Saturday, December 24, 2011

Walking Denver (Part III) and a Winter Pear Salad with Walnuts and Mustard Vinaigrette

The Front Range and Foothills got a whole lot of snow last week. I think the totals were somewhere around a foot. But as I've mentioned in previous posts, the snow is welcomed here in Colorado and the city of Denver looks beautiful. The temperature usually shoots back into the 40's and 50's within a day or two after a storm, so that helps with melting and because of that you don't feel like you're living in a place with an unmanageable winter.  
I decided it was time to go on another historic walking tour, one that would take us through a different part of town. We drove over to see some of the larger homes and mansions in the Country Club section of the city. The neighborhood, which was established around 1905, has some impressive residences with architectural influences that include French Chateau, Georgian, Colonial, 1920's Tudor, Victorians, 'Denver Squares' and Santa Fe. (I also spotted a great mid-century modern home which I tried to look into, but things got awkward when the people inside saw me on my tippy-toes, two kids in tow, trying to get a glimpse of their interior furnishings.) Unfortunately for me I was going on this walking tour with a broken toe. 
My poor little toe, the fourth one on my right foot (I'll call it my ring toe) got stubbed on the baby's bouncer. It hurt like hell and I knew immediately it was broken. Adding insult to injury, the lovely denizens of Country Club aren't too fond of shoveling their sidewalks and some parts of the neighborhood are without sidewalks all together. That meant that I could only take Otis and Theo on a few well-shoveled streets- which was too bad because I felt like we missed a ton of great architecture. I guess that just means we will have to head back that way again once things melt a bit more.
Anyway, Otis had a great time and Theo slept through most of the tour. 
When I got home I whisked up a wonderful vinaigrette and drizzled it on top of a tasty winter pear salad. It was easy and delicious, which makes it my kind of salad. 
Enjoy and Happy holidays! 
* * *
I saw a few variations of this pear salad, so I made a hybrid of sorts by using posts from dishingthedivine and drizzleanddip. This salad is über-simple to make and it's really tasty. There's bitter-goodness from the arugula, sweetness from the pear, a creamy tang from the cheese, and a mustard-ness (is that a word?) from the vinaigrette. Basically, the perfect balance of savory and sweet. You could caramelize the nuts, but since I wanted to keep the prep time and clean-up to a minimum, I skipped that step for now...but it certainly would be a way to jazz this up for a holiday dinner party. 
Winter Pear Salad with Walnuts and Mustard Vinaigrette Dressing (Adapted from Drizzle & Dip and Dishing the Divine)
Ingredients
several cups of arugula 
1 pear, thinly sliced (I went with Red Anjou)
2 ounces crumbly cheese (gorgonzola, blue cheese)
1/2 cup walnuts
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of maple syrup
a big pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Directions
Place the baby greens in a large, flat bowl. Top with pear slices, walnuts and cheese.
For the dressing, blend oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, salt, and pepper.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad (you will likely have some left over).  Mix. Eat! 
The salad dressing is very similar to Mollie Katzen's "Sweet & Tart Mustard Dressing" in The New Moosewood Cookbook. That recipe is as follows:
6 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons of honey or maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk everything together. Cover and chill. This dressing is especially good on chilled cooked vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli. 
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Serve with a Side of Dreidel: Non-Traditional Latkes (Leek and Cardamom Fritters)

