I can finally reveal the cover to my next book, Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland. The book will be published by American Palate, an imprint of The History Press and Arcadia Publishing. The publisher will release the book in October 2016.
In the coming months, I will share more back story and notes on the research and writing process behind the book. For example, the black-and-white photograph above, courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society Archives, depicts workers at Ferdinand Heim Brewing Company. In 1887, Ferdinand Heim, Sr. of St. Louis purchased a sugar refinery and acreage in the East Bottoms and built a new brewery on the northeast corner of Guinotte Street at Agnes. Today, Local Pig butcher shop and the Pigwich food truck are located near that intersection on the former brewery grounds.
This is my first book that delves into the history of breweries and Kansas City from the 1850s to present. I’m excited for the book to be released. It comprehensively covers historic and contemporary breweries with bits of history from Kansas City and regional and national events.
The photograph of Kansas City on the book cover was shot by Roy Inman. Roy is a fine local photographer known for shooting the iconic shot of the KC Royals World Series rally at Union Station. I’m thankful to feature his photography that depicts downtown Kansas City’s skyline in such dynamic fashion.
If you have questions about Kansas City Beer or the city’s brewery history, drop me a line.
Making biscuits and gravy is a rite of passage in the extended Wagner clan of West Virginia. That treasured family ritual involves a heaping amount of bacon grease with no regrets.
My Uncle Mike grew up in Longacre, West Virginia, a poor coal-mining town, with a big pack of siblings. Now, Uncle Mike and Aunt Tawee live in northern California near Sacramento. They flew to Kansas City in July, where my sister Mary, her family and I drove with them to the Wagner family reunion. We crossed Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky until we arrived at Watoga State Park in Marlinton, West Virginia.
We joined an extended Wagner clan of brothers, sisters, spouses, kids, grand-kids and cousins. They told stories, laughed, lovingly harassed each other and, most importantly, prepared hearty home-style food each day. Rick, one of Mike’s brothers and an excellent cook, taught the Kansas City–California contingent how to properly make biscuits and gravy like Mom Wagner (RIP) used to make.
The biscuit recipe is a straightforward blend of flour, baking powder, baking soda, butter and buttermilk. Once the dough is formed, Rick rolled the dough flat on a flour-dusted surface. Then he brought out the biscuit cutter, a key to the rite of passage.
In a deep, booming voice, Rick told the kids, grandkids, flatlanders and, really, anyone within earshot, about the heritage of the biscuit cutter. He held up a round 16-ounce tin can that was flimsier than cans today. The biscuit cutter in Rick’s hand dated back to the 1960s. His deceased father originally made it from an evaporated milk can. Decades ago, the ends were soldered onto the round can. His father held one end of the empty can over the stove fire until it heated up enough to pop the end off. Easy as pie, Mom Wagner had a biscuit cutter. The heirloom in Rick’s hand has cut hundreds of big, fat biscuits over the years.
Big Roger, the eldest of the siblings, the shortest in height and perhaps the biggest personality in the family, reminded everyone that he got to cut the first biscuit by rights. After he exercised his right, fellow siblings took their turns cutting and passing the can to the next person in line. The ritual extended from generation to generation, down to the youngest in the room and even us flatlanders, connecting everyone to Wagner family history and tradition.
Once cut, the doughy biscuits were laid on sheet pan coated with bacon grease. Then, we generously dabbed bacon grease on top of each biscuit, wide as a catfish head, for extra flavor. That glistening grease also helped those precious biscuits turn golden brown as they baked.
We weren’t done with the bacon grease yet. Earlier, Mary, Rick and Little Roger took turns cooking bacon and sausage in iron skillets. Grease from each batch formed a shallow puddle in each skillet. That grease would transform into bacon and chipped beef gravy and sausage gravy. Rick showed us how to heat up the grease to just the right temperature, add flour to form a loose, greasy base, let it heat more until it browned and began to smoke, add more flour to form a thick roux, stirring all the while with a whisk to get the bacon or sausage leavings worked in, until it was time to add evaporated milk (for richness, because it was sorely lacking, right?), stir more, let reduce, thicken and achieve the ultimate balance of thick, creamy, rich, soul-affirming gravy. Bits of bacon, chipped beef, black pepper and a touch of salt went into one batch; ground pieces of sausage added texture and flavor to the other.
When the golden biscuits emerged from the oven, they were piled high on plates. Big Roger said grace in his sweet, rambling West Virginia accent to thank the cooks, family and the grace of God – and bless the dishwasher! Biscuits were quickly divvied up like bags of money among thieves after a heist. Hungry family members ladled gravy on top, added bacon and/or sausage and spooned June apples on the side.
As the name suggests, June apples are gathered that month, cooked into applesauce and saved to eat throughout the year. A slightly tart variety, June apples make a perfect light bite to offset gut-busting biscuits, gravy and trimmings.
Naturally, by rights and loud vocal declaration, Big Roger got the pone. The “pone” is the leftover scrap of biscuit dough after the cutting is done. Those scraps are formed into one big mound and baked. Double the size of a regular biscuit with more crust, the pone is highly sought-after but always wound up on Big Roger’s plate.
