Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Day of Firsts: First Grill-Out; First Veggie Burgers

The weather was spectacular today...'round 70 degrees and partly cloudy.  Had a stellar run at the downtown airport and continued to take advantage of the balmy breezes by rolling out the grill for its first run of the season.  Speaking of firsts, we also decided that it was past time we take a stab at making our own veggie burgers.  Keith chose this version from as the basis and then we switched it up a bit.  Fortified with black beans, we added a cup of white and yellow corn and substituted red bell pepper for green and used Sriracha for the hot sauce.  Keith grilled asparagus outside but did the burgers on a griddle inside for fear they might not hold together.

In fact, if I had to find a complaint on these burgers, it might be that...they did want to fall apart a bit, so maybe one egg and the amount of breadcrumbs isn't quite enough to bind it thoroughly?  Nevertheless, the flavor was a zesty marvel; the spice balanced well and the slices of avocado we placed on top were the perfect compliment.  I took another for lunch the next day, sans bun, just mixed with avocado.

Now, we are hooked and can't wait to experiment with other varieties of veggie burgers.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Retro Candy Crush

I have not, as yet, been indoctrinated into the addictive world of online game Candy Crush, but I swore my internet obsessions (as far as games are concerned) would end with Words with Friends.  My last post's ode to kid mustard got me thinking of some childhood candy crushes of my own, though.  Suddenly, my pop-culture saturated brain was awash with 70s images and with the groovy American Hustle soundtrack as background music, I was practically tasting the mellow vibe again, man...

On a typical childhood summer day, I would wake in the morning and possibly have a dry-as-a-bone Breakfast Square (Mom loved these) with (whole) milk and would check to see everyone was stocked on necessities before leaving.

 Mom was set with her Pepsi Light with its twist of lemon.  Plenty of Tab for the sisters if they were visiting.  It would be a typically hazy, lazy summer day when I would stroll a couple of blocks to the corner store aka the Economy Market run by the genial, welcoming Doug Dale.  Doug would always be astoundingly patient while I followed meticulously through on the purpose of my visit: strenuously deciding which treat to buy and entering my name (daily) to win the Denim Machine van offered in a Coca-Cola/Levis contest.

Forget that I was twelve; I was mesmerized by the purple shag carpet and portable TV supposedly in the back of the Denim Machine...I could live there!  But back to that dilemma of which treat I could buy with that hard-earned allowance.  If only I had Simon to tell me which one to pick...

.the chewy Marathon bar or the crispy, caramelly Caravelle bar (similar to a 100,000 bar but vastly superior in my wide-eyed opinion).

Simon says the Marathon bar, as it was my favorite.  Though there was the occasional predilection for a nougaty Milkshake bar...

Later in the day, I would walk the other way to the county pool and after swimming for a bit, my friends and I would head down to see Dink Snively at the concession stand.  Dink would also be the very soul of patience while I weighed whether to have a Chicko-Stix or a blue Freeze Pop.  Man, if only I had my Merlin to help me figure it out.... hell, I know which one it will be...the blue Freeze pop.  After all, how else will I get my tongue blue?

When the day was once and truly spent (and in those youthful summer days, we wrung every bit of possibility out of the day we could), I would saunter home and an evening snack might consist of a toasted strawberry Danish-Go-Round or if Mom was feelin' crazy, we might make a Wrapple. 


I would go a couple of rounds with my Comp IV, get frustrated and eventually retreat to my dream-world where I would look through Mom's or our neighbor Mary Alice's magazines and fantasize about my future cosmopolitan life.  I saw myself strutting about my fabulous 70s pad in satin disco jacket.  I would have a martini in one hand, a platter of sophisticated hors d'oeuvres in the other and stroll up and down the sleek round spiral steps entertaining my guests while Live and Let Die played in the background.  

Again, I was twelve.

And of course, anyone who's known me for five minutes would know I would have toppled off those round steps in no time, landing unceremoniously on the floor; wearing both the martini and the hors d'oeuvres, but I digress...

