denver's chalk art festival + warm garbanzo bean salad with fennel, red onion & parsley + lettuce salad with with apples, pecans and yogurt dressing

When I was a kid, I used to love making hopscotch boards and checker boards with chalk on our sidewalk or in the backyard on our cement patio. I would play for hours, sometimes making more elaborate designs long after my friends had left and the fireflies had come out. There's something very sweet about seeing my own children making doodles on the sidewalk with chalk as well. And since they're big fans of making a mess (getting chalky) and art, I though they would love going back to the Denver Chalk Art Festival, which takes place annually- the first weekend in June- on Larimer Square in Denver.

We went last year and had a blast, and this year was no different. There were so many talented artists and creative ideas. I got a kick out of the Bob Ross piece in particular, but I think some of the, erm, younger viewers just thought it was just someone's grandpa with a paint brush. There was a really awesome Chuck Close portrait and some odes to Comic-Con, which was also in Denver over the weekend. 

There were lots of people at the festival, so taking "the perfect" shot wasn't always possible, but I think these pictures give you a sense of what it was like...
(And please pardon those line-and-ball shadows on some of the photos- they're from the string lights that hang from one side of Larimer street to the other.) 
Then we walked around the neighborhood. It was really crowded because the Colorado Rockies were also playing the LA Dodgers, and the stadium is only a few blocks away from where the festival was held. Busy, busy streets...(I love it.)

After the festival, we returned home. The boys took longer-than-usual naps, so I started working on a salad and a side dish for City Park Jazz - a free event that runs every Sunday throughout the summer.  Both of the recipes come from Family Table, a truly fantastic cookbook.
Notes on the salad: The original recipe calls for escarole, but I opted for lettuce that I grew in our garden (I know, right?! I still can't believe, we have a garden!). The yogurt dressing- with maple syrup and smoked paprika- was delicious. I didn't use all of it, so you could probably adjust the measurements.

Notes on the side dish: I'm *all* about the Aleppo pepper and this is one of my favorite side dishes to make right now. The recipe elevates the standard garbanzo bean (chick pea) quite a bit and it's spicy - so it compliments garden burgers perfectly. 



Lettuce & Apple Salad (Adapted ever-so-slightly from Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home)

1 cup of pecans

For the dressing
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Approximately 1 small-medium head of lettuce (Bibb-Boston-Butter is a nice choice, though the original recipe uses 1 head escarole), coarsely chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2- 3/4 red onion, halved, thinly sliced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint

Spread the pecans in a large dry skillet and toast over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring and watching carefully so they do not burn. Transfer to a plate to cool.

To make the dressing: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.
Combine lettuce, apple, pecans, and onion in a large serving bowl. Toss with the dressing, sprinkle with mint, and serve.

 * * *
Warm Garbanzo Bean Salad with Fennel, Red Onion & Parsley (Adapted slightly from  Family Table: Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home)
2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 fresh sprigs of thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cut in half, cored, and thinly sliced 
1 red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley


Drain and rinse beans and place them in a large saucepan. Cover with 12 cups of water (you could probably use less, but you're going to be adding a lot of salt, so don't use too little water either), add 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) and the garlic. Bring to a low simmer, and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes-- until the beans are tender (not mushy!) and the flavors have been absorbed.
Remove the beans from the heat (don't drain yet!), add the salt and thyme and let stand for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, the remaining 1 teaspoon of Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), the smoked paprika, lemon juice, and vinegar. Whisking constantly, slowly add the oil. Add salt to taste if necessary.
In a large bowl, toss the fennel and the red onion with 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette. 
Drain the beans and discard the thyme and garlic. Put the beans back in the pot and add the the fennel and onion mixture. Then, on very low heat, stir the beans, fennel and onion, until it is soft-- about 10 minutes or so, being careful not to burn the ingredients. (The original recipe doesn't call for this step, but I think the softer the onion and fennel the nicer the texture-- but if you like things more crunchy, you can skip this step.) Remove from heat and put in a large serving bowl. Stir in the parsley and toss with the remaining vinaigrette.
The salad can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.
Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Roasted Broccoli & Fennel Salad with Pickled Onion Vinaigrette, also from Family Table

Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole Grain Mustard (and a Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Too!)

