Thursday, September 30, 2010

Chili and Cheesemaking

Sunday night was crisp and cool and perfect for the season's first batch of chili. Most of my buds know of my deep, abiding love for chili, so this is always a good time of the year for me. On a later post, I'll go more into depth on my history with the soul-stirring dish that is a bowl of homemade chili. The K-Man always produces a seriously righteous chili but we decided to honor the Cookbook Challenge(#6) and found a similar recipe from Feasting On Asphalt, the Alton Brown cookbook. The chili recipe originated from Mickey's Dining Car in St. Paul, Minnesota. The ingredients are similar to Keith's but the methods differed for the better. The spices in this chili were added with the onions at the beginning(instead of the end when we typically made chili) and it made all the difference. This may be a Duh moment for most of you, but it was news to us. The spices crept up on you in such a pleasing way and we're thinking this must be what some chefs refer to as "layers of flavor". We kept elements of K's chili, such as using several types of beans such as black beans in with the kidney beans. We also added white shoepeg corn. It was so hearty, filling and flavorful that one full bowl bordered on overkill....dayum good.

The ever-intrepid K-Man of course, couldn't be satisfied with making sausage and has now made cheese. A soft, herb cheese to be exact. He ordered and received his supplies from Caprine who also sent various recipes. The recipe is quite involved and includes using a double boiler, using Rennet, a natural chemical, curds and whey being separated and being stored in cheesecloth and pressed(in our case, by cans of beans) for 12 hours. Our first taste test the next day yielded largely positive reviews outside of it needing a tad bit of salt.

I'll probably come home tomorrow to find the K-Man churning butter on the deck.

The Chili

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium size yellow onion. chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds ground beef
2 cups tomato puree
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans (and a couple of other types of beans, in our case)
1 cup water
We also added 1 15-ounce can of shoepeg corn.

Place the oil in a 6 quart Dutch oven and set over medium heat. Heat the oil until it shimmers, then add the onion, salt, chili powder, paprika and red pepper flakes and cook until onion is softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the beef and brown thoroughly, stirring occasionally, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the tomato puree, beans and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Uncover and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Serve.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over

The always welcome return of the Plaza Art Fair is another sign that Autumn is upon us. I rejoined the Wonder Twins of Doom, Ashley and Jeff, as well as Angelo at The Classic Cup at the Plaza for brunch on Sunday before we strolled the Art Fair. This was also my first opportunity to meet Ash's girl Alexandra and to say the least, became an instant fan.

The Classic Cup is a long-standing tradition at the Plaza, featuring wonderful food and one of the best people-watching patios around. Due to the ever-popular Art Fair, seating was first-come, first-serve, so we took first available and were seated inside. As always, the conversation with this group was lively and frequently humorous. I ordered the Classic Buttermilk Pancakes, one of their specialties, with a side of smoked bacon. The cakes were fluffy and oh, so good...so light that they tasted like a really moist cake. Jeff ordered the Spinach Frittata, and when that dish arrived it looked delicious and daunting and Jeff gave it a rave. The company was as delicious as the meal and it was wonderful to bear witness to the joy of Ash and Al as a couple.

We moved on to the main attraction....the rows of artist's booths offering their creative wares. The Plaza Art Fair has a rich history itself; the Fair is celebrating its 79th year. We were duly impressed with much of the Art, from Amy Flynn's Found Object Robots to the fascinating gear vases of Threat Level Orange by Todd Cameron. The ever-more elaborate food booths were cranking out their grub throughout and live music emanated from several locations around the festival. People-watching is paramount during this event and our highlight was the gentleman rocking the day-go outfit replete with silver mullet and matching silver shoes. Said gentleman apparently possessed some special powers as he continuously popped up way ahead of us wherever we looked. We deduced that he was a teleporter and that the silver shoes were the source of his power. Ashley invented "bloop" as the sound effect for his power and thus, he was named Bloop the Teleporter.

