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Food column: Galactic birthday cake is an out-of-world experience

Another trip around the sun, and I find myself a year older. On April 17, 1984 — sometime in the afternoon — I made my world debut. I was healthy and already had a full head of hair. I also had a bright red, triangular birthmark between my eyebrows. When I was a little older, my mom told me that I landed in a strawberry field and some strawberry smudged on my face. It must have been a crash landing. To this day, when I get mad, the birthmark angrily glows on my forehead.

Over the years, I have noticed that so many people were born during the month of April. My mom, aunt and cousin have birthdays within days of each other. It kind of makes me wonder what’s going on nine months earlier in August!

Anyway, I have always enjoyed having a spring birthday. The weather is usually beautiful, while new flowers push their way through the soil. Even if it snows, at least I can take the day off to go skiing. There are so many possibilities in April. Some years, I have even celebrated my birthday on Easter, and the Easter Bunny became my springtime Santa.

No matter when you celebrate your birthday, it should be a special day where things go your way. We all have our own rituals, but the idea of a birthday celebration itself goes back to ancient Egypt. The earliest mention of a birthday party was in the Bible and referred to a Pharaoh’s coronation. When a pharaoh was coronated on his birthday, he was considered a god, so birthday celebrations became very important to the Egyptians. Later, the Greeks revised the tradition to celebrate the lunar goddess, Artemis. They offered her a moon-shaped cake with candles to reflect the moon’s radiant glow and beauty.

Initially, early Christians rejected birthday celebrations, since they were rooted in pagan traditions. But over time, Christians saw the wisdom in celebrating birthdays, and Jesus Christ would go on to have the most famous birthday of all.

Modern birthday cakes emerged several hundred years ago in Germany, where the Germans would celebrate Kinderfest — a celebration meant for young children. They placed a lit candle on the cake to symbolize the light of life, and a modern tradition was born. Since then, baking supplies became cheaper and more standardized, so people around the world started to celebrate birthdays with cake, candles and of course, presents.

There are so many different kinds of birthday cakes to indulge in, including chocolate, red velvet, vanilla, lemon, buttercream sprinkle and even carrot cake.

For this column, I had the difficult task of choosing one kind of cake to make. I love them all, and I can’t say I have a favorite. I have always been partial to carrot cake, but I wanted to try something different this year. When I did some research, I found so many creative options from geode cakes to cakes with realistic flower blooms sprouting from them. Then I found something that would make Artemis proud: a galaxy cake.

Galaxy, or mirror, cakes are coated in a colorful glossy glaze made from chocolate and gelatin. Different colors are mixed into the glaze, so they appear marbled and psychedelic. Various colors can create different effects. Mix in some edible glitter and sanding sugar, and you can create a starry galaxy across the cake.

If you look up galaxy cakes online, you can see how they are works of art. Admittedly, I am not an experienced baker, so I’m nervous about the results. The cakes I bake usually require minimal preparation and are dumped together in a baking pan.

The galaxy cakes I have seen require perfection. The frosting needs to be evenly spread, and the glaze has to be exactly 90 degrees to properly coat the cake. There are many steps in the process, so I’ve greatly simplified the recipes I’ve found. I’ve also included some tips and tricks that I learned to make this even easier. Check out my simplified galaxy cake recipe below.

Galaxy Cake

Serves four to six people

Ingredients

2 packages white cake powdered mix

2 containers butter cream frosting

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 teaspoons corn syrup

8 teaspoon gelatin powder, unflavored

2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup water, room temperature

1 cup white chocolate, high cocoa butter

1 cup chocolate, cacao baking

1 tablespoon butter

Pinch of flour

1 teaspoon colored sanding sugar

1 teaspoon edible glitter

Food coloring

Directions

1. Bake cake mix per package instructions. Before pouring batter, make sure to rub butter and sprinkle flour in the backing pan. When finished backing, set cakes on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Be careful when removing cakes from pans.

2. While the cakes are baking, place containers of frosting on the stovetop to slightly warm them. When the cake is cooling, remove frosting from containers into medium bowl. Beat gently with a fork to fluff.

3. Place the bottom layer of the cake on a floured surface such as a wood cutting board or cake plate.

4. Pile a large amount of frosting on top of the bottom layer of the cake, and gently spread with a spatula or large butter knife. This frosting layer won’t be visible when cake is finished, so don’t worry about making it perfect.

