Sunday, August 31, 2008

Yum Yum's Cupcakes

After suffering through a number of store-bought cakes topped with partially-hydrogenated "frosting," I decided that any cakes that weren't (1) homemade or (2) vegan* probably weren't worth eating.

Then I had a Yum Yum's cupcake.

Light and spongy, these are exactly what a cupcake should be. And the frosting! Yum Yum's makes a butter cream frosting that is creamy and light, with just the right amount of sweetness. I am so fond of the frosting that I tend to eat it before the cupcake, rather than with the cupcake...

Yum Yum's Delights recently moved from a tiny shop in the Pavillions on the 16th Street Mall to a spacious new home in Uptown, with room for seating up front and an on-site kitchen in back.

Since the new location opened, I've tasted the following cupcakes:

Joanie Loves Chai Chai - a chai cupcake with vanilla butter cream frosting, dusted with cinnamon;

The Brown Cow: a chocolate cupcake with vanilla butter cream frosting, and chocolate chips on top;

and Strawberry Cloud (also pictured up top): a white cupcake topped with vanilla butter cream frosting, strawberries and red sprinkles.

Not all of the cupcakes have vanilla frosting; my favorite (which I haven't yet seen at the new location) is the mimosa cupcake, topped with orange butter cream frosting.

The selection of cupcakes available changes each day. A list of possible cupcake flavors can be found here. Cupcakes are $2.50 each ($2.7o with tax). Brownies, muffins and other baked goods are also available.

Yum Yum's Delights
450 E. 17th Ave # 106 (at the corner of Pennsylvania and 17th Ave, enter off Pennsylvania)
Denver CO 80203

*Somehow, vegan desserts always make me feel virtuous - as though I'm eating greens instead of chocolate...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Invesco Field Report - 8/28/08

Some enterprising person was selling veggie brats, along with the non-veg, to folks waiting to get through security at Invesco Field today. Unfortunately, I wasn't hungry yet.

Inside, there were no veggie brats (that I could find, anyway), so I wound up with this:

Which was serviceable. Needless to say, I wasn't really there for the food...

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Jicama Ceviche

A crisp summer salad with tangy citrus dressing. Good plain or with chunks of avocado on top.

2 jicama, washed, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
2 serrano chilies, finely chopped*
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/3 cup cilantro leaves, washed and finely chopped
1/4 cup lime juice (approx. 2-3 limes)
1/2 cup orange juice (approx 1 orange)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl, tossing to blend thoroughly. Cover and chill at least one hour before serving.

*Seed the serrano chilies before chopping them if you want to cut back on the heat.

Bistro Vendôme

Tucked in a quiet brick courtyard off of Larimer Square, Bistro Vendôme can be easy to miss. However, the food and atmosphere make it worth the search.

Bistro Vendôme is accessed through an alcove on Larimer Street. (Look for the sign, pictured below, on a lamppost.) Although not large, the restaurant offers different seating areas. On a recent visit, a friend and I arrived early enough to snag a table on the garden patio. Soon after we were seated, our server brought a fresh baguette, still warm from the oven, in a small paper bag.

Offerings at Bistro Vendôme change with the seasons. During our visit, the Plat Végétarien consisted of a thin, crisp crepe filled with sautéed crimini mushrooms, eggplant, red peppers, zucchini, feta and tomatoes, and served atop a light green asparagus velouté ($16). The crepe was fantastic; the vegetables were cooked perfectly and were nicely complemented by the feta and the sauce.

For dessert, my friend and I split a Blueberry Lemon Napoleon ($6): blueberry compote and whipped lemon créme fraîche layered between "phyllo crisps," with a mint leaf on top. The blueberry compote and créme fraîche were wonderful together. My only lament was that the phyllo crisps were actually a bit sturdier than their name would suggest; shortbread or pastry might have been a better fit. In spite of that minor complaint, I would order the Napoleon again without hesitation.

Service was prompt and friendly. Some of the menu at Bistro Vendôme is written in French; our server pleasantly answered our questions and explained anything we didn't understand.

Reservations are recommended, especially for those who expect to arrive later in the evening. While the food is elegant, you'll be fine in casual dress.

