Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

One Freaky Cheese: Urchrüter, St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop

I know it looks tame.

KSurchruter2

But Urchrüter is wild, man, wild, like the specimen James Tate captured in flagrante poetico:

The Wild Cheese

A head of cheese raised by wolves
or mushrooms
recently rolled into
the village, it
could neither talk nor
walk upright.

Small snarling boys ran
circles around it;
and just as they began
throwing stones, the Mayor
appeared and dispersed them.

He took the poor ignorant
head of cheese home,
and his wife scrubbed it
all afternoon before
cutting it with a knife
and serving it after dinner.

The guests were delighted
and exclaimed far into the night,
“That certainly was a wild cheese!”

Of course, you know you’re in for a neat-to-eat treat when someone looks you in the eye, hands you a sample & challenges—as did St. Kilian’s guru Hugh O’Neill—”OK, what do you taste?”

I thought hard. I could say what this raw milk Swiss ($25/lb., IIRC) wasn’t: not mild, but not exactly sharp either. Definitely funky, but not stinky. Full, but not downright rich. Despite an herb-rubbed rind, it didn’t smack of any particular herb—but close. It was the flavor of…warmth. I couldn’t say.

“Curry!” he trumpeted. “And maybe a little mustard.”

Bingo. Urchrüter, he went on to explain, is made in the mountains of Switzerland (whether Alps or Jura, I dunno), where the cows apparently graze on flowering curry & mustard plants.  Thus is their milk softly suffused with such aromas.

O’Neill noted that, when heated, it loses a little of that distinctive character to more closely resemble its cousin gruyère. In that case, I’d recommend serving it as is on a cheese plate. Just let it run naked, wild & free.

Product Testing a Go-Go: Lettuce pickled in flour sauce, Pacific Mercantile

Can you imagine?

PMlettuce2

Google apparently can’t either. Various searches yielded no results. As the contents of the $1.55 jar are dark & the list of ingredients no more enlightening,

PMlettuce3

I was left to picture slimy strands of leaf pulp in some sort of old processed roux—& left it in turn to my fellow Chowhounds to make some educated guesses.

Which, god bless them every one, they did, as per usual. One referred me to this Wikipedia entry:

Sweet bean sauce also known as sweet bean paste, sweet soybean paste, sweet flour sauce, or sweet noodle sauce, is a thick, dark brown- or black-colored Chinese sauce made from wheat flour, sugar, salt, mantou, & ground fermented yellow soybeans (that is, what is left of the soybeans after the fermentation of soybeans into soy sauce)…similar to the better known hoisin sauce.

Another hypothesized the lettuce was specifically celtuce, a Chinese variety cultivated less for its leaves than its thick stems.

Finally summoning the balls to pop the lid, then, I expected something like asparagus or broccoli stalks in a sweet bean goo.

PMpickledlettuce2
So far, so accurate, except that it came in slightly jellied chunks rather than recognizable stem shapes.

But the flavor was a surprise—not sweet at all but very salty, this is definitely a pickle, indeed reminiscent of broccoli that’s had all its greenness sucked out by the body snatcher of (essentially) soy sauce. Pickled celtuce is apparently commonly used as a condiment or side dish for congee or soup; now that I’ve tasted it, I can see myself chopping it up finer & adding it in judicious amount along with anchovies to scrambled eggs or to ground beef with some toasted sesame for Asian-flavored burgers. Or putting a few on toothpicks as a vodka garnish.

Mmm, weird, kidney-curdling sodium. Stay tuned.

Happy New Year from Tony’s Market (& Denveater)

In the Denveater-Director household it was a fine lang syne indeed, from the moment we admitted, around 5 o’clock, that all we really wanted to do was cuddle up with a bottle of sparkling wine & a bunch of DVDs. Sustaining us during what turned out to be a marathon viewing of The Wire—preceded by the terrifically biting (& clawing, & backstabbing) Brit political comedy In the Loop, which I highly recommend—was a spread from Tony’s Market, where the highly gracious & extra-helpful service really is unparalleled, to quote the website, although I can’t second the claim for “sizzling ambiance,” which sounds hazardous at best.