5. Gently place the top layer on top of the frosted layer, and make sure both layers are vertically aligned. Add frosting to the top the same way as before. Then frost the sides of the cake and smooth with spatula or knife. It helps to rotate the cake, while gently pressing the edge of the spatula or knife on the frosting. Try to spread evenly, but don’t worry if some crumbs are mixed in. This is the “crumb layer” and will be covered later.

6. Place cake in freezer for 15 minutes. After the time has elapsed, add the second layer of frosting to the top and sides. Try to spread as evenly as possible. Once second layer is added, gently place a paper towel, with smoother layer facing down, on top of the cake. Use your fingers on top of the towel to gently smooth the top and sides of the cake.

7. Place cake in freezer for one hour. While the cake is freezing, combine sugar, corn syrup, condensed milk and water in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat while stirring.

8. Pour the lukewarm water over gelatin powder in medium bowl. Stir gently with a spoon until mixed, and let sit for a few minutes.

9. When the contents of the saucepan begin to simmer, remove from heat and stir in the wet gelatin until it is dissolved.

10. Place white and dark chocolate in separate medium bowls, and pour hot liquid over them equally. Leave for about five minutes. Stir with whisk until completely melted.

11. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into equally divided bowls. The number of bowls depend upon how many colors you wish to use. Keep white and dark color mixture separate and mix with appropriate colors.

12. Add colors to each bowl and slightly stir. Once the glaze has cooled to 90 degrees, pour each bowl over the frozen cake to create color swirls. Consider elevating the cake, so the droppings have a place to go. Once finished pouring, wait about 5 minutes, and use a warm knife to remove any excess drippings. Serve right way, and most importantly, enjoy your birthday or whatever it is that you are celebrating!

Short ribs in beer and cider vinegar make great tacos

Carne deshebrada, literally meaning “shredded beef,” is a common offering at Mexican taco stands. It’s made by braising a large cut of beef until ultra-tender and then shredding the meat and tossing it with a flavorful rojo sauce made with tomatoes and/or dried chiles.

Although short ribs are a bit nontraditional, their ultra-beefy flavor made them an excellent choice. To achieve flavorful browning, we raised the beef up out of the braising liquid by resting it on onion rounds; the ambient heat browned the short ribs just enough for this dish.

Next, we created a braising liquid that would infuse the beef with flavor and later act as a base for our rojo sauce. Beer and cider vinegar provided depth and brightness, and tomato paste boosted savory flavor. Smoky-sweet ancho chiles gave the sauce a rounder flavor and a gentle, spicy kick.

Cumin, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, and bay leaves added warmth and complexity. Once the beef had finished cooking, we pureed the braising liquid into a sauce with a smooth, luxurious consistency. A bright, tangy slaw provided a nice counterbalance to the rich meat. Use a full-bodied lager or ale such as Dos Equis or Sierra Nevada.

SHREDDED BEEF TACOS

Servings: 6-8

Start to finish: 3 1/2 hours

1 1/2 cups beer

4 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded, and torn into 1/2 inch pieces (1 cup)

1/2 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

6 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled

3 bay leaves

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large onion, sliced into 1/2 inch-thick rounds

3 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes

18 (6 inch) corn tortillas, warmed

1 recipe Cabbage-Carrot Slaw (recipe follows)

4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1 cup)

Lime wedges

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 325 F. Combine beer, anchos, vinegar, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cloves, and cinnamon in Dutch oven. Arrange onion rounds in single layer on bottom of pot. Place beef on top of onion rounds in single layer. Cover and cook until meat is well browned and tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to large bowl, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and set aside. Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer into 2 cup liquid measuring cup (do not wash pot). Discard onion rounds and bay leaves. Transfer remaining solids to blender. Let strained liquid settle for 5 minutes, then skim any fat from surface. Add water as needed to equal 1 cup. Pour liquid into blender with reserved solids and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to now-empty pot.

Using 2 forks, shred beef into bite-size pieces. Bring sauce to simmer over medium heat. Add beef and stir to coat. Season with salt to taste. (Beef can be refrigerated for up to 2 days; gently reheat before serving.)

Spoon small amount of beef into each warm tortilla and serve, passing slaw, queso fresco, and lime wedges separately.