Bistro Vendôme
1420 Larimer (look for the sign above on a lampost on Larimer)
Denver CO 80202

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kuulture Frozen Yogurt

Kuulture serves up frozen yogurt, but there's no chocolate or vanilla to be found. Instead, customers choose between "original" (with a hint of lemon), acai, blue-raspberry, and pomeberry (pomegranate cranberry). The "original" is pictured above; I had the light pink, sweet/tart acai on a recent visit.

Dry toppings and fresh fruit add-ons are available; I hope to try mochi bits as a topping on a future visit (they were out of the mochi when we visited today).

Not only does Kuulture offer an assortment of "superfood" flavors, but the yogurt is pleasantly tangy, and not overly sweet. While the frozen yogurt that I've had in the past struck me as a pale imitation of ice cream, this frozen yogurt is defiantly yogurt-like. And, as an unexpected bonus, non-fat.

Kuulture is not part of a chain, although its owners are looking to open a second store -- in Boulder -- soon. If they do, they'll find themselves competing with Cefiore, which recently added a location at 14th Street and the Pearl Street Mall to the list of its L.A.-style yogurt shops across the U.S. and abroad.

1512 Larimer (in Writer's Square)
Denver CO 80203
Open 11 am to 11 pm, daily

Friday, August 15, 2008

Baked Stuffed Tomatoes

I try to avoid using the oven in the summer. But, with cool, rainy weather in Denver this weekend (and snow forecast in the high country), it seemed like a good time to make an exception to that rule. And with tomatoes in season, it was an excellent opportunity to make baked, stuffed tomatoes.

Of course, tomatoes are good raw or simmered - but there's something magical that happens when they are baked. Perhaps it's similar to the way that roasting brings out another level of flavor in vegetables.

I stuffed my tomatoes with a mixture of feta cheese, fresh herbs, garlic and bread crumbs. However, the great thing about this dish is that you can throw in whatever you have on hand: use mozzarella or parmesan instead of the feta, substitute pre-cooked rice or couscous for the bread crumbs, add sliced kalamata olives or peas.

4 large ripe but firm tomatoes, washed and stems removed
1 cup bread crumbs
5 ounces feta cheese (I like the light feta)
approx 1/3 cup parsley leaves, washed and chopped
approx 1/4 cup basil leaves, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush a baking dish with one teaspoon olive oil, and set aside.
Cut off a half-inch thick slice from the top of each tomato.* Scoop out and discard the seeds and remaining core, being sure not to puncture the outer wall of the tomato in the process. (I use a serrated spoon for this step).
Set the tomatoes face down on a cutting board to allow any leftover juices to drain.
Combine the bread crumbs, feta, herbs and garlic in a bowl.
Stir in the salt and three tablespoons olive oil.
Working with your hands, gently but firmly pack the filling into the tomato shells. Place the filled tomatoes in the greased baking dish.
Drizzle the remaining two teaspoons of olive oil over the tomatoes.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, uncovered.
After the tomatoes have been removed from the oven, allow them to sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

*Rather than discarding the top of each tomato, I use the tops to scoop up any leftover filling - yum!

Monday, August 11, 2008

36 Hours in Denver: Ginger Beat Edition

In anticipation of the upcoming Democratic convention, the New York Times recently featured Denver in its "36 Hours In. . ." travel series. As I perused the article this weekend, I was surprised to read that, "There's no getting around Denver's culinary specialty, red meat, the starring attraction at Old West-themed barbecue joints all over town."

For those who would prefer to "get around" red meat during their time in Denver, Ginger Beat humbly offers its own, vegetarian version of 36 Hours in downtown Denver:

1) Watercourse Yes, it's a bit of a walk from downtown. But, how often do you have the opportunity to dine at a completely vegetarian restaurant? (If you're feeling the altitude, consider taking a bike taxi from the 16th Street Mall.) I'm especially fond of the Andalusian Pasta (butternut squash, green olives, cannellini beans, fresh sage, and parmesan cheese tossed with fettuccine and lots of garlic...), the Sampler Plate (tapenade, hummus, basil, and cilantro pistachio pestos served with pita bread) and the Polenta Encrusted Portobello Cap (also available on a Po Boy sandwich). The related City o City serves up a limited version of the same menu, along with pizza, in an atmosphere that's a cross between a coffee shop and a bar.

