Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Foodie Five # 7 - R B Bob Smith

Today's Foodie Five features R B Bob Smith. There is one significant characteristic to this Foodie Five....I've never met the gentleman. Keith met him at a Tourism Conference and found him to be a very interesting fellow and got him to agree to the five questions...

1.) In reference to your latest Facebook post, your soups have quite the following. Is there a particular one you are known for or are you constantly making new ones?
I think my best soup would be my oxtail soup but I really enjoy making my butternut squash and my black bean soups as well.

2.) Your position with the Missouri Department of Tourism takes you all over the state...now, I know you can't play favorites but what restaurants would you recommend?
Being real country and Southern, I would recommend the state's Cracker Barrel restaurants. The chain actually originated in Lebanon, Tennessee. They are consistently good and also cater to diabetics.

3.)You own over 200 cookbooks. Of all of the titles, which are some of your favorites?
The Jeff Smith, Emeril and the original White House cookbooks are among my very favorites....although I find myself going to all of them at different times comparing how each of them might do the same dish and will take the best parts of all of them and create my own dish. That has worked out well.

4.)Clearly, you enjoy cooking. Are there any family food traditions you follow?
The only tradition my wife and I have is the annual turkey and sage dressing we serve on both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

5.)What is your ultimate comfort food?
My comfort food would have to be one of my soups or stews. One of my favorite meals is nothing more than soup beans, boiled potatoes, onions and skillet cornbread with loads of butter and several pieces of fried fat back.

....and that just made me hungry! Thank you, Bob!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Our Little American Idol

Sierra provides one last blast of Christmas goodness...

White Christmas? Try Whiteout Christmas

We returned home on Saturday after lunch at Bek's in Fulton with Dave. Terrific and funky little joint with an excellent wine and beer list. We kicked off with some seriously good bacon-wrapped cream-cheese stuffed jalapenos. Dave and I split a Brother Thelonious Belgian Abbey-style Beer, named after the jazz master. Very good, a tad sweet and part of the proceeds go to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute.

The great Christmas Blizzard of 2009 reared it's enormous and ugly head and battered Kansas City with high winds, heavy snow, sleet and ice and whiteout conditions. When we returned on Saturday we found our neighborhood to be the worst we'd seen yet and it was still snowing. It finally stopped on Sunday and we seem to be around 8-9 inches but even the forecasters seem to be unsure as there was constantly blowing snow and some drifts were up to three feet.

My friend Ronnie wrote some hilarious "diary entries" concerning his Cabin Fever on Facebook. Like this gem....

Cabin Fever day four: Dear diary, You know those cartoons where one character is hungry and looks over at a friend and they turn into a hamburger? Well Jeff just turned into some Taco Bell. Good thing we went to the grocery store yesterday. Feeling better. Still dizzy.

Love it....

Winges in the Garage

The annual Winge Christmas party was held at a unique location this year. Last year, it was held at Keith's Aunt Diane's stylish home but this year the location shifted to Uncle Tom's garage. His garage is used to work on racecars. The upstairs is a taxicab office hence the abundant yellow motif. This may be the most upscale not to mention clean garage I've ever been in. The food as usual was potluck and excellent. Homemade noodles and moist chocolate cake were the highlights. It was loud and lively...

Santa, you Rock Star, Wii Love You

Christmas morning was at Kim and Dave's(Keith's sister and her husband) and we kicked off with some traditional cinnamon rolls and coffee. Christmas dinner consisted of an amazing spiral-cut ham with a sweet, mustardy glaze, twice-baked potatoes(with bacon!),broccoli-rice casserole, Keith's Emerilized Green-Bean Casserole and finally, the much-vaunted Chocolate Chip Carrot Cake. Otis the French bulldog watched and waited for scraps.

