RSS Feed

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Exalting the Aha at Blanc and Glace















In deliberately sharp contrast to my last post, I'm going to celebrate some recent good fortune relating to the blog. Let's try to gently move on from my general whininess and find some gratitude, shall we?

Two excellent happenings occurred that were grand moments for my humble little Confounded Cook blog. You might recall my recent post speaking of KC Fresh Connect and the first meal we created from the bounty we received from them. This past week, the latest edition of their newsletter went out and it had a feature on the blog! Every week, as I blog about what I'm cooking from the box of goodness we receive from them, the following newsletter will include that excerpt from The Confounded Cook! Quite exciting...Check out http://www.freshconnectkc.com/ to sign up for the newsletter!

I also got a jolt from an e-mail I received this week. The subject heading was The Confounded Cook and it asking if I would participate in a Mutual of Omaha traveling production called Aha Moments and talk of my passion for food. For the past year, M.O.O. (ha!) has taken their Airstream mobile film studio around the country and stopped in certain cities to film various residents talking about their aha moments....those indescribable moments when you suddenly become aware of a life-changing moment occurring in your life. I, of course, said uh..YEAH, you betcha and I was quickly set up for a time of 4:30 on Friday. The Mighty K-Man came home early from work to take me. Those of you who know me well will not be surprised to know that I had worn grooves in the floor from pacing at this point. We headed downtown and despite the a.c., the combination of humidity and nerves had me sweatin' like Whitney Houston (oh, hell to the no, Bobby B!). The studio was set up at the Power and Light District and soon we were ushered in to this tiny studio in the trailer. The camera isn't even seen, the talk was comfortably conversational and I managed not to trigger an assortment of facial tics nor utter anything utterly moronic...I think. It may somewhat resemble a train wreck when it's unveiled and that's ok. It's just a few minutes of film but it made for a memorable moment in time nonetheless. Visit www.ahamoment.com to see examples of many varied aha moments nationwide. Mine should be ready in three weeks and I will post it when ready.

We headed for Country Club Plaza to celebrate after the filming. The sculpture at right is one of many examples of art throughout the Plaza....this one is apropo for the blog as it's called "Out To Lunch". The most notable Plaza tower is at left....does anyone else think the cloud formation behind it is reminiscent of Ghostbusters? I've waxed rhapsodic about Blanc Burgers and Bottles before (see the label Food Havens) but had not yet visited the new Plaza location in the old Pizzeria Uno spot. It was even better. They have much more space now but have retained their quirky and sleek style. I ordered a Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar which came in a mighty 220 oz bottle with a brandy snifter and was a rich and nutty beauty. I can't wait to try more of their line, both for beer tasting and to enjoy the unique packaging. Our excellent server suggested it to me after telling me he is such a fan that he collects their beers. He did not steer me wrong. Check them out at http://www.rogue.com/about/about.php. We started out with the excellent Shatto Cheese Curds, deep-fried locally-made cheese with a side of tomatillo chutney that was so good I could have drank it out of the ramekin. Love the mini-fry basket they were served in as well. Dinner was Blanc's signature burgers, of course. This time, I got the spicy and delicious Au Poivre burger, a pepper-encrusted burger topped with a green peppercorn sauce, grilled onions and watercress. As always, the burger and onions were cooked perfectly and the toppings perfection. Keith got the Classic(pictured below right)...aged white cheddar, butter lettuce, house-made ketchup, mustard AND pickles and it also was delish. We split their savory sweet potato fries but we took half of the burgers home as we were saving room for dessert. Check out what remains one of my favorite eateries in town....http://www.blancburgers.com/plaza.html.


