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News! and IFBC! and Things!

Hi folks! I’ve made it through the Menu Management project with most of what’s left of my sanity in tact. I actually had to stay up all Tuesday night to finish my presentation, just in time to give it in class Wednesday. I was so sleep deprived at that point, I can’t even tell you what I said, but I think it went ok. I guess I’ll find out when Chef posts the grades. The nice thing about giving my presentation this week is that next week I get to just sit back and listen to everyone else’s stuff. And then, just like that, the quarter is over. Needless to say, this month on the blog has not gone at all like I wanted it to, but I have a week off of work coming up and this place, and you lovely readers, are at the top of my priority list.

Also, I have a little news to share.

Since I started school in January, I’ve had this grand plan to work until the end of March next year, and save up a bunch of money to get started on this burgeoning culinary career thing I’ve got going. Well, The Universe conspired to expedite the plan by  six whole months. About three weeks ago, I started looking for a new job, something food related, and I’ve been offered a very “low on the totem pole” kinda gig working for Colorado’s largest catering company. Getting that job meant that I could put in my notice at this corporate thing I’ve been doing for about five years and finally start gearing up for the rest of my life. I’ll be a production cook, so lots of potato peeling and vegetable chopping and cookie dough mixing, and needless to say the money is significantly less than what I’ve been making, but I’m SO excited!

I’ve never heard of a Baby Step of Faith. It’s a leap, or it’s nothing at all. So here I am, flinging myself out into the world to do the thing I’m passionate about instead of just earning a paycheck doing something I happen to be good at. What’s weird is that I’m not even a little bit scared. There have been so many signs pointing me in this direction, and I’ve been kind of turning my head away, believing that I wasn’t ready for such a big move. But tell me this… what makes someone ready for that? I think you just have to do it. So, I’m doing it.

Step one was getting the job. Step two is sucking every single bit of experience and knowledge I can out of it.

Now, let’s move on to the more immediate excitement… the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle! It starts tomorrow night with the opening reception, and runs through Sunday afternoon. I am beyond excited about this. It’s my first food blogger conference ever, but all the veterans I’ve talked to have been so welcoming and warm (at least, as warm as you can get over Facebook) that I know it’s going to be a great experience.

IFBC’s sessions are broken into three tracks– Food, Writing, and Tech. If you look at the Agenda online, you’ll see that there’s a LOT of information being covered, and I’m still not entirely sure which sessions I’ll be attending. There are a couple of time periods where there are two sessions I’d like to attend (Learn about butchering beef or about Bordeaux wines? I want to do both!). However, what I think I need the most help with is the Tech side. Luckily, some folks from WordPress will be there to hopefully answer some of my questions about the actual process of making my blog more reachable, but there are other sessions on Branding and using Google + that also sound like they’re going to cover stuff I really need to know. Google + especially feels like the Wild West to me, so I hope I can learn how to make some sense of it.

I’m also really hoping to make some new friends, and get some time to meander around the city a bit.

I have a recipe ready to share (about damn time, right?!) when I get back, as well as an interview from a guy who owns and runs a local ice cream shop. He has a great tip for those of us who aren’t blessed with access to an industrial sized ice cream maker that I think you’ll all appreciate. And, now that all the madness has died down, I’m going to share the menus I created for this fictitious restaurant I’m never going to open. Plus, of course, I’ll be sharing lots of details and information from IFBC.

Thanks for bearing with me folks. Have a great weekend!

Do Good Dine Out

All I want for my birthday is…

As per usual, the end of the quarter at school brings on Panic Mode. This quarter I’m trying to get my menu project wrapped up and it’s a LOT of work. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled recipes and ridiculousness soon. Pinky Swear!

Today is my birthday. I’m never very good at answering those, “What do you want for… (your birthday, Christmas, etc.)?” type questions. It just feels weird to ask for things. I’ve gotten a couple of awesome gifts this year without ever asking, and I like it way more when someone gives because they want to instead of because they feel like they have to.

But I’m going to ask you all for something on my birthday.

Go out to dinner tonight. Or tomorrow night. Or any time this month, really. But, don’t go to just any old restaurant. Go to one that is participating in No Kid Hungry’s Dine Out campaign. These restaurants have promised to help raise money to end childhood hunger in a variety of ways, from special menu items to giving you the opportunity to donate at the register. Some of them are really nice restaurants, and some of them are your local fast food joint, so how much money you spend, and donate, is totally your call. But, you have to do it by the end of September. Maybe even do it more than once.

Yeah, I’m asking as a birthday present for me, but really, I think we all win. You get to eat out, and kids right there in your community get better access to the nutritious food they need to do well in school, retain what they are learning, and keep their little brains and bodies working like they should.

Go here, type in your zip code, and find a place to grub. Just like that, you’re part of the solution. Feels pretty good,  yeah?

