Colorado’s Most Surprising Dessert: The Scrap Cookie

While Colorado is home to many unique chocolate shops and bakeries, you usually know what you’re ordering. Even if you purchase something unusual, like wasabi ginger dark chocolate or goat cheese and crushed black pepper buttercream, the name will give you a hint as to what the ingredients are. If you visit the old mining town of Ouray, however, you can stop in Mouse’s Chocolates & Coffee for a more surprising kind of dessert: the Scrap Cookie.

Located at 520 Main Street, the shop is always full of locals craving delicious sweets and caffeine-filled coffees. While they have unique chocolate varieties, like bacon clusters with Chardonnay salt and coconut bark with pumpkin and sunflower, the most popular item on the menu is the Scrap Cookie. After making their chocolates for the day, the staff save the scraps and mix them with their family-invented homemade cookie batter. When guests come in and order the cookie, they won’t know what kind it is until they take a bite. My Scrap Cookie ended up containing all my favorite additions, like macadamia nuts, toffee, caramel and truffle pieces.

While ordering a Scrap Cookie is $2.50, you can also purchase two cookies and have Mouse’s make it into an ice cream sandwich for about $10. I was told by my canyoning guide that they won’t always do it. However, if you say a local told you about it, they will.

An Artisanal Taste Of Denver, Colorado

While it’s easy to find big-name chain restaurants and mass-produced foods, it’s always nice to get a more local experience. One city with excellent quality and craft tastes is Denver, Colorado. To help you navigate the artisanal flavors of the area, here are my top picks.

Wine: D’Vine Wines
1660 Champa Street

The only winery in downtown Colorado, D’Vine Wines, also known as the Wild Women Winery, imports grapes from California then ferments them and puts their own unique spin on the blends. It’s a boutique winery with a cozy and inviting atmosphere, as well as a friendly and knowledgeable staff who will help you learn about the art of wine tasting. For example, I learned that to aerate the wine you don’t softly move the glass around, but fervently spin it in quick circles while pushing the base of the glass down onto the table. Likewise, the drier the wine, the higher the alcohol content because it has only a small amount of residual sugar. You can do tastings for three for $5, seven for $10 or four for $12 with a souvenir wine glass. Some of the best wines I tasted included:

  • Sangiovese- Made with the grape used to create Chianti, it has a silky finish with flavors of strawberry and plum.
  • Zinfandel and Syrah Blend- While these two aggressively flavored grapes are not usually combined, the Zinfandel is so light it tastes better blended than alone. Together the two compose a spicy wine with a smooth fruit finish.
  • Green Apple Riesling- This wine tastes just like a sour apple Jolly Rancher, and smells like one, too. It’s a tart yet refreshing sweet white wine.
  • Chocolate Port- A unique desert wine, it is fermented to a higher alcohol content while using less brandy than most port wines. It’s smooth and sweet, with a dark chocolate finish.

A fun aspect of the wines is each variety has its own special bottle, complete with a sexy female character and story. You’ll get to know ladies like Miss Booty, Dusty Twilight and Royal Ruby, and how they relate to these delicious and rare wines. Moreover, the winery allows visitors to make their own wine with help from qualified vintners.

Cheese And Meat: The Truffle Cheese Shop
2906 E. 6th Avenue

As soon as you walk into this gourmet cheese shop your nose will be in heaven. The Truffle Cheese Shop features hard to find specialty items and rare cheeses. They work under a sustainable philosophy, creating organic, free-range and all-natural products. What’s really great about the shop is they offer free cheese and meat tastings. Some of the best things I sampled include:

  • Memoire Truffle- This Dutch Gouda cheese is made with heady Italian truffles and packs an Earthy punch.
  • Goat Cheddar- This blended cheese has a sweet, mild flavor. It’s less aggressive than goat cheese, but still gives you that interesting flavor.
  • Charloe- This raw cow’s milk cheese has a delicate aroma, and a hint of roasted nuts.

This is the perfect place to plan for a picnic, as the shop also offers sweets, crackers, pickles, olive tapenades, hot sauces, jams, olive oils, vinegars and unique cured meats like venison and duck salami and traditional Spanish chorizo. Additionally, on weekends and certain weekdays, The Truffle Cheese Shop offers cheese classes and events.

Olive Oil And Balsamic: EVOO Marketplace
1338 15th Street

EVOO Marketplace is a truly one-of-a-kind shop, as it’s essentially a giant tasting bar of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. It was the first of its kind in Colorado, and is still family-owned and operated. The shop features over 50 products to sample in unique flavors. Moreover, you can basically travel without leaving the store, as the oils and balsamic vinegars come from all over the world like Italy, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, California and Tunisia.

