Things To Do In Denver Before You Die : Smash Burger

It has become a winter tradition to visit Denver with R. I generally meet him after the holidays just before the New Year. Unlike Los Angeles, Denver is a true winter wonderland. The cold biting weather, the snowy ground, the clear skies, and the mountains all around, let’s just say we’re not in LA anymore. It is the perfect mini break from the hectic pace of the city and the holidays. If you haven’t been to Denver before it is a beautiful city with bountiful gastronomic pleasures.

Since I have been back in LA, I haven’t stopped thinking about all of the memorable meals I enjoyed while in Denver. When I left I was satiated and eager for my next visit. Here is some of what I enjoyed.

I am not a regular patron of chain restaurants. I tend to prefer the mom and pop cafes, or the charm of a restaurant that only has one location. However, when I was in Denver a few weeks back, it was a chain restaurant, of all things, that stole my heart!

Known as the hometown of Chipotle, Denver is a city that is not lacking in chain eateries. My favorite of their local chains was Smash Burger. This is a restaurant the guide books are not going to direct you to, but you want to be sure not to miss.

Smash Burger is a burger joint with a modern feel. What sets a Smash Burger apart from other burgers is the plump, crisp, perfectly cooked beef. Not all patties are created equal; some are too thick, or too seasoned or just dry hard disks of meat, but Smash Burger is not any of these things.

I ordered the BBQ Bacon and Cheese. It had thin crunchy fried onions, thick slabs of apple wood smoked bacon, tangy BBQ sauce and the perfect beef patty. The flavors blended together collapsing with each bite. The bun was nicely buttered and grilled. It had a soft exterior with perfectly toasted edges. At $6 a burger, Smash Burger is the ultimate burger. A burger so good you ingest it in 30 seconds and then beg for more.

Smash Burger

S. Parker Rd & Yale Ave

2630 S Parker Road

Aurora, Colorado 80014

720-213-0012

Open 10am-10pm Daily


** If you are planning a trip to Denver I suggest picking up an Eat/Shop guide, it is an invaluable resource. Or email me theletmeeatcake@gmail.com **


Ain’t Your Mama’s Slaw



I find myself walking around exclaiming “Battle Napa Cabbage!” with such excitement, an excitement I never thought I would have for a vegetable.

January is the month of Battle Napa Cabbage. The monthly “food fight” held by Mel (Gourmet Fury) and Leela (SheSimmers) has done exactly what it set out to do. In just two months time it has gotten me excited about vegetables and eager to cook with vegetables that are not part of my normal repertoire.

Napa cabbage, also known as Chinese cabbage, is a pale green (almost white) elongated cabbage with a mellow, nutty flavor. It has tightly clinging leaves that are crispy and creased. I found that the Napa cabbage was a great canvas for an array of ingredients.

Since it is the start of a new year – a time of resolutions and new beginnings – I thought it fitting to prepare a recipe that was healthy and light. Rather than preparing the Napa cabbage in a soup, stir- fry, or kimchi as it is typically found, I decided to use the cabbage in a slaw.

This is not your mama’s slaw. In thick wedges or large chunks, the Napa cabbage is coated with a tart dill mayonnaise. It is spiked with slivers of carrots and paper-thin rings of red onions. Crack some black pepper over the top and you are done. Serve it with a salty shaving of smoked salmon or accompany it with delicate Sardinian parchment bread and you have a healthy, light, and satisfying meal.

The slaw has a delicate creaminess. The crunch from the cabbage, the sweetness from the carrots, and subtle spice from the onions marry well together. This slaw is the embodiment of simplicity.


Ingredients:

1 Napa cabbage

1 carrot

1 red onion

Smoked salmon (less than ¼ pound)

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Dressing:

¾ cup mayonnaise (a great store bought will do, or make it from scratch)

Juice of ½ lemon (or more to taste, the dressing should be really tart!)

½ cup of chopped fresh dill

Take ¾ cup of mayonnaise and add fresh squeezed lemon juice and stir to combine. Add ½ cup of freshly chopped dill and combine. D
o not add salt! The salt will pull the moisture from the cabbage and make this slaw soggy. Who wants that?

Shred 1 carrot and shave ¼ of a red onion for garnish.

Pull the exterior leaves from the Napa cabbage and save for another use. Take the heart of the Napa cabbage and cut it into long wedges or thick chunks. Dress the Napa cabbage to taste. Add carrots, red onion, and pepper. Enjoy!

