Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chicago at Last!

With high expectations I boarded the train on Thursday night in Denver, heading for a final destination of New York City. The idea was to jump on at 7:50pm and arrive in Chicago at 3:30pm of Friday. I thought I could peek out of the station and maybe chat a few minutes with Rick Bayless at Topolobampo or at least catch a slice of Chicago pizza before my connecting train left for NYC at 9pm. The good news, first leg of the trip is completed, bad news, well read on.

Getting on the train in Denver is a piece of cake. I bought my tickets online and printed them out at the station at an electronic kiosk. When the California Zephyr, which was taking me to Chicago, came in, they opened the baggage area and I checked a bag. About 30 minutes before departure, they started loading. Very easy process and my wife was able to go out to the platform with me, so retro, right? Amtrak the conductor in the station assigns a car, not a seat. My car was about 30% filled so I had a nice couple of seats together to camp out in. I made myself at home and then did a little recon: There were about 4 coaches, 2 sleepers and a dinning car and lounge/observation car. The dinning car was taking reservations and the lounge car had a cafe where you could buy all sorts of drinks, sandwiches, and snacks. Cool.
The train pulled out on time, very promising! I watched a few minutes of "8 1/2" by Fellini on my laptop. There wasn't much to see out in the dark of Northeast Colorado except little lights in the distance, all reflected and magnified by the white snow fields. I finally decided to check out around 11pm. Trying to find the right position to sleep was challenging, I hadn't gotten the hang of it as had my more experienced train travelers. I slept in fits and starts, trying to keep warm and not hurt my back or neck. We stopped in Wiggins, CO to adjust the breaks. I took a quick walk around the car and took a look at how people were sleeping, ah ha! Now I got it. I went back to my seat, pulled up the leg rests of both seats and made a quasi-bed. I wrapped my head in my scarf and covered up with my overcoat; ready!

The rest of train ride was murky for me up to Omaha; I just remember jolts and crashes every so often. I peeked out of the window somewhere at 3-ish; we were stopped again, this time in the middle of nowhere. All I could think of was Dr. Zhivago looking out of his train as it stopped in the middle of the snowy Russian steppe. No, I wasn't about to get out and run into the forest as he did. Not only was there no big moon, there was no forest, just blackness beyond the blowing snow. I also, remember a stop in front of a massive "N" on it; bright red in the blowing snow. It was Lincoln at 5am; Corn Husker land. When I finally awoke it was 7:30 and we were pulling into Omaha. Again more intense blowing snow. Apparently we spent the night crashing through untrod snow-drifts on the tracks; ten below and 2 to 6 foot drifts! We had to keep stopping at night because the brakes were knocked about from time to time.

By the time we reached Omaha, the engine had taken a nice beating. It took a break and decided it was done. We lost power and so the train shut down at the station for 5 hours while they, first tried to fix it and finally had to replace it with a couple of freight engines. It was the gusting 50 mph and wind-chill was at 20 below with intense snow; I decided against exploring outside. I watched some more Fellini (tres a propos, btw), listened to some music, and slept some more. I didn't want to think about my 6 hour lay-over in Chicago as it was being squandered in Omaha. A reassuring crash at the front of the train signalled a successful coupling with the new engines, however, this was followed by an announcement that we weren't quite ready to go. The brakes had frozen, and it would take a few more minutes to get those operating. I'm thinking about now, "who needs breaks, lets just steam all the way to Chicago and let them wake up on the way". C'est la vie, non?
Left: One of two Heroes that got us moving.
The rest of the trip was much less eventful, if you can call sitting in place for 5 hours an "event". Just a beautiful world of white fields, white rivers, white trees, and sometimes just one big blowing white out. It reminded me of my first trip to NYC. It was a flight from Portland and we were also flying over a completely white mid-section of the country, arriving in Minneapolis to a blizzard and delays. This being my first train trip to NYC, I wouldn't expect less!
Amtrak was very gracious in providing for their guests. We were provided free snacks and later on a free meal in the Dinning Car. They brought on board a special agent to help everyone with their travel details. About 50 people on the train were missing connections, as was I. They set everyone up with a great hotel room in downtown Chicago, cash for taxis, and a free day in Chicago. Yeah, that last one is subjective. I expected 6 hours in Chicago, instead I got 24.

