Not long after the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to close for on-site dining this spring, Jessica Benjamin was scrolling Instagram when she came across a video of Jennifer Jasinski, Denver chef and restaurant owner, showing how to make ricotta gnocchi.
Inspired, Benjamin followed Jasinski’s video recipe and tried making the gnocchi in her Boulder kitchen. They were so good that she made them again. Then she went online and bought a gift card from Rioja, one of Jasinski’s restaurants.
“My husband and I reminisced about different nights out in Denver or going to her restaurants, all the food events that we’ve loved,” said Benjamin, who runs First Bite: Boulder County Restaurant Week. “I thought, ‘This is the participation that I want people to have.’”
That gnocchi-inspired chain of events led Benjamin to create the new “A Bite of Boulder” benefit cookbook, which features recipes from 30 Boulder County restaurants and sends at least 50 percent of sale proceeds back to participating restaurants. Benjamin created the cookbook in lieu of the traditional restaurant week, which is typically held the first week of November but was canceled this year because of the pandemic.
If you’re looking for another way to support Colorado bars and restaurants (in addition to takeout and outdoor dining) while also knocking out some of your holiday shopping, consider one of the new pandemic-born cookbooks highlighting food and drink recipes from Boulder, Denver and Aspen chefs and bartenders.
“A Bite of Boulder” includes more than 40 recipes for appetizers, entrees, sides, desserts and cocktails from Boulder County favorites like River and Woods, Chimera Ramen, West End Tavern, Oak at Fourteenth and Blackbelly.
Tasty food and drinks aside, Benjamin said she hopes the cookbook helps people feel connected to the broader restaurant community and reflect on their fondest memories of dining out, whether for a special occasion dinner or an everyday lunch. She also hopes the book will help break up the pandemic-induced monotony and create new memories.
“Maybe mix up Tuesday night or have a special date night or make memories with your kids trying the ice cream sandwiches,” she said.
The “Happy Hour Handbook” features recipes for appetizers and cocktails from more than a dozen Denver bars and restaurants, including Poka Lola, Room for Milly, Ace Eat Serve and Death & Co. The book also includes tips and advice from Denver bartenders and chefs about ice, specific techniques and what type of tools to keep in your kitchen.
“It’s not intimidating,” said Fiona Arnold, the cookbook’s mastermind and the co-owner of Room for Milly and Queens Eleven in Denver. “There are all these tips and shortcuts. You can use a tulip glass that you already have for beer, or a pint glass or mason jar — a lot of techniques for people to use what they have.”
All of the book’s sale proceeds will go back to the 16 participating venues, many of which remain closed under Level Red restrictions. No, the cookbook itself won’t save Denver bars and restaurants but, along with takeout, to-go cocktails and gift cards, it can certainly help, Arnold said. And, equally as important, these types of support help boost morale.
“None of it is going to be the saving solution,” Arnold said. “Every little bit helps but, more than anything, it just reminds them how much people really appreciate bars and restaurants as really the center of the community and where, usually, the community gathers. It goes a long way and (bars and restaurants) are so thankful that the community hasn’t forgotten about them.”
“The Aspen Cookbook” is raising money for bars and restaurants in the Roaring Fork Valley. Organized by the Young Professionals Network Aspen and the Aspen Board of Realtors, the book includes more than 100 recipes from 69 restaurants and chefs throughout the valley.
Amanda Rae Busch, the book’s editor and an Aspen-based magazine journalist, spent four months testing and tweaking all of the recipes so they’d be successful in a home kitchen. Keep in mind that the recipes were designed with Aspen’s elevation in mind — some 8,000 feet — so you may need to make a few adjustments if you’re cooking or baking the recipes on the Front Range.
Some of the recipes were created in response to the pandemic — Meat and Cheese came up with its beet, swiss chard and chevre empanada to use local produce in a takeout-friendly dish, for instance.
Others are modern takes on classic recipes, like Mrs. Fields’ chocolate chip cookies — yes, the Mrs. Fields. Her name is Debbi Fields and she’s lived in Snowmass/Aspen for 25 years. The cookbook’s recipe incorporates cultured European butter, dark brown sugar, two kinds of chocolate chips and chopped chocolate.
In addition to recipes, there are also suggestions for vegetarian and vegan substitutions, notes on techniques, chef commentary and recipe backstories and tips on where to source ingredients.
