A Fake Romesco Sauce and An Exciting Month

I’ve had an exhilarating few weeks since the Green Tomato Chutney post that closed the summer growing season.

A group of chefs from El Celler de Can Roca restaurant in Girona, Spain visited Denver to create a pop-up dinner at the Halcyon Hotel a few weeks ago. A pop-up dinner is a popular concept that high-end, often Michelin Starred restaurants, do around the world to showcase their culinary creativity and bring their local traditions to a new space. Part of the Roca team’s goal with traveling to other countries or cities, is to select two (lucky) students to go to their restaurant for an all-paid four-month internship, to do so they work with a hospitality focused university in each city, which is how Metro State University of Denver was chosen, and how I got to work with the chefs and an array of hardworking students from our school during an exciting week of molecular gastronomy and Catalan specialties.

Continue reading A Fake Romesco Sauce and An Exciting Month

Green Tomato Chutney – The End of the Growing Season {or maybe not}

greentomatouses

The first snow of the season brought with it change to the garden. We cut down the tomato plants and harvested all of the tomatoes that the squirrels and the hornworms have left behind; harvested the genovese and purple basils to make one last batch of pesto; and built a hoop-house on the garden bed that gets the most sun during the fall and winter, to continue cultivating salad greens, peas, carrots and beets. 

hoophouseforcoldweathervegetables

This was a great garden year. Since April, when we began harvesting the first baby arugula and lettuce leaves, followed by a hefty harvest of shelling peas, and a few handfuls of chives and tarragon. The first few harvests of the early season excited me to continue sowing seeds and eventually planting warm weather crops, like tomatoes, beans, and squashes. The flowers shone with multicolored petals dazzling the bees and butterflies, creating a beautiful nature dance through the backyard. We cultivated and harvested potatoes for the first time; had a successful carrot crop that is still going; rejoiced in abundance of greens through the entire season; and grew the biggest tomato plants we have ever seen. 

This was an abundant year. Enough for us, the bunnies, the squirrels, the hornworms, and enough to preserve for the winter months. We froze peas, golden beans {a yellow version of green beans}; canned tomato sauce, pesto, salsa verde, pickled beets and carrots, and green tomato chutney, utilizing produce grown in our backyard. Walking to the garden and harvesting vegetables, herbs, or greens for dinner is a new found pleasure that we wanted to extend through the winter when we have few local fresh ingredients here in Colorado, so Scott built a hoop house over the bed that currently hosts an array of greens, like mizuna, arugula, red leave lettuce, chard, and peas; and where I sowed more carrots, beets, radishes seeds, and some more greens to replace the current plants once their crop turns too bitter. 

mixedgreenshomegrown

On Monday, I put my boots on, a winter jacket, hat and gloves, and walked to the hoop house dusted the snow off of it and harvested salad greens for dinner. I loved it. Even with freezing cold fingers, or perhaps because of the odds of being out in the snow harvesting greens for salad, I found the experience energizing, the idea that life continues even through the devastating effects of a hard freeze on a snowy day. The power we have to protect or destroy nature, and how responsive nature can be to a caring hand.

butterflies

Before the snow, on Sunday, we thanked the garden for its hard work. We walked around the playful butterflies as they hopped from blossom to blossom, and the chickadees eating the seeds of the sunflowers I’d cut and placed on the dining room table, a trick I learned from a dear British friend who used to live next door to our former house years ago, before I ever knew what it was to care for a garden. 

endoftheseasongarden Continue reading Green Tomato Chutney – The End of the Growing Season {or maybe not}

Rustic Peach Crostata, with Shiro Plums and Chamomile Honey

We await with patience the arrival of the peach. Each year, for the past seven years, we count the weeks to the date Steve Ela, from Ela Family farms, gives us the season’s opening gala of the most celebrate fruit in Colorado. Sweet and tangy flesh with juices flowing down our chins, hands, and sometimes forearms, the peach is a glorious reminder of the abundant season; each bite is nature’s reward for our endured patience and loyalty. 

coloradopeaches

I didn’t grew up eating peaches, in fact I don’t remember it much in my childhood, and have a slight memory of it in my early-tweenties when I was in a search for new foods back in Colombia where mangoes, pineapples, and guanabana are the everyday fruit staples. Peaches don’t do well in tropical climates, making them hard to find or too expensive compared to a pile of locally grown passion fruit. 

