New Foods of the Old West from the Famous Denver Restaurant

The Fort Cookbook:  New Foods of the Old West from the Famous Denver Restaurant chronicles the life of this singular eatery by presenting recipes from its earliest days and throughout its near-forty-year history. There are the unforgettable favorites that helped make The Fort beloved, such as White Cheese Shrimp Enchiladas and Rocky Mountain Oysters, as well as new spins on Old West Classics, such as Gonzales Steak stuffed with green chiles and Buffalo Burgers, not to mention enough fabulous steak recipes to make a beef lover swoon. Arnold's inventive cuisine ranges from  unfamiliar recipes for increasingly available ostrich and elk to such southwestern comfort food as Blue Corn Blueberry Muffins, Lakota Indian Fry Bread, and Chocolate Chile Cake.

From our Fort in the Rocky Mountains to your dinner table, we extend to you some of our most famous recipes our customers have been loving for over 40 years. WAUGH!
-Sam'l Arnold and Holly Arnold Kinney


serves 12

Chile-Chocolate Bourbon Cake
While this cake started as the Fort’s house cake for birthday and anniversary celebrations, customer demand convinced us to put it on the menu as an everyday offering. We still serve a complimentary slice to anyone marking a special occasion at the Fort—and set a ceremonial headdress on their heads, too, as the staff shouts, “Hip, hip, huzzah!” We don’t do anything halfway at our restaurant!

We make the cake with some red chile to honor the ancient Aztec tradition of spiking their drinking chocolate with a little heat. This makes sense when you remember that it wasn’t until the Europeans took chocolate back to the Old World that anyone thought to sweeten it. Before then, it was made into a bitter but much appreciated ceremonial brew. You’ll feel a slight burn at the back of the throat when you eat this, but that will quickly turn into a warm glow. The bourbon-flavored frosting adds its own kick. • serves 12

1 to 2 tablespoons New Mexico medium ground red chile powder (Dixon is the best), to taste
2 cups water
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened, nonalkalized cocoa powder, such as Hershey, Nestlé, or Ghirardelli
  (do not use Dutch process)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup unsweetened nonalkalized cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk
4 to 5 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
11/2 cups chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

For the cake, preheat the oven to 350°F, and place a rack in the center of the oven.

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Lightly dust the sides of the pans with flour, tapping out the excess and line the bottom with circles of parchment or waxed paper.

In a medium saucepan, cook the chile powder in 1 cup of the water over medium heat until simmering. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and set aside.

Using a mixer with a wire whip attachment for best results, combine the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa and beat on low speed until well mixed. Add the softened butter to the dry mixture and beat thoroughly on medium-low speed. The mixture should be a uniform, grainy texture. Raise the speed to medium and gradually add the remaining 1 cup of water and the buttermilk. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Slowly add the hot water/chile mixture and continue to beat just until well combined; be sure not to overbeat. Pour the mixture equally into the pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each layer comes out clean.

To cool, set the pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the paper from the bottom, and immediately invert so that the risen tops don’t flatten. Let the layers cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, combine the butter and cocoa in a large saucepan and melt over medium heat. Stir in the buttermilk. Add the confectioners’ sugar, a little at a time, stirring with a wire whisk between additions. Stir in the bourbon and vanilla and continue to whisk until the frosting is smooth and glossy. The frosting should stiffen as it cools. (In warm weather you may need to refrigerate it.) When it is still warm, but has reached a spreadable consistency, you can assemble the cake.

If necessary, trim the tops of the cakes so that they are level. Place one of the cake layers on a 9-inch round cardboard cake circle. Spread 1 cup of the frosting over the layer. Sprinkle 1 cup of the chopped walnuts, if using, evenly over the frosting. Place the second layer of cake on the frosted base. Use the remaining frosting to cover the top and sides of the cake. Finish the top of the cake by holding the spatula at a slight angle and making several strokes to smooth the top. To decorate the cake, press the remaining walnuts onto the lower half of the sides and on top of the cake. This cake is best when made 1 to 2 days before serving as it gives the flavors time to blend.

*Variation to Make “Red Hot” Chile-chocolate Bourbon Cupcakes

Makes 24 regular cupcakes or 48 mini cupcakes

Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix the cake batter and frosting following the instructions in the master recipe.  Place cupcake papers in regular or mini muffin pans.  Divide the batter evenly among the cups filling the paper liners to 1/4-inch from the top.  Bake on the middle rack of the oven, 20 to 25 minutes for regular cupcakes and 10 to 15 minutes for minis. When done, cupcake tops should be slightly firm to the touch and a tooth pick inserted in the center should come out clean.  Cool the cupcakes in their pan for 5 minutes, then transfer them in their paper liners to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.  Frost the cupcakes and decorate with red cinnamon candies.

Reprinted with permission from Shinin’ Times at the Fort (Fur Trade Press, December 2010) by Holly Arnold Kinney


Teriyaki Quail

The West was built in good part by Chinese and Japanese immigrants who supplied both hands and brains to build railroads and cities, ranches and farms. Also, some of the first trappers who had been brought to our northwest coast by John Jacob Astor were Hawaiians. It is not surprising, therefore, that teriyaki came to the West early on.

