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Monday, November 29, 2010

Anniversary Sushi

Today marks the 11-year anniversary of the day Keith boarded my crazy train for life and we chose to mark the occasion with lunch at Moonlight Sushi in Liberty. I have loved me some sushi since my friend Christina introduced me to the takeout version years ago, but I will admit that my experience in sushi restaurants is limited as Keith has avoided these delicacies like the Plague. I would typically just pick up some up for takeout and of those times I did manage to at least get the K-man to try a Veggie Roll and he did enjoy it. Despite the fact that much sushi is not necessarily raw, all he could visualize is raw fish and he wasn't having it. Ronnie and Jeff thankfully accompanied us on our Maiden Sushi Voyage and tutored us through the details.

We started off with edamame and tempura-fried veggies for appetizers to whet the appetite. We ran the gamut of sushi rolls between the four of us and I thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. Keith gamely tried all but one and found that he enjoyed some more than others but dug the experience in the end. The first rolls had me at first bite...The Liberty Roll featured deep-fried white fish, crab and cucumber in a special sauce and the Dragon Eye Roll had deep-fried jalapeno pepper, cream cheese, smoked salmon, soybean paper and Masago, an Icelandic caviar. The Rock N' Roll consisted of avocado and radish sprouts topped with deep-fried scallops. The Hawaiian Roll, Ronnie's favorite, was filled with salmon, cream cheese, macadamia nuts and was topped off with avocado and special sauce. Keith's favorite was the Monkey Roll which was a deep-fried roll that included salmon, cream cheese and avocado. The Moonlight Roll was my favorite: deep-fried shrimp, asparagus and crab topped with tuna and salmon. Another favorite became the first sushi Jeff couldn't eat due to its breathtakingly spicy sauce...The Volcano Roll which was a California Roll topped with baked Dynamite White Fish and that killer sauce. Together, they were all a comprehensive mix of deep-fried and raw, which was a good introduction for the K-Man. I can't wait to go back.

I also must admit that my history of handling chopsticks has been choppy at best. I always use them to try and keep up with the practice, but have always fumbled with them. Jeff gave me a tutorial on proper chopsticking, and by the conclusion of the meal, I was wielding them like a pro. Thank you for the lesson, Sensei Jeff. Check out Moonlight Sushi at http://www.moonlightsushi.com/main.html.




We finished off the afternoon with a visit next door to Lemon Tree, one of the suddenly proliferating frozen yogurt spots popping up all over town. The new way of enjoying these sweet treats is essentially getting it yourself and letting them weigh how much yogurt(and toppings) you get. The NY Cheesecake flavor is very good.

Eleven years with the K-Man...here's to many, many more.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Random Bites- Oatmeal Bread, Off Broadway Galleries and Our Gingerbread House

The family had breakfast with us Saturday morning and Sierra couldn't resist playing with her food. The result was this smiley face-the hash browns, oven-cooked bacon and scrambled eggs with sharp cheddar cheese didn't sit for long, though and the face was duly devoured. Kenny also put the final touches on our kitchen cabinets and we couldn't be happier with the result. Once again, Keith's Dad has provided his expertise and given our home a personal touch that we are so proud to have. This is the first of a few random bites that,as usual, center around food...

My co-worker and friend Judy surprised me a few days ago with some fresh-baked bread that incorporated oatmeal and assorted cheeses such as Parmesan. It was wonderful and after I brought it home and dipped it in the chipotle oil we bought at The Tasteful Olive, the taste was spectacular. Yum....thanks, Judy!

Kudos to Keith's brother-in-law Dave for his expertise in creating home brews. I've been impressed with his brews in the past and he continues to outdo himself. He brought me a blueberry ale, a chocolate ale and a dark German Dunkel, which has been the only one I've tasted so far and it was excellent.

Our girl Kathleen has moved into her new gallery space and it's going to be a corker. The Gallery Off Broadway space winds through several rooms and eccentric touches already abound. She hosted Shauna's birthday party with a Wine and Design night and it was already a success. The potential is here for some seriously great fun and I can't wait to see what happens next...

