September 30, 2010

The BBQ Queens' Menu Hints at Border War Strife

Today's Missouri Menu comes from the superhero chefs/grillers/cookbook authors nationally known as the BBQ Queens -- Karen Adler and Judith Fertig. 

I knew I'd be missing out on a big part of Missouri if I didn't get a Kansas City barbecue meal in this week. And I'm keeping their e-mails handy for when I need to call on them again for the rub or sauce to save the day -- the day I finally commandeer my husband's grill and go to town grilling only to burn some expensive cut of meat. (I'm the indoor grillmeister and chef, but outside on the patio it's my husband's domain, much in the same way his basement is his man "batcave." I know better than to disturb this last sense of male dominated space in the house.)
The BBQ Queen's menu calls for weekend cooking -- it's super easy, but just takes a while to slow cook. And it's got the added bonus of making the next week's meal planning a breeze. Gotta love that!
Beyond recipes for a great family meal, there's history in these here parts for the entrees hint at the time when this western part of Missouri was anything but comfortable. There was a lot of smoke but it was NOT leading up to a barbecue bash.
Judith writes: "I'm a Kansas girl myself, but Missouri roots go back to a hog and hominy diet. I got this from a Come Into My Kitchen interview with Katie Armitage, a food historian in Lawrence, who advised the "Ride with the Devil" film crew replicating Civil War Missouri."
Judith's writing has appeared in many publications over the years, including the Kansas City Star's weekly food column titled Come Into My Kitchen that spotlights local cooks and their family recipe.


Smoked Pork Butt for Shredded BBQ Pork Sandwiches... 
Slow smoke the pork butt on the grill (indirect) or smoker for 3 hours, then bung it in a pan and let it finish cooking overnight in a low 250 degree oven.  It's a weekend project but it results in lots of delicious leftovers for lunches and dinners.  

... slathered with Missouri BBQ sauce
Thin down  -- or doctored up --  a quintessential bottled Missouri BBQ sauce (KC Masterpiece) with a little apple juice or Missouri cider, to taste, to drizzle over it.


Smoked Corn, Ham and Hominy Casserole:
Use either white or yellow hominy for this unique casserole, which can be made with or without the ham. By all means, use leftover ham if you have it, page 411 of "Big Book of Barbecue" has a Double-Smoked Ham recipe. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine:
2 cups smoked corn kernels, about 4 ears
2 cups canned hominy, drained well on paper towels
1 cup cubed or shredded smoked ham (see notes above)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

In a small bowl, beat:
2 cups whole milk (this will make it taste good, check out Shatto Milk, a local dairy north of KC)
4 large eggs (check out Campo Lindo farm fresh eggs if you're near KC)

Whisk in:
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pour seasoned milk and eggs over the corn mixture. Bake until set and the top is bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 6 to 8.
Recipe courtesy of The BBQ Queens, from "Big Book of Barbecue" published by The Harvard Common Press.
(My notes in parentheses above.)

Cole Slaw of your choice
Here are some links for "Missouri" slaw, but any kind (even from a carton) make this meal quicker on the draw for busy families.
"Missouri Cole Slaw"

Easy Missouri Jam Cake -- as featured at the wedding in "Ride with the Devil" 
Make a two-layer spice cake (from a good mix) and use seedless blackberry jam as the filling. Top with powdered sugar or frost with cream-cheese frosting. 

Jam Cake seems to be a good Southern dessert. Both Paula Deen's and a Kentucky version use caramel icing. I love this idea of having a quick and tasty cake with a real sense of its place in history. If your kids are up for a discussion on the Civil War, this is a good way to start an after-dinner conversation about the time our country was at odds, and the conflict that developed right between the Jayhawkers in Kansas and Quantrill's Southern-sympathizing men/guerrilla fighters in Missouri in the Border War  prior to the start of the war. Here's a link to a book about Order No. 11 written by my friend, Tom Rafiner, that better explains the tensions of the times.

RESOURCES FOR KIDS ON THE CIVIL WAR (given that watching "Ride with the Devil" isn't suitable for children with all it's depictions of shootings and other crimes in battles.)
One book with activities is "The Civil War for Kids: A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series)" by Janis Herbert.

I really like the educational videos offered at BrainPop. Here's one on the Civil War.

