Turmeric Chicken

Turmeric Chicken

I wanted to make a Moroccan-inspired turmeric chicken dish for three reasons. First, I wanted to turn on the oven this morning to heat the room. Second, today I needed to use four chicken thighs. Third, I craved bright flavors and colors to offset white snow, gray clouds, and the monotone-colored dishes I have made in recent days.

With the skill of an amateur masseuse, I rubbed the chicken thighs and skin with a blend of kosher salt, black pepper, crushed white cardamom, yellow mustard seed, brown mustard seed, and turmeric. The primary hassle with using turmeric is that it stains everything a golden yellow unless you wipe off surfaces and wash dishes and utensils after using the spice. It’s supposed to be good for health so I guess that’s worth the hassle.

Next, I put the thighs in a greased dish, covered them with foil, and roasted them along with sliced onion and fresh-squeezed clementine juice at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. In order to brown the skin, I removed the foil and roasted the chicken for another 20 minutes. The skin wasn’t getting as brown and crispy as I wanted. I took the tender chicken out of the oven and set it aside. I removed the seasoned skins whole and laid them flat in an iron skillet. The skillet went back into the oven until I had golden brown, crispy chicken skins.

To round out the dish, I made Israeli cous cous by toasting the uncooked grains in a sauce pan with olive oil. After adding hot water and some pieces of cooked onion that was stained with turmeric yellow from roasting, the cous cous steamed for about 12 minutes. Meanwhile, I made a gastrique by combining white vinegar and raw honey in a small pot with fresh clementine juice. I added a few stalks of lemongrass for good measure. I heated the mixture, let the lemongrass steep for a few minutes, removed the stalks, and sucked on their sweet-tart lemony flavor. The gastrique reduced until it was syrupy.

I needed some ingredients to make a light salad that would accompany the chicken and cous cous. I walked in the snow across the street to the City Market and entered the Al-Habashi mart. The store owner and I exchanged greetings. I filled small white paper bags with slivered almonds, dates, and golden raisins. I strolled over to the bulk spice section and filled plastic bags with bay leaves, cloves, and ground cumin to restock my pantry. After paying, I walked further along the covered stretch of the market, bought a pair of pomegranates for a buck and a cluster of parsley for two quarters. I trudged back home.

The salad was a blend of finely chopped parsley, chopped dates, golden raisins and pomegranate kernels. I added bits of turmeric onion for a savory flavor. I wanted to use fresh mint instead of parsley but didn’t feel like heading to the Asian markets. The City Market vegetable vendors only had parsley on display so I worked with what I had.

Before assembling the dish, I toasted some almond slivers in a saute pan. After removing the almonds, I sauteed segments of clementine with a dab of clementine-lemongrass-honey gastrique until they were lightly browned and blistered. I fussed with arranged the chicken, cous cous, crisp skin, salad and other items for far too long in order to photograph the final composition. I wish I had fancier dishware to plate dishes like this for photographic purposes, but I use what few dishes and plates I have.

As I had hoped, the turmeric and other spices imbued the chicken with just enough flavor but didn’t overpower it. Keeping the meat on the bone helped to retain its juices and therefore flavor. The cous cous was a nutty complement to the tangy citrus of the pomegranate-based salad and the sweet-tart balance of the blistered clementines and gastrique.

The entire meal turned out to me a fuss to make, style, and photograph, but it was well worth the effort to eat. The final assembly proved colorful and hopefully looks appetizing.

Aylesbury Duck Stock

Aylesbury Duck Stock

Aylesbury duck stock sounds haughty. Perhaps because the duck breed originally hailed from England. The preparation of this stock, and how this duck carcass of British ancestry wound up in my stockpot, begins with last night’s dinner.

I attended a five-course pop-up dinner with wine pairings jointly hosted and prepared by The Antler Room and Rooster and the Hen, hosted at Blvd Tavern. The prior name refers to a restaurant-to-be from Chef Nick Goellner and Leslie Newsam Goellner in Kansas City. The latter is the nom de restaurant-to-be of Tara and Michael Gallina, based in St. Louis.

Both couples plan to open restaurants in their respective cities. The series of pop-up dinners they have held independently, and this most recent joint event, serve to introduce their cuisines and concepts to prospective investors and diners. These dinners help to establish and build a brand name, test dishes and styles of service in a range of settings, and gauge reactions from guests.

Here’s a brief overview of the five courses.