A Dosa or Two…

What is a dosa? A dosa is a South Indian crepe made from rice and lentils. It is typically filled with South Indian ingredients and served rolled almost like a burrito. In a city as ethnically diverse as Los Angeles, I was surprised to find myself unfamiliar with dosas. With an unyielding need to eat everything, my stomach and I were on a mission to find the Dosa Truck.

Dosa truck is owned and operated by Brooklyn born Leena Deneroff. While the menu focuses on dosas the truck also offers Masala fries, salads, and samosas. All dosas are priced at $6 each, a bit steep for food from a truck.

On my visit one dosa was not enough. Several dosas later I was full and happy.

The Mumbai Madness (Masala) dosa is filled with smashed curried Indian potatoes. The potatoes were tucked into the lean rolled crepe and it remained surprisingly crunchy top to bottom. The flavors were mild and creamy. With hints of fennel seeds sprinkled throughout, this dosa was crisp and light.

Sita’s Surprise is a dosa filled with sweet potato masala. This dosa was sweet and rich with a delightful buttery aftertaste. The rice lentil crepe was crispy yet soft and snugly sandwiched the potatoes. This was my favorite dosa.

The Shiva Shakti is a dosa comprised of 1/2 sweet potato and ½ malsala dosa. From end to end the flavors transitioned smoothly.

The Goa Goodness is a dosa filled with spinach, mushroom, and cheese. It was ooey-gooey good. The fresh spinach wilted slightly under the melted cheese with thick meaty slices of mushroom, the rice lentil crepe lending a subtle sweetness to the flavors.

Brahma’s Boon is a dosa filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and cheese. My least favorite of the dosas it was somehow too juicy and required the assistance of multiple napkins. The onions overpowered all other flavors and it felt uninspired. I could not find the South Indian influence in this dosa.

Dosas make a great lunch. They are crispy, light, quick and satisfying. On my next visit I will be sure to order the Slumdog rubbed with pesto and filled with paneer, spinach and masala potatoes, but for $6 a pop I will try to restrain myself to just one dosa.

Ringing in the New Year! Restaurants of 2009 Cafe Stella and Street

image credit: blog.wineenthusiast.com

A year of bacon, fat-fried everything, food trucks, cocktails, and breweries, 2009 in Los Angeles has been a great gastronomic year. Before we leave this year for the next I want to remember some of my favorites.

Café Stella

3932 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029

(323) 666-0265

Tucked behind Sunset Junction and hidden next to the Silverlake Cheese Store, Café Stella is a neighborhood gem. The dinner menu is French Bistro perfection.

This year Stella began serving breakfast. With a short menu of pancakes, pastries, and egg dishes, the breakfast at Café Stella is simple and classic.

Lemon ricotta pancakes are fluffy and light, with the lemon subtly folded between the silky granules of cheese ($10). Add a light rain of maple syrup and you are in breakfast heaven.

The baked eggs with spinach and goat cheese are meltingly soft and delicate ($10).

When it comes to the spud for breakfast, few restaurants get it right ($4). At Café Stella the crispy breakfast potatoes are just that – crispy, and wonderfully so. Oven roasted and lightly seasoned with a dash of fresh parsley, they have a crunchy skin that gives way to mealy snowiness.

Breakfast at Café Stella is quaint and complete.

Street

742 N. Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038


Already a dedicated and loyal Susan Fenniger fan, I was elated for the opening of Street, her first solo venture. A veritable round-the-world tour of street fare, the menu is stimulating yet approachable. From tea cakes and dumplings to salads, noodles, stews and curries, the small plates offer diners a chance to explore the world of savory, sweet, spicy, and tart. It is a gastronomic adventure to be sure.

Street offers both indoor and outdoor seating, but I highly suggest the outdoor. Giant street-scene murals painted along each of the four walls enclose you with only the open air above. A stone fire pit in the middle of the patio keeps guests warm. Intimate, isolated from its surroundings and employing a sleek Modernist design, it is a convivial place for a meal.

Instead of bread and butter, diners are greeted with cumin-scented millet puffs. These bite-sized puffs have the texture of rice crispy treats but the taste of a spice market. They are pleasing and surprising to the tongue.