September 29, 2010

Potato and Peach Bliss


I'm learning the best way to find about a state's resources is to contact elected officials. It's more fun and easier than staying up late reading books like "Weird Missouri." The book BTW offers up a variety of rather strange items. I'm not about to dwell on the silly notion that the world's deepest mineral mine -- Pea Ridge Mine -- at Sullivan, Mo. -- could in some "Twilight Zone" World be a gate to hell. My daughters are scared of thunderstorms. Nor would I bother tracking down an antiquated menu item like the Guber Burger. Peanut Butter smeared on ground beef I think is a few steps above purgatory, and no longer available in Sedalia.

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and her staff gauge the pulse of the state with "Kitchen Table Talks." And I knew from an earlier Q&A with the Senator that she enjoys cooking with her family when she's away from Capitol Hill. I was thrilled when Corey Dillon in the KC office said they could help with the project. Keep reading to find out about Corey's fond family memories of Missouri meals.

Senator McCaskill offers her family's favorite potato dish, which I think will go well with tomorrow's entry. (Required viewing before tomorrow's meal: Ang Lee's "Ride with the Devil." And no, we're not fixin' Deviled Eggs.)

When presenting a true heartland dish, you cannot go wrong with potatoes. Searching for the Julia Child's quote to back this up. Baseball statistician and author Bill James, a native Kansan, says that two-thirds of his favorite foods are some form of potatoes, from steaming hot scalloped to summer's cool Mayonnaise potato salad dishes. Here's what I'm making tonight:

Senator Claire McCaskill's
Bacon New Potato Salad

Small red new potatos – 5 lbs.
Scallions – 1 bunch chopped
Fresh green beans – 2 lbs.
Bacon – 1 lb.
Black olives – 1 can sliced (optional)
Celery – 2 stalks chopped
Beef bouillon – 1 can
Tarragon – 1 tsp.
White wine vinegar – 1/3 cup
Mayo – ½ to 1 cup

Steam or boil new potatoes. Drain and cool, slice into quarters. Steam green beans. Cook bacon, and then crumble it into small pieces. Chop scallions and celery. 

Mix potatoes, green beans, scallions, olives, celery, bouillon, tarragon, and white wine vinegar (all ingredients except mayo and bacon). Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour (better overnight). When ready to serve, add mayo and bacon.


Need more Spud-rific books for keeping with today's theme? For kids: "Potato Joe" by Keith Baker or "The Enormous Potato" by Aubrey Davis and Duan Petricic.

For adults: "Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent" by John Reader or "The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World" by Larry Zuckerman. Who knew there were two books just on the HISTORY of potatoes?


I'm familiar with CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture farms where buyers invest in a share of the farms produce), but I'd not heard of produce auctions. There is one in Jamesport and another in Fortuna. Corey Dillon, who went to an auction last month and came back with tomatoes and peaches, notes that they are open to anyone and the beautiful and reasonably-priced produce is from farms within 100-miles. With a plethora of peaches, Corey used her great-grandmother's recipe, which she shares with us:

Corey Dillon's
Peach Butter

6 cups sliced peaches
1 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups sugar

Mix all ingredients together. Boil gently, stir frequently until mixture thickens. Pour into sterile glass jars and when cool seal with paraffin. (I didn't seal with paraffin. It will keep for up to a year, refrigerate after opening jar.)


So what was it like growing up with Missouri's bounty? Corey Dillon explains:

For me, cooking with family and family meals are some of my best memories.  My quintessential Missouri meal – that always makes me think of home, near Lake of the Ozarks —  is fried fish (crappie), spinach and fried potatoes!  When I was little my dad was a real fisherman and would go fishing any time he could.  He would catch crappie in the Lake and he would freeze them in milk jugs that had the top cut off.  Then, when he had enough saved back we would have a fish fry. My mom would bread the crappie in a cornmeal mixture and fry it. She would also peel and slice the potatoes and fry them in a skillet until they were dark and crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Finally, she made spinach that was served with vinegar on the side. My great-grandmother used to come visit for two weeks every summer and we always had to have a fish fry when she visited. I remember my mom frying the fish and my grandma sneaking into the kitchen to get a sample. She sampled so much that we were worried that there wouldn’t be enough left for dinner!  There was always more than enough, but I’m certain we never had many leftovers!