For the rest of the month, I’ll be talking about two things.

1) My trip to the International Food Bloggers Conference in Seattle. I’m so excited I could mess myself. But I won’t, because that would be embarrassing.

and

2) Organizations that are really putting it out there to end childhood hunger.

For a sneak peak, check out the guest post I did over on the Heroes Like Us site. There’s some great information about No Kid Hungry’s efforts to get every school kid a good breakfast every day, and also, a delicious and easy breakfast idea to help kick start your day. Lookie there, another win-win!

 

What No One Tells You (I Don’t Want to Open a Restaurant!)

As part of the requirements for me to graduate from culinary school, I must present a restaurant concept as my Senior project. We have to build a menu, cost out at least 20 dishes (not recipes, dishes), create a staffing plan, present all the financials, design a logo and come up with a mission statement. Now, I think most of you have been around long enough to know– I have no desire to open a restaurant. For those of you who are new here, just so we’re all caught up, I have NO desire to open a restaurant. I will gladly support my friends when they open their restaurants. I’ll come eat there, and pay full price, and never ask for free stuff or stand around in their kitchens getting in the way or offering unsolicited advice while they bust their asses trying to get out of the weeds. But me? No thanks.

Except…

What no one tells you is that from the moment you start thinking about this theoretical restaurant concept, it will become the thing you think about All. The. Time. It lures you in the moment you decide what kind of restaurant it will be. If you, like me, make the fatal error of deciding it will be the kind of food you really love to cook, it becomes an obsession. Then, you start coming up with the dishes for your menu: the five salads, the two soups, the eight entrees, the five desserts, the cocktails… and you really start to get attached. I’m waking up in the middle of the night with wacky ideas for things that aren’t even required for the project. Happy hour menus, patio specials, Pick Your Own Veggies From My Expansive Kitchen Garden promotions. Seriously. I DO NOT WANT TO OPEN A RESTAURANT!

Except…

What they don’t tell you is that when you find this real estate listing online that (budget and zoning being non-factors in this scenario) would be perfect once renovated– you start thinking about how to widen the front porch here, knock out some walls there, relocate the kitchen here. And then you get an assignment asking you to put all of the aforementioned on paper, and you’re imagining a bar made of reclaimed barn wood, and tiny vintage half pint jars of flowering herbs on the tables, and buttery yellow paint on the walls next to dark wood baseboards and crown molding. You guys, it’s a trap! I’ve been Ackbar’d.

I really do not want to open a restaurant. I can feel how my badly knees will ache and throb after a long night of service. I can picture that ONE guest who just cannot be made happy, and how badly, and personally, I will take it. I can feel the headache starting to form between my eyeballs when someone on my tiny kitchen staff no call no shows on a night when the book is full of reservations and I can’t reach anyone to cover.

Except…

Not a single person will mention to you that the moment you actually cook one of those dishes from your menu at home, and serve it to people who really love it and who “get” your food, you’ll start to picture the happy guest who also gets it, and keeps bringing friends and family and out of town guests to your little restaurant because, “You have to try these pot roast sliders!” You’ll imagine family meals full of laughter and really dirty jokes told in half English, half Kitchen Spanish. You’ll start to make plans for what happens after you, miraculously, get the first year under your belt and you can really start getting creative.

The thing is, though…

I really, really, really do not want to open a restaurant!

However, this exercise will not be in vain. What it’s given me, or rather, given me back, is something for which I’m incredibly grateful. It’s gotten me back into designing my own dishes, creating my own recipes, and it’s gotten me back to that place where I’m constantly brainstorming how to put all my favorite flavors together in a new way, or how to incorporate new flavors or different cooking techniques into old favorites.

I’ll admit it. I’ve felt like I’ve been in a rut. I’ve wondered if going to school, cooking things someone else’s way, and on someone else’s timeline, has stifled me a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning a ton! I’m cooking things I’ve never cooked before, and thinking about the culture behind the food so much more. But I was starting to get worried that I couldn’t do it on my own anymore– without prompts, without assignments. But this project is not only taking me back to the place where I feel the most…  productive, the most imaginative, the most inspired, and the happiest, but, because it is for school and it is an assignment, I’m doing it with intent, and with my very best effort.

So what will I do with this menu? I’ll cook it! I’ll perfect the dishes. I’ll tweak until they’re just like I want them, until they taste in reality just like they taste in my head. And then I’ll serve my best dishes, the ones I really love, at one hell of a graduation party. Wanna come?

Hoofin’ It!

This is a post about how just one walk can change your perspective, teach you something you thought you already knew, and make you fall in love with your city all over again. Oh yeah, and the food. So much wonderful food!