Paani Puri – small crisp orbs filled with spiced potato, sprouts and chutneys – is an ideal start to a globe-trotting meal. The flavors of the Paani Puri become more pronounced when dipped in the accompanying yogurt cilantro water. Each orb is crunchy, light, and delightful.

The Korean Rice Salad is sadly no longer on the current menu. It was a cacophonous mix of firm rice, wilted greens, fresh carrots, kimchi, seaweed and tofu, crowned with a soft cooked egg. The contrast of fresh, crisp, bitter and spicy flavors was incredibly enjoyable – a nice play on the idea of what a salad should be.

The Ukrainian dumplings are filled with spinach and a light layer of salted, boiled and pan-fried cheese topped with a heaping spoonful of sour cream and lemon marmalade. An explosion of taste and texture, each dumpling is certainly more than a mouthful and packed with bite. The dough is chewy and the filling salty. Be sparing with the marmalade as it can overpower the other flavors.

The Lamb Kafta with white beans and grilled artichoke is gentle and mellow. It certainly does not stand out compared to the other menu offerings, but is still a hearty and pleasing entrée.

Street’s Kaya Toast has become the toast of the town. All of Los Angeles has been raving about this Singaporean delight. A sticky coconut jam is spread thick between two pieces of lightly toasted and buttered pieces of bread, which are then topped with an over-easy egg drizzled with dark soy sauce and a touch of grey salt. The egg is a quiet background flavor, offering relief from the rich and gooey coconut jam.

The name ‘Street’ lends itself well to the menu, a celebration of street food of the globe. Street offers a memorable dining experience that will surely continue well past 2010.

I look forward to the gastronomic pleasures 2010 is sure to bring. Happy New Year!

* for restaurant suggestions you can always email me theletmeeatcake@gmail.com

I Like to Spoon

With the continuing onslaught of gourmet food trucks to hit Los Angeles, Little Spoon Desserts is the first of its kind. It offers a rotating selection of sweet confections from cakes and tarts to cookies and bars.

On a recent night out I was excited to find Little Spoon Dessert truck parked right on Hollywood Blvd, so I had to stop for some dessert.

I took a cursory glance over the menu and was instantly taken by the Signature Cake. The Signature Cake is made up of layers of marble cake with mocha frosting and chocolate chips. I was sold!

The cake was moist and soft and while I’m not a fan of frosting, the mocha frosting was just right. It was slightly sweet and had a delicate whipped texture. The chocolate chips lent themselves well to this silky cake, adding just the bite it needed.

I also ordered their Assorted Mini Cupcakes, because I can never pass up mini anything. The mini cupcakes come in groups of three, with your choice of flavors. I chose the red velvet, the peanut butter, and the vanilla coconut. The cupcakes came in the cutest little box where the three fit snuggly together. The red velvet was classic and tasty. The peanut butter was rich and velvety. The coconut, however, was a bit dry and a little too sweet.

The Pumpkin Cheesecake was divine. It had a thick and smooth consistency and completely captured the flavors of the season, with slightly spicy warm tones. The cheesecake was firm with a delicate crumble from the graham cracker crust and kept me wanting more.

class=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-family:georgia;”>I wish I could have prolonged all the goodness for as long as possible, but I ate all of my desserts right in front of the truck. If you see this dessert treasure trove parked, make sure to stop and enjoy.

A Certain Lightness of Being

There is something to be said for a big, fluffy piece of Banana Pound Cake. It packs all the flavor and fragrance of Banana Bread, but with a certain lightness of being.

I like to bake as a way to keep the house warm during winter. I had a few overripe bananas lying around so I decided to make this Banana Pound Cake. It is so simple to whip up and makes a great breakfast for the whole week (if you can keep from eating it all at once!)

The mascarpone and sour cream in the recipe give it an incredibly airy texture. The sour cream provides a subtle tartness to balance the sweetness. It is delicate and luxurious. With just one bite I was instantly seduced!

Stay warm this winter, bake some pound cake!

Banana Pound Cake:

(adapted from The Secrets of Baking)

2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup sour cream

½ cup marscapone

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 ripe bananas, pureed

1 vanilla bean, cut down center and scrape seeds

350°F oven, uses 9x5x3 loaf pan or cupcake pan

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. Combine sour cream and mascarpone in a small bowl and set aside.

Using a whisk or standing mixer, beat butter with cinnamon until soft and creamy. Slowly add the sugar a little at a time. Once the mixture is fluffy and a light white color, use a spatula to scrape down sides of the bowl.