I think I've mentioned this before, but every time my husband flies back to New York, I tend to get a wee-bit bummed-out the next day. On his most recent trip, we spent 5 days together and his visit coincided with our Aunt Barbara's stay (fantastic) and Theodore's first birthday (that post will get written, eventually). We had an awesome date night at Root Down, had friends over for a BBQ dinner, went to the Dragon Boat Festival and hiked near Boulder on Sunday morning. Then we piled into the car and dropped him off at the airport. 
The day after he leaves I usually like to do something unexpected, or at least try to go some place where I've never been before. It gives me a sense of adventure (though most things are "an adventure" with a 1 year old and a 3 year old in tow) and it helps me keep my mind off of our current situation. 
So yesterday, the day after the airport-drop, I decided I wanted to go to another farm. It was too hot to hike and I've really taken to this farm-thing. I'd already been to Isabella Farm and Ollin. And today's destination was going to be (drum roll, please) Berry Patch Farms. Finally. 
Now friends, I learned a valuable lesson yesterday: always check the farm's hours of operation before you pack the diaper bag, assemble the snacks, load the kids in the car and head east on I-76. Yup. The farm is closed on Monday. 
We turned the car around and came back to Denver. It's not a very long trip (about 25 minutes) and we were back at our favorite playground in no time at all. But the plan to make a lunch out of the fresh produce I had anticipated buying at the farm...well, that didn't really pan out. 
I needed some comfort food...stat!
There is something really, really great (and comforting) about grilled cheese sandwiches. It's, like, the best lunch in the world. Maybe what makes them so great is the gooey cheese, the memories of childhood, or just the crunch of that grilled bread when you take a big bite. Any way you slice it, it hits the spot.
I made the Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard from Nancy Silverton's (of Mozza fame) Sandwich Book. It was so delicious! 
And since we are on the subject of grilled cheese, I decided to add a second recipe for Green Goddess Grilled Cheese too. I made it a while back, but never posted it on the enjoy that one as well!
{In case you are wondering, I went back to Berry Patch Farms today...of course, after checking their hours of operation. They were opened and we had a blast. Photos coming tomorrow, or soon thereafter.}
Classic Grilled Cheese with Marinated Onions and Whole-Grain Mustard (Courtesy of Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book)
{Though this version on the Classic Grilled Cheese calls for only a few extra ingredients, it's a completely different sandwich. The onions and mustard salute the sensibilities of Alsace, imparting a tangy seal to this basic grilled cheese.}
Yields 4 sandwiches
For the Onions:
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar (I used 3 white-wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of freshly cracked black pepper
2 medium yellow onions, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick-slices
For the rest:
8 slices white or whole-wheat sourdough bread
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, sliced into 24-32 1/16-inch-thick-slices (I used a peeler to get the slices thin)
To prepare the marinated onions: In a medium bowl, combine the oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Add the onions, toss to coat them, and allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes at room temperature. Season them with more vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. (Mine were fine as they were.)
To assemble the sandwiches: Set half of the slices of bread buttered side down. Spread an even layer of mustard over the bread and cover with half the cheese, folding them back in toward the middle if they extend past the edges of the bread. Scatter the marinated onions on top and place the remaining cheese slices over the onions. Put the top slices of bread over the cheese, buttered side up. 
Grill the sandwiches (a few minutes in a Panini press) and cut in half on the diagonal.
* * *
This is another rocking grilled cheese sandwich. It doesn't take too long to assemble, and I had plenty of green goddess herb pesto leftover-- which I slathered on the summer squashes I picked up at the farmers market. I got a really good quality Italian bread, (courtesy of the the Denver Bread Company), and filled it with mozzarella, creamy goat cheese, sliced avocado and a big handful of spinach. Then I spread a generous amount of the green goddess herb pesto on each side and closed 'er up! The sandwich goes on the panini press for just a few minutes, until the mozzarella cheese is melted. Lunch is served and it's a good one...
Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Sandwich (Courtesy of Sarah Gim, Tastespotting)
Yields 1 sandwich
2 slices bread (we used a white bread, but one filled with lots of different whole grains and seeds would be *awesome*)
3 tablespoons Green Goddess Herb Pesto (recipe below)
2 slices mild white melty cheese like mozzarella
handful fresh baby spinach
¼ avocado, sliced
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
olive oil (and butter if you’re so inclined)
Spread about 1 tablespoon of Green Goddess Herb Pesto onto each slice of bread (2 tablespoons total, but if you’re sensitive, go light, the pesto is STRONG).
On one slice of bread, add 1 slice of cheese, sliced avocado, crumbled goat cheese, spinach, second slice of cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. (If you want to use butter, add it to the oil and let it melt). Add the sandwich to the oil and cook until bread is golden brown. Press down on the sandwich lightly, then flip the sandwich over and cook until second side is golden brown.