The folks at Heroes Like Us, along with the Mile High Business Alliance and Imbibe Denver joined forces for Hoofin’ It. What’s that? It’s a four night series of food experiences dedicated to one hoofed animal and one Denver neighborhood each night. The event benefits the local food system work at the Mile High Business Alliance. Participants, broken into three waves each night, visit four local food & drink establishments to enjoy specially prepared snacks paired with beer or a unique cocktail. They walk from place to place (get it? we were hoofin‘ it!), giving them a chance to not only see the neighborhood, but also engage in a conversation that has been getting louder and louder in this country by the day. The topic is a big one, and tries to answer some pretty important questions:

- Where does our food come from?
– How is it being produced?
– Who is producing it?
– Will they be able to keep doing it 100, 200, 300 years from now?

Like I said, it’s a lot.

Before I go any further, let me clarify that there were no serious faces on these little culinary tours. This was fun! We ate some amazing food, had some incredibly interesting drinks, and enjoyed a whole lot of silliness, from hole in one contests to hula hooping.

But in between, the organizers managed to do something Heroes Like Us and their many community partners are becoming quite adept at doing– they taught us something. Not with long lectures, or boring PowerPoint decks, or even shocking pictures of animals being raised in awful conditions. They did it with the food. They did it by introducing us to the people, local ranchers who donated the bison, sheep, pork, and beef for each evening’s dishes, and who every day wake up and work hard, and at much greater time and financial expense than you could imagine, to raise their animals with respect: humanely, and responsibly.

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What they ask in return is that we respect the food, support them in their efforts, and share the message that we can change the food system in a way that makes sure the land, the animals, and the farms and ranches that steward them can continue to feed us, our children, and grandchildren well into the future.

Yes, I’m going to show you the food. I promise! But give me just a few more minutes to tell you which sponsor surprised me most. In fact, they were the main sponsor– The Humane Society of the United States. I had honestly never made the connection between the Humane Society’s mission and food production before. After having the chance to speak with Angela Huffman who does Rural Development and Outreach for the Humane Society, I learned that the HSUS has been working for a long time to improve the conditions on farms, and expose the mistreatment many animals receive on their way to your dinner table.  They are also working with farmers and ranchers who are raising their stock responsibly, so they can further educate those of us who eat meat but want to do so in a way that respects the well-being of the animals we use for food. She, and the organization, took some heat during all four nights of Hoofin’ It from protesters who didn’t think the Humane Society should be there (well, they really didn’t think anyone should be there). I don’t want to get all political on ya, so I’ll just say that I think they might have missed the point. :)

And now… on to the yummy part!

The schedule went like this:

Night One: Bison in Uptown (Bison donated by Prairie Ridge Buffalo Ranch)
Night Two: Sheep in Downtown (Lamb donated by Boulder Lamb)
Night Three: Pork in LoHi (Lower Highlands)
Night Four: Beef in the Ballpark neighborhood.

I attended Night Three as a guest, and Night Four as a volunteer. I had never really spent much time in either of those neighborhoods, so I was pretty excited to find out how great they are! I will definitely be visiting them again.

I’m not going to take you stop by stop because, well, I might go off on another some tangent and this blog post might not ever end. So, the highlights…

The pork for night three was donated by Heritage Belle Farms. I tried hard to think of a favorite for the night, but I was really impressed with everything!

From the root beer pulled pork sliders at Highland Tap & Burger
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To the BBQ pulled pork corn dog from American Grind and the giant mug of Dunkel Bier from Prost Brewing.

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For night four, we were in the Ballpark neighborhood enjoying beef from Callicrate Beef.

We started the night at Trillium, where guests were served beef tartare and a yummy champagne cocktail.

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As we moved through the next three stops, I felt like we hit the slider trifecta!

Wagyu sliders at the Curtis Club

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Bourbon braised chuck roast sliders at The Lobby

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and last, but most definitely not least, barbecue pulled beef sliders at Ignite! Denver with one of my favourite things on this planet– melty, delicious queso!

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I heard rumours that there would be another Hoofin’ It in October. I certainly hope so, and I am looking forward to being a part of it again. It’s not just the food (ok, it’s a lot about the food) that draws me in. It’s the conversation. It’s the genuine interest shared by everyone involved to create a world where we all have a direct connection to the farmers and ranchers who feed us. It’s those “A-ha!” moments so many of us had each night. And it’s my city, my lovely Denver, that never ceases to amaze me.

Does anyone have a good pun about Baklava?

Don’t die of shock, but for once, I cannot think of a food pun. Something about layers? I’m really trying to avoid the old, “It’s all Greek to me!” thing, but, well, I guess I just said it, didn’t I? Dang it!

Let’s just call this, “The Case of the Midnight Baklava.”

A few weeks ago I did the thing I do wayyyy too often where I volunteer to do something just because it sounds like fun and not because I actually have the time to really do it. Well, not do it and also get some sleep, anyway. But, once it was out of my mouth I was committed.

