November 5, 2007

All Roads Lead To The Kitchen

SEASON TO TASTE
November 2007

It is November already! – a heady month for food writers and a personal challenge for me, but not for the reason you may think. You see, as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving, I always find myself fighting the seasonal cliché when it comes time to put fingers to keyboard for a November column. There is so much to write about in the food world this time of year that I hesitate to use my monthly forum to tap out more of the same old recipes for roasted birds, crimson berries, and mashed root vegetables. The road to the Thanksgiving table is a well-worn path we all know by heart, and who am I to offer up culinary detours? And, as much as I love my own Thanksgiving meal traditions, I also respect those that have gained a foothold in other families. So, instead, let’s head down another fork in the culinary road and I will share some regional and seasonal food finds that might be fun for the other twenty-nine days of eating in November.

October has become our annual vacation and this year Dean and I stayed close to home for a car trip to visit two more states I had not been to yet – Nebraska and Kansas. Not everyone enjoys a long car ride through the countryside as much as I do, I know, and we did not get the full force and effect of nature’s swirling color storm anywhere we went, but it was still nice to get out and see hints at seasonal changes along the way.

Our travels took us first to Omaha, NE and I certainly liked what I saw there. Downtown Omaha is a bustling area of restored buildings, restaurants, shops, galleries and lofts. Our Embassy Suites hotel was right there, so everything in the Old Market area was within easy walking distance.

Dinner the first night was at M’s Pub. We found it to be the kind of urbane and unaffected place you always hope to find in a strange city – an inviting space filled with interesting people, lively conversation, great food and a very good wine list. We could tell we were truly in the “city” when we left around 11:00 p.m. and the place was still going strong.

My Seafood Lahvosh was a masterful blend of crab, shrimp, black beans, red peppers, sweet corn, green chilies and cilantro, on a crispy cracker crust covered with havarti cheese and dressed with spicy avocado sour cream. Both desserts we tried were also very good – a Chocolate Marquise for Dean and Mocha Fudge Torte for me.

Lunch the next day was at Famous Dave’s Barbecue, also in the Old Market area. It was my first visit to a Famous Dave’s, which has locations from coast to coast, but it will not be my last. Our sampler platter came loaded with barbecue beef, pork, chicken and sausage and we ate the whole thing! If you travel to any SIU vs. Creighton games in Omaha, be sure to try M’s Pub and/or Famous Dave’s. Even with all the many fine restaurants in Omaha, you cannot go wrong with either one!

Our next stop was Kansas City, MO/KS – it is really just one big city. We arrived late on a rainy Sunday afternoon, so our planned visit to the River City Farmer’s Market was curtailed. It was easy to see though, that it is an active and interesting collection of ethnic food and farmer’s market stalls, shops and restaurants, where I would have loved to spend more time . . . maybe next time.

We then drove through KCM, checking out the neighborhoods and architecture, which certainly make KC an inviting place to live. Our favorite was the Country Club Plaza area, including one of the nicest shopping, restaurant, and entertainment developments we have ever visited. It has the charm of a European city with everything you could want or need within easy walking distance, and it blends comfortably into its neighborhood setting.

We chose Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue for dinner and it was an excellent find. Even though this is one of four locations of the local restaurant, it is certainly more upscale than any other barbecue joint we’ve visited. Our server was friendly, knowledgeable and very helpful in guiding our selections to a larger rib platter with vegetables and a smaller entrée with salad, both big enough for us to share. If you ever have the chance to eat at a Jack Stack, be sure to try our favorites – Hickory Pit Beans, Cheesy Corn Bake, and Prime Crown Beef Short Ribs. Next time, I hope to have room for some Jack Stack Onion Rings and the popular Burnt Ends barbecue, but just in case I can’t wait until then, I may have to order some Jack Stack Barbecue delivered right to my door. Hmmm, now there’s an excellent idea for Christmas Eve dinner and for gifts – but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, aren’t I!

Our autumn travels, through what was a new part of the Midwest for me, have made me mindful again of all that we have here in the Heartland. And those thoughts have been strengthened by my sister-in-law’s repeated comments that “people here are so friendly and helpful.” I love that this is such a wonderful place to live and to explore, and that even midwestern cities like Omaha and Kansas City feel homey and comfortable – and not just because they have good food!

Back to November! With our travels completed for a while, my thoughts returned to the traditional and obvious focus of a cook’s attentions during the month of November. We have invited both of our families to share Thanksgiving with us again this year. There may be a couple of changes to our menu to reflect some additions to the family. At the end of our trip to Nebraska and Kansas, we drove down to Plano, TX, and helped Dean’s sister make the move to Carbondale! We are delighted to have her here, and we’re especially looking forward to her enormous talents in the kitchen around Thanksgiving – and everyday, for years to come! Maybe she can even convince her sons, Adam and Alan, and Adam’s fiancée, Melissa, to visit us in Southern Illinois. The more the merrier, and I know she would like that!

Dean’s youngest brother will be here again with his wife, Janet, and the two youngest members of the clan, Joey and Kristiana. And we’re hoping Dean’s other brother, Steve, will be back with his almost grown-up kids, Caitlin and Bradley, and the newest “official” member of the family, his wife, Lisa. Steve is the cook in their group, but he is very organized and usually has his contributions to the meal prepared before he arrives, assuring him of lots of time to pursue more energetic outdoor activities.

Grant and Kristen will be waiting to make sure the worlds of retail and nursing will allow them to be here with us for Thanksgiving, along with Kristen’s parents and sister. It would give us some much needed time to all sit down together and go over details of their wedding! We are very pleased and happy for them, and for ourselves, too! Plans are taking shape for a May wedding beside the little lake here at our house, and the next six months will be busy ones indeed!

So now you know why you will not be reading another fantastic recipe for turkey or cranberry sauce here this month. As you can tell, I have been all over the map searching out seasonal and regional favorites and I have got a lot on my plate for months to come. For now, my research has led me to a few recipes that replicate foods we had on our latest midwestern adventure, including two of our Jack Stack favorites. Denise has settled into her apartment here and, happily for us, she has been cooking up a storm and sharing her recipes, like these delicious Zucchini Pancakes. Our friends, Dannie and Bill from NC, just paid us a visit last week and brought some good olKen’s eastern NC barbecue and some midget butter beans for making Brunswick Stew later this winter. We took them to the patio at Global Gourmet for a delicious dinner under the stars one night, and I cooked my favorite seasonal Pork Tenderloin with Maple Glaze dinner at home the next night – proving once again to Dean that, even if I cannot figure out how to use the vacuum cleaner, I do know my way around the kitchen!

We look forward to the comfort of seasonal rituals and traditions that are evolving as our two families spend time together becoming one big family, now that we are home again. Wherever the roads take you this season, enjoy the comfort and riches of the harvest and the meals you share with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving!



JACK STACK BARBECUE CHEESY CORN BAKE
Source: Jack Stack Barbecue, Kansas City, MO and Overland Park, KS
2 tbsp. butter
4 tsp. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 c. milk
6 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
3 oz. cream cheese, cubed
3 (10-oz.) packages frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
3 oz. ham, diced

In a large saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour and garlic powder. Add milk all at once. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until melted. Stir in both cheeses until melted. Stir in corn and ham, then transfer mixture to a 2-qt. casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 mins. Makes 10-12 servings.


JACK STACK BARBECUE BEANS

Source: Jack Stack Barbecue, Kansas City, MO and Overland Park, KS
1 (32-oz.) can pork and beans
1 c. chopped beef brisket
1 c. barbecue sauce (Jack Stack Original or similar Kansas City style sauce)
4 heaping tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. liquid smoke
1/2 c. ketchup
1/2 c. water

Combine all ingredients in a 4-qt. saucepan. Over medium heat, bring beans to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook beans for 20 minutes or until a thick, soupy consistency is reached. Serve. Can also be made on a grill.


PORK TENDERLOIN WITH MAPLE GLAZE
adapted (slightly) from Epicurious/Bon Appetit October 2007
2 12 to 14-oz. pork tenderloins
2 tsp. crumbled dried sage leaves
1 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. maple syrup (I use Log Cabin for a richer maple taste, but Grade B real maple syrup works well too, if you have some)
6 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Trim pork tenderloins with sharp knife, making sure to remove all silvery skin; rinse and pat dry. Rub pork tenderloins all over with crumbled dried sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a large cast iron, or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot and bubbly. Add pork tenderloins and sauté until brown on all sides, turning occasionally, for about 6 mins. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until thermometer inserted into pork registers 150 degrees, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes longer. (I use a cast iron or Calphalon skillet for browning and place whole skillet in 400-degree oven after browning for about 10 mins. to finish.) Transfer pork to platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

Whisk 5 tbsp. maple syrup, 4 tbsp. apple cider vinegar and Dijon mustard in small bowl to blend. Set aside. Add remaining 2 tbsp. cider vinegar to skillet and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low. Return pork and any accumulated juices to skillet: add maple syrup mixture and turn pork in glaze just until coated, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Transfer pork to cutting board. Cut pork into 1/2-in. thick slices. Stir remaining 1 tbsp. maple syrup into glaze. Season glaze to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange pork slices on plates. Spoon glaze over pork and serve.



MASHED POTATOES AND LEEKS WITH THYME
Gourmet Magazine, November 1996
3 lbs. russet (baking) potatoes (about 6)
6 leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped, washed well, and drained
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy cream

In an 8-qt. pot, combine potatoes with cold water to cover by 2 ins. Bring water to a boil and simmer potatoes until tender, 35-45 mins. While potatoes are cooking, in a heavy skillet cook leeks in 4 tbsp. butter over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir in thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Drain potatoes in a colander and return to pot. Dry potatoes over low heat, shaking kettle for 1 min. Cool potatoes just until they can be handled and peel. While potatoes are still warm, mash by hand, until smoother with small chunks remaining. In a small saucepan heat milk and cream until mixture just comes to a boil. Stir leeks and milk mixture into potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Spread potato mixture in a buttered 4-quart shallow baking dish. Chill potato mixture, covered, 1 day. Preheat oven to 350° F. Dot potato mixture with remaining 2 tbsp. butter and bake, covered with foil, in middle of oven until heated through and butter is melted, about 15 mins.



HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten
3 lbs. Granny Smith apples
3 lbs. McIntosh apples
zest and juice of 1 large navel orange
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/4 lb. unsalted butter
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, quarter, and core the apples and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples and juice into an ovenproof enameled or glass dish with a cover. Remove the zest from the orange and lemon and place in a small bowl; juice the orange and lemon into the same bowl. Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and allspice to the apples and toss to coat; pour juice and zest liquid over the apples and cover the dish. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until all the apples are soft. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Serve warm or at room temperature.


DENISE’S ZUCCHINI PANCAKES

4 – 5 medium zucchini (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
3/4 tsp. salt
4 eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. finely chopped onion
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
sour cream

Trim and coarsely shred zucchini (about 5 cups). In bowl toss zucchini with salt. Place in colander. Place plate on top; weight with cans. Drain after 15 minutes; discard liquid. In a bowl, beat eggs and garlic. Stir in flour, cheese, onion, and pepper just until moistened (batter will be lumpy). Stir in zucchini just until combined. For each pancake, spoon 1 heaping tbsp. batter on hot, lightly oiled griddle or skillet, spread to 3-in. circle. Cook over medium heat 2 – 3 mins. on each side, or until pancake is golden brown. Keep pancakes warm while cooking remaining pancakes. Serve topped with sour cream. Or cool and layer in freezer container with waxed paper, and freeze up to 3 months. To reheat, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place frozen pancakes in single layer on greased baking sheet. Bake uncovered, 8 – 10 mins. or until hot and slightly crisp. Makes 30 pancakes.



CLASSIC CHOCOLATE MARQUISE
inspired by a cooking class with Barbara Lauterbach
1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-in. pieces
8 tbsp. unsalted butted, softened
1 c. heavy cream
3 egg yolks
1/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. brewed coffee or 3 tbsp. of liqueur, such as Amaretto, Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Frangelico

Butter and line a 6-c. glass loaf pan with plastic wrap; set aside. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and remove from heat. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl over the hot water. Stir occasionally to melt chocolate evenly; remove bowl and beat butter into chocolate. Whip cream in another bowl until it holds soft peaks. Return pan of water to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks by hand; add the sugar and liquid flavoring. Place bowl with egg mixture over pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until slightly thickened. Then use electric mixer on medium speed to beat the egg mixture, until cool and risen in volume. To finish by hand, whisk the bowl of egg mixture over a bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes in it until cooled and thickened. Do not let mixture become ice cold. To finish, whisk chocolate into egg then quickly fold in whipped cream. Pour mixture into the buttered glass loaf pan lined with plastic wrap. Cover and refrigerate until firm. To unmold, wrap outside of pan with cloth dipped in hot water and wrung out. Invert onto platter and peel off plastic wrap. To serve, cut into 3/4-in. slices with sharp knife dipped in warm water. Garnish with chocolate shavings, whipped cream, or fresh berries.