My glandular problem

I don’t usually roll out restaurant reviews, but occasionally I will if the meal itself was truly exceptional. Also, if I remembered to behave like a gauche tourist and take pictures of each dish with my iPhone. This past Saturday, we enjoyed a meal that I feel deserves some bloggish accolades.

But first I’m going to show you pictures of our trip to Cottonwood Kennels in Boulder, CO. We were invited by our good friends Bex and Nate (who live in Boulder). They have a baby a few weeks older than Emmett, and said that they were going to go play with baby animals on Saturday afternoon. Given my love for manhandling immature livestock, I immediately said we’d join them. The kennel is part doggie bed and breakfast, and part farm animal sanctuary, and they’d recently come across a pair of lambs, both of whom had mothers who refused to care for them adequately. I’m picturing a sort of “Teen Mom 3: Sheep” situation. The lambs were DARLING, and Emmett was totally thrilled. Then we went outside the kennel, where we got to see an obese sheep named “Willie,” and an alpaca named “Nicholas” who we were told was aggressive and should be avoided.
But Nicholas had other plans. He took an immediate shine to Emmett, and followed him around licking and nuzzling him. And
And yet again

So I guess my baby is some kind of camelid-whisperer. Good to know. I’ll have to make sure his high school adviser helps him select the best college for textile production with a minor in Andean herding.

After exposing the young ones to barnyard allergens for their own good, we took them to Bex and Nate’s house, where a sweet girl with feathers in her hair, and wearing a hemp tunic, babysat them.

The Denver area isn’t exactly known for its fine dining options. Sure, we have a few Frank Bonnano restaurants that are very good, and we’ve got the Vesta Dipping Grill, which is either good or bad, depending on what day you go. And other good restaurants are sprinkled here and there. But it’s pretty weak compared to the bigger cities. Colorado is mostly like, “We’re too busy hiking and playing frisbee golf to be concerned with uppity food.” Even the most upscale places have people dressed in “Colorado Chic,” which includes jeans and cargo pants. Always. We have good grocery stores, though. It’s our saving grace.

But Boulder. Man, Boulder is like this little gourmet microcosm of organic ingredients prepared artfully and beautifully. There are great restaurants EVERYWHERE in Boulder, and they all use local produce and humanely-produced meat. I’m jealous. But it’s only 45 minutes away, so I can’t complain too much. And the restaurant we chose this time around was truly something else.

FRASCA. The restaurant was recently featured in Bon Appetit magazine, and is supposed to be the best dining in the Denver metro area. The restaurant focuses on the Friuli region of Italy, and closes its doors to take its entire staff to Italy for a learning trip each year. Lucky sons of bitches.

The meal consists of four courses, plus a salumi plate if you choose to order it. We did. Freshly shaved prosciutto San Daniele, speck, and house-cured salami. The order came with fresh grissini (skinny breadsticks) and a horseradish creme fraiche for dipping. I said “screw the creme fraiche” and just wrapped the different cured meats around my breadsticks and went at it. AMAZING. The prosciutto is shaved using a giant, cherry red, free-standing meat slicer near the entrance, and is fresh and sweet and ever-so-slightly floral. The speck was smoky and fabulous, and the house salami was rich and buttery. I didn’t take a picture of it, because we ate it in seconds.

Between the four of us, we then ate 16 courses of food. Each of us tried each dish, and they were all excellent (except I wasn’t thrilled at the cooked fish dishes). I’ll not wax poetic on each one, or this blog would be 40 years long, but I’ll post the pictures I have and the description per the menu:

Yellowfin tuna crudo, avocado, cucumber, ginger


This was mine, and was a play on the raw fish that’s served in Friuli, though I doubt avocado and ginger are typical accompaniments in the region. The server made it very clear that it was just inspired, though, so none of us could be like “What? You mean Friuli, JAPAN? SUCKA!”