We traveled a few blocks away to the newest hotspot for ice cream in town. Glace is the brainchild of the masterful Christopher Elbow, who's artisanal chocolates are revered throughout the city. Mr. Elbow opened this as an artisanal ice cream shop. The decor is strikingly modern, not unlike his chocolate store but the highlight is most assuredly the ice cream. The ice cream has no artificial anything....it's made from all natural ingredients and features some of the most intensely satisfying flavors around. The staff were gracious enough to let us try several flavors and we were duly impressed with all of them. We each got a scoop of the Fresh Mint Chip(as our favorite flavor is Mint Chocolate Chip) and Keith also got a scoop of the complex and fascinating Persian Spice while I got a scoop of the Fleur De Sel which had an almost intoxicating caramel flavor(pictured at top of the page). We, clearly, are instant fans and cannot wait to return. Bravo, Mr. Elbow..visit their site at http://www.glaceicecream.com/

All in all, it was a grand night; another one of those evenings that reinforce my love for KC and my gratitude for good fortune. Next post, we'll start cooking up some more local goodness....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Plums and Portent
















We received our new box of goodies from Fresh Connect KC yesterday and have begun to contemplate what we'll create from them later this week. Among the lovelies are some beautiful plums and nectarines as well as more blackberries, tomatoes and cukes. Pictured with the plums and nectarines are a couple of gorgeous Monet peppers that we got as well. We have some ideas on how to proceed but welcome any suggestions from anyone reading this..

I relish writing this blog and am forever grateful for it. It gives me not only a greater appreciation of food and my own life but provides me an outlet as well. Many folks believe blogs should be ever-focused and the less personal information, the better. The true benefit this blog provides for me, though, is the catharsis of writing about those difficult moments as well. I vowed to share the ugly moments too and these past couple of weeks have presented a few. The fiery and painterly skies that were a result of the bizarre mix of intense humidity and strong storms (the sky pictured above and the "rapids" rushing through our little creek bed below) seemed to be portentous of the daily madness of late. Some of it has been provided by particularly difficult customers....the past week has been represented by a veritable rogue's gallery of some of the worst customers we've had in the past several years. The infamous Crystal Guy even returned after a long absence and cornered me long enough to let me know my chi was troubled (no...really?) and proceeded to count and chant to himself in order to check my energies and then follow up with multiple conspiracy theories involving everything from politics to the Gulf oil spill. Even the villainous man who cursed me out a few months back returned but this time spit his venom out on a new victim. He was sent away disgruntled, but his visit is still enough to unnerve the lot of us. My juvenile inclination was and is, to give him a taste of his own bile, but that would cost me my job and I can't afford that. So, again, we move on, we try to treat these as isolated moments, weigh them against the blessings, and rise above it....maturity wins out but doesn't remove the sting. Maturity sucks.

Finally, last night, I received the latest report on my folks in assisted living. They are generally terrorizing the place. They are combative and disagreeable and raising all kinds of hell. In a perfect world, they would take to their new surroundings and maybe even learn to thrive to the best of their abilities. Hopefully, in time, this will happen. I think part of my stress recently is a result of first taking care of them for several months and then suddenly not so much as laying eyes on them for several more. I'll be back for a visit next month and I need to just take solace in the fact that they are at least safe for now.

It is what it is. I've done the cathartic writing so now I'm ready for the cathartic cooking.....

P.S. My new obsession...salt and pepper pistachios. The kind I tried were at work where someone had picked them up from Costco. I must find more!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Local Love

This weekend's repast was brought to you by.....local farmers and vendors courtesy of the Excelsior Springs Farmer's Market and our new connection to the local markets; Fresh Connect KC. We have really reaped the epicurean rewards of local deliciousness this past week so allow me to break it all down for you. There will be recipes at the end of the post..

Keith helps organize and run the Excelsior Farmer's Market every week and we are always fortunate to get a few goodies from the week's offerings. This week, some delicious tomatoes from the market were cooked into a fresh Chipotle salsa. We used a Ball chipotle mix with the cooked tomatoes so no mystery here. We made a boatload in order to can for the winter....our first canning of the season.

Also, this week, Keith made the most delicious meatballs I'd ever had.......that's right, ever, and they were a Food Network recipe. My Italian friends are probably crying sacrilege as I speak but this is probably more a result of my not having enough experience with meatballs. These are the first the K-man has made and we were both duly impressed. The meatballs were an Alton Brown recipe and we served them with American Italian spaghetti (made in Excelsior Springs) with Aunt Angie's Spaghetti Sauce from Old World Italian Foods in Lee's Summit, MO (they were a vendor st the Missouri Wine Fest). We also toasted some of that gorgeous Garlic and Gorgonzola bread from Van Till Farms as well.