Oh, and pies! My mom makes the best pies! She learned how to make pies from her grandmother who lived in Smithton, Mo., just east of Sedalia. My mom taught me -- and now my daughter -- that the key is to roll the pie crust so thin you can read a newspaper through it! Every season has its own special pie affiliated with it. In the springtime we always have cherry pies from the tart cherry trees outside the kitchen window. Then, in summertime we have golden peach pies.  In the fall, my mom makes the best apple pie around.  In fact, my nephew says that Grandmama’s  apple pie is the very best!  And, in the wintertime – for Thanksgiving  – my mom makes a delicious pecan pie! Over the years I have learned how to make them too, but there is something that is oh so special about my mom’s pies. 

Around Christmas time our favorite family cooking has always centered around cookies and candies to have on hand during the holiday season and to give away as gifts. Black walnuts are a common ingredient in two of my favorite holiday treats.  In the fall my mom, my aunt and my grandmother used to pick up gunny sacks full of walnuts from under the black walnut trees at my aunt’s house. After they were hulled, I remember getting to crack them with a hammer.  We would put all of the cracked walnuts in a bowl and sit for hours picking out the delicious meat!  We use the black walnuts in Lep cookies which are a traditional German cookie that my great grandmother made year round, and my mom and I make only at Christmas. They are a spice cookie that is full of molasses, raisins and black walnuts.  My favorite part of my great grandmother’s recipe is that it doesn’t specify exactly how much flour to add.  It says, “add flour until the spoon stands up!” And, of course, fudge.  My mom’s Christmas chocolate fudge always turns out perfectly and she always adds black walnuts!  It is the taste of Christmas!

— Corey

Corey Dillon's
(Traditional German Holiday Spice Cookies)

Mix together:
2 c brown sugar
1 c shortening
2 c molasses
1 1/2 c sour milk or buttermilk
2 T baking soda

Then add:
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp each of ginger, cloves, nutmeg and allspice
1 tsp salt
1 c dates
2 c nuts
2 c raisins
1 c preserves (any kind)
1 tsp lemon extract
Orange peel

Add spices to flour and add to wet mixture stirring after each addition. Continue adding flour until dough is stiff.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. These can be dropped by spoonful and stamped with a glass dipped in sugar or add flour and powdered sugar to your board and make a log, then slice to bake.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.


You cannot go wrong with German foods for a Missouri meal -- potato dishes and the intoxicating smell of Lepkuchen baking on a cool winter's day. According to "Welcome to the U.S.A. Missouri" book for children by Ann Heinrichs ad Matt Kania, many Missouri towns have a strong German heritage including Hermann, Altenburg, Westphalia, Augusta, Dutzow and Berger.

Thank you, Corey and Senator McCaskill! 

September 28, 2010

Meet Me in MissourAH!

Welcome to Missouri Week, our second state on our virtual road trip. We've got various avenues of exploration for this state such as Tom Sawyer and the Arch in Saint Louis and Kansas City barbecue (the best in the nation, by the way). But let's start our family exploration a bit further back... Back to 1904 when Saint Louis hosted the World's Fair and the Summer Olympic Games at the same time.

Check out the 1904 World's Fair Society's site that gives lots of great info, including the origins of the saying "Coming down the Pike" -- referring to the entertainment avenue at the fair. See HERE FOR PIKE INFO. But for our family menu planning and learning about the state, we need not look further than the foods that -- if not created at the fair -- were touted and introduced to a wider audience at the world's fair.

Seems the ice cream cone was invented at the fair, according to this web site. (There's part of dessert for our Missouri meal!)

Popular drinks at the fair were iced tea and a newer soda called Dr. Pepper. Waco, Texas, is the actual birthplace of the carbonated drink.

So if you were one of the 20 million at the fair, you could get a quick meal like a"dachshund sausage" on a bun that somewhere along the way turned into the "hot dog." The fair seems to be the first time these links were served with French's Cream Salad Mustard. The 1904 World's Fair Society web site also debunks the hamburger discovery at their fair, tracing that food creation to 1885 in Hamburg, New York. Though the society's research shows a Texan by the name of Fletch Davis set up a concession stand at the Pike selling a ground beef patty between two slices of homemade toast and stuffed with a raw onion slice. And the Tyrolean Alps Restaurant there also offered a Hamburger Steak, Plain or a Hamburger Steak, with Onions, according to the Fair Society.