At the Fort we serve well over one thousand of these quail a week. We start with partially deboned birds so that the little rib cage has been removed. The legs, thighs, and wings are still attached, and with the large breast, quail makes a delicious dish when two or three birds are served.

1 cup

soy sauce

1/2 cup
Mirin rice wine or dry sherry
1/4 cup
2 tbsp
minced fresh ginger
cloves garlic, finely minced or smashed
whole anise (found in Asian section of most groceries or in bulk at natural food stores; optional)
1/4 cup
finely chopped orange peel
1 cup
orange juice
1 cup
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 ounce partially deboned quail
orange slices for garnish

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool.

Place the quail in a single layer in a pan, pour the marinade over, and let the quail marinade for 2 - 4 hours. Beware of leaving the birds in for more than 8 hours because they will become unpalatably salty.

When ready to cook the quail, heat the grill to medium or preheat the broiler. Cook the quail for 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Garnish with a twisted orange slice.

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Jalapeño's Stuffed with Peanut Butter

Lucy Delgado, well known in the 1960s as a traditionalist New Mexican cook, taught me to stuff peanut butter into peppers. "These are the best appetizers I know," she told me during one of our recipe swaps. "But if I show you how to make them, you have to promise to try them." Peanut butter - stuffed jalapeños! I vowed I would taste them even though they sounded stranger than a five-legged buffalo. She prepared some and said, as a last word of instruction, "Pop the entire pepper into your mouth so you're not left with a mouthful of hot jalapeño and too little peanut butter." I gamely took the little morsel by the stem, and in it went. Miracle! Delicious!

Fearful of serving them to guests but eager to try them out on friends, I made them for my own parties until they became so popular that I put them on the menu. When NBC's Today show came to Denver, Bryant Gumbel ate eight of them in a row. (Jane Pauley would have none of it.)

One 12-ounce can pickled jalapeño peppers
1 1/2 cups peanut butter (smooth or chunky)

Slice the pickled jalapeños in half lengthwise not quite all the way through, leaving the 2 halves attached at the stem end. Using a knife or spoon, remove the seeds and ribs under running water. Pack the halves with peanut butter, press together, and arrange on a serving plate. Be sure to warn guests to put the whole pepper (except the stem) in the mouth before chewing, to get 70 percent peanut butter and 30 percent jalapeño. A nibbler squeezes out the peanut butter, changing the percentages and making it very hot indeed.

A fun variation is to mix Major Grey's chutney with the peanut butter. It gives a nice fruity sweetness that also buffers the burn.

Buying Pickled Jalapeño Peppers

Begin with a good brand of picked jalapeños from Mexico: Faro and Clemente Jacques are both excellent. Look for the words en escabeche, which means the peppers are pickled in a liquid of vinegar, vegetable and sesame oils, bay leaf, and sliced onions and carrots. California produced jalapeños are usually pickled in a liquid in plain vinegar. Avoid them. Also keep an eye out for desirable thick-walled peppers. One popular Texas-brand pepper is thin-walled and doesn't work very well.

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Pumpkin Walnut Muffins

A 1975 Fort menu reads, "The pumpkin nut muffins are a closely guarded secret; the recipe is asked for nightly but never revealed." The secret ingredient is no secret at all: It's the pumpkin. These muffins contain about twice as much as other recipes. Because of that, they're cooked for a long time at an unusually low temperature and turn out especially dense, moist, and flavorful. Makes about 4 dozen

5 cups flour

cup sugar

2 1/2 cups dry powdered milk
4 tablespoons baking powder
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 large eggs (size does make a difference!)
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups water
2 29-ounce cans pumpkin (not pie filling)

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease 3-inch muffin tins or line with paper.

Mix all the ingredients together. The batter should be easily scoopable. If it is too thick, add a little more water. Fill the tins three-quarters full and bake for 40-45 minutes. Let the muffins cool before removing from the pan.

Because they are so moist, these reheat beautifully.


Pumpkins in the West

The bright orange pumpkins dotting the fields throughout Colorado played a great role in Colorado history. The first domesticated pumpkin was grown in 7000 B.c. in Mexico's northeastern Tamaulipas region. Seeds were traded to other tribes, and by 3000 B.C. pumpkins had traveled to Puebla, Mexico. Within another five hundred years, pumpkins had journeyed as far as Peru.

Pumpkins went north, too. The basket makers in the Durango and Mesa Verde areas of Colorado grew them before A.D. 400. The staple Indian diet consisted of corn, beans, and various squashes, including our common pumpkin. When the fur trappers came west in the early 1800's, pumpkin became a major part of the diet of mountain men such as Kit Carson, Uncle Dick Wootton, and others who frequented the original Bent's Fort.

On an 1842 visit to Fort Lupton, Rufus Sage tells of a trading party of Mexicans from Taos who brought with them packhorses and mules laden with corn, bread, beans, onions, and dried pumpkin to barter for buffalo robes, furs, guns, and tobacco sold at Fort Lancaster (later known as Fort Lupton).

