade of oatmeal. 

I managed to escape air of depression in the back of the store.   I made it out with two pairs today.  One pair was so cute that I changed into them right away.    For today I'm going to bask in the glow of my new Steve Madden flats.    And no sympathy for you size 8 ladies.  They probably had 10 racks of shoes in your size.

I Like Big Bundts: Key Lime Coconut Bundt

November 15 is National Bundt Day.   How do I know this?   The Food Librarian has been hosting her third annual I Like Big Bundts feature on her blog, showcasing 30 bundts in 30 days up to the big day.  Since November 15 is a Tuesday and it seems unlikely that I would be baking a cake, I took the opportunity to pre-bundt.   I had my first slice this morning for breakfast and it was a winner!   Although I favor chocolate a lot of the time, I also love citrus desserts (sorbet anyone?).   Although sometimes I use just plain store brand lime juice for baking, I did go and get the original Nellie and Joe's Key Lime Juice since it's so good.

I think parts of the recipe could be incorporated into my rum cake recipe making a killer key lime rum cake.   When I'm in the Caribbean, I can't resist picking up the assorted Tortuga Rum Cakes and key lime is always one of the flavors.
A beautiful Aruba sunset to set the mood

Even if it's gray and 40 degrees outside your window, have a slice of this bundt and waste away Margaritaville style.

Recipe from Betty Crocker

Graham topping/filling:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 15 squares)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Cake Batter:
3 cups flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter/margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup whipping cream
4 teaspoons grated lime peel  (I got this from one big lime)
1/4 cup key lime juice
1 cup flaked coconut

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel
4 to 5 teaspoons key lime juice (I went heavier on this because I love much as big bundts)
2 teaspoons flaked coconut

Heat oven to 350.   Grease 12-cup bundt pan with shortening/spray, lightly flour.   In a small bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar and melted butter.    In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. 

In a large mixing bowl beat 3/4 cup butter and granulated sugar with electric mixer on medium for 2 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time beating after each egg.   On low speed, alternately beat in flour and cream.   Add 4 teaspoons lime peel and 1/4 cup lime juice; beat just until blended.   Stir in 1 cup coconut.   Sprinkle half the graham cracker crumb mixture in bottom of pan.   Spoon half of batter over crumbs, spreading evenly.  Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture then cover with remainder of cake batter (still spreading evenly).  

Bake 45-55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.   This time (at Denver altitude) I baked it on the low end 45 minutes and it was ready to go.  Cool for 15 minutes.   Use a knife to gently separate the cake from the sides of the pan and then flip it over and out onto a cooling rack.  

Once it's cool, make the glaze of awesomeness by mixing the lime juice, zest and powdered sugar in a small bowl.   Put a piece of wax paper under the cooling rack and you can spoon the glaze over the cake.   Any glaze that ends up on the wax paper is fair game to respoon onto the cake (or right into your mouth).   Garnish with flaked coconut.

I like big bundts....and I cannot lie

11.26.11 Big Bundt Update - The Food Librarian posted the round up of the 144 bundt cakes submitted for National Bundt Day.  My bundt is #7.  Click here to get your bundt on!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Denver Restaurants: Hickory House

I'm just going to come out and say it.   I LOVE Hickory House.  When I first moved to Colorado I started driving around my neighborhood....about 10 miles in every direction.   One time, when I'm sure I was looking for something like Target or Old Navy I headed south down Parker Road.   And kept going.   And then I saw the Hickory House and made a mental note.   In the past six years, I've taken most out of town visitors here for dinner.  It's one of the few places I've found completely on my own without a friend's recommendation or an online review.   It was an added bonus when a coupon came up a few weeks ago from Denver Perks...and that I had a $10 credit.  That made dinner a big $5 plus tax/tip.    Just writing about this now makes me hungry.         

Always start with the onion rings

Combo #2 with smoked pork
Put some pork and baked beans into your baked potato and dive in

Recipe: Halloween Mini Cheesecakes

Obviously I should have posted on Halloween.   But think positively, if you find Halloween Oreos at the store now you know they will be on sale.   And candy corn usually hangs around until Thanksgiving. 

Earlier this year I made Thin Mint Mini Cheesecakes.   So I was on board with another round for Halloween.   This time the recipe came from Gingerbread Bagels.   I can already see a possibility of doing these again with the Christmas or Mint Oreos down the road.     I followed the recipe on Gingerbread Bagels except I used reduced fat cream cheese, and when I didn't have quite enough sour cream I used plain non-fat yogurt to make up the difference.  Maybe next time I will go crazy and go for full fat all around!

Small victory - we had a little Halloween sweet treat contest at work on Monday and I won a grocery gift card for my effort.   I garnished these with a small piece of Halloween Bark.   Now, I just need to get a copy of the winning recipe.  It was almost a pumpkin cobbler.  Delicious. 

Thank You Sole Much

We are approaching the final two weeks of the Soles 4 Souls Flippin Good Deeds Challenge sponsored by Flip Flop Wines.  Last night while the snow was coming down here in Denver, my sister and I started our first Sole Spellathon.   We had lots of donated shoes to choose from and this is just a sampling.   Tomorrow more shoes are heading to the S4S warehouse in Golden.  Friends and co-workers have been very generous and un'sole'fish with their used shoes.   Thank you sole much!


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