Green Goddess Herb Pesto (Adapted from Sarah Gim, Tastespotting)
I have to say that I didn't love this pesto when I tasted it for seasoning. It was very strong. But when it was put on this, it was amazing!
1/2 clove garlic
1/2 small shallot, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
handful chopped kale
handful of chopped spinach
1 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1/4 cup olive oil, I added another few tablespoons to get the consistency right
salt and pepper to taste
Pulse garlic and shallot in food processor until chopped. With the food processor running, add lemon juice, parsley, kale, tarragon and chives. (It won’t process very well yet, don’t worry).
Very slowly drizzle in olive oil until kale and herbs get sufficiently chopped and everything is the consistency of a pesto. You may need more or less of the olive oil depending on how big a “handful” of herbs is to you. You can also turn off the food processor and push herbs down the side of the bowl with a spatula every once in a while.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stock and Crock: The National Western Stock Show and 2 mini-Crock soups (Onion Soup au Gratin and Roasted Tomato)

This week I said something I never thought I would say out loud. I said, "C'mon on Otis, C'mon Theo, we're going to the Stock Show!" It might seem like an odd place for a vegetarian, but The National Western Stock Show has deep roots in Denver (106 years) and I thought it was something that we should see, even if it's not exactly my cup of tea.
There were tons cowboys and cowgirls. And I'm talking about the real deal. Like, classic fringe jackets and spur-heeled boots. People that know how to lasso and are comfortable riding horses. They don wide-brimmed hats...and they're not worn ironically. No, these are not the kind of cowboys you'd see in Madonna's 'Don't Tell Me' video. These are real American cowboys.
There were show horses and and shiny belt buckles. And there were black Angus cows and bulls-- being sold for their exceptional blood line and lineage. There were endless rows of vendors selling belts and farming machinery. There's a lot of money, history and livelihood tangled up in this stock show, the second largest in the United States (not surprisingly, Houston hosts the largest show, though I heard a report on Colorado Public Radio that said the mile-high show was the biggest). And while I haven't eaten meat in about 25 years (a purchase of goldfish for my 10th birthday started that ball rolling), I can accept that humans have consumed meat for (many) thousands of years, and the farmers and ranchers involved in this show are the real deal. No Con-Agra, no big factory farms here (at least that was what I was told). Of course I would be remiss if I didn't mention the petting zoo-- llamas, alpacas, pot-bellied pigs, goats, sheep and ducks-- who made their journey from a farm in Medford, Oregon. Otis had a blast! 
After leaving the stock show, it was time to head home. I made a great Onion Soup Au Gratin from a recipe that my mother-in-law passed on to me, which I adapted only slightly. I also came across a Roasted Tomato Soup recipe from Smitten Kitchen that I made a few months ago-- in a mini crock-- which I had neglected to post. So here it is, better late than never! 

* * *

Traditional French Onion soup uses veal or beef stock, but here I went with a good quality vegetable stock and a 1/2 teaspoon bouillon cube. I cut a few slices of Udi's French Baguette and topped the bread with a really nice Gruyere that I picked up from our local cheese shop.
Onion Soup Au Gratin (Adapted from my mother-in-law's recipe)
Serves 6
3 medium onions, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
6-8 cups of vegetable broth
Salt + Pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon cube
1/4- 1/3 cup of Sherry (the original recipe used Brandy. Use what you have.)
Toasted white bread, to fit crock (I used French Baguette)
2/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Saute onions in butter and oil, on a low flame, stirring occasionally so that the onions caramelize. This took me well over 1/2 hour (but that might have to do with the high-altitude here). The onions should be the color of caramel. If they don't get soft and caramelized here, they will be kind of tough when served (that's not very good!). 
3. Add broth, salt, pepper, bouillon cube and simmer for about 12-15 minutes.
4. Add Sherry and cook for another 5 minutes
5. Toast bread slices (I used 2-3 per crock) and cover with Gruyere cheese. Heat it in the oven until the cheese begins to melt. This will only take a minute or so.
6. Ladle onion soup mixture into the crocks, filling about 3/4 of the way.
7. Stir about 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan into each crock.
8. Float toasted bread with melted cheese on top of each crock. Add more cheese if desired.
9. Put the crocks on a baking sheet, just in case they bubble over during baking.
10. Put the crocks in oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is melted and bubbly.

