Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Farm to Table in Boulder

D and I traveled to Boulder, Colorado for the second annual Grand Masters Ultimate Frisbee tournament. He was competing with a team from Atlanta called Ball and Chain. During my research for stuff to do on our trip, I searched for restaurants featuring locally-produced food. I was thrilled to find out that one of D's teammates has a cousin who, along with three other partners, runs Cafe Aion, a farm-to-table restaurant in the university area of Boulder and invited the team to a private dinner party at the restaurant on Sunday night after the tournament. Cafe Aion's website says it perfectly:

We aspire to cultivate this tradition in our own local soil. We gather our ingredients from farmers, ranchers and fishmongers we know and admire, and we draw upon the time-honored practices of the osteria and tapas bar as we cook for our friends and neighbors.

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves here, the decor and ambiance; the food and drink; and the professional and resposive waitstaff were all lovely.

We started by sampling some local beer, and I settled on a New Belgium Fat Tire from Fort Collins. The staff set out tasty hummous, bread, and really delicious oysters wth homemade horseradish. At the table, we found dishes of vegetable anti-pasta (green pepper, onion, and olives) and marinated lentils.

I enjoyed the way the staff did the party for us: they just sent stuff out and we didn't have to choose from the menu. I have a very hard time making restaurant decisions, particuarly with a new place, and it was nice to sample a variety of things sent from the kitchen. I read a review of the restaurant online after the meal, and I love the way the chef creates little treats for the table from kitchen leftovers: :

Dakota Soifer's chicharrones, seasoned with a dash of chile oil and salt, are crispy puffs that crack between the teeth and dissolve on the tongue almost instantly, leaving behind nothing more than the sweet smokiness of pork. They're not on the menu at Cafe Aion, but they're sent, along with other scraps-turned-tapas, to diners as thanks for their business, and as a way to use every part, even the skin, of the pig the chef buys to make sausage and ribs and pancetta.

The house-cured meats were delicious. We sampled some sausage and a pate that was served with bread and olives.

For our main courses, the kitchen staff sent out a nice paella with squid, shrimp, and chorizo. For me, the dish was a bit heavy on the rice and a touch bland--but I like fiery dishes. I might have put a dash of hot sauce on it, but I didn't ask for hot sauce and none was on the table. They also brought us plates of rare and medium-rare strips of beef, perhaps a london broil or a flank steak, with roasted vegetables. Best of all was that I recogznized the baby white turnips on the plate as those I saw on display at the farmer's market the day before. I so wanted to buy a bunch and prepare them back in our kitchen hotel, but we didn't have the time.

Dessert was a slice of fresh strawberry tart with a luscious cream base. They also brought us a plate of biscotti, iced ginger snaps, and caraway-seeded shortbread to go along with coffee or espresso.

What a wonderful find in Boulder. I definitely recommend putting Cafe Aion on your agenda if you visit the Boulder area.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A group of us went out to dinner at a place called The Kitchen, a recommendation from a friend who recently visited Boulder. The service wasn't so hot, and they had a disappointingly small number of local wines on the menus, but the food and the ambiance were outstanding. Especially good was the tomato soup that our 7-year old dinner companion ordered. You wouldn't think tomato soup would be so remarkable, but she shared it with everyone at the table and we all raved and tried to guess the secret. If you instinctively guess "butter" for the ingredient that makes everything better, you win--to my great surprise. I thought the soup was made of fresh tomatoes and olive oil, but I was totally wrong.

The waiter was kind enough to ask the chef to give me the recipe.

The Kitchen's Tomato Soup

1 can quality tomatoes (the chef used organic tomatoes from California canned with basil)
2 medium onions
Salt & Peper

Sweat down the chopped onions in butter. Combine with the canned tomatoes and cook over low heat. Finish with cream and blend in a blender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I'm looking forward to making this with both canned and fresh roasted tomatoes to see if there's a difference. I'll report back. : )

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Sourdough Pancakes

I have three sourdough starters going in my fridge: one from San Francisco, one from Denmark, and one from the week that we got married two months ago. We're going on vacation next week, and we're also experiencing a heat wave, so I don't want to make bread today, but I hate wasting the sourdough starter when I feed it. I used the wedding sourdough to make these sourdough pancakes this morning with some leftover mixed berries from the tart we made yesterday for the family Fourth of July picnic. We made the tart with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries from the Farmer's Market. Topped with maple syrup with a side of pork sausage, it was delicious.

Sourdough Mixed Berry Pancakes

1 large egg
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup granulated sugar

Mix together all; drop 3 tbsp plops into a smoking cast iron griddle with melted butter. Watch carefully and turn once when the pancake top starts to bubble; turn again and watch even more carefully 'cause the second side burns quickly. Turn to make sure the pancake is a golden brown. If it is, place it on a plate, top with a prudent pat of butter, and pour some maple syrup over them to taste. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

50 Year Old Cupcakes

My dear friend turned 50 this week and invited a few of us to a dinner party on Friday night. I polled his closest friends about his favorite things, and everyone agreed that buttercream frosting, maple, and bourbon were his three favorite sweet tastes. I created the frosting from a basic Martha Stewart frosting recipe, in consultation with my mother. It was a little tricky because the syrup and bourbon started to candy and harden while I was making it, but it really was worth it. Delicious.

I debated over what cupcake to use, and finally settled on an Apple Spice Cupcake from the book "cupcakes" that D and I received for our wedding. (cupcakes: Luscious bakeshop favorites from your home kitchen by Shelly Kaldunski). The finalists were carrot, zucchini, and french vanilla. If it were Fall, I might consider a pumpkin cupcake. The cupcakes came out a little too tender; D suggested baking them a little longer than the recipe called for. I already baked them for about 15 minutes more than the recipe below called for because our oven's temperature is a little bit off.

I also used silicone baking cups that my sister in law gave me a few months ago, but I don't think I will use them again. The cupcakes stuck to them too much, and they weren't as convenient as the paper ones. I'm not convinced that the paper ones are so bad for the environment anyway that you have to use re-usable ones.

Bourbon-Maple Buttercream Frosting

3 large eggs
1 cups pure maple syrup, preferably grade A dark amber
3 tbsp bourbon
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4 cup

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour maple syrup into a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium-high heat; bring syrup to a boil. Cook syrup for about 15 minutes as it begins to thicken. When done, it will start to harden on the spoon when you stir and remove the spoon with some syrup residue and let sit for a moment.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. While the electric mixer is running, pour the syrup in a slow, steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl into the egg-yolk mixture (it is essential that the syrup touches the side of the bowl as you pour it in so the sugar will be very evenly incorporated and not splatter onto the sides of the bowl and harden into candy) until the syrup has been completely incorporated, about 1 1/2 minutes. Beat until the bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add butter, one piece at a time, until all of it has been completely incorporated and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more. Use immediately, or keep refrigerated for up to a week. Makes 2 cups.

Apple Spice Cupcakes

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
5 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into small chunks
4 tbsp plus 1 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose or cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 pinch of cloves
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 4 tbsp of butter. Add the apple chunks and the 2 tbsp of sugar and cook, stirring often, until the apples start to turn brown and carmelize, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves. In another bowl, mix with an electric mixer the remaining 12 tbsp of butter and the 1 1/2 cup of sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.

Slowly add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add the sour cream and the cooled apple mixture, beating until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to the wire rack and let cool completely for about an hour.

Frost the cupcakes and serve.

I decorated mine with candied ginger.