Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Pumpkin Butchering

There's an old saying about curiosity killing the cat. I don't know about cats but curiosity has always served me well. Waiting for a Caesar salad to-go, I pondered out loud about the squash anchoring the festive fall decorations sitting on the bar at Lidia's Kansas City. You see it was rather large for an indoor pumpkin. So I asked the hostess what they were going to do with it once Fall was over. "Well, the chefs will take it back to the kitchen and make pumpkin raviolis out of it." How great was that? So great that I asked if I could watch and by "watch" I meant be the photographic fly on the kitchen wall while they broke down the massive 80 pound pumpkin. After a flurry of emails with busy Chef de Cuisine Cody Hogan and Executive Chef Dan Swinney, I found myself squeezed into some tight kitchen spaces to witness The Pumpkin Butchering.


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butter zuchini almonds

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Now it would be much easier and probably more cost effective to buy a big can of pumpkin at the Restaurant Depot and call it a day. But that's the difference between OK restaurants and great restaurants. They take tremendous pride in their food, from seeking out the best local fresh ingredients to using those ingredients to make simple luscious well seasoned and balanced dishes. I can tell you that the best compliment I could give to the chefs that day was an grateful empty plate.

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You would be doing yourself a favor by finding and supporting those restaurants that understand that simple philosophy. I know I'll keep supporting the treasure that is Lidia's Kansas City.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Be Prepared

I have been known to keep a treat or two in my pockets for my four legged friends that I might run into while going about my daily business. However I was caught completely off guard when leaving my downtown KC workplace the other day.


This would be O'Sullivan and Blaise. I believe that's Officer Mike Mast with O'Sullivan but I didn't get the name of the officer on Blaise. I'll make up for it next time they come walking up the street by having an apple or carrot or two ready for sharing with our hard working police horses.

Are there doughnuts for horses.....?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sugared Cranberries

It's fresh Cranberry season and I'm celebrating. Cranberries, much like brussel sprouts, are an acquired taste. Which is fine, just means more for me but I've got to hustle because cranberry season does not last long.


I like the cranberry's flavor. It's got that bitter tang that adds another level of complexity to a dish or your meal. I'll definitely be making the longtime favorite from Epicurious, Cranberry Sauce with Port and Tangerines .
I've always wanted to try my hand at sugared cranberries. They are so pretty when I've seen them online and sugared fruits of all kind are a great food decorating method.

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Turns out it's a very easy process. Make a simple syrup, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water, simmered until the sugar melts. Let it cool just a bit because you don't want your cranberries to burst from the heat and then pour it over a rinsed, well picked bag of cranberries, coating well. Cover and let that sit in the fridge at least 5 hours or overnight. Once the cranberries have finished their simple syrup soak, drain them from the syrup and place the cranberries on cookie sheet, all in one layer and let them sit out for 1 hour. Then roll them, small batches at a time in sugar.

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Now the sugar suggestions range all over the map. Some recipes call for superfine sugar like caster, other call for a first rolling in a larger grained sugar, then re-rolling in regular sugar. You'll have to experiment with what you like best. I went with the really fine grained sugar. After which I proceeded to eat copious amounts of cranberry bombs.

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Guess what's coming to work as a snack??

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Chef Walks into a Grocery Store with Ten Dollars....

Best intentions. I'm sure they had the best of intentions. Who am I talking about? A whole passel of folks in the news recently but mainly I'm talking about the Partnership for a Healthier America. Last week a group of celebrity chefs gathered in Washington DC to stunt cook (but for a good cause). This particular event caught my eye for two reasons: 1) Tom Colicchio and 2) it was a straight up repeat of this challenge...

...where Season 4 chefs' shop at Whole Foods to make dinner for a family of four using a $10 budget. The twist this time? They are not pimping Whole Foods but their supposed challenge was to use SNAP coupons. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the current form of food stamps. So the two teams of chefs were supposedly to use $10 of SNAP money to make their meal. But our long experience with Chef Tom tells us that there's no way he's going to actually take ten bucks into a grocery store and shop for a whole meal. Nope. As typical with restaurant chefs, they've jiggered the numbers again to allow themselves to use restaurant math to make this work for them. They also decided that the recipes that they produced were for two families. So already they've taken a very real situation that many people face today and cheated it into something totally unrealistic all the while giving themselves a big pat on the back for being so philanthropic. If you think I'm being harsh, here is Tom's list of ingredients for his three course meal of Salad, Beef Stir Fry and Panna Cotta with Orange Segments.

1 whole bag carrots, 1/2 cup raisins, 2 apples, 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2 T apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, 1 1/2 pounds beef round, 1 cup broccoli florets, 1 cup snow peas, 1 cup button mushrooms, hot sesame oil AND regular sesame oil, 3/4 cup soy sauce, 1 T oyster sauce, 1 T fresh lime, 1/2 cup green onion, 1/2 cup peanuts, 1 cup onion, 1 T garlic, 1/2 cup cilantro, 3 cups brown rice, 1 packet sugar free orange jello, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk and orange segments.

Now I don't have to go shopping to tell you how crazy that list is for regular folks and I'm not sure just what the rules are for what products are and are not allowed to be purchased using SNAP, but I'm thinking oyster sauce is not included. Here's what I do know. When faced with attempting to make every dollar stretch, every penny count, unemployed parents are going to hard pressed to turn away from a cheap Micky Dee's Happy Meal when faced with this list. Hell Tom's list is not so bad compared to Ming Tsai's list which includes two heads of frisee. But these restaurant chefs are going to have to accept the fact that folks using SNAP are not going to have two kinds of sesame oil in their pantry, if they still have a pantry at all.

So what did they accomplish? Did they raise a lot of money for their non-profit? Probably. Did they raise awareness about healthy eating? Not sure since there were no nutritional values listed in the press releases or on their website where I found their recipes. Did they convince anyone that the meals they made can hit their ten dollar budget? Highly unlikely since again, no monetary values were attached to the recipes. Did Chef Tom get the experience of having someone spit out his creation in front of a live audience? Hella yes! (Read all about it here at the Washington Post article describing the hilarious spit by spit event) But let's just take a cold reality shower and remember that 60 Minutes and CBS News recently had a sobering piece about families living in vehicles because of the economic reality many are currently experiencing.

Arielle Metzger and Austin Metzger

Maybe these two kids should give a seminar on eating healthier on $10. It might be a little more honest.

Sunday, December 4, 2011