Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Product-testing a go-go: pickled eggplant & hot fruit-flavored beef jerky, Pacific Mercantile

Man, I love me some Pac Merc, the killer, disheveled Asian grocery at Lawrence & 19th. If I couldn’t care less about food I’d love Pac Merc, because I’d still care a lot about language & cartoons, & thus shriek & giggle within myself, sometimes without, to see

PMpeanut PMpeanut3PMpeanut2

& PMseaweed .

But since I couldn’t care more about food, I really dig Pac Merc. Take pickled Japanese eggplant. Besides gulping them down whole, I don’t really know what to do with the chewy, juicy, super-sour, quite spicy things with just a slight, not unpleasant chemical tinge of food coloring—


nor do I know what my fondness of late for products evoking castration procedures gone awry entails***


(for more on British Bulldog Pub’s bangers, see here)—

but they sure are as yummy as they are ugly all by themselves. As for

PMjerky ,

I bought it half-jokingly, thinking


Kool Aid–koated jerky

would be good for a laugh on whoever ate it. And it was, because I ate it &, lo & beLOLed, actually enjoyed it, as peppery as it was, well, fruit-punchy. Plus look, it’s got wine in it. Wouldn’t it be even funnier if they were using, like, a vintage Bordeaux?

***Not to mention film scenes, e.g. here & here.

Product-testing a go-go: Salditos, Pacific Mercantile

My long overdue virgin visit to Pacific Mercantile—the downtown Asian grocery, not the bank—with Petey yielded, if not the nem chua I’m still seeking, myriad other delights to be revealed bit by bit.

Salditos—dried, salted plums—weren’t one of them, however. Not even close.

These, kids, are salditos.


These are rose rocks.


Turns out the striking resemblance is not at all coincidental, as the former indeed might as well be iron-heavy aggregates of barite & sand for all you can bite into them without cracking many a veneer.

They are also salty as the walls of hell.**

Digging for the dirt on these buggers on Chowhound, I was dismayed to find they were as they should have been—&  thus a taste acquired in toddlerhood or not at all.

I’ve yet to admit defeat, mind you. I’ve been soaking them in water; I’m going to add a little something to the liquid—vinegar? juice?—& give them one more chance to bloom into actual roses for the mouth. Wish me luck.

**You know, the ones surrounding pits of fire, so the walking wounded are eternally caught between, to put it mildly, a rock & a hard place. I’m guessing.

Oh, this is the best haggis in a can ever: the latest from Urban Pantry

Whether it’s better than pizza in a cup’s debatable, but the can o’ haggis ($8)


I snapped up today at Urban Pantry—& by the way, please support this rare little gem on Antique Row in any way you can; Denver’s not exactly glutted with tip-top gourmet shops—is surely the best of its kind, not that I have anything to compare it to. After all, it’s

UPhaggis2, namely

UPhaggis3, which,

all mixed together, look like


& taste like, oh, like they look like they’d taste. To borrow a phrase from the Director (not to be confused with the Dictator), shit went awry when I took a bite & promptly recalled I’m still in the early stages of liver appreciation, such that hardcore preparations involving heart & oats (not to be confused with

476747 )

are probably bound to impede the progress I’ve made with pâtés & such.

Nevertheless, haggis buffs should be giddy. Granted, since Boulder’s Scotch Corner Pub (to which I’ve not been, myself, though a recent Post review suggests it may have improved since CulinaryColorado’s Claire Walter visited a couple of months ago) serves not only haggis but haggis freakin’ nachos (hey, how about haggis risotto, since the latter’s on the menu too? That’d be sweet), there are gobs of giddiness to go around.

Turophiles Like It Stinky: Discovering Cheeses with Urban Pantry’s Alex Failmezger

Friend Mo objects to the word turophile for its potential confusion with coprophiliac, but I’d rather be mistaken for someone with a shit fetish—if that would even necessarily constitute a mistake—than go with cheesehead & be mistaken for, say,



But either way, I am by no uncertain measure a cheese freak—mold, curd, paste, rind, hint of ammonia, whiff of feet, it’s all the highest expression of human achievement. When they say the wheel was man’s greatest invention, they mean the kind made of cheese.

