This past spring Ben and I were asked to participate in a silent auction with the proceeds benefitting the Kansas City Arts Community. We jumped at the opportunity to be a part of such a great cause and donated a private Four course meal for Four in the comfort of the highest bidder’s own home. The winners of the meal cashed in a few weeks ago, and Connie & Tina opened their kitchen and home to us where we prepared some creations from our blog and some new flavors including a sweet corn shooter that kicked off the evening.
For this special evening, Ben used the very last of his father’s last sweet corn that he harvested upon retiring. As a member of the Pieper family, it was almost like a right of passage or initiation by participating in the sweet corn harvest. The corn would be boiled, shocked in ice water, and then moved to the kitchen table where it would be cut off the cob and then portioned out into freezer bags. This process ensured that the Pieper sweet corn could be enjoyed year round by the family and allowed us to create a new recipe to share with you.
It’s hard to believe that fall is already upon us. Football season has officially started- thanks Chiefs for giving Kansas City a “W”. We’ve been able to turn off our a/c on occasion. Oliver’s shedding has reduced significantly. Friends are lighting up their fire pits. The Halloween paraphernalia is hitting the store shelves. The new fall prime-time television season is about to start which means new premieres and the final season of The Office with the beloved Steve Carrell. Just as life changes with the season, so does the local produce. One of our family favorites that gets worked into our fall/winter food rotation are our Acorn Squash Potatoes. It’s quick, easy, tasty, and good for you. Not only that, but it’s the type of dish that will turn squash skeptics into fans of this affordable and healthy produce. It’s packed with nutrients, and when cooked well, gives a sweet, earthy flavor that is wonderfully rich. This squash potato combination is great because you can dress it up or dress it down. We had it for dinner last night with chicken sandwiches, and we don’t have a holiday dinner without it. Hope you enjoy.
It’s pretty unbelievable how fast a year can go by, and that’s what we’re celebrating. It was 1 year ago on September 3, 2009 that the Foodies officially launched the Four Foodies. We’ve eaten very well over the past 12 months, and it’s been a pleasure sharing and trying some new recipes, flavors, and memories with you. Our favorite thing about the blog has been hearing from you. Your feedback and comments are what keep us going, and we try our best to reply to your questions & comments.
Another thing that we’d like to say- we sincerely apologize for having been negligent over the past month. It’s been a very busy summer between seeing friends and family, and needless to say we’ve dropped the spatula. I’ve been fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and training for the Women’s Nike ½ Marathon in San Francisco. Ben has recently moved into a new studio space that will put us in close proximity to our favorite farmer’s market, so we’ll have inspiration of the local farmers to keep us cranking out new posts. We also went on a long overdue and well deserved trip to Europe. Our souvenirs that we brought back were the few pounds that we gained while dining on the anything and everything that sounded good, looked good, and smelled good. Rest assured we’ll be serving up a new recipe inspired by the Dutch, and no, there’s nothing freaky deaky about it.
So, to mark our anniversary, we are repeating the dinner that we had the night we kicked off the Four Foodies. My first go at this dish was a few years ago. Ben was skeptical- with good reason. It was another one of those odd cravings- “I want it, yet I’ve never had it.” We’ve served it many times since marking other special occasions- the first 2008 Presidential debates, my older brother Scott’s visit to KC, my sister & husband’s visit this past March when she gave me the big news that they were preggers, and of course the launch and now anniversary of the Four Foodies. It’s fun. It’s festivus. It’s Jambalaya
It’s been two years since our last visit out to California to visit my sister Kari & her husband Matt- two years too long. We have somewhat of a tradition- they find us at baggage claim at LAX; we squeal with delight and hug; get in the car; find a suitable driving jam; and then we head to Duke’s in Malibu right on the water and just off the Pacific Coast Highway for a toast to togetherness and a bite to eat. I’d always stuck to the Crispy Coconut Shrimp. I know not super adventurous, but that’s the only place where I’d ever ordered it. Ben on the other hand, would indulge in the grilled Baja Fish Tacos served with flour tortillas, tomatillo white sauce, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo- he loved it. For whatever reason, I could never wrap my mind around the whole fish taco concept. Yes, I love fish. Yes, I love tacos. I guess in my mind the whole idea of it was kind of like- “I love ice cream sandwiches and steak….so why not?”