So, I've just had a wonderful night's rest, a good breakfast at the Homewood Suites on Grant Street in downtown Chicago and I'm getting ready to explore. It's 20 degrees and snowing out there....I'll let you know what I find.

Friday, December 25, 2009

C'est Moi!

It's dark now, 5:35 central time. We're coming to the edge of Iowa in the great Zephyr Express #6. Besides the engine trouble in Omaha, it has been a great ride. With the sub-zero temps and constant snow, it's amazing we're cruising like this.

I'm sitting here now waiting to be called up for dinner service, since we're SO late Amtrak is treating us to dinner in the Dinning Car. No hot dogs from the snack lounge for me!

The Missouri River

Since I haven't had internet access since Denver, here is a little post from my phone.

This 18 hour trip is turning into a 25 hour snow-globe excursion. Just hoping we'll make the 9pm train to NYC; or else, well I don't know.

Omaha, view from 7:30 until 12:30. Snow

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

La Comida: late lunch..

Packed some awesome frijoles del olla (simple pinto beans, but oh so much more!) with some carne deshebrada (slow cooked beef roast, pulled). Great after work-out lunch!

Gracias M!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's National Sandwich Day - Disque

This means one thing to me....TORTAS!

We picked up some fresh bolillos at Liborio's Market on Colfax and Havana, then drove down to Tacos Sinaloa on Colfax and Boston. Purchased three tacos de barbacoa, took them home and relieved the greasy little tortillas of their payload. Pop that juicy barbacoa into the bolillos..."plug and play" as they say.


Friday, October 30, 2009

El Desayuno: Breakfast on a Cold Denver Morning

Some foods, like the people who eat them, tend to grow and grow and grow; to the point they are almost unrecognizable. Case in point: the Breakfast Burrito!

My mom used to make these for my dad and I when we were heading off, early in the morning to some construction site. They were beautiful in their simplicity. Home-made tortillas de harina, scrambled egg, home-fries, maybe some chorizo or bacon, salsa roja on the side. They weren't huge; small by today's standards. We were each allotted two.

Revisiting breakfast burritos, I'm amazed. Number one, everyone I know works in an office; number two, the burritos they eat are about 2 to 3 times the size of the ones I ate! Yeah, bad recipe. Plus, the burritos have at least one kind of meat, cheese, cream; then they "smother" them in more cheese and green chile. Kind of gross! (in both the figurative english and literal German sense)

End result, for me at least, is that I prefer to make my own and keep it simple. If however, on a cold day like today you need a little something warm and didn't make your tortillas, head over to Illegal Pete's on 16th and Blake. They make them in front of you so you can get it right.

Today's burro: Eggs, home-fries, bacon, green chile on the side. Large enough for two smart eaters; just right for one over-eater!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Buche: Pork Stomach

An excellent post on preparing Buche in Serious Eats:

The question is: shall I try it or leave it to the experts and buy it at the taqueria?


Friday, October 16, 2009

Picture Pages: Carne en Limón

A little something for la cruda or a delicious appetizer? Raw beef in place of fish in a ceviche-type preparation is featured in several regional Mexican cuisines. My wife first clued me into this concept; her father used to eat ground beef this way. Diana Kennedy lists Carne en Limón as a standard botana in the bars of Southeast Mexico, specifically Chiapas.

I've tried to make this dish with various cuts of beef and trying different pickling times. (Thanks Jason Sheehan of Westword for drawing our attention to the fact that ceviche is pickled in the citrus, not cooked.) Last week, on a cold night, we stopped at the store to pick up a little piece of meat to slice into a hot broth with noodles. A small piece of tenderloin in the case caught our eye (at $25 per pound, it had to be small!). After slicing it thin and dropping it raw into a boiling bowl of broth; I thought, let's give this a try in the lime juice!

