Monthly Archives: September 2010

Breathtaking

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Maine

I have been on vacation and as a result have been neglecting my foodie reporting duties…I have lots to say about Maine and will do so when we get home and settled in this week…

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dogs

I’m not sure how loudly I have proclaimed my love for hot dogs in the past, and I’m going to keep on proclaiming because I had one of the most delicious hot dogs of my life in Denver.  I was lucky enough to go to Biker Jim’s Gourmet Hot Dog stand on 16th and Champa.  Anthony Bourdain is supposedly a big fan and now, so are J and I.

It’s a food cart, and they sell hot dogs for $5, but the catch is that these are no ordinary hot dogs.  They serve elk, boar, and buffalo hotdogs along with all beef hot dogs. It seemed like a popular place because there was a line of hungry looking but patient people.

J ordered the Elk jalapeno and cheddar dog.  I went crazy and ordered two different dogs, the veal hot dog and the Louisiana Red Hot (all beef dog).  You can get the option of cream cheese and caramelized onions (cooked with Pepsi) on the dogs.  I was not sure about this but I went ahead and did it anyway and am so damn glad I made that decision.

My other favorite part of this food cart was the variety of toppings they offered:  fresh chopped onions, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, sauerkraut, Sriracha, etc.  It was wonderful!

Let me tell you, when I bit into that Louisiana Red Hot, I was amazed by the deliciousness going on in my mouth.  It was spicy, not too salty, popped with flavor.  The cream cheese and onions really added to the entire experience.  My mouth is watering thinking about it right now.  The veal hot dog was really good but not as transcendent as the Red Hot.  J loved his elk, I found it a little dry. I probably could have eaten at least one more Red Hot, but I held back and I was thinking it’s probably not the healthiest thing to down three hot dogs in ten minutes.  Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t so reasonable but I am so happy that we got to taste that little slice of hot dog heaven.

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Domo

A good friend of mine lives in Denver; he and his fiance love good food just as much as J and I.  They brought us to Domo, a country-style Japanese restaurant.  It was in an incongruous location, kind of near some train tracks.  But then you step inside, and you’re in a traditional Japanese country setting, with dark wood everywhere.  We sat out in the beautiful garden.

The menu is complex, with lots of different types of dishes. Whatever you order, you also get a series of small side dishes that the whole table shares.  I don’t know what all of them were, but there were meatballs (nice and tender but didn’t seem very Japanese to me), a beef stew type dish, Eggplant with tofu (delicious), spicy chicken (not very spicy), two different types of vegetables, and noodles lightly dressed with soy (bland).  All of the side dishes were pretty good.

We also ordered gyoza (pork and chicken dumplings) and the three of them shared shumai.  The gyoza had a wonderful flavor, and were nice and tender on the inside. I would have preferred them to be more crispy on the outside.  Apparently the shumai were the best shumai they have ever had; very tender shrimp and somehow the wrapping was incorporated in the filling and it was delicious and well-balanced.

J and my friend’s fiance both went with the Wanko Sushi, which was prepared differently than traditional sushi.  No rolls, instead, large pieces of fish or fish mixed with avocado or other ingredients.  Each type of Wanko Sushi is placed over a small bowl of rice.

I tasted the tuna mixed with avocado, and it was delicious.  They had this crispy rice things on top and the textures all worked together.  J said the raw tuna just melted in his mouth.  He loved every bit of it.

I ordered the spicy Udon noodles, with vegetables, an egg, a dollop of curry, and chicken dumplings.  The noodles were delicious, just al dente enough, nice and chewy.  The chicken dumplings were so good, so tasty and tender.

We ordered an egg Tojimono (basically a huge omelet in a soy broth)  dish for Future Foodie.  She was slurping the broth very happily and enjoying the egg mixed with brown rice.  My friend, T, ordered the Salmon curry.  It was a beautiful looking dish and he said it was delicious.

All in all, a completely delicious and different meal.  I would definitely go back.

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Rioja

Rioja was the first restaurant I went to in Denver.  And wow, was it delicious.  My friend, D, recommended it.  She has wonderful taste in food and is also a fantastic chef.  I hopefully will be posting one of her recipes soon.

