Saturday, May 30, 2009


Last week, while my husband sweated out 4 days of interviewing with a Denver architecture firm, I roamed the city on my own, exploring the culinary terrain (not to mention a few dozen apartments and rental houses). Denver seems to be a growing food city, and I found some quality eats that I just had to share with you.

Snooze: This kitschy-cool diner specializes in breakfast. They do it right—while some joints have a morning menu that reads like a novel, Snooze takes the high road with a smaller menu of expertly prepared dishes, particularly their pancakes and Benedicts (categorized on the menu under “The Art of Hollandaise”). It was so good, I ate there twice. The pancake selection is tempting, and so they offer a Pancake Flight—a choice of any three pancakes—to satisfy those of us with a fear of commitment. I chose the Chocolate Cherry Pancake (chock full of semi-sweet Ghirardelli chips and covered with sour cherry sauce and drizzled melted chocolate), the Sweet Potato Pancake (with a bourbon-caramel glaze and toasted pecans), and my favorite, the Pineapple Upside Down Pancake (embedded with fresh, caramelized pineapple and drizzled with homemade crème anglaise). We also had the Ham Benedict III, which was a savory indulgence. Snooze makes their English muffins from scratch, does a mean smoked cheddar hollandaise sauce, and the soft-poached eggs were gathered from a local purveyor.

Moe’s Original Barbeque: It’s pretty simple, really—great pulled pork, beer specials and four lanes for bowling. We ate for under thirteen bucks apiece (including a beer), and our platters included from-scratch jalepeno cornbread and two sides. It was a little southern trashy, and a little Lebowski—in other words, a perfect date.

Pho 79: We definitely ventured into what some would consider “the wrong side of the tracks” for this dinner, but it was worth it. We enjoyed a refreshing appetizer of shrimp and chicken summer rolls, followed by monstrous bowls of Phở (a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup), chock full of rare steak, brisket and finely chopped tripe. Pho 79 is light on cost, but heavy on the condiments—we received a heaping platter of bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime wedges, sliced hot peppers and sauces to adorn our steaming soup. We slurped hot tea and our noodles as the Vietnamese waiters improved their English by staying glued to Wheel of Fortune blaring on the dining room television (which was perched right above the rickshaw- Classic!) (Post-relocation note: We have moved on from Pho 79. Now it's Pho 95 all the way. Both are on South Federal, where you could pretty much blindfold yourself, spin around 10 times, take ten paces and wind up a Vietnamese restaurant. Overall, I think that Pho 95 has a richer broth and was more consistent in quality from visit to visit.)

Lucile’s Creole Café: This lovely little eatery is nestled near the Washington Park neighborhood of Denver, but it might as well be a block off of Bourbon Street. With hot beignets, chicory coffee and dishes like the ever-indulgent Eggs Sardou, it reminded me of a breakfast I enjoyed in New Orleans years ago (one that admittedly followed what I barely recall as "The Night of a Dozen Hurricanes"). Lucile’s serves breakfast and lunch, and aims for authenticity, from the Crawfish Etouffee to the homemade condiments (a kickin’ ketchup, strawberry jam and apple butter). Some dishes are executed better than others--the shrimp on the Eggs Sardou were very small and poorly seasoned--but overall Lucile's did not disappoint, and the crowd of weekend diners waiting for a table on the front porch suggests that this is one of the city's hot spots.

I also think that a meal at Lucile’s might also bring good luck, because an hour after we ate our breakfast there, I found our new home—a cute little postage stamp of a house just a few blocks away. Emmett was offered the job on Friday, and we signed the lease to the rental on Saturday morning before hopping a flight back to Michigan. The house itself is small, but it has a huge kitchen and a garden in the back yard.

Now we have a big move upon us--from Ann Arbor to the Mile High City. And I can’t wait. There is more to come, as The Hungry Masses relocates to Denver, Colorado.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Arugula and Mint Pesto wtih Spicy Seared Shrimp

Every summer I grow and buy copious amounts of basil for pesto, making batches every other weekend or so, and then freezing it for the year ahead. Bright and lemony, with plenty of garlic and toasted pine nuts, pesto is like a magic elixir during the wintertime, and it refreshes the palate after one too many hearty stews or braises. My homemade basil pesto (which I freeze in individual portions in ice cube trays) tops tilapia, minestrone soup, dresses up roasted vegetables and coats spaghetti all year long.

But alas, I ran out early this year, and I just couldn’t bring myself to buy clutches of fresh basil from the grocery store; it’s highway robbery! So I came up with an alternative from ingredients already in my fridge—arugula and mint pesto, which I tossed with mini farfalle pasta and spicy seared shrimp. Baby arugula was used here—that’s what I had on hand—but I would recommend using more mature arugula leaves if you appreciate a more peppery bite. Toasted walnuts provide an unexpected velvety creaminess and depth of flavor that give pine nuts a run for their money. This pesto would also work very well with lamb chops or a simply seasoned pork tenderloin.

Arugula and Mint Pesto

1 cup packed arugula leaves (if using mature arugula, remove stems)
1 cup packed mint leaves
¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 ½ to 2 lemons (this depends on your taste; I tend to err on the side of more lemon, rather than less)
3 T finely grated parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed or desired
Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a sauté pan, toast the walnuts over medium heat, tossing frequently to prevent scorching. Nuts are done when they are lightly browned and fragrant.
2. Toss warm nuts, ½ cup olive oil, arugula, mint, garlic, cheese, and juice of 1 ½ lemons into a blender or food processor. (NOTE: I use a blender and find it helpful to pour in the olive oil and lemon juice first, so it facilitates blending of the other ingredients). Blend ingredients until smooth. Add more olive oil and/or lemon juice in order to reach desired consistency and flavor. Add salt and pepper to suit taste (if you use mature arugula, you’ll likely need less pepper).
3. Freeze or use immediately on your favorite pasta.

Spicy Seared Shrimp

In a bowl, combine peeled and deveined raw shrimp with a sprinkling of sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a shake or two of crushed red pepper flakes. Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add 1-2 tsp of olive oil into hot pan, add shrimp and allow them to cook for about 1 minute or so on each side. The key to perfectly cooked shrimp with a nice crusty sear is simple:

1. A HOT pan…super hot. Don’t be afraid.
2. Don’t crowd your pan with shrimp; work in batches so that any released liquid quickly evaporates. Accumulated liquid steams your shrimp, and you lose any hope of that nice crusty sear (I only fit about 6 large shrimp in my 12 inch pan at a time).
3. Turn them only ONCE! (Mom)
4. Do not overcook! (Again, Mom) As soon as those puppies lose their translucence, get them off the pan!