Today thousands of pumpkins are grown near Fort Lupton. But the pumpkin in North America has lost its many uses, and only pumpkin pies and jack-o'-lanterns remain popular. At the Fort we keep the tradition of this noble squash alive in our Pumpkin Walnut Muffins, probably our most sought after recipe.

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tablespoons of water
teaspoons texquite, *a native leavening agent from New Mexico (substitute baking soda)
4 3/4
cups sifted flour
teaspoon baking powder
teaspoon anise seed
teaspoon salt
1 1/2
cups shortening
cup sugar
eggs, well beaten
ounces dark rum

Mix water with texquite and let sit for 6 minutes. Strain out solids and save the liquid to add to recipe. With beater, cream the shortening with the sugar until fluffy, adding sugar gradually. Mix dry ingredients: flour, salt, anise, and baking powder. To creamed shortening, add the eggs and dry ingredients, beating steadily. Then, beat in the rum. Refrigerate the dough for 6 hours. Flour your hands, then pinch off English walnut-sized balls of dough. Dip balls in flour and roll out between hands to make a five-inch-long rope, approximately one-half-inch in diameter. Shape into a loop or ring with overlapping ends well pressed together. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350° F for 20 minutes, or until delicate brown. Be quick forming the loops, as the batter is soft like a cake batter. (Translated by Sam Arnold from Nuevo Concinero Mejicano.)

*Texquite, or more correctly, tequesquite, is a crude sodium bicarbonate that forms on the banks of mineral springs in New Mexico. It is also found near several New Mexico lakes. According to Curtin, cocineras, or cooks, wanting specially light and fluffy cakes substituted tequesquite for commercial baking powder.

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Marquesotes, or Marquis Cakes

pound sweet almonds, soaked overnight, then ground fine
pound sugar
pound corn starch

Beat the eggs well, mixing lots of air in them. While beating, add the sugar and ground almonds. Gradually add the starch to make a dough. Pour it into greased iron or tin cookie molds and bake in a medium-hot oven. These may also be baked on a comal. They are noble cookies, well suited to a marquis's taste. (Translated by Sam Arnold from Nuevo Concinero Mejicano.)

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Fort Guacamole

I ate my first salsa cruda years ago at Sanborn's in Mexico City. It was simply tomato, onion, and serrano chile finely diced, with a dash of salt, a squeeze of lime juice, and whole-leaf cilantro. My belief is that guacamole originated when someone purposely (or otherwise) dropped some ripe avocado in a bowl of salsa and mixed it up. The basic recipe for guacamole in Mexico is just that: a combination of salsa cruda with avocado.
-Sam Arnold

This recipe has been chosen by the local press as "Denver's Best Guacamole."

Ripe avocados, pitted an peeled
whole serrano chiles, finely minced
teaspoon salt
cup freshly squeezed lime juice
large tomatoes, finely diced
large onion, finely diced
cup whole fresh cilantro leaves (no stems)

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl, mashing the avocado with a fork or potato masher and leaving small lumps in the mixture. Don't use a food processor to dice the tomato and onion, because the texture of your guacamole will be much better if not too finely chopped. It's also necessary to use serrano chilies instead of jalapeños.

Taste for sufficient lime juice and add more serranos as your taste dictates. Serve with freshly fried corn tortilla chips.

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Sam's Cooking Tips

The Game Plate

Quail is delicious when marinated for 2 - 4 hours in a teriyaki marinade but beware of marinating any longer because the bird will become unpalatably salty. Grill quail for 3 -4 minutes on each side.

NOTE: At the Fort we like to lightly season our elk and buffalo, then grill to rare or medium-rare, preferably over an open flame.

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Buffalo Steaks and Burgers

Cooking buffalo is much like cooking beef, except that it is extremely low in fat and therefore steaks should be kept rare or medium-rare to avoid toughening when grilling. Cook burgers to medium temperature (160 °) approximately 3 - 4 minutes per side. Sprinkle the steaks and burgers with salt and pepper while they are cooking. Do not pat or squash the meat while cooking -you'll squeeze the delicious juices out. Because it contains less fat than beef and chicken, buffalo cooks much faster.

NOTE: At the Fort we like to serve our steaks "Gonzales style,"stuffed with roasted green chiles; "Incorrect,"topped with a fried egg, Dixon red chile sauce and melted cheddar cheese; or simply topped with a dollop of butter, sautéed mushrooms and garlic.

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Buffalo Roasts

Slow oven-roasting is best for prime rib and tenderloin roasts because the low temperature will not drive out all of the delicious juices, resulting in moist and tender meat. We recommend cooking a roast at 250° F for 18 minutes per pound or until a meat thermometer reads 125°F for rare or 138 °F for medium-rare. Because buffalo is so lean, you should never over cook buffalo or it will become tough. Remove the roast from the oven and allow to rest for 15 - 20 minutes before carving. The temperature will rise about 10 °F while resting, bringing the meat to the correct serving temperature.

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