Here's blow-by-blow (this recipe is a piece-of-cake):

1) Slice the tenderloin very thin. The pieces are about the size of a 50 cent piece; remember those? I used about 1/4 lb.

2) Add lime juice; I used the juice of 1 and 1/2 limes.

3) Cover with plastic and let sit for about 45 minutes. Diana Kennedy's recipe calls for 4 hours; but not with this cut. Honestly, this tenderloin is so buttery, you can eat it raw! The trick here is just to let the juice get into the meat without overdoing it.

4) Meanwhile, chop-up a pico de gallo: Tomato, White Onion, Cilantro, and Jalapeno.

5) Mix the pico into the carne and let it sit together about 20 minutes to combine the flavors.

6) That's it! Hit it with a little salt and pepper just before you plate. Serve it on tostadas and have a hot sauce like Valentina or Cholula on the table.

This goes great with beer! If, however, you are having it after you've had too much beer, then I'd say, use the cheapest cut of beef and the longest time in the lime.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

La Foto de la Mentada Birria de Chivo

Here's the picture of the below mentioned Birria.

Sorry that we can't have you all over to try it as it was the best I've had. There are a few places that serve it here in Denver; but none so delish as this one.

Also, thanks to the Anonymous Commenter to the previous post. She's gone ahead and typed-up Rick Bayless' recipe.

For the needed goat shoulder (we used ribs):
Arash Market
2720 S. Parker Rd.
Aurora, CO 80014

For the ground Chile Guajillo:
Savory Spice Shop
1537 Platte Street
Denver, CO 80202

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Birria de Chivo!

The girl made Birria de Chivo this weekend. So. Good.
Sorry no pictures but dinner was one blur of birria, beans, and beer. I'll try to get you a recipe and maybe mock-up a left-overs shot for you.

Yeah, pretty useless post. I just had to gloat.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lo que quedo de lo susodicho!

La Comida de Oficina: 07/16/09

Today's "left-overs-for-lunch" menu:

Thai grilled chicken;
Red-potato with dill and bacon salad;
Dark chocolate and peanut butter brownie;

Location: my desk.

Just for the record, ok?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

La Cena de Villa: Northern-Mexican Cooking in Denver

Well, I'm a bit disappointed.

I've been reading my favorite author's take on the life of Pancho Villa, and frankly, it's made me hungry. Paco Ignacio Taibo goes into the minutia of Villa's life and often refers to the food he liked to eat. My family is from Chihuahua, and I'm often reminded of things that my mother or grandmother would cook.

Since they aren't around to whip up something I love to eat, I have two choices: make it myself or find a place that makes it. And there is the rub; I can't find a restaurant in the Denver area that features this cuisine. Logically, I figured that someone on Chowhound would have some good ideas, here's my post:
What did the collective Chow-brain come up with? Nada!

So I plead with you, great wide world, necesito ayuda! Hit me back on the comments, email, or Chowhound if you have any ideas of places that cook northern Mexican food. I'm talking about Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango or Coahuila.

In the meantime, I will be cruising on Colfax, Federal and Sheridan looking for Pancho's dinner. I'll let you know what I find, adios!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lost in Translation?

-"Chin** tu Madre, pinc** cabro**", say it! Go on, SAY IT!
-Don't you want to speak Spanish? Just say it to that guy over there.
-What does it mean?
-Nothing, it's just like, "hey, how's it going man?" Just go say it to him.

In the little town where I grew up in Oregon, this was a common "right of passage" for the 9 year-old white kids in my neighborhood. The older, cool Mexican kids in Junior High were always eager "teach" Spanish to the little elementary school kids. Even the Russian speaking punks would get in on the game:

-Say "pizd**", it means hello in Russian. Go on, SAY IT!

Inevitabley, some poor sucker would go up to a Mexican or Russian oldster and try out his new vocabulary, only to get yelled at or worse. Behind the nearest tree, his new "friends" could barely contain themselves. Yup, another stupid little white kid. Sucker! I'm sure these same jerks were once young immigrants on the receiving end of that same trick. Just getting back at someone less experienced felt good.