I love holidays that are celebrated with lights and food. Around this time of year there are plenty of holidays that fit that bill. There's St. Lucia Day in Sweden, Kwanzaa, Christmas and Chaunkah (or Hanukkah), to name a few. I'm focusing on Chanukah here.
The holiday commemorates the triumph of Judah the Maccabee over the King Antiochus in the 2nd Century BCE. Hooray for the revolutionaries! There was also a little miracle that happened in the Temple. A small amount of oil miraculously burned for 8 days (yes, that's one long lasting flame). To commemorate this surprising event, latkes are served because the oil in which they are fried is symbolic of the aforementioned miracle. Latkes, in modern tradition, are made of grated potatoes, but historically they were made with whatever local ingredients were around-- vegetables, legumes, etc. I decided to try some non-traditional latkes this year, opting for Leek and Cardamom Fritters. I figure that since they are pan fried in olive oil, they are still very much in the spirit of Chanukah. They are shallow little pancakes that contain flour and egg- which is similar to the traditional potato latke. I think these work well for the holiday.
The recipe is a Mark Bittman adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi dish. It was printed in The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Special thanks to my friend Richard who sent me the link and to Melissa who sent me the hard copy of this recipe.
Happy holidays! 
Leek-and-Cardamom Fritters (Courtesy of Mark Bittman, New York Times Magazine, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi)
Yield: 4 servings (about 8 large fritters)
Ingredients
About 2/3 cup olive oil
3 leeks, thickly sliced
5 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 fresh red chili (like Thai), seeded and sliced
1 cup fresh parsley (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
2/3 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and fine stems), finely chopped
2 to 3 ounces manouri cheese, broken into large chunks (or drained ricotta cheese or young goat cheese)
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 whole egg
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Lemon wedges for serving.
Directions
1. Heat the oven to 200. Put 1⁄3 cup of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the leeks and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cardamom and cinnamon and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl and add the chili, parsley, cilantro, manouri and salt. Allow to cool, then stir gently.
2. Beat the egg white until soft peaks form, and fold it into the onions. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, whole egg, milk and butter to form a smooth batter. Gently fold it into the onion mixture.
3. Put 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, ladle four spoonfuls (about half of the batter) into the pan to make four large fritters. Fry them until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a platter in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter, adding more of the oil as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature, with lemon wedges.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Zucchini-Olive Oil Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze


A week before Otis was born my husband and I ate our last supper out, that is as a couple without children. We knew things were going to change in a big way. So we thought long and hard about where we should go for this big (and very special) celebration. We already had the good fortune of dining at Per Se on my 30th birthday (that's a story for another time, but holy cow!) and we'd been to some of the city's best restaurants including Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernandin and Del Posto. Babbo was a place we'd always wanted to go to but never did, until the week before our first son arrived. Getting reservations was no picnic, but we got it done. We ate course after course and each plate was more delicious than the one preceding it. I was really glad to be wearing loose maternity garb, if you know what I mean. Babbo was a truly wonderful dining experience.
When I saw this recipe for Zucchini Olive-Oil cake posted on David Lebovitz's website, I made a mental note that I just had to make it -- due in large part to the fact that the original recipe came from Gina DePalma, the James Beard Award winning pastry chef who worked at Chanterelle, Gramery (under Claudia Fleming) and who currently makes the sweets at Babbo
Though the traditional zucchini season has ended and summer is a distant memory, I was reminded of this cake when I discovered it on The Moveable Feasts. Amy, the author of the aforementioned blog, left a comment on one of my posts and I had some free time (the kids were sleeping) so I started to scroll through some of Amy's entries (her blog is terrific). And there it was...that recipe...the one for Zucchini Olive-Oil Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze. Amy had seen it on Lottie + Doof, who had also adapted the original De Palma recipe from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. The cake was once again on my radar.
The recipe is homey, and much more comfort-foody than the traditional pastry/dessert fare at Babbo.  But don't let that fool you; it is no less delicious. The zucchini, walnuts, and olive-oil are fantastic together. And don't get me started on the crunchy lemon glaze... 
This is, hands down, my favorite zucchini bread/cake. Enjoy and happy baking! 
* * *
Some notes: The original recipe uses a bundt pan, which certainly has a more sophisticated look than cake loaf pans-- but I used 2 loaf pans because that's what I have and it worked perfectly.

Re: Grating the Zucchini. I grated about 3 medium zucchinis by using the finer side of a standard box grater. This yielded about 3 cups. Then I used a cheesecloth to drain some of the liquid out of the zucchini.
Before you get scared by the large amount of sugar, remember this is for 2 loaves, not one. I saw an adaptation that replaced the cup of olive oil for 1/4 cup olive oil and 3/4 applesauce. I haven't tried this modification and likely won't as I love olive oil, but if you do, let me know how it turns out.