* * * 

I made this recipe a few months ago and never got to posting it. It's from Smitten Kitchen and was loosely adapted from an old Bon Appetit recipe. I went a step further and put a shakshukah-like twist on the dish by topping it with a fried egg.
Roasted Tomato Soup (Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 4 (though closer to 6 if served in mugs)
3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon (or more to taste) dried crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock


4 1-inch slices from a large loaf of rye bread, whole wheat sourdough or bread of your choice (or 16 1-inch slices from a baguette), toasted until hard and lightly buttered on one side
1 tablespoon grated raw onion
1 cup coarsely grated cheddar (or more to taste)

Make soup: Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper (I used 1 full teaspoon of Kosher salt). Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender (garlic will be very tender), about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, crushed red pepper and stock and bring to a boil Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.

Create cheddar lid: Preheat oven to 350. Arrange four ovenproof soup bowls, crocks or large mugs on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Stir grated onion into the warm soup. (I love this last-minute suggestion of onion.) Float toast slice(s) in each bowl, buttered side up and divide grated cheese generously over top. (If you’re using a wide bowl, you might find that you want more cheese to create a thick, broiled lid.) Bake soups on tray for 15 to 20 minutes, until cheese on top is bubbling and brown at the edges. If you’d like it even more bronzed on top, preheat your broiler and finish soups for a minute or two under it. Serve immediately.

Do ahead: Soup can be prepared one day ahead, and kept covered in the fridge. Rewarm before serving, or before finishing with cheddar crouton.

Onions, Oh Cry!

May you grow like an onion, with your head in the ground!
(Vahksin zuls du vi a tsibeleh, mitten kup in drerd.)
-Yiddish Curse
Onions. To my grandmother they were part of her favorite curse (see above). To me, they are used in every stock I make and when you cook them down and let them soften and brown, caramelized onions are the most delicious thing.
This recipe comes from my favorite food blogger Lottie + Doof out of Chicago. The first time I made this soup I halved the recipe. But I liked it so much that I wish I hadn't...
Note: For most soups all I use is my Dutch Oven and an immersion blender. It makes cleaning up a cinch!
A Puree of Onions (Soup) with Butter Croutons and Grated Lemon Peel (Courtesy of Lottie + Doof, Adapted from Bon Appetit) 
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, divided** (See "optional" note below. I used 8 tbls.)
24 cups thinly sliced onions (about 5 3/4 pounds) 
8 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth (preferably homemade) 
1 1/2 cups 1/2-inch pieces torn crustless country-style bread 
16 fresh sage leaves (only if you want to add as a garnish-- really for special occasions) 
1 1/2 tablespoons (I used more) Sherry wine vinegar 
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

    Melt 6 tablespoons butter in heavy extra-large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions; sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until onions begin to soften, 15 to 18 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and sauté until onions are very tender and deep golden brown, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Remove 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions and reserve for garnish.
    Add 8 cups broth to remaining onions in pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes to blend flavors. Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Or use an immersion blender and puree to perfection!
    Season soup to taste with salt and pepper and 1 1/2 Tbl of Sherry Vinegar.
    Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add torn bread pieces and sauté until bread pieces are crisp and golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.
    Serve soup with croutons, carmalized onions, and a splash of sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and some lemon zest. I added a few very thinly sliced (using a peeler) bits of Gruyere because I had some in the fridge.
    OPTIONAL** Cook remaining 4 tablespoons butter in small saucepan over medium heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage leaves and cook until slightly crisp, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer leaves to small plate; reserve brown butter in saucepan. You can then add sage leaves to soup and drizzle with brown butter sauce. I didn't make the crispy sage and it was still delicious. It's another step that you don't really need but you can add for a special occasion!
    Bon Appetite!