And for a sweet treat, the fairly new glossy and sugary spun sugar treat called Fairy Floss (what we now called cotton candy) was sold for a quarter a box.

And check this link for adult and children's books based at St. Louis' Louisiana Purchase International Exposition and other World's Fairs at including an American Girl historical mystery called "The Minstrel's Melody" and the classic film "Meet Me in St. Louis."
I see a Judy Garland theme emerging in the heartland. What I really want to do is stroll down a midway with a hot dog and an ice cream cone... Okay, Missourians, what recipes and stories can you share?

September 27, 2010

Purple Ribbon Recipe and Linger Longer in Kansas

LAST FREE EXIT IN KANSAS today then EAST toward the M - I - Crooked Letter - Crooked Letter - I - Crooked Letter - Crooked Letter - I - Humpback - Humpback - I. (I just want to drive to the other side of the Missouri just so I can shout that while going over Mark Twain's river.)

Speaking of spelling and letters of the day, here is -- direct from the Huffington Post -- Katy Perry singing with Elmo on Sesame Street. Katy was playing dress up and tag with Elmo, and she looks like a Tinker Belle princess. No more, no less. Katy's outfit did NOT bother me. With all the talk, I was expecting an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow-polka-dotted bikini on top. The skit was fun, it was catchy and it was educational. All I have to do is step into my ELEMENTARY school or a Justice store or any other place where kids hang out and see far skimpier clothes. I bet the same fresh and fierce parents complaining today in the next decade will think THEIR kids look just "fine" wearing clothes way too grown up for them. Perhaps adults of today need to check, check themselves (and their kids' wardrobes) before complaining about a Sesame Street wardrobe choice. It's a clothing choice not a wardrobe malfunction.

As promised, my purple ribbon Kansas State Fair Recipe for Raisin Spice Bars. Thanks to my former 4-H cooking leader Grace Ann Fiala for this recipe.

1 stick oleo (Called butter these days. This recipe has been around for awhile.)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon each of baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup flour
1 egg, beaten

Take 1/2 cup of water and simmer with raisins. Save 2 Tablespoons of extra water. Melt butter in microwave (modified from heating in pan.) Add sugar, raisin liquid and spices. Add beaten egg and raisins. Bake in 9" pan at 350º for 30 minutes.

(We might revisit raisins for California Week, though I think of California produce as being fine, fresh, and fierce.) Here's from the first California Raisins coloring book.

Before we leave Kansas, here are a few more links to check:
The Kansas Wheat site has recipes for more than breads. But as a Kansas State alumnae, my favorite recipe is their Kansas State Crown Bread. It brings back many memories of group banquets in the K-State Union.

My favorite cookbook with Kansas ties is the Centennial 4-H Cookbook called "Essence of Kansas Taste Three." You can view it HERE.

And if you're so inclined, check out the link HERE for "Cooking in Oz: Kitchen Wizardry and a Century of Marvels from America's Favorite Tale." It's one of three titles on Oz cooking.
Here's how a West Virginia Symphony group planned an Oz meal.
If you need any more Oz info links, check this site HERE. Check out the radio ad where the state's old travel slogan was "Linger Longer in Kansas." I think perhaps that's because folks were lost that they were "lingering longer" in the state. (Though I have relatives and friends who work for Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas roads are much better than many states. And not that they don't need more funding, but they're way better than Missouri maintenance.)

And I should mention that there is an Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas, (about an hour and 40 minutes from Kansas City on a toll road that's not paved in yellow bricks.) Time for some more Katy tunes.

September 24, 2010

Tom Sawyer, Sunflower Power and Flying Monkeys

Coming soon, more recipes from Kansas natives, including my Kansas State Fair Purple Ribbon 4-H bar cookie recipe. And next week's focus is on Missouri recipes, authors and attractions. I'm perusing Tom Sawyer again (I've not read it since I was a kid and I've always heard it's good to reread as an adult. I can only imagine the themes I didn't pick up on as a child.)

