Soup's on: There may not be much snow up in them thar hills, but things are still cookin' at Silver Creek Ski Resort--and they'll continue to as long as Seth Daugherty is in the kitchen at Paul's Creekside Grill (see review above). Daugherty's dishes are so delicious that it was hard to pick just one recipe to share, but with cold winter days inevitably ahead, I had to go with the carrot and ginger soup.
This healthful concoction is so inherently rich and creamy that the cream garnish isn't even necessary--and as Daugherty points out, omitting the cream makes it a vegan dish. Toss some chopped chives on at the end instead; the green looks great against the bright orange. And if you don't have a "fine chinois"--hardly a typical item in the average home cook's pantry, since it costs upwards of $80--you can use a regular strainer lined with cheesecloth.
Seth Daugherty's Carrot and Ginger Soup
3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1 white onion, diced small
1/4 cup extra-light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
8 large carrots, peeled and diced small
3 tablespoons chopped chives
8 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped (optional)
Place ginger, garlic, shallots, onion and oil in stockpot or Dutch oven over low heat. Add a small amount of salt and pepper. Cover and sweat (meaning: cook slowly until ingredients are soft but not brown). Add diced carrots and sweat three more minutes. Cover vegetables with water and simmer until carrots are tender. Puree mixture in blender or food processor and strain through a fine chinois. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with chives and cream if desired. Serves eight as a first course and four to six as an entree.
Rocky Mountain highs and lows: If the food at Paul's is stunning, it's considerably less so at other restaurants in the area. Twenty miles from Silver Creek in Grand Lake, we stopped by EG's Garden Grill (1000 Grand Avenue), lured by the "Best Out-of-Town Restaurant" award the place had been given by Greg Moody--now the restaurant reviewer at the Rocky Mountain News--in 1997 while he was the critic for 5280 magazine. But EG's would barely be a contender for that nod from Westword.
The eatery is decorated beautifully for the holidays, with a stunning tree, an over-the-top light-covered fireplace mantel and plenty of poinsettias. And our kids thoroughly enjoyed the skinny French fries, grilled cheese and hot dogs from the kids' menu (all children's items are $3.50). But we adults were far from thrilled with the appetizer mussels ($8.50), which had been covered with so much red-pepper cream and bacon bits that we could hardly find the mussels, let alone taste them. And the phyllo-covered Brie ($7.25), while nicely browned on the outside and melted on the inside, was ruined by a mouth-puckeringly tart raspberry sauce and stale crackers.
Our entrees were more impressive, and the duo of porterhouse-cut pork chops ($16.50) was definitely prizeworthy. The chops had been stuffed with bread, golden raisins and caramelized apples and onions, all of which had cooked down into this marvelously sweet goo enriched by the pork's fatty juices. Although the two German potato pancakes on the side had an ideal texture, they also contained so much garlic that it was painful to eat more than two bites. We tried the other available side, wild rice, with the catfish ($11.25). The rice was fine, the fish was bland--but the crunchy breadcrumb coating was remarkable. Lightly seasoned with mustard, it was a welcome change from the unappetizing, thick, floury shell that covers most fried catfish.
Dessert was mixed, too. The cinnamon-covered sopaipillas with ice cream ($5) came drenched in a sweet strawberry sauce; it was really a Mexican sundae. But the Key lime pie ($3.50) was so sour it tasted as though it had been made with unsweetened limeade, and the consistency was strangely gooey, like it had been sitting in the cooler for a while.
Considering the sorry state of ski areas right now, of course, that's entirely possible.
Things were a bit busier in Winter Park, where I dropped by The Kitchen (78542 Highway 40) for breakfast. This eight-table spot has been slinging hash browns since 1974, so you figure it must be doing something right--and the lines and signs offer more proof. A note on the door announces that it's going to be a while before you sit, and the menu warns: "If you are in a hurry, eat somewhere else." Other signs in the restaurant proclaim "It's worth the wait"; still, it's hard to sit there smelling bacon for an entire hour while you wait for eggs, which don't take long to prepare. Unless, of course, there's only one person in the kitchen and every dish is made to order. Every dish, that is, except the green chile, really the best thing to come out of The Kitchen: Soft chunks of tomatillos, plenty of jalapenos, fresh (really fresh!) herbs and tiny bits of pork combined for a powerfully flavorful mixture that I poured over my crackly-crisp hash browns, my over-easy eggs, my thick-cut, heavily smoked bacon, and even the well-buttered raisin toast that all came with the #8 breakfast ($6.80).