Tonight's grilling extravaganza introduces my new affiliation...Fresh Connect KC. These folks are an online grocery store and delivery service that features local organic food. Their website makes it ridiculously easy to connect with local growers and get their goods delivered right to your door. My first box arrived on Tuesday and although they had sent me an e-mail letting me know what the contents would be, there was still an element of Iron Chef to it and my mind drifts off:

Before I can open the box, I visualize my friend Kristy sailing through the air in a triple flip before landing in front of it, whipping out a long cigarette holder and hissing, "The mystery ingredient will be...." Then she contorts herself, screams "Wonder Twins Powers Activate!" and I open the box to discover the secret ingredient. After a loving preparation, I approach the judge's table to discover my friend Ronnie, martini in hand, balefully shaking his head and saying," I found the meal....unfortunate." Chairman Kristy dismisses me.

I'm whisked back to reality(I'm watching too much of the Iron and Top Chefs) and discover a box of fresh and delectable goodness....beautiful tomatoes, a honeydew melon, dark green cucumbers, a lovely head of Romaine, beautiful carrots and some luscious blackberries. I made a big, beauteous salad with the greens, carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers. The tomatoes were sweet as candy, the carrots so deep in flavor and the greens so fresh it felt treasonous to add so much of a drop of dressing but a few touches of Greek vinaigrette mixed in well. The salad was summer on a plate. The melon was cut up with some watermelon to put in my daily smoothie.....Dr Oz's fiber-wonder drink of a banana, frozen blueberries, fiber powder, flax oil, yogurt and V-8 Lite Acai Juice. The melons helped make it the best tasting one yet.










We returned to the Food Network for two of our remaining dishes. We made the Neely's savory Sloppy Joe's and they were marvelous. To accompany these, we tried out Tyler Florence's Mexican Grilled Corn. Grilled corn on the cob brushed with mayo, fresh lime, grated Parmesan and chili powder. For dessert, we utilized Sally Schneider's A New Way To Cook and made Rustic Free-Form Tarts with the blackberries I received from Fresh Connect KC. We'd been craving Sloppy Joes and the Neely's spicy mix hit the spot. The corn was Andy's Candy peaches and cream corn from Nebraska and this was our first time at the corn-grilling rodeo. It was tasty as all get out and the toppings really set them off. Now, on to the tarts...










We elected to make the tart crust by hand and thus, made these a bit labor-intensive but in the end, holy crikey, were they deelish. The warm tart was well, tart and sweet and the crust flaky and light. Rustic and free-form is right as they are not the prettiest tarts...in fact, I expected a couple of the more misshapen ones to call out," I am not an animal!" I believe we could've worked the crust a tad bit more to make them more attractive but the key word is rustic after all.

Each week, I'll be getting a box of fresh, local goodness from Fresh Connect KC and will blog whatever we cook with it. What will the mystery ingredients be next week? Check out Fresh Connect KC at http://www.freshconnectkc.com/.

In the interest of space, I'll just provide links to the Food Network recipes...

For Alton Brown's Baked Meatballs or the Neely's Sloppy Joes or Tyler Florence's Mexican Grilled Corn, go to http://www.foodnetwork.com/



Here's the recipe for the Rustic, Free-Form Blackberry Tart courtesy of A New Way To Cook, first for the handmade crust then the tarts:

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, preferably non-aluminum
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch bits
  • 3 tablespoons regular or reduced-fat sour cream
Directions

To make the dough by hand: In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Add the butter, and cut it into the flour with a pastry cutter or two knives until it resembles a very coarse meal. Alternatively, using a pinching motion, mix the butter into the flour with your fingers, then rub the butter and flour between the palms of both hands to blend it until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Add the sour cream and blend it in with the pastry cutter or a fork. Knead and squeeze the dough 7 or 8 times to incorporate any loose bits. Gather the dough together into a rough ball (it will be a coarse mass), flatten it into a 1-inch-thick disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling.

