Sunday, October 30, 2016

Southern Cheese Straws

14 September, 2016 12:30 PM

We're visiting my cousin Howard and his wife Helen on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. They want to show us the local sites, markets and foods, so I'm excited. On the way back from the airport we stop at The Blackbird Market on St. John's island. They have a good mix of local foods and some gourmet to go and then I notice something I had completely forgotten about-bags of cheese straws, spicy or regular. We buy one of each, get back in the car and I break open a bag. Delicious! I made these when I first opened the Gourmet Grocer. My mom had the recipe and used to make them at home. I can't remember why I quit making them.
At trips end, on the way back to the airport, we stop to buy a bag so I have some in Kansas City. I eat those on the plane ride home, so I decide to make some more when I am home.

24 September

I open the Carlson Sisters cookbook my brother had printed with my mom and aunts recipes and there it is, but by my aunt Marjorie, not mom. They shared recipes anyway. I buy the ingredients and put everything in the Cuisinart to mix. That makes me wonder how old this recipe is. Cuisinart's weren't readily available until the early 1970's. Maybe they just used a hand grater and mixer before that. I blend everything together and it looks like wet cornmeal. That can't be right. I blend it more and finally the mix balls up.  I force the ball into my cookie press which I have saved from mom and start to pipe them out. All of a sudden I know why I  quit making them.  The top of the cookie press shoots off before it comes out of the star tip.  I go get my other cookie press from mom and try it. It's better, but not much. I have to grip both the front and back of the press to prevent the aluminum caps from flying off.  I suppose I could use a pastry bag, but the dough is very stiff and I don't want Popeye arms.

30 October

I've eaten that batch and one more and was swearing so much after the last batch I decide to buy a new cookie press.  I pick a stainless one-Marcato. This works like a charm, but still requires some strength.

Southern Cheese Straws

1 3/4 C. Flour                     1 1/2 t. Salt
1 # sharp cheddar Cheese  1t. Baking powder
4 oz. butter.                         1/4 t. Cayenne pepper (or more)
1 egg.                                   1T. Paprika

Blend all ingredients in Cuisinart until a ball forms. Fill cookie press with star tip and pipe onto a sheet tray in long strips. Cut strips into 3-4 inch lengths and bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes until the bottoms are slightly brown. Cool and save in ziplock bags.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Swedish Rye, part two

October 3, 2016

  The Swedish Women's Society sells my Swedish rye at their Yule market. They can sell as many as 50 loaves during that day. I have made it for them for the last 10 years or more. I'm ready to start.
I must admit to a love/hate relationship with Swedish rye. It often gives me trouble and will rise or won't with no logical reason. Now I must admit as I have moved from kitchen to kitchen the equipment keeps changing. Ino longer have convection or reel ovens, a proof box, and my mixer is just a twelve quart Hobart which can make about 5 loaves at a time.  I decide to do just that this year using my grandmothers recipe from my earlier blog. So I start. The problem rears its head today. The bread doesn't want to rise. The day and kitchen is warm, but one hour drags into two, three, and four before I think the initial rise is enough. I form it into loaves, cover them and let them rise again. An hour goes by and nothing. I decide to wait. That evening they still haven't risen enough, so I go to bed letting them rise overnight.  The next morning they are almost what I want. After another hour I turn on the oven and bake them. They come out fine, but not as big as I would like and somewhat cracked on the top.

October 10

For the rest of the week I go through the same process daily with some days being speedier and more successful than others.  Then my wife Charlotte suggests that maybe I need to add gluten.  Rye flour is dense and does not have much gluten if any on its own.  I find a bag-it looks like wheat flour to me, and substitute a cup for a cup of white flour.  Better results that day. There is no cracking on the top. Eight hours still seems to be my production and baking time. That is too long. Thinking about it I decide to try to recreate a proof box. I remove the shelves in my oven and proof both the initial rise of the dough and the loaves of bread in there with a pot of boiling water. Success! The time is cut in half.  The bread still doesn't jump as much as I would like so I start thinking about the recipe again. I notice that the ratio of liquid to flour is about 1 to 3. I always used a ratio of 1 to 2 on my other breads, so today I change the ratio by adding more water and the results are fantastic. The bread rises even quicker, it has a great dome, seems very soft after baking and has a great texture. I make notes on my recipe and put it away until tomorrow. But it's Swedish Rye, so who knows what I'll get🍞.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Food Truck, part 3: The hood

July 12. 2012

It's another hot day and the truck is sitting in the sun.  Doug and I decide to move it to the other side of the building so he has a handy electrical outlet and can work in the shade.  Since the truck had been set up as a camper we start looking at the improvements the previous owner had made.  There was a sink and some 5 gallon water tanks and a dump tank under the truck.  It looks to be about 25 gallons.  The truck also has 4 different electric receptacles that have either a normal plug or a cigarette lighter power source.  We open the hood and find there are two batteries.  One battery runs the motor and the second is for all of those cigarette power sources.  The engine compartment also has a plug in receptacle.  We plug an extension cord into that and find we can run any electric power tool off of the normal plug receptacles.  That will be what I plug my generator into to get power for the back of the truck.  This is a wonderful discovery and saves me tons of time and money creating something like this.  I can get a refrigerator or hood or french fryer and just plug them in and turn on the generator-instant power!  Doug continues demolition and asks about the grill I am going to use.  I tell him it's at my house and he says "lets go get it!"