The sausage burrito ($6.50) also wore a blanket of green, along with melted cheddar. We'd expected the sausage that was tucked inside the tortilla--along with scrambled eggs and hash browns--to be more interesting than just plain old cut-up links, but that chile made every bite worth eating. The French toast ($3.75) was nothing special, and the #1 ($4.50), a plate of scrambled eggs with hash browns and a wheat English muffin, could be found anywhere. The Kitchen takes pride in its hash browns, but I thought there was too little soft potato left among the oily, well-browned bits.
An hour wait for this? Not if there's powder on those nearby slopes. Next time, I'll just get the green chile to go (they sell it by the jar) and eat it with a spoon on the way to the mountain.
Elsewhere in the mountains, The Restaurant at the Little Nell, at 675 East Durant in Aspen, recently hired Keith Luce as its executive chef. Luce, who in 1997 was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef and the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef, was the executive chef at Chicago's Spruce Restaurant and, before that, Walter Scheib's sous chef at the White House. Impressive--unlike the holiday meal I had there at this time last year ("To Nell and Back," January 9), when George Mahaffey was in the kitchen.
Over at Keystone Resort, the spring cooking class schedule has been announced, and since these sessions fill up quickly, it's not too early to make your reservations. For $775 per person or $1,350 per couple, participants get three nights' lodging at the Ski Tip Lodge, daily breakfast, lunch and dinner (the latter two include wine), two or three classes each day run by the resort's professional chefs, and a training manual that includes all the recipes made over the weekend. Having taken the course, I can vouch for its quality and value; the pastry class alone is worth the price of admission. If you don't need lodging, the cost is $575 per person.
The spring dates are April 8-11, April 15-18 and April 29-May 2. Call 970-496-4950 for more information and reservations.
Make merry: Back in Denver, if you're looking for some way to repay the gods for the gluttonously good year you've had, head over to Rincon Tropical (8615 East Colfax Avenue) for a little humbling and some serious Salvadoran and Mexican food. They may be a million miles away from the destruction Hurricane Mitch wreaked upon their native El Salvador in November, but Rincon owners Sylvia and Jose Calderon are feeling its effects. "All of our people who live here in Denver are sending every bit of their extra money to help their relatives, and they're not able to afford to come here anymore," Sylvia told me during a recent stop, which was prompted by a concerned phone call from reader Susan Goldstein. "We are not doing well." Sylvia lost her brother in the storm, which killed 300 people in El Salvador alone and caused nearly 100,000 to lose their homes. "We can't blame people for helping their families back home," she added. "We're doing the same thing."
And it may cost them the restaurant, which would be Denver's loss as well. When I picked up an order of Rincón's killer tamales to go ($6), Sylvia handed me a couple of fried plaintains for my daughters. I plan to head back in the next week for the cielo mar y tierra ($12.75), Rincón's version of surf 'n' turf, with chicken and shrimp in an onion-laced tomato sauce that is out of this world. Don't let 'em go.
Speaking of spreading holiday cheer, the folks at the Red Rocks Grill, 415 Bear Creek Avenue in Morrison, are trying to turn their loss of sixteen-year-old employee Andy Leonard to leukemia into a gain for the Children's Hospital. The restaurant bought a VCR for the hospital in Leonard's memory, and now they're collecting new and used G- and PG-rated videos for the kids spending the holidays in sick bay. Call 303-697-9290 for more information.
Egging me on: It sounds like one of those sappy Albertsons commercials, but this touching holiday tale actually occurred at the Safeway (11051 South Parker Road) in Parker. I was hosting a gingerbread-house-making party for my daughter's classmates and wanted to make royal icing with meringue whites. These are powdered egg whites used in commercial baking; I like to use them instead of fresh egg whites when kids are going to be licking the bowl, because then I don't have to worry about salmonella. For the past five years, I've been able to get the meringue whites at this Safeway, but this year it stopped carrying them.
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A few days before the party, I tried to talk the folks at the Safeway bakery into selling me some of their meringue whites, but a recent corporate edict dictated that they couldn't sell ingredients out of the bakery anymore. So one of the managers started calling around to other Safeways for me, and when that effort came up empty, he started calling area King Soopers. Nothing. Then one of the customer-service clerks said she had to go into Denver later that day, and she offered to track them down for me and bring them back to Parker. Talk about customer service. The other clerk said she thought they had some other kind of powdered egg whites, but they were gone from the shelf.
Still fearing I was going to send fifteen kids home with food poisoning for Christmas, I got into the checkout line with a couple of cartons of eggs. Just as I was about to leave, the second customer-service clerk came running up, all out of breath and carrying the last two containers of powdered egg whites in the store. I admit it: I hugged her. She simply said, "Merry Christmas."
Merry Christmas to you, too.