Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kansas City Culinary Adventure

When I travel, I find that food is a great way to get immersed in the local culture. Even when you’ve been to a place more times than you can count there is always a new place to discover along with your old favorites. Growing up in St. Louis, we had family and friends in Kansas City and were frequent visitors (a 4 hour drive). On my recent trip to Kansas City, to surprise my friend of 29ish years for her big 30th birthday (our birthdays are 3 weeks apart), I ate my way through the weekend.

(We had matching surfer shirts when we were 8 too)

No trip to Kansas City is complete without barbecue. I started my visit with a trip to Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ. The original location is a true Diners Drive-Ins & Dives kind of place – inside a gas station! We hit the new non-gas station location for a Carolina style sandwich. Mine included almost a whole bird’s worth of smoked turkey, spicy coleslaw, and BBQ sauce on a soft roll. With a GIANT side of fries, I was pretty full through the next BBQ stop.

Saturday started with a trip to downtown Overland Park, Kansas. While you might not think of KC as a foodie destination, you’d be proven wrong by downtown OP. Anchored by the long-standing Culinary Center of Kansas City, this is a happening food place! The Culinary Center has been teaching Kansans how to cook since 1998! My uncle works with them on their graphic design, so he took me in to meet the owner. Owner Laura Laiben O'Rourke started her career as a lawyer before deciding to head to culinary school and open the culinary center. It was interesting to talk with her about the business and how it has grown and evolved over the years. Check out the website to see everything they are doing. They have everything from classes to lunch to cooking supplies (in the retail shop). After seeing a cookie decorating class in action we headed out to see a few other fun food spots. We were too early in the season to see the weekly farmers’ market, but there were other stops to make.

Just down the street we stopped into the local outpost of Penzey’s Spices (based out of Wisconsin). Wow! I picked up a few spices on my wish list – Mexican epazote for my Rick Bayless recipes, smoked Spanish paprika to remind me of my recent vacation, and lemongrass to add to my many Asian recipe creations. It was hard to resist buying one of everything. I could have spent hours smelling all the spices in the store, but I had a BBQ lunch date and had to keep moving.

Next up, we stopped into an olive oil shop that had just opened. You could mix and match numerous varieties of olive oils and balsamic vinegars in any combination you liked, with suggestions of course. They also offered one of my favorite things – samples! The best combination we tried was a blood orange olive oil with tangerine aged balsamic vinegar. It was tangy, citrusy, and delicious. I can imagine picking up produce at the farmers’ market and then stopping in to get some oil and vinegar to dress it up for the table.

The culinary weekend was capped off with a trip to an old favorite – Fiorella’s Jack’s Stack. You could make a meal out of the side dishes, but why skip the expertly smoked beef brisket? We started off with a few giant onion rings to keep us quiet while we waited for lunch. I had a jumbo sized beef brisket sandwich accompanied by their famous cheesy corn and baked beans. There is nothing healthy about the cheesy corn – but it is delicious. Here’s the link to try it out yourself . The beans could stand alone as a full meal – according to the Jack’s Stack website, 15% of the side dish serving of beans is hickory pit roast beef. They describe the dish as “plump beans swimming in a savory sauce with man-sized chunks of fork-tender beef brisket.” You can’t go wrong with that!

With a quick weekend trip it was hard to even make a dent in my KC Restaurant ‘To-Do List’. The next time you find yourself heading KC, let me know and you can try a few places for me. I’m already thinking about the places I am going to visit on my next trip.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Potluck in your plans? Head to the Pantry!

Tis the season for potlucks, picnics, and friendly spring get-togethers. Now that New England has thawed from winter, people are leaving the house again! If you find yourself invited to a potluck and have no idea what to make, here's an easy solution.

I had a Sunday afternoon lunch potluck on my calendar and knew exactly what dish I wanted to bring along. When I went the pantry to get the ingredients to make the pasta salad, turns out I had no pasta! No elbows, linguine, penne, nothing! Instead of running to the store I decided to get creative and work with what I had on hand.

With a few minutes and a few pantry staples I was able to pull together a tasty dish to bring along to a discerning group of diners - my sorority alumnae group (yay Gamma Phi Beta!). The dish had to be tasty, somewhat healthy, and good for sitting out for a little while. The dish got great feedback and I promised I would post the recipe on the blog. Without further delay, here is the recipe:

Quick and Easy Harvest Grain Salad

1 bag of Harvest Grains Blend from Trader Joe's (it has Israeli couscous, red and green orzo, split dried garbanzo beans, and red quinoa - it's in the rice aisle)
1 can of no salt added garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
About 1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper
Dried or fresh herb blend (I used a premade mix with parsley, oregano, and basil)
Cook harvest grains according to the directions on the box
When done, immediately take out of the pot and put into a large serving bowl (or storage bowl) and fluff with a fork to separate the grains
Add the garbanzo beans, herbs (maybe 1-2 teaspoons) to the cous cous and mix with a spoon or spatula
Add about half the oil and vinegar
Mix well
Taste and add more herbs, oil/vinegar, and salt and pepper as needed
Chill and serve!

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Soup pot, fork, spoon, colander, measuring cups, serving bowl, serving spoon


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