In my “Recipes from the road” series of articles, I've shared some of my favorite bites from around the world—be sure to check out the other great dishes here—but there are some that stand out above all the rest as the best bites of all. Here are a few of my all-time favorite dishes discovered during my travels.
Elk Chops St. Vrain from The Fort, Morrison Colorado
The Fort, located in the Denver suburb of Morrison, has been a staple in the Denver culinary scene since the 1960's. The Fort, built by Sam Arnold in 1963, is a replica of Bent's Fort that was built on the Colorado frontier in 1833. The most popular entree at The Fort is the game plate, with includes four ounces of buffalo filet mignon, grilled quail and this specialty (and my favorite)—the Elk Chops St. Vrain, named for French nobleman Ceran St. Vrain who founded Bent's St. Vrain Trading Company in the 1830s.
Elk Chops St. Vrain
- 1 (2- to 3-pound) cervena (elk) rack, cut into 8 bone-in chops
- Canola oil
- 4 TBLS Char Crust Original Hickory Grilled Dry Rub, optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup huckleberry preserves
Lightly coat the chops with the canola oil and season both sides with the Char Crust and salt and pepper. Grill over high heat, 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Serve 2 chops per person with 2 to 3 TBLS of warm huckleberry preserves.
Chocolate Tacos from Barbara Passino, Napa Valley's Oak Knoll Inn
I have not been fortunate enough to have visited Oak Knoll Inn, but I did spend a lovely weekend at The Arizona Biltmore with Barbara Passino, owner of Oak Knoll Inn, as she helped us cook up some of her famous recipes, all featured in her cookbook, Chocolate for Breakfast. This was one of my favorites.
Chocolate Tortilla ingredients
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 TBLS cocoa powder
- 2 egg whites
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1/3 cup skim milk
- 1½ tsp vanilla
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/8 tsp cinnamon
To make the batter
- Place all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth with an electric mixer.
- Cover the batter and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To cook and shape the tortilla
- Remove the batter from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, which will take 20-30 minutes.
- Heat a small skillet or crepe pan over low heat.
- Pour in a little less than ¼ cup of batter (I use a long-handled measuring cup as my ladle) and tilt the pan quickly to spread the batter into a 6-inch circle.
- Once the edges look dry (2 to 3 minutes), loosen the edges with a knife and turn over the tortilla.
- Cook for another minute or two.
- Lift the soft hot chocolate tortilla our of the pan with a knife or spatula and quickly drape it over a rolling pin. It will become firm and crisp as it cools. Alternatively, if you have a taco rack, put the soft tortilla in that to firm up, teasing the middle open so that you'll have lots of room for fruit. Hint: if the tortilla doesn't firm up, it means it isn't thoroughly done, so cook it a bit longer. It should be dry when you remove it from the skillet.
Fresh fruit filling
- 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced (grind a small bit of fresh black pepper on top)
- 1 cup raspberries
- 1 cup blackberries
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 mango, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes or sliced into ½-inch thick strips
- 2 kiwi, peeled and sliced into rounds
- 1 banana, peeled and sliced into rounds just before serving to prevent browning
- Gently mix berries together in a bowl.
- Keep the remaining fruit separate until assembling or they'll pick up the colors from the berries.
- ½ pint sorbet (use a flavor of one of the fruits)
- 8 mint springs
- 8 edible flowers
- Place a tortilla on a serving plate.
- Generously fill it with the berries and then tuck in the mango, kiwi and bananas.
- Add a scoop of sorbet and garnish with mint and an edible flower.
Deviled Eggs from SaltRock Southwest Kitchen & Tap, Sedona, AZ
Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona, Arizona is a lovely Kimpton property. The resort's new restaurant, SaltRock Southwest Kitchen & Tap, served up some amazing food. My favorite bite, however, was a simple little appetizer—deviled eggs. Not just any deviled eggs, either. They are simply divine. This is the recipe for the eggs, which you can prepare at home, but to taste the complete dish, you'll have to visit SaltRock. There, the chef adds a little dollop of bacon onion relish that takes the dish over the top.
- 12 eggs
- Water to cover
For the mousse
- All the egg scraps
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp Chipotle powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
Pasilla maple syrup
- ½ tsp Pasilla powder
- ½ quart maple syrup
For the eggs:
- Place the eggs in a small pot and cover with water.
- Bring to boil and count 2 minutes.
- Take off heat and cover the pot and count 12 minutes. Once tine has elapsed, place eggs in water and ice bath until chilled.
- Peel and rinse.
- Cut the eggs in 2/3rds and scoop out the yolks.
- Trim the tips so the eggs can stand.
For the mousse:
- In a robot coupe or small blender, add all ingredients and blend smooth.
- Place mousse in a piping bag and pipe into the halved eggs.
For the syrup:
- Mix powder and maple syrup in a small pot and warm slowly for 10 minutes.
Final stage – garnishes:
- Smear grain mustard on the bottom of a plate and top with eggs filled with mousse.
- Drizzle with the syrup on top and enjoy.
Wood-grilled Butternut Squash Puree from Kai Restaurant, Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, Arizona
Kai restaurant at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa is the country's only Native American restaurant with AAA Five-Diamond and Mobil Five-Star status. The setting is amazing, but the food is even better, most of it sourced locally and created in the tradition of Arizona's Native Americans. This butternut squash puree is made using TOCA butternut squash grown by the Tohono O'ogham people in southern Arizona from heirloom seeds. The soup is amazing and watching the cotton candy melt into the warm soup is great fun. Be sure to read here about my stay at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa.