 I suppose this is a bit of a cautionary tale.  I couldn't eat sugar like this without some form of cosmic payback and I had the pudge and bad skin to show for it.  However, it doesn't change the fact that each of these were of a taste of childhood summer for me and that makes them timeless treats for me.  Of course, I was happiest when silly and laughter was prevalent in those dewy-eyed days. After all, I was already nursing my future love for satire by collecting every Wacky Package possible.

My childhood had its challenges but it was a happy one.  Full of wonder and play at its most imaginative. Just seeing these images whisk me back to those childhood days of yore. Is that Seals
 and Croft I hear playing?  Someone get me a Blue Freeze Pop, stat.  Oh man, will it ever be possible to return to that wide-open, carefree feeling of childhood?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Flashback Friday: Kid Mustard

Fair warning: this will seem like the most product placement-y post I've ever done.  In order to tell the story accurately though, its just gotta be done. Nor did I get paid.  Unless someone wants to pay me.

Sure, you can read a multitude of my blog posts and assume that my palate has matured over the years.  As a kid, I certainly demoed the expected pickiness and did my damnedest to fight off the produce in favor of the processed. The usual suspects included Kraft macaroni and cheese, sugary cereals and Miracle Whip.  No judgments here, much of this stuff was cheap and easy and Lord knows my folks wielded every trick in the book to get me to eat healthy fresh fruits and vegetables and remembering my family's bountiful vegetable gardens, I could kick myself for the homegrown goodness I denied myself in the younger days.  Luckily, I was not a lost cause in these respects and by middle and high school, the budding taste buds starting to embrace the homegrown cucumbers, peppers and greens.  Some, like tomatoes, took me all the way to the college years to appreciate.  Looking back, its hard to believe I was ever that particular, but live and learn, right?

Some favored tastes for my childhood never go away, though.  Chief among these is my unbridled adoration for French's yellow mustard.  The first time I had it was on a ham and cheese sandwich and it was a taste of mustardy magic for me. My friend Kaki calls it kid mustard and I actually ate mustard sandwiches as a kid.  Picture it, St. Marys, West Virginia, in my Dad's dusty garage aka My Childhood Clubhouse, with the back garage doors wide open to the summer breezes; the small wooden Magnavox radio tuned to WXIL 95.1 playing some Top 40 hit of the time like Shannon or Undercover Angel or Disco Duck; my Mom making my bestie Kristy and I mustard sandwiches with a side of kosher dill pickles.  And had to be French's.  French's is a taste of childhood as are many things, but unlike some childhood food loves, the gripping passion I have for French's mustard has never waned.  To this day, my go-to burger toppings are yellow mustard and dill pickles. I know that I am also a part of a not-so-secret society.....there are many folks I know who swear by it, whether they admit it or not.  In fact, I know of one well-to-do KC native who insists its available just about wherever he goes. 

Mustard is indeed my favorite condiment and there are many that I love.  I typically have creole and Dijon mustard in the fridge and have occasional flirtations with beer and hot mustard.  None have or probably will ever have the exalted position that French's yellow mustard holds for me.  Just about everything is better with French's.

Check out the video for some other vintage French's goodness...a classic French's commercial from the 80's.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Job Corps Culinary Students Impress

I spoke of a Chamber luncheon I attended last week where the culinary students from Excelsior Springs Job Corps hosted and showed off their honed cooking and service skills at the Montgomery event space.  Today, my coworkers and I went to Job Corps itself where the culinary students were truly able to strut their culinary stuff in a more intimate dining room setting.  Once again, it was so gratifying to see these students demonstrate these new skills they've learned. 

Today's meal was also a tad more upscale I must say.  We were served a platter of appetizers first...succulent calamari with a wasabi cream sauce and shrimp wrapped in bacon with pepper-jack cheese.  This was followed by a mixed green salad and our entrée which was prime rib cooked medium with a horseradish cream sauce, salmon and mussels with a lemon-butter sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and roasted Cajun potatoes with red peppers.  Finished off with a white chocolate cheesecake.  Holy cow, good students, you outdid yourselves!

The staff gave presentations about the ES Job Corps outlining the good they are doing providing these students with vital skills to help them succeed in life. Among the speeches was one emphasizing the importance of incorporating these kids into a community and I agree; the importance of this is not just pertinent to these kids but to the community itself and may just be key to the success of both.  I can certainly speak to some of the success stories of students who have come to work for our hotel.