In terms of olive oils, some of the unique flavors include Persian lime, wild mushroom and sage, black truffle, roasted almond, grape seed and arbequina. For the balsamic vinegars, visitors can sample blood orange, dark chocolate, blackberry-ginger, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon pear and Vermont maple. Tip: Mix the blood orange balsamic with the dark chocolate. My friends and I were all in agreement that the blend was one of the best things we’d ever tasted.

Beer: Falling Rock Tap House
1919 Blake Street

While there are myriad breweries and brew pubs in Denver, the Falling Rock Tap House has something special about it. The boutique brewery just turned 15 years old, so they’re not new to the beer business. In fact, you can check out the wall of over 2,000 beer bottles lined up, most of which owner Chris Black drank himself. Additionally, they feature 88 beers on tap, making them one of the largest breweries in Denver. What I really love about this place, though, is how the bartenders are completely honest. For example, when I went to order a Redstone Meadery Sunshine Nectar, he answered, “I don’t think you should get that. It’s terrible.” He then suggested the Julian Apple Cider, which was delicious with a refreshing, crisp taste and a bit of tartness. I also sampled their Rockyard Hopyard, a lightly carbonated pale IPA that had a hoppy taste, with hints of oats and grain. Other popular choices on the menu include Dry Dock Double IPA, “Bull & Bush” Big Ben Brown, “Sandlot” Barmen and “Avery” White Rascal.

Unique Delicacies: Biker Jim’s
2148 Larimer Street

Biker Jim’s is a unique hot dog eatery beloved by both locals and travelers. While they do serve beef, you’ll also find elk, rattlesnake, pheasant, reindeer, buffalo, wild boar and duck dogs. If you’re in the mood for something really juicy and fattening, their bat dog is made of bacon, and topped with bacon bits, avocado and tomato cream cheese. It’s also a great place to eat on a budget, as hot dogs start at $6 and cost $1.50 extra for unusual toppings like Harissa roasted cactus with Malaysian jam, scallions, cilantro and onions and cream cheese with caramelized onions. They’re open late on weekends, and also have a food cart across from the clock tower on the 16th Street Mall.

Chocolate: Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso
1734 E. Evans Avenue

Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso was opened in 1975 by a German man named Erich Dietrich. While growing up in Germany, he apprenticed under a master chocolatier, learning the craft of fine chocolate making. Walking into the shop, you’ll be amazed at the cases of flawless handmade chocolates. You can sample chocolates and truffles for $1.50 and up. Some interesting chocolate varieties include hot chili pepper, pomegranate truffle, French mint, blueberry pecan and creme brulee truffle. Additionally, the shop is the only place in Colorado where you can find chocolate made from the rare Peruvian cacao bean, Nacional. They also serve breakfast and lunch if you’re in the mood for food.

World’s Largest Chocolate Sculpture To Go On Display In California

California dessert and pastry school Qzina has just broken the Guinness World Record for the World’s Largest Chocolate Sculpture. Modeled after the Kukulcan Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico, the chocolate pyramid took more than 400 hours to construct and weighs 18,239 pounds.

Qzina’s chocolate “architects” built an exact scale model of the Mayan temple to celebrate the school’s 30th anniversary and to pay homage to 2012, the supposed end of the world according to some interpreters of the Mayan calendar. Measuring one-thirtieth the size of the original Mayan temple, the solid chocolate replica stands at six feet tall with a symmetrical base of 10 feet by 10 feet. Every last detail, from the number of steps up the sides of the temple to tiny figurines modeled to look like Mayan tribesmen, was created out of chocolate. More amazing photos of the chocolate pyramid are available in this Flickr set.

The chocolate sculpture goes on display on June 4, 2012, in the Qzina product showroom in Irvine, California, and will be destroyed on December 21, 2012, the last date on the Mayan calendar. “The method for destruction is yet to be determined,” according to the Qzina website.

By the way, the previous world record for a sculpture made of chocolate was held by Italian chocolatier Mirco Della Vecchia, who built the Duomo of Milan out of 10,736.5 pounds of chocolate.

10 Things To Do In Cuzco, Peru, That Don’t Involve Visiting Inca Ruins

When visiting Cuzco, Peru, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of tourism agencies and street vendors selling tours to Machu Picchu, Moray, Ollantaytambo, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, Templo de la Luna and the various other Inca ruins. While seeing these sites is an important part of the culture and getting to know the area, there are days you may want to do something different. Here were some of the things I enjoyed doing when in Cuzco that didn’t involve Inca ruins.