I volunteered to cook lunch for my entire team at work. The lunch was on a Tuesday, and I couldn’t go grocery shopping until the Sunday before. Insert into that a full day at work and class all night on Monday, and what you get is a lot of middle of the night cooking. Thank goodness my roomie is a heavy sleeper because I was in the kitchen right after class on Monday putting together this baklava. That included pounding on a bag of pistachios with a big metal mallet. Good times, yeah?

This recipe is a combination of this one, and this one. The first one calls for pistachios, which I thought was kind of neat and interesting and whatnot, and the other one, from Chef Michael Symon, actually includes cracker or bread crumbs. I took a little from each recipe and came up with this hybrid that turned out really tasty. I still had this bag of honey panko from my trip to H Mart awhile back, so I used those for the bread crumb bit.

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If you can’t find that kind, or even panko, for that matter, just use regular plain bread crumbs. Or cookie crumbs. Or leave them out altogether. Once I give this recipe to you, it’s yours.

Equipment
9×11 baking dish, pan, whatever (I used a disposable recyclable aluminum one)
Pot for melting the butter and making the syrup
Pastry brush if you have one, or a spoon if you don’t
Gallon sized heavy duty freezer bag
Something to crush up the pistachios, like a meat mallet or a can of some vegetable you hate and can’t remember why you bought it
Measuring spoons and cups
Damp towel
Microplane or the small side of your box grater

Ingredients
12 ounces crushed pistachios
1 tsp (or a little more, if you want) ground cinnamon
Phyllo dough (It comes in a 16 oz box, with two 8 ounce rolls. I only used one roll. It’s plenty. Really.)
1 C melted butter
1 C white sugar
1 C water
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 C of honey
1 1/2 C panko bread crumbs (you might not use that much but i like to be prepared)

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter your baking dish, pan, thing.

At my local King Soopers, I found pistachios already shelled. I hope you do, too. I could only find the salted kind, but they actually added a nice little salty-sweet thing to the baklava that I found enjoyable. Anyhoots. Take those pre-shelled nuts and put them in your freezer bag and pound on them until they’re all broken up into little pieces. You’re not really going for pistachio dust, here, so don’t get too angry at them, just a little angry.

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Mix the cinnamon into the crushed nuts. (Ha ha. Crushed nuts. Hi! I’m a 2nd grader!) Set aside.

Melt your butter. Turn off the heat under the pot as soon as its melted. It’ll stay liquid long enough to make this dessert because you’re about to work FAST! Phyllo dough is infamously delicate. It’ll dry out if you don’t get it into the thing you’re using it for pretty quickly. Don’t stress yourself out over it, though. Just keep what you’re not using covered by that damp towel in between layers and you’ll be fine.

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Just think efficiently. Get all your other stuff for this prepped and ready to go before you open the phyllo.

Put two sheets in the bottom of your pan. If you’re using the 9×11 pan, the phyllo will probably be just a little too long. You can trim the extra off, or just let it hang. I did. It was very late at night and absolutely zero f*cks were being given about that sort of thing.

Brush the phyllo pretty liberally with some of the melted butter. If you don’t have a pastry brush, or a basting brush, just drizzle a couple of tablespoons of butter (maybe a little more if you think it needs it) onto the phyllo and swirl it around a little so there are no dry spots or sort of spread it around with the back of a spoon.

Sprinkle about three tablespoons of the pistachio-cinnamon mixture evenly over the phyllo. Then sprinkle a generous handful of your panko over that.

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Put three sheets of phyllo down over all that, butter it, sprinkle the nuts, sprinkle the panko, and then do it all over again. This can be as many layers as will fit the pan you’re using.

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I feel like I got maybe six layers into mine? Just go until you use the last of your nuts. The last layer of phyllo, the one that goes on top, should be six sheets thick, but you’ll want to put down three, butter them, and then put down the other three.

This is one of the few desserts that you actually want to cut before you bake it off. Make sure you have a pretty sharp knife, because you will need to slice through all those layers without tearing the phyllo.

You do not have to cut it into diamond shapes. That’s just how it’s traditionally cut. You can do regular squares if you want. It will still taste delicious. The first link I gave you up there will explain how to do the diamond cuts if you want to do it that way. But really, squares are fine! I didn’t even really do these diamonds very well, but at this point in the process I was actually so tired the baklava started to look like a pillow and I had to try very hard to remember not to lay my head down on it.

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Into the oven it goes for about 35-50 minutes, depending on how many layers you get in there. Mine took about 35.

While your baklava is baking, you can go wash out your butter pot to re-use to make the syrup. It’s important to have the syrup ready to go the moment the baklava comes out of the oven. It will soak in a lot better if the baklava is that just out of the oven kinda hot.

Put 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water into your pot. Bring it to a boil, then add the honey and lemon zest and bring the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. It’ll reduce a bit, but it won’t be too thick.

Or, you know, just do like I did and take an impromptu nap while the baklava cooks and then scramble to start the syrup after it’s out of the oven. Let this be a cautionary tale, though. If you do it that way and then take said baklava on the bus, there is a strong likelihood of the syrup that has not soaked into the pastry getting all over the bottom of your Trader Joe’s bag. Just sayin’.

You’re going to do it right, though. Because you’re going to bake this after having had a lovely 8 hours of sleep or more and ideally when the sun is out.

Once your baklava is all golden and flaky looking on top, take it out of the oven, pour the syrup over it, and then let it sit overnight, or until you wake up again, which might only be four hours later, but that’s OK.

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I must say, it was really effing delicious– buttery and flaky and nutty and just so many good things. This is a dessert with a lot of wow factor, but let’s be honest, is not that much effort. If you make it for people, they’ll probably be too busy stuffing their faces and telling you how good it is to even notice that you’re sleeping with your eyes open.

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On the Farm, Off the Hook!

Have you ever watched someone bliss out over compost? I mean, really just go into an absolute state of eyes closed, face glowing, pure happiness talking about decomposing food scraps and coffee grounds and egg shells? Let me tell you, it’s a beautiful thing. I imagine that’s kinda what I look like when I get all wound up about some food thing. But then again, compost is also “some food thing.” And when you’re sitting at a table full of people who get that, the urge to stand up and do some sort of happy dance while yelling at the top of your lungs, “I HAVE FOUND MY PEOPLE!!!” is overwhelming.

What the heck am I on about?

Heroes Like Us, Yelp Denver, and Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union, along with some great local food and drink people including Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, Infinite Monkey Theorem, Upslope Brewing, DiFranco’s, The BSide Denver, and The Inventing Room, got together to put on the third  in a series of four dinners hosted by local community farms. The proceeds from each ticket sold go right back to the host farm, and once you’ve actually eaten dinner just feet away from the farm where the produce has been growing, and just chairs away from the people who have been growing it, you sort of start to feel warm and happy all over.

The August dinner was hosted by Sprout City Farms at Mountair Park Community Farm in Lakewood.  This farm has been at the park for a year, and has 35 CSA members who buy shares in the harvest and get a delicious box of whatever’s ready on a regular basis.

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As you can see, there was some weather coming, but before the worst of the rain storm blew through, we got a chance to walk around, check out the farm, and watch the chefs from DiFranco’s and The BSide work their magic with nothing more than their knives and some single burner camp stoves.

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Did I mention that the produce we enjoyed at dinner came right from this farm? I know that if it had been me cooking, it would have been impossible to keep me from wandering around looking for just one more wonderful, fresh bit of something to add. I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. I witnessed more than a few impromptu trips out to that beautiful herb bed (“Hey! They’ve got cinnamon basil!”) for some last minute touches.

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Speaking of dinner, check out this menu!

Passed Apps (DiFranco’s):

Goat Cheese Polenta Cake / charred tomato tomatillo chutney, basil vinaigrette

Pecorino Cheese Crisp / roasted beets, arugula, bacon

Course One (The BSide):
Hearty Greens Salad / haystack mountain chevre, Compton Acres plums, chinese mustard vinaigrette

Course Two (The BSide):
Hot Pepper Polenta / summer squash, roasted tomatillos, kokopelli peach basil chutney

Course Three (DiFranco’s):
Housemade Summer Squash Ravioli / braised pork, herbed butter citrus sauce

Dessert Course (The Inventing Room):
Mac Nut Brown Sugar Braised Pineapple Cake / local cherry nitro ice cream, exploding garden mint whipped cream, banana caramel

I can honestly say there wasn’t a single dish that didn’t make my mouth happy. What made me even happier, if that’s possible, was the conversation at my table. The first three courses were served family style, which, even if we hadn’t already been chatting up a storm (pun only sort of intended), would have pretty much forced us all to get to know each other.  Nothing like a big platter of braised pork to get the whole table buzzing! But really, although the food in front of us definitely created some conversation, it was the stories from the other folks at my table that really made my inner people junkie come out.

To my right was Liz, a shareholder in the CSA and also a member of the Community Advocacy Committee. We talked about urban homesteading, and her family’s long history of making the most of what’s available locally, be it here, or in her home state of Oregon. She was quick to correct me when I slipped up and call the Farm a “garden,” and rightly so.  A farm serves a community, just as the one at Mountair Park does, and every single member and volunteer at this farm beams when they talk about their involvement. Liz’s enthusiasm for homesteading, for utilizing what’s in season locally, and for helping anyone who wants to learn how to create meals worthy of all that beautiful produce, was infectious. Without a moment of hesitation I was ready to dig in and help her get the message out.