Rock on, Job Corps culinary have much to be proud of. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Navigating The New Menu Marvels

The long hours involved in the past couple of days did yield new opportunities to try some of the new menu offerings at my place of business, the Elms Hotel and Spa.  My MOD dinner last night was the first of these opportunities and there were a couple of dishes to sample. 

 My coworker joined me for dinner and we split the ham and potato croquettes for an appetizer and they were very good; filled with melted gruyere cheese and black forest ham (above).

For dinner, he tried the Angel Hair Provencal with sundried tomatoes, basil, toasted pine nuts, goat cheese and a Chardonnay-saffron sauce(above). He had chicken added and enjoyed it thoroughly.  I had the Sea Bass and it was a in a beautiful piece of perfectly cooked fish that was miso-glazed; presented in a savory dashi broth with shittake mushrooms and sesame asparagus.  For an extra wow in flavor and presentation, atop the fish was a succulent and delicious piece of tempura lobster...just the right amount of crunchy change-up to give this already excellent entrée a superior twist.  Alas, my photo did not do it justice, but hopefully the description will suffice.

We also could not hold off dessert completely and had to try the vanilla panna cotta with fresh raspberries, strawberry-balsamic reduction and pumpkin seed crumble (pictured top of the page).

The next day was a department meeting/luncheon back in the dining room that brought a return to the new lunch menu.  I am a big fan of veggie burgers and was eager to try our version.  It was no slouch by any means...a very flavorful combination of zesty black bean and sweet potato topped with red onion, yellow tomato, fresh cilantro and chili-lime vinaigrette.  The new, perfectly crispy onion rings on the side just complete it.

Working my way through new menus are definitely a work highlight.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Food Nerd Thought Of The Day: The Socially Inept Social Media Fiend

Leave it to the ever-present genius of New Yorker cartoons to sting me with another all-too-familiar scenario.  I am ludicrous with my phone....especially in restaurants.  Someone should get me one of these Elizabethan collars (typically given to dogs to keep them from licking wounds) post-haste.  I wonder if the folks who make Jerry Garcia ties could do some matching E collars...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia (Seeds).


Chia seeds.  Every time they are mentioned in something I read, I'm alternately fascinated by the continually updated health benefits connected to them and flummoxed by the image that keeps entering my pop-culture infected brain.  No, not the healthy seeds above, but this:

Yeah, it's the Chia Pet, complete with the Ch-Ch-Ch- Chia song in my head.  If I eat these healthy seeds, will an internal organ form into a Chia Pet?  Will my receding hairline grow back in green, leafy form?  Worse, will I turn into this....

...the Duck Dynasty version?

I think it's (relatively) safe to say that none of these things will happen.  In fact, we did indeed buy them and add them to our morning smoothie and here's the factoid that finally convinced us to do so.  Keith found that the protein powders we typically add mess with his system.  I found an article on Buzzfeed that suggested multiple ways you can add protein to your smoothie without resorting to the chemical powders.  Chia seeds were one of the leading sources and also contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than flax seeds.  Add in a good amount of antioxidant and fiber power and these seeds are tough to beat. 

Better yet, unlike flax seeds, chia seeds don't have to be crushed or ground.  Chris McDougall wrote about them in Born To Run, his book about a tribe of ultrarunners in Mexico who eat lots of them and add them to water to super-hydrate themselves for long runs.  We added a couple spoonfuls to our smoothies in place of protein powder as well as a spoonful of almond butter and now have an even more natural early boost to the day without sacrificing taste.
So, I think it's safe to say I won't have any unexpected sprouts anytime soon.  Now if I could just get that damn song out of my head...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Just Another Dive? Not To Me.

I've spent a fair amount of time in what would be considered "dive bars" over the years; more so the smoke-filled version of my younger days. There are those who undoubtedly look down upon these no-frills joints, but for some of the rest of us, there is a comforting, laid-back vibe that can yield an easy peace of sorts and sometimes much, much more.  This weekend had me thinking about dive bars a bit more than usual; both old and new.