The weather made for a perfect day, Jeff bought some art and Ash and Al hit up the soon-to-be-much-missed Balsano's for some Italian Chocolate Chip gelato. We soon went our separate ways after making our plans for the next get-together.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that when Ashley first checked out the blog, she thought the name was The Confounded.....well, it's a word that looks very much like cook. Imagine her disappointment when she discovered it was merely a food blog.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wining and Dining on the Santa FeTrail

Our morning began with us performing our community service.....No, not in a Lindsay Lohan in an orange jumpsuit sort of way...we actually volunteered. It was Pride in Excelsior Springs day, so we and 100 or so volunteers appeared at the Public Works building to do out part to clean up the city. Our particular project was to paint the gazebo signifying the well next to Willow Springs Mercantile. Our team consisted of us, Eric from the Elms, a couple of retired teachers and some students from Job Corps and the Career Center. We primed up the old girl and had her lookin' good before we headed back for the afternoon feed...hot dogs, brats and burgers. Kudos especially to the young lady named Vision who clearly has some creative vision of her own...she's quite the painter.

We motored up to Fahrmeier Farms near Lexington for the Santa Fe Trail Food and Wine Festival. The locale was a truly idyllic, autumnal setting. The farm's hilltop setting provided an incredible backdrop of grapevines and painterly skies. Several local food and wine vendors had bountiful booths of goods and samples. Our dear friend, the delicious Danene Beedle, marketing director for the Missouri Wine and Grape Board, was in attendance and conducting some educational wine seminars. After we strolled the grounds and sipped some samples, we settled in for the Wine and Cheese pairing class that Danene was teaching with Cory from Les Bourgeois Vineyards. We were given several cheese samples and then were asked to try them with various wines and decide which we thought paired the best. For us, this wonderful raspberry cheese co-mingled with a local Chardonel and the Olive Oil and Herb cheese played well with the Norton red. However, the wow moment arrived with the pairing of the Tawny Port with the sharp cheddar cheese. It probably sounds a tit-bit pretentious, but seriously the taste of the two together were an outright revelation: a perfect marriage of taste and texture. The moment they came together literally made me gasp.

Ok...before I drown in my own preciousness, let me assure you that this event was not without comedy relief. One unfortunate woman arrived, mid-class, apparently straight from the loo, judging by the lengthy stream of toilet paper trailing from the top of her jeans. We kept thinking her husband will see it and save her, but, alas, he remained as oblivious as his spouse. A bit of a breeze kept kicking up and just caused the Charmin tail to flap and flow behind her. We didn't think it could get worse until we see she's decided to rinse out her wine glass....in the bucket in front of the entire class. Sure enough, she toddles up to the bucket and the t.p. streamer flowed behind her along the steadily more startled crowd. The t.p. tail made its official debut literally in the faces of the ladies in the front row and at this point, we'd nearly slid to the ground in hysterics. In the end, we regrouped and paid tribute to Danene, who had always been impressive but now surprised us with her wicked teaching skills as well.

The afternoon was relaxing; we munched on some spicy cucumbers and apples grown on the property as well as some savory roasted chestnuts. We strolled the vineyards and Keith even found a willing photography model in a posing caterpillar. We finally realized Danene had traded us in for a younger model named Cole and so we bid her farewell and left the festival as the chilly rain was starting to fall.

It was the perfect setting for Autumn to make it's grand entrance.





Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cookbook Challenge # 5- Meat and Potatoes

The latest cookbook challenge took place Sunday night when I decided to make the best use of our KC Fresh Connect fare. We get a wonderful bounty of fresh goods from the online grocery store every week and I admit with our hours, we are sometimes scrambling to make the best use of everything. We decided to blanch some of our broccoli this week so that we could freeze it for soups later. Some schools of thought say it's not necessary to blanch and others say it's a must and we've found it to be the best way to preserve this superfood. We first cut up the broccoli to a little more than one inch size pieces. We do the "immersion blanch" which involves boiling the broccoli for about four minutes and then taking it directly from the boiling water into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. We then removed the broccoli, drained them and placed them in airtight containers and dated them. They should be used within a year.

Some of the broccoli joined some KC Fresh Connect potatoes and Keith's homegrown chives to make a dish I'd been itching to do. I've been a fan of scalloped potatoes since I was a kid. My Mom made them occasionally and they were great but the ones I always remember were made by a lovely lady named Marie Williams at the church suppers of my childhood. I sought out those potatoes at every church function.

The recipe I went with came from Millie Owen's Herbs, Greens and Aromatics: A Guide For The Gardening Cook (CC#5). This cookbook was published in 1978 and had a scalloped potato recipe that for us, made the best use of our Fresh Connect KC goods. This dish accompanied a roast we did in the oven using some French Onion soup mix, rump roast from Keith's father's cattle and even more KCFC bounty as we finished it off with their carrots, celery and potatoes.