I guess that it was about a year ago when I had that strange craving for something that I’d never tried before- just like the Shepherd’s Pie- I wanted fish tacos. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we’d skipped our regular trip to California, and I wanted that feeling of sitting on the deck with the sounds and smell of the ocean while sipping on a festive libation with my husband and the Couple Monster. Whatever it was, I had to have them, and being landlocked in the Midwest, I wasn’t about to go find a restaurant that served them- for all I know I would’ve walked into a place serving Van De Kamp’s fish sticks wrapped in a hard shell with wilting shredded lettuce and a packet of Taco Bell sauce. I had to make them the way that I thought they should taste, even though I didn’t know what that taste was.
How did I do? Pretty good, considering they tasted exactly like what I thought they should- light, clean, flavorful and fresh. Since that first attempt, I’ve have managed to give a few friends their first fish taco experience in the comforts of our own home. No Pacific Ocean crashing in the background or seagulls nose diving for their own meal, but it did the trick and took care of the craving.
Growing up in Iowa, a sure sign of summer was sweet corn on your dinner plate. Ben and I each grew up with the experience of picking, husking and cleaning sweet corn, along with the luxury of having it readily available at the supper table. There are several types of sweet corn- yellow sweet, white sweet, bicolor sweet, and there’s many names that you’ve probably heard of too- honey and cream, peaches and cream, candy corn, and honey and pearl. Sweet corn becomes a staple at our house during the summer, and we get it from the local farmers’ market. What’s great about getting it there is that it tastes like what we grew up with- not the cream corn from a can or the frozen cobs or kernels from the freezer section, and it’s even better knowing that the money is going directly to the farmers that planted, picked, and delivered this wonderful product locally.
In order to keep the taste buds happy, we’ve got a variety of ways that we like to prepare sweet corn which includes the traditional boil- a mother & mother-in-law of our friends (Becky Craig) adds butter to the water used to cook the cobs. Ben and I have adopted this trick, which saves you from sloppy buttering after it comes out of the water. We also grill, make soups, and sauté.
The first time that I had the sauté was circa 2001. Ben and I were visiting my sister Kari in Pasadena. It was a great trip having been our first time to California for bothof us. Seeing the Pacific Ocean, new vegetation and landscapes, and of course, fresh seafood were all treats. In gratitude of her generous hospitality, we cooked dinner for her. It’s been so long that the one item that sticks out is the corn, and you know something is good when after nine years you still remember that bite. So, add this to your summer cooking arsenal. It’s simple, clean, fresh, and summery.
Strange as this may sound, but Ben’s four cheese macaroni is somewhat of a wedding staple. Last year we had the honor of cooking the rehearsal dinner for a couple of our best friends Mark & Jane on the beautiful beach of Fripp Island in South Carolina. It was an amazing night. 60 of their friends and family had traveled from all over the country to be there, so no pressure right? We successfully pulled it off- no food poisoning; no one went hungry; and everyone loved the stick to your ribs mac & cheese. So, November rolls around, and we figure, “If we can cook for 60 we can totally handle 120, right?” That’s what pretty much happened. A friend of Ben’s was shopping for a caterer do to her wedding reception that followed a destination wedding in the Bahamas. Ben writes up a menu featuring the mac & cheese, and it’s done- we’re cooking for 120ish. I have to tell you that never in my life had I ever felt like we were more “in the weeds” than that night, but we made it through- marriage in tact (our marriage that is), guests with full bellies, happy bride & groom that were even happier that there was mac & cheese that they’d be able to offer to family & friends staying in town with them. And that leads me to our latest newlyweds, our wonderful friends and neighbors, Bill & Sarah. We began talking about their rehearsal dinner way before we were even asked to do it, and a month before the date, they popped the question to us, “Will you, Ben and Kim, cook our rehearsal dinner?” We said, “Yes!” The guest list was petite consisting of the wedding party and the Foodies. Sarah’s sister Emily hosted the dinner at her home giving Ben and I free reign over her kitchen and grill. The menu consisted of French potato salad with new potatoes & hariots verts, a bountiful mixed green salad with a mixture of in season produce, a few tenderloins of pork and beef served with an arugala salad and horseradish sauce served on fresh rolls, homemade ice box cookie ice cream sandwiches, and of course the mac & cheese. The thing that we’d like to let you know is that Sarah is a vegetarian, and we offered to create a special dish just for her, but she declined having sampled the mac & cheese previously saying that the mac & cheese would be perfect for her. So this is our tribute to our wonderful friends that have given us the honor of feeding their loved ones during the most memorable times in their lives- we give you the sacred recipe for Ben’s four cheese macaroni.
