The Ten Most Memorable Meals and Bites of 2013

The last twelve months involved a lot of eating – a lot of eating out and a lot of eating in. Some of the best meals were at home – comforting dishes that took time, effort, and heart to make, but there were many in restaurants as well. While I eat out in Denver a good amount, I try experience the culture of cities I visit through the local food scene. I was either pregnant or with an infant the entire 2013, but managed six trips: Seattle in February, Puerto Vallarta in March, Austin and New York City in May, back to New York in November, and Berlin and Bucharest in December. Each of these trips involved heavy eating out. My best meals of 2013 are listed in chronological order.

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Holiday Presents From Colorado

I picked up the December issue of Bon Appetit magazine with hope that I would learn some tricks on how to make some of the things I make for holiday presents look better. I am not a crafty one. I can so many things but put me in the pretty, dainty, and interesting wrapping department and I am lost. The Bon Appetit headline- Put a lid on it- made me think that I would learn about some fancy lid with a fancy label and an equally fancy ribbon that would make my beautiful preserves or cured lemons or garlic confit look as good as they taste. No such luck. Instead, the magazine listed recipes for would-be gifts that readers get to wrap however they please.

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Best Bites: Duck Tasso at Bittersweet

I love duck. I love that it takes skill and care to make it shine and I love the versatility that duck allows in preparations. The point for me is not the type of dish- it can be prosciutto, tacos, fried wings, or cassoulet and I will likely order it and probably love it as long as it is done, well, right. I found an outstanding duck dish tonight at Bittersweet: the Duck Tasso. An appetizer, the Duck Tasso is a play on the Tasso ham, a Louisiana specialty made of pork shoulder. Traditionally, the pork cured in salt briefly then rubbed with a spice mixture that includes cayenne pepper and smokey paprika. The duck version at Bittersweet takes duck breast cured in salt then rubbed with a variety of spices that make it just slightly tingly hot on the tongue. 

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Best Bites: Ritual Chocolate

Rich, smooth, snappy, Ritual Chocolate is my go-to treat. The presentation is clean and simple. The chocolate bar is glossy, the flavor is deep and rich, the taste stunning. Months ago when I fell in love with Ritual, I considered hoarding the information just in case there wasn’t enough once it got discovered. Now I need to just say: this is the best bite of dark chocolate one can get in the state of Colorado. Ritual Chocolate is a small production company: one couple- Robbie Stout and Anna Davies, an old-fashioned philosophy of crafting chocolate, vintage machines, and countless hours spent sourcing the best cacao beans and transforming them into pure joy for the dark chocolate lover. This chocolate is made with two ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar, which makes it: vegan and gluten-free. Until just weeks ago, Ritual produced only one variety: Costa Rica. A new addition of cacao beans from Madagascar, provides some diversity to the offerings. I get it at my favorite coffee shops: Crema in Denver and Boxcar in Boulder, but you can also find it at Curtis Park Deli, Marczyck, and the Market.

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Best Bites: Benton’s Bacon

If you love food, you know food. There are no rules on exactly what you are supposed to know, but there are some ideas in my head and they go beyond tasting and cooking and making and dining. These ideas are about knowing – knowing the history, the characters, the places, the best and the worst of it all. If you love food, you live it even when it isn’t with you, even when you can’t taste it all, read it all, experience it all. If you love food, you know who Alice Waters is, you own the Joe Beef Cookbook, you dream of eating at Noma, you regret never having experienced El Bulli, you idolize Ruth Reichl, and still watch Anthony Bourdain. If you love food, you loved bacon when bacon was just bacon, not an infusion for scotch, not an ice cream flavor, not a fad- just bacon- old school soul-soothing fat, smoky bacon.  If you love food, you know Benton’s Bacon because you have to, because it is the best, because it is an icon, because it is a staple and a benchmark for bacon everywhere and anywhere and also because it is now a piece of food … Continue reading

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Best Bites: Tillen Farms Maraschino Cherries

Adulthood came with the realization that Maraschino cherries are red and bright because they live in a preservative akin to embalming fluid. The thought and fake taste made me ban the red cherries from my life and from upon any place that served them.  There was, however, excitement on my face when I found the Tillen Farms Cherries at Tony’s Market a couple of weeks ago. I could not resist – I bought them and it was all worth it.  In a pretty jar, these maraschino cherries are canned without the artificial colors and flavors and without sulfites and preservatives.  Half the jar got eaten plain in the car – no utensils- which made for a sticky situation. The other half can bring back the fun decoration part for a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a Manhattan. 