Cabbage-Carrot Slaw

Makes about 8 cups

1 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 head green cabbage, cored and sliced thin (6 cups)

1 onion, sliced thin

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

1 jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Whisk vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage, onion, carrot, jalapeno, and oregano and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. Drain slaw and stir in cilantro right before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 521 calories; 187 calories from fat; 21 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 94 mg cholesterol; 846 mg sodium; 44 g carbohydrate; 9 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 35 g protein.

New Basalt eatery offers The Whole Empanada

When Yanina Dobarro sought a small kitchen where she could make traditional Argentine empanadas earlier this year, she initially planned on just selling them wholesale to other outlets.

But when she found the right location to rent, the space lent itself to opening a small cafe where customers can grab empanadas to go or eat them there. The Whole Empanada opened March 18. Her experience after exactly two weeks in business has convinced her she made the right choice.

Customers have been rolling in, empanadas have been rolling out.

Dobarro acknowledged she had no idea what makes empanadas such a big hit.

“Maybe it’s to have something new,” she said with a smile and shrug. “They’re easy to eat. They’re good.

“I trust this product very much,” she added. “I don’t know why people like it but they do.”

She said she makes them exactly the way they are made in her native Argentina, where nearly everyone eats empanadas.

“It’s like the Argentina pizza,” she said.

The menu features two favorites, Poncho Beef and Fran Chicken. The former has seared ground beef, sauteed green and while onions, red bell peppers, carrots, boiled eggs, green olives, herbs and spices tucked into a bread exterior.

The menu also boasts the Gaston Humita, which substitutes meat with whole sweet corn and mozzarella cheese, and her personal favorite, the Missy Caprese, with mozzarella cheese, sun-dried tomato, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Each empanada is about the size of a medium-sized fist. They sell for $3.75 each or $33 for a dozen. They are also available frozen, 10 for $25.

She knows the Roaring Fork Valley has a soft spot for empanadas because she used to operate Francesca’s restaurant in Aspen with her former husband. She decided last year to start her own business selling empanadas wholesale to grocery stores, gas stations and other outlets. She couldn’t find an affordable space in the upper valley but a site opened in the business center along Willits Lane in Basalt that houses such businesses as Valley Lumber. She’s located at 31 Duroux Lane, Suite G. It’s just off the elbow in Willits Lane, so it will be a hop and skip for anglers fishing the Roaring Fork River at Hooks Bridge this summer. Vehicle access is Duroux Lane. The Whole Empanada is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dobarro said business is hopping enough that she will concentrate for now on making empanadas for sale out of her business. Once she adds an employee or two, she plans to get the wholesale business cranked up. She ordered an empanada maker that was shipped in from Argentina. She’s not mechanically inclined, she said, but used FaceTime with representatives of the manufacturer to figure out how to get the high-tech contraption put together. It can make 1,000 per hour, though as a one-woman operation she is making them by hand. She makes large sheets of dough, cuts out each empanada, fills it and then wraps the dough around the filling.

Dobarro first started coming to Aspen in 2002 on a J1 work visa. She is now working on citizenship — a process that some people find “scary” but she said she is undaunted.

She decided not to go with an Argentine-influenced name for her business. She wanted to embrace her new home country with a more American name. She chose to do a word play off of the phrase “the whole enchilada.”

“If everything goes as it is now, I think it will be very busy this summer,” Dobarro said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Callier food column: A taste of the Roaring Fork Valley’s Italian connection

Buon cibo is “good food” in Italian. To Italians, it can also mean so much more. While Italy feels so far away from us here in the Roaring Fork Valley, we are still deeply connected.

Northern Italians were among the first wave of migrants who tamed this land. There were no highways, and railroads were considered state-of-the-art travel, but these settlers persevered and established themselves for generations. Their culture, work ethic and cuisine have helped create our local identity.

I am one of their descendants. My great-great-grandparents, Jeremie and Cecile Gerbaz, brought their eight children to Woody Creek from Detroit. The couple originally immigrated from a tiny village in northern Italy called Doues.

They settled near Aspen and put their boys to work on their new ranch. Life was surely difficult for them, but they thrived there. Their children would go on to be county commissioners and successful ranchers. They even have a road named after them in Woody Creek.

During the hard times and the good, they used food to bring the family together. Like many large families, there were certain rivalries between siblings, but these could be put aside over wine and the breaking of bread.

The winters were difficult, but the summer could be bountiful. They raised potatoes and other crops that would sustain them during the long, cold months. Polenta was a staple that I even ate while growing up.