The potatoes were perfect....followed the recipe to the letter and they were a delicious, cheesy goodness. The roast was tender and juicy and was paired perfectly with the roast. Check out the goodness you can get from KC Fresh Connect at http://www.freshconnectkc.com


Chive Scalloped Potatoes and Broccoli

Ingredients

3 large potatoes
1 cup small broccoli florets
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded cheese ( we used cheddar )
4 tablespoons chopped chives
salt and white pepper

Directions

Slice potatoes thin and boil them along with broccoli for about 3 minutes (this keeps the vegetables from releasing their liquid into the sauce when baked). Quickly run cold water over vegetables, and drain well.

Grease a 1 1/2 quart casserole with a bit of the butter, then melt the rest in a saucepan. Stir in the flour, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Heat the milk, and pour it into the flour mixture. Stir over heat for a few minutes, turn heat down and add sour cream and cheese. Cook gently, continuing to stir until sauce thickens and cheese is melted. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the chives and season to taste.

Place half of the drained vegetables in the casserole, pour half the sauce over, then add remaining vegetables and remaining sauce on top. Bake at 350 for about 1 hour. Place casserole under broiler until top is browned and sprinkle remaining chives on top.

Mama's, You Spoil Me

Our breakfast this past Sunday was not one for the faint of heart. I had heard good things about Mama's 39th Street diner (including its appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) and we finally made it. Mama's is located in the historic Nichols Lunch spot but is gaining a rep of it's own....it's built quite the following since its original incarnation right up the street. The place was packed but we didn't wait long....but long enough to gape at the ginormous slabs of cake in the tall bakery case that originally came from Nichol's. I also appreciated the opportunity to survey the colorful crowd....hipsters, old school folks leftover from Nichol's and definitely some folks leftover from partying next door the night before. Mama's is located next to Missie B's, the longtime gay hotspot. That diverse crowd appears to permeate into Mama's and that adds an always-appreciated eccentricity to the sport of people-watching. It also makes for a diverse staff...replete with a server in drag. Our heavily tattooed server was a hoot...she reminded me of Lea DeLaria. The odd yet entertaining decor matches the feel of the place. The place is dotted with surreal art, including a strangely porcine Mona Lisa.

The rest of the experience conspired to make me feel old.....through no fault of Mama's. I'm in deep denial over needing bifocals but Mama's menu was so packed with details in small print, I couldn't read it and dammit, I just knew the problem was the lighting, somehow. The omelet list alone features 66 combinations. There's a list of breakfast "sammiches", pancakes, french toasts, scrambles, etc, etc. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and hadn't eaten a bite. I asked for a to-go menu so that I could revisit it later. When I did, I realized there's an affinity for New York delis as there were a plethora of offerings that sounded like they came straight out of Katz's Delicatessen. Back to the food...

I got a Mexican Scrambler which featured three eggs scrambled with Chorizo sausage, green peppers, tomatoes and homemade hash browns. I also, having heard such great talk about them, ordered one pancake. Their pancakes are made with fresh eggs, butter and malt and as I was about to discover, the size of cymbals. They, as well as the scrambler, were not only enormous, but crazy good. The only problem I had was the usual issue with over-sized breakfast fare...it doesn't really translate into decent leftovers.

My next twinge of aging involved bearing witness to the two young bucks chowing down next to us. Both were half my age and both were enjoying the hell out of their youthful metabolism...they tore up the most gut-busting menu offerings: deep-fried cinnamon rolls and deep-fried French toast and they were just getting started. Insolent whippersnappers with thirty-inch waist sizes.....Bah.

I look forward to returning to try out lunch, where one meal might easily feed me for the next few days... the portions are that big. By all means, check out Mama's but go hungry....as in only-raw- veggies-and-water-for-a-week-before-visiting hungry.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Prince Greenjean's Adventures in Sausage-Making and The Holy Grail Ale Bread

nce upon a time, there was a hard-working young Prince who was always searching for his next endeavor. The Prince was industrious, like his father King Kenneth, and always believed that idle hands were the devil's tools. Prince Greenjeans, or Sir Keith of Cowtownia, has created breathtaking and bountiful gardens and stunning works of stained glass but now he desired to produce something of a more culinary pursuit. Sure, we ate ham and jam and Spam but Prince Greenjeans wouldn't be satisfied until he had made...sausage.

