Mouthing Off

Got milk? While Broncos lobbyists continue to press the flesh at the Colorado Statehouse, John Elway is doing his bit to remind fans of the Super Bowl victory--through poster versions of Elway's milk-mustache advertisements published in USA Today and Sports Illustrated after the win in San Diego. "The only thing that tastes better is victory," says Pat Bowlen's poster boy, who's now appearing at every elementary, middle and high school in Colorado courtesy of the Western Dairy Council, which donated 2,500 of the posters to school cafeterias.

Bowlen is milking some publicity of his own this week at Hospitality 98, the 52nd annual Colorado Restaurant Association trade show that runs through April 2 at Currigan Exhibition Hall. The Broncos owner is scheduled to be the main course at a briefing breakfast the last day of the show; other highlights include chef demonstrations of such new delicacies as scallop burgers. You can wash them down with Bowlen's beverage of choice: wine, prominently stored in his own private wine locker at Morton's of Chicago (1701 Wynkoop).

Cooking the books: Despite the fact that everyone I know is pretending that he/she no longer pays attention to his/her fat intake, healthy cookbooks continue to top the list in terms of both number published and number sold. According to Lisa Ekus at Lisa Ekus Public Relations Company in Massachusetts--one of the largest cookbook PR firms in the country--the volume of health-related cookbooks being published is rivaled only by the volume of chocolate and dessert cookbooks. Go figure.

In the interest of balance, then, I'll mention a few of my favorites in each category that were published within the past year. In fact, the healthy one just came out. What I like about Prevention's Health Guaranteed Cookbook ($29.95)--produced by the food editors of Prevention magazine's Health Books and University Hospitals Synergy Culinary School (one of the first cooking schools devoted solely to healthy foods)--is that it offers recipes that actually work and produce dishes that you want to eat. Most of the recipes are no more than a page long and involve fewer than six steps; the book suggests nearly a hundred daily menus that you can create from these recipes. I tried the sweet-potato souffle, the parmesan-crusted chicken fingers (both big hits with the kids) and the citrus French toast, all of which turned out well and tasted great.

So whatever fat grams I saved there, I blew by making the chocolate-icing-coated buffalo cookies from the Wild Wild West Cowboy Cookies book ($12.95), by Tuda Libby Crews, who seems to spend all of her time--when she's not making cowboy-boot cookies, that is--competing in chuckwagon cookoffs in New Mexico and Wyoming. The cookbook includes a mail-order form for ordering the adorable little Western-themed cookie cutters, but I found mine at Cook's Mart, 3000 East Third Avenue in Cherry Creek North. My kids loved the cookies, and they'd be a sure hit at any rodeo.

Back on the health beat, I wasn't all that thrilled by the recent Quick & Healthy Volume II ($16.95), by registered dietician Brenda J. Ponichtera. The dishes all reminded me of the foods that go untouched at church picnics: chicken medley, pasta ole, sweet and sour beans. And since many of the recipes are for old standards (such as beef stroganoff) that have already been fat-reduced elsewhere, the book doesn't cover much new ground.

For more healthy excitement, turn to Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone ($40), by Deborah Madison. This thick volume contains recipes for 1,400 vegetarian dishes, most of which are suitable for vegans. Madison was the founding chef at the infamous Greens restaurant in San Francisco, so she knows her vegetables--and this book is a must for any veghead. In the past month, I've made at least one dish from it every day; a lot of the recipes can be used as sides to meat as well as main courses on their own.

Just when you thought you had every Moosewood cookbook out there, the collective comes out with the Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts ($22). Typical of the Moosewood genre, most of the recipes are interesting and wonderful, and the resulting dishes seem healthy even when they're not. The chocolate ginger cake was easy, as was the tangerine cheesecake, and I made the watermelon licuado with the last of the watermelon this past season.