Now add eggs, one at a time until eggs are completely incorporated.

Add one third of the flour mixture to the batter and whisk to incorporate. Then, add one third of the mascarpone sour cream mixture and blend until incorporated. Add the flour and mascarpone mixtures two more times in same order until everything is incorporated.

Fold in bananas and vanilla bean.

Pour batter into buttered baking dish. For loaf pan bake for 1 hour. For cupcakes bake for 20-25 minutes. Set on a rack to cool then serve.

ENJOY!

Cupcake Coma

While I have long heard of the fabled cupcake coma – a woozy exhaustion that is provoked by over indulgence in sugary sweet delight – I never believed it to be true. I love cupcakes, and I especially love the sweet sugary rush one gets from each soft bite. How could a cute dainty cake put one into a saccharine induced swoon? After four bakeshops and four large cupcakes lathered with heaping mounds of frosting, the cupcake coma came over me.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the lovely TaraMetBlog to the Chevy-sponsored Best of Cupcakes Los Angeles Tour. Our small group of eager cupcake enthusiasts was chauffeured by Chevy around LA to the city’s finest cupcakeries. It was a cupcake throwdown.

First stop: Crumbs Bakeshop in Beverly Hills. Of the unbelievably large and imaginative cupcake flavor selection, I chose the Pistachio cupcake. The cake was moist and spongy with the perfect amount of frosting. The frosting was just sweet enough and coated with chopped pistachios. I am not a frosting fan and I generally avoid the stuff but I ate this cupcake in its entirety.


For bakeshop number two we walked down the street to the well-known Sprinkles. Here I tried the classic Red Velvet. I thought the cake was firm yet moist, but the frosting was thick and overly sweet. As far as frosting goes, these are the reasons I avoid it.

Destination three was SusieCakes in Brentwood. SusieCakes is known for its Strawberry cupcake, which Martha Stewart gushes over. I had to try the Strawberry, but I also could not pass up their seasonal Gingerbread cupcake. By now I was starting to understand the causes of the cupcake coma.

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The Strawberry cupcake was amazing. The cake was flavorful, but the strawberry frosting was mind altering. In the most complementary way, it tasted like a cake version of a pink starburst.

The Gingerbread cupcake with cream cheese frosting took the cake! It perfectly captured the season. With spicy and warm flavors slathered with a silky rich frosting, it was my favorite by far of the cupcake tour.

Last stop was Vanilla Bakeshop in Santa Monica. At this point I was quickly fading into sugary heaven and I needed something to captivate me. Vanilla Bakeshop did not meet the challenge. I gave the cupcakes a cursory glance and was quickly taken by the beautiful Key Lime Cupcake. Unfortunately it was cold, dry, and tasted like a refrigerator. It didn’t help that the staff (especially the manager) were rude and unwelcoming. With the exception of our last stop, this was one tasty tour.

By the end of the cupcake tour I was gorged on sweets and ready for a nap.

http://www.carolineoncrack.com/2009/12/15/best-of-la-cupcakes-tour-with-bloggers-and-chevy/

http://www.happygomarni.com/2009/12/scavenging-los-angeles-cupcakeries-in.html

http://www.tarametblog.com/2009/12/best-of-la-cupcakes-tour-with-chevy.html


Eat My Oatmeal Sandwich Cookie

I am a procrastinator. I put things off until the very very last possible minute. I cannot do things ahead of time, even if I have the time to do them. Instead, I get lost in tweets or become painfully distracted searching and listening to new music on iTunes. It really is a problem.

True to form, when it came time for the Eat My Blog charity bake sale last Saturday, I had put off buying my ingredients and making my cookies.

The day before the sale I had to prepare everything, and I did not start early. Instead I cleaned the kitchen, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, I hung out with R; suffice it to say I procrastinated. Finally when I was ready to start mid-day I had not left myself much time.

The rest of my day was wholly consumed in whipping, mixing, sifting and baking- and I mean my whole day! Ninety-five cookies, two big bowls of frosting, and 30 mistake cookies later, I somehow pulled together my Oatmeal Sandwich cookies. Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator. But why change my ways when I always manage to pull things together in the end?

The oatmeal cookies were crispy and sweet. The filling was satiny and light. A little hint of (divulging a secret here) almond extract made it taste almost like ice cream.