He'd worked for an Establishment in the kingdom of Marietta that made it's own sausage and served it with homemade beer bread and good cheese. Sir Keith decided to duplicate this repast using only the finest of ingredients. He found an ancient text to use as his sausage-making guide (something obscure and arcane called www.lets-make-sausage.com ) and then obtained a recipe for beer bread authored by some knave with the unfortunate title of Alton Brown. The beer bread recipe called for an ale...but what magical elixir could we find for this?

Indeed, the answer was a strange brew right under our noses...Monty Python's Holy Grail Ale which had been "tempered over burning witches." This dark and sinister brew made for a perfect ingredient for Sir Keith's bread.

In the end, Sir Keith's first attempt at sausage-making was a success....the meat was flavorful and delicious. We rechristened the bread The Holy Grail Ale Bread and Merlin's Beard, the aroma of this bread baking was maddening....it was like anticipating a cupcake gifted by the Lady of The Lake herself. When it finally arrived, it was marvelous...warm and savory and completely satisfying.

Prince Greenjeans was completely satisfied with the results of his task and happily no blood had to be shed or limbs lost (tis' but a flesh wound!). As the Prince was happy, all was well in Cowtownia and the kingdom was at peace.

The End....save for the portion of ancient text that describes the making of the bread...

Alton Brown's Beer Bread (or in our Kingdom, The Holy Grail Ale Bread)

Ingredients

  • Nonstick spray
  • 8 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces whole-wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
  • 4 1/2 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 12 ounces cold beer, ale or stout
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, optional

Directions

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat the inside of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with the nonstick spray and set aside.

Whisk together the all-purpose flour, wheat flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and dill in a large mixing bowl. Add in the cheese and stir in the beer just to combine. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the sunflower seeds, if using.

Bake on the middle rack of the oven until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 210 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 45 to 55 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cookbook Challenge: Farewell Summer, Hello Fall

In our latest endeavor to meet the Cookbook Challenge, we inadvertently combined a bright taste of the summer and deep, delicious taste of autumn. We had a pork tenderloin to cook up and chose a recipe for pork medallions from Mark Bittman's cookbook How to Cook Everything. Our shipment from Fresh Connect KC brought us butternut squash and Ginger Gold apples, so we chose Ina Garten's Butternut Squash and Apple Soup from Barefoot Contessa Parties. These two recipes represent Cookbook Challenges #3 and #4.

In the interest of post length, I'm not going to rattle on and on about the cooking process as the recipes are lengthy enough. The pork medallion recipe is nice and simple and we followed it word for word. After reviewing user comments on www.foodtv.com on Ina's recipe, I picked up some valuable hints in the prep of the soup..so watch for my notes at the end of that recipe. I admit to being intimidated by the soup recipe. I'd never attempted a soup like this and frankly, we weren't even sure we'd like the soup itself. Both dishes turned out fabulous....the pork was incredibly flavorful and the soup was the big surprise...rich and velvety and very yummy. We will most assuredly make both again. Now, on to the recipes...

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup (courtesy of Barefoot Contessa Parties)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 4 cups chopped yellow onions (3 large)
  • 2 tablespoons mild curry powder
  • 5 pounds butternut squash (2 large)
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet apples, such as McIntosh (4 apples)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups good apple cider or juice

Directions

Warm the butter, olive oil, onions, and curry powder in a large stockpot uncovered over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, until the onions are tender. Stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pot.

Peel the squash, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Cut the squash into chunks. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Cut into chunks.

Add the squash, apples, salt, pepper, and 2 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until the squash and apples are very soft. Process the soup through a food mill fitted with a large blade, or puree it coarsely in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Pour the soup back into the pot. Add the apple cider or juice and enough water to make the soup the consistency you like; it should be slightly sweet and quite thick. Check the salt and pepper and serve hot.

My Notes:

The majority of comments agreed that half of the apple cider quantity should be chicken stock instead, as the combination of the apples and cider can make the soup too sweet. We did this and replaced the water with stock as well. It made for a tastier, heartier soup. We also added about a quarter cup of heavy cream to add to the richness towards the end of the process...and used it for the decorative touch as well.

Sauteed Medallions of Pork with Lemon and Parsley (courtesy of How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman)

Medallions of pork are so thin they cook through in the time it takes to brown them. Here's a basic recipe on which to build. Add a tablespoon or two of drained capers with the lemon juice if you like. You can follow any recipe for cutlets of veal or chicken for pork medallions.