This is a rich summer treat that will satisfy the adult pallet- it’s sweet, tart, and fresh. We served this a few weeks ago for a 6 course dinner party that we hosted for some friends that are very near and dear to us- Joe, Gail, Dave, Jay, Brian, and our fellow Foodie contributors Mark and Jane.
First it needs to be stated that cooking a multiple course dinner for 9 in our petite house isn’t typical. It was a night that was way overdue as each of our guests have hosted wonderful meals in their homes for us, so we pulled out all the stops serving Pieper sweet corn shooters, homemade goat cheese beet ravioli, warm halibut salad, gnocchi with a Maytag bacon sauce, grilled herb encrusted beef tenderloin, and last but not least, homemade ice cream with the strawberry balsamic reduction and fresh berries.
Ben has been making this sauce for years, and every time someone new tries it they love it. It is a concoction of simple ingredients that you wouldn’t typically put together that creates complex flavors that are complimented by a sweet vanilla ice cream. This isn’t a recipe to be intimidated by, and store bought ice cream works just as well. We just happened to have broadened our kitchen arsenal with the ice cream attachment for our Kitchen Aid and have been putting it to good use. This strawberry balsamic reduction is truly an explosion of flavors that your taste buds will love, and we’re proud to say that we knocked our guests’ socks off with this sweet treat.
The final item on the top 10 is the microplane. The microplane is the utensil that will make a fine lemon zest for a blueberry cobbler, fresh nutmeg for any baking or alfredo sauce, and make the quickest, lightest pile of fresh parmesan that you’ve ever seen. A block of fresh parmesan is a staple in our refrigerator, and we like cheese, so needless to say we utilize ours quite often. To demonstrate the usage of the microplane we took spring’s finest, most elusive treasure the morel mushroom and tried to do it justice. If you’re not familiar with this fungi you should be. They’re only around for a short time- actually you have minimal time to scavenge these, and the elements have to be just right- just enough rain and warmth from the sun before they sprout. You have to get to them before grass creates a camouflage that will make it impossible to find. We were blessed with a small bounty of these beauties from a colleague of mine, Kim Folsom. We cannot and will not reveal the location of her source- we’ve seen them sold for up to $20 a pound, so you can understand the confidentiality. With that said- we didn’t go too crazy with this already amazing mushroom, but we did spruce it up a bit. Here’s our tribute to those who introduced the morel to us, who have shared their morels with us, and to the morel itself.
Number 9 on the list of essential tools. Everyone should have a pepper mill in their kitchen. One main thing to consider is the mill should be adjustable and easy to clean. As you start to cook often you will realize that it is the small details that will elevate your dishes, and often they are affordable as well. Fresh cracked pepper has a fresher, more pure flavor than pre-ground pepper, and peppercorns don’t have an expiration date. Do a taste test if you’re skeptical. Not only that, you have the option of the size of the pepper you add to your dish from a fine ground to a large, rough ground. I’m sure that most of you have a pepper mill, but if not you should buy one for they are one of the most simplest pleasures of the kitchen. We are doing a spin of a classic dish with beef seared with pepper.
Number 8 on the list of essential tools. The Peltex spatula is a sturdy, yet flexible tool that can make flipping delicate items much easier. This item went through some heavy debate before making the cut- at a glance it just looks like a slotted spatula, but sealed the deal was a safety issue. One of the most painful burns I have received is from flipping fish and getting hot oil splattering up from the pan. And not only that, it is disheartening when you spend the money on a beautiful piece of fish and it breaks apart in the pan. The Peltex has a flat metal edge that does a great job deglazing, and the surface area makes making a birds nest a breeze.
We decided to create a pecan encrusted tilapia to illustrate the functionality of the Peltex. This is a great way to incorporate fish into your diet. The crust is what makes the dish special. A key ingredient that will help this dish is Panko bread crumbs. Mix the crumbs with the chopped pecans, and you will attain the crunch factor. We also recommend using a cast iron pan. Once again, the thick surface will aid to create a thick, rich, crust.