2) Ahimsa Footwear Once you've made it to Watercourse, you're just a few blocks from Ahimsa Footwear, which sells shoes, purses and bags that appear to be made of leather - but aren't. That's right - vegetarian shoes!

3) Mad Greens No, it's not a gathering of riled-up Ralph Nader fans. Mad Greens is a local restaurant chain specializing in greens and other vegetables - basically anything that can be tossed into a salad or grilled in a sandwich. Veg salads include the Van Gogh (spinach, carrots, tomatoes, couscous, currants and dried apricots), Nobo Seagaru (romaine, asian slaw, edamame and tomatoes), and the Don Quixote (baby greens, mango, avocado, roasted corn and jack cheese). If you haven't got time for a sit-down meal, but want something quick and reasonably healthy, there's a Mad Greens on the 16th Street Mall (16 & Stout).

4) The Mercury Café A short walk from downtown, the Mercury Café serves up locally grown and organic fare. Although not exclusively vegetarian, the Mercury Café offers a range of vegetarian options. The building itself has a number of environmentally-friendly features and runs entirely on wind-power, some of which is created by wind turbines housed on the restaurant's roof. The Mercury Café is also home to a bar and a dance hall.

5) Tea at the Brown Palace After a few days of convention-eering, protesting or just plain old fashioned sight-seeing, wouldn't it be nice to sit down and relax a bit? Tea at the historic Brown Palace Hotel is one way to do that. Tea-goers choose between the classic tea (classic tea pastries, scones, and tea sandwiches), the Chocolate Sensation tea (chocolate tea pastries, scones, and tea sandwiches) and the Royale Palace Tea (a combination of classic and chocolate pastries, scones and tea sandwiches, also served with Kir Royale). While the tea sandwiches normally include some meat, vegetarian sandwiches can be prepared upon request.

6) Vitamin Cottage Want some soy milk for your hotel room fridge? Need a natural sleep aid? Searching for some organic fruit to carry as a snack? Denver has a number of natural grocers, but the closest one to the downtown area is the Vitamin Cottage at 15th and Platte Street, just across the river from downtown. Walk there by heading west on 15th Street, or use the Millennium Bridge to cross from the 16th Street Mall to Riverfront Park, and then head south to 15th Street on the bike path.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Star of India (Ft. Collins)

True, you haven't asked me about my favorite Indian restaurant in Ft. Collins, but if you did, my response would be "Star of India."

Tucked in one of the many strip malls lining South College Avenue, Star of India can be easy to miss. The restaurant's nondescript surroundings belie a pleasant interior, with black lacquered chairs and Indian art.

Star of India serves North Indian cuisine, and offers a number of vegetarian options. Veg appetizers include spicy vegetable samosas (two for $3.99), vegetable pakora ($3.99) and a mixed veg platter featuring veg samosa, vegetable pakora, paneer pakora and veg tikki ($6.99). There are also a number of vegetarian entrees, ranging in price from $9.99 to $10.99. My favorite is the channa sag, spinach cooked with chickpeas, garlic, ginger and spices.

Service on a recent visit was prompt and friendly.

Star of India also offers a lunch buffet; I've always been at the restaurant for dinner so I can't comment on the buffet.

Star of India
2900 Harvard St., Unit B (just east of the intersection of Harvard and College)
Ft. Collins, CO 80525

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Veg Báhn Mí

So, just over a week after writing that I prefer not to recreate traditional dishes without meat, I'm posting about a vegetarian version of Báhn Mí. But, I've never had the meat version of the Vietnamese sandwich, so for me, it's a new discovery and not a re-creation. (For those who have had the "real" thing, it's probably best to think of this as an interesting sandwich involving tofu, rather than expecting it to taste like the meat version.)