I have always been told that northern Italians loved it so much here, because it reminded them of home. I never knew this to be true until I visited their old village, Doues, in Italy. The village is in a valley called Valle d’Aosta, which is an alpine paradise. It is nestled in the Alps and is close to Switzerland and France. The valley is heavily influenced by French, Italian and Swiss cultures. One can see these influences everywhere, from language, clothing, architecture and cuisine.

The cuisine of the region is known best for its strong and rich ingredients of polenta, potatoes, cheese, meat and more meat. Did I mention cheese? The region also produces fontina which is a creamy cow’s milk cheese, with a mild, earthy flavor with a touch of honey sweetness. It is delicious and great for melting. Fontina makes wonderful fondue, which is a regional speciality. They also have the best pizzas served in remote huts and shanties.

I have been lucky enough to visit Val d’Aosta. I have distant relatives there who have stayed in touch with the American family, and they graciously invited me to their home in Doues. The area is idyllic like a pastoral dream. Ancient villages line the valley all the way to Switzerland. The back of the Mater Horn presides over the area, and the Alps rise at impossible angles. Not only is the landscape indelible, but the food is sublime.

Eating dinner is an act of grace and communion and always taken seriously. Every meal is intimate and can last hours. Supper usually begins with a light salad and several strong aperitifs. From there, it progresses to a soup, first course, second course and dessert.

Wine is mandatory throughout, and a digestif and espresso are served with dessert. It is considered rude to refuse food or not clean a plate. I never had that issue, but I did cry once in a bathroom, because I feared I couldn’t eat or drink anymore.

After living there for several weeks, and eating home-cooked meals, I left with a deep appreciation of the food and culture. I was able to gather some recipes from local cookbooks and my own family to share with you. I decided to bring a little of Italy back to Colorado.

We must not forget our ancestral connections and how they still shape us. Recipes tell tales of our struggles and triumphs, and these are my family’s stories. All recipes accompany this story.

APPLE FRITTERS

(Serves four people)

These are served as an appetizer. The apples must be cut small enough to cook quickly and evenly, while the breading browns. After flipping them in the frying pan, make sure to gently press down with spatula. They are slightly sweet, so they can also make a light dessert.

Ingredients

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup beer

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon sugar

3 apples, sliced or cubed

pinch of lemon peel, grated

pinch of salt

oil for frying

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, stir together egg, milk, beer, flour and salt into a smooth batter.

2. Add apples to batter and stir until coated. Let mixture stand for about 30 minutes.

3. Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat. Drop spoonfuls of mixture and fry until both sides are golden. Serve immediately.

LA FAVO

(Serves four people)

This is a classic pasta, tomato sauce and white bean dish. You can also use fresh fava beans, but they require extra prep time. They are ideal with short cut pasta such as ditalini, but I had a hard time finding that type. Instead, I used the “Italian Trottole” that I like so much. To experiment, you could add a splash of red wine, garlic or other kinds of creamy cheeses for different flavor possibilities.

Ingredients

16 ounces short cut pasta

1 can northern beans

6 ripe tomatoes, crushed

1 can tomatoes, crushed

1 shallot

4 slices Italian Bread, cubed

1/4 cup butter

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup Fontina cheese, sliced thinly

Directions

1. Drain beans and save liquid separately.

2. Cut shallots into pieces and melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in shallots and cook until shallots are soft and transparent. Add crushed tomatoes and bring to boil. Turn heat down and simmer.

3. Cook the pasta in water and drained liquid from beans until pasta is al dente.

4. Drain pasta and add to the tomato sauce, and stir in the beans. Turn heat to low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

5. Fry the cubed bread in a pan with butter until bread is golden and crispy.

6. Stir fontina cheese into pasta until melted. Top with toasted bread cubes and serve immediately.

FRECACHA

(Serves four people)

Frecacha is a fancy way of seeing meat and potatoes. Be sure not to over boil the potatoes, as they need to hold up while you simmer all ingredients together for an hour. The cinnamon and nutmeg make this more exotic than average mean and potatoes dishes. Use those with caution. Cooking time can vary, depending on how soupy you prefer.