It's a little sad, however, when these child's games continue into adulthood. What happened, didn't you get it out of your system in middle school?

-Watch, we'll get the dummies to say "conyo" when they bring their gramma in to get a sandwich.
-Hi, I read in Westword that you have this great Cuban sandwich.
-Oh, which one? (sly grin, wink, wink)
-I think you call it the "eye kon-ee-oh"?
-Oh, you mean the Conyo? Say it, CON-YO!
-Thanks! Yes, I want UN CONYO!

Cue the laughter, the kitchen staff is rolling on the floor. "Otro pi*** gringo pidio un Conyo!" (Another f'ing gringo wants a CU*T!)

Despite Johnathan Shikes assurances in his Westword review that "Aye Conyo means something like Goddamnit in Spanish"; a simple Google search will get you this definition:

I. Literally, translates to what has sometimes been termed the most obscene word in the English language "c*nt"...
II. Usually used as a passionate, emphatic expletive (see f*ck!, sh*t!, d*mn!, etc..). Significantly more vulgar than "mierda" (sh*t).
e.g. Conyo, hombre, ella sabe! transl: F*CK man, she knows!
Urban Dictionary

Now, I know that the Spanish language is not monolithic. I understand that how a word is used in Spain, might not be the same as how it is used in Mexico or Cuba. But, no matter how you present it, "cu*nt" is not a word most of us would be using casually when ordering a meal with the family. I also realize that people have the freedom to say whatever they want, even if others might be offended. But what I don't get is the need to make unwitting customers say words that they might not say if they understood them.

Going to an establishment, whether it be a restaurant or another service provider, is an act of trust. We trust that our host will treat us with respect, that they will provide us with what we are requesting, and that they will not fool us. If I am lactose intolerant and I order something at your restaurant because I'm told it is non-dairy, will you sneak in some cheese just to watch me get sick? Yeah, you might think it's funny watching me run to the bathroom like my hair was on fire, but it's not nice.

I don't think I'm being a prude here. I'm just asking for respect.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hey, that looks like...wait it is!

It's a strange thing when a picture you took shows up on someone else's website:




Not that I'm seeking recognition or compensation; I'm just sayin'...

Eating the Whole Hog

Being from the Pacific Northwest, I've always had a fascination with places that in some way mirrored the climate, geography and green-inspired "grey" state-of-mind. There is something special about a place where you can come out of the mists surrounding a hill-top and be slapped in the face by an indescribably beautiful, green valley. Small farms dot the landscape, both inviting and somehow forbidding.
As you go over the next ridge, you re-enter the clouds and wonder what you'll see as you descend again. This time you round a bend, the clouds dissipate, and through the breaks in the dense forest around you, a feeling of something large and powerful overtakes you. A couple more turns, as you come off the mountain, and you realizes that you've been driving next to the ocean, you don't know how long. You felt it before you saw it. Once again, you run across small groups of houses, or even an isolated farmstead. Every time, the thought enters your head: Who are these people? Why do they live out here? Surrounded by such amazing beauty, but intense isolation: What is their life like?

Many travel writers focus on observing and recording; afraid of ruining the scene by their mere presence. Taking this voyeurism to the next level, is something that engaging writers like John Barlow do for us. In one of the best food/travelogues that I've read: "Everything but the Squeal...Eating the Whole Hog", Mr. Barlow eats his way through north-western Spain. Galicia is a place that has always been fascinating to me. Reminding me of my roots and enticing me with it's food, this corner of Spain calls to me. The rural nature of this area, however, means that there isn't as much information on this area as there is on other parts of Spain. In his quest to eat his way through every part of the pig, Mr. Barlow goes to the most remote areas of this beautiful region; and he's not afraid to knock. Reclusive hippies, grumpy old-men, fashionable viudas in tapas bars: they all eventually come around and add another piece to the pork puzzle that Mr. Barlow constructs (or consumes) in the course of a year.

