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Mouthing Off

What's your beef?: Denver has its high-end steakhouses, most notably Morton's of Chicago (1710 Wynkoop Street), The Palm (1201 16th Street), Ruth's Chris (1445 Market Street), Del Frisco's (8100 East Orchard Road, Greenwood Village) and Brooks (6538 South Yosemite Circle, Englewood). And it has your low-end steakhouses, such as Trail Dust (reviewed above), which, like most of the big boys, is a chain--albeit a modest one, with only two Colorado outlets (a third in Colorado Springs closed a few years ago) and three in Texas. (Lower still are a couple of very homegrown steakhouses: Club 404, at 404 Broadway, and Columbine Steak House and Lounge, at 300 Federal Boulevard--B.Y.O. switchblade to either.)

But Denver has apparently needed a happy medium, too, because Sullivan's, the steakhouse that opened just last week in a renovated furniture warehouse at 1745 Wazee Street, is packing them in. Owned by the folks who brought us the Lone Star steakhouses, Sullivan's is designed to be a cut below--in cost, if not in quality. But you can't tell it from the restaurant's sumptuous surroundings, including a bar that's already filled with some of the town's truly high-ends enjoying a martini and live jazz as they chew the fat...and the lean.

Taking stock: It's the time of year for steaks, all right, but it's also chicken-soup season. Since my family members are all sporting runny noses, I'm trying to pump them full of as much Jewish penicillin as possible. Commercial versions are okay in a pinch, but for flavor and goodness, nothing beats homemade soup, especially if it's homemade from the base on up.

I used to follow a recipe to make chicken stock, but I've found that throwing in whatever I have on hand turns out every time. The essentials: some kind of chicken, be it necks and backs, a package of wings or thighs, a whole bird, or just the carcass of an already cooked chicken or turkey. Grab a container of chicken livers at the grocery store for extra nutrients, toss it all in the largest stockpot you've got, and fill the pot with cold water to within a few inches of the top.

Then add as much of the following as will fit: celery cut into big chunks (the leaves are good, too), carrots that have been washed and cut into big chunks (if you peel them, you lose some of the sweetness and the vitamins), quartered onions (cut the root off, but the skins will add color to the stock), black peppercorns, two or three bay leaves and a teaspoon of dried thyme. I freeze the stems of fresh parsley and the green tops of leeks left over from other cooking projects so I can add those whenever I make stock, too.

Bring the water to a boil, and for the first hour of cooking, skim off any scum and fat that rise to the surface. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and cook, uncovered, for at least another two hours and up to three more. Strain and divide liquid into Ziploc bags or plastic containers (it's a good idea to measure it out in one-cup increments), and then you'll have stock for two or three soups, depending on how large your stockpot is. The stock will keep for up to two days in the refrigerator, but it freezes beautifully for up to six months.

With that on hand, you can make chicken soup any time by simply thawing as much stock as you need and following this recipe from Sally Rock and Dale Goin, who run the Philadelphia Filly soup cart on the 16th Street Mall at Broadway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Their wonderful curried chicken soup--which benefits from a "double stock," since fresh chicken is added to the already chicken-pumped broth--is just the thing for a blustery day.

The curry and cayenne heat in the Filly's soup also has a way of clearing out your sinuses, and because it's creamed, it's easier on your throat. Rock gave me the basic ingredients--she's another one of those chefs who cook using their senses rather than a recipe--and what I came up with comes pretty darn close to her version. You can use white or dark meat (I actually prefer the dark meat, because it makes for a richer soup). And if you don't like making a roux of flour and butter, you can use Wondra flour, like Rock does; the superfine flour doesn't gum up or get lumpy like regular flours do, so it can be whisked right into the soup to thicken it.

The Philadelphia Filly's Curried Chicken Soup
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 pound chicken parts
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup cream
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Combine stock and water in a large saucepan and add chicken; bring to a boil over high heat. Add the vegetables, and when the stock returns to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer one hour. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool. In a small pan, melt butter over low heat and whisk in flour; cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste, but don't let it brown. Slowly whisk in the cream, then whisk in a cup of stock from the soup. Stir the whole mixture back into the soup and keep heat at low; add curry powder and cayenne. Tear the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the soup. Stir to combine and cook just until meat reheats (don't let it boil). Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2-4.

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