One – Spent hen and horseradish broth, winter vegetables, egg.
This light dish was a warm and welcome start to a meal on a chilly night as guests prepared to feast. The savory broth and carefully cooked egg yolk suggested comfort food. The use of winter root vegetables, such as turnip, was seasonally appropriate. [Side rant:  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen asparagus on KC restaurant menus in the dead of winter.] More importantly, the chefs’ intent was to use locally-sourced produce that met the farmer’s needs. If not used for this meal, the harvested, perfectly suitable produce would have been relegated to compost. More often, farmers are growing what they believe and hope will sell to chefs and the public. It was reassuring to see and hear chefs do more than give lip service to the practice of farm-to-table dining, even if this was only a one-off dining experience.

Two – Rabbit and cocoa agnolotti with hazelnuts, clamshell mushrooms and chili oil.
Chocolate-tinted agnolotti, a short, compact cousin of ravioli, contained morsels of rabbit. Hazelnuts and tiny clamshell mushrooms reinforced an earthy, forest feel to the dish. I didn’t detect any trace of heat from the chili oil, but I could have been distracted by the searing glow of fellow diner Jerry Fisher’s camera light next to me. I digress. I could have easily eaten two or three portions of this dish alone.

Naan, fermented honey, and onion seedlings.

Naan, fermented honey, and onion seedlings.

The Antler Room duck with naan

Three – Aylesbury duck, naan, fermented honey, and crackling.
As you might guess, this dish provided a source for the duck that I later used to make stock at home. More on that process later. This course arrived in two parts. Each guest received a plate that contained naan topped with crackling, or crisp duck skin converted into a garnish, needle-thin onion seedlings with the black seed still attached, and a shallow dish of honey that had been fermented for a month. Each table with a group of four diners received a plate of roast Alyesbury duck surrounded by a wreath of fir (?) tree clippings that had been lightly charred. A waft of pine-scented smoke drifted across the table as the dish arrived. The breast meat had been pre-sliced and arranged in place along the duck’s breastbone. The presentation was thoughtful and elegant, a fine and subtle bit of showmanship. The idea was to tuck a piece or two of duck into the naan with a dab of honey and onion shoots. The dish was fun, interactive finger food. Smartly, the roasted meatiness of the duck was front and center rather than being upstaged by bold seasoning or sauces.

Four – Beet and Potatoes with beets aged in beef fat, beef cheek, yeast.
The chefs’ idea for this course was to make a vegetable the star of the dish, a prudent choice and welcome juxtaposition after the preceding course. Aging the beet in beef fat did impart some meaty flavor to the root vegetable. A small portion of tender pulled beef cheek complemented the beet. A creamy dab of whitish sauce (can’t recall what it was) with yeast didn’t really register. That might have also been due to the servings of four wines, a cocktail at the beginning of the dinner, and a couple of savory mocktails between courses that were irresistible.

The Antler Room dessert by Tasha Goellner

Five – Poppy seed cake, fennel panna cotta, grapefruit olive oil ice cream, rose meringue, sugared rose petals.
This dessert, prepared by Pastry Chef Tasha Goellner (Nick’s sister) with support from Caitlin Hotzel (?), capped off the meal with a fanciful array of winter citrus, light savory accents, floral suggestion of warmer days ahead, and creamy texture.

Needless to say, the meal was a fine display of talent by the chefs, hosts and servers. I didn’t go into the specific wine pairings selected for each course for the sake of space. Each wine was a well-chosen complement to the dish. I am eager to see what other dishes appear at future pop-up dinners and, in time, witness the ascent of The Antler Room to a full-blown restaurant in Kansas City. Similarly, I was impressed by the team behind Rooster and the Hen and will keep tabs on their progress in St. Louis.

After course three, the remainder of the duck carcass was about to be removed from my table. I couldn’t resist asking if one could be reserved for me to take home. That is, if the chefs were willing to part with one. Yes, I’m that guy that prefers to not let food go to waste, especially a fine ingredient such as Aylesbury duck. I didn’t know anything about the breed, but knew that it would make fine stock for later use.

Kindly, Tara Gallina of Rooster and the Hen brought a thoroughly plastic-wrapped box containing the duck before night’s end. Score.

I don’t regularly ask for “scraps” or a doggie bag of things like a duck carcass to take home. Weird as it might sound, it’s the frugal cook’s instinct in me to find a good use for such ingredients. I learned how to get the most out of stock ingredients like pork neck bones, vegetable scraps, and so forth from growing up in a kitchen at home and learning how to fend for myself, both as an undergraduate in college and during MFA studies in Boston, where I had to make my food budget stretch. Homegrown cooking methods were also reinforced by briefly cooking and learning basic French techniques at Le Fou Frog years ago. Also, without getting too high-minded about it, using the remainders to produce a stock or sauce is a way to honor the value of the animal that provides sustenance.