In addition to shrimp cocktail & red grapes, we grazed on a couple of noteworthy cheeses & sausage: clockwise from top, Mahon, Taleggio & a mystery cheese to which I’ll return in a moment.

Tonyscheeses
Don’t let the fact that the Mahon isn’t artisanal dissuade you from trying it; I lean toward smaller producers myself, but this is excellent stuff, smooth with a strong hint of mushrooms that made for an interesting match with the porcini & garlic flavored dry-cured pork sausage—so unctuous a couple of slices were enough even for me.

Tonyssausage
Even better, though, was the mystery cheese. Googling the handwritten description on the price sticker, “cow’s milk cheese flavored with saffron & peppercorns,” I get instead numerous results for Piacentinu, an Italian sheep’s milk cheese that sure enough looks just like our wedge. So perhaps it was mislabeled, or perhaps it’s a domestic, bovine version of the Sicilian original; in any case, it starts out hearty & ends up spicy. So may 2010.

Greeks Gone Wild Gone Reasonable

I was obviously pretty sure back in May, before it debuted, that Greeks Gone Wild would mean nothing to me beyond an opportunity to make merciless fun of a terrible name. The implicit cross between Dionysiac cultic orgies & coed porn seemed a totally stupid one for a nondescript gyros-&-wings joint on DU’s campus corner to bear.

Since its opening, that post has received a surprising number of hits, suggesting that a lot of locals actually do want to know what the place has to offer. Either that or they’re looking for hot girl-on-girl-on-rotisserie action. In any case, I figured it was my responsibility to at least interrupt my stream of mockery with a good-faith wade through the menu.

I still say the name bites; I still say this is not the kind of place that will ever appear on my radar unless I’m right on its doorstep & struck for the 1st time in 20 years by a craving for fast food (hence the categorization under Eateries I Just Can’t Get Worked Up About). But I will say that, as hyphenated-American take-out grubberies go, it doesn’t suck, at least not flat out. Really.

While I wouldn’t recommend eating in if you’re over 25—it’s bright, it’s plastic, it’s blaring & filled with people under 25—I would actually recommend the wings.

GGWwings

No boneless or breaded bastards, they were truly fried right, crackly on the outside & extra-juicy within, & coated but not buried in a medium, well-balanced buffalo sauce—not too peppery, not too vinegary, not too buttery. (There are also mild, hot, Greek & 1 or 2 other options.)

I’m also surprising myself  by recommending the dip platter with pita.

GGWdips

The bread was unexpectedly fresh-grilled, & perhaps even brushed with a little butter? And the tzatziki had great texture—thick & creamy—though a little more garlic would’ve made it even better. You can skip the rest; come to think of it, I suppose you can skip the whole thing & simply order sides of pita & tzatziki. I was impressed just to see htipiti—a lesser-known roasted red pepper–feta spread—& pleased it had a peppery kick, but it also had a salty kick, too hard. Meanwhile nothing about the thin hummus impressed, the flavor being all chickpea, not a whit of tahini, garlic, lemon, or even olive oil.

As for the souvlaki & gyro plates—

GGWgyros GGWsouvlaki

They were fine. Not great, the meat perhaps a little underseasoned, but moist. Fine. The Greek dressing a little underpowering, but the salad fine. Adequate. Fine. The best part was still this,

GGWpita

but, you know, overall, fine! Can’t complain. Let’s not go wild ourselves & word it any more effusively than that.

Greeks Gone Wild on Urbanspoon

How much more crap can I take (out)? Spicy Thai vs. my vote for the best of the meh: Thai Basil

I think I’ve now tried every Thai takeout joint within a few miles of my southeast Denver hovel: Thai Basil. Spicy Basil. Spicy Thai. Thai Green Chile. Swing Thai. Jason’s Thai Bistro. Thai This. Thai That. Sucky Noodle. Pad Crud. For the most part they’re as interchangable as their names.