July 13, 2012

Doug and I take his truck to my house and load the grill into the back of it.  When we get back to the shop we lift it into the truck.  This is the first moment I feel like this could be a real food truck.  "Where do you want it?" Doug asks.  We try the front up by the passenger door, but decide on the back.  He says that our next task is to get and mount the hood I am going to have in the truck.  We head over to Lowes to look at hoods.  Most of them pull about 150-200 cubic feet a minute and I am apprehensive that I need more draw than that.  We decide to investigate further.

July 16, 2012

Doug has pulled all of the paneling off of the interior walls.  Underneath is some Styrofoam insulation that looks pretty shopworn and pieced together.  I say that maybe it will be OK.  He looks at me and says "No, you don't want something that is half-assed like that in the truck."  I begin to get nervous again-more expense and who is going to see it.  But actually I agree with him.  I think we should just insulate it correctly which will make a huge difference in the comfort level inside the truck.  Before I can even tell him OK he is ripping out insulation.  Once he gets done he says "lets take everything out and clean out the truck before we start adding anything to it.  A clean workplace is a happy workplace!"  So I get the hose and some soap and clean out the truck.  Doug is happy.

July 17, 2012

Doug calls me and tells me to look at Craigslist for hoods.  I go online and find four different hoods right away.  I call all four asking them to call me back.  One is a custom hood that looks very promising.  The seller of that hood calls me back.  It draws 600 cubic feet a minute.  We talk some more and make a deal.  He is even going to deliver it to my shop.  Doug has been putting in the new insulation.  It looks good.

July 18, 2012

The seller shows up with the hood.  It is brand new and was leftover from a building project.  Doug and I lift it into the truck and hold it up over the grill.  It is larger than I thought but will work perfectly.  We are pumped up!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Food truck, part 2: Demolition

Friday, June 22, 2012

Doug Coats is a friend who can do anything.  He remodels, fixes, tinkers and has fun doing it.  I call him to ask if he would be interested in working on making a food truck.  I catch him while he and his family are on vacation in California. He's at the San Diego zoo when he answers the phone.  He laughs and says he'll take a look at it when he gets back from vacation.  That night I play a gig with my band at Cutters, a bar-b-que place in Eudora. I'm all excited about the truck and talk to Herman, my guitar player, and Len, the bass player, about the rebuilt engine.  They Google the type of engine on Herman's phone and pronounce it OK.

June 28, 2012

I have been calling the health department all week trying to get one of their inspectors to come and look at the truck and tell me what improvements I need to make before I start to spend any money.  I want to make sure that this project is feasible. We finally hook up and she swings by in the afternoon to look at the truck. She likes it and gives me pointers on the sinks, water tanks and refrigeration.

July 7, 2012

I'm spending four days visiting friends in Spokane, Washington.  I've done nothing to the truck since I bought it.  Catering has been busy and then my trip has consumed my thoughts.  I contemplate what directions my life might take and I wonder if I could get the truck to Spokane.  I talk to my friends Billie Moreland and her husband, Steve Simmons, about the truck.  She has done some research on food trucks and both caution me about the potential problems with food trucks.  I resolve to call Doug again when I get back to Kansas City.

July 9, 2012

I get Doug on the phone.  He laughs again and says he'll come by that afternoon to look at it.  He shows up about 2:00 and hops out of his truck to take a look.  We hop up in the back of the truck. I can tell he is intrigued.  Doug asks what I have in mind.  I want to rip out all of the wood in the truck and strip it down completely, putting in aluminum or stainless walls.  I have a grill, but I need to figure out what kind of sinks I need and how to hook up refrigeration. I haven't even started thinking about a hood yet, but that is another problem.  Doug says "I love to tear up stuff.  This is going to be fun!"  I start to get nervous...

The next morning Doug shows up.  I'm busy getting lunches ready and leave him to his own devices. After lunch I go over to the truck to see what he has done.  As I walk past the dumpster I can see that he has filled it with the cabinets, beds, table and paneling that had been in the truck.  I peek in the back. OMG, there is almost nothing left!  Doug is standing there with a hammer in one hand and a pry bar in the other.  He looks happy like a cat who has just caught a mouse.  I get this feeling that its too late now, but with all the junk out I really start to imagine the possibilities. Doug says "You said you wanted to get rid of all the wood!"