The dough can be refrigerated, well wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (I like to make a double or triple recipe and freeze part of the dough.) Defrost in the refrigerator for several hours before using.


Tart Recipe

In a small bowl, combine around three cups of blackberries ( or any berries ), 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 (optional) tablespoon framboise or kirsch and 1/4 cup of sugar.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

After dough has chilled at least 15 minutes, remove dough to sit out in room temperature for 15 minutes. Divide dough into eight parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough about 4 inches in diameter. Place each piece on a baking sheet and use 1/8 of the blackberry filling in each and fold the dough up around the filling (this is where I wasn't as decorative as I should have been). Bake for 15 minutes.



Saturday, July 24, 2010

Random Bites- Imperfectionists, Inception and Indian Creek

My latest rendition of a song for the stuff I'm diggin' is truly a love song this time around. Why? Because these are, outside of my loved ones, the things that brought comfort and joy during yet another irritating week (seriously, what is in the water these days?). Chew on these...

The Imperfectionists-

"I have stuff to eat. If you want." She opens a bottle of Valpolicella and heats up a casserole of lasagna that she planned to bring to the office. (She cooks abundantly and expertly but eats none of it; she has seen the butter, sugar and cream that disappeared into the mix, ready to reappear on her hips. So her creations-The Leaning Tower of Potato, the Seattle Swirl cookies, the Sesame-Crusted Salmon Cakes with Lemon Tarragon Sauce-end up at the paper, nibbled by distracted editors, spilled on the carpeting, as she observes from her desk, feeding only on their praise.

This passage from The Imperfectionists is from the POV of Hardy, the lovelorn staff member of an English-language newspaper in Rome. This novel, written by Tom Rachman, centers on she and her fellow employees. Written in an episodic structure, the book is a bittersweet look into each of the staff member's lives as well as a telling look at a newspaper's struggle to survive in these technocratic times. Rachman's utterly charming book has been a relaxing tonic to annoying reality.

Inception-

Finally, FINALLY a movie to get excited about in these meh cinematic days- we went to see Inception in Imax today, and it was a thrilling, trippy brain-tickler of a flick. Like Ronnie, I won't spoil a single moment, but here's what I will say....not only do I want to see Inception again but it's rekindled my love of film. What more could a filmgoer ask? See it.



Indian Creek Winery-

A little extra kudo to these kind folks for sending Keith home with a best- of collection of their vinos and vittles, including a white wine named Melancholy in a half-moon shaped bottle, a wine-spiked BBQ sauce and a yummy Fuzzy Navel jam.



All three immeasurably appreciated, indeed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Senator Robert Byrd


My home state of West Virginia recently lost one it's greatest champions with the death of Senator Robert Byrd. Senator Byrd was the oldest serving Senator and left behind a fascinating legacy. The senator also had a troubling history, particularly where civil rights were concerned. During his years in the Senate he remained conservative but grew to moderate his views and eventually pushed for community programs, endorsed creating a federal holiday for Martin Luther King's birthday and endorsed Barack Obama for president. He had great love for his family and was a wicked fiddler but his fiercest devotion was to the state of West Virginia. His actions in the support of the Mountain State were spectacular. May he rest in peace.

It took me awhile to post this as I had been fruitlessly searching for a recipe of his favorite foods..and finally, I discovered it. This recipe is for his favorite cabbage rolls. Among the many contrasts in the man's life, this serves as yet another: One of his early jobs was as a butcher but late in life he championed animal rights and spoke against factory farming. I will assume he would prefer the beef in this recipe to come from grass-fed, humanely raised cattle...

