Eating my way through Denver: the highlights

Hard Rock Cafe

We ate here out of sheer desperation. It was late; we were starving. The meal was a blur. I ordered the Hickory Barbecue Bacon Cheese Burger. It tasted alright. What can I say? I do recall they didn’t have cauliflower for the cauliflower burger a coworker ordered so they gave her salmon instead and didn’t charge her for the meal. The waiter carded me, and then made sure to tell me that he knew I was way over 21. Thanks, bud.

Casa Bonita

This place is not real life. First of all, it’s a cathedral in a strip mall–a cathedral that I am told is several stories, all of which are floors of this “entertainment destination.” Let me set the stage: We got out of our Uber and walked through the front doors. There was a super long line that eventually forked into two lines. The lines wound around kitschy and vaguely Mexican/Old-Timey decor. Around ever corner was a new smell, and none of those smells were food. Someone remarked that it was like being in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney Land. Eventually, after a 45 minute smell and sight overload, we made it to a cashier. We ordered some super expensive meals…starting at $15 a plate and going up from there. We kept walking. Walking. Smelling. Watching little kids licking hand rails. Finally, we made it to…a cafeteria-style conveyor belt. You grabbed a red or green tray, a set of silverware, and slide your tray along to where a little teenage girl was organizing plates of food under heat lamps and making sure customers got their food. I get to her. She slides a plate towards me…something covered in red sauce. “I ordered green sauce.” “That is green sauce.” Oook. Thanks. We continued walking, this time with our trays and plates of food. Uphill. Into the dining room. Where we waited to be seated. It was humid. Packed. There was a deep pool surrounded by fake rock walls and palm trees adorned with green Christmas lights. There were 15 year old actors “acting” out pirate skits. There was a diving show. And a fake waterfall. And an ancient arcade. Old-timey pictures. Oh, and the food. The reason we were there. It was awful. I am not being overly harsh when I say I would have much preferred Taco Bell.

Ted’s Montana Grill
We stumbled upon this place accidentally. We were looking for food carts, were running out of time, and so we settled on this place. Amazing. Handcut fries. Handformed burgers. Cute and clever waitstaff who gave me “diet whatever,” which is exactly what I ordered. “More diet whatever, Miss?” “Yassss!”  Everyone was happy with their food. I ordered a burger with jalapeno, blackberry jam, a fried egg, and bacon. Wow. My only suggestions would be to toast the buns and salt the patty a bit more. But wow. It was hard to go back to work after that meal. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Bayou Bob’s

And then it was Jenn’s turn to pick dinner. And I picked it soley because they had a portion of their menu named “Nibblins.”  Sold. We went all out here. Alligator, hushpuppies, crawfish etoufee, fried chicken, green beans, Bourbon Street chicken, crawfish stuffed mushrooms, fried pickles….It was an intense meal. My only complaint is that my dinner was over-salted. I couldn’t eat it all. But overall, this restaurant was a fun and delicious experience.

Civic Center Eats

This was our holy grail. It took us all week to find it. Several of us asked several people where this was and no one could tell us. When we got there and saw how packed and beautiful it was, we were shocked. Such a stellar place to eat and just enjoy the scenery. I got a wood-fired pizza. Perfection.

Russell’s Smokehouse
Our eyes were so big when we sat down at this place and looked at the menu.  Who doesn’t get the meat sweats purely out of anticipation? We ordered Frank’s Family meal with included: grits, pulled pork, coleslaw, smoked sausage, beans, brisket, ribs, chicken, spoon bread, and fries. It was ridiculous. So much so, I bought the three house bbq sauces and crammed them in my suitcase for the flight home. No joke.



Sopa seca…or…what do I do with this leftover hamburger??