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Urban Assult Vehicle" Food Truck, part one

September 15, 2012

I've just finished the final polish on the aluminum exterior of the step van I bought last June to convert into a food truck.  I'm happy with the results of the final polish and glad that the truck is ready to go.  It seems like yesterday when I bought it:

June 16, 2012

My long time friend from college, Clay, has asked me to go to look at the Anderson County Prairie Preserve over the weekend.  I have no catering this weekend and gladly decide to go.  I want to "get out of Dodge" to get some personal problems out of mind and am looking forward to a weekend out of town.  We are going to look at the preserve that morning and then go to his own property that evening to camp.  He is restoring his land into a prairie preserve, too.  I pack some sandwiches and salads, go to the store and pick out some salmon to grill, and we take off that Saturday morning.  The Preserve is very inspiring, one of the professors who gives us a tour is wonderful, and we enjoy the morning.  After a meal with his ex-mother-in-law, we head to his property where we explore his property putting our new knowledge of flora and fauna to work.  I've brought my accordion and he has his harmonicas, so we jam after dinner.

The next morning we drive to Hillsdale to look at a house where Clay used to live.  Going through town we pass an RV park.  I spot a truck and exclaim, "I think that truck could be a food truck."  I make him stop on our way back out of town and I look it over. The body is all aluminum and is very oxidized.  The interior has been turned into a camper.  The body looks in good shape. I call Bill Isenhower, the RV park owner, to ask about the truck.  He tells me how great it is and says to take a look at it since the truck is unlocked.  I hang up and open the back door.  The camper part has a sink, microwave, refrigerator, table and bed.  It seems crowded but I think it could be a food truck.  We close it up and leave, not waiting for Bill.
The next day I'm still thinking about the truck.  I have been thinking of getting a food truck for some time.  I have even looked online for Airstream trailers.  I give Bill a call and tell him I'd like to come by to have someone else look at the mechanics of the truck. He says fine. and I plan to go down on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday is another hot day.  I head down to Hillsdale and meet Bill. He shows me how to start the truck and I drive it into Olathe to have a mechanic look at it.  It needs new tires and possibly brakes, but otherwise seems OK.  I head back down to Hillsdale to negotiate with Bill.  We agree on a price and I tell him I'll be back later in the week to pick up the truck.  Actually my friends turn out to be busy later that week, so I call Bill and he offers to come and pick me up. He shows up at my apartment with the title and notices my pedal steel guitar.  All of a sudden we both realize that I had been at a jam with him earlier in the spring.  That seems to break the ice and we head down to Hillsdale.  I start the truck and head back into town.  Amy and Dale want me to stop by with the truck.  Amy seems impressed but I can tell Dale is less than thrilled.  I'm anxious to start on it and Amy suggests that I call our friend Doug Coats to help with the restoration.  I decide to call him the next day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: Valerie, part 2

March 1, 1982

It's 8:15 and Valerie is late today.  She is my first employee and is very good when she focuses on what she is doing.  I love talking to her about her life.  Her stories make the day pass quickly.  She was in the Hyatt disaster! This is the only person I know who experienced that horrible tragedy.  But she doesn't always focus on what I need her to do.  This is another ongoing problem I have with all of the chefs I will hire over the years.  I feel cooking directly relates to your mood.  If you are in a good mood, are happy with your life or day, the food you make will reflect that.  I don't have any empirical data to back that up, just years of watching chefs being great one day and lousy the next, and noticing that they seem to be lousy on days they are having personal problems.

8:30: Valerie arrives and I am starting to stress.  We have a busy day ahead and I worry that we are already a critical 1/2 hour behind.  Valerie has quickly caught on to the recipes and makes soups and entrees that are as good as anything I make--if she is on her game.  I worry that she won't be on her game today.  Today's lunch is Chicken Veronique.  It is a classic French dish that I have loved from the moment I found it. This is classic French comfort food.  I put Valerie on making the dish for lunch while I work on salads.  I have a new salad I want to try--curried rice.  Valerie starts talking about the night before and her date.  She says it did not go well.  I start to worry about the Veronique, while working on the curried rice. She continues to talk.  I look over and notice she hasn't added the mushrooms.  I ask her to check the recipe.  She looks at it and says, "Oh, forgot the mushrooms.  I can add them now though."  I start to get aggravated.  "Valerie, pay attention to the recipe.  I can't always be looking over your shoulder!"  This is the third or fourth time I have had to correct a dish she is making.  I wonder why this keeps happening and what I should do. I move over to the stove and work with her for a few minutes.  I add the mushrooms and taste the sauce.  I add a little salt and it is perfect to serve.  But, again, I worry.  We are too busy for me not to be able to totally trust one of my staff.  The first time someone eats a dish that isn't perfect, I have lost a customer.  I begin to wonder if I need to make a change.