Pigs’ head two ways, mostarda, frisee


This was terrifying sounding, but actually totally delicious. It shocked me that it wasn’t repulsive or organ-like, but tasted mostly like a very rich ham hock

Cure Farms duck egg, spring vegetable, veal sweetbreads

Tasty business, though I have no idea what fer vegetable that curly green thing is. Sweetbreads are glands. I’m proud to say I tried one. My very first offal EVER. It tasted like the fattiest part of a steak, and wasn’t bad. But it was still a GLAND, you know? So it was a little hard to wrap my brain around.

Berkshire pork, fresh chickpea, roasted pepper and romesco

I’d never had a fresh chickpea before. Very nice texture. And romesco is a nut-based sauce, for those who don’t know.

Buccatini, Cure Farms duck egg yolk, guanciale, pecorino

This was my second course. I love buccatini, and I love a good carbonara–bacon and egg pasta–so this was up my alley. Rich, decadent, and huge depth of flavor from the guanciale. Guanciale is kind of like a bacon made from pork jowl.

House-made pappardelle, Watson Farm lamb, and fava bean

Was a little weird to be eating lamb so soon after bottle-feeding a pair, but the dish was tasty nonetheless.

Fried eggplant, tomato, and basil with house-made spaghetti


Like an exceptionally tasty bite of eggplant parmesan, really.

Tortelloni with jalapeno pesto, fresh peas, and smoked trout


I think that’s what it was. Regardless, it was fishful and not my favorite thing.

Berkshire pork, rapini, cauliflower and mostarda

This was my third course, and the berkshire pork belly was just fabulous, as pork belly tends to be. Unctuous, porky, and very well paired with the rapini and mostarda. Cauliflower is not a friendly beast in my books, but I ate it anyway. It was nicely caramelized, and only in small little bits around my plate.

Sea Bream, peperonata, potato, and hazelnut


Chris ordered this. Nobody knows why, since neither he nor I appreciate fish very much. I tasted it. It, too, was fishful. Blargh. Very well cooked, though. I can at least give them credit for that.

Halibut, morel, egg, and leek

Fish fish fish fish. The morels were beautiful, though, and I think I’ve now identified the squiggles as “leek.” Is there anything better than a deliciously prepared, in season mushroom?

Spring lamb, fennel, chickpea, and anchovy


Delicious lamb, again, much to my chagrin. This is starting to make me feel baaaaaaaa-d (HA!)

TIME FOR DESSERT

Lemon mascarpone “cheesecake” parfait with graham cracker biscotti

Mine, and fabulous by all counts. Seriously, I would happily drown in a vat of this. I think it had lemon curd on the bottom and rhubarb compote on top.

Caramel buttercream, chocolate torte, valhrona ganache, and cashew stracciatella gelato


This was Chris’s and he tied with me for my favorite dessert. That caramel buttercream was outstanding.

Brown butter hazelnut frangipane, banana, hazelnut crumble, toffee gelato

This was good in a “bananas foster on Rodeo drive, refusing to sell any classy dresses to Julia Roberts” kind of way.

Passionfruit crostada with passionfruit glaze and custard gelato


Come on, who doesn’t love passionfruit? Don’t get confused between papaya and passionfruit like I sometimes do. Passionfruit is sweet and tasty. Papaya smells and tastes like vomit. If I have a few tropical drinks, then I also confuse guava into the mix. As for this dessert: the little slab was sweet and fruity, with floral notes. Very nice and understated.


That was the end of the meal. Of course, by this time we’d consumed two bottles of wine (I don’t remember the name, but it’s what the sommelier told us to get), and had to send another bottle back because it was “corked.” That means skunky, basically. I looked like a douche, too, because when he brought the bottle over for me to taste, I was laughing about how silly the whole song and dance of tasting wine seems (we’re not wine educated in any way). The sommelier said “you never know when you’ll get a bad bottle, though. It could be this one.” He then smelled the cork, winced, gave it to each of us to smell, and it smelled like a basement. It tasted awful. He was grandly amused at the timing of the bad bottle. He said it happened once before to people who didn’t think it was necessary to taste wine before accepting it. Wine karma, I guess.