I have been in Denver the past week, which means I left my three kiddos home with Dad. It was an awesome week,  but I am so glad to be home. Before I left, I stocked the fridge and cabinets and made a meal plan for them to follow in my absence. On Taco Tuesday, I got a weird message from my husband that apparently was a question about where the taco meat was. It was weird; he is weird…so I ignored the message. Wah wah wah…lo and behold, the family was in dire need of hamburger (which was in the freezer), so they went out and bought more. With now thrice the required amount of hamburger, what is a husband to do with one packet of taco seasoning? He cooked one pound with the seasoning, and one pound with no seasonings. He used the seasoned stuff for tacos and the bland, gray crumbles for me to deal with when I got home.

Challenge accepted.

Have you heard of Sopa Seca? It’s the perfect dish for leftover hamburger, no doubt. Translated into English, it means dry soup. Have you ever cracked open a box of Rice-A-Roni? Or fussed over a pot of risotto? Sopa Seca has qualities shared by both. The first step to sopa seca is to brown your vermicelli noodles in some oil until nice and toasty. You can add veggies to saute as well, or bland, cooked hamburger, like I had on hand. Once the veggies are soft, vermicelli is toasted, add spices. I added Mexican Oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Next step is to add some liquid. I chose a smallish can of tomato sauce, mixed with some beef broth. The key is to add a bit of liquid at a time, let it boil and bubble, stir it around, add more liquid, boil, stir…until the pasta is the right texture. So it’s fussy in a way, like risotto, but you really don’t have to stir it as much as the rice dish. Just make sure it doesn’t burn or stick, because tomato sauce has quite a bit of natural sugar that loves to stick and burn.

To finish it off? Cilantro and feta cheese. Not fancy, not difficult. Delicious.

Easy Mac and Cheese,  not from the blue box

I always have blue boxes on hand for easy meals. We don’t resort to them much, but I am not afraid to break them out. Boxed macaroni and cheese tastes…fine. It tastes like what it is. It’s dependable.  But I wouldn’t say it tastes…good.

So over the past several years, I have toyed with homemade mac and cheese. Sometimes the sauce breaks. Sometimes it’s bland.  Or gritty.  And if I get too crazy with the cheese variety,  the kids won’t like it. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon some shortcuts that I was able to make a version that was fool proof and kid proof.

Shortcut 1: Use canned condensed cheese soup. I use Campbell’s.

Shortcut 2: Use a couple ounces of Velveeta. Just go with it. Just enough to give the sauce viscosity without giving it that overwhelming, delicious salty plastic flavor.

With these two ingredients,  I can use whatever other cheeses I want. Smoked gouda? Fontina? Pepper jack? Yeah, use them all. Shred it, add it, melt it, taste it, add milk…work with the consistency and flavors that your family loves.

Sorry for the lack of recipe.  Once you get the process down,  it’s not really necessary.  And it’s about adding the type of cheese you like and fussing with it until you get the cheese sauce of your dreams.

To make our meal tonight, I will include diced ham, and a Caesar salad.

Do you have any mac and cheese secrets?

P.S. This version of macaroni and cheese is purely for the kids. I have learned over the past few years that I must invent kids versions and adult versions of the same dish. If I was having a dinner party, my m&c would include a roux…bacon…and a delicious mixture of “adult” cheeses. “Adult” cheese sounds dirty. I’ll just leave you with that.

 Swedish Meatballs

My almost 2 year old won’t stop asking for meatballs for breakfast. Imagine it: 7:30 am. Not a sip of coffee has been had. I hear my daughter calling for me from her room: Mama…MAMAAAA. I open her door: “Hi, Mama! I awake! You awake! I want meatballs! Where’s Daddy? I hungry? I awake! Oh, Mama, you nice! I hungry!”


So today, just to shut up her cute little face, we are having meatballs.

I am using this recipe just for the simple fact that Pinterest said it was the “best.” It had better be, damn it.

Changes made:

No panko. I tore up two pieces of bread and soaked them in a splash of milk. Makes for a more tender meatball.

Used minced garlic and powdered onion instead of powdered garlic and minced onion.