“It’s really a time capsule of Aspen, this moment in food for Aspen,” said Busch, who writes the Aspen Times Weekly food column. “It’s a really diverse selection of dishes and also venues. It’s high brow, low brow, dishes for novice cooks, dishes that are much more complex.”
Makes approx. 1 gallon; From Santos, in the “Bite of Boulder” cookbook
2 ounces dried New Mexican red chile pods, medium (stems and seeds removed)
2 cups hot water
¼ cups canola oil
1 ½ cups onions, diced small
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 ½ tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups vegetable stock
2 cups canned diced tomatoes (14.5-ounce can)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
10 ounces diced green chile, medium hot, roasted and peeled (can be fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon jalapeño, diced small
6 cups posole (hominy), rinsed well (2 28-ounce cans)
Soak the red chile pods in hot water, covered, until very soft. Transfer them to a blender and puree on high speed until very smooth. Set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in oil until soft and translucent. Add cumin, salt, and pepper to pot and cook for 1 minute over high heat, stirring constantly. Add all other ingredients and the chile purée. Bring to boil, and then turn down to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Check the seasoning and adjust, if necessary. Serve in bowls with garnishes of shredded cabbage, radish, avocado, cilantro and warm tortillas.
Beet, Swiss Chard and Chèvre Empanada with Chimichurri
Makes 8 empanadas; from “The Aspen Cookbook.”
For the crust:
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cubed
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large egg
1⁄3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
For the filling:
2-3 large beets (red, pink, golden)
Vegetable oil, for roasting
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon finely diced shallot
2 cups Swiss chard, de-stemmed, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1⁄2 cup chèvre (4 ounces)
Freshly ground black pepper
For the egg wash:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle position. Coat beets in oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan with 1⁄2-inch water and cover tightly with foil. Roast 1 hour 45 minutes until tender (a paring knife stuck into center of beets should emerge with no resistance).
To prepare the crust: In a food processor, pulse butter, flour and salt until crumbly. (Or use a pastry blender in a medium bowl.) Transfer to a medium bowl. Using hands, gently mix in egg, water and vinegar until dough forms. Do not overmix or crust will be tough. Gently pat dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days.
Make the filling: Peel and cut beets into 1⁄2-inch dice. Measure 2 cups and add to a large bowl. In a large saucepan over medium heat, add butter. When hot, add shallot and garlic. Cook 2 minutes until softened. Add Swiss chard and sauté 2 to 3 minutes until softened slightly but not completely wilted (intact leaves provide texture in baked empanada).
Add chard to bowl with beets. Cool completely.
Crumble in chèvre. (Residual heat may melt chèvre, and pockets of cheese in filling are ideal.) Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix gently until combined. Taste and adjust lemon and salt, if necessary.
Bake the empanadas: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together egg and water in a small bowl. On a clean, lightly floured work surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll a large rectangle of dough about 1⁄8-inch-thick. Using a bowl or bottom of a plate as a guide, cut 6-inch circles of dough to make 8 rounds.
Place 1⁄3 cup filling off-center of 1 dough circle. Brush edges lightly with egg wash then fold in half over filling to create a half-moon. Press lightly to seal, then crimp with a fork. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and brush lightly with egg wash. Repeat with remaining dough and filling, spacing evenly on sheet. Bake 13 to 18 minutes until golden brown.
Serve hot or at room temperature with Chimichurri (recipe below). Cooked empanadas may be refrigerated up to four days. Uncooked empanadas may be frozen up to three months; without defrosting, bake about 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
Makes 2 cups
1 1⁄3 cups fresh parsley leaves and tender stems
1 1⁄3 cups fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1⁄3 cup fresh oregano leaves
3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 9 cloves)
1⁄4 cup (scant) finely diced
1 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 cup + 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Using a sharp knife, mince herbs. This preserves texture and flavor; do not use a food processor. Combine herbs with remaining ingredients except oil in a medium bowl. While whisking, drizzle in oil to emulsify. Taste and adjust salt and vinegar, if necessary.
Chimichurri may be refrigerated up to two weeks.
Brass Tacks’ Tuna nachos
From “The Happy Hour Handbook.”