Tonight I brought out the duck which was mostly bone with bits of mid-rare meat and succulent fatty skin. After stripping away what meat I could with a paring knife, I plopped everything in a stockpot of hot water seasoned with salt and pepper. I’m undecided about what exactly I will do with the duck stock. I added some lemongrass stalks and fresh-squeezed juice from clementines to infuse a citrusy aroma and flavor. I let the stock reduce and render the fat until the stock turned a golden yellow tint. Tomorrow, I might buy some duck from the Asian market down the street to prepare a dish. Duck ravioli with scallions and a reduction of ginger-citrus broth comes to mind. Or maybe I’ll go in a different direction.

Cooking still inspires a magical feeling of alchemy for me, even though I don’t always come up with something magic. After a fine five-course meal, I’m in awe over what chefs like Nick Goellner and Michael Gallina created (but not surprised by their talent). I will never cook on a par with chefs in this city that have dedicated thousands of hours over years learning their craft and understanding ingredients. As a profession, I decided long ago that would not be my path. Yet, the craving to cook and make something out of nothing, like pulling words from ether, imagination and firsthand experiences to shape them into a story, still propels me to work with ingredients and tools at hand and see what happens.

Pork, Hominy and Harmony

Pork, Hominy and Harmony

Sometimes a dish evolves based on what ingredients are in the refrigerator and pantry. When I want to create something specific like pad siew or clam chowder, I ensure that I have the proper ingredients on hand. But what happens when I don’t?

I rarely follow recipes and prefer to develop a dish based on what I have learned from experience or improvisation. Some cooks are by-the-book, step-by-step, process-oriented rule followers. I follow my instincts and let the food guide me.

Yesterday, I prepared ingredients for a four-course Thai dinner and beer pairing event for a group. For pad siew, I trimmed out the bone and fat from a half-dozen pork steaks and sliced the meat for the dish. Being a frugal cook not prone to waste, I tossed the pork bones with some meat attached into a pot of boiling water. I wasn’t sure what I would do with the broth. I knew I wouldn’t make guay thiew, a Thai soup similar to pho, because I cook that often and knew I’d need a break from Thai food after this private event.

After the bones had boiled, I removed them, let them cool, pulled off scraps of meat, returned the pork to the pot and discarded the bones. On a whim, I grabbed some dried shiitake mushrooms and added them to the stock with a dash of salt and pepper and sliced shallot. I set the pork stock aside and continued prepping for the Thai dinner.

The following day I scrounged around the refrigerator, seeking inspiration for a dish to make. I brought home no leftovers from the dinner and the refrigerator was mostly barren since I had used up most everything the previous day. I spied the pot of pork stock, pulled it out and set it on the stove to heat. I added another cup of water and a can of white hominy which pairs well with pork.

At this point, I had pork, shiitake and hominy but no clue what I was making as a dish. The three main ingredients formed a strange trio that pulled in different directions. Shiitake leans toward an Asian dish but that’s not what I wanted. Instead, I tried to think of them as merely mushrooms that provided umami and blended well with the succulent bubbles of fat that whirlpooled in the simmering broth.

Hominy drew me toward the South, the Southwest and Mexico. I didn’t have lime, cilantro, poblano pepper, beans or corn to develop a Southwest-inspired soup or Mexican posole. I scanned the pantry, grabbed dried ground sage and added a dash just to nudge the process forward. The soup lacked soul and depth of flavor. Turning back to the frig and freezer, I pulled out a jar of homemade lemongrass vinegar, a bottle of Tapatio hot sauce and smoked ham scraps from Burger’s. The vinegar substituted for fresh lime juice and, along with the hot sauce, added acidic pop and bite to the stock. The ham built a foundation of salt and smoke that complemented the pork, hominy and broth. Again this push-and-pull arose between Asian and Mexican culture and cuisine with undercurrents of the South that wasn’t quite any of them.

If I had envisioned this soup with the same ingredients from the start, I probably would have started by sauteing pieces of smoked ham with onion and shallots to caramelize them and create a potent soup base. Odds are that I would have added some guajillo pepper and headed for Southwest territory. Instead, the result was something lighter that still had pronounced flavor. I ladled steaming soup into a bowl and stared at it. It tasted savory with a touch of smokiness, spice and acidity but felt incomplete. The dish lacked color and something to add freshness to this earthy soup.