I’ve acknowledged that a) takeout is itself a crapshoot (so to speak) & b) there are a few local joints I’ve yet to hit that do get the love from writers I trust, e.g. Lori Midson, above all US Thai, Thai House, & Chada Thai. (You might also trawl Chowhound for recs like this from lotuseedpaste, who knows her stuff too.) But those are clearly the exceptions to a citywide rule. If I overstate the case, by all means, give me hell & tell me what I’m missing. Otherwise heed my warning & order in from the above, with the possible exception of Thai Basil, only if you’re really lonely & your sole human contact for the eve will be the 2 min. you spend chatting with the delivery guy at the door—who’s sure, to offer another apparent truism about Denver Thai, to be exceedingly gracious & kind. One could do worse in one’s relationships.

In all fairness, then, to the lovely gentleman who recently brought us dinner from Spicy Thai, I’ll admit up front that we only tried 4 dishes. But the fact that each was as ho-hum as the last means I won’t be trying any more, at least not any time soon.

The shumai were doughy & dull;

SpicyThaishumai

the lamb curry bland,

SpicyThailambcurry

the drunken noodles utterly without finesse, too soupy & spiced way down.

SpicyThaidrunkennoodle

Without a picture to remind me I’d have forgotten about the soggy but otherwise characterless seaweed salad entirely. The line between a good seaweed salad & a bad one is thin but distinct; I asked for examples on Chowhound & got some smart replies.

STseaweed

It all made a subsequent order from the aforementioned Thai Basil, mostly merely adequate, seem downright dazzling by comparison.

Above all, the crispy duck was even richer & tenderer than the 1st time we had it, & the portion for the price, $12.50, popped the eyes.

TBduck2

It came with surprisingly good peanut sauce, less thick & more vinegary than the majority. That may primarily be why I also liked mild red “curry chicken in peanut sauce.” Sounded confusing, tasted mellow & creamy, indeed simply combining the two sauces in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever come across before, though a search suggests it’s common.

TBchickencurry

Should’ve known better than to order Szechuan eggplant rather than Thai eggplant from a Thai place; it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t spicy or sesame-tinged in the least. I’d also have preferred the ratio of eggplant to other veggies be higher, given that that’s what I ordered. Still, it was colorful & tangy & well textured.

TBeggplant

Seared scallops in an almost brothy sweet chili sauce didn’t engage my tongue much, but the sheer number of critters for the price, the same as that of the duck, was once again impressive.

TBscallops
Bottom line: if you’re stuck at home in southeast Denver & a craving for Thai strikes, get over it. If you just can’t get over it, then call Thai Basil & keep your expectations modest.

Unless, that is, you’re one of the 28.8 folks who’ve given Spicy Thai two thumbs up on Urbanspoon, in which case go right ahead & order up a storm.

Spicy Thai on Urbanspoon

Husted Collection Curios: Good Housekeeping is totally in the eye of the beholder

***Part of a semiregular series about my findings at the Margaret Husted Culinary Collection—a remarkable, undersung cookbook archive whose 1000s of specimens run the gamut from serious historical finds to quirky treats like this.***

It’s these little Cold War–era, checkout-aisle throwaway promos that are the meat of the Husted—crammed shelves upon shelves of them, each as goofy, perverse & or chilling as the last. You know—what Candyboots said.

Good Housekeeping’s Appetizer Book & Entertaining for Six or Eight exemplify the genre.

GHappbook E68

It was all about the fondue, the skewers, the peach melba & the…Campbell’s & Eggo mushroom soup waffles with pickled peppers? What the hell are those things on the right? Well, whatever it was about, it was for the swingers—

the sloshed hostesses making obscene gestures as their husbands fumed, arms crossed, above phrases like “Other Quickies” & “Stuffed Nuts”;

BHAB1
the randy teens feigning wholesomeness with varsity sweaters & accordions;

BHAB3

the constant double entendres (or so they ring in my ear) & faux-haute misdeeds

BHAB2

& downright food antiporn, featuring the apparent likes of deformed melting testicles (parsleyed, of course).

E681

God bless taste-free space-age America!