Eat My Blog was a great success. It was a bake sale offering home made sweet treats from LA food bloggers. When Cathy of Gastronomy Blog sent me a message that I could participate in this amazing event I was elated. I was happy to help a good cause, all proceeds benefiting the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, I was eager too meet so many LA food bloggers I have never met, and most of all I was excited to bake.

last one!

There was an amazing array of confections and everything sold out! Thanks again GastronomyBlog, DianaTakesABite, Deliciouscoma, and G-ma’s Bakery for putting on a great event! I can’t wait for the next bake sale. This time hopefully I won’t wait until the last minute to bake and I can actually get a little sleep.

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies:

½ pound butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

½ cup of granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked oats

Filling:

¾ cup confectioner sugar

1 stick butter, softened

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 ½ tablespoons light corn syrup

1 jar marshmallow fluff

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon almond extract

* mix ingredients with electric mixer until combined and fluffy

December: Battle Fennel

I do not like licorice. I am, however, fond of fennel. Eaten raw it has a crispy sweet bite – the taste of anise permeates through the mouth. When roasted it is leathery and earthy, like sun dried tomatoes. An often-overlooked vegetable, fennel has an unmistakable flavor.

When Mel of BouchonFor2 and Leela of SheSimmers announced that December was Battle Fennel – part of their monthly Beet n’ Squash food fight- I knew I had to participate. This was my chance to bring fennel into my own kitchen and come up with something delicious.

In the spirit of the holidays, I used Battle Fennel to bring together the staff at my workplace. Working in a restaurant, you don’t often get to experiment or really have fun with your ingredients. There is a menu to follow, guests to cater to, and a job to be done. I used this opportunity to take a short break from routine and to get the place abuzz with the thought of fennel. A few people didn’t even know what fennel was. Together we tasted, we chopped, we whisked, and we learned.

I already had a general idea of how I wanted to prepare my fennel. I wanted to keep it simple and light. The fennel was kept raw for a fabulously unspoiled Fennel Salad with Fuyu Persimmons and Apple Cider Thyme Vinaigrette. Together the staff decided to add Caña De Oveja cheese to compliment the salad. This sheep’s milk cheese from Southeast Spain is creamy and lusciously soft with very pronounced citrus notes. Building up layers one by one, we fanned the paper thin slices of fennel, dressed the wedges of crunchy sweet persimmon, dotted it with the buttery cheese and sprinkled it with fresh thyme. The result was a salad of incredible depth. The flavors of licorice from the fennel, the hints of clove found through the persimmon, and the lemony tang of the cheese all combine to wash over the tongue in one succulent and flavorful bite. It is the perfect way to enjoy fennel.

Playing off of the flavors of licorice so strongly associated with fennel, I decided to make candied fennel. During the holidays there are candied fruits galore, so I thought what better holiday treat than a candied strip of fennel. And it works! I boiled the thin strips of fennel in simple syrup for five minutes. I laid the soaked fennel on a rack to dry. After a few minutes is was sticky and ready for coating. I rolled it in vanilla sugar and I left it to crystallize. The end result was fantastically sweet and toothsome, the most ordinary vegetable now transformed into a holiday treat.



Fennel & Persimmon Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette (adapted from Chicks with Knives ):
1 fennel bulb, cut in half and sliced paper thin
1 Fuyu persimmon, seeded and cut into wedges
less than .15lb Caña De Oveja cheese


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


Pear Tarte Tatin- So Good It Hurts

It was so good it hurt. A buttery, flaky crust with a thick sweet caramel coating. Lying in between these two decadent layers were toasty soft pears.

Recently, this blog has really inspired me to spend more time in my own kitchen and cook. I invited some friends over for dinner to enjoy a little Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving. I mean if it was so good the first time why not have it again, right? So that is what we did. There were no leftovers left to enjoy but I was able to whip up a simple Thanksgiving-inspired dinner.

For dinner we enjoyed turkey cutlets simply seasoned and sautéed. To accompany we had maple brown sugar yams and roasted balsamic brussel sprouts. The real star of the meal was the Pear Tarte Tatin for dessert.

You will have to get an early start for this dessert, but it is worth the wait. The end result includes textures and tastes that deceive and surprise you! Between the three of us this 9’ dessert hardly seemed like enough.

Cut.

Share.

Enjoy the sweet pleasure.