Makes 4 servings
1 pound sushi-grade ahi tuna, fresh
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/8 cup green onions, sliced, to garnish
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup spicy mayo (see recipe below)
1/4 cup wasabi crema (see recipe below)
1 bag Tostito scoops, or your favorite tortilla chips
1cup avocado, cubed
1/8 cup tobiko (fish roe), optional
Dice tuna into 1/4-inch cubes and gently toss with sesame oil, soy sauce, green onions and salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, up to overnight.
Dice avocado into 1/4 inch cubes and set aside. Assemble tuna nachos individually or family-style by topping tortilla chips with dressed tuna, a drizzle of spicy mayo and wasabi crema, avocado and tobiko.
Makes about 1/4 cup
1/4 cup mayo, preferably Kewpie
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 teaspoon Olec Sambal
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon lime zest, fresh
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and adjust salt and spice to taste.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1 Tablespoon wasabi, fresh or from powder
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lime juice, fresh (about 1/2 a lime)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and adjust salt, lime and spice to taste.
Beef Sliders with Bacon-onion Jam, Cheddar & Dressed Arugula
From Polk Lola Social Club in Denver, in collaboration with Shana Joelle, in “Happy Hour Handbook.”
1 1/2 pound ground beef, 80/20 preferred
3 slices sharp cheddar cheese, cut into quarters
1/4 teaspoon each per patty kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons (approx.) vegetable oil, for brushing grill grates or cast iron pan
1/4 cup mayonaise
3/4 cup bacon-onion jam (See recipe below)
2 cups dressed arugula (See recipe below)
12 brioche slider buns or Hawaiian sweet rolls
Heat grill or cast iron pan over med-high heat, brush with a thin layer of oil. Form beef into 1/2 inch thick patties slightly larger in diameter than the buns (2-3oz. each), handle as little as possible and press a small, shallow thumbprint into each one to help them keep their shape while cooking. Season patties with salt and pepper, about 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper per patty.
Grill the patties for 2-3 mins per side, flipping once, until browned. Top each patty with a piece of cheese and cover (if in a pan) until melted, about 1 minute. At this time, toast buns. Assemble sliders by smearing 1 teaspoon mayonnaise on bottom bun and 1 tablespoon bacon-onion jam on top bun, with patty and dressed arugula in between.
Makes about 1 cup
1 cup bacon, diced (about 6 ounces)
2-3 small yellow onions, diced
1/2 tablespoon garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium-sized pot over medium heat, sauté the diced bacon until it’s golden-brown and almost completely cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove bacon, drain on a paper towel and set aside.
Add diced onions and garlic to hot bacon fat, season with 1/2 teapoon salt, cook over medium heat until they are deeply caramelized, about 40 minutes. Add bacon back into the mixture and deglaze with apple cider vinegar, scraping any stuck bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow to reduce by half, about a minute.
Add brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup and honey. Cook on medium-low heat until cooking liquid is reduced by half, stirring constantly so mixture doesn’t burn.
Remove from heat when thermometer registers 200 degrees, or when mixture reaches a thick, jam-like consistency.
Makes about 2 cups
2 cups arugula
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients and adjust to taste.
Pro tip: Make the bacon-onion jam first and allow to cook while you prepare the other components.
From Room for Milly cocktail bar in Denver, in “Happy Hour Handbook.”
1 1/2 ounce Siete Leguas Blanco
3/4 ounce Dolin Blanc Vermouth
3/4 ounce Giffard Fraise de Bois
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1 teaspoon Chareau Aloe Liqueur
2/3 dash Scrappy’s Lavender bitters
Dehydrated strawberry for garnish
Large ice cube
Shake ingredients, double strain over large ice cube. Pour into rocks glass. Garnish with a dehydrated strawberry. (To make, remove the top of the strawberry then cut in 1/8-inch thick slices. Dry in food dehydrator.
Pro tip: Try substituting mescal for the tequila to add a smoky touch.
Hungry for Apples?
From Seven Grand cocktail bar in LoDo, in “Happy Hour Handbook.”
1 ½ ounce Woody Creek Bourbon
3 dashes Bittermens Spiced Cranberry Bitters
½ ounce lemon juice
¾ ounces grenadine
4 ounces dry hard cider
1 sage leaf
¼ apple for garnish
3 sage leaves for garnish
Apple peel for garnish
Stir all ingredients in the tulip serving glass, starting with sage, ending with hard cider. Garnish: ¼ chopped red delicious apple, 3 sage leaves, apple peel (using channel knife).