Keith chose this month's Posse dinner and we went with a bit of an unorthodox choice in comparison to our usual dining choices: Helen's JAD (Just Another Dive) Bar and Grill.  We drove past this nondescript Armour Road tavern more than a few times and admittedly didn't give it much of a second thought, but one day I saw that it had been voted Best Tavern In The Northland, so I took a shot and searched for Helen's on Yelp.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn Helen's scored some righteous reviews for food and service; frequently lauded as a local "best-kept secret" (Yelp gets a bad rap these days, but I have to say this is one example of why I'm glad it exists). Helen's has actually been around for a long time; one of the oldest in the Midwest.  It was built in 1885 and has been a popular tavern since the 40's.  Word is they tried to remove Helen's name at one point, until a vocal contingent convinced them otherwise.

So hit it up we Posse crew did and I have to say, we enjoyed the hell out of it.  It was a chill spot but with some cool decor, particularly the Boulevard-inspired wall murals and wooden tables.

Speaking of KC's beloved Boulevard, the amiable barkeep alerted me to the fact that they had the recently released Grainstorm Black Rye IPA on tap, so that was my evening kickoff (and it was a spicy-good, slap-your-face kickoff to boot...SO good.).  K and I split an order of the goat cheese appetizer with housemade marinara and walnuts and it was quite good.

 The rest of the gang soon join us and we soon we were deep in some of Helen's hearty grub.  Keith and Charlotte got the plate-sized tenderloin sandwiches, served with hand-cut fries and horseradish.  This was a killer sandwich; just crazy good.  I ordered Amanda's pizza, a delicious thin-crust pie with bacon and pepperoncinis and it tasted that much finer with the Perennial Black Walnut Dunkel, a chocolate-brown Dunkelweizen from Perennial Artisan Ales. The table's fare ranged from enormous burgers to patty melts and everyone was more than satisfied.

The satisfaction was from more than just the excellent eats, though. I must admit.  It was the dim lighting, the terrific music from the jukebox, March Madness flickering on the TVs...the whole kick-back, sip-your-beer and just hang loose with your friends kind of night that seems so increasingly rare in this fast-paced life. You'd have thought I would have learned long ago not to underestimate a dive bar.  Sitting at Helen's, I was reminded of dive bars of old that brought that similar feel, in particular, a hometown hang in St. Marys, West Virginia called The Hill. The Hill was one of those dimly-lit, hazy dive bars and when I went there, it was owned by the incomparable Myrtle Maston.  Myrt, as we knew her, ran this tiny joint like a family affair, welcoming anyone and everyone. Cheap beer, pool tables and a killer jukebox were certainly the staples, but there was many a moment of both raucous revelry and quiet joy to be found.  Myrt's food, not typically advertised, but if you knew about it, well, you KNEW...Myrt could rustle up some stellar chow: a mouth-watering brute of a burger called the Myrtburger and some amazing homemade, somewhat-spicy chili. Always good, especially with a cold brew beside it.  She always had bottles of hot sauce available too, as Connie and I could attest on the nights we just settled for pork rinds doused in hot sauce.

Myrt was also a big music fan and it showed in more than just the jukebox.  The Hill's karaoke night was the one I participated in the most, mostly thanks to Myrtle herself, who kept submitting my name to get up and sing. And well, you just don't refuse Myrtle. She also frequently hosted live music and while we enjoyed many a band there, the most cherished nights were the most unexpected, at least for me.  Every now and then, after closing, Myrt turned off the "OPEN" neon sign and shut off most of the lights, and some local musicians would break out their guitars, banjos and mandolins and start jamming.  The music ranged from bluegrass to gospel to country to classic rock and everything in between. We would sing and harmonize and a simple spell would weave around its participants, seeming to lift them to another plane of existence; a shelter from the storm of reality outside that front door. Every time. These random jams would be my first experience with a group of musicians who would later evolve into something even greater: a makeshift band that would continue to meet up and become the Fuzzy Mothers. The Fuzzy Mothers became a long-standing jam session that seemed to grow beyond all of its members and evolve into even greater expressions of local music like the Music by the Lake event and the Waverly Woodstock festival.  One of the founding members of this group, Fred Barley, lost his long battle with cancer this past weekend. Reading the dedications to him on Facebook, the sadness is certainly palpable but one thought was prominent: his music will last forever.  The music of those organic jams of old and the Fuzzy Mothers of today (as I wrote about in former posts), evoke a homespun feeling that eases your mind and soothes your soul.  I felt it in that smoky hometown dive bar as purely as I felt it in those lakeside concerts at Abicht's Landing in St. Marys. The following video is a Stew's Music Brew video featuring a pic of the Fuzzy Mothers and the soulful, haunting sounds of Fred Barley singing "When the Mountains Cry".  RIP Fred.