Explore Pisaq Market

Pisaq Market (shown right) sells handicrafts, jewelry, minerals, herbs, spices and local foods and is the biggest market in Cuzco. Sunday is the best time to go, when locals from hours away come to attend church and buy and sell goods. This is also when you can see locals dressed in traditional clothing from the church procession that takes place in the town. Even if you don’t buy anything it’s a good way to learn about the local way of life, get a taste of how herbal medicine works, see how paints and dyes are made using natural minerals and sample the various local foods. Make sure to try the choclo con queso, a regional strain of corn on the cob topped with cheese and chili sauce.

For something closer to the downtown area of Cuzco, you can also visit the San Pedro Central Market located on Santa Clara near the Church and Monastery of Santa Clara. The market is enormous and sells an array of traditional and offbeat items. You can purchase handicrafts, beauty products, fresh fruits, ornate flans, sweet breads, traditional llama fetuses, colorful masks and even hallucinogens.Get A Massage

Walking around the streets of Cuzco, you’ll be bombarded by hundreds of people selling massages and spa treatments. While most will sell these at 30 to 50 Nuevo Soles (about $11 to $19), I found an excellent place called Spa Hampi Maki at 250 Marquez Street, on the 2nd floor of the “Artesanias El Solar Dorado” building. They gave me a 60-minute full-body massage with hot stones for 15 S/.$ (about $6). It was very relaxing with a dark, private room, gentle music and comfortable table.

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth At The Chocolate Museum

While you’ll find plenty of worthwhile Inca and history museums in Cuzco, one that stands out from the rest is the Chocolate Museum, officially called the ChocoMuseo. The museum is free to enter and features chocolate and cocao history, facts, old advertisements, videos, tastings, workshops and the chance to make your own chocolate. They also offer a Cacao Farm Tour. Moreover, the chance to indulge in delicious chocolate delicacies, like cacao tea, fondue, iced chocolate and a chocolate tasting with Peruvian coffee, can be done in their cafe. Note: The museum is a bit hard to find. It’s located at 210 Garcilaso, on the 2nd floor. Simply walk through a small hallway into an open courtyard to find the stairs leading up to the entrance.

Take A Cooking Class

What better way to get to know a culture than through food? Cusco Cooking offers Peruvian cooking classes where you not only learn how to make traditional dishes, but also how to navigate the markets and create cocktails. Some of the meals you’ll make include crema de choclo, a corn-based soup, arroz con pollo, chicken and rice, lomo saltado, a spiced and marinated beef dish and Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru. You can choose between three menu choices. The classes take place in the ChocoMuseo at 210 Garcilaso everyday at 5:30 p.m. Prices range from $33 to $42 per person, depending on the size of the class.

Lie Out In Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas is a big plaza in the downtown area with numerous small gardens, benches and statues. Numerous churches and shops with charming stone architecture surround it, which adds to the aesthetics of the area. The ambiance is charming and peaceful – the perfect place to relax and lie out with a good book.

Explore The Art Of Cuzco

Walking around the city, you’ll find numerous galleries that are free to enter. Here, you’ll find cultural pieces, many of which also incorporate Inca traditions. The works are amazing, with vibrant colors, life-like portraits and landscapes that seem to jump off the page. My favorite galleries were in a building called the Centro Artesanal Arte Inka, located at 392 Triunfo, near Plaza de Armas.

Hike To Cristo Blanco

While you’ll need to pay 70 Soles (about $26) to enter the archeological sites nearby, it is free to hike to Cristo Blanco. It’s located to the right of the admission booth for Sacsayhuaman. Trek 11,811 feet up Pukamoqo Hill, and you’ll come face-to-face with an enormous statue of Christ. The piece was a donation in 1945 from the Christian Palestines who were living in Cuzco as refugees. At night, you can see Cristo Blanco all lit up from the downtown area of the city.

Get Religious At One Of The Town’s Places Of Worship

Cuzco is full of beautiful churches, cathedrals and convents. Near Plaza de Armas is the Cathedral, La Compañia de Jesus, the Convento de la Merced and the Church and Monastary of Santa Clara. Moreover, next to the Parque de la Madre, you’ll find the Church and Monastary of Santa Teresa. My favorite, however, was the Templo de Santo Domingo, with a beautiful manicured lawn and expansive facade, located on the corner of Avenida El Sol and Arryan.