Halfway House of Kabob (via By Jeeves)

Having acknowledged ad nauseum that a meal ordered in is a culinary experience once removed—you can’t possibly get the same feel for the kitchen as you do when you’re within feet of it—the fact of the matter is most of us rely on delivery from time to time, & a comparison of your options under those circumstances is no less valuable than a comparison of your options for dining out.

Granted, it would be more valuable if the deliveries from any given place were themselves consistent. Since House of Kabob’s just aren’t, what can I say except good luck? Sometimes it’ll be a score, sometimes a wash.

Of all the Middle Eastern restaurants on By Jeeves’ list, I was partial toward HOK insofar as the menu, though laden with familiar staples, doesn’t dumb its specials down—think lamb’s tongue soup & fesenjan (walnut-&-pomegranate flavored chicken stew). That said, the basics are always a good place to start, since the quality of the foundation obviously determines the extent to which it can be built upon with any confidence or style.

Here’s where this House’s foundation proves shoddy.

HOKshawarma
chicken shawarma pita w/ fries

Iceberg has its place in a shawarma, but it’s not supposed to have it to itself. Not that the wan shreds of chicken that were hiding in the corners were worth outing; meanwhile, what was glaring were the ungrilled pita & limp fries.

HOKfattoush

By comparison, the pita croutons in the fattoush were nice and crispy, the veggies bright & crisp. Still, they, like the sandwich, were underdressed beyond a squirt of lemon juice—virtually olive oil–less as near as I could tell.

Adding insult to that drab injury was the fact that I’d ordered a side of creamy garlic sauce for the very sake of having a little extra dressing to play with—& for $2.95, this is what I got:

HOKsauce

So that’s what, a buck a tablespoon? And that’s what, thawed paste? It wasn’t bad, admittedly—you can’t argue with raw garlic & salt—but you can argue with the description “creamy sauce.”

Fool mudammas, too, lacked oomph.

HOKfool

Beans are beautiful things when properly seasoned; when not, they’re just nubs of starch. Three words: garlic, lemon, garlic. In that order.

All that said, here’s where the House’s foundation proves solid.

HOKeggplant

Persian eggplant is described as containing tomatoes, which it obviously did, garlic, which it did—& eggs, which I guess it did, as some sort of binder? There are enough similar recipes online to indicate that’s probably the case. At any rate, it was the roasted eggplant itself that mattered, maintaining just enough of its bitterness to give it an edge, a smoky bite.

The same went for its better-known counterpart, the unusually airy baba ghanoush that came on both the Sultan combo

HOKmeatcombo

& the veggie combo,

HOKvegcombo

which not only looked something like a Delaunay

Delaunay-robert-rhythm-joie-de-vivre-2410112

but tasted as vibrant, too. Moistness was the key asset of virtually every item on both, from the way creamy hummus (I prefer mine more lemony, but sufficient tahini compensated), and the fluffy rice to the peppery falafel & the charred but juicy, if sparse, chunks of lamb, beef & chicken. Only the grape leaves left something to be desired—namely flavor, apparently squeezed out by the too-thick & -tight wrapping. But a little sprinkle of paprika to infuse the surface oil was a neat touch.

If I can’t say I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed thus far—don’t even ask if the pita’s housemade—nor can I say I’m washing my hands of HOK. There’s still feta-filled sambousek, lahmacun-like arayes, & beef-&-cracked-wheat kibbeh left to gobble down before I give up—or, she says optimistically, move on up to that lamb’s tongue soup.

House of Kabob on Urbanspoon

Husted Collection Curios: Military Meals at Home COOK BOOK, or why we love men in uniforms

***Part of a semiregular series about my findings at the Margaret Husted Culinary Collection at DU’s Penrose Library—a remarkable, undersung cookbook archive whose 1000s of specimens run the gamut from serious historical finds to, well, the following.***

In a post-post-Vietnam, post-9/11, post–Iron Chef, post-ironic era, what’s not to love about a good old, genuine, pre-loss-of-collective-(however willed)-innocence, WWII-era collection of recipes “used by the Military Service in their kitchens & galleys,” from shit on a shingle to biscuits & gravy? The cover alone’s a happy heartbreaker,

MilitaryMeals

between the use of all-caps to emphasize COOK BOOK—lest you, trawling across, say, the website of the US Army food service for photos like

Hospital-army-food-service-careers
this

need convincing that Military Meals at Home (1943) isn’t in fact some sort of joke book—& the guarantee that the recipes therein will build “resistance.” What, like vaccines? Is it possible to choke down enough “Irish grape & bologna salad” that you could develop an immunity to it? 