I read this book without the benefit John Barlow's Flickr photoset; I'm happy to say that the images in my head were not far off the mark.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dan Dan Noodles? Yeah Yeah!

I won't bore you with the details, but this dish rocks! It is udon noodles with a spicy peanut sauce; topped with cilantro, lime, green onions and fried tofu.

The hardest part is making the tofu, but that's probably because that's the part that I get to do. Cut the tofu up into triangles, dredge in cornstarch, then fry it up. Add a secret glaze and continue cooking. It is so good! Crisp on the outside, soft and silky on the inside; nice.

Here's another view in case you think I'm just using brown marshmallows to fool you:

By the way, the obvious question is, how to make the sauce. Well I don't know, but I'll let you know when I can find the sauce of the sauce.

UPDATE 03/02/09: Please see comment below for full recipe. Thanks to our contributor for finishing up this post!

Monday, February 23, 2009

"No doubt...feeling, after those breakfasts of ours together, that association with me was pretty well bound to culminate in kippers." -Bertie Wooster

Well, I can't say the same for association with me, but a kipper for breakfast sure sounds good! For me this usually means busting open a can of King Oscar's kippers. I've never had what you might term the genuine article.

This post from the always interesting Dos Hermanos made me curious to try other brands. How do you eat your kippers Bertie?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

Denver Restaurant Week 2009

As usual, I'm late! The list was published weeks ago, the blogs have been harping about it, Twitter has been chirping up a storm. So.Over.It.

Well not really. I DO want to go, every year we try at least one new place. My problem is that if I don't jump on something as soon as I hear about it, I tend to stash it somewhere. The more I hear about it, the deeper it gets stashed, until, at the last moment, I panic.

So here's this year's "short list":

Barolo Grill
Kevin Taylor's at the Opera House
the Palm
Table 6

The calls will begin today, I'll let you know of my progress. Honestly, they're probably all booked-up and I'll be back here tomorrow with a new list.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Under My Very Nose: WaterCourse Cafe

Often times in Downtown, things pop-up unannounced. They could be right around the corner, and you'd never know about it.

Thanks to a post on the DDP Blog, I found out that one of my favorite restaurants, WaterCourse Foods has opened an outpost on the corner of 17th & Market. If you don't know, WaterCourse is a vegetarian, often vegan, restaurant that has it's own bakery. The bakery, in Capitol Hill, supplies vegan/gluten-free baked goods to all of WaterCourse's shops as well as the public.

Now you can get their baked goods, vegetarian panini sandwiches, and coffee drinks (Pablo's roast) at this new downtown location. The bakery case includes muffins, cookies, scones, cupcakes and quiche. Prices might be a bit more than you expected to pay, but the product is fresh, local and uses top quality ingredients.
I was a bit confused when I read that this new location was being called the WaterCourse Cafe @ the Aveda Academy. Having been a regular at the Academy last year, I couldn't imagine how in the world they could fit a cafe into that space. So of course, I had to check it out. What has happened, is that the Aveda Academy has greatly expanded since last fall. They've opened up their area through to 17th St. On the corner of 17th and Market, they've set-up a new reception area that shares a beautiful airy space with the WaterCourse Cafe.

The Cafe itself is not very large. The seating area is limited to a nice narrow counter and stools facing the window onto 17th St. It's actually quite a needed addition to street scene on 17th. It has always seemed that this part of town was a bit dark and "financial", if you get me. This whole set-up is refreshing, yummy, and in my opinion, a good partnering with Aveda.

WaterCourse Cafe @ the Aveda Academy
1380 17th St
Denver, CO 80202

Open Mon - Fri 7am to 6pm
Sat 8am - 5pm
Closed Sun

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Deep-Fried Chinese Bread

One of the simple pleasures of life is fresh bread. Usually we associate bread with European culinary traditions. Often overlooked are Asian breads.

If you'd like to try something a little different, you need to get over to JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Alameda. I think most people stuff themselves silly before they realize that they can get a dessert here. It's actually on the appetizer portion of the menu, maybe that's where it should be, I'm not sure. All I know is that I always save room for an order of the Deep-fried Chinese bread.