The two good bottles, though, were very good. I think it was Villa Russiz sauvignon from Friuli.

So Frasca. Yeah. Great restaurant. Give it a try next time you’re in the Denver/Boulder area. And perhaps sell a kidney first, because the price of a dinner for four with wine is about the same amount you’d expect to pay for a single plane ticket to Friuli, Italy.

Or about five hand-spun Alpaca sweaters. I should learn to start explaining monetary things in a way that will make sense to Emmett when he’s older.

Jew food

Chris (my husband) is a computer whiz. He built ours from scratch, and it’s fast enough that it can do whatever it is that fast computers do. Sudoku or something. He knows all about virus software and spreadsheets and programming, and he’s sometimes a little bit…overzealous about trying to make it do things just for sport. So given his vast knowledge, you’d think he wouldn’t download viruses and screw everything up. But ahoy! He did! He says it was from downloading how-to videos on stock investing so he could play them on his iphone while he was at work. I say it was from looking at naked ladies. But I blame everything on that. Like the lightbulb above the sink went out, probably because of naked ladies. He insists he never looks at naked ladies, but if that’s so true, then since when did stock videos start coming with free viruses? Hmm? So he has the computer up and running again, though it looks nothing like it did before. All of my pictures are viewed with a yellow tint. Why? I don’t know. Probably because of naked ladies. And I can’t find any of my old links. So if this post looks screwy or the pictures aren’t attractive, then I’ll apologize on behalf of the naked ladies who advise on stock purchases.

With that said, I’ll move on to the point of this post.

I’m a total Jewish mother when it comes to food. Nobody can enter or exit my house without being force fed and sent home with leftovers, and if there is empty space on a pantry shelf, it immediately gets filled with some kind of canned or dried food because GOD FORBID there should ever be a garbanzo bean famine and I’m left unable to feed my family and all of the neighbors who may stop by to talk about the weather. Also, I like to save and use schmaltz for things, and the idea of 8 crazy nights seems brilliant. To my Jewish friends, thank you for letting me appropriate parts of your culture for my own. You’re a lovely people.

And why isn’t “Jew” an acceptable word in online Scrabble? It’s not like it’s derogatory or obscure.

But alas, I’m a gentile who loves bacon. Doesn’t mean I can’t get behind some decent Jew food, though. I was craving potato pancakes the other day, and I saw a recipe in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook for scallion and potato cakes that looked phenomenal. Actually, they looked not unlike the hashed brown cakes they serve at Snooze, which is arguably the best breakfast that has ever been served anywhere. Instead of being blandly flopped around on a griddle, like at Ihop or another terrible chain diner, they’ve got this deep brown crust of shredded potato on both sides. When rapped with a fork, the crust gives way like the caramelized sugar on a creme brulee, revealing a creamy, flavorful shredded potato interior.

In the Ad Hoc version, the interior of the cake is laced with thin shreds of fresh scallions. In my version, there are also liberal studs of fresh black pepper. Why not? Black pepper is such a fantastic seasoning, and it seems like people have forgotten about it as of late, instead preferring to cover things in miso or ras al hanout or harissa. Those are all delicious, but you’ve got to give credit to salt and black pepper sometimes. They’re clean, honest ingredients that allow your food to be itself.

There was a crazy good deal on “london broil” at Whole Foods, so I picked some up. London broil is a dish, not a cut of meat, but that doesn’t stop butchers from using the term all willy-nilly. These were basically just thick top round steaks, which means a few things. First, they wouldn’t be very tasty braised, since they’re lean and don’t have much connective tissue. Second, they’d need to be medium rare and sliced against the grain. Easy enough, right? A quick trip to the grill or the broiler and we’d be all set. But I felt like sous-viding, so that’s what I did. I rubbed the beef with a basic steak seasoning blend (Wash Park All-Purpose seasoning from Savory Spice Shop in Littleton), then sealed it up in the chamber sealer and stuck it in the water bath at 115 degrees for three hours. Then a quick sear, a rest, and slicing, and it was ready to go. I served it at room temperature with the potato cakes.