Number 7 on the list of essential tools. From fresh whipped cream, hollandaise sauce, to homemade vinaigrettes everyone needs a sturdy mixing bowl. We recommend an aluminum or metal bowl for the transference of heat and cold as mentioned in previous entries (i.e. hollandaise sauce & whipped cream). The size is something to consider as well. We own two 2 quart bowls that stack nicely, which when storage is a commodity. The bowls are a small investment , but in our kitchen they get used very frequently. We are featuring a lemon and fresh thyme vinaigrette for our recipe this round. With spring, a light citrus dressing lends itself to a mixed green salad or fresh cut veggies.
Number 6 on the list of essential tools. For your custom vinaigrettes, hollandaise sauce, and fresh whipped cream everyone needs a balloon whisk. This tool will aerate (combine air), emulsify (blend unblendable liquids), and simply mix. A balloon whisk is a modest investment that’ll run you $5-12 and will provide functionality for many years to come. We chose one of the simplest, yet most rewarding recipes- fresh whipped cream. 3 ingredients, and a couple tips and you will never buy Cool Whip again.
Everyone needs a heavy stock pot for Pasta’s, soups, and yes Stock. A flavorful stock and add richness, body, and complexity to and dish. We use stock in almost everything. The Store purchased stock is often light in body and has a high sodium content. The salt act’s as a preservative, but when you reduce it your sauce could be so salty. You can debone your chicken, or buy the bones from you local butcher. This holds true for beef or fish. The process is easy and will fill your kitchen with a wonderful aroma. Just a few simple ingredients and you will see a noticeable difference in all you food.
One of the most basic, yet essential tools in the kitchen is the cutting board. If you are only going to own one cutting board, it should be a hard durable plastic. This will protect your knives, and any scratches can be cleaned and disinfected to keep bacteria out from raw meats that may come in contact. For a small investment you can have a tool that will provide safety and functionality. If your cutting board doesn’t have an anti-skid surface, use a damp towel or rubber mat to place under the board to prevent movement.
Here is Round 2 featuring the cast iron skillet. We truly use the cast iron skillet more often then any other pan our house. It’s a universal pan that can go from as a non-stick for frying eggs to searing meat or fish- it is just a workhorse that gets the job done. The cast iron is known for its heat distribution which allows you to sear meat evenly through out the pan and not just in the hot spots. Because of its heavy dutiness, the pan doesn’t suffer from heat loss when adding any room temp or cold foods, and this allows you get the killer crust on your fish or meats.
Ok, we went with pork tenderloin for our featured dish, and as an added bonus we threw in a wonderful red wine reduction sauce.
This is the first recipe of the Top Ten Basic Kitchen Utensils. The next 10 entries will feature each utensil in the order that weve established as an essential. Number 1 is the kitchen knife.
We chose to make minestrone soup, because it has lots of small diced vegetables in its recipe which is a great way to highlight the necessity of a good blade. We have also included a visual reference when you hear different sizes of diced vegetables. A good rule for soup is to cut the product to pieces that fit on to a spoon. If you want lots of different flavors use small dice.
To make a great meal you don’t need crazy, expensive mechanical tools. We want to dispel that myth with a breakdown of what we think are essential to any kitchen- all of which will run you anywhere from extremely affordable to a small investment. The next 10 entries will be recipes focusing on the usage of each of these items. If you have questions or thoughts about anything, please let us know as well love feedback from all Foodies alike.
We’ve all been in this situation before. You’re a) just getting home from happy hour after stimulating discussion involving your favorite Modern Family couple Mitch & Cam, March Madness brackets, and the most effective way to combat muffin top b) getting ready to go see Avatar knowing full well that you’re one of the last to see this monumental 3-D CG movie and that it is a 2 hour & 45 minute commitment, or c) waking up after getting in a solid 8 hours of blissful sleep with sweet dreams of hitting the 8 trillion dollar Power Ball and realizing that, yes it was just a dream. In all of these circumstances you’re hungry and you want- you need something quick, easy, satisfying and delicious….you wonder “WWFFD?” The answer is this: birds nest. Get a couple slices of bread, a couple of eggs, s&p, and you will be dining on something as tasty as it is easy.