Keith has been building gingerbread houses for as long as I've known him; dating back to his Lafayette days. Writing the blog got me to finally pay attention to the process this year. We mixed up the wet and dry ingredients and combined them to form a dough. The dough was to be chilled for an hour but we did it overnight and then had to leave it out half a day so it would loosen up enough. Keith rolled out the dough and then cut the designs out with a pizza cutter. Once baked, it is light in color and would work well with lights on the inside. The recipe for the gingerbread comes from the cookbook Gingerbread For All Seasons by Teresa Layman and counts as Cookbook Challenge #13. The recipe will be at the end of this post. Stay tuned to see how the Gingerbread House gets blinged out...



Gingerbread Dough Recipe

6 ¾ cups flour

1 tab cinnamon

1 ½ tsp ginger

½ tsp Salt

1 ½ cups light corn syrup

1 ¼ cups light brown sugar

1 cup margarine

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Melt margarine, corn syrup, and brown sugar on stove until margarine is melted. Combine with dry ingredients. Wrap dough with plastic wrap and chill for one hour. Roll out on parchment paper to 1/8 inch thickness. Use whatever designs you want to cut. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown at 350 degrees.

In order to create the "glue" to put the house pieces together, this cookbook also provides a recipe for Royal Icing:

I lb. confectioner's sugar
3 egg whites, at room temp (use large eggs, not jumbo)
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Sift the conf. sugar. Place egg whites in a mixer bowl. Add sugar and crean of tartar to egg ehites while stirring. When all the sugar is incorporated, turn mixer to high and beat mixture until thick and very white. The icing should hold a stiff peak. The process should take five to seven minutes, longer if using a hand-held mixer. Cover icing tightly with plastic wrap as it dries very quickly.

Stay tuned for the decorating....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stroud's Beats The Black Friday Blues

I haven't had to toil through the Black Friday madness in a couple of years, so my return to the crazy hordes and their massive spending left me spent. The crowds rolled in, the lists were unfurled, Susan Boyle crooned above the din and the Christmas spirit was in full bloom......

(sounds of tires screeching)

Who am I kidding? The only thing that was in full
bloom were the most pertinent questions of the day:
  • Where's the bathroom?
  • Do you price match? I just looked up your competitors on my iPhone and frankly, you suck.
  • Whaddya mean there's no #@**! discount on the Nook?

Once the day was blessedly done and the mind-numbing fatigue
had passed, I rejoined the family for dinner at the Kansas City institution known as Stroud's. Home of the seriously finger-lickin' pan-fried chicken, the original Stroud's in Fairway,KS has been a KC landmark since 1933. Stroud's enjoys quite the well-deserved reputation...they have won Zagat's and James Beard awards and were recently featured on Man Vs. Food. This Northland location was originally an 1829 log cabin that's been expanded into what is now known as Stroud's Oak Ridge Manor. Set on a picturesque hillside near a lake complete with a pair of swans gliding across the surface, the restaurant always looks like a cozy, inviting home. Stroud's is always packed and with good reason: the vittles are served family-style and are all made from scratch. The delish chicken is the thing but the sumptuous sides don't hurt.....homemade mashed potatoes with real gravy and fresh green beans, for example. The crowning glory rests with the house-made cinnamon rolls served for dessert, hot and fresh from the oven. To quote young Tanner, they are "heavenly".

There was so much food that the majority was taken as takeout. Stroud's was as packed when we left as they were when we arrived. Check them out at http://www.stroudsrestaurant.com/index.html. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

The air outside was chilly as the mood inside grew warmer thanks to the roaring fire in the fireplace, the aroma of the turkey cooking in the oven and the free-flowing wine. The meal was extraordinary; this holiday is always Keith's day to truly shine in the kitchen. We relied on what has become our annual favorite menu: Emeril's brined turkey as well as his detailed but oh-so-delectable Green Bean Casserole, Helen's(Keith's Mom) Mashed Potatoes, Homemade Bread, Cranberry Salad and Pumpkin Pie and finally, my personal highlight: Paula Deen's Old Country Stuffing. I'm including the recipe at the end of this post....I can't imagine the holiday without it at this point. One returning gem this year was the Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie from the King Arthur Flour cookbook. Six years ago, K and I lived in an apartment in Westport and he made this pie but damned if either one of us could remember it's exact origin, so we hadn't had it since. I found it marked in the book recently and that amazing pie made it's welcome return this year.