Ingredients

2 large white onions

2 large potatoes, boiled and cold

14 ounces beef round steak

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon salt

4 cups beef stock

pinch of pepper, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon powder

Directions

1. Boil potatoes in a large pot for 25 minutes. Remove from water and cool.

2. Slice the onions and cook in butter over medium-high heat until they are soft and transparent.

3. Cut beef and potatoes into slices and add to the pot of onions. Sauté over medium-high heat for about five minutes.

4. Stir in beef stock and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on a low heat for about an hour. Stir in salt and spices. Add more to taste, as needed. Serve after fluid has browned and reduced.

Food column: Pizza, pizza

Pizza may have originated in Italy, but it has become an American favorite.

According to PMQ Pizza Magazine, the United States pizza market grew to $45.1 billion in 2018, and there were 75,243 pizzerias in the U.S. alone. The fact that a pizza magazine exists speaks to the immense popularity of pizza. The worldwide pizza market has also expanded to $134 billion in 2017.

There are many variations of pizza in the U.S. and worldwide. Popular American pizzas include Neapolitan, California-style, Chicago deep dish, Chicago thin crust, Detroit-style, New England Greek style, New York thin crust, St. Louis-style and tomato pie: New Jersey style.

Around the world, there are other variations of pizza such as the Chinese bing, Indian paratha and naan, Finissh rieska, German zwiebelkuchen and many others. There is something universally appealing about the combination of crispy bread, grease, cheese and savory toppings. Who doesn’t love pizza?

I am also proud of this Italian delicacy as a descendent of Italian immigrants. While the exact origins of pizza are not clear, it is generally believed to have come from the Roman empire. Modern pizza was conceived in 16th century Naples with the combination of galette flatbread, tomatoes, cheese and herbs.

Tomatoes were not widely known to Italians then, but they were recently brought back from the New World. As pizza evolved in Italy, the margherita pizza became a symbol of Italian pride by representing the national colors with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

Pizza was finally introduced to Americans in the late 19th century, when Italian immigrants brought their beloved food with them to the East Coast.

Until the mid-20th century, pizza was limited to small pizzerias and home kitchens. This changed after World War II, when service people returned from Europe with a newly acquired taste for the Italian treat. Since then, pizza has proliferated and become a multibillion dollar industry.

As much as I love pizza, I have to admit that I have not tried to make it from scratch. It never seemed complicated to make, but I always opted for the instant gratification of delivery or pre-made pizza.

This column has been an opportunity to prepare new recipes, so I decided to try making my own pizza. I found a great recipe for margherita pizza on Pinterest, and I am pleased with the results.

My close friend, Angie, also loves pizza and wanted to join me for this meal. She suggested making her fruit pizza for dessert. Over many years, her family has perfected a fruit pizza recipe, and we decided it would go well with the margherita pizza.

Fruit pizza is yet another delightful variation of the many pizza recipes out there.

Food: Glenwood’s landmark Riviera Supper Club unveiling breakfast and lunch

Beginning March 15, The Riviera Supper Club & Piano Bar is set to become more than a place for supper. It plans to officially start serving breakfast and lunch, too.

According to Riviera owner Jonathan Gorst, following last year’s Easter and Mother’s Day brunches, customers coming in for dinner wanted to know when they could return for more than just an evening meal.

“I think it was by demand,” Gorst said. “Using innovations and the way that we do everything from scratch here and putting that into the breakfast and lunch scene, I think there is a pretty big opening for that.”

Gorst said the Riviera would serve a full breakfast and lunch menu Wednesday through Sunday.

Wednesday through Friday customers can order off the breakfast and lunch menus beginning at 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 a.m.

Customers can also order from a full bar selection, including coffee cocktails featuring Glenwood Springs’ own Mountain Mama coffee.

“They only use the top 1 percent of coffee beans produced in the world … so we are going to have pretty amazing coffee cocktails,” Gorst said of the beverage lineup in addition to more traditional breakfast options like mimosas and bloody marys.

Breakfast fare is to include chicken and waffles, frosted flake crusted stuffed french toast, biscuits and gravy, avocado toast and more, he said.

“I discovered chicken and waffles a long time ago, and these are some of the best,” Gorst said of the dish prepared by Riviera Supper Club Executive Chef Travis Owen. “I’ve been to the place that started it in Hollywood, and this is a rival for that, for sure.”

The lunch menu offers everything from the “Boozy Burger,” which includes a half-pound of all-natural Colorado beef, drunken onions, swiss, sriracha bacon, and a balsamic reduction, to Colorado beef stroganoff, as well as lighter fare like caesar salad and tomato soup.