So a family-friendly Tom Sawyer meal may be in the works. Some early recipe titles that may or may not make the cut: White iced refrigerator cookies? River Trail Mix? Paddle Boat Soup and crackers?

What I'm Googling today:

It was just announced last week that Trader Joe's is coming to KC. I'm over the moon, even though both locations are not close to my home kitchen. I shall turn into the greatest of chefs, soon, maybe, perhaps, perhaps not. Sorry, lost my focus.

Sunflowers are the state flower for Kansas, so chocolate-coated Sunflower Seeds are a nice snack. (They might appear in next week's trail mix.)

Here's a link to more Sunflower souvenirs. Why you'd really need this link, I'm not sure. If you really want to do a family friendly meal about Kansas, the movie to find is (ugh, am I really saying this after ALL MY YEARS of denying the connection to our state and Hollywood's creation: "The Wizard of Oz."
CAN I do a Wizard of Oz meal? Yes.  DO I want to do a Wizard of Oz meal? No.

So I'm leaving it to you. Leave me a comment if you think you'd like to see a Wizard of Oz meal. Provide menu names (other than Flying Monkeys because we dislike them. Though Britney Spears's red and black fluffed "ringleader" jacket for her Circus tour made me think of those ick creatures.) But a Wicked green punch is now sounding like it could be fun... Wicked on Broadway was great, BTW, and at least kept Kansas out the scenery. Darn, now I've got Wizard of Oz on the brain...

September 23, 2010

Meat Lockers, Pizza Hut & Rocky Mountain Oysters

Okay, so I've highlighted my youth, prairie sunsets and fried foods, but I think it's good to get other perspectives. This blog will only be as good as the collective foodies and readers who support it. I want YOU to share your story about the foods and books that best depict YOUR STATE. Next week we're on to Missouri, so let me know in comments if you'd like to help. (No pressure, but this is our chance to truly educate our youth on this place we call home.)

This could also become the place for some good ol' food showdowns. Best barbecue? Best burgers? Bring it on! In fact today, my guest writer begins the case for "Best Burger." (I'm still agreeing with Calvin Trillin that Winstead's is the best.)

I asked my friend Joe Drape to write about his time in Smith Center, Kansas, in 2008. Joe is a New York Times sports writer who grew up in Kansas City and lives in New York City. Joe moved his family from the city to small-town America to discover from Smith Center High School football coach Roger Barta what teaching football had to do with teaching life.

"Our Boys, A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen" highlights Coach Barta, his team and the loyal town followers. "Our Boys" was named one of the 2010 Kansas Notable Books, but I loved it because it made me recollect my youth in a small Kansas town. (I didn't play football, but was a cheerleader for our eight-man football team. Wait, did I just admit I was a cheerleader? Strike the record on my past high school activities.) Click HERE to see the list of the other 2010 Kansas Notable Books. 

Hello Margo,

I’m glad you asked me about my culinary adventures in Smith Center, Kansas, because it was a tasty and full one. The Drapes are solid Midwesterners – I’m from just off State Line Road on the Missouri side of Kansas City. My wife, Mary, is from Chicago. Even here in New York our dinner table reflects our roots – steaks, pork chops, chicken, all sorts of potatoes and a green vegetable. My fun food specialty is Sloppy Joes. My son, Jack, all of 5, is far more adventurous than me. He eats crabs, squash, artichokes and pretty much anything you put in front of him. But he does love Sloppy Daddies.

We ate extremely well in Smith Center. The first thing I did was go to The Dollar Store and bought an old fashion charcoal grill for $25 – rain, snow and shine I was in our backyard each night grilling away. You can’t do that here in the Big Apple, and it is a ritual I miss deeply. Even better was the fact that I could go eight miles west to Lebanon to Ladow’s and get the best meat for a tenth of what I pay here.

John McDowell and his son-in-law carved up flat iron steak for $2.99 a pound and rib eyes for $4.99. They’d tease me about being a New Yorker as they did so. If I go to Gracie Market here to buy steaks, the flatiron would be $17.99 and the rib eye’s $22.99 and there was no one there to tease my. I also patronized the Kensington Meat Locker, which was across from Jack’s preschool in Kensington about 15 miles west of Smith Center. The slogan alone told you everything you needed to know: “From the Pen to the Pan.”