No, somehow I don’t think you could ever get used to potato salad such as this, heaped atop what appears to be thin-sliced roast beef & ringed round with either black olives (the referent of the above slur) or actual grapes. Or blueberries with some kind of infection.

MMsaying4

Per the introduction, “It is a truism that ‘food is what men fight with,’ but it has only recently been recognized that food is what men see with & fly with. High-vitamin food is what supports the terrific strain of emergencies.” An example might be a nice cuppa trusty old joe, which apparently comes with not only firepower but all the milk, sugar & caffeine–induced vim you need to  use it.

MMsaying3

Another would be oh-so-nutrient-dense fried mush & bacon.

MMsaying5

To reiterate that caption:

You can’t get ’em up

You can’t get ’em up

Sure you can get ’em up
when its
[sic] fried mush and
bacon for breakfast

Those midcentury drill sergeants were no Madvillain, I’ll tell you that. Granted, the studs of the armed forces in general don’t seem to have been prone toward lyricism, especially of the romantic variety.

MMsaying2

Was that a threat? Did droves of vets leave their high-school sweethearts for mess cooks with hardons for hardtack?

If so, it must’ve been those same don’t-ask-don’t-tell targets who founded the US Army Culinary Competition, which actually looks like a) a blast b) the real deal:

Top01 8260605_550x550_mb_art_R0

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Hell, the rulebook—covering everything from clarified consommés to marzipan modeling—is 81 pp. long! One key caveat:

—A service member that gets injured during Armed Force Chef of the Year, Armed Forces
Jr. Chef of the Year, or Categories K [Practical & Contemporary Hot Food Cooking] & P [Practical & Contemporary Patisserie] will be evaluated by the lead kitchen judge. If the injuries
are serious, the lead judge will stop the competitor & show staff will ensure that the injured service
member gets proper medical attention. The competitor will not be rescheduled.

Suck it up, soldiers—after all, cooking isn’t just a job, it’s an adventure!

Groovy EVOO Marketplace

I don’t care if his name’s Mick Major, which sounds like some British Invasion–era drummer whose lifeless body might have been found in a bathtub in a Mayfair hotel suite. If I know my Italians, & I believe I do, the proprietor of this gorgeous gourmet shop in Lodo is a Michele Maggiore through & through. He’s too gregarious, too generous with & too infectiously enthusiastic about his wares not to have a little sangue del paese vecchio in him.

Which isn’t to say it’s all Italian all the time in here. A veritable modern gallery of oils & balsamic vinegars, the airy space is lined with, to quote the website, some 40 “polished steel canisters named fusti” that are filled with liquid gold (& green & pale yellow & near-black) from around the world—not only the Boot but Greece, France, Australia, Israel, Tunisia,

EVOOMarketplace3 Chile,

& so on.

The majority are fused with subtle but clear flavors—not, note, infused. Again per the website, the difference is in the timing of the process—fusing is part & parcel of, not post, production, & is followed by filtering. (Hence the greater purity relative to, say, those clove-&-sprig-filled gift bottles you get from your Pier 1s.)

EVOOMarketplace1
Cinnamon pear & pomegranate balsamic vinegars

As well-versed about the qualities of his products in person as he is online, Major is also persuasive, proffering sample after sample to prove the savory smarts behind his pairing recs. For instance, he mixed

a bit of EVOOMarketplace2

with roasted walnut oil in 1 of those little tasting cups you see, & I swear I could smell the woodsmoke in the October air & taste the butter lettuce & blue cheese I’d toss with the intense blend. (And yes, rather than using bread as a dipper, you really are better off sipping the stuff straight so you know exactly what you’re getting.)