We started with the Fresh Bacon, which was cardamom spiced Kurobuta pork belly in a Madras curry scented fresh garbanzo bean purée.  We split it and it was melt in your mouth good.  The cardamom really added a nice dimension to the pork and I couldn’t stop dipping my bread (also delicious, and they served different varieties) into the garbanzo puree.

I completely overloaded on the bread by the way. There were these little goat cheese muffins and I couldn’t stop stuffing them in my mouth.

I ordered the grilled bone in rib-eye with crisp “eggplant parmesan” and  arugula salsa verde, heirloom tomatoes, parmesan emulsion with minus 8 ice wine vinegar.  It sounded too interesting to pass up.  I usually veer away from steaks on a menu but…I’m so glad I didn’t because the steak was so so good.  It was tender, and so full of flavor.  The arugula salsa verde added such a light complement to it, I had to finish the entire steak.  The heirloom tomatoes were ripe and delicious especially with the parmesan emulsion.  I think the only thing that did not stick out to me was the eggplant parmesan. It just seemed kind of out of place on the dish but it was nice and crispy.

I also tried halibut for the first time!  I have to admit, I don’t eat seafood.  It’s something with the smell.  I attribute to a highly sensitive sense of smell coupled with going to Chinatown fish markets growing up (very pungent fish aroma).  It’s kind of a mental block now but I’m getting better.

Anyway, I thought the food I had at Rioja was completely interesting, and very delicious. Plus, its location in Larimer Square is perfect.  It was pricey though, my steak was $29 by itself but I felt that it was completely worth it.

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The Denver Experience

So this is not food related but I really have to share this experience I had yesterday.  I was in a car driving with an Enterprise rental car dude and we were going to Enterprise so I could pick up a rental car.  We were stopped at a red light and our car was right next to the curb.  We both noticed a man crossing the street stop suddenly so we turned our heads to the right to see why he stopped so abruptly.

There was a huge horse galloping at full speed down the sidewalk!  It was one of those carriage horses and it seemed it had broken free and it was scared out of its mind.  Both the rental car guy and I stopped breathing, literally, as it seemed the horse was headed straight into the car.  I was literally thinking, this is bad, this is so bad, and I’m going to die in Denver.  But the horse turned down the sidewalk and kept galloping away.  A guy on a moped was following it.  I really hope that the horse and any people were not harmed.

It was terrifying, amazing, and completely surreal..

And the rental car dude, after about 30 seconds, said…”Welcome to Denver!”

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My favorite place on earth (besides my home)

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to spend an entire afternoon and night in NYC.  I LOVE THAT CITY.  Very few cities come close to the amazing, kinetic energy of the city.  I grew up going there, and I just love all of the discoveries I find each time I’m there.  This was kind of girl-centric trip and I had the entire day and night planned.  My friends called me the cruise director for the day and that kind of morphed into a dream career for as Cindy, the “Experience Planner”.

Anyway, on to the food.  I do A LOT of research before going into the city because I do not want to leave that place without having at least a few great meals there.

For lunch, we headed to Despana in Soho.  It’s a Spanish/gourmet market/restaurant.  It’s freaking so good. Next time you’re in the city, get your butt over there.  You will not regret it.  I ordered the Picante Bocadillo (sandwich).  It was their own home made chorizo, with Mahon (cow’s milk) cheese, spicy guindilla peppers, tomato slices, and aioli.  Before I get to the inside of the bocadillo, let me talk about the bread. It was a revelation, really what all bread should aspire to be.  So crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, fresh, and such a delicious bread flavor.  It also wasn’t hard to bite off or chew (a pet peeve of mine for bread).  Now on to the filling, because that was so damn delicious as well.  The chorizo and the peppers really gave a nice spicy kick.  The chorizo was so flavorful and just salty enough.  The tomato really added a nice freshness to the entire sandwich.  I finished the entire thing and enjoyed every minute of it.

I also ordered two tapas: a Tortilla Espanola and a Jamon croquette.  The tortilla was really well done, the egg and potato were perfectly balanced and the onion gave it a nice subtle flavor. Plus the texture was nice and firm.  The croquette was perfectly deep fried and the cheese and Spanish ham inside were nice.  It was a little salty, not the best croquette I’ve had but better than most I’ve had in the US.