Gorst said that he and Owen were excited for guests to experience the Riviera outside of just supper.

“Sometimes people feel, a little, that we are formal, which we are not,” Gorst said. “You come in here for dinner and there is a piano player…”

That piano player, often times Gorst himself, did hint at special music performances for occasional breakfast and lunches, too.

“We are talking to some small jazz groups, because we would like to see jazz brunch Sundays,” Gorst said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Food column: From Louisiana to Glenwood Springs – home cooking at the Bluebird Cafe

The weather outside is frigid, and it still feels like the middle of winter. This is the time of year when warm food with kind friends is necessary. The good cheer of the holiday season is over, but it is still very much needed.

I recently had a nourishing experience with Susan Thomas, who is the co-owner and manager of the Bluebird Cafe in downtown Glenwood Springs.

Thomas has been the co-owner of the cafe with Kurt Hans, of Boulder, for about a year. She was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and grew up in Shreveport. While in Shreveport, Thomas operated a Cajun and Creole restaurant that specialized in home cooking. In Baton Rouge, she ran a restaurant that offered northern Italian cuisine.

“The Italian immigrants brought their distinct cuisine to the area. Later, their food was influenced by the local Creole population,” Thomas said. “I’ve brought that influence with me here to the Bluebird.”

The Bluebird Cafe doesn’t just serve coffee and pastries. With Thomas’s knowledge and recipes, the cafe now serves Italian and Cajun specialities. I was fortunate to have Thomas invite me to share some of this food with her at the Bluebird Cafe. Surrounded by art and Cajun nostalgia, we enjoyed a meal fit for kings and saints. The atmosphere was cozy, and the food was superb.

This is how Thomas wants all guests to feel.

“This is a very happy space that welcomes the community,” Thomas explained. “We want our customers to feel like they are stepping into their own living room with friends.”

I certainly felt welcomed, and I tried several dishes — both familiar and unknown. For our dinner, Thomas prepared Sensation salad, red beans with rice, a muffuletta sandwich, and for dessert, banana foster.

Thomas kindly shared these recipes with me to share with you. These dishes are also available as specialties at the Bluebird Cafe when available. All recipes are listed below, and Thomas also offers private cooking courses at the cafe for those who want to learn more.

Sensation Salad

According to Thomas, Sensation salad is a popular dish found in Baton Rouge and the surrounding area. Her version uses fresh spring salad mix with the Sensation dressing and is garnished with parsley and sweet peppers. It is an elegant mixture of sour, savory and a little bit of spicy. It’s the perfect option to start a meal with heartier fare to come later.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

1 package of fresh spring mix

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 cup virgin olive oil

1 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

1. Combine minced garlic, lemon juice, vinegar and oil in a large glass container with secure lid. Thomas likes to use a recycled olive jar. Shake contents well.

2. Add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and shake the jar again until ingredients are fully mixed. Any unused dressing can be refrigerated for later.

3. In a large salad bowl, toss the spring mix with enough dressing to fully coat the lettuce. Then serve immediately and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Red Beans and Rice

This is one of Thomas’s favorite dishes from her childhood. When she was young, she struggled with dyslexia. She helped herself overcome it by learning how to read recipes and cooking them with her mother. Recipes helped bring the words to life for her. This is one such dish.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

2 links of andouille sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup water

1 package of dried red kidney beans

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow or white onion

2 stalks of celery

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tomato

1 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 cups cooked white long-grain rice

Directions

1. Soak the red kidney beans overnight for best results.

2. Sauté sausages and vegetables separately. Cook sausages thoroughly and sauté vegetables until they are softer and caramelized.

3. Combine sausages (and drippings), vegetables and spices with 1/4 cup of water in pan. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes. Add additional water as needed while simmering.

4. Serve with cooked long-grain white rice and garnish with parsley.

Muffuletta Sandwich

Immigrants from northern Italy brought this recipe to Louisiana. It is named after the muffuletta bread, which is large, round and flat. Thomas imports the muffuletta bread directly from Gambino’s bakery in New Orleans. The sandwich is crispy, gooey, savory and has some fire.