My thoughts today were often occupied with memories of Thanksgivings past with Dad. As I watched Keith's father carve the turkey, I remembered Dad doing the same after he had led us in "saying Grace". His prayer would never fail in thanking all of us for joining him and thanking Mom for preparing what was always a wonderful meal. Today, my sister joined my Mom at her assisted-living facility for their Thanksgiving dinner. Mom has been quite stalwart since Dad's passing but today she was a bit subdued as it was the first holiday without him.

This year, we were blessed to have Kim, Dave and the kids join us for Thanksgiving for the first time in several years. A first for the family this year: following the prayer, we each spoke of something we were thankful for....mine was the gratitude I felt for all of us being together again and for the family's graciousness towards me during this difficult year.


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful meal and shared memories and hearty laughter with loved ones.....just don't forget to take a minute to give thanks.





Paula Deen's Old Country Stuffing


Ingredients

  • 2 loaves oven-dried white bread (recommended: Pepperidge Farm)
  • 2 cups cooked white rice
  • 1 sleeve crushed saltines
  • 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 7 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 stick butter, melted
  • Mushroom Giblet Gravy, recipe follows

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Crumble oven-dried bread into a large bowl. Add rice and saltines.

Cook sausage in a large skillet until it starts to brown. Add celery and onion and saute until transparent, 5 to 10 minutes. Pour over bread and rice mixture. Add stock and mix well. Add salt, pepper, sage, and poultry seasoning. Mix well. Add the beaten eggs and melted butter. Mix well. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the stuffing mixture for the Mushroom Giblet Gravy.

Pour stuffing into a greased pan and bake until cooked through and golden brown, about 45 minutes.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Taste of The Nutcracker

Last night, I was lucky to be off work so that I could accompany Keith to a performance by Ballet North in Excelsior Springs. The company performed a sampling of the best-of moments from the Nutcracker. Ballet North originates from Gladstone and they delivered a wonderful show. The Candy Canes, Clowns and Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy were all beautifully done. The Waltz of The Flowers was wonderful as well, although to this day when I see it, the only image that dances in my head is Jason Alexander in a tutu from Love! Valour! Compassion! Following the Nutcracker performances, Ballet North presented a breathtaking performance titled Watermark that carried an environmental message about saving life in our oceans. It was a visually striking production, particularly the glow-in-the-dark dance sequence that created an ethereal undersea world. Keith's organization, the Downtown Excelsior Partnership, put this show on and by all accounts (including the capacity crowd), it was a massive success. Kudos!

Following the show, we joined friends at Jim and Ginger's warm and inviting home for dessert and wine. Jyette and Torben brought some tasty German wine and Ginger served and array of delicious desserts including raspberry tarts, lemon bars and Brie cheese with Granny Smith apples. Their homemade apple cider was a good remedy for lifting the chill off the bones. Ginger's house always mesmerizes me.....she and Jim own the English Garden store and the English influence is felt throughout their home as well. Vintage tea sets, European Santa figurines and portraits of English countrysides and fox hunts dot the inner landscape. The only factor that could disturb this idyllic setting would be an obnoxious guest who insisted on photographing everything.....oh, wait, that was me.
Never mind.

One last peaceful evening before the holidays and Black Friday descend....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'll Get You, Magic Noodles, and Your Little Sprouts, Too!

Our return to the Cookbook Challenge brought me back to that handwritten legal pad that had been haunting me for a few months......Aunt Bonnie's treasured recipes. I was a master of avoidance when it came to her noodles in particular. It seemed almost sacrilegious to even attempt them; as if only Bonnie should be making them. Her recipe seemed easy but also a tad vague, possibly deliberately so. I don't actually think that's the case, though. I believe she's just been making them for so long that the noodles come second nature to her and that she really hasn't had to think about the logistics for a long time. Attempt them we did and in the end, I decided there is even more a reason I call them Aunt Bonnie's Magic Noodles.

The noodles took a fair amount of preparation and I followed her recipe to the letter. The final result yielded maximum flavor but the texture stilled seemed a tad al dente and the noodles were cut a bit too thick. We are thinking the noodles just need extra TLC....a long and slow simmer and maybe a little sweet-talk. We also decided that once we perfected the noodles (and we will get you, my pretties), we might kick it up a bit with a hit of white pepper.

