Let’s face it: Lots of us are stuck when it comes to cooking, myself included. We make variations on the same five dishes using the same 10 safe ingredients. We grab the same wines and beers because we know we like them. We eat out at the same handful of eateries because we know that they won’t be bad. We settle for sameness.
Autumn is the season to extract yourself from your avocado-toast-every-morning culinary rut and send your buds back to school for some taste-expanding experiences. This season, Boulder County and environs are home to an impressive and appetizing roster of food events, classes, films and tastings.
Boulderites famously commit to attending events at the last possible second. Don’t be like them if you want to be part of some of these small, cool events that tend to sell out.
Here is your culinary to-do list for the next few months:
1. Taste CBD chocolate bars. Boulder’s Shanao Cacao, which focuses on supporting indigenous Peruvian farmers, and True Kind Botanicals have teamed up to create artisan farm-to-mouth CBD chocolate bars. Sample them, other artisan chocolates and watch a cacao ceremony 5-9 p.m. Sept. 22 at 2746 47th St. shanaocacao.org
2. Sip the best of Colorado. Colorado wines have matured to the point that the state is regarded as one of the nation’s hot winery destinations. The best way to appreciate how good our wines have gotten is Colorado Uncorked, a public tasting of winners of the Colorado Wine Governor’s Cup Competition Nov. 8 at the History Colorado Center. coloradowine.com/governors-cup
3. Increase your java IQ. Ozo offers a free tasting education opportunity Fridays at 2 p.m. at Ozo’s Pearl Street store. One coffee variety is brewed three ways — pour over, Chemex and French press — so you can taste the differences. Serious geeks can enroll in introductory barista classes. ozocoffee.com/classes
4. Be like Julia. Julia Child once said: “You learn to cook so that you don’t have to be a slave to recipes. You get what’s in season and you know what to do with it.” Start by mastering Child’s own classic recipes at an Oct. 27 workshop at Boulder’s Foodlab. foodlabboulder.com
5. Celebrate Bourdain. A tribute to Anthony Bourdain will be a centerpiece at the annual Flatirons Food Film Festival, Oct. 11-14 in Boulder. Events include eight short films, 26 speakers and seven feature films including one of my all-time favorites, Babette’s Feast, as well as Brewmaster, Cuban Food Stories, Eating Animals and The Cakemaker. flatironsfoodfilmfest.org
6. Eat some place new. The best way to find the places that will be your new old favorites is at First Bite, Boulder County’s restaurant week, Nov. 9-17. Notable local eateries offer three-course, $34 meals to introduce you to their fare. firstbiteboulder.com.
7. Stock your winter pantry. Your last easy opportunity of the year to access your favorite local produce, natural meats, eggs, artisan breads, preserves, cheeses, condiments, wines, prepared food and more is the Boulder County Farmers Markets’ Winter Market Dec. 1-2 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont. bcfm.org
8. Follow the chile winds. My favorite Colorado food festival remains the larger-than-life Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival, Sept. 21-23 in downtown Pueblo. It’s worth going just to inhale the mesmerizing perfume of tons of native Mosca chilies plus jalapenos and other varieties of varying heat levels being roasted over gas flames. Chow down on the event’s addictive signature dish: griddled cheese quesadillas middled with whole-roasted green chilies. The event includes food competitions and a jalapeño-eating contest. festival.pueblochamber.org
9. Sample farm-to-Sukkot fare. Celebrate the Jewish harvest festival Sept. 27 at the Boulder JCC with a local dinner collaboration by Milk and Honey Farm and Hosea Rosenberg’s Blackbelly. boulderjcc.org
10. A brew of one’s own. Longmont’s Brewmented offers a free Learn to Brew Beer Class on Sept. 29. It’s a hands-on beginner’s introduction to equipment, ingredients and techniques all done while helping to brew a batch. brewmented.com
11. Overcome bake-o-phobia. Rose Levy Beranbaum is recognized as one of America’s greatest bakers. On Oct. 2, the legend joins Les Dames Escoffier, a legendary women’s culinary organization, at The Fort Restaurant in Morrison to introduce her newest cookbook. Rose’s Baking Basics features 100 beginners’ recipes for cookies, cakes, pies and breads presented in clear step-by-step style with 600 photos of critical steps. The evening for baking geeks comes with a signed book, Champagne, hors d’oeuvres and plenty of dessert. lesdamescolorado.org
12. More melted cheese, please! Some foodie events are just about indulging, like the Mile High Grilled Cheese and Beer Fest Oct. 6 at Denver Rock Drill. Grilled cheese variations are offered by local chefs and paired with local beers. Proceeds benefit Minds Matter, which provides college scholarships for talented low-income high school students. grilledcheesebeerfest.com
13. Mastering creamy saag paneer. Creamy spinach with chunks of chewy cheese ranks as one of the world’s great vegetarian comfort foods. Learn to make it with Spice It Up with Neha Indian cooking classes in a Lafayette home. These are not sit-around-and-watch classes. The small (four-person) sessions focus on hands-on experience, making everything from stuffed okra and butter chicken to chai and mango lassi. email@example.com
Taste of the week
The Flower Pepper is one of Boulder’s genuine hidden culinary gems. It’s easy to miss the Chinese eatery shoehorned into a cubbyhole at 2655 Broadway in the side of a parking structure across the street from Breadworks. One taste of the remarkably good Chinese home cooking dished here is enough incentive to deal with parking in the structure, ordering and picking up at the counter and dealing with the very limited seating inside and outside. I would go back simply for an all-dumpling meal featuring pork and leek (or chicken and shitake) steamed dumplings, or the fantastic soup-filled dumplings or pork wontons in a chile-oil-slicked broth. On a recent visit I also tasted spare ribs with a memorable five-spice-accented gravy, dan dan noodles with pork and sides of baby bok choy and crunchy cucumber salad. Foodies formerly had to trek to Denver’s Lao Wang Noodle House to sample some of these dishes.
Words to chew on
“Instead of slow-roasting, then finishing in a hot pan in order to boost enzymatic tenderization, minimize the internal-temperature gradient, and maximize the Maillard reaction, I just, like, cook (the steak) in a pan.” — From “Permission to Cook Normal Food” by J.J. Goode at tastecooking.com
John Lehndorff is a prep cook. Listen to his Radio Nibbles podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles