Barbecue. Kansas City, for whatever else it is, prides itself as the barbecue capitol of the world. There's the American Royal with it's KC Masterpiece Invitational where only winners of qualified Grand National events can participate. There's the Oklahoma Joe's Open Contest with 500 teams competing. There's even a Junior World Series of Barbecue contest. Kansas City has it's own distinctive style of sauce and even pioneered those lovely little bitlets known as burnt ends. However if you're an observant Jew who keeps kosher, Kansas City barbecue is a no go. That was...until this past weekend.
That's right, the tribes pitched their tents and broke out the kosher smokers for Kansas City's first ever Kosher BBQ contest. Unlike regular bbq contests, all the meat, sauce ingredients, rubs, charcoal, smokers, and utensils were provided for and handed out under close supervision which made for a fairly even playing field.
Although next year they might want to rethink the size of their smokers. Each team got two but really when you're smoking beef brisket and beef ribs size does matter. Why can't the teams use their own smokers? Because to satisfy the requirements of producing kosher cooking, the implements that touch the food are strictly regulated. Let's just say it's safer for the rabbis to control the chain of custody to supply the smokers themselves. Other than that, everything else was standard bbq contest routines. I was invited to chronicle one of the teams, the only team of women (and one husband) known as The Queens of Que. All bbq contest novices but anchored by a secret brisket pit boss weapon. How would the ladies do?
While they might be novices they do know that it's important to stay up all night and tend to the fires to keep your meat going low and slow. Wouldn't you know it, our heat wave finally broke and the nights recently were a little crisp. Thank goodness for fleece binkies and Ipads. The night quickly passed into the morning and time to box up their first entry, chicken.
The surgeon husband on the team certainly came in handy for precisely slicing the chicken.
Do you know how hard it was to look and not touch? Very hard but with braggin' rights on the line all chicken made it to the judges safely nestled in it's little styrofoam clamshell.
Next up for slicing, beef ribs. I have to say that I'm an equal opportunity rib sucker. Pork, beef AND lamb ribs are all worthy of my attention. Beef ribs also have the added benefit of giving you the illusion of sitting in King Henry the Fifth's court or Fred Flintstone's car when it falls over from the weight of those massive beef bones. I know pork ribs get all the glory, especially baby backs but you're missing out if you ignore a hearty plate of beef ribs.
These folks concur. It was actually hilarious watching the Queens trying to artfully fit enough beef ribs in the clamshell for the judges. At some point you just have to jam it closed and utter those well worn words of chefs around the globe....it is what it is...and move on.
Now it's time for the Precious, the Brisket.
Cooking a decent brisket is a hallmark of Jewish cooking. There are some serious bragging rights on the line and frankly Team Queen had been participating in a healthy dose of brisket trash talking. They could talk it but could they walk it?
It wasn't pretty when it came out of it's resting place but it's not a beauty contest, it's a moist and flavorful contest and Pit Boss Carla had her finger strongly monitoring the pulse of this thing of ugly beauty. They also had a bit of good luck stop by their booth as they were trying to decide how to slice their brisket.
Mark Fishman, a former butcher who advised the best piece of meat to use, what fat to slice off and exactly where to cut. Free expert advice is always appreciated.
I don't know if they were required to include the burnt ends but really you can't go wrong throwing those babies in there.
One last huzzah for luck and the Precious toddled off to the judge's table. Now unlike the ribs and the chicken, there was plenty of brisket left over to knosh on.
But you had to be quick like a bunny because that brisket was the bomb. We quickly inhaled the remnants of the good pieces of brisket. The inferior piece of brisket was sliced because it would be a sin to waste it.
Of course the kick-ass secret kosher sauce helped.
It was at this point that I boldly announced via Facebook that this was the winning brisket entry. It helped to walk up and down the row of teams slicing their dry sad briskets. You just don't mess with a woman and her brisket. Unfortunately we had at least another hour and half of waiting for the results of the judging.
No prize money at stake but lots of nice trophies. Although.....
...I'm a little leery of getting too close to the Golden Calves for fear of wayward bolts of lightning. I mean we are going totally Old Testament here. Finally the judging results are announced. Chicken results pass without the Queens name being called. Next beef ribs. Whoa, the Queens take third place and smile exactly like fools who spent all night worrying over an R2D2 smoker and whole lotta kosher meat. Still one category to go. Third place....not the Queens. Second place...Team STP (Smoked to Perfection). At this point I start pounding on Queen arms in excitement because Team STP took first place in the chicken and ribs and if they took second in brisket that left....TEAM QUEEN for the BRISKET win!!!!
I love it when I'm right.
Here's your KC Queens of Que Kosher BBQ Team
John Goldberg, Carla Grant, Rita Cortes and Marla Brockman.
It certainly looked like a good time was had by all. I know all the folks who keep kosher looked like they had a good time getting to celebrate Kansas City BBQ....their way. See you next year.
One of the reasons why Craig and I get along so famously is we both appreciate a certain economy of language. And like most conversations, it's all about the subtext. Here's a translation of what was really said.
Craig:Ribs? Tonight? = Girrlll, you better come over here tonight and help me eat up some of that big pile of meat you enabled me to buy at Restaurant Depot and use that beautiful new grill I got a great deal on. Me: Sure! =Oh you know I'm going to be there because I have recipes to try out and if I don't find more guinea pigs taste testers I'm going to weigh 400 lbs from eating all this food.
So I had a few hours before the Meat-Fest began to whip up something delicious to pair up with Craig's wonderful pork ribs. I wanted something rich and hearty so I went with Virginia Willis's Gratin Dauphinois which was inspired by a version she learned at Anne Willan's La Vareene. Great recipe, again out of her wonderful Bon Appetit, Y'All. But I also had a stack of library books that I've been enjoying and noticed a quick dessert from the cookbook The Farm.
Ian Knauer was a former food editor at the late lamented Gourmet. The Farm is a collection of recipes that Ian shares from his Pennsylvania family farm. Beautiful photos from Hirsheimer & Hamilton and recipes that run the gamut from quick and simple to whole roast pig. The recipe that caught my eye was his Magic Peach Cobbler.
Magic Peach Cobbler by Ian Knauer from the cookbook The Farm, rustic recipes for a year of incredible food 1 stick unsalted butter 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup sugar, divided 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 3/4 cup whole milk 3 medium peaches
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle.
2. Place butter in a 3-quart baking dish, and put it in the oven for 5 minutes, or until melted. Remove the dish from the oven, tilting the dish to evenly coat the bottom with melted butter.
3. Whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the baking powder and salt. Whisk in the milk. Pour the batter evenly over the butter in the baking dish. Do not stir.
4. Cut the peaches into wedges and place them in the batter. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup sugar over the top of the peaches. Bake the cobbler until it is set and golden on top, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly on a rack. Serve the cobbler warm or at room temperature.
What's great about this recipe is that with the exception of the peaches, I had everything in the fridge or the pantry. The one of the problems I had was figuring out which of my dishes was a 3 quart dish.
The other was figuring out how many small Missouri drought peaches equals 3 regular peaches. So sad drought peaches.
So delicious with tender peaches melding into sweet cobbler and crunchy sugar topping. Bonus was that it wasn't too heavy after our meat-fest and rich potatoes.
The culinary world identifies five basic flavors, salty, savory, sweet, sour and unami. We generally understand the first four but the fifth is a little more difficult to explain....for some folks. However if you enjoy Southern food, the unami experience begins with a green tomato.
The drought of 2012 has hit the midwest hard. Farmers are plowing under dead and dying crops. Backyard gardens struggle without decent rainfall. Watering is fine but there are nutrients in rainwater you just can't get from your faucet. A friend had to pull out some of his tomato plants due to disease to the foliage. But what to do with the tiny, little green tomatoes? Don't waste them, email the fried green tomato freak to COME AND GET'EM!!
Fried green tomatoes are simplicity. Fill a plastic bag with equal parts flour and cornmeal. Slice your tomatoes roughly the same thickness so that they fry evenly. Place the slices in the plastic bag with your flour/cornmeal mixture and shake so that your slices are evenly coated. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet. I use a mixture of bacon grease, canola oil and lard but you can use straight canola or peanut oil. Once the oil is hot, carefully add the tomato slices.
Fry until golden on both sides and drain on a rack. Salt and consume immediately.
I know the French have their fries but give me fried green tomatoes all day long. It's that flavor explosion of not just salt but the combination of tomato's distinct hot summer flavor on the back of the tongue fried to crunchy tender goodness.
Meet your hot Southern bar snack. Bet they'd taste oh so good with an icy cold barley pop.
Well hello blog, how ya been. What a summer I'm having, how about you? Despite fighting the good fight, the company I have worked for quite a while is calling it quits. Slowly co-workers faded away into new lives. My last day came and with it new duties to occupy my time. Applying for unemployment, trying to find affordable health insurance and of course, looking for a new job. My home computer decided that it had also had enough and fired me also. Oy. So while I'm trying to figure what I want to do with the rest of my life, I keep myself busy with Projects.
I'm not quite ready to reveal what exactly this involves but I will say that here in the Midwest we've been experiencing triple digit heat and drought. In late June. My poor little garden is still kicking but it's definitely confused by the earlier than normal heat and humidity. The peas were the first victim of mother nature. I'm scared to think what August will bring. It could be worse for me. I have the good fortune to have two towering oak trees in my front yard that provide the most wonderful sunscreen for my house. My HVAC system is eternally grateful. So it hasn't been all doom and gloom. Action Jackson got to go to work with me the last few weeks since I really didn't want to be the only person in the office and now he gets quite a bit of human time while I transition. This is a good thing because we're going to attempt to pass a pre-certification test to be a Pets For Life team. I think we'll be good as long as no one is wearing a live squirrel necklace.
I can't say I've been cooking too much. Attempting to do strenuous outside projects while it's 104 degrees does not lend itself to put too much energy or thought into dinner. Mostly it involved tomato sandwiches on some wonderful whole grain bread and good mayo. However I was lured out of my Project Zone by a new butcher in town. The Local Pig. You know I'd have to check this out. They supply fresh antibiotic, hormone and steroid free locally sourced meat. Beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, duck and rabbit. They make their own sausages, franks and chorizo. And not just the typical brat-like sausages. Curry and eggplant or Thai peanut. There's pâté and foie gras. There's bacon, eggs and stock. (Be still my heart, duck stock) There are in house tamales and Farm to Market Pretzel Rolls. There's honey. There's even dog bones. So I made a little trip and spent a little money. Because here's the other thing, I have some fantastic mustard that deserves some excellent tube meat to slather on.
I houes sit for some folks who travel to wonderful places. Red Rocks Arizona, Ireland, Paris. When asked if I wanted anything from Paris, I drew a blank. I've been to Paris but I knew that these particular good people are chocolate fiends. Asking for chocolate is just asking to get an empty french box. But then I called on my go-to Answer Chef, Virginia Willis. She's spent quite a bit of time in France. A quick email and she provided the perfect answer. "Maille mustard shop at place du Madeleine. They have a mustard keg, like beer. Tell them to get that, not what's already jarred. It's amazing." Oh hells yes. I love mustard and good people that they are they went to the mustard shop and brought me back a jar of Moutarde en grains à l'Ancienne au Chardonnay. So I grilled up some Local Pig beer bratwurst with cheddar and slathered on this wonderfully grainy and complex mustard. And it was good.
The brat is full of beery flavor and the tang of melted cheddar. The mustard seeds pop and crunch with hot spiciness. Even though the mustard is French the combination calls to my long lost German heritage.
So there you have it. Anyone out there with a job opening feel free to keep me in mind. Girl's gotta eat.
I have been enjoying the company of Action Jackson, Dog of Adventure at work for the past couple of weeks. He's made himself quite at home.
This is a good thing. It means we get to walk around our work neighborhood on our mid-morning and afternoon constitutionals. We are always on the lookout for urban wildlife and luckily we've found the normal squirrels and birds and not the dreaded giant city rats. But it was after just such an encounter with some raucous birds that led us to a more wonderful discovery - FREE FOOD!
As Jackson and I walked along this row of trees behind our building, we were besieged by a variety of angry birds bursting from the trees. Mouthy starlings, chubby doves, hopping robins all chattering that we were messing with important bird business. It wasn't until that we got up closer to this big tree that I understood what we had interrupted.
A bountiful bird buffet. Berries. But what kind? I can usually identify bush or shrub fruit but tree berries are a bit out of my league. We took a leaf as a example to help in our identification and toddled back to google image search tree berries. Soon the answer presented itself - Mulberries. And while it might look like a berry it's actually defined as a collective fruit but better yet, it's edible to humans. I love finding free fruit. Now all I have to do is pick them.
This seems like a straightforward procedure but what I discovered is that picking mulberries is not as easy as it looks. First there's their size. Roughly the same shape and makeup as a blackberry but smaller with a sturdy stem to the tree. That stem is a bit of an issue. You see while some of the outer lobes of the fruit might be bursting with juicy ripeness, the stem might have other ideas. So if you overly exert pressure on the fruit to dislodge the stem from the branch, you will either bruise the fruit by holding on too tightly or drop the fruit by not holding on tight enough. Hence the white sheet and branch shaking method that brought a rain of mulberries down to earth. All to a chorus of still angry birds, denied their spectacular mulberry dropping paint used with great efficiency to decorate nearby vehicular canvases. Finally I felt I had gathered enough to make something.
Not to mention tattooing my hands with a deep purple stain in the process. But what to make? I was clueless. I don't think I had enough for a pie, maybe just enough for a crumble or crisp. I decided instead to give them away. To offer them up to a local chef. Not just any local chef but the man that put duck tongue tacos on his menu, Michael Smith.
He and his wife Nancy have two restaurants in the Crossroads area of downtown Kansas City, his namesake, Michael Smith and Extra Virgin. I love Extra Virgin for it's generous half prices tapas hours and it's outdoor seating area. Hot, sweaty and fruit stained I offered up my fresh and incredibly local fruit to Chef Smith. He didn't hesitate, suggesting that mulberry jam could be in the works. He asked what price for the fruit and I said I didn't really want money, I wanted to see what he would do with the fruit. He invited me to lunch but I was a mess and still had Jackson and at the moment wanted nothing more than to go home to shower. I took a rain check on lunch.
What a lunch it was. How about tuna cerviche tacos with taro root shells? Yes please.
Poblano mac and cheese? Heaven. A tower of Chickpea fries. Smoky grilled broccollini and burrata? My still stained hands happily sampled it all.
But the best (thank you waiter for suggesting it) was the braised pork cheeks with fava beans and lentils. Crispy, savory pork goodness. Well worth the couple of hours of angry birds and sticky digits. What did Chef Smith end up making with the mulberries? The lucky folks at an event at the Nelson Atkins Museum enjoyed the freshest possible mulberry sauce on duck and helped raise money for a good cause courtesy of Michael Smith and an urban fruit tree.
Remember this? The Whiskey Baba I enjoyed at a local restaurant?
Apparently the photo was so enticing that a friend on Facebook saw it and wanted a homemade version. I hadn't planned on trying my hand at this but this friend and I experienced the other worldliness that was a network TV production.
He deserves a lot more than a simple recipe for Baba au Rhum after working on a program based on the premise that JFK was assassinated to cover up an alien invasion. Hey it was the era of the X-Files and it's an adventure I'll never regret. But what recipe to use? At it's heart
Baba au Rhum is a yeast cake dessert so finding a "good" recipe is important. The recipe originating in France sent me on an email path to Virginia Willis. Chef Willis is a graduate of Anne Willan's La Varenne Cooking School in Paris. Turns out that Virginia had to make Baba au Rhum as a final exam dish. Yikes! Of course she aced it. However in my kitchen my humble efforts are not nearly as visually appealing or as tasty as Chef Willis's final exam but for friends like Michael, I did my best.
First you need a suitable molds for your little yeasties. Like this.
These I do not have in my pantry. However I did have this.
Which according to Chef Willis would work just fine as would a muffin pan or ramekins. This is a two rise recipe if you are making these for an event, they actually work better if made on one day and served the next.
This my dough after massaging in the butter, rum and currants.
This is out of the oven and post rum bath. In all honesty I let these go too long in the oven. They should have more of a golden coloring instead of mahogany. Lesson learned.
This is the traditional serving method with whipped cream and the rum sauce. Despite my baking failures it still had a wonderful flavor and a creamy interior (thank you rum bath). However I couldn't leave it at the traditional. I decided to put my CSA rhubarb spin on it.
Instead of the rum sauce I drizzled that delicious rhubarb sauce that I used with the rice pudding liberally over my baba and chowed down. Of course the rhubarb plays nicely with the whipped cream and even pairs up with the rum flavoring of the baba. I don't know if this offering would have passed muster at La Varenne but I can assure you that aliens had nothing to do with the dish. Bon Appetit Michael.