Don't take this home, you need to eat it freshly made. It's steaming hot inside, beautifully shiny on the outside. It comes with a little bowl of condensed milk, yum! The first layer is soft and spongy, the center is a denser, yellow, braided core of dough.
With a nice pot of jasmine tea, this serves as a great dessert. One order is 3 buns split in half and should be enough for 4 people, as long as you're willing to share.
You are willing to share, right?

JJ Chinese Seafood Restaurant
2500 W Alameda Ave.
Denver, CO 80219

Yelp Reviews


Every so often I run across a food related picture, ad, or graphic that I just need to share. You'll find them under my FFFFOOD label, since I find many of them on FFFFOUND.

Here is today's pic. Breaks my heart; I know because I'm laughing 'til the tears come.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Speakin' of Tongues

What in the world? Last week I was thrilled to come home and find this sitting on our kitchen counter.
Not for the squeamish, but if you'd like, you can click on the picture above to get a close-up. It might help you to identify the "mystery meat". After simmering for a few hours with garlic and spices, you let it cool. Then proceed to peal it and take off any excess fat. Now you can dice it into half-inch cubes.

Beef tongue or lengua is one of the under-appreciated fillings for Mexican tacos. Most people just think of the basic carne asada, carnitas, or al pastor if they're feeling adventurous. The tender and flavorful tongue, however, is among the most addictive fillings you can wrap your tortilla around.
Don't get too crazy with the dressing on this taco. Traditionally all you need is some diced white onion, cilantro, and a little salt and lime. A shot of salsa verde will round it out.

Sorry I can't invite you all over for tacos de lengua, but in Denver I'd recommend that you visit Taqueria Patzcuaro (on W. 32nd), El Taco de Mexico (on Santa Fe Drive), or your local taco truck for the taste that tastes you back.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'm Drinking the Kool-Aid: Olive Oil Flavor

At the corner of 15th and Market, in an old brick building with Gothic windows, you'll find gourmet heaven. This erstwhile temple of fine art, is now a temple of refined taste, since Fuller Fine Art moved out and the EVOO Marketplace moved in. Mick Major, owner of EVOO Marketplace has introduced Denver to a concept that's long overdue. Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar are being given true respect and not just lip-service here.

Plenty of places sell oil and vinegar in Denver, so what's all the fuss about? Walk into this beautiful shop and you'll find out. No clutter, no potpourri and cutsie gifts to distract you from the main attraction. Lined up, front and center are a two rows of gleaming stainless steel containers (fusti I believe they're called) with a spigot. Each one is filled to the brim with liquid ambrosia. Probably a dozen varieties of olive oils from around the world: Italy, Greece, Spain, California. Different varieties, pure or infused: Frantoio, Arbequina, Manzanillo, basil, garlic, white truffle... And the Balsamics don't lag behind: pear, apple, black cherry...
The real king, however, is the 18 year-old balsamic. Wow! Give me a bottle of this and I'll be pulling on it all day; one sip at a time.

As soon as you walk in the door, Mick or one of the staff will help you get your bearings. The purists are pointed to the little cups that are stacked next to each spigot, waiting for you to pour yourself a little oil or balsamic. This is a nice way to go so that you can inhale the deep and rich aroma of each of these special ambers. Then throw it back and savor it's richness as it coats the tongue. On their own or mixed in creative combinations, you'll be enthralled as you sample the great variety of tastes and aromas. For those a bit reluctant to sip on olive oil, bah!, you'll find cubes of fresh baked bread from the Denver Bread Company (EVOO Marketplace also sells select loaves from the DBC).