Chicken Veronique

This is a classic country style French dish that I have loved since I first found it.  It is relatively simple to make and always seems to please.

6 boneless chicken breasts
12 new potatoes, boiled and quartered
2 shallots, finely diced
1/3 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound ham, diced
2 T butter
flour seasoned with salt and pepper

Dice up the chicken breasts and dredge in the seasoned flour.  Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the chicken until just cooked.  Remove the chicken and add the shallots, mushrooms and ham to the skillet.  Saute until the  shallots are translucent. Stir in 1-2 T flour to absorb the extra butter.  Saute for another minute.

1/3 C white wine
1 C chicken stock
1/2 C heavy cream
1/3 pound seedless grapes
Add the white wine to the pan.  Simmer until reduced by 1/2.  Add the chicken stock and reduce by 1/2.

Add the whipping cream and return the chicken to the pan.  Bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes to reheat the chicken. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the seedless grapes.  Serves 6-8 

                                                            Curried Rice with Artichokes

I first tasted a version of this recipe made with "Rice a Roni".  We adapted it over the years.  I have customers who still stop me to tell me how they loved the Curried rice with chicken.  We only put artichokes in the rice.

1 cup white rice
2 cups water
1 t chicken base
1 t. turmeric

Cook the rice until tender.

1 cup artichoke hearts
1 or 2 green onions, chopped
1 T chopped fresh parsley

Chop the vegetables and add to the slightly cooled rice

1/2 cup mayonaisse
1/4 cup vinaigrette
1 T curry powder
1 t. cumin

Mix the dressing and pour over the rice.  Cool and serve

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: My mom

February 26, 2012

I'm getting ready to pick my Mom up for church.  It is her favorite thing to do, but doesn't really know where we are going when I pick her up.  She has Alzheimer's now and doesn't remember much anymore.  What a difference from the woman who helped me every day after I started my shop:

January, 1982

Mom comes in on a terror.  Scott is making a carrot cake.  I need to keep him busy and he works so fast that he can have all of the production of the breads, croissants and sweet breads completed in 5 to 6 hours.
So I give him some of the cakes, cookies, and dessert bars to make.  This is Mom's specialty and she takes one look at his carrot cake and rushes over to me. "That is not the way the carrot cake is supposed to look."  She cuts a piece.  "That's not the way it is supposed to taste."  She gives me this look.  Oh brother, now what am I going to do?  I go to Scott and pass on her concerns.  He needs to follow the icing recipe exactly, not make it as he thinks it should be.  This is an ongoing battle I will have with every baker I ever hire.

Mom is particular.  She will get a recipe that is good and that everyone loves and she will start changing it.  This is OK for her to do, but no one else!  She likes baking the most, but works to help me find entrees, salads, and appetizers.  She brings in things daily that she has been up baking all night or early that morning.  Some of her desserts are so good that customers point to different things and will buy it only if they know she made it.

Carrot Cake

This is a true 1970s-style carrot cake and the best I have ever had.

3 Eggs
2 t Vanilla
¾ C Oil
¾ C Evaporated Milk
2 C Sugar
2 t Baking Soda
3 T Cinnamon
½ t Salt
2 t Baking Powder
2 C Flour
1 C Rice Crispies
1 C Chopped Pineapple
1 C Coconut
2 C Grated Carrots

Mix all ingredients in a mixer for several minutes.  Add the flour last.  Bake at 350 degrees in 9” Cake Pan (2) for 30 /40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Ice with Cream Cheese Icing.

Cream Cheese Icing

This icing can be used on many cakes, but is great on Carrot and Italian Cream cake.  My mom kept her icing very creamy and soft.  My bakers tended to add more powdered sugar to stiffen up the icing for decorating.

1 # Cream Cheese
½ # Unsalted Butter
1 # Powdered Sugar
1 T Vanilla

Soften the butter and cream cheese and blend in a Cuisinart or blender.  Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until stiff.  Add more powdered sugar as desired for a stiffer icing.  It could take another pound easily.

Italian Cream Cake
I have seen other cakes referred to as Italian Cream that are totally different than this.  This is ours.

½ C unsalted Butter                   Cream the butter, oil and sugar together until smooth
½ C oil
2 C Sugar

1 C Buttermilk                           Add the buttermilk, vanilla, egg yolks and beat.                              
1 t Vanilla
5 Egg Yolks

5 Egg Whites                           
2 C Flour
1 C Toasted Pecans
1 t Baking Soda
1 C Coconut
Beat Egg Whites until stiff.  Add flour, pecans, baking soda and coconut  to cake batter and beat until smooth.  Fold in the egg whites gently.  Pour into greased 9” cake pan (2) and bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes out clean-about 30 minutes.  Ice with cream cheese icing and top with coconut.