This cake was first made for me by Keith and has quickly became one of my favorites. It has been my birthday cake quite often. Keith made this one at our home and we took it to Jeff City. Dave iced it at Keith's parents home on Christmas Eve. The cake's journey to it's final serving spot was beginning to feel like the movie Wages of Fear(later remade as Sorcerer). In that film, a truck full of nitroglycerin is transported through harrowing conditions and is a real nerve-jangler. We kept balancing the cake across snow and icy conditions and was sure it would topple at some point. The cake remained intact and was as delicious as ever.

It was all about the kiddies on Christmas morning, of course. Santa was a total rock star to all of us but the kids as usual, scored big. Tanner and Sierra had earned this after all by leaving Santa cookies and leaving treats outside for the reindeer. The treats consisted of oats, sprinkles and sparkle so the reindeer could see them. Scrapbooks, BB guns(you'll shoot your eye out!),digital cameras and LEGOs were all wlcome presents but the most popular gift was the arrival of the Great and Powerful Wii. Yes, the kids got the Wii complete with games including Cooking Mama and Wii Fit for Mom and Dad. Wii bowling and tennis ruled the afternoon...and yeah, we became instant converts. Wii bowling is the bee's knees. I actually felt the body strain after a few games but thankfully didnt throw a hip. There was one aspect of We and the Wii I refused to participate in....the Wii Fit assessment. Nothing says happy holidays like getting publicly humilated by a cartoon Wii character saying,"You, sir, are obese. You are hopeless and should simply go to the nearest corner and curl up into a ball with your only friend...that chocolate-chip carrot cake you've been dreaming about all morning."

The highlight of the day was being asked to be included in a family picture with everybody. I wish I could say that the sentiment was enough to ensure an excellent picture but as usual everyone else looked flawless and I seemed be trying to imitate Gollum from Lord of the Rings. Nevertheless, I'm officially in the family photo....and that was my rock star moment, for sure.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas

The pic is of us with our favorite two rugrats...Keith's niece Sierra and nephew Tanner. Thanks to these two little spirit-lifters as well as Keith and the rest of his family, the holiday was better than ever.

Comfort and joy achieved.

Christmas Eve Escape

It was one last exhaustive day with the last-minute shoppers. The mind was heavy with family concerns. The weather was already taking a dangerous turn....shoppers were falling from the rapidly forming black ice outside our front doors. I trudged out of work to a frozen-over car that took me several minutes to break into. Christmas Eve was gray in more ways than one.

After driving home in pouring sleet, I went into the house to find Keith ready to hit the slippery roads for our trip to Jefferson City to gather with his family for the holidays. My bleak state of mind combined with bad weather concerns to help form a quick and cathartic breakdown. I regrouped quickly and off we went. The trip was a tad hellish through to the outskirts of KC and just generally challenging through sometimes torrential rain to Jeff City. We stopped at an ice-covered truck stop where I heard a woman trying to outrun he sleet yell, "AH'M BEEIN' PELTED WITH HAYULL!!!" Hayull indeed.

We were late getting to the traditional Winge Christmas celebration but joined in soon enough. The family mixed us a much-needed cocktail and Keith's Dad, Ken brought around a chilled bottle of Wild Turkey Honey Bourbon. Keith's paternal grandparents always join the family for a Christmas Eve meal prepared by Keith's Mom, Helen. Ken grew up sharing a bowl of oyster soup with his grandparents and that tradition has continued on to Keith and his grandparents. In addition to the oyster soup, a hearty clam chowder, smoked turkey, scalloped potatoes, corn casserole and homemade pumpkin pie were served. It was a welcome and peaceful evening with family after a bit of a harrowing day.

I hope everyone found some peace on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry and Monstrous

This day became a mostly heinous and soul-sucking day. I'm setting up FMLA leave from my job to return to WV to secure proper care for my parents. News of their ever-worsening condition grows by the week and I feel as if I'm losing ground daily. My mind's as foggy and heavy as the air outside. I have to continue to pray they will hold on until I get there.