Biscuit making became biscuit eating. We ate. We ate second helpings, if we could help it. We ate as family, by blood and bacon grease.
I tasted potato candy for the first time last week at Watoga State Park, located in the mountains of Pocahontas County near Marlington, West Virginia. Before this trip, I never knew that this sweet confection even existed.
My Uncle Mike, Aunt Tawee, sister Mary, her family and I drove from Kansas City to Watoga for the Wagner family reunion. Mike and his siblings hail from Longacre, West Virginia, a small coal-mining town. This year, the reunion was held at a beautiful, peaceful state park where we saw black bear, deer and other wildlife, but that’s another story.
Shortly after we arrived at the park and unloaded, we made our way to a large cabin that served as the central gathering spot. I saw Wagner family members that I hadn’t visited in 20 years. Everyone exchanged greetings, hugs and handshakes. We dined on Al burgers. Again, that’s another story. Eventually, someone revealed that a stash of potato candy was in the refrigerator. I had no idea what this candy looked or tasted like. It sounded weird.
Potato candy is made from four ingredients: potato, peanut butter, confectioners sugar and, if desired, food coloring. I couldn’t find any source for the origin of this sweet, but it is found throughout the South, East Coast and even New England, derived most likely from West European recipes. It’s a handy way to use up leftover mashed potatoes.
Potato candy tastes sweet (not surprisingly) like fudge. Uncle Mike begrudgingly shared a piece with the rest of his immediate and extended family. I enjoyed a bite of one piece but stayed away from the rest of the batch. A few pieces would prompt instant diabetes or a sugar coma. This part of the country was the Land of Sweet Tea. Sugar is a staple ingredient and almost required ingredient in many recipes.
Uncle Mike did share the stash of potato candy throughout the week like a king passing out bags of gold. He hid the box deep in the crowded refrigerator to protect his stash. Of course, pieces went missing from time to time but it wasn’t me gobbling them.
It’s been years since I used a Thai “rabbit” grater. I brought mine out storage to grate fresh coconut for a sticky rice dessert that I prepared for a four-course Thai meal at Julian in March.
The grater is referred to as “rabbit” because the elaborate versions of the tool were once carved into that animal’s shape. Today, the wooden stool with a serrated blade extending from the neck is still referred to as a rabbit (gkra-dtai in Thai). A rabbit image is embossed on the thin blade.
The dessert uses steamed sticky rice topped with a blend of sweet corn, sugar, salt, coconut juice and shredded coconut meat. Preparation involves rinsing the rice repeatedly to remove excess starch before steaming. I use a woven basket filled with a quantity of rice that is suspended over a pot of boiling water for about 20-30 minutes until the rice is done. Sticky rice differs from long-grain jasmine rice because it is glutinous (glue-like and sticky, not gluten) when cooked. Other types of rice cannot be substituted for sticky rice and achieve the same result.
The other time-consuming dessert preparation involves shredding fresh coconut. Thai chef Kasma Loha-unchit writes in great detail about shredding coconut using a rabbit. Here’s a quick primer.
First, purchase coconuts that feel heavier than others. A heavy coconut contains more meat and juice inside. You should be able to shake the coconut and hear juice sloshing inside. The shell should have no obvious exterior cracks.
Before opening the coconut, set out a large bowl or pot. Take the back of a heavy chef’s knife or kitchen mallet. Hold the coconut in the palm of your weaker hand and whack the shell several times with the back of the knife (carefully!) or mallet until the shell cracks. Pry the shell open and let the juice drain out. Continue to pry the shell apart until it splits. Reserve the juice.
Whenever my Mom split coconut in this fashion, my sister, brothers and I vied for a taste of the fresh juice. That intense pure flavor reminds me of childhood and Thailand. It was always disappointing when a rare coconut yield sour juice, indicating it was spoiled. After tasting the juice, Mom usually enlisted us to grate the coconut on the rabbit.
The method involves sitting down on the stool with legs straddled on both sides. Using one or both hands, you push the coconut’s interior against the serrated blade to grate the meat. The shredded coconut is captured on a plate or tray below. Ideally, you develop a rhythm as you steadily grind the meat, rotating the shell and as blade works it way down. You don’t want to grind all the way to the shell’s interior or you’ll grate hard bits of the brown shell into the meat. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice if brown specks show up on the plate. Whenever we thought we were done, Mom would inspect the shell and point out that there was more to grate. After one half was complete, we grated the other half of the shell. As kids, it seemed like it took forever.
When I cracked the shell, drained the juice and grated a pair of coconuts, the entire process only took about 20 minutes. Out of practice, I found myself picking out tiny bits of brown shell from the white shredded coconut.
To finish the dessert, I strained the juice to remove any unwanted strands of husk and shell. I added a little bit of juice to the steamed rice for flavor. Too much juice only makes the rice mushy. I sprinkled a mixture of cooked, cooled corn kernels, shredded coconut, salt, and sugar over the rice. The only step left is to grab a spoon and dig in.