Naturally, Alex Failmezger of Urban Pantry, the superb gourmet shop at South Broadway & Arizona that’s finally getting some of the recognition if not the foot traffic it deserves, agrees. & since she’s got the expertise to back up her belief that the world would be a cooler place if we all ate more cheese, I asked her for tips on broadening our curdled horizons. Except for the text in italics, the following’s in her words:

If you like aged parmesan, then you’ll like Vella Bear dry jack.


Cocoa-rubbed, raw cow’s milk cheese from California, $15.99

Background: During WWI a wholesaler in California salt-stored his jack cheese because of declining cheese sales. Months later, when Italy entered the war & importing stopped, this cheese wholesaler realized he had created a new cheese, dry jack, that made an excellent substitute for parm. Vella’s the only producer of dry jack left in the US.

Tasting note: It’s the texture in particular that’s akin to parmesan; the flavor, as Alex pointed out to me, is actually somewhat reminiscent of cheddar.

Cooking/serving suggestions: You can use dry jack much as you would a table parm. For the best flavor, leave it out of the refrigerator for an hour before serving to bring it up to room temperature. It will pair well & hold its own with charcuterie, olives & other salty snacks. Shave leftover bits & rinds into pasta.

If you like provolone, then you’ll like FenceLine Trumpeter Meadow.


Aged cow’s milk cheese from Wisconsin, $18.99/lb.

Background: Not the rubbery provolone of your childhood, Trumpeter Meadow is all grown up. FenceLine is one of the few US cheesemakers to produce pasta filata, or stretched curd, cheeses. Hand stretching lends a firm, smooth texture to the paste (the interior of a cheese). Aging creates an incredible crust, which, while beautiful—it looks like you should put it in your fireplace—is inedible, bitter & gritty.

Tasting notes: Mild and a bit salty.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Aside from reminding your guests to cut away the crust (though you can eat right up to the edge), put it on a cheese plate with crackers & dried fruits or a savory fruit spread such as quince or fig.

If you like muenster, then you’ll like crucolo.*

*American muenster & Alsatian münster are whole different balls of wax, FYI.


Cow’s milk cheese from Trentino–Alto Adige, $21.99/lb.

Background: Crucolo hails from Trentino–Alto Adige, a northern region of Italy, near the Alps.

Tasting notes: It has the mouthfeel of meunster, a good chewy cheese. But the flavor has more bite & tang, like a parm. (Although, wonderfully, the tang stands an exclamation point at the end of a buttery, buttery phrase. Alex made me a fan of this stuff in an instant.)

Cooking/serving suggestions: One of the nice things about this cheese is its versatility; slice it, cube it, leave it in a huge hunk on the plate. (It’s awfully sexy that way, after all.) It melts well too! So add it to pizzas & toasted sandwiches.

If you like brie, then you MAY like taleggio.


Grotto-aged, washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Lombardy, $22.99/lb.

Background: From Lombardy, a central-northern region of Italy. Alex tells me the circular stamps on the top are exclusive to real taleggio.

Tasting notes: Taleggio has a soft creamy paste like brie, but with more of a punch. It ranges in flavor from tart & salty when it is young to nutty & meaty as it ages.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Serve it with alone with hard fruit,* crusty bread & a big Italian red, or on a cheese plate as the soft & creamy or full-flavored cheese (depending on whether you’re basing your selection on texture or taste). It melts beautifully, so use it on a toasted sandwich or top creamy polenta with it (check out the new Anson Mills polenta** at the store)!

*E.g. apples, grapes, plums; the term refers to fruits with a bit more durability than, say, fragile, quick-to-spoil raspberries.

**Urban Pantry is, as far as Alex knows, the only store to carry this acclaimed East Coast product locally.

If you like swiss, then you’ll like gruyère.

FWIW, swiss is 1 of my least favorite cheeses, & I still love gruyère.


Cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland, $19.99

Background: Emmental (what we in the US call swiss), gruyère & comté are all pretty similar cheeses. Made from alpine milk, it comes in large wheels & is considered one of the great cheeses of the world.

Tasting notes: Nice & chewy, salty-sweet, beefy flavor that’s more intense than emmental or comté.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Gruyère is a MUST for fondue. But if you don’t like your cheese hot and stringy, then (you are very silly &) pair it with hard fruits such as pear & apple as well as salty charcuterie.

If you like extra strong cheese like epoisses, then you’ll like Stinking Bishop.