So, I have to find solace somewhere. Keith is as supportive as ever. The solace I seek to lighten my load,however,seems always to be found in laughter. Today's spark for my sense of humor comes from the rest of my day...awash in the holiday hellishness that is Christmas in retail.

As God is my witness, the stampedes at Barnes and Noble began at 9 a.m. and never let up. This time of year brings out many folks who are not regular shoppers and these are quite often the most entertaining folks of all. Here's some sample and slightly exaggerated customer scenarios....

1.)"Yes, sir, we did sell out of that incredibly popular title. Yes, I know, it's shocking that we sold out TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Yes, I could order it but no, it won't be here in time for Christmas because as you know, it is TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Yes, sir, it is the Sarah Palin title that is sold out and no, we aren't simply hiding her behind the Psychology books in order to further our liberal agenda. Sir, please stop pelting me with those copies of Glenn Beck's The Christmas Sweater.....it won't get Miss Palin here sooner and it hurts."

2.) Customer: Has Nora Roberts written anything new?
My thought balloon: Nora Roberts? Are you kidding me? In the time it took you to ask that question, she wrote a new mystery book as well as a new romance book and a 1,000-page manifesto on global warming.

3.) At one point today, I was concluding helping someone in the Christian Inspiration section and was about to leave when my way was cut off by a harried mother who literally wheeled her stroller across the aisle to block my exit. She, in full exasperated tone, told me what she was looking for and as I turned to look for her book, ANOTHER mother maneuvered her stroller to block my path on the other end of the aisle. Behind each mother were more customers searching for help. Each of the infants in the stroller were starting to get fussy and soon were in a full-out cry-off in stereo. I swear each stroller kept inching closer and I found myself fighting off the urge to scale the bookcase to get away(where are those damn suction cups when I need them?). I was starting to hear horror movie music and was waiting for the whole mob of customers, babies and all to morph into zombies and trap me there in the Christian section hissing,"FIND ME JOEL OSTEEN OR GIVE ME YOUR BRAINS!!!"

Yikes. Someone needs a nap....and a Valium.

Exhaustion and irritation are abundant but the fact is, it's pretty cool that despite the economy, we were monstrously busy. It was particularly gratifying to see cookbooks sell like mad...there was not an Alton Brown or Guy Fieri title left and barely a Julia Child. Food was ever-prevalent as the employees started bringing in more treats. Featured among the goodies this week were Jane Durr's famous deviled eggs, Melisa's son Eric's amazing homemade toffee, Sara's pumpkin bread and strangely, Brad's astronaut freeze-dried ice cream. The day ended with hugs and well wishes for the Christmas holiday.

Tomorrow night, we try to outrace the approaching winter storm as we head to Keith's parent's home. Y'all be careful out there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Foodie Five # 6 - MariElena Baldini Oliverio

MariElena is a longtime friend from Bridgeport, WV. She came into our life first as Kristy's college pal and remained a lifelong friend. There are two funny food memories of Lena I don't refer to....her wedding cake collapsing as she and Joey were about to cut it and me doing the Heimlich maneuver on her as she was choking on a cashew in a country-western bar. She and her Italian family share a wealth of food traditions. Her husband Joey is a member of the well-known Oliverio clan whose myriad branches are involved in everything from peppers to popular restaurants. Between them, food is always prevalent and central to their lives. I briefly referred to her parties and traditions in an earlier post and now Lena fills in the details...