On my left was Emily, a teacher at Molholm Elementary (just a few blocks away from the farm), and her mom Kay. Emily told me she hadn’t ever really done much cooking, and was still learning how to cook with the goodies she gets in her CSA box. But, until she became a member at the farm she had never really been all that excited about trying. Now, if she gets a veggie she isn’t familiar with, she knows advice is just a phone call away. The staff and volunteers at Mountair Farm make themselves available for questions just like Emily’s, but also work proactively to organize classes and workshops to help their members stay connected to the farm and the food.

If you have access to a community farm, I can’t recommend enough that you find a way to get involved. Whether it’s by buying shares in the CSA, taking classes, volunteering, or any combination of those things, there’s absolutely nothing like being a part of something that is greater than the sum of its parts like a community farm can be. I’ve never met a farmer who wasn’t genuinely happy to share their knowledge, and there’s something kind of magical about being face to face with the person who grew your dinner (or lunch, or breakfast).  There’s nothing like putting your own hands in the dirt to help you learn about where your food comes from, and why it’s important to pay attention to how its grown and who’s growing it.

If you’re in the Denver area and you want to get in on this warm, fuzzy feeling, I recommend starting with the September On The Farm, Off the Hook Dinner. Ticket’s are $65, and even if all you’re going for is the food, it’s worth every penny, but I’ll bet you a dozen homemade biscuits and a jar of jam that you get way more out of the experience that just a happy belly. All the details are here. It’s the last one for the year, so don’t miss out!

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Happy Winner Wednesday!

Hi folks! I promised to announce the winners to the mini-giveaway today, and here I am, announcing the hell out of it!

The winner of the strawberry tea towel is…

Theresa!

And the winner of the bacon piggie mini-notebook is…

prettypolymath!

If you two lovely people could email me your names and mailing addresses, I’ll get your goodies out to you on Friday. Send the info to gonnacookthat@gmail.com. If you want to give me your Twitter handle, I’ll give you a lil shout out over there, too.

Thanks so much to everyone who commented. I love hearing about what you’re eating and really loving!

P.S.
The winners were drawn at random using this tool:

http://www.miniwebtool.com/random-name-picker/

Wanna know a secret?

Helloooooooooooooo! Happy Monday! How was your weekend? Mine was pretty good. Little of this, little of that. I had a great meeting Friday afternoon with some folks I’m super excited about working with, but I’m keeping that a secret for a little longer. I’m not going to be a total Miss Mysterio, though.  I’m going to let you in on another secret that I promise you’ll thank me for.

If you, like me, love eating out, but do not love having to eat PB&J’s for the next two weeks to make up for the fact that you dropped some serious cash on dinner, I have three words for you:

Culinary School Restaurant.

If your town (or the closest metro) has a professional culinary school, chances are pretty good they have a little restaurant, too. Its primary purpose is to help give practical experience in both the front of the house and the kitchen to its students, but you, the dining public, can definitely reap the benefits of what is usually a fine dining level meal without the corresponding costs.

For instance, my school’s restaurant, Assignments, is open Wednesday through Friday for lunch (3 courses for $12) and dinner (4 courses for $21).  The menus are designed by one of the chef instructors, and both front of the house and back of the house are supervised by one, as well. The boyfriend and I ate there Friday night, and were absolutely blown away by the quality of each dish. I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single disappointment on any of the plates. My entree (the only part of the meal I got a photo of because, well, for the first time ever I just felt really awkward taking pictures of my food) was a grilled steak with fingerling potatoes, asparagus tips, red peppers, and a house made steak sauce.

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Beautiful plating, and my steak was cooked perfectly! Assignments doesn’t serve alcohol, but they do have some really lovely house made sodas and a great selection of fancy waters and teas. The total bill before tip for two of us was less than $50, and I promise you I would have paid much more.

This isn’t just a U.S. thing. Culinary schools all over the world have restaurants. Now, I can’t guarantee they’re all going to be such a great deal as Assignments, but you typically will pay less for a “training” restaurant menu than you would a regular full service restaurant. I also can’t tell you every city with a school has a restaurant, but if you know you live near a school, or you’re going on vacation in a major city like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and even Atlanta, do your homework. If you’re looking to stretch your dining dollar, this is a great way to do it.  I am going to recommend that you schedule maybe 15-20 minutes extra for dinner, just in case there is a little service snafu. Bear in mind, these are students, and you’re their guinea pigs. Nine times out of ten, your meal will go off without a hitch, but bring your patience with you because on the off chance your water glass isn’t refilled or your empty plate isn’t taken away as quickly as you like, the students still appreciate your business and the opportunity to learn from you.

Don’t forget! I’m drawing names for two prizes in my little giveaway on Wednesday morning. In case you missed them, the details are here.

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Cevich-haaaaaaaaaaaaay (and a Mini-Giveaway!)