Washed rind cow’s milk cheese from Gloucestershire, $32.99/lb.***

Background: Though its aroma has been compared to old socks, its moniker has nothing to do with its smell; it’s named after a pear varietal found in its native England.

Tasting notes: If you love the stink as I do, nothing but the stink will do. I’ve only had 1 cheese (a limburger) that was too much for even me to handle. That said, its smell is worse than its bite. The majority of the aroma comes from the rind; the paste itself tends to be relatively mild, slightly tangy.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Only serve this cheese if you know your guests will enjoy it, you know no one else will be around, or you live alone. Beyond that, since it is washed with perry (a pear brandy), pears are a natural choice; their sweetness always pairs well with gooey, stinky cheeses in any case. Dustin at Divino (the nifty wine shop handily located adjacent to Urban Pantry, which I’ve touched upon here, here & elsewhere) suggests Belle de Brillet if you want the full Gloucestershire experience. Above all, EAT IT RIGHT AWAY!

If you ALMOST like epoisses, then you’ll like langres.


Raw cow’s milk cheese from Champagne, $TBA (a new arrival)

Background: Langres is made in the same region of France as epoisses; it’s a less pungent cousin to the king of the stinkers.

Tasting notes: When fully ripe, it should have an orange rind, a fairly strong barnyard odor, a creamy texture on the edges & a chalky one in the center.

Cooking/serving suggestions: Because of its intensity, it can overpower other foods, so just enjoy it with some dried fruit at the end of your meal as you finish your bottle of wine.

General storage/serving tips: All cheeses should be tightly wrapped in a protective covering. There is much professional debate about whether plastic, tinfoil, or paper is best. I prefer plastic because you get the tightest wrap, which lets in the least amount of air. For small amounts of cheese, this is especially crucial because just a little air will dry out the cheese. For large amounts of cheese, I still use plastic, but I take the cheeses out every so often to give them a breath of fresh air.

About an hour before serving, put together your cheese plate. Let the cheeses come to room temperature on the plate. If you are worried about the cheese drying out, cover the plate loosely with plastic or a glass cheese bell.

***Lest that price tag hurt to look at, rest assured Alex feels your pain: “I’m trying to bring down the price points of the cheeses without compromising the quality. I’d rather not carry something than carry something that’s crap.” Coprophilia notwithstanding, I applaud her stance.

Well, hell, the farmer really is in the dell: A tour of Hazel Dell Mushrooms, Fort Collins (+ notes on Panzano)

I 1st had the pleasure of Jim Hammond’s company last spring, during a mushroom dinner & discussion hosted by the Lab at Belmar as part of its fascinating Taste Test series (to be resumed this spring, I hear; do check it out from all angles). Mind you, it wasn’t 1 on 1 or anything; Hammond was a guest lecturer, on hand to provide a totally edutaining overview of his work as the founder of Hazel Dell Mushrooms in Fort Collins. Ever since, I’ve been cognizant of the frequency with which his fungi are referenced on local menus; just the other evening, in fact, they cropped up no less than thrice during an all-out gutbuster in which I participated at Panzano (more on this soon):


crespelle ai funghi—a mushroom-filled crepe soaking up its undersauce of fontina & truffle oil, here half-eaten yet still wonderfully springy & bursting with its own juices


grilled, sliced skirt steak beneath a veritable bale of fried-potato hay, flanked by mashed-potato scoops topped with sliced portobellos


perhaps the blue-ribbon recipe of the eve, due polli—chicken scaloppine & grilled chicken sausage over a mound of suitably soft-enough-to-spoon polenta with mushrooms & tomatoes

I believe the mushrooms in both the crepe & the latter dish were mixed***—although, as I can now confirm firsthand following a tour of Hazel Dell, which hosted an open house yesterday, Hammond & his crew only cultivate a few varieties. & boy, do they do it carefully (not to mention alone, at least in the case of certain species otherwise not commercially harvested in Colorado).

Located just off I-25 (exit 262), the facilities are modest sizewise, but virtually every inch is given over to the growth of buttons & portobellos,


tree oysters & king oysters,




caulifloweresque lion’s manes


& a species Hazel Dell has only just begun to experiment with called cinnamon caps:


The process is extraordinarily intricate: in spawn bags filled with sawdust mixed with rice bran & gypsum, the spores are “cooked” in a sterilizer at 350 degrees for 4 hours; then they’re incubated in insulation-lined, heated incubation sheds for 3–13 weeks—all that white stuff is mushroom that hasn’t fruited yet;


then they’re stored in “harvest rooms” kind of like the archives in Welles’s adapation of Kafka’s The Trial, only not nightmarish,


equipped with spindisk humidifers (hence the rather lovely blotchiness of the below image),



where the bags they’re in are opened, which allows them to fruit within 2–5 days (as the first several photos show).

