Extra Heartbeats

The heart of my home is the kitchen- there is no doubt about that. It is where the magic happens, and I am not talking just about what we eat. My kitchen is where I unwind, create, relax, share, craft, and give. It is the center of every party and my daughter’s favorite play area. It is the place that makes me smile and sweat and the place that makes our home vibrate with beautiful scents, whistling sounds, delicious sights, and thrilling tastes.

This week has been a rough one as the heart of our home went into a near flat line- the beloved induction stove died (parts are on order). It put a damper on the cooking but forced some creativity on the grill and in the oven. And even as we nearly flat-lined, our back-up heart, the heart of the Taxi campus, was still beating strong. We are lucky- very lucky to be able to say what I am about to say- our community, the Taxi campus, has a young strong, active heart that brings us all together and keeps us well fed and happy. That heart is Fuel Café and the person who makes it pulse a vibrant beat every single day is Bob Blair.

So today, I will share with you a few things about Bob, a couple of stories about this vivid gathering place, the Fuel Café, and a recipe for Bob’s most famous Orange Currant Scones with Fresh Lemon Curd.

Please note – this is the first time I talk about a local restaurant on my blog. This is on purpose. I love this place more than any other in Colorado and I believe in its food with serious confidence and loyalty. Also, to my knowledge, this is the first time that one of Bob’s recipes has been shared in a public forum. A world premiere!

Bob is a self-described and self-taught cook. He is grumpy in the morning and sometimes seems frantic during the day. He has his mood swings- some are great, and some are not. He is a risk-taker with menu offerings and a teacher to his staff. The influences of his cooking are varied- a lot of Spanish in the way he spices his dishes, a lot of Italian in his passion for home-made pasta and gnocchi, a lot of French in his techniques and overall food philosophy. He is innovative yet traditional and you can always count on him to surprise your taste buds. Bob loves his work, his cookbooks, his wines, and aims to both challenge and please his customers. All of them. My 20 month daughter not only knows his name, she shouts it from across the room when she sees him. She runs into his arms with the happiest grin. Bob is the heartbeat of this place.

We almost like to keep Fuel a secret. It is undoubtedly a community place –it has been from the day it opened over two years ago. We will always meet someone we know there. There are many regulars for both lunch and dinner. There are parties and happy hours and fun brunches (some special weekends) and beer dinners, menus changing with the seasons, and daily specials changing with the weather.

The lunch menu has its staples- the sandwiches- the grinder, the Reuben, the Cubano, a few delicious salads, the appetizing lamb wrap, and the chicken chilaquiles- let me just say that I almost cried the first time I had this it was so good! There is always a special and that is generally what I get. The special is always well, special! It is seasonal and it fits the weather. Yep- the weather. If it’s really cold, Bob knows the craving of his community will be for a hearty warm stew. If it’s rainy and cold, maybe a biscuits and gravy. If it’s warming up, an entertaining salad or ingenious cold soup.

Dinner is where the challenging yet pleasing nature of Bob comes into play- the eclectic and diverse selection of small and not-so-small plates on this week’s menu includes awe-inspiring sweetbreads with shoestring potatoes and Madeira mushrooms, a teasing sunchoke soup with goat cheese panna cotta and hazelnuts, as well as pear caramelle (a house-made-from-scratch pasta in pretty candy-caramel shape) with goat cheese, ricotta, mascarpone and walnuts, and veal breast (an amazing cut of meat!) with polenta cake, tomato, olive, fennel, and herbsaint. My mouth is watering just thinking about it all.

The thing about Fuel Café is that once you get hooked, the addiction is impossible to shake. For us, this is especially true because of the location of our home. Walking across the alley after making dinner at home to get one of Bob’s desserts is pretty unbeatable. This is what we had to deal with last night- chocolate semifreddo!

After having dinner at home (all made in the oven plus a salad), I strolled into Fuel in a sweatsuit and picked up this treat. It was rich and decadent but not overly sweet. It was built from layers upon layers of flavors, temperatures, and textures. A complete adventure in every bite.

Now, the chocolate semifreddo leads me directly into my next topic- Bob’s incredible talent for all things sweet and baked. His desserts and pastries rival the best I have ever had- they are creative, balanced, original, and flawlessly executed. I envy his talent but love that I am lucky enough to enjoy it very often.

When I asked Bob to allow me to come into his kitchen and cook with him one day, we tossed around some ideas for what to make and I had to say- Bob, you are a baker. We are making scones. He agreed and added that he’ll toss in fresh lemon curd. I couldn’t resist.