Peach has become my mango. I don’t purchase tropical fruits because, well, I’m not in the tropics. So I dream of peaches during the cooler months when I drown my desires with spoonfuls of the homemade peach-ginger or peach-vanilla jams, atop warm oatmeal, with toasted almonds and a drizzle of honey, as I stare out the window to the fallen leaves or the piling snow. It’s a constant reminder of the bounty of summer.

shiroplums

As peaches arrive so do the trail of baked goods and jams to use up and preserve the harvest. Even thought we eat many of the peaches fresh {leaning over the sink with a towel nearby} the CSA (community supported agriculture) share provides us more than enough for our weekly consumption. Last year we received entire flats of peaches, back to back, turning our house into a mini jam factory churning dozens of jars that lasted us until a few weeks ago. 

I never thought of the idea of making jam and canning enjoyable, and I find myself void of words on how much I’m enjoying this preserving business. It might be silly but it feels as if I’m honoring the season and nature’s hard work by preserving what comes out of the earth in our area. It never occurred to me before, living in Colombia, that preserving was a thing, we have two seasons there – rainy and not rainy – and unless there are severe floods or landslides, or government manipulation of the goods {that’s a totally different subject not to bore you with at this moment}, we have the same foods available year round, so why would I ever worry about preserving back then. Now it’s different. I live in a place with seasons, and I’m learning the true meaning of seasonality. 

Continue reading Rustic Peach Crostata, with Shiro Plums and Chamomile Honey

Herb and Tomato Focaccia


I shared this recipe with the Boulder County Farmers Market and it appeared on The Boulder Daily Camera  together with other in season produce in Colorado, and a word from a Colorado farmer about tomatoes. 


Since we return from Cinque Terre I’ve been on a focaccia-making kick. With rosemary, or mixture of herbs like oregano, french tarragon, thyme and parsley; with roasted garlic, and the latest one topped with tomatoes and an assortment of herbs from the garden. Focaccia is my favorite bread to make at home. It’s easy to get lured by this bread. It’s delicious, simple to make, and I’d dare say, foolproof.  

herbfocaccia

I used to make focaccia when I worked at a small restaurant as a pastry chef more than a decade ago. Making this bread was easier than making any other bread because I didn’t have to tiptoe around it in fear of rough handling it and ending with a deflated, hard bread. This is a flat bread, so it was already a winner, regardless of how busy I was, or how much I neglected it, it always worked. Because it is a flat bread, part of the process is to use ones fingers to stretch the dough on the sheet pan, poking and pushing to create its distinctive dimples and to force it to fill the pan all the way to the edges. 

I hadn’t made it at home in a few years and the experience of having it in its homeland, tasting it and enjoying its light crumb, crunchy edges, and slightly chewy texture, made me crave it again. In Cinque Terre, we found many Focaccerias, but we also found the flat bread in small produce stores where they sold it by weight. They had several broken pieces of different sizes for the customers to choose, then they weighted it, and handed it in parchment paper to keep the oil from getting all over our hands. 

herbfocacciawithtomato

Continue reading Herb and Tomato Focaccia

Roasted Carrots with Pesto and Hazelnuts

For the first time we have a good carrot crop growing in the garden, thanks to the netting keeping the rabbits out, plus good seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We have harvested a few carrots each week and there are still many roots underground and many fronts blowing in the wind, plus I just sowed more for fall harvest.  I love going out to the garden and uprooting vegetables from the earth, snipping greens and herbs, and plucking squashes, tomatoes and beans. It is a primordial connection to life, to the earth, and to our true nature. 

With the summer heat the carrots get spicier and not as sweet as I’d like them, so I roast them at 400°F for 20-25 minutes in a foil pouch to make them sweet and tender. I’m not always excited to turn the oven on when is 95 degrees out, but when I do, I take the opportunity to do a large batch of roasted vegetables, like beets, carrots, cauliflower, and somehow potatoes always make it in the mix. Thankfully, it has been cool and rainy here in Colorado for the past week and today a little sun is coming through the window, the grass waking up plush and green, and the bees getting busy in the garden with the many flowers sprouting from the rain. 