We bought a 1/2-lb. of the lion’s manes, fine knobbed & furry specimens indeed,


& I sauteed them tonight in olive oil & a splash of balsamic with fresh favas, asparagus & scallops—which they tasted remarkably like: like scallops magically sprouted from sawdust.


***’Tis confirmed: oysters, royal king trumpets & cremini.

Product-testing a go-go: Lutenica, East Europe Market

As I descend further & further into the madness for malidjano I’ve mentioned here & here, all its evil twins are beginning to swirl around me too, in terrifying numbers.

Really, the sheer variety of condiments from Eastern Europe (& in this case the East Europe Market, just off S. Broadway on E. Louisiana) featuring eggplant, bell peppers, or some combination thereof, along with slightly divergent herb & spice blends here, garlic there, the occasional walnut & so on is startling, from avjar to pinjur & beyond to lutenica. Like avjar, lutenica is heaviest on red bell peppers, but it also contains chilies, tomatoes & carrots. Since the former sometimes strikes me as a little stridently 1-note, I’m fonder of the latter, which has more depth as well as slight heat.



I put it on all kinds of vegetables, including spaghetti squash, which makes me think it could make for an interesting alternative to your basic tomato sauce for pasta. Or a deviled egg stuffing, mashed together with the yolks. Or, hell, a scalp treatment. In the world in my head dip is omnipurpose.

Product-testing a go-go: Goulash Cream Hot!, East Europe Market

The opportunity DIY product testing provides of (potentially all too) rip-roaring culinary adventure for the household consumer doesn’t get its due; I hereby aim to change that by putting it in titular thigh-highs. How’m I doing so far?

Way back in May when I bought this stuff during my 1st visit to the East Europe Market (which I now visit weekly to stock up on malidjano, aka Balkan baba ghanoush—a different label each time for comparison’s sake—so I can slop gobs of it in all its eggplant-based glory on top of just about anything),


I wondered at its awkward packaging, insofar as a tube depicting flames is bound to give any sufferer of inflammation in hard-to-reach areas pause, while a tube depicting specifically the flames of a campfire while adding to the equation the portrait of a rough rider with a moustache & a wink just for you suggests uses that go far beyond the kitchen, perhaps all the way to Brokeback Mountain. At any rate it doesn’t immediately, to me, jibe with the claim on the back:

“Delicious. Use with any stew or meat. A great food enhancer in its hot or mild forms. Saves money on spices.”

Nevertheless, while making a simple tomato sauce for spaghetti squash last night, I decided to squirt some into the pot & see what came of it.

It looked as expected, catsupesque (never you mind what my finger looks like in the current context);


it tasted like paprika-spiked salt. Red, squishy paprika-spiked salt. That’s about all I can say for it, though it did give the sauce a little kick while making the addition of more salt unnecessary—sure enough saving money on spices.

Cool stuff in my house (Part 7, with a plug for Divino)

Old thrift-store cookbooks filled with the marginalia &/or inserts of former owners unknown—with the disquiet of tales told in fragments & the juxtapositions thereof.


Movies screened via projector so I can almost, say, belly up to the sausage-chomping slob behind the bar in Fritz Lang’s speakeasy in M


to order liverwurst on black bread


& a nip not unlike a fave I discovered a couple of years back & rediscovered last week at Divino—Bak’s Zubrówka bison-grass vodka, clean & meadow-redolent. Club soda only highlights its bright velvetiness, like dew on fields of green you frolic in come sunrise. When you’re drunk.


Wine Poem 4, with notes on a bottle of 2006 Qupé Marsanne from Divino

With a single whiff of this Santa Ynez Valley blend of marsanne & roussane,  the words “flowering date palm” formed in my head in swaying pastel letters. A sip, meanwhile, conjured ripe apricots.

I’m aware my newfound capacity for specificity w/r/t wine tasting  does not necessarily translate into a knack for accuracy. I do feel some vindication upon discovering that 1 critic detects notes of “hazelnut and a trace of honey. Subtle, floral-accented quince and white peach.” Close enough. But if I’m lucky this poem could be even closer.