Now, for a town with 12 churches, one bar, and five dine-in establishments, the range of food was remarkable. Let’s start with The Pizza Hut, and I mean this in all seriousness – not only did I rediscover the joy of a thin-crust Pizza Hut pizza and the all-you-can-eat buffet, but I experienced it as one of the hubs of the community. Pizza Hut was started in Kansas and to this day is often one of the handful of restaurants in small towns. On Sundays after church, it would fill up and the joke was because the Catholics had shorter masses they got all the best tables.

The Jiffy Burger was the other fast-food joint, and this is blasphemy to say for a Kansas Citian, but their burger is better than Winstead’s and a whole lot cheaper – double cheese with everything, fries and a coke was about $4 bucks. And finally, there was The Second Cup Café, which was mainly a breakfast and lunch place, and is the single best diner I’ve ever eaten at. Lynn Pickel owned and operated it with an all-women staff and there was nothing they could not make. Chicken Fried Steak? Absolutely. The barbecue special? Brisket, chicken and pork with macaroni salad and desert for $6:50.  Taco Night? You’d swear you were eating in San Antonio.

Finally, our friends, Jack & Arlene Benn, were the most gracious hosts and innovative chefs. They wintered in South Texas, and Jack was a helluva of fisherman so they’d have rollicking fish fries with hush puppies and Rocky Mountain Oysters. We ate steak soup at their home, which was perhaps my Mom’s best dish, and one I try at least three times each winter and continually screw up. Biscuits and gravy for a Sunday dinner after we drove the back roads looking for deer was memorable.

And Arlene was without peer as a pie maker. Her cherry pie topped the best Thanksgiving Dinner we ever had. My family came up from Kansas City to join us the Benns and Coach Barta. In all, we had 20 people rammed into our little rental house across from the grain elevator.

It was great. You’re making me hungry and nostalgic. But don’t worry I’ll be back there the first week in October.


September 22, 2010

Chicken Dinners, Kansas Hunting Scenes and Murals


TASTES: When mentioning Kansas food, you cannot leave out one of the state's best known dining establishments, the Brookville Hotel (now in Abilene, boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower and where his presidential museum and library is located). Brookville is famous for their family-style chicken dinners. In fact I don't think they have anything else on their menu besides their fried chicken and sides. It's a great place to take out-of-state visitors, and you'll get a bountiful meal served on their Blue Willow china. Check this link for their Sweet-Sour Cole-Slaw recipe.
Liz dining at the Brookville Hotel restaurant in Abilene, Kansas.

Dining in the Spirit of Kansas room, one of six rooms in the Brookville Hotel restaurant.

In the Spirit of Kansas room there are historical murals painted on the walls. I don't know what it is about murals in Kansas. As a child I was a bit scared of the mural of John Brown in the Kansas capitol in Topeka. The first mural features a fierce John Brown, not that he probably wasn't fiery in real life, but there was a whole bunch of controversy on the murals artist John Steuart Curry refused to finish. (Guess his depiction of a Hereford bull wasn't up to snuff.) Kansas is a state that takes its bulls seriously.

I remember when I was little and told to sit like a lady in a cafe with my grandparents in Leavenworth. It was hard to still still when my grandparents slowly sipped their refilled mugs of coffee and I had to stare at a mural of a buffalo hunt. I'd hoped for McDonald's but my grandparents thought that only sit-down establishments with real coffee and friendly waitresses were worth supporting. At my tender age I didn't know what was worse, drinking coffee or hunting buffaloes.

Kansas is a state where being in a room with depictions of animal hunts and eating food is not a big deal. (My dad's elk head is in my parent's dining room. I try to always sit on the side of the table facing AWAY from the mounted head. My mom usually decorates the elk for the various holidays, like a Green hat in March and tinsel in December. She's not totally enamored with the behemoth to begin with but trying to make the best of it.)

CHILDREN'S BOOK: Check out "One Kansas Farmer" by Devin and Corey Scillian and illustraed by Doug Bowles for more on facts about the state of Kansas.

SIGHTS: What I most like about my home state are the natural murals, the painted skies at sunset. Even on a partly cloudy afternoon the clouds look like something out of a painting -- I call those prairie clouds and imagine they've not changed since the day buffalo and Native Americans were the main caretakers of the Plains. But it's the awe-inspiring sunsets that make the state seem ever relaxed and comforting.