Serves 2-4 people

Ingredients

1 loaf of Muffuletta bread (substitute with Italian bread)

1/3 cup olive oil

2 slices cheddar and provolone cheese

1/4 pound Genoa salami and ham

1/4 cup giardiniera olives

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon of red pepper

Directions

1. Half bread lengthwise, and drizzle olive oil on each side. Sprinkle both sides with herbs and pepper.

2. On one of the slices of bread layer olives, salami, ham and cheeses.

3. For extra crispiness, toast the sandwich using a panini press. Cut into quarters and serve.

Banana Foster

Finally for dessert, we indulged in banana foster. This dish was created in New Orleans, and one of Thomas’s favorites. She recommends it for romantic dinners or a treat shared between good friends. With an artistic flare, preparation becomes performance when Thomas burns off the extra alcohol shortly before serving. Please do this with caution.

Ingredients

4 medium size ripe bananas

1/2 cup butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup rum

1/4 cup amaretto

1 orange, juiced

4 scoops of vanilla ice cream

Dash of cinnamon

Directions

1. Cut bananas in half lengthwise.

2. Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add brown sugar and cook while stirring constantly.

3. After two minutes, add bananas to skillet. Add orange juice.

4. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in liquor, rum and carefully ignite the fumes above mixture. After flames dissipate, return to heat, and cook for two to three minutes or until soft.

5. Serve with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle sauce on top, and garnish with a piece of toffee and sprig of mint.

Inaugural Roaring Fork Restaurant Week serves up special cuisine, special price

From Historic Downtown Basalt to Glenwood Springs’ Restaurant Row, more than 40 local eateries, breweries and distilleries will cast out specials in hopes of reeling in customers as part of the inaugural Roaring Fork Restaurant Week, presented by Glenwood Insurance and Secura Insurance Companies.

“The whole idea behind it is to increase traffic for restaurants and introduce them to people that may not necessarily frequent them often. And, to get some business going in a typically slow time of year,” said Beth Albert, an Aspen Times account advocate and the brainchild behind the local restaurant week. “It just kind of snowballed and more and more people started getting excited about it.”

Beginning Monday, and running until Feb. 10, locals and visitors alike can choose from 40 confirmed participating restaurants, representing culinary classics from all across the globe.

“If you look at the list of specials, they are all over the place, which is awesome,” Albert said.

From clay oven-roasted lamb tikka masala to tenderized pan-seared jager schnitzel, dynamite sushi rolls to braised buffalo enchiladas, meatball ricotta pizza to char-broiled sterling silver filet mignon, tofu springs rolls to an all American grass fed beef burger, there are offerings for a variety of tastes.

Distilleries and breweries are also partaking in restaurant week, with offerings of craft cocktails, wine by the glass and local beer.

For a list of participating restaurants and their specials, visit putaforkinit.swiftdmp.com

“It’s fun to eat, drink, and be merry. And this way people can make a night out of it,” Albert said. “We wanted to make it so that the restaurants could afford to do a special that could bring people in so we got sponsors for it.”

Glenwood Insurance and Secura Insurance Companies are the event’s presenting sponsors with additional sponsor support from Basalt Chamber of Commerce, Carbondale Chamber and Tourism, Glenwood Tourism and Willits Town Center. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is a friend of the restaurant sponsor.

“The whole idea was to do something for everyone,” Albert said.

Each participating restaurant in Basalt, Willits, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs will create unique specials that fall into one of three price points. Restaurants are offering either $20.19 or $40.38 select specials while others will simply take 20.19 percent off of the select specials.

Depending on the restaurant, specials range from a craft cocktail complimented with charcuterie and cheese to a five-course meal.

Additionally, while the majority of participants plan to offer select lunch and dinner specials, a few will also showcase breakfast and brunch.

Patrons are encouraged to post to social media with the hash tag #putaforkinitRF sharing their experience. The theme of the event is “Put a Fork In It,” a play on words referencing the Roaring Fork Valley.

The goal is to do it every year, Albert said.

“Take advantage of all of the fabulous restaurants that we have in the Roaring Fork Valley, that’s my dream,” she said.

mabennett@postindependent.com

Native Son soars back after prolonged closure

With the help of search and rescue, both figuratively and literally speaking, Glenwood Springs’ Native Son has risen again.

The tapas bar, owned by Glenwood native Ricky Rodriguez, originally opened its doors in April. But when the local business lost its liquor license earlier this summer over a code violation that resulted in an extended closure, staying afloat proved challenging.

“We had to hustle into doing all kinds of different [catering] events from Eagle to, of course, the Roaring Fork Valley, and it was really good because it just showed the people that stayed with me how resilient they were and how resilient we became together to keep the brand alive,” Rodriguez said.