EVOOMarketplacelimeoil But it was when he combined the white peach vinegar  with the Persian lime olive oil (to the left) that he made  his first of what I know will be many sales. This too  was as evocative as it was flavorful, all green leaves &  pink blossoms. (Perfect over a bowl of Lucky Charms!   Skip the milk.)

Wanting it all by & for itself, I bought the oil to drizzle  on shellfish, blend with lemon juice & just a bit of  garlic for a salad dressing, use as a dip for some sort of  herbed bread.

All I’ve done so far is use it in a vinaigrette on a  pseudo-Greek salad with shrimp, feta, Castelvetrano  olives, peppers, tomatoes, etc.—but it made all the  difference. Perked that sucker right up.

EVOOmarketplacesalad

Though my next purchase will probably be that walnut oil, the 1 after that (I’m fantasizing ahead) has got to be the 18-year aged balsamic (from, ma certo, Modena). Like the author of the way cool local blog Pero Comen Como Locos, I could pour this as a digestivo—it’s that smooth & complexly sweet. (But I’d be just as happy to douse strawberries or olive oil cake in it.)

Kudos to Major, a peach himself, for keeping this lovely store afloat in the economic crisis–tossed waters of downtown. (On that note, don’t set your empties abobbing therein—take them back to the store to get a refill for $1 off.)

By Jeeves, I think India Oven’s Got It

Given the good 1st impression By Jeeves made on us a few weeks ago even as Hapa Sushi was making a rather poor one, & considering how much we like our couch, the Director & I recently delved into delivery discovery again by ordering via the online/phone service from India Oven. It’s a place I’d often wondered about, tucked into its little corner at the south end of the University Hills Plaza, but I could just never overcome my intense fear of nearby Tuesday Morning to make it through the front door.

Well, color me pink with pleasure. Not only was the By Jeeves ordering process once again easy as pie—or at least doodhi halvah (teehee)!—but the order itself was delish enough to repeat the whole transaction a few days later, to only slightly diminished delight.

For one thing, if skimping on takeout/delivery is (at least in my perhaps cynicism-skewed experience) a bit more likely than not, the folks at India Oven buck the norm by adding a few nicely spiced pieces of pappadum to every order along with 3-count-’em-3 dipping sauces: mint chutney, tamarind chutney & raita that, in a new-to-me twist, comes laced with julienned carrots. With our 2nd meal, they even threw in 2 containers of rice: 1 plain basmati, the other saffron, both properly fluffy & aromatic.

IOrice

For another thing, the salmon saag is a thing of beauty.

IOsalmonsaag

A, there’s no skimping on the firm, moist, almost sweet-fleshed fish. B, there’s no telling exactly what’s in the saag that makes its flavor so complexly rich—but I’d swear it’s a touch more than its share of ghee.

Though he ordered it hot, the Director’s daal tarka wasn’t simply chilefied—it was earthy & gingery too. Or, in his words, “fuckin’ scrumptious.” (That’s garlic naan on the side;

IOlentils

me, I really dig the kabuli naan,

IOnaan

evenly but not overly studded with dates & nuts to prove lightly sweet, not dessert-pizzalike.)

I forgot to snap the kadai paneer, but it looked a lot like this blogger’s, whose handsome photo I’ve swiped. Full of tomatoes, onions & green peppers—the latter bordering on al dente—it was lighter & fresher-tasting than most curries, & gently scented with cinnamon. I suspect, in short, that it was a very fine example of the dish, if slightly less to my personal taste than its deeper, richer counterparts.

Kadhai_paneer1

Lamb vindaloo, for example, usually is to my taste, provided it doesn’t obliterate my ability to taste anything beyond the first bite—but the Director’s was oversalted & the meat tough, making for the only real disappointment of the bunch.

IOvindaloo

Still, overall, India Oven is already 2nd only to India’s Pearl (on which you’ll find much here) in my official book. Guess I’d better get over my nervousness around Mammy Dolls & Family Legacy Bibles & whatnot & check the place out in person.

India Oven on Urbanspoon