Okay, so in between lunch and a late afternoon dessert, I scheduled in a 60 minute reflexology massage at Golden Yan Foot Spa for $35! Yes, you saw that number right!  It was great, very, very Chinese, just like the massage parlors in China.  For the $35, you get a nice 15 minute, shoulder massage and then a wonderful 45 minute foot reflexology massage.  My feet felt like clouds afterwards.

Then we had a our late afternoon dessert at Chikalicious, a tiny little restaurant on East 10th Street completely devoted to innovative desserts.  It’s adorable and Chika, the mastermind behind the desserts, was there herself.  We sat at the bar and were able to watch all of the dessert making in progress.  It’s a $14 prix fixe menu – you get an amuse bouche, a dessert entree, and petits fours.  I also sprang for the $7 wine pairing.  The amuse bouche was creme fraiche with some type of Cherry gelee. It was sweet and delicious; the cherry was firm and fresh tasting.

I ordered the Panna Cotta (forgot what the flavor was) with a peach sorbet and some fancy gelatin cubes.  OMFG.  I discovered Panna Cotta back in January and now order it every time it’s on a menu and have even ordered a baker friend of mine to make it for me.  Yes, I do love it.  Panna Cotta was so smooth and light and creamy.  Then the peach sorbet was really just like eating fresh, pureed peaches; it tasted like summer. The entire dish was so delicious.

My sister ordered the cheese cake “cloud” as she called it. She liked it, but it was more like a cheese cake mousse than a traditional cheese cake. Very rich, and I think it would have been better had it been paired with something with a different texture because it was kind of like eating a big ball of cream.

The other girls all ordered the chocolate tart with a red wine reduction and a peppercorn ice cream.  The votes were mixed on this one, mainly because of the peppercorn ice cream.  All three agreed the tart was extremely tasty. I tried it and the chocolate was so rich and it was lava like.  I like the peppercorn ice cream and thought it added an interesting twist to the dish.  My friend really enjoyed the entire dish. I believe the menu changes every day and it’s so worth a trip because it’s such a city experience.

We hit up a Thai BYOB called Sticky Rice that was so mediocre I don’t want to even talk about it.  It was a fun atmosphere but let’s just say I got rubbery chicken, weird, should not be sweet appetizers, an inedible fake tasting spring roll, and way too peanutty pad thai.  I don’t recommend it.  It was cheap and you can bring your own booze and those are it’s only redeeming qualities.

I also had a fantastic dirty martini at Minetta Tavern (a supposedly amazing restaurant for steak and burgers, which I couldn’t afford).  The martini was so well balanced; all the flavors blended so well together and it was so smooth to drink.  The olives were so good, meaty, and smooth tasting as well. My friend ordered the best Cosmo I’ve ever tasted! The juices were fresh and it was delicious.

So I got totally spoiled in NYC.  I highly recommend doing that every once in a while. It really soothes the soul.

I’m out in Denver for the next two weeks so I will soon be reporting on some of the already great food I’ve had out here…

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Friday Addiction: Toasted Ritz crackers with cream cheese and jelly

Yes you read that title right, toasted Ritz crackers with cream cheese and grape jelly.  It’s really, really good. It’s a relic from my childhood.  We had this wonderful neighbor/babysitter we called Grandma Rose and she really got me started on my lifelong love affair with Italian food.  She also made this delicious snack for my sister and I all the time.

Tonight I made it for Future Foodie and she is now officially a fan.

It’s super easy.  All you need are Ritz cracker, some plain cream cheese, and jelly of your choice (I prefer concord grape jelly).

Lay the crackers on a piece of foil, smear the cream cheese on each cracker, and add a dollop of jelly.  It should look like this:

Pop into a toaster oven on the toast setting for just a few minutes.  The goal is to get the cream cheese warm, the jelly to melt a little, and toast the cracker a bit.

Now eat one or more if you’re so inclined.  You will get a nice mouthful of buttery, slightly salty, a little tart, creamy, sweet goodness.