Check out more sights from Kansas here at Kansas Sampler that lists many categories of "Eight Wonders of Kansas." Not sure why eight is the magic number.

September 21, 2010

Steaks the Mighty Chicken Fried Way


I was born in the Sunflower State as well as both my daughters.* Let's chat about Chicken Fried Steaks, which if you think about it, is kind of weird to be frying steaks in the first place. But I grew up with a mother who would grab her meat mallet and pound down a steak to then dredge in seasoned flour and place it with a drizzle of oil in a skillet for it to develop a nice brown crust. Then she'd add her own gravy and cook the meat on low heat for another hour or two. I didn't need to worry about my mother undercooking anything. (The crockpot was another appliance of choice in her galley kitchen with limegreen walls.)

It's really one of those dishes I make without a recipe and then just forgo the gravy when I'm making at home. I know that sounds like no fun. I've not had breakfast yet so mashed potatoes with gravy is sounding sooooooo good right now. And yes, there's a reason I look like I do.

So even though the dish is attributed to origins in Texas, I still think it's a big Kansas thing. Some restaurants just list it as "Chicken Fried" and I guess just assume you know they mean steak. I mean, Kansas is a cattle state. It's gets hot and humid here so folks can stand their dinners served up with some crispy coating and a peppery gravy, usually with mashed potatoes and green beans on the side.

AFTER-DINNER FAMILY BOOK: Well, it's really a tale from Texas, as it states right in the subtitle, but shoot 'em if it's not perfect for this meal. Check out "Bubba the Cowboy Prince, A Fractured Texas Tale" by Helen Ketteman and illustrated by James Warhola. It's a Western version of the Cinderella tale my daughters love.

TUNES FOR COOKING: If you need some music to get the little cowhands into the kitchen, I'd load up: "Hoe-Down" from the Rodeo suite by Aaron Copland or "Theme from The Magnificent Seven" by Elmer Bernstein. Click Symphony in the Flint Hills program for more information on musical selections. (The Kansas City Symphony holds a wildly successful concert one night every summer in the glorious, rambling pastures of the beautiful Flint Hills in Central Kansas. Note: if you're going with kids, you may want to roam toward the back. We got shushed by music lovers sitting in front of us one year.)

My version of Chicken Fried Steak is easy
(even though at first glance it doesn't look that way):

2 pounds of rump, top round, or beef round
the "round" descriptions are probably what you want but I like to ask the butcher for suggestions on cuts of meat. Makes me feel like a good consumer telling the folks behind the meat counter what I'm creating for that night's meal. It makes me feel like I have some sort of PLAN.
If it's not tenderized, it's easy to do and a good stress reliever. If you don't have a meat mallet, placing the meat in a Ziplock bag and whacking it with a cast-iron skillet or other heavy item SHOULD work but I don't want to be held responsible if your skillet flies out of your hand and falls on your toe or breaks some glasses. I suggest just picking up a meat mallet/meat tenderizer at the store. (Mine is pictured below.)

Tenderize the meat by hitting it with the meat mallet on your cutting board, if you're unlike me and know where you last put your cutting board.

Then I get a wide bowl and add flour**, seasoned salt, Kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper and whatever seasoning sounds good at the moment. (Barbecue rub always works or maybe Greek Seasoning sounds good or you can use Maryland's Old Bay Seasonings. In other words, just use what you have in your spice drawer.)

Another bowl is for the eggs (fresh, range-free if you can get them.) I bring in the kids to do the meat from flour to egg back to flour coating assembly line and then I put the caked meat into the preheated skillet with some olive oil (okay, go ahead and use that corn or sunflower oil -- Sunflower's the state flower) into a heavy skillet and watch those little doggies sizzle and heat up to a lovely brown color on both sides. (I don't need to tell you to brown both sides, do I?)

When they look tasty, I throw them into a 9x13 pan and bake them for about half an hour or more at 300 degrees. (Time depends on your steaks thickness -- how well you pounded those steaks into submission.) You can make a gravy to put on top like my mother does, but I'm adding some links for PAID chefs to give you gravy recipes. If there is one thing I cannot cook, it's gravy.  So if anyone has any gravy tips, please send them my way.