The sandwich starts with tofu that has been marinated in a mixture of lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce, black pepper, peanut oil and sesame oil, and then lightly pan fried. (The recipe also included salt in the marinade, but I omitted it because soy sauce tends to have plenty of sodium). Next, the tofu is placed on a baguette, and topped with pickled carrot, red onion and cilantro. The result is a tasty sandwich, which is good whether the tofu is hot or cold.

My mini-baguette was only big enough for two sandwiches. I didn't feel like heading back to the store mid-week, so I ate the remaining sandwich toppings over couscous, which was also very good. The tofu marinade is a tasty one; as the recipe creators observed, the marinated tofu could be used in a number of dishes, although I especially like eating it with the pickled carrots, cilantro and red onion.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Homemade Apricot Fruit Leather

I stumbled across a recipe for fruit leather on Foodie Fashionista a couple of weeks ago. It seemed like an interesting opportunity to create some fruit roll-up flavors I never had as a kid. Watermelon-lime? Blueberry lemon? Honeydew? I spent a few fun moments imaging the possibilities, and then moved on to other things.

I remembered the recipe for fruit leather this weekend. Not only did I have some overripe apricots on hand, but fruit leather seemed like a good thing to take along on a weekend hike.

The recipe is very simple, although a little heat-intensive for a hot summer day. I started by pitting (but not peeling) the apricots, and then pureeing them with a tablespoon of agave nectar. The puree then went into a sauce pan to simmer, covered, over medium low heat for about an hour. This heated up the kitchen a bit, but luckily I only needed to stand over the pot and stir the puree at the very end. Finally, the cooked-down puree was spread over parchment paper and placed in the oven to bake at 200 degrees for two hours, then placed on a rack to cool.

In all, the process took about three and a half hours, although the actual hands-on time was about 20 minutes. While the cooking and baking time may seem excessive, other recipes that I found on-line called for the fruit leather to be baked (without pre-cooking) for eight hours. Dori's method really streamlines the process.

While not one of the exotic flavors that I initially imagined, the apricot fruit leather was really good, and nice to have along on my hike. I also liked that I got to control the amount of sweetener that went into the fruit leather. However, I'm not sure that this is the most efficient use of fruit: two cups of puree yielded only 2-3 servings of fruit leather. For that reason, I will likely only use the recipe again if I have overripe fruit, or if I'll be doing something where it will be hard to transport fresh fruit.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Abyssinia Market Cafe

Some restaurants' menus are vegetarian friendly. Others are not. And then there are restaurants like Abyssinia Market Cafe, which not only include vegetarian offerings on their menu, but advertise their vegetarian-friendly status right on the restaurant sign.

Abyssinia Market Cafe is a tiny Ethiopian restaurant housed on the first floor of a building which appears to have originally been a private home. The restaurant has a very casual and comfortable atmosphere.

Diners sit at mesobs (small woven tables). The meal begins with a basket of hot washcloths, for cleaning one's hands. (For those unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, it is eaten by hand; silverware is not placed at the table.) The entrées for all guests at the table are served on top of a single injera (spongy, slightly sour pancake-like bread) large enough to cove the entire table top. A basket of rolled-up injera slices, for scooping up the entrées, is also provided.

On a recent visit, I started with a sambosa, a triangular pocket of crisp, layered dough wrapped around a seasoned lentil filling ($1.99). The sambosa was served without any sort of accompaniment, but was flavorful enough to stand on its own. My companion ordered a glass of the honey wine ($3.50). It was sweet, but not oppressively so.

There were a number of vegetarian entrées on the menu. Because I couldn't decide on just one, I went with the vegetarian combo ($10), which includes a little of everything. Unfortunately, I don't have the names of all of the dishes, but basically, the combo included servings of: lentils, spicy lentils, yellow split peas, spicy split peas, greens, green beans and seasoned roast vegetables (carrots, cabbage and potatoes). All were good, but I especially liked the spicy lentils and spicy split peas.

If you have leftovers (as we did), just fold up that portion of the injera, and place it in your takeout box.

Our server was very friendly and knowledgeable, and we were served relatively quickly.

Because the restaurant is small, reservations may be advisable, especially on the weekend.

Abyssinia Market Cafe
4116 E. Colfax (between Albion and Ash)
Denver, CO 80220
(303) 316-8830