Visit a family In Chichubamba

Chichubamba is a small village in Sacred Valley that is home to 14 families, each of whom have a special talent that you can learn about and experience. When I was there I visited Celia, a woman who makes chicha, or corn beer. I learned about the production process and got to play a local drinking game, where players toss heavy coins into the mouth of a metal frog. Moreover, I visited a family of ceramics makers, and saw how high-quality pottery was made, even getting to roll the clay, create the base and paint a pot myself.

Experience The Nightlife

Cuzco has many options for bars and clubs. The best part: it’s easy to get a buzz on a budget, as a full-priced cocktail will only set you back about $4 to $6. Paddy’s Pub is a lively Irish bar with a great happy hour, although you’re more likely to find Pisco Sours and Cuba Libres on the menu than Magners. However, they do have Guinness. If you want to experience the best club in town, Mama Africa is a favorite among tourists and locals. Other popular bars and clubs include Real McCoy, 7 Angelitos, Groove, Mythology and The Frogs.

Budget-Friendly Option For Wine Tasting In Mendoza: A Self-Guided Bike Tour

As soon as you step off the plane in Mendoza, Argentina, it will be obvious that you are in wine country. Billboards advertising different wine brands, neatly terraced vineyards and marketing for numerous wine tours, cooking classes and tasting sessions will be everywhere you look. While many of these options are worthwhile, most are very expensive. On a recent trip to Mendoza, however, I discovered a fun and inexpensive way to experience the best wine the region has to offer – a self-guided bike tour.

To get to Maipu, where “The Roads of Wine” are located, take Bus 10 from the city center. The ride will take about 45 minutes and you can ask the driver where you should get off. Once you get to Maipu, begin walking north and make a right onto Gomez Street. Here you’ll find a charming house and sign that reads “Maipu Bikes.” Immediately upon entering the wrought iron gates and talking to the wife of the family-run business, we were offered a glass of fresh juice, handed a map and given an in-depth analysis of each winery. The bikes are 35 Argentine Pesos (about $8) to rent for the day. However, when the owner noticed I was staying at Hostel Mora she gave me a 10 ARS$ discount, so let them know what accommodation you’re staying at. Along with the bikes, we were given a bottle of water and backpack to keep our stuff in. With that and our map, we were prepared for a full day of wine tasting.There are 16 stops on the itinerary, including wineries; the Wine Museum; a beer garden; and opportunities to sample liquors, chocolates, olive oils, jellies, chocolates and, of course, vino. For tours and tastings you’ll usually have to pay about 20ARS$ (about $5), although there are some stops that have free offerings, such as complimentary admission and wine tasting at the Wine Museum and a free self-guided tour at Tempus Alba.

You can choose to start wherever you would like, although, I would recommend beginning at the Wine Museum to get a sense of the history and creation of the product. Here we got to browse contraptions from centuries ago that look more like torture devices than tools for making wine. We were also able to have a free tasting, and learn more about some of Argentina’s most famous wine-makers. From there, we went down the street to the family-run Viña María. I really enjoyed this place, as the girl working was a wealth of knowledge on wine in the area and educated us on how to pair our wine with food. The golden rule: drink what you think tastes good.

While all of the stops had something worthwhile to offer, such as llama-spotting at Trapiche and a tasting terrace with sweeping views of the vineyards at Tempus Alba, our favorite spot was definitely Entre Olivos. For 20 ARS$ (about $5), you’ll get a tour of the property, learn about olive harvesting and also see how olive oil is made. The best part, however, is the unlimited tasting that follows. Your first course is the olive oils and pastes, some of which include chardonnay mustard, olives with blue cheese, olives with garlic, chilli and different strengths of extra virgin olive oil. From there, you move on to the marmalade and jam table, tasting varieties like dulce de leche with coconut, apple with whiskey, pear with chardonnay, pumpkin with cinnamon and Malbec jelly. Next, it’s time to get a little tipsy, as you get to choose two shots from an array of liquors. Some of your options are dulce de leche, chocolate, spicy vodka, white chocolate, peach, pineapple and the strong-tasting Absynthe, which is served properly by lighting sugar on fire and adding it to the liquid.

And, if you still don’t feel as though you’ve sampled enough wine, you’ll be offered a complimentary glass of vino once you return your bike to Maipu Bikes. This was a great way to end the day, as we got to rest our tired legs while sitting outside in their peaceful yard. At this point, you will not only feel like a wine connoisseur, but also pretty budget-savvy, as your self-guided tour has cost you a quarter of the price of booking through an operator.