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Recipe: Tomato Sauce

J grew up next to a woman straight from Italy.  She is so wonderful, warm, generous, funny, and a fabulous cook as well. She is the genius behind an amazing Tomato sauce.  So J decided to take advantage of the bountiful amounts of fresh plum tomatoes at the Syracuse farmers market and decided to make her fresh tomato sauce.  I have to admit, I was a little iffy about it at first because I have a lot of expectations for sauce.  It needs to be well-rounded, and the flavors need to be balanced. It needs to taste fully but tangy.  I like a little texture to it as well.

I know he’s my husband but DANG the sauce he made met all of my criteria and surpassed them.  He served it to me over some al dente spaghetti and I was licking the bowl after I ate all the pasta.  His neighbor gave him this recipe and I wanted to share it with you!

Ingredients

8 quarts Roma Tomatoes

1 large Vidalia onion or 2 small – medium onions

4 garlic cloves

1/2 – 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 cans of Hunt’s tomato paste

1 Italian pepper

1 handful of fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

Wash tomatoes and then crosshatch the bottom of each tomato (not too deep, just enough to score the skin.

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Drop in tomatoes (in small batches) in water for about a minute. Use a slotted spoon to pull them out. Set them aside. Repeat until all tomatoes have been boiled.  This loosens up the skin so you can easily peel off the skin off all the tomatoes.  Once all tomatoes are peeled, set them aside.

Chop the onion and garlic.  In a big soup pot, bring oil up to temperature (using medium high heat).  Add chopped onions.  Cook until soft and golden, approximately 12 minutes.  Midway through, add chopped garlic.  Be careful not to burn onions or garlic.  After the 12 minutes, add all the tomato paste and stir frequently for 3 – 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes (either rough chop before) or give each tomato a big squeeze before adding into pot.  Turn heat down to medium.  Stir frequently to avoid burning the bottom of the pan.  Cook for 1 and 1/2 hours.

Seed and cut pepper in half (lengthwise).  Add to pot.  Rough cut basil and add to pot.  Add a bit of salt and pepper, but don’t overdo it because sauce will continue to reduce.  Continue to cook for another 1 – 2 hours, until you see oil appear at the top layer.  Once that happens, the sauce is done.

This makes A LOT of sauce, so jar it up and enjoy!

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Death Match: Hot dogs

On Sunday, we had our second death match.  We took on the herculean (not!) task of taste testing five hot dogs to determine the best hot dog you can buy in the Capital Region.  I just want to say that no one was more surprised by the results than myself.  We purchased the following brands from the store and local shops:

1.  Hoffman’s Hot Dogs

2. Oscars Adirondack Smoke House Hot Dogs

3. Rolf’s Pork Store Hot Dogs

4. White Eagle Hot Dogs

5. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs

We focused on local products but thought it would be a good idea to throw in a national but still New York brand into the mix.  We had a total of six participants in the death match.  It was a blind test to all but J.  He grilled all of the hot dogs on a gas grill.

The first part of the taste test consisted of eating a plain sample of each brand without any of the fixings.  The second part of the taste test consisted of eating another sample of each brand in a bun (Freihofer’s) with each person’s preferred dressings.  We provided the following toppings:

–  Fresh chopped white onion

– Chopped pepperocini’s

– Sauerkraut

– Green relish

– A variety of mustards

– Ketchup (J is a purist and does not believe that ketchup belongs on a hot dog but I vehemently disagree)

We then compared scores and dun dun dun…Nathan’s won out.  I WAS FLABBERGASTED.  I mean really, Nathan’s?  But here’s why:  it was the most flavorful, also the only beef hot dog in the mix.  It was just salty enough and tasted almost like kielbasa. It’s really delicious.  White Eagle was a close second, also with a nice flavor, a little spicy, again, not too salty.  Hoffman’s came in third, the consensus was that it tasted like warm bologna.  Weird.  The hotdog from Oscars was predictably smokey and people liked it but it didn’t really stand out.  I also personally didn’t like the texture too much, I found it a little mushy.  And finally, that left Rolf’s in last place.  It was bland, and it had a weird after taste.  I really disliked that one.

So I guess that’s why Nathan’s is famous in the first place but you know what? I’m still always going to support my personal favorite brand, White Eagle.  I like the idea of a local brand and it’s a really delicious hot dog.

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