Have you ever gotten so excited about a new recipe you just tried that you brought a container of it to work and started force feeding it to people? No? Ummm. Me either. *avoids eye contact*

Seriously, though. This Mushroom Ceviche is revolutionary. At least, it was to me. I’ve made marinated/pickled mushrooms in the past. They are delicious. But these are mushrooms that are basically prepared ceviche style, and I am telling you right now I was so pleased with how mine turned out I… well… I got a little twitchy when other people tried to eat some, too. And when it was time to clean up the kitchen and I saw that someone had taken the rest of the bowl away, I was all…

Of course, then I returned to (relative) sanity and realized that I have the recipe and can therefore make more. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE.

And also, I can share it with you! Everyone wins. There’s a fair amount of prep work for this, but I promise you, it’s worth it.

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Equipment:
Knife and cutting board
Large pot and strainer
Large mixing bowl
Spoon for mixing
Meez en place containers of some sort
Blender or food processor (optional)

Ingredients:
3 C Cremini mushrooms, cleaned, cut in half or in quarters (depending on how big they are) and then cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/3 C Celery, 1/4 inch dice
1/3 C Red onion, 1/4 inch dice, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and then drained (takes some of the bite out)
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp Hot sauce (To start. Keep it handy because you might want to adjust it later.)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 C Fresh lime or lemon juice (I used a half and half mixture.)
1 T Olive oil
1/4 C Red bell pepper, julienned
1/4 C Green bell pepper, julienned
1 Jalapeno, seeded and minced
Kalamata olives, quartered, for garnish
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Blanch the mushrooms in boiling, lightly salted water for 30 seconds. Drain.

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Combine the celery, onion, and mushrooms.

Puree the garlic, salt, pepper, hot sauce, oregano, lime/lemon juice, and olive oil until well mixed. Note: I actually just minced my garlic up really finely and then smashed it a little bit with the side of my knife on the cutting board and then mixed it into the rest of the marinade ingredients instead of going to the trouble of dirtying up a blender.

Toss with the mushroom mixture.
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Adjust the seasoning. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Drain and toss with the julienned bell peppers and jalapeno. Note: I actually didn’t totally drain it. There’s some liquid that comes out of the mushrooms, and combined with that marinade it’s just really yummy. You can decide how “wet” you want your ceviche to be.

Garnish with the olives.

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And that’s it, folks. We served it as part of a cold salad plate with this (kinda boring, to be honest) tomato and onion salad that someone else in my group made. I had this amazing plating idea involving homemade tortilla chips and it all got blown to  hell when Chef said we had to plate both salads together with this dumb piece of kale. Effing kale. Go away!

Anyhoots, you can serve yours with tortilla chips if you want. Or on a taco. Or just eat it out of the bowl with a spoon while inhaling Orange is the New Black with your eyeballs pretty much any other way that sounds good to you. Hint: The longer this sits in the marinade, the more flavor it absorbs so if you can make it the night before and let it hang out overnight, do eet!

Also! If you’re not a fan of onion, or can’t eat it for whatever reason, you could substitute with some other vegetable. Carrots marinate well. You could cut them into 1/4 inch matchsticks. Or if you still want something with a little bit of  bite, use radish slices. Just keep it fresh and you can’t go wrong!

And now that you’ve stuck it out to the end of the post… I have details on the promised giveaway!

It’s a little one. I did some shopping at the I Heart Denver store downtown Wednesday night, and I saw all these cute items that made me think of you all. So, I decided to pick up a couple of things and give them away. See how I am? I’m a nice girl.

The first item is this adorable strawberry tea towel from Counter Couture.

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And the second is this little notebook from… I can’t remember. Another Denver based company that makes stationery and whatnot. I had a beer or two at dinner after my shopping trip. Don’t judge me.

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So… there will be two winners! All you have to do to enter is leave a note in the comments on this post telling me about something you’ve eaten recently that got your knickers all in a twist like this ceviche did for me. Easy, right? I may also throw some other random goodies in the packages because in addition to nice, I am also unpredictable.

The winners will be picked at random and I’ll announce their names next Wednesday, August 13th.

Get after it!

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Oh, just stuff it!

Before I get to today’s regularly scheduled blog post, I have a little announcement! Thanks to the help of some very good friends and supporters, I’ve been able to register for the International Food Bloggers Convention in Seattle next month! Woot!

I’m super excited! I’ll have the opportunity to attend sessions about everything from how to build a brand and make the best use of social media to beef butchery to food photography, plus so much more. I’ll be blogging from there, of course, so prepare for me to pretty much just totally geek out all over you lovely people. :)

If you’re willing, able, and interested in doing so, I am still about $75 away from what I really need to make sure I can cover my flight. I’ll make it happen either way, but if you’re able to help out, the link to my GoFundMe page is right here.

And now… on with the show! erm. Post!