So I invaded Bob’s kitchen at the early and grumpy time of 8:30 am. Let me clarify, when I say grumpy I mean both of us were grumpy, but I was too excited to focus on that. I had my notepad, my apron, my camera, and I was ready to see magic happen. I did. It was magic.

The kitchen at Fuel was already buzzing with prep for lunch- lamb meat balls getting ready for the lamb wrap.Nate getting his squash together for the soup of the day- Spicy Curry Butternut Squash.

The walk-in fridge was jam-packed- Bob tells me that Thursdays and Fridays it gets really full in there. A big 1 pound block of butter was already out on our scone-prep surface.

Equipment, etc you should plan on using for the scones and lemon curd: a KitchenAid mixer (did I tell you I don’t have one of those?), a cookie sheet, parchment paper, microplane grater, some measuring utensils.

So, there is goes…

Orange Currant Scones
2 cups of flour- fluffed (as opposed to packed- if you pack it, it will be closer to 1 and ¾ cups)
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder (please don’t confuse these- the results can be pretty disastrous)
a pinch of salt
zest of one orange
1/3 cup currants
¼ lbs of butter chilled and cubed (keep it chilled!)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 egg beaten lightly
Vanilla extract (prob about half a tablespoon, but we didn’t measure)
1 tablespoon of heavy cream (to brush the scones with)
1 tablespoon of turbinado (or coarser textured) sugar (to sprinkle on top of the scones)

Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

Combine the dry ingredients- flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and place in your pretty KitchenAid mixer equipped with a paddle.

Add the currants and orange zest.
[let me say this (again) a microplane grater for citrus zest is a necessity of any kitchen. And it works like magic on Parmesan too!]

Throw in the butter and keep mixing. Bob tells me that we are looking for a clumpy corn meal texture- wet sand-like. Don’t mix too long- you just want the butter to breakdown a little. Apparently the currants being already in there help this process.

To the buttermilk, add the beaten egg and a vanilla extract and whisk briefly.

Add this wet concoction to the dry one and mix until it comes together…basically a few seconds.

Flour your work surface and place your scone dough onto this surface. Lightly sprinkle some flour on your dough and gently work your dough into a one inch circle. Be tender- no manhalding this dough, Bob says. No overworking this dough!

Cut it up into 8 triangular pieces the same way you would slice up a pizza. Mmmmmmm! I can almost smell it already.

Grab yourself a baking sheet and line it with parchment paper.
[side note- apparently a Silpat, while great for other things, is not ideal for this- it does not allow the kind of browning/coloring you need here because it does not get hot enough. So no Silpat- parchment paper.]

Brush the scones with heavy cream.
Sprinkle with the sugar. Put it in the oven and about 8 to 10 minutes later voila!

Let them rest a little while you make the lemon curd.

Homemade Lemon Curd
2 lemons- zest (on that microplane grater) then juice (easier would be with a citrus juicer)
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4-5 eggs (depending on their size) very lightly beaten
6 tablespoons butter- chilled

Combine it all in a saucepan.[do you have one of those? I love mine!]

Place over medium-high heat. This is actually as easy as Bob promised. I was very skeptical because I know it is unbearably scrumptious. The butter melts, the eggs start to slowly cook – I am starting to get anxious because of my previous custard anxieties.

The concoction starts to thicken – with a wooden or silicon spatula keep stirring and dig into those corners, Bob tells me. You must reach that perfect point where the mixture is perfectly thick. Remove from heat.

If there are little bits of cooked egg white in your lemon curd- need not worry.

Strain in a bowl-see, all gone! Add more lemon zest if you want – you just strained most of it out.

Cover with plastic wrap all the way to the top of the lemon curd so that you don’t get that film that forms when custards cool. To get it to cool quicker, with the tip of a sharp knife, poke a few holes in the plastic wrap. Back off until it cools.

While we wait for everything to cool, Bob explains that everything gets weight for the making of the daily flatbread. Did I mention that the flatbread at Fuel is made fresh every day and it is outstanding?

All is cooled and I am ready to dig in. I thank Bob and think to myself that this was about as fun of a morning as I can come up with- glorious heartbeats in the kitchen! Mesmerizing!

I leave with my scones and am robbed of three along the way back to my house. These are friendly robbers- some of my neighbors who are well familiar with Bob’s scones. I had to share- it was the community-minded thing to do. Bob would have shared, he does it every day in his restaurant.

The Fuel Café is open for lunch every day of the workweek and for dinner Thursday through Saturday. Fuel makes cameo appearances for brunch every now and then- those are NOT to be missed.

P.S. One week after this post, 5280 released their March issue focusing on 25 best restaurants in Denver. Not surprisingly, Fuel was on the list.

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