I’m going to share the recipe for the potato cakes, but you should know that it’s stolen directly from the Ad Hoc cookbook, so credit where credit is due and all…

Ingredients

5 Scallions
3 lbs Large Russet Potatoes
½ Cup Cornstarch
Canola Oil
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200˚F. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.

Cut away the ends of the scallions on a severe diagonal and discard, and then cut the dark greens into very thin slices. (Reserve the remaining scallions for another use.) Set aside.

Set up a food processor with a coarse shredding blade. Peel the potatoes and shred them. Immediately transfer them to large bowl of cold water and swirl and rinse the potatoes. Lift them from the water and dry in a salad spinner. Transfer to another large bowl. Spoon the cornstarch around the sides of the bowl and toss the potatoes with it (adding the cornstarch this way will help to coat the potatoes evenly). Do not let the potatoes sit for too long, or they will release their starch and the centers of the potatoes can become sticky.

Heat some oil in a 10-inch nonstick frying pan over medium high heat until the oil is shimmering. Turn down the heat to medium. Add 1/6 of the potatoes, gently spreading them into an 8 to 9-inch circle. Keep the potato cake light and airy; do not press down on the potatoes. Season the mixture with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Reserve ¼ cup of the scallion greens for garnish, and sprinkle 1/3 of the remaining scallion greens over the potatoes. Carefully spread another 1/6 of the potatoes on top; again, do not press down on them. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, to brown the bottom
. You should hear the potatoes sizzling in the oil; if the potatoes get quiet and are not sizzling, or the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Turn the pancake over to brown the second side. The pancakes are somewhat fragile and can be difficult to flip with a spatula; if you don’t feel comfortable turning them, invert the pancake onto the back of a baking sheet, held tilted over a second baking sheet, as some oil may seep out, then return the pan to the heat and slide the potato cake into the pan browned side up. Cook until the second side is browned and crisp, then transfer to the rack and keep warm in the oven while you cook the remaining 2 pancakes.

Cut each pancake into 4 wedges, stack on a platter, and garnish with the reserved scallion greens.

Serves 6

There are a lot of WORDS in this recipe, but it’s really simple. And I found when the recipe suggested to cook for “6-7 minutes,” that the author of the cookbook was probably high. It took me at LEAST 10 minutes to get a good golden brown on the bottom. I’m a stickler for that golden brown crust. Pale, anemic looking breads and meats and potatoes just make me feel sad on the inside. They’re the food equivalent of a limp, clammy handshake, where you’re asking yourself “are your hands schwaggy because you’re nervous? Or have you spent the last 45 minutes in your car with the windows rolled up and your hands on your balls?”

Gross.

Scallion pancakes though? Not gross. Make them. And make some inexpensive cut of pastured steak to go with them, because they go so well together. And the leftovers make a breakfast to die for, for the days you can’t get to Snooze, or for when your neighbor stops by to tell you about how the weather is going to change soon because her hip has been acting up and that’s a SURE SIGN that the weather is going to change, or that there are naked ladies afoot.

Just a tip, just for a second, just to see how it feels

When I first started trying to eat organic, I went about it like I was mentally compromised. I could have been almost as efficient by just setting fire to my money and eating the ashes. I’d pick a recipe I wanted to make, then go to the store to buy the organic ingredients required for said recipe. I’d buy organic tomatoes in December, pick up full-priced grass-fed ground beef, despite the fact that pastured chicken thighs were 40% off that week. I’d buy a plastic jar of organic rice, paying 3x as much for the packaging as I did for the actual rice itself. It was an exercise in stupidity, inefficiency, and money wasting. Evangelizing for organics was basically saying to people “hey, everyone should have barrels of disposable income, time to grocery shop every day at a Whole Foods, and ignore all considerations besides organics.”