Alive and healthy, like the establishment’s Kombucha on tap, Native Son has reopened with the help of friend and search and rescue pilot Jack Montou.

The pilot, who flies for Classic Air Medical, and Rodriguez first crossed paths at a local gym where the two developed a close friendship. However, little did they know their coordinates would eventually land them as business partners.

“I’ve been flying for about 12 years,” Montou said. “I went to flight school, all civilian trained, and after that my dream was to do search and rescue work, and I think the most challenging terrain in the United States has to be right here in the heart of Colorado going over the Rocky Mountains.

“It’s challenging, but it’s definitely very rewarding, and I couldn’t beat it as far as a career goes,” Montou said.

While Montou flies in the front of the cockpit, he wanted Rodriguez to still ride shotgun at Native Son.

“I said, ‘I want this to be your baby,’” Montou said he told Rodriguez.

Native Son offers tapas plates, local libations and weekly entertainment in its Vegas-esque yet family-friendly atmosphere.

The revamped tapas menu offers everything from a cheese board comprising an artisan cheese trio, honey infused walnut, pepperoncini salsa and wild berry jam. One of Rodriguez’s personal favorite dishes is the pulled pork quesadilla featuring queso asadero cheese, tomatillo peach salsa and avocado crema.

“It’s a whole new tapas menu,” Rodriguez said. “It’s all local.”

Being a native, Rodriguez wanted Native Son’s menu to also showcase local gems.

Palisade fruit graces Native Son’s tapas menu while two nitro coffees, two mates, four Kombucha taps and an assortment of craft beer blesses its beverage selection.

“The entertainment is coming back too,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll be getting more live music in, and of course we have our DJs.

“We’re actually scheduling every night into more of a theme night. Wednesday we are going to be doing karaoke, and on Thursdays we are going to be doing a ladies night, where you buy a tapa and you get a glass of sangria on the house.”

With the layover now over, Native Son expects to be open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. until midnight.

“[Rodriguez] sometimes, I think is misunderstood because he has his tattoos and haircut,” Montou says with a laugh. “Anyone who really knows him, and he does know a lot of people in town, will tell you he’s just the sweetest guy with a heart of gold.”

After reaching cruising altitude, Rodriguez said Native Son will serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday before making it a permanent, daily installment.

“Jack definitely came in and saved the day,” Rodriguez said. “The whole vision that we have, it’s like we’re sitting on a gold mine.”

Slope & Hatch serves big plates without big prices

Thank God for elastic waistbands, which I find myself wearing upon entering one of this years Locals’ Choice winners for best cheap meal.

Welcome to Slope & Hatch.

Located in the heart of downtown along Seventh Street, I already begin salivating at the mouth upon reading the popular eatery’s sign out front.

“Deep Fried Chorizo Pockets & fresh cut fries served with dipping sauces $7.”

First and foremost, the word “sauces,” plural, greets me like a Hallmark Card, and just the thought alone of knowing I could purchase an entire meal for the equivalent price of a bottle of sparkling water in Aspen felt pretty good.

Glenwood good.

Offering counter-top service and a menu on chalkboards, this laid back, cozy restaurant with its single TV, brick walls, wooden tables, green leather benches and purple wooden chairs feels like being in an eccentric, New Orleans hole in the wall restaurant. A restaurant, which this Friday afternoon has a line out the door. After taking a bite out of my cantina grilled fish tacos I can quickly taste why.

The flour tortillas, flaky fish and citrus spiked cabbage, all together, provides an undeniable texture of fluffiness with just the right amount of crunch.

However, it’s the sweet jalapeno tartar sauce that steals the show.

Spicy, tangy and sexy, like Def Leppard’s, “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” make sure to tell Slope & Hatch’s sweet staff to pour some of that sticky sweet jalapeno tartar sauce all over your tacos, because like the ’80s hair metal band’s hit song, this plate also serves as an undeniable chart topper.

Paired with a side of crispy chips and delicious salsa verde, the whole plate of food costs $10. Yes, you read that correctly — $10.

Tacos, hot dogs, cocktails and beer, need I say more?

With the cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley as high as many of its tourists, you simply can’t beat Slope & Hatch when it comes to bang for your buck.

Enjoy not only the food, but also having money in your bank account after it, too.