I remembered that I had a bag of baby Chinese broccoli leftover from the Thai dinner. I grabbed a couple of stalks, rinsed away grit and dirt, and sliced the stalks thinly as if they were green onions. I left the leaves intact. I added the Chinese broccoli to the hot bowl of soup and let it steam for a minute. This last-minute addition added a light crunch from the stalks that contrasted with the chewiness of the hominy and ham. The steamed greens provided vibrant color and a hint of vegetal flavor, brightening the overall dish.

A spoonful with ham, hominy and Chinese broccoli reminded me of the South, where the broccoli stood in as a distant cousin to greens that had been cooked all day with a ham bone. Another spoonful with pork, shiitake, shallot and Chinese broccoli with a sharp finish of vinegar and chili sauce veered toward a spicy Thai or Vietnamese soup. And so it went with each taste, mixing and matching in a harmonious blend.

Not all of my cooking turns out well when I let the process unfold and allow found ingredients to guide my instincts. When it works, it is more than some awkward fusion of cuisines achieved by slapping together disparate ingredients and techniques like Lego blocks. The rewarding result is a dish seemingly made from nothing that turns out to be something. Sometimes, food that satisfies can flaunt the dictates of a cookbook and skirt the boundaries of a culture’s cuisine.

City Market Scene – October 31, 2015

City Market Scene – October 31, 2015

This late in the season for farmers markets in Kansas City means an abundance of bell peppers in many hues, chili peppers sold still on the stalk where the whole plant has been harvested before frost arrives, and the last few waves of hardy winter greens.

I only brought three dollars with me since that’s what I had on hand. With the World Series taking place, I haven’t been cooking and eating an abundance of food at home. I purchased a dollar bundle of lacinato kale (Brassica oleracea) aka Tuscan kale, black kale, and, my favorite description because of the bumpy green leaf texture, dinosaur kale. I’ll probably either steam them and eat with jasmine rice and omelet or saute the kale with onion as a side to eat with roast chicken or pheasant.

I spent my other two dollars on a bundle of lemongrass. I don’t buy lemongrass often because a bunch of stalks can last forever. I will use some in tom yum goong, a hot and slightly sour Thai soup with chicken and shrimp. I also thinly sliced a few stalks and added them to a jar of white vinegar to infuse for future use in salad dressing or soups. I’ll likely freeze the rest and use it over winter. Or, I might buy some whole fish, clean them, and stuff them with fresh lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime leaf, and garlic, and then steam or bake the entire works.

How do you use lemongrass?


Lemongrass leaves

Lemongrass deconstructed

Lemongrass vinegar


Simple Spring Salad and Mint Pea Soup

Simple Spring Salad and Mint Pea Soup

Several years ago, Chef Terry Mille of Cowtown Cheesecake and I prepared a spring menu as part of KC Home & Gardens’ Cooking School. Classic spring weather this year made me think of the salad and mint pea soup I prepared for the event.

We prepared a light, fresh four-course menu for the season — using lots of ingredients from local vendors. Somerset Ridge co-owner Cindy Reynolds paired her wines with each course.

The salad used fresh greens from Gibbs Road Farm, strawberries, a healthy dollop of Green Dirt Farm fresh plain sheep’s milk cheese and lemon zest. I used a simple lemon honey vinaigrette for dressing.

mint pea soup
I made the mint pea soup by quickly blanching frozen peas. Fresh peas were unavailable at the time. I tried steeping mint tea in fresh cream but the flavor didn’t infuse well. Instead, a better approach would be to add fresh hand-shredded mint leaves, cream and blanched peas to a food processor and blend until smooth. Or, use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients in a pot. Chill and serve with a spoonful of fresh mint-infused whipped cream.

Simple Spring Salad and Mint Pea Soup

Springtime Cooking Class for KC Home and Gardens Magazine

Nebraska Furniture Mart roped off its Kitchen Design Studio for Kansas City Home and Garden magazine’s March Cooking School, featuring Cowtown Cheesecake owner Chef Terry Mille and Last Bite cookbook author Pete Dulin. We prepared a light, fresh four-course menu for the season — using lots of ingredients from local vendors — with recipes for guests to take home. Somerset Ridge co-owner Cindy Reynolds paired her wines with each course. Photo: Matt Kocourek

For more photos and recipes, head to www.kchandg.com/springtime-soiree.

mint pea soup

The Menu:

Salad of spring greens (from Cultivate KC), strawberries and fresh sheep’s milk cheese (from Green Dirt Farm) with lemon-honey vinaigrette

Mint Pea Soup with Mint Whipped Cream

Baked chicken meatballs (using Local Pig sausage and chicken from Steve’s Meat Market in Desoto, Kan.) with pepperonata

Cowtown Cheesecake’s Kansas Cream Cheesecake (made with Shatto cream)