I’ve been at this for a while now, and I like to think I’ve gotten more efficient at it. I live in Colorado, which means two things. First, I have access to really nice grocery stores. Second, produce season out here is short-lived and limited. Someone in Portland or Napa Valley can access all varieties of fantastic, gorgeous, organic produce with very little effort. Someone in Biloxi may have nothing but Wal-Mart for shopping options and sand for soil. There are cities in the US where produce is basically nonexistent. Poor communities sometimes have only convenience stores for grocery options. So I’ll start by acknowledging that not everyone has access to a full range of organics. And that sucks.

But there are things that most of us can do, for a reasonable price, and without a ton of inconvenience. I’m going to list them here, add to it as I learn more, and invite you to do the same in the comments. The hope is that people who are new to organic, humane eating or want to learn more will be able to use this as a resource.

Most of us already know WHY we want to eat organic, humane meat and dairy. And most of us know the health risks of eating produce that’s coated in pesticide. So I’m going to skip over that for now and just list some of the tricks I’ve learned for saving money and time.

–The larger the cut of meat you buy, the less expensive it’s going to be. Buy a whole chicken and cut it up. Wrap the pieces separately for use in different dishes. Boneless, skinless breasts are the biggest waste of money out there. Often times you’ll see a boneless, skinless breast selling for more than a whole chicken. Ridiculous.

–If you have the capital up front, buying a share in an animal with some friends is a fantastic way to save money. Find a farm nearby that treats its animals well, then buy a quarter cow or a half a pig at once. Split the cost with friends and divide the meat up. Spending $100 on a chest freezer is going to be the best $100 you ever spend, because it’ll allow you to buy in bulk and save money.

–Humane meats go on sale, too! Buy a bunch of whatever is on sale, freeze it, then “shop” from your freezer for whatever meat you want to eat that night. The butcher can freezer wrap your meat for you so it won’t get freezer burn. The styrofoam and plastic wrap packages at normal grocery stores allow your meat to freezer burn almost immediately. If you buy meat in that packaging, take it out and wrap it separately in butcher paper.

–Research what companies will sell you humane meat. Don’t fall for key words like “all-natural” or “certified Angus” that sound like the meat is higher quality than it is. Go to the store knowing what brands are “safe” and what brands aren’t. Whole Foods has a humane ranking system of 1-5 that they just implemented, so that’ll save you a hassle. If you don’t live near a Whole Foods, it can help to find the most “natural” grocery store you can, then make bulk purchases from that grocery store every few months. Farmer’s markets are a fantastic resource, too, and mean you’re supporting local agriculture. Don’t be afraid to ask! Was your chicken pastured? Is your meat grass-fed?

–In restaurants and grocery stores alike, buffalo is *usually* a safe option. Buffalo hasn’t been shunted into the feedlot system in large numbers yet, so is by its nature normally pasture raised. If you’re at a burger place and see buffalo burger on the menu, get it! It’s certainly going to be a better bet than the beef burger. It tastes like grass-fed beef, and it’s leaner and better for you.

–Remember when I said you should ask your butcher if the meat is humane and organic? Ask your server at restaurants, too. Ask, ask, ask. Even if you know the answer. It costs you nothing, and it lets the restaurant know that people are demanding humane meat. If enough people demand it, it will eventually happen.

–Consider being a “restaurant vegetarian.” If you can’t verify that the meat/eggs/whatever are humanely sourced, then order a vegetarian option. It sounds harder than it is. Chris and I started doing this a couple of years ago, and we’ve discovered that the vegetarian meals are often cheaper and just as delicious as the meaty meals. If you find that a restaurant has piss-poor veg options, tell them. Be like, “your options are weak.” Then poke around your plate forlornly and whimper a lot. I’m kidding. Maybe.

–Buy organic milk and pastured eggs. Demand for them has gotten so great that grocery stores almost ALL carry them, and for similar prices to the non-organic options. Paying a little bit more is to be expected. It costs more to do things right. But it’s worth it ethically, and to avoid ingesting hormones. Seven year old girls and 25 year old men shouldn’t have titties.