We also made Vidalia Onion Cornbread from Paula Deen's cookbook Paula Deen and Friends. The sharp cheddar cheese and fresh dill made this cornbread a keeper.....delicious. Vidalia onions were not available but the divine Ms. Deen says any sweet onion will do. It was a bit underdone when we finished....we thought the outside was getting too brown, only to discover the inside was a little undercooked. This presented no problem for K and I; we actually preferred it that way. I would re-examine it were we to make it for anyone else, however.

We completed the meal with roasted brussel sprouts. We used the Eating Well: Healthy in a Hurry cookbook as a guide. We used one small container (around 12 sprouts) and cut each in half. We placed them on a small baking sheet in one single layer. Topped them off with a tablespoon of olive oil, a smattering of lemon pepper and a smooch sea salt. Placed them into a preheated 500-degree oven and roasted them for 20 minutes, turning them once.

Best brussel sprouts I've ever had.

The recipe for the cornbread is at the end of the post. These will count as Cookbook Challenge #11 and #12. I'll hold off on posting Bonnie's recipe, as there are a couple of missing details and we want to perfect them first. When we perfect them; IF we do, I'll post the recipe. I still believe Aunt Bonnie weaves a wee bit of magic in those noodles and that's one part of the recipe I won't be able to duplicate.


Vidalia Onion Cornbread (Paula Deen and Friends Cookbook)


Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion, chopped
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cornbread/muffin mix
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup grated sharp Cheddar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onion until tender, but not browned, for about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the muffin mix, egg, milk, sour cream, 1/2 cup of the cheese, the salt, and dill weed. Stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and top with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, until set and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Excelsior Gets Lit

I alluded to Excelsior Springs puttin' on the Ritz and Glitz for the holidays and indeed, they truly did. The shops and restaurants pulled out all the stops and the season got a spectacular kickoff this past weekend. Following the Progressive Taste that I described in the last post, it was time to prep for the lighted Christmas parade and at the last minute I would find out I'd be riding in it with Keith in one of the decorated Elms golf carts. Hanging at the parade lineup was a reminder of just how surreal parade prep can be....

It has been a long time since I was in a parade; dating back to my high school band geek days. Back then, it seemed like every time we marched, we were inevitably placed behind horses of some type. Carrying the big bass drum, I couldn't really see very well and I would manage to stomp right through the horse droppings in my white band shoes every time. Accomplishing that while balancing the drum made for some comedic movements that would be known as the Dung Dance. I never fell but I certainly did some crazy slide steps that would crack up those behind me, particularly my friend Sara, who would inevitably laugh so hard she couldn't play her clarinet.

I realized all these years later that parade lineups are as bizarre as ever. We stood with Tut the Shriner and followed his motorized flying carpet in the parade. I strolled around looking at the entries.....there was a heavy religious presence, including Muppet Nativity scenes and something odd called the Furnace with a dancing Santa and elf(who was one of the banquet servers at the hotel). A live zebra and a hot-air balloon basket shooting thirty foot flames in the air added to the eccentricities. Santa himself would even bear a twist with his Cyber Sleigh....a big, flashy, spinning sleigh complete with actual jet engine in the back. After the parade had marched on, Santa stopped to speak to the family-heavy crowd. Once the street cleared, The Jolly One fired up the jet engine and literally ROARED away.....so much so that I envisioned him losing control and actually going airborne, taking out a couple of chimneys on his way before we saw his panicked silhouette sail across the full moon.

This would all lead up to the lighting of the Hall of Waters and the Mayor's Christmas tree. The crowds would then pour into the Hall of Waters to view the Hall of Trees (pictured at the top of the page), featuring beautiful Christmas trees decorated by local businesses and organizations. Delicious homemade cookies made by the culinary students of Job Corps were available for munching while admiring the trees.

I snuck away from that crazy crowd for the more sedate surroundings of Willow Springs for hot chocolate and Broadway and Penn, where I would see this lovely young lady enjoy some Lemon Sunshine cake.

The holidays are upon us....let the madness and spirit begin!