The simplicity of the concept, the clean feel of the shop, the variety of choices, and most importantly the freshness and quality of the product, set EVOO Marketplace apart. Nowhere else will you have access to this many choices and the ability to taste and be educated by those that really care about your experience. Wine is not the only precious liquid that should be investigated in a meaningful way. Here you can do just that with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Once you identify the oil or vinegar you can't do without, Mick will bottle it up for you, cork it, seal it, and you're set. Oh yeah, you do have to pay first. Prices range from about 12 to 18 per bottle, depending on how rich your palate is. But you can be sure that after sampling the goods at the EVOO Marketplace, your palate will never settle for less!

EVOO Marketplace
1338 15th St.
Denver, CO 80203


Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Hill Report: Your Home Slice

13th Avenue on the Hill has it's share of neighborhood pizza providers. Here's a quick guide for your next walk in the 'hood.

If you're walking up from Broadway, you'll probably first encounter City o'City at 13th and Sherman. A vegetarian pub/coffee shop that makes great pizza.

For the sake of accuracy I must include the Domino's Pizza, if you can call it pizza.

Within the next two blocks of 13th you'll find a couple of places that serve good pizza-by-the slice, as well as whole pies: Pizzicato at Pennsylvania and Benny Blanco's just past Pearl.

Let's start with Benny Blanco's. This is the place where the term "hole in the wall" was coined. To say it is small is an understatement. Word of warning; the leggy pizza girl watching over the patrons of this establishment has no basis on reality. I'm not discussing her anatomical proportions, I'm just saying that the guys dishing-up the pizza here have nothing in common with this saucy rendition of Saint Pomidora, patron saint of the midnight-pizza patron (yeah, I DID just write that sentence, y que?). So while your checking out Saint Pommy on the wall, (you lech!) one of the rude boys behind the counter will be throwing your selected slice into the oven and then flopping it onto a paper plate.
Either the blasting music will drive you out, or one of the guy's will after they take your two bucks. That's ok, you need to get out of there anyway so you can dig into your perfect slice of peperoni before it gets cold on you. Nice crisp edges on a nicely foldable triangle of salty peperoni and gooey cheese. No fancy stuff, just some solid grub for the street. Open until 3a.m., what else you want?

Benny Blanco's Slice of the Bronx
616 E. 13th St.
Denver, CO 80205
(303) 831-1346

On that same outing walk, I swung by Pizzicato to find out what their peperoni slice to go was like. For more info on Pizzicato, check out my review here.

On this pizza-by-the-slice outing here's what I found. 75 cents more and 30% smaller, but yeah, it was better. The quality of the ingredients is noticeably superior. If you can live without Saint Pommy, and you cravings are more gastronomic than simply quantitative, go to Pizzicato. If, however, you're just looking for a good, quick fix, then don't forget about Benny Blanco's.

1300 Pennsylvania St.
Denver, CO 80203

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Turkey Thing: Tinga Poblana de Pavo

One of the classics of Mexican cuisine is Tinga Poblana. Cafe Tacuba in Mexico City was my introduction to the tinga and I've been trying to get this taste experience back ever since. Maybe it was the atmosphere of the place, but the food tasted more authentic somehow.

This dish has been adopted all over the country, with infinite variations. However, there are a couple of constants; chipotle peppers and chorizo. These core ingredients provide a depth to the dish that is vital. I used shredded turkey meat instead of pork for this dish. Seeing that the indigenous Mexican cultures have been raising and eating the guajolote (turkey) for centuries, I think this is a legitimate substitute. I also substituted canned tomatoes for fire roasted fresh tomatoes. Sorry, I was in a hurry.

So here it is, my latest, greatest stab at this dish.

Tinga Poblana de Pavo (Serves 4)
2 slices of thick-cut bacon
1/2 a yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 a link of Mexican chorizo
1/4 tsp. of ground pepper
1/4 tsp. of ground cumin powder
1-14 oz. can of diced tomato
2 chiles chipotle in adobo, diced
1 stick of cinnamon
4 cloves
2 cups of shredded turkey (dark meat)
3 tbls. brown sugar (piloncillo if you have it)
2 tbls. cider vinegar
2 tsps adobo sauce (from can of chipotles)
salt to taste

Start out by frying up the chopped bacon, just until it starts crisping. Set it aside on a paper towel and drain off most of the fat from the pan. Leave just enough fat to saute the onions and garlic until they are soft, about 2 minutes.