So Ben and I have been together for quite some time (just shy of 12 years). We’ve been blessed to celebrate many a Valentine’s Day, maybe not together because Ben would be preparing romantic dinners at restaurants for other couples out celebrating during our different stints in Kansas City or Denver. That’s not to say that the “holiday” didn’t go unacknowledged, but maybe it was a day late or a week early. We’re lucky in the way that we know we love each other and don’t need a designated day out of the year to express our undying love for one another. Even on those rare actual Valentine’s nights when we were able to do the traditional dinner out, we would find ourselves ending the evening with friends that we love that love each other. Last year, we had the honor of celebrating the day with our dear friends Teri & Joe just 2 weeks before their nuptials. We kept it simple and cooked at home knowing the way to our loved ones’ hearts is down the hatch and straight to the belly. We kept the newfound tradition with Teri & Joe going this past month with the addition of our new friends Lexie & Rob. The menu went down like this: blue cheese spinach salad, artisan bread with a compound butter, “Mid-Century Modern Shrimp,” a balsamic cherry phyllo roll up with homemade almond ice cream, and the main event was our version of filet oscar with a homemade hollandaise sauce..nothing says love like a special sauce.
OK we know that this entry is late, but it doesn’t have to be a Holiday to enjoy Filet Oscar. The basic components that make up a traditional Oscar is hollandaise or bernaise sauce, crab meat, and asparagus. Our recipe will focus on the hollandaise sauce.
We had the opportunity to host dinner last week for a couple of fellow bloggers. I have to admit, I felt a little like a Trekkie at a Star Trek convention, it was as cool as I imagine the real deal would be just with a little bit more of an artistic spin, but Meg from mimiandmeg.blogspot.com and heather from twineandtwig.blogspot.com stopped by to enjoy some wine and a little meal that Kim and I prepared. We did have to go boldly where no Foodie has gone before cooking a meal with no greens or raw onion, but we were successful as the clean plates spoke for themselves. So, we’ve been trying to keep our past few recipes simple and delicious, and this side dish fit the simplistic and dietary parameters of our guests, and we can guarantee that these veggies won’t be the last thing left on your plate.
What do you make when you are having a winter that won’t quit? Here in the midwest we have having a losing battle with old man winter. Just when you think the weather is going to let up, a new storm comes along and traps you inside for a week straight. We are trying to make meals that will help with cabin fever. Risotto is a process, and with patience and a few staples from the kitchen, you can make a wonderful, creamy meal.
One of the advantages of learning the risotto cooking process is that you can use the rice as a foundation to mix and add your favorite flavors. We stayed traditional this round and made a classic sweet pea risotto.
A couple years ago we were a part of a “brunch club,” which meant that one of six of us would pick a different place for Sunday brunch. There were no initiation ceremonies where you had to prepare 32 ounces of fresh squeezed orange juice in 5 minutes flat or run around the block balancing 10 flap jacks on a spatula without them toppling over. It just happened- three out for brunch just turned into six, and that’s how it started. The restaurant selections ran the gamut of fine dining, hip & trendy, perhaps granolaish, to the good old greasy spoon that we all crave on ocassion. It was a great way for us to be able to experience a lot of unique places without having to fork out the money for a dinner meal. Our friend Jon was (and could still be) notorious for ordering french toast. Like a mission, he was searching for the best french toast in the city. It should be known that the Brunch Club has been on sabbatical for some months due to home remodeling, holidays, and life, but that hasn’t stopped us from enjoying breakfast at home. And, we believe that we’ve come up with a french toast recipe that could be a contender by JDK standards. With a few simple ingredients that you probably already have at home, you too could create a scrumptious brunch for a few of your close friends
It’s pretty customary that when we dine at our house or a friend’s house there is bread- or there’d better be bread. We can’t deny that we enjoy a buttery biscuit from a Pillsbury can, but there’s nothing that compares to fresh bread, and we’re blessed to have Farm to Market Bread Co.’s amazing selection of artisan breads available. They have a unique variety of breads that includes French Farm, Rosemary Olive Oil, Crisp Ciabatta, Asiago, and I could go on but, you’re better off visiting their website www.farmtomarketbread.com. So, here’s the thing about Farm to Market bread- you do not and I repeat do not put anything that’s not real on this bread, and that means margarine. A while ago our niece Sunny and her husband Chris were over for dinner, and we had a fresh loaf of the Rosemary Olive Oil, and I’d made a compound butter. Sunny made the comment that it was a nice change from the olive oil and balsamic that they typically use for their breads. What I love is that they took a restaurant “thing” home and implemented it there. What I love even more was that this simple compound butter got kudos from a couple that I like to think know their food. So, what’s coming is a couple of recipes for what we believe are worthy and unique spreads for any artisan bread.