Senator Robert Byrd's Favorite Cabbage Rolls

Ingredients

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 cup cooked white rice
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg
10 cabbage leaves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 16-oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 cup water

Directions

Mix ground beef, cooked rice, chopped onion, salt, pepper and egg together. Trim off thickest part of stem from cabbage leaves. Divide meat into equal portions, wrap each in a leaf and fasten with wooden picks. Brown cabbage rolls slightly in oil. Add tomato sauce and water to pan. Cover and cook slowly for about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Steamy Sipping










It was a steamy Saturday for the Missouri Wine Festival held on the grounds of the Elms Resort and Spa. The fest is a fundraiser for the Downtown Excelsior Springs Partnership. Keith is the Executive Director of this group so this was a long, hot 16 hours of work for him. The fest featured 11 wineries from around the state, several food vendors and a slew of artisans displaying their wares.

The day was challenging for a multitude of reasons. The Elms not only was the location for the fest but also hosted two sizable wedding receptions simultaneously. Factor in a scrapbooking group using the two lower meeting rooms, a busy spa and packed dining room, and a rockin' outdoor pool area and it was wall-to-wall madness....as well as a perfect set-up for assorted dramas. Relentless oppressive humidity and temps in the 90's also didn't bode well for an outdoor wine event. Despite all of the potential for disaster, everything went surprisingly smoothly. Outside of one ambulance call for a guest overcome by heat, everyone had a great time. The vendors by and large were happy, the guests were a fun and stylish crowd and all of the events co-mingled peacefully.

It must also be said that the entertainment lineup was the best ever and Daphne gets big kudos for that. The 3$ band and the Street Corner Choir rocked the yard, Molly Hammer sung a lovely Portuguese tune and my favorite, Miss Major and Her Minor Mood Swings tore it up.

One unexpected moment for me came from a guest strolling through the fest with a WV visor on. I told him I was from St. Marys, WV and he introduced himself as Jim Terry from Williamstown...a burg that's about a 15 minute drive from my hometown. He, his wife and friends are pictured below right. Small world!

The lack of drama was good for all concerned but admittedly makes for a less interesting blog post. I'm most certainly not complaining though....there were enough challenges as it were. The last thing anyone needed, especially the K-man, was drama. We're all happy that the Missouri Wine Festival was once again, an unqualified success.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Wine and Design






A hot and steamy weekend for Missouri wine lovers in Excelsior Springs kicked off Friday night with a unique event called Wine and Design. Prior to the event, we devoured some BBQ at Wabash with Keith's Mom and Aunt Ruthie. Some torrential rain fell during dinner but did nothing to stifle the oppressive humidity. We had some yummy corn fritters for appetizers, then moved on to the Wabash's signature spicy meats. I had a mix of brisket and turkey bathed in that addictive Wabash BBQ sauce with tangy BBQ beans and creamy cole slaw.

We moved on to Willow Spring Mercantile which was hosting the Wine and Design shebang. The Excelsior Spring's resident art instructor Kathleen was our guide. Multiple canvases and palettes were set up at various stations throughout the store. At the center of this, Kathleen displayed a painting she had done of wine bottles and goblets and she proceeded to instruct us how to create a similar painting. As we prepared for our art lesson, we tasted an assortment of Missouri wines that Daphne featured at Willow Spring. Lubricated for creativity, we began our lesson. The idea for this exercise was to relax and let our artistic abilities flow while creating our own paintings and this worked for all of the normal humans. My neuroses took over, though, and I found the process stressful. Instead of relaxing, I pressured myself throughout and in fact, people even noticed that I was gritting my teeth while painting. It didn't help that as people strolled by to monitor our progress, they would see Keith's painting and comment, "you've had lessons, haven't you?" and then see mine and say, "well, it's coming along...". The stress was no one's issue but my own. I would do it again. In the end, Kathleen helped smooth out my rough edges and it was a fair to middlin' effort. It's a terrfic event and everyone else loved it....and in the end, so did I. For $38, you get the wine tasting, the art supplies and the finished product.

Kathleen also offers these as private events and will also host Corks and Canvases at the Excelsior Springs Museum. The Willow Springs Wine and Design events are the third Fridays of every month. Check out the event deets for Wine and Design at http://www.shopthemercantile.com/