Take off the casing of the chorizo and add it to the pan. With a wooden spoon start breaking up the chorizo and cook it for about 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. (Note: I use pork chorizo that isn't too fatty, if your chorizo isn't lean, you might want to start it off in another pan to render off some of the excess fat.) Add the bacon back into the pan and add the pepper and cumin. Cook 2 more minutes.Now add the tomatoes, diced chipotles, cinnamon, and cloves. (Note: if you use fresh roasted tomatoes, you might need to add a 1/2 cup of chicken stock to have enough liquid for this step.) Cook this at a low simmer for about 15 minutes, partially covered, stirring every 5 minutes.Add the turkey meat, sugar, vinegar, and adobo sauce. Bring back to a simmer and cook covered for another 10 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt accordingly.Here's what your tinga will look like, notice it isn't dry, it has a nice red sauce. You can adjust the amount of extra adobo sauce that you add based on your tolerance for heat.

You can dress this dish up or down, depending on what type of meal you are preparing for. It's really good as a taco filling. Heat up some corn tortillas and throw some cilantro and red onions on top with a splash of lime. Casual but a nice step up from basic carne asada.

We decided to plate this up with white rice and trimmings. I had thinly sliced some red onion and left it for an hour in a glass bowl with some white wine vinegar and a little sugar. We sliced some avocado and chopped up some cilantro and key-limes. Plate this all together and warm up some tortillas, your set. We accompanied this with some Mexican-style lager from Del Norte brewing of Denver, perfect!

Buen Provecho!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dashboard Dud?

You can't blame me for trying, just look at that sign. Doesn't it call to you? Taqueria, panaderia, restaurante, joyeria, carniseria! It's like everything you could want or ever need. I'm sure if you ask, they'll even fix your mofle and sell you a used troca.

This strange establishment on the corner of 40th and Tejon looks like it has been through many incarnations, and it is appears to have stalled in in the middle of its latest morphing. Some kind of moth that didn't quite make it out of it's cocoon and is already trying to serve carnitas while dodging moth-balls.
So in the interest of you, my dear readers, I decided to give the tacos a spin; and hope they didn't give my stomach a spin. To begin with, the kitchen was highly suspect. Though there were only three people sitting in the "dinning room", there were at least four cooks from what I could tell, and a slew of "ancillary service providers". Honestly, I think it was just that the kids weren't in school and all the tios and tias were killing some time with the family.
If you've feasted at any of the taco trucks in town, you'll know exactly what to expect on the menu. All the taco, burrito, and torta standards are represented. I ordered tacos de lengua and buche, but was shot down, "no hay, se nos acabo". I tried the standards: 2 tacos de carnitas y 2 de asada. I walked across the eerily empty old grocery space and found a fridge with Coca and Cidral and grabbed my drink. Then back to the hole-in-the-wall kitchen counter to pick up my Styrofoam treasure chest and on to the cash register at the front. $5.70 paid and out the door to my car's waiting dash board.
Here's what I found:
Two tacos of beautifully cooked carne asada and two tacos of chopped carnitas on a double corn tortilla. Simply served with fresh diced tomato. Inexplicably, there was a little pile of shredded orange cheese in the middle of the tacos. A minor confusing distraction, let me get back to the meat. The carnitas were cooked just right, but had too much fat on them. Combine this with a tortilla that had been warmed on a greased comal (griddle) and watery salsa verde; WOW, what a mess.

The asada (pictured here), was a much better option. Except for needing salt, they were very well prepared. I'd prefer a salsa roja for these, but the green was just fine. Tender beef, perfectly grilled and then fried up for a very satisfying taco.

My conclusion? Rather mixed I'm afraid. If you are looking for some basic taco truck food, find yourself a taco truck! If your'e in the 40th and Tejon area and want this kind of food, then definitely stop in at the crazy Mercado Perez.

Mercado Perez III
40th and Tejon St.
Denver, CO