Italian cuisine continues to be a big hit, and no recent release is as appealing as In Nonna's Kitchen ($30), by Carol Field. The book contains not only recipes from some of Italy's most colorful grandmamas, but profiles of many of the women that are great reads. After finishing the book, I immediately wanted to be fat and old but youthful in spirit and filled with memories of childhood meals that involved things like pigeons shot down in the dirt road behind my house and cooked for seven hours with tomatoes and basil. In direct contrast to Nonna's is the ultramodern Little Italy ($29.95), by David Ruggerio, who has a PBS cooking show called Little Italy With David Ruggerio and who is also chef/owner of New York's respected Le Chantilly and Pastis restaurants. (Meanwhile, I can't seem to successfully balance just laundry and reporting.) Instead of a warm, feel-good type of book, Little Italy is overkill, filled with so many funky graphics and loopy type styles that thumbing through it gave me a headache. And many of these dishes have been done before. For example, Ruggerio's recipe for pasta e fagioli (known as "pasta fazool," it's a favorite in my family) offered little more than a splash of oregano-rosemary oil to take it beyond the usual version--and even that wasn't anything special. Nice photos, though.

Still, the most beautiful new cookbook has to be Seafood ($50), by Charlie Trotter, who is better known for his way with meats but who presents a splendid selection of elaborate seafood recipes here, interspersed with stunning photos. The book is rich in both content and appearance, and it would make a great gift for someone who is very dedicated to cooking and willing to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. After all, you're not going to whip up lemon-balm-infused Dungeness crab consomme with crab-stuffed squash blossoms, white asparagus and ramps in just a few minutes--and if you have to ask what ramps are (they're leek-like wild onions), then you'd better stick with something more down-to-earth.

Like the New Recipes From Quilt Country ($30), by Marcia Adams, who spends a lot of time with the Amish and Mennonite communities in her native Indiana. Most of the recipes are exactly what you'd expect--shoo fly pie, pan-fried chicken--but there are a few surprises, such as sauerkraut apple cake. If you're planning a barn-raising anytime soon, you could use this to feed the troops.

Ethnic food is still hot, and hot-hot is Flavors of Africa ($16), a compendium of some of the spiciest foods found in Africa, by Dave DeWitt, Melissa J. Stock and Mary Jane Wilan. DeWitt and Stock are the editors of Fiery Foods Magazine, so when they offer a recipe such as Cape Town Curry With Capsicum Prawns, you know it's going to sear your tastebuds. Another good ethnic find is Exotic Kitchens of Malaysia ($32.95), by Copeland Marks, who gives the secrets behind rendang, barbecued-mutton satays, turmeric chicken and melon soup.

And, finally, proof that the cookbook industry is out of control may be found in Naomi's Home Companion ($25), by Naomi Judd, who obviously imagines herself as the Martha Stewart of the country/Western set and who not only gives the recipes for her childhood favorites (we do need more ways to cook fried chicken), but also offers "life advice." However, Judd's silliness pales beside Inter Courses ($24.95), by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge, who have sandwiched photos of goose-pimpled buff men in the near-buff and people holding avocados in strategic spots between images of potatoes and fruit. At one point, someone named Jeff (perhaps a chef?) offers this advice for preparing the tomato-basil soup: "Before chopping the tomatoes, take time to appreciate the feeling of their round shapes and smooth skins. Close your eyes and pass them [I think he means the tomatoes, not your eyes] between yourself and your partner and slowly, carefully, let your imagination go..."

Okay, I get the connection between food and sex (hey, it's why I chose this profession), but come on. At that point, my imagination would start worrying that the tomatoes we were holding were firmer than my own.

Open-and-shut cases: Since Mickey Zeppelin's deal to sell LoDo landmark City Spirit fell through a few months ago, the building at 1434 Blake Street has stood empty, with nothing but a real estate sign in its window...The old Rocky Mountain BankCard building at 11th Avenue and Delaware Street has been vacant for over a decade; its last occupant--long before the area became the hot Golden Triangle--was the Monastery, a loony concept featuring waiters in monks' robes delivering wine and cheese. Not surprisingly, it took a long time to locate a new occupant, but now P.S. 1, a Denver charter school, is renovating the great space...And renovations are finally complete at the Skybox Grill and Sports Bar, high atop the Ramada at 1975 Bryant Street. The restaurant reopens next week--just in time for baseball season.



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