Great things can come from unassuming dive bars...great moments with cherished friends, killer grub and soul-stirring music among them.  Just another dive?  Not to me.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Quick, The Healthy and The Good: Salmon and Potatoes

Keith made a quick and delicious dinner last night: salmon with fresh cilantro and lemon pepper with french onion potatoes.  I rubbed the salmon filets with a hit of olive oil and lemon pepper and Keith cut cilantro from a plant he had and added it.  He did a large dice on the potatoes, put them in a baking dish and added french onion soup mix; a trick his Mom just clued him in on (thanks Helen!).  The salmon was put in a separate baking dish and the oven preheated to 400, then went in for about 15 minutes; the potatoes around 20-25.  Both came out well...the cilantro flavor didn't quite pop like we would have preferred, so we need more the next round, but it was still quite flavorful.  The potatoes were wonderful; crisp and tasty, though Keith said he would have done them on a cookie sheet next time to crisp them up more.

Keith has been reading up on Bob Greene for healthy ideas that will also serve as fuel for the training runs. Greene says don't fear the taters, as long as they're not fried, so bake them we did.  This will be great go-to healthy grub for the coming year.  Of course, I'm a very easy-to-please customer at mealtime...unlike a certain fussy, finicky feline who shall remain nameless.....URSULA.....

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spring's Done Sprung: Brighter Days, Lighter Fare

I am going to selectively skip over the temps dipping back into the 40s over the approaching weekend and focus instead at Spring having finally sprung and the warmer climate of the past couple of days that ushered it in. The warmth of the sun's rays and the longer languishing of days against the soundtrack of songbirds....oh my, it just eases my mind watching it unfold. The very promise of garden bounties excite me, and the craving for the healthy crunch of fresh greens as opposed to heavy comfort food just grows exponentially. A recent lunch at local Excelsior fave Willow Springs Mercantile reflected that desire for lighter fare: the house salad of fresh romaine, hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella and ranch dressing, a cup of their spicy, flavorful fajita black bean soup and their side dish du jour; bright and citrusy pesto couscous with feta.  Marvelous match for this beautiful day.  Welcome back, Spring, you were so missed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Food Nerd Thought Of The Day: St. Keith of The Dinner Table

Keith's cross to bear at our mealtimes.  If patience is a virtue, just call him St. Keith...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Culinary Students Wow The Chamber

My coworkers and I attended the Excelsior Springs Chamber of Commerce luncheon today and the local business of the month was the ES Job Corps.  Job Corps provides education and career technical training administered by the US Department of Labor and focuses on students aged 16-24.  The Excelsior Springs chapter supports the larger organization's goals of teaching these eligible students skills to help them be successful in life.  One of those skills taught is the culinary arts and this program turns out some great talent.  We have various Job Corps culinary students who work with us at the hotel, as a matter of fact.  ES Job Corps culinary students created our lunch today and they did a primo job.

Highlights from the lunch included a bright kale salad with dried cranberries and slivered almonds, potato gnocchi, broccoli gratin, pasta salad, chicken scallopini, smoked prime rib and Champagne salad (which I came to discover was more dessert than salad and doesn't have Champagne in it at all).  It was all scrumptious; these culinary students had much to be proud of.  Rhonda with Job Corps did a presentation on the Job Corps program afterward.  It's exciting to know we are putting out this kind of talent locally and there is clearly some serious talent here to watch.  We will be attending a luncheon at Job Corps itself next week to get a closer look at their program.  Looking forward to it....