Wine Poem 4

Perhaps happens. All it is could be.
Another word for it would be—
maybe it’ll come to me—
Granted shape is just a phase. Granted form—
goblet, tumbler, bottle in the dark,
amarone in the gloaming and a body
clad in black—just inserts itself between
to and from, from and to, abstract to
the touch, concrete as thought.
So it seems in light of these say
libationsin the
the bare flicker, the slight gyre
of their bilabials one icy eve.
Grape, grape, barbaresco, primitivo,
after such anticipation the
first sip nearly hurts,
a little bit, a touch,
like on certain liquids you could cut your lip,
the way of fluid having after all an edge

When the wine winds down,
nearly is nearby, the word is not to be.
I want everything, nothing included.


Brown-butter bread pudding with mulberries and milk jam
sounds like sculpture.
The heart is its own brain.
The heart pauses, then hesitates.
Something’s on the tip
of the heart’s tongue, the heart taps
fist to brow to jar
a memory into place. Perhaps
it’s a name, the name is not Claude Muchmore, it is not
Javier Flores, it cannot be
Soso Kokynos, maybe it’s a place
by the sea, by the wayside, over yonder.
It thinks, I’ve heard this song
for twenty-something years,
the heart knows the lyrics by heart
(one night in Iowa, he and I in a borrowed car)…
The heart has hips and sways. The heart has lips and applies
its own pressure, its own logic, its own balm.
The heart acknowledges the dichotomy
between mind and body mind and body
barely acknowledge
and in the moment
of so doing wrinkles and shrinks
into a golden raisin.
things is coming to not terms but blows.

Tidbits: Snooze, Beatrice & Woodsley, Jaya, Urban Pantry, East Europe Market

Behold some eats that slipped through the cracks of one relatively recent blogpost or another if not of my meticulous gut:


pulled piglet’s benedict at Snooze

From the neat script logo to the asterisk motif marking the two-tone vinyl, this place sometimes sets my teeth on wink-wink-retro-edge. But what soothes them like a plate full of Anbesol is this: a hot, buttered, darkly crisped but super-chewy English muffin topped with perfectly poached eggs, plump-to-bursting like bellies that you just want to tickle ’til they do, loads of slow-braised pulled pork (one associates pulling with barbecuing, but really, it just means removing the meat from the bone using something other than a knife—hands, a fork, etc.—so it’s in shreds rather than slices), sliced avocado & smoked-cheddar hollandaise that actually tastes like a hollandaise gone wild rather than cheese dip.

lamb loin with Merguez sausage & Marcona almond gazpacho at Beatrice & Woodsley

Let’s pause to eulogize this remarkable combination of morsels, which is no longer with us (though I imagine the milkfed veal loin with herbed veal sausage & roasted cauliflower that took its place on the menu as a variation on the theme). Mighty for its size, it contained thumb-length slices of seared lamb so juicily rare the blood still seemed to be circulating through them; charred crumbles of spicy housemade sausage (true to the Merguez name, I suspect—i.e., made with lamb & beef & harissa-spiked); & all of an ounce of coolly creamy gazpacho (which I likewise presume came by its creaminess the traditional Spanish way, via bread & olive oil).


sotong goreng at Jaya Asian Grill

Fried calamari, Malaysian-style: tender & light on the breading, heavy on the seasoning, from black pepper & chili pepper to fried bits of garlic & onion. (Conventional wisdom says China’s going to take over the world, but I think it should be Malaysia, because the garlic-&-tamarind-fried anchovies known as ikan bilis, sadly not available at Jaya or anywhere in Denver as far as I know, ALREADY RULE:

IkanBilis )


yet another cheese plate from Urban Pantry

Clockwise from top are Z garlic & basil crackers; Jacquin Valençay—a runny, stinky, ash-coated French goat cheese; a classic aged gouda, nutty & sharply mellow (not an oxymoron in aged gouda’s case); balls-out, pepperoniesque chorizo seco.



another jar of malidjano (eggplant dip) from East Europe Market, this one Macedonian and heavier on red peppers than the first one I sampled

As EEM devotes 1 entire aisle to veggie pickles & spreads, I aim to devote at least 1-half of 1 of my 2 hollow legs to same; therefore, more such luscious aerial shots to come.