–Buy in season. If you’re buying an organic tomato in December, you can be guaranteed two things. One, you’ll pay through the nose for it. Two, it will taste like ballsack. Figure out what grows at what time of year, then only buy what can reasonably be considered “seasonal.” If it’s out of season, buy frozen. Frozen are often very high quality, and taste great. Plus, they’re cheaper. Hint: Green beans are in season in the summer. If it’s not summer, buy frozen green beans. That includes Thanksgiving.

–Buy as locally as you can. With gas prices going up, you’re going to pay more for things that have had to travel further to get to you. If the plum you’re picking up was grown in Chile, chances are that they’re a) out of season and b) expensive. Plus, they won’t taste as good as fresh, USA produce. Team Amurrica! Fuck yeah!

–Find a farmer’s market in your area. Buy cheap produce there each week, and enjoy it. I hated tomatoes until I tried a fresh, vine-ripened, local tomato. It’s a whole different fruit, I swear to God, than the nasty, mealy crap they put on your salads at Wendy’s. Get to know the farmers. Find out if they grow organic. Chances are, they do. Even if they aren’t certified organic because they’re small-scale. Hit up the organic stands and tell them you appreciate their efforts.

–Buy extra from the farmer’s market, and freeze it! Not all of us can our own food, but most of us do freeze things. Remember that chest freezer I told you about? Still paying for itself…

–Grow your own! Not pot. Vegetables. Figure out what will grow easily in your climate and give gardening a shot.

–Choose your battles. If you have financial restrictions, and can’t afford to go 100% organic, then decide what’s the most important to you. Meat is the #1 for me, since hormones and e-coli and ammonia aren’t something I want in my body. Plus I like animals and want them to be happy. Then, consider the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables. These are the ones that have the most pesticide residue, and are the most important to purchase as organics:
Apples
Cherries
Grapes, imported (Chili)
Nectarines
Peaches
Pears
Raspberries
Strawberries
Bell peppers
Celery
Potatoes
Spinach

–Hit up Costco. I can’t emphasize enough how much money this will save you on organics. They’ve got organic canned tomato products, organic quinoa, organic farro, organic rice, fair trade organic sugar, fair trade organic chocolate, organic fruits and vegetables, organic stocks, humane eggs, milk, and cheese…seriously, they have done an excellent job of adding organic products to their selection, and they do it cheaply. If you don’t have and can’t afford a membership, find someone else who has one. Members are allowed to bring a guest, provided that the member writes the check to pay. Cash is accepted, but most credit cards are not.

–Bulk bins rock. For things like lentils, beans, grains, granola, etc, check the bulk bins at your nearest natural foods store. You’ll save a ton on packaging, and keep some plastic out of the landfills. I have Oxo Snap containers that are labeled for each item I buy in bulk, and I reuse the plastic produce baggies from the bulk area to refill them as necessary. It costs me about $2 to buy a gallon-sized container of dried beans.

–Same goes for herbs and spices. Most natural food stores have bulk spices, so I buy a few tablespoons worth at a time and refill my spice containers at home. The spices are way, way cheaper, and fresher because I only buy what I need for about a month at a time.

–Eat meatless once a week. Meat is expensive! High-protein grains like quinoa are not. And beans are absurdly cheap. You’ll save money, save the planet, and save your arteries by just going meatless once per week. You may find, as we did, that it’s enjoyable enough to do more than once per week. If that seems extreme to you, start by cutting out the big slab of meat on the plate. Use small bits of meat, like diced bacon, to flavor a primarily bean dish. There’s no reason we have to have ginormous hunks of flesh in the center of our plate. In many cultures, meat is used more as a flavoring agent than as a primary source of nutrition, because it’s expensive.

Anyway, this is just a start. If you have tips, please add them. And I’ll continue to be on the lookout for ways to make this whole responsible eating thing a little more accessible and convenient for all of us.