1.) Christmas Eve is also thought of as the vigil to many Italian-Americans and is celebrated with the Feast of Seven Fishes. This is a meatless event typically utilizing seven seafood dishes. Will you and your family be observing this tradition and with what dishes?
I so fondly remember Christmas Eve at my grandparents(my Dad's parents)...I don't know if we had seven differnet types of fish but the menu ALWAYS consisted of: appetizers of olives, shrimp cocktail,salami and what my grandmother called "Kude Ging". It was a fatty, salty cured meat that if you could get past the smell was actually quite addictive...so much for the meatless tradition. Her pronunciation of it was a bastardization of the word but I could never figure out what kind of sausage it was in English! There was always cream cheese stuffed celery sometimes with pineapple and some paprika for color. The first course for dinner would be "Capplets" which in Italian is cappeletti in brodo. It's similar to tortellini and is filled with "pist", a ground meat and cheese cooked in homemade chicken broth. The soup was then served with fresh grated parmeggiano-reggiano cheese and "chapengs", the Italian bread that came from the "cousins in Blyedale"(Blyedale, PA) and looked like a loaf with arms and legs twisted askew. The salad course was next and always green leaf lettuce with tomatoes,onions and oil and vineagar dressing. The main course consisted of baked fish and for most of my young life, fried smelts which were always done in the garage as they would stink up the house. There was also sauteed scallops and sometimes cooked shrimp. The sides were typically what my sister and I call "heart attack in a dish" a.k.a. Gratin Dauphinois which were sliced paper thin potatoes and onions with butter and swiss cheese with heavy cream poured over and baked. There has also been broccoli casserole, glazed carrots and whatever green vegetable may appear depending on who is making it. Dessert would always consisted of "Mrs. Minutell's rice cake" which was actually a rice pie baked by Mrs. Minutelli...my grandmother always dropped off the ends of words. The rice is cooked in milk with sugar and lemon zest in a sweetened crust and baked. It's one of my holiday favorites. The other favorite remains strawberry jello with vanilla ice cream. Family favorite cookies were nut rolls made by my grandmother and everyone knew them as "cold doughs." There were also Italian cookies that were dough strips deep fried and covered in honey. All of this at an impeccably set table with fresh linens and fine china.
Joey's family on Christmas Eve makes a sauerkraut soup that is served with mashed potatoes. This soup in a Slovak tradition and has meaning referring to the "bitter suffering" of Christ. I like it, but it's definitely an acquired taste. They also break a wafer drizzled with honey. The matriarch of the family then traces the sign of the cross on your forehead with honey and says a prayer aloud. You eat the wafer with one piece of banana, one of apple and one orange segment. All of this is part of Slovak tradition.

2.) I've been lucky enough to have experienced the Italian Heritage Festival in Bridgeport with you. How does your family celebrate this festival in particular and with what foods?
The Italian Heritage Festival has always been a time for family and friend reunions. We often meet during that Labor Day weekend and have a ribeye steak sandwich or a hoagie or pizza. For some reason, the food always tastes so good when you're standing among strangers. Many vendors at the food booths in Clarksburg make frittis. Frittis are as addictive to me as doughnuts are for many people. They are made with a plain bread dough as opposed to sweetened leavened dough. The dough is pulled into a donut shape, deep-fried and rolled in sugar. My husband always makes sure I get a bag of frittis and I have to hide them from everyone.

3.) I've also participated in the classic Baldini events...last-minute thrown together celebrations that turn into gala soirees. Can you give me an example of these parties?
Kristy has always been amazed by how I can turn my house around and get food ready(with her help and chastising)for any party I've had. One of the most memorable was the after-Thanksgiving party that I held at my Mom's house that you attended. Fueled by beer, Kristy and I prepared the food for this impromptu party. With your help, we started preparing a spinach dip in a bread bowl. We kept tasting and saying,"needs more garlic" until it finally became essentially a garlic dip. Back then in 1987, I like to think we actually invented queso dip in a crock pot- melted Velveeta with salsa....what a novel idea!
It's safe to say the Baldini women-all of us-can fly by the seat of our pants when it comes to quick prepartion and looking composed when the party begins. The innocent partygoer would never know the bedlam and fighting and screaming that was happening prior to their arrival. Kristy has much fodder for the book she will write about being a Baldini "sistah".