VARIATIONS ON THE THEME: Jamie Oliver's (I ADORE Jamie Oliver even though a friend who's a nutritionist says that kids drinking chocolate and strawberry milk is not the end of the world as Jamie touted on his FoodNation TV show.)
Alton Brown's recipe (Alton's show reminds me of the times I had to do food demonstrations in 4-H.)

* You can send birth announcements to the White House and other dignitaries and they may send notes back. Though I couldn't tell from the White House site if this is still an ongoing PR service of the White House staff currently or not. Both girls have "form" congratulation cards from President Bush. (President George W. Bush even wrote a very nice personal note to Joe after getting a copy of "The Soul of Baseball" book. I'm not sure if sports fan President Barack Obama has read any of Joe's books yet or not.) Five years ago, we got a great handwritten note from then Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius writing about how great it is to grow up in Kansas "where the skies are not cloudy all day." That note (and the former President's) is in Katie's baby book.

** So if you want to make this as true to Kansas as possible, I recommend Hudson Cream Flour, milled in Kansas. It's also the only flour I try to use for baked goods.

September 20, 2010

New Home, New Energized Goals

Welcome! I'm glad to see you here. If you've been following my occasional -- Stress needed on that word occasional, <em> or <bold> or <strong> in coding -- posts at my old site thanks for following me here. Even if you just stumbled here or accidentally found me based on some "searchable" word or string of words, welcome! Whatever made this page magically appear for you, I <em> or <bold> or <strong> encourage you to follow me.

An ugly, nasty and just MEAN virus struck our old site and Joe and I spent too much time this weekend trying to recoup. I've just finished a basic CSS and XHTML class and NOW know just enough about coding to realize there was a problem I had no clue HOW to fix. It was best to part ways with our WordPress world and settle for something a bit easier. At least we think this might be easier. I'm also hiring Jason Bourne to track down the nefarious organization that struck our Web site and may write letters to Congress to see if they can do something about this evil web virus stuff. 

So I'm taking an online class in Intermediate CSS and XHTML so I can only imagine I can ward off evil for next time. I'm also taking an intro class into Flash, though that technology might be more dinosaur than iNextBigThing.

Speaking of old technology, I'm such a packrat that I found an old reporter's notebook from the days of sending newspaper stories on the old RadioShack computers. Here was the code to get my college stringer story from my computer to my paper's main computer, via a phone cord from the back of the computer to the phone line. (Circa early '90s.)

CONTROL, SHIFT, P, A, send, SPACE BAR, spt to have the screen read:

^A,send spt:sports:mk0001.spt,
[*go]sports (type of story)@ <
[*tx][*ksuby]MARGO KELLER@<
/MANHATTAN, KAN (space)—(space)

end of text

So we've come a long way from Radio Shack becoming more Shack than Radio, fewer phone cord issues or home phones for that matter and personal wars against the machines. I helped my husband blog from the first week of the 2008 Summer Olympics in China, when government computers were suspected of very carefully monitoring access to Web sites. Joe would e-mail me his blog posts and I'd post them stateside until his computer in Chinese Cyber World gained more access to worldwide web sites. I felt like quite the rebel.

But this entire world at our fingertips leads me to my mission statement here. I love mission statements, though I rarely get to create them. With A COURSE FOR ADVENTURE I'm setting out with my children to look for interesting and fun resources about the world around them.

Originally I planned to pick a new country every one or two weeks and share books and recipes and other Web resources that highlight each country. Then I started thinking about Chicken-Fried Steaks. If you grew up in Kansas you can already picture this dish with a thick and peppery gravy. It seems to be the quin-essential Kansas dinner. So before venturing to all parts yet unseen by my family (like Turkey, I really want to travel to Turkey) I want to focus on food stuff and stories of all 50 states. That's where you can help! Leave me comments on recipes and stories that highlight your state!

The goal is for my daughters to learn more about America while encouraging reading with books featuring unique American places and also jazzing up family meal time with fast, family-friendly recipes from all parts of our United States. Think of this site as your passport to inspired family meals and learning resources.

Thanks for your time and know you're always welcome here. We hope to see you on our next adventure soon! FIRST STOP: My home state of Kansas.