Ingredients

1 (1-to 1 1/4-pound) pork tenderloin
1/4 cup olive oil
Flour for dredging, liberally seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
Minced fresh parsley leaves for garnish
1 lemon, quartered

Directions

Cut the tenderloin into 1/2 inch slices (it will be easier if you freeze the meat for about 30 minutes before cutting). Pound them gently (use a flat rolling pin, the back of a skillet, or a similar object) between two sheets of waxed paper to make them a bit thinner.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil; set the seasoned flour in a shallow bowl near the stove.

When the oil is good and hot (a pinch of flour will sizzle), dredge the medallions, on at a time, in the flour, then place them in the skillet. Cook them over heat high enough to make the oil bubble; don't crowd. Set the oven to 200° F.

Turn the pieces as soon as they're browned, then cook the other side; total cooking time should be 5 minutes or less, so adjust heat accordingly. As the meat is done, remove it to an ovenproof platter and place the platter in the oven.

When all the pork is finished, pour off the fat from the pan. Return the skillet to the stove and add the wine, over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the wine is just about evaporated. Add the lemon juice, stir, and pour this sauce (there won't be more than a few tablespoons) over the meat. Garnish and serve, passing lemon quarters at the table.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Return of The Wonder Twins of Doom

Do you ever have that buzzy feeling that something is a tad off? During the course of the past few days, it seemed as if there was something ominous in the air....something I couldn't quite put my finger on. It wasn't a feeling of personal dread. It was more about my surroundings. There was the tornado watch and unstable weather in the area. Keith, my work cohorts and I had all commented on the proliferation of wailing sirens and police cars whizzing by at every location we'd happen to be. Even on Sunday, as Keith and I had entered Westport to wile away an idyllic afternoon at the Westport Art Fair, we were nearly run off the road by several speeding cop cars and then stumbled upon a battalion of armed multiple officers surrounding...a Blockbuster store. So much for a quiet Sunday. I have yet to discover what that was about. Why, though, is everything feeling a bit...apocalyptic?

Well, of course....the Wonder Twins of Doom have reunited and returned. Let the plague of locusts commence.

Who are these Twins I speak of? Actually two of my favorite folks in the KC area. Ashley and Jeff were co-workers of mine at my first job in KC. They soon became friends but not too soon...I had to pass their muster first. In time, they deemed me worthy and I was allowed into the Inner Circle. Ash and Jeff are great conversationalists, whip-smart and possess a rapier wit that is easy to admire and devastating to withstand. They are the best of friends and not twins by blood but they are bonded by their friendship and their....well, particular brand of concentrated evil. It may seem as if I'm painting a dark portrait and truly, I joke....I love these two dearly.....let's just say I'd much rather be their friend than....not. They are the finest of folks and I love having them in my life. My standout memories of them include dinner at Kona Grill, margaritas at Manny's, mojitos at Reverse after the Emeril book signing and of course, whizzing through the streets of KC in Ashley's Mini-Cooper (named Molly) like we were auditioning for a scene in The Italian Job.

Ashley has been overseas living in Japan for the past several years and took the opportunity to travel throughout Asia, so I plan to do a piece on her and some of the amazing food she experienced during her travels. Girlfriend has always devoured life in general and I'm hoping if she's happy with the piece she'll allow me to write the book of her life. It needs to be written and it will be a page-turner for sure. Ash returned to the states a few months back and to the side of her BFF Jeff and it was probably about then that things started feeling unbalanced. Of course, I would bet that in their minds, they feel balance has been restored...

We reunited at the Westport Art Fair on Sunday. K and I first met some of our artist pals (Kathleen at left) from Excelsior. We ran into Jan Preston who had some of her riveting work displayed(pictured on this post excepting the glass piece above left) and strolled around admiring the various art. K and I then overheard a gentleman on his phone saying, "The subject is here. We are following and can probably get backup form the KC police." What the hell? Are we back in DC? Of course, it's Westport....he could have been talking to one of the other voices in his head..

Finally, we all had lunch at McCoy's, a favorite old hangout with good food and a tasty I.P.A. The Wonder Twins and I were also reunited with our former Plaza boss Angelo and indeed it was like old times. We laughed hysterically, reminisced and listened to the ever-deepening twists and turns of Ashley's exciting life. We followed lunch with another stroll through the Art Fair and all too soon, our reunion ended.

We'll be together again soon. In the meantime, I think the Wonder Twins need a theme song...something dark and foreboding....hmmmmm...