4.) Between yours and your husband Joey's families, there's a plethora of family food traditions and dishes. Can you describe some of these? The "caplets" that we have for Christmas are all handmade and my sisters and I have learned how to make them out of necessity in case the "cousins" fall through. My grandmother also made "risote" which we later learned was risotto and she made this in quantity in the summertime. I can remember eating salad, fresh Italian bread with loads of butter and "risote" on the back porch in the sweltering heat with the entire family present and the smell of freshly cut grass in the background. She also made cabbage rolls that were so awesome that my mouth is watering thinking about them. It was probably one of those Campbell's Soup recipes from the 1940's but Gosh, were they good. I make them for my family and when it's been too long since I've made them, they let me know. My husband's family makes a great stuffing for all of the holidays that has Italian bread, sausage and chestnuts in it. That is one thing that I crave during the holidays and I also crave my grandmother's cranberry relish and pumpkin cake with cream cheese icing. I have not mastered the "cold doughs" yet.

5.) What is your ultimate comfort food?
Macaroni and cheese or cabbage rolls would be my comfort go-to. My all-time favorite meal that I usually ask my Mom to make me for my birthday is Southern-fried chicken with mashed potatoes and cream gravy with fresh pole beans cooked until they're dead. I'm not usually a cake eater but my favorite cake weakness would be the pumpkin cake. I really prefer fruit desserts like plum tarts and homemade cookies. I would have to say that my all-time weakness if fresh pepperoni rolls still warm from the bakery and fresh Italian bread with butter.

This is a terrific slice of the Baldini life, Lena....thank you!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Like A Fine Wine

Today was Keith's birthday and we headed downtown to the Power and Light district for his celebration. Lunch was at Gordon Biersch where we enjoyed spicy black bean rollups and bison sliders. Stopped at Cosentino's marvelous market for tahini and takeout dessert. Keith went with a blackberry and vanilla mousse chocolate cup.

After last year's celebration ended up spent in the emergency room at Truman Medical following his fall on the ice, I'm happy to report all was peaceful this time around. The man is like a fine wine....he just gets better with age.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuna Christmas

Greater Tuna is a hilarious two-man play about the denizens of Tuna, Texas. 26 denizens to be exact all played by two masterful comedians by the names of Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. The play had two successful sequels...Tuna Christmas and Red, White and Tuna. My friends Kristy and Kaki can pretty much quote the original verbatim.

This clip is from an HBO production produced by Norman Lear. Of course, in the interest of keeping up the food theme this one takes place at the Tastee Kreme diner and features the waitresses Helen and Inita.

Inita, flop one cheesy greasy and let it bleed...

Saturday Night Lights

Driving the neighborhoods to check out the holiday lights has been a personal tradition of mine since childhood. The historic Country Club Plaza lights and some Briarcliff homes were the highlight of the drive home from our foodie evening.

Westport for the Wannabe

Wannabe foodie that is......we headed to our old Westport neighborhood tonight to visit some favorite food-lovin' hotspots. We first hit Pryde's in Westport which is the finest kitchen shop around. The walls flatout burst with both retro and contemporary kitchen items. Many nooks feature local and national gourmet food items. There's a little cafe with sweet little rhubarb pies and iced pumpkin cookies. You can sip on their special blend of coffee while you shop. The decor is even inspired, especially the whisk chandeliers.


We then moved on to World Market. This is one of my all-time favorite chain stores. We purchased our dining room table from here. Awesome and eclectic foodiness is everywhere from vegemite to oddball Asian sodas to a vast array of wines and beer. We snagged some Chipotle-Lime Cashews and some really excellent Bruschetta Veggie chips.

We had dinner at Imo's Pizza. We have long been a fan of this flavorful pizza considered to be the original St. Louis style pizza. Thin, crispy crust with homemade sauce and Provel cheese....we get Meat Lover's and the bacon is to die for. So, so good.


Hit our old Sunfresh where security guards and people watching make grocery shopping so much more interesting....