Wood Grilled TOCA Squash Puree
Beans and Bacon
- 1 lb Rio Zape beans, soaked overnight (you can purchase from nativeseeds.org)
- Mineral water, enough to cover beans plus 1 inch
- 1 TBLS salt (approximate)
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 head garlic, cut in half
- ½ cup grilled and diced piquillo peppers
- 1 cup diced wild boar bacon
- Simmer the pre-soaked beans in salted mineral water with the fresh thyme and the halved garlic head until tender, about 2 hours.
- Strain the beans, remove the garlic and thyme twigs, and then put half of the beans into a blender.
- Add enough water to make a thick puree.
- Pour the puree into a bowl, fold in the whole beans and pickle peppers, and set aside.
- Sauté bacon over medium heat until cooked through and crisp.
- Drain on paper towels and set aside.
- Just before serving, crumble the bacon and mix the bits into the bean puree.
Wood-Grilled Butternut Squash Puree
- 4 cups mesquite chips, soaked in water
- 5 small to medium butternut squashes, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 14 cloves garlic, peeled
- 6 shallots, sliced
- 2 to 3 TBLS canola oil
- 2 Mojo Rojo chiles, one seeded and one whole
- 3½ quarts chicken stock
- 2 pints heavy cream
- 1 lime, juiced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ¼ cup Chiffone of opal basil
- 1 TBLS aji amarillo chili powder
- Cotton candy if available
- Place wet mesquite chips on a hot gas grill and allow to cook until smoke begins to emerge from the chips.
- Place the squash slices on the grill and cook a few minutes on each side to get grill marks and a smoky flavor.
- Set aside.
- In a large pot, sauté the onion, celery, carrots, garlic cloves, and shallots in oil.
- Add both rogue chiles to the pot along with the grilled squash.
- Add the chicken stock and simmer until the squash is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Put into a blender and puree, or use a stick blender in the pot.
- Strain the mixture through a fine sieve back into the pot and add the heavy cream, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour into a serving pitcher.
- Put a small mound (about ½ cup) of the bean puree into the bottom of each wide soup bowl.
- Top each mound with a puff of cotton candy if you have it.
- Then generously sprinkle the ground ahi amarillo chili spice on top.
- After the plate is served to your guest, pour the warm soup into the bowl. (For an elegant touch, pour each serving from a small ceramic pitcher.)
A sweet Riesling pairs well with this dish and balances the smokiness of the squash.
Chiles Rellenos in Beer Batter from Santa Fe School of Cooking
One of my favorite spots in Santa Fe is the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The school—designed for those of us who love to dabble in the kitchen to create great food rather than for those who want careers as chefs—has been cooking up amazing Southwest dishes for 25 years and now has beautiful kitchens and classrooms in historic downtown. Even if you don't want to cook, you can join a class, watch the action and enjoy the food. I started out my class with Chef Michelle Roetzer convinced that I would not like the chile relleno (stuffed chile). I've never had one I liked. Until now. I left loving these delicate deep fried bites. And no, they are NOT spicy because you cook the chiles to get their sweetness. We used Hatch chiles, but Anaheim chiles work as well.
Chiles Rellenos in Beer Batter
- 12 small fresh New Mexican green chiles or Anaheim chiles
- 1¾ c grated Monterey Jack cheese
- ½ c. grated cheddar cheese
- 2 tsp dried Mexican oregano (cilantro)
- canola oil for frying
- Roast the chiles over a flame until charred.
- Place in a plastic bag to sweat for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Carefully peel the chiles.
- With the tip of a small knife, make a slit in the chiles, the length of each pod, and remove the seeds.
- Rinse under cool running water and drain on paper towels.
- Mix the cheeses and oregano in a small bowl.
- Stuff the cheese mixture into the chiles and press the opening closed. (You don't want the cheese oozing out.)
- Place the chiles on a tray covered with a layer of paper towels and refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the stuffing to chill.
- When you re ready to prepare the batter, heat the canola oil in a deep pot or deep fat fryer to 375. (Chef Roetzer actually used a skillet on the stove top and fried them that way.)
- Remove the stuffed chiles from the refrigerator.
- Lightly coat with flour.
- Dip a chile into the Beer Batter (recipe below), coating thoroughly.
- Carefully place into the hot oil.
- Repeat with 4 or 5 more chiles, frying to a golden brown, about 6 minutes.
- Drain on paper towels.
- Repeat with remaining chiles.
- 6 eggs, separated
- 2/3 c beer, preferably a light Mexican (Corona)
- 1¾ c flour
- 2 tsp ground New Mexican ground red chile powder
- ½ to ¾ tsp salt, or to taste
- Separate eggs.
- Place yolks and beer in a medium bowl and blend well.
- Mix flour, red chile powder and salt together.
- Slowly blend with egg yolk and beer mixture to create a smooth batter. (Note: the batter should be the consistency of a thin pancake mix, so it may require slightly more or less beer.)
- Place the egg whites in a cold bowl and beat until they hold soft peaks.
- Fold the egg whites into the beer batter.