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it previously, but I’m taking Latin Cuisine this quarter. We definitely covered Tex-Mex food last quarter in American Regional, but this quarter we’re moving past all those giant blobs of cheese and sour cream to food that is a lot more authentic to Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. I really like the chef who is teaching it, which helps tremendously in navigating all the complexity of Latin cooking.

Last week our main dish was Chiles en Nogada, or Chiles in Walnut Sauce.

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As you can probably tell from the picture, it’s battered and fried, but don’t let that deter you if you’re trying to avoid such things. This isn’t State Fair food or anything. That outside coating can be as light as you need it to be, or even skip it altogether and just pan fry or oven roast these babies. They’ll still be good.

There are a LOT of ingredients to this one, so I’m not going to pretend it’s not labor intensive. However, if you’re looking for a special occasion dish to make for people who are worth the effort, this is a good recipe. You can also customize it pretty easily– leaving out the meat and/or replacing it with mushrooms, or using a different cooking method once the chile is stuffed.

Because there are so many ingredients, and I was afraid I’d miss one, I’m going to just give you the recipe straight from the book. It’s an image, so you won’t be able to copy/paste, but feel free to leave me a comment or email me at gonnacookthat@gmail.com and I’ll send you the recipe in Word format so you can print it out.

I’m going to make some recommendations about this recipe right up front. First, replace the fresh peaches and apples with their dried counterparts. Those two fruits seem to give off a LOT of liquid, and I think it muddied the flavors just a bit. I’m also going to recommend the that you add cumin, Mexican oregano, and some chili powder along with the coriander seeds. I felt like the filling was lacking that punch of flavor I was expecting until I doctored up the seasonings a bit, and that’s the combo (in any ratio you want) that seemed to work best. Also, make sure you’re seasoning after each major addition to the filling mixture with a little salt, to help build up the layers of flavor.

Equipment:
Deep frying pan (this is a lot of filling)
Large pot for frying, or if you’re going to oven roast these without the batter, a baking sheet
Knife and cutting board
Measuring cups and spoons
Large mixing bowl for steaming the roasted chiles
Two small mixing bowls for breading
Toothpicks
Pan or plate for holding the chiles once they’ve been fried
Stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or a balloon whisk if you’re going to mix the batter by hand
Paper towels
Plastic wrap
Spoon (to help peel the chiles after they’re roasted)
Blender
Small container for soaking the walnuts

Ingredients for the stuffed chiles:
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Plus, don’t forget the extra oil for deep frying, if that’s the way you’re going.

Roast (char) the chiles, steam (in your large bowl, covered tightly with plastic wrap), and peel off outer skin without removing the stems. This is where your little spoon comes in handy.

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Make a lengthwise slit in each chile and remove the veins.  Note: This part is tricky. Just do your best. Make your slit toward the stem end of the chile, and use a small spoon to get out as many of the seeds as you want. It’s not necessary to get all the seeds out, especially if you want the chiles to keep a little bit of bite.
Optional: Soak in a salt water and vinegar solution for up to 2 hours to reduce the heat of the pepper.

Heat oil and brown the pork.
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Remove and drain meat; leave fat in pan.
Cook onion and garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes and cook 2 minutes. Combine pork, apples, peaches, plantain, raisins, almonds, pine nuts, lemon zest, and chicken stock with onion mixture. Add spices (coriander, etc.) and season with salt and pepper. Cook over slow heat until almost dry. Allow to cool.

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Stuff chiles with pork mixture. Reshape and secure openings with a toothpicks; chill for 30 minutes. See how I mangled mine? They look like they’re being tortured into submission. We didn’t have toothpicks, just these long, wooden skewers we had to break in half. “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

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Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Lightly beat the egg yolk and mix into whites.
Heat oil to 350°F (175°C) in a deep fryer or pan fry using enough oil so it comes up half the thickness of the chiles.
Dip the stuffed chiles in flour and then in the egg batter, and fry until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels and remove toothpicks.

Ingredients for the walnut sauce:

1 C Walnut Halves
1 C Milk
1 ounce white bread (sandwich bread is fine), torn in pieces
1 C Queso fresco or whole milk ricotta
1 C Heavy cream
1/2 tsp sugar

Soak walnuts in half the milk for 1 hour. Strain and reserve the milk. Rub walnuts in a clean towel to remove the skin.
Soak the bread in remaining milk for at least 30 minutes.
Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.

You can serve these however you’d like. Put the sauce on the bottom or the top, and do yourself a favor and buy a package of pomegranate seeds. Seeding a pomegranate isn’t difficult, but it can be messy, and your kitchen might end up looking like a homicide scene. Save yourself the clean up and take advantage of the convenience item in this case.

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Am I recommending this dish for a regular weeknight meal? Hmmm. Maybe not. But, you can definitely do everything up through stuffing the chiles ahead of time to make the “day of” service a little easier. The flavors will only get better overnight, and the walnut sauce will definitely hold in the fridge overnight. Just warm it up a little before you serve.