Facebook Perfect Parenting

I am a millennial. I put it all out there. I bake with the kids and snap a photo. Pack them a cute picnic. Another photo. Art projects? Same. Swinging? Laughing? Just sitting, looking cute? Snap, snap, snap, goes my camera. And I don’t care if you think I’m over-saturating your online lives with my pictures and stories about the kids. I truly don’t. Well, I do a little. I do think about how I am really quick to share all of the picture perfect moments, and fewer of the raw moments. For me, it’s more than just being a millennial that causes me to overshare. I don’t have any close family to speak of and connecting with friends and relatives on FB makes this sometimes oh so isolating task of parenting…less lonely. Moms are quick to jump on and give me advice and I eat it up. I don’t have a mom to bounce ideas or worries off of. So I have a gang of moms on facebook to reassure me.

So today, the kids woke up in awful moods. They were mean to each other, bossy–dirty looks were being shot from one side of the house to the other. There’s only so much I can do to remedy that–or even ignore it. The kids have a daily summer “to do list” to make sure they keep to a productive schedule of chores, playing, helping family members, being creative, reading, etc. Once the kids started working on their lists, moods did not improve. Then it was time for us to go outside. They have an enormous play structure, a pool–so much to do, but I hear: I’m bored. Ugh. I could feel my blood pressure rise as my blood sugar started its descent. Think. Think.

Scavenger Hunt.

It worked like a charm. Their moods improved and we played until lunch time. I, of course, posted about it on facebook, being the millennial oversharer that I am. And I got a lot of compliments. That’s when I needed to share a reality check. Do you know that when my almost 2 year old is throwing a tantrum and I am yelling, you can hear us from a few blocks away? I know our neighbors must hate us. And when it comes to calm, patient, Glenda the Good Witch parenting, complete with the soft voice? Ha! I am a yeller–who is more sarcastic than you could ever aspire to be.

Things aren’t always pretty. I can somehow manage to get all three kids to help me bake some muffins, and then an hour later, I want to sell them on Craiglist. We can have a beautiful family story time that ends up in tears and kids being sent to bed. I can do it all…sometimes. And other times, I yell and hope my neighbors don’t throw their dog poop in my yard (that happened!).

So if you are feeling overwhelming pressure to be a perfect parent–and to “seem” like one, too, on social media, please realize that life is messy. Anyone who “seems” to be put together with their perfect kids are just really great at social media and should switch careers to marketing. It’s ok to laugh and cry and yell and groan and be mad. And take those damned pictures. At least that’s what I tell myself.

(No, seriously. My toddler is sleeping with mashed potatoes in her hair. Life.)

The perfect teriyaki chicken 

That’s quite a claim, I know. But I have stumbled upon an easy and delicious method that you will use over and over again.


  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • Onion powder
  • Chinese 5 spice
  • Salt
  • Your favorite teriyaki sauce…ours is from Soy Vay.


Liberally season chicken with salt, onion powder, and 5 spice. Grill. I use an electric tabletop one. Chop up and douse in your favorite sauce. Seem too simple? The key is in the 5 spice,  which is a combination of fennel, ginger, cinnamon,  cloves, and anise. The grill chars those spices and makes this meal easy and something quite special.

Doritos Taco Pizza

This is 100% for the kids. Before having them, there is no way on George Clooney’s green earth that I would make this for myself. It’s ridiculous. It’s sacrilegious to even call it taco anything. But oh, well.


  • 2 premade pizza crusts
  • 1 pound of ground beef, browned with taco seasoning, pepper, and Mexican Oregano
  • Some shredded cheese
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 can of Enchilada sauce (el pato is life)
  • Lime
  • Cilantro
  • Crushed Doritos


Brown meat with seasonings. Shred cheese. Layer thusly: first spoon on enchilada sauce. Then beans. Then a drizzle of more sauce. Then meat. Then cheese. Bake. Then add Doritos, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.