Continue reading Roasted Carrots with Pesto and Hazelnuts

Summer Squash Salad + Garden Lessons: Fences

One of the advantages of having a backyard is the possibility of growing food, cultivating flowers, both for our enjoyment and for the bees, and creating a nurturing environment for all . Since we moved in to this house we have slowly reshaped the backyard to create a garden where us and the critters can live in harmony. Something the bunnies don’t want to align with their eating habits. In past years they ate the carrot, beet and peas sprouts, chomped on the beans, herbs, and flowers, dug the bulbs: daffodils, tulips, and garlic, and reigned the garden beds at night and whenever we were not around.

This year, after the first few offenders began digging bulbs and eating sprouts, I asked Scott to build some sort of barrier to give the plants a chance to grow and give us a decent harvest. For the ground level beds, where the flowers and a few herbs reside, he built a PVC pipe structure and wrapped bird netting around it, for the two raised beds where I planted and sowed all the vegetables, he used flexible pipes and created a dome on which we laid the netting securing it on the edges with bricks and clamps. It worked. Or so I thought. 

 

Continue reading Summer Squash Salad + Garden Lessons: Fences

Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Last spring, I went to Mexico for work. We visited the state of Oaxaca, a word I learned to pronounce when I learnt about the trip. It isn’t a Spanish word but rather an inheritance of the native language of the region. This was a theme I encountered while traveling and conversing with the inhabitants of the coastal town of Puerto Escondido. 

We settled in Puerto Escondido to visit a school as part of a partnership with the university I work for, and traveled around the area visiting turtle and iguana sanctuaries, multiple beach towns and eating local specialties like Oaxacan cheese and the fisherman’s day-catch. 

The best way to reach Puerto Escondido, or “Hidden Port”, is by air. There are roads from the big cities but the trek is long and uncertain, as the locals told us. By air is an hour fly from Mexico City in a 40-passenger plane battling shifting winds. The view from the low-flying plane is wide and mountainous, especially when leaving Mexico City where El Ajusco (12,894 feet), Nevado de Toluca (15,354 feet) and Iztaccíhuatl (17,126 feet) peaks frame the scene. 

We arrived in Puerto Escondido at 6p.m., after leaving Denver at 5a.m., due to a three-hour delay in Mexico City. The landscape changed as we approached our destination. The plane swarmed around the coastline charging toward the ocean and descending as a graceful goose preparing to land in the water, with a gently tilt we turned around to face the airport and the tiny runway. I won’t lie, it was frightening and I mistrusted the entire situation, thankfully the pilot proved me wrong with a smooth landing. 

The sticky hot air blew as we walked from the plane into baggage claim where our host waited for us. “Welcome! How was your flight?” they asked with big, warm smiles as we exchanged hugs and kisses on the cheeks. “Beautiful!” I replied while walking to the van for a 5-minute ride to the hotel. The sunset was a minute away from exploding in orange and gold hues and we rushed from the parking lot of the hotel to the pool where the uninterrupted view allowed the magic of the sun to glow on the palm trees. 

Puerto Escondido is a small enough town to create a feeling of community, but large enough to have multiple traffic lights and crowded streets, and a food market covering four blocks. Nearby towns provide an oasis for tourist, with restaurants on the sand where the chairs sink as you sit and hammocks strung from bamboo poles under kiosks beg to be used. We visited during the low season and enjoyed the solitude of beaches barely sprinkled with tourist. Our host told us, “Next week is Easter and for two weeks you won’t find a place to stand on the beach, let alone lounge and leisure, plus prices double.”


The Market


The next morning, after a walk, barefoot on the blonde sand,  we went to the market with a student from the school working as our guide. The warehouse-like building crowded with piles of mangoes and pineapples brought me back to my younger days in Colombia and the melancholy of sweet, ripe tropical fruit memories. We stopped at a booth selling peppers, fresh and dried, and homemade sauces where my boss decided to try his spice resistance, a brave move if you’d asked me as my spice resistance stays at 0 on the Scoville scale – or the equivalent of a sweet bell pepper. Continue reading Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Grilled Peach and Corn Salsa, and My New Found Obsession with Preserving

I mentioned in the past that preserving wasn’t in my DNA, well neither was English and here we are.

This season I have preserved more than the 15 years i have lived in the U.S. combined. From jams, to fruit butters, sauces, salsas, chutneys, to dried herbs and soaps. Someone told me a few years back, “You don’t have the preserving bug, yet,” to which I replied “Not sure I’ll ever get it.” I know, what a joke.

lavenderhoneypeaches

The more I dig into the pros and cons of eating seasonally, the more I learn to appreciate the bounty of fresh, Colorado grown products in the summer and fall, and align myself with the process of preparing for winter, when our diet consists mostly of root vegetables, grains, pulses, hearty greens and a few sustainably raised meats.
Preserving the summer and fall harvest allows me to go back in time by taking little capsules of flavor from my freezer or canning cellar to inject life to any meal. Let’s face it, after 3 months of parsnips and rutabagas I wish to break loose and buy an out-of-season zucchini {most likely from Mexico}, instead I add pesto to any dish from soups to pastas to beans or lentils; or chutney to meats or roasted vegetables.

peachcornsalsa

The bug hasn’t consumed me fully, I still can’t find myself canning soups and anything that requires a pressure-canning technique; even thought I’m comfortable using a pressure cooker, I’m not sure I trust a load of cans inside of it. It troubles me. Every time I consider the idea, the memories of a big pressure cooker exploding at my mother’s restaurant when I was in my early teens come rushing, and I walk away. For now, I’ll stick to water baths.

how to dry rosemary

Continue reading Grilled Peach and Corn Salsa, and My New Found Obsession with Preserving

Race to Fall

It has been a race, 500 Km style. We have been everywhere in the past few months, it seems. Massachusetts, California (twice), Wyoming, Austin, and camping in the mountains. Canning and preserving the summer harvest have consumed the weekends at home. And work, including a couple invitations I had to speak in conferences, have accelerated the passing of summer.

In the midst of all the traveling and summer craziness,  we decided to start a backyard landscaping project, done exclusively by us. Including digging out all sprinkler system pipes and changing their routes, removing the old, dried sod, tilling the ground, digging a 9’x11′ area and building a patio, planning and planting a brand new xeriscaped garden, shoveling 4 tons of sand and 8 tons of rock, and planting new sod.

basil plants

The project is partially done, after 5 weekends, plus numerous bruises and blisters. But the patio still looks like a junk yard, with shovels and other tools scattered around, piles of dirt next to trenches holding the new pipes, half dead plants after the first freeze of the season, and ghost-like tomato plants covered to force the fruit to ripen before the season is over.

picklingcucumber zucchiniplantwithfrostbite

Why such a drastic project you might ask?

Water. Continue reading Race to Fall

Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto

Even with its unbearable heat waves, summer is a luxurious time of year. I wish I could grab it by its tail, harness it and slow it down. I love the flowers in every yard, walkway and park. The plants bearing fruits and vegetables, and the farmers bringing their best to the market.

With July gone, we are down to August and September, and then is winter. Unless we get a long enough fall to drown our sorrows before the snow stars to pile. I shouldn’t be thinking about winter and should just enjoy the present, the hot weather, and the abundance from the land.

My new weekly ritual includes a trip to the Union Station Farmers Market, which is proving educational. We’ve had markets in Denver on previous years, but none that accumulated the quantity and quality of locally grown produce that this, new to the city, market is bringing.

For years, I envied the Boulder and Longmont markets, and traveled at last once a month during the summer to indulge on buying produce grown just a few miles away; now they travel every Saturday to bring their produce to us in Denver.

union station farmers market denver

Many meals and cooking ideas spring every week based on what’s available, a concept I didn’t follow particularly close before I challenged myself to cook the majority of our meals using only seasonal produce. By seasonal, I mean whatever is in season around me, or at least in the United States especially during the winter months, not including Hawaii, I haven’t bought a pineapple in years, and not including snow and sticks from our Colorado winter harvest.

Some meals are simple variations using, for example, different types of cucumbers {which just this year, after 15 years in the U.S. and 13 of those in the kitchen I found they are nicknamed “cukes”} like lemon cucumbers in a cucumber-tomato salad dressed with carrot greens pesto.

lemon cucumbers

Other meals, like this Bulgur and Lentil Salad, are born out of the necessity for an easy to take lunch that’s nutritious and simple to make, all while providing a punch of flavor to keep me from stopping at the burrito place nearby for a second snack. Continue reading Black Lentil and Bulgur Salad with Carrot Greens Pesto