Zucchini Cake with Crunchy Lemon Glaze (Adapted from Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano, via The Moveable Feasts, via Lottie + Doof)
Ingredients
1 cup walnut pieces
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (sounds like a lot, but you want it all)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 – 3 cups grated zucchini (about 3 small zucchini)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease two loaf pans (or a 10-inch bundt) and dust them with flour.
Place the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them until they are golden brown and aromatic, 12-14 minutes. Cool completely and then finely chop them.
Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a medium bowl and set aside . In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar and olive oil together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the dry ingredients all at once on low speed until they are thoroughly combined, then switch to medium speed and mix for 30 seconds. Mix in the zucchini and walnuts on low speed until they are completely incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake the cakes for 40 to 45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the cakes comes out clean and the cakes have begun to pull away from the sides of the pans.
While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and granulated sugar, then whisk in the confectioners’ sugar until the glaze is completely smooth.
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then carefully invert them onto a wire rack. Using a pastry brush, immediately brush the glaze over the entire surface of the warm cake, using all of the glaze; it will adhere to the cake and set as the cake cools. Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to dry.
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Friday, December 16, 2011

Morning Walk, Park II: Historic Lower Highlands (and Some Italian Sweets)

This is becoming a great ritual: an early to mid-morning walk through one of Denver's neighborhoods, followed by some local eats. I firmly believe that the best way to explore a city is to visit one neighborhood at a time and then spend an hour or two on foot, checking things out. So many details get lost from a car window.
Today's plan was to walk around the Platte River neighborhood, but I kind of got lost en route.  I found the Riverfront Park area, but couldn't seem to find the shops that I wanted to check out on Pearl Street- I quickly realized that I was simply in the wrong place. Instead I stumbled onto the Flour Mill Lofts, an amazing building that was converted from an old flour mill into an urban residential building. (I'm a big fan of converting defunct, existing structures into living spaces.) Then I passed the Denver Skateboard Park. A few minutes later I somehow wound up on a little bridge that took me up to Speer Boulevard, a major thoroughfare in the city.  Before I knew it I had crossed the river and was back in the Highlands-- where I live, but in a part of the Highlands nicknamed LoHi (Lower Highlands) where I haven't really explored.  The sun was shining and the weather was gorgeous.  Not wanting to waste more time, I decided to unload the troops and walk around.  
There's great historic architecture in Denver, which is something I hadn't expected (I'm not sure why). There's Foursquares ('Prairie-Box' dating from 1895-1930), Mission Revival, and Victorian styles built before the silver crash of 1893. Later examples of architecture include Colonial Revivial, Dutch Colonial Revival and the ubiquitous and quaint Craftsman-style bungalow homes. Today we saw tons of Victorians in the Potter-Highland Historic District. We walked around for a long time and before I knew it, it was well past noon and it was time for a snack. We walked over to 32nd Avenue and the hunt was on for a coffee shop or a little bakery. At the corner of Clay, I saw a place called 'Spuntino' and I had a feeling this was going to hit the spot. (This 'Spuntino' is not to be confused with Frankie's Spuntino, the Brooklyn eatery, which has also been mentioned on this blog. It also shouldn't be confused with 'spumoni'- that's an ice cream with layers of colored flavors and candied nuts.) 
Spuntino is an Italian snack-- and this place has small plates, paninis, gelato, piadine and soup. They also have homemade popsicles, which are apparently fantastic, though I didn't try them personally. (Next time.) The menu is well thought out with dolce (sweet) and salato (savory) options.  I got a pastry, a cup of coffee and some gelato-to-go. When I got home I portioned out the gelato, a Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Caramel.  Seriously. It was delicious and authentic. Apparently the owners had flown in an expert from Italy to train employees on the gelato making process. It was spot on. 
A few blocks away is Little Man Ice Cream.  Their 1,400 lbs. milk can/store is fantastic and their ice cream is delicious.  Not for today though. Maybe Wednesday!   
Next week I'll be heading over to Park Hill and SoBo. Stay turned!

time for a snack...
back to our walk...


back at home...
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