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Best Bites: Frasca’s Farmer’s Daughter

Allie Anderson at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder mixes some of the most creative and delicate drinks in Colorado. Her drinks match her personality – understated and feminine, charming and always exactly on point for the dish, mood, or occasion.  I asked Allie to help me pair Frasca‘s Frico Caldo with a drink. She made the Farmer’s Daughter which is now stuck in my head – this week’s best bite.  The frico caldo, a rich potato and Montasio cheese griddled mixture, needed a bright citrusy drink and the Farmer’s Daughter hits every note required: floral flavors in elderflower syrup, acid in the lime, grassy freshness in the parsley and cucumber, a herbaceous flavor from the gin. Sheer pleasure! The recipe for the cocktail and the Frico Caldo are available here.

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Shop Local: Holiday Food Guide

A year ago I posted a local holiday food gift list here which I still love and encourage you to consult. I am back with more – 10 more – because Colorado local food can be amazing. In the last year, our food scene has gotten more vibrant- we are supporting food artisans, encouraging farmers, celebrating passionate cooks. So this Black Friday, stay local in Colorado and keep it in (or around) the kitchen. 1. The Sweet Tooth: Hellimae’s Salt Caramels Why: Taste one and you won’t have to ask why. They are outstanding, an addictive handcrafted combination of sugar and butter often infused with bold flavors like aromatic cardamom and deep coffee and a hint of sea salt that brings perfect balance to your bite. Ellen Daehnick works her magic in the kitchen and creates caramels that melt in your mouth in a chewy velvet form that always leaves you wanting more. Get the variety pack for a full experience.

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Local Holiday Gifts- Top 10

Colorado celebrated its 4th annual Buy Local Week two weeks ago. The concept was to connect local businesses with …the rest of us during this particular week. Nice concept – but a week flies by too quickly. So I think we should keep going – local all the way, all the time. No matter what local is to you, to me, it is about roots and community. It is about quality and reliability. About belonging. About respecting nature, your body, and the traditions of those before us. So this holiday season, turn to local for gifts, food-focused gifts. Here are my top 10 Colorado local food/holiday gifts. 1. The cookbook: Colorado Organic- Cooking Seasonally, Eating Locally. Why: it just has it all. The book is a collection of profiles of eight of Colorado’s most loved chefs (think Teri Ripetto, Yazmin Lozada-Hissom, Lachlan McKinnon-Patterson), recipes from their restaurants (yes, recipes from Potager, Duo, and Frasca), and stories featuring eight of Colorado’s most interestinging farmers. The recipes are approachable, the stories intriguing, and the photography stunning. And let’s face it, everyone who loves food loves a good cookbook. Where: Online if you click here. Or for a list of retailers, click here. … Continue reading

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Vancouver Bites

In the spirit of my previous post, no recipe, not much blabbering- a few thoughts to share on the food that is making me think of hiring a personal trainer swiftly upon returning to Denver. I have been eating- a lot. And I am not guilty or sorry- I’m just saying- there has been a lot of eating. Vancouver is a treat in August, but bear in mind that if you arrive in August in what happens to be the hottest day in 20 years, no air conditioning will be awaiting to cool your room. But there will be blackberries to pick on the side of the road, outstanding garden heirloom tomatoes, and sockeye season. Vancouver, as it turns out, is not a food town. It is at its core a British colony. No matter how amazing River Cafe, Moro, or the London L’Atelier de Robuchon are, London, for instance, is also not a food town. Vancouver is reminiscent of that British food-sense. You can’t just walk into a place as you could in some food cities (not naming names for the sake of focusing on the city at hand) and expect above-average food. But undoubtedly there is amazing food … Continue reading

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