It’s not every day that you meet world-famous Spanish master chef Ferran Adriá. Yesterday, a small entourage that included Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Director Julián Zugazagoitia, local media and I had the opportunity to accompany Adriá on an exploratory food tour through downtown Kansas City.
Adriá and his wife Isabel traveled from Spain to visit Kansas City this past weekend and promote the art exhibition Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity. The exhibition is on view through August 2, 2015 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kansas City is only one of five cities in the world showing this touring exhibition.
The master chef is known for boundless creativity and innovative cooking that earned acclaim for more than 2o years at his destination restaurant elBulli in Spain. Adriá‘s contribution to the culinary world includes not only nearly 2,000 original dishes the chef and his culinary team created, but also the distinctive, deliberate methods that fostered creative exploration through documentation and critique as a generative process. His thorough, relentless process enabled him to meticulously explore food, technique and culinary equipment as a foundation for creative thought and execution.
Over time, Adriá‘s use of drawings, symbols, language and visual organization expanded both the philosophy and practice of how cuisine could evolve. As notes on the exhibit state:
He created an innovative multi-sensory vocabulary and structure that expanded the ways in which we encounter, consider and judge our relationship to food and art. Through sketches, models and diagrams Notes on Creativity charts the origins of Adrià’s intellectual and philosophical ideas about gastronomy that have forever changed how we understand food.
The exhibit is a must-see for anyone interested in food and the inner workings of a fertile mind that has examined food’s role and connection to society, culture and sense of place in striking new ways.
While in town, Adriá, his wife Isabel, Spanish-speaking interpreter Sofia Perez (also a food editor/writer from New York) and company visited J. Rieger and Co. in the East Bottoms. Andy Rieger, Ryan Maybee and head distiller Nathan Perry discussed the history of their blended whiskey brand and distillery. We enjoyed samples to start our day’s trek.
Later, we headed to Local Pig and Urban Provisions next door. At Local Pig, owner-chef Alex Pope and butcher Adam Northcraft prepared voluminous samples of charcuterie. It was difficult not to overindulge. Truffle chicken liver mousse? Lardo? Lonzino? Yes, please.
“Fantastico!”Adriá declared of Local Pig’s delicious fare.
Adriá visited with Pope and Northcraft while a butchery class was in progress. Pope even prepared a pork steak on the fly by request for his famous guest, known for eating with gusto. After a while, we met the proprietors at Urban Provisions. They prepared refreshing drinks and snacks using some of the foodstuffs they carry from KC Canning Co. and other vendors.
Next, we ventured for a quick walk around the City Market and circled back to Happy Gillis for a multi-course lunch prepared by owners Josh and Abbey-Jo Eans and their kitchen team. As always, the food was on point and delicious.
Afterward, the group headed to Haw Contemporary Gallery for a brief visit with gallery owner Bill Haw, Jr. and exhibiting artist Andy Brayman. We concluded the day with wine and Green Dirt Farm cheese samples at Amigoni Urban Winery.
The food-intensive day was an adventure for all. The event offered an opportunity to showcase business owners dedicated to craftsmanship, whether it was whiskey, charcuterie, wine or a meal using local ingredients. At one point, Adriá acknowledged the “passion” inherent in both the people and the craft we encountered as demonstrated through food, drink and hospitality. By day’s end, the group was weary and content, ready to rest, digest and push on. This food tour is only one of many events scheduled during Adrià’s visit in town.
Adriá‘s stay only lasts until Tuesday morning; however, his impact will be felt for a long time throughout the food community he has generously spent time with on this whirlwind tour. Adrià’s influence on food through his art is more challenging to assess than his established, long-standing culinary achievements. Still, his rare, unique exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins is worth seeking out to explore the ideas, creativity and documented process of a striking mind.
Between July 2011 and December 2012, I photographed 19 chefs and restaurant owners and wrote profiles about them for KC Originals. During that period, I also photographed numerous dishes with accompanying recipes for the web site.
The brief profiles explore the subject’s culinary background, training, influences, and philosophy. The purpose is to inform diners about chefs and local owners at these independent restaurants in the greater Kansas City area. The recipes and profiles assist diners when scouting out local places to eat or dishes to try.
What I loved about these assignments was meeting professionals in the restaurant industry and supporting Kansas City’s local businesses and culinary scene.
Pictured above: Chef Charles d’Ablaing, Chaz on the Plaza.
I shot a series of photographs this afternoon at Snow & Company, which serves frozen cocktails using premium ingredients, for a KC Magazine assignment. The story, due out in August, is about cool sweet treats from local establishments. It is definitely a fun assignment.
These shots are outtakes from my visit. Camry Ivory and her friend Mallory Taulbee were kind enough to sit in and sample some delicious (and potent) cocktails such as Purple Rain, A Kick to the Peaches, Sailor’s Gold, and my favorite The Rockefeller. The menu includes a half-dozen other drinks (including a non-alcoholic option) and a few of them use local ingredients ranging from Christopher Elbow’s spiced chocolate to Boulevard Wheat Beer.
Hot weather slowing you down? Cruise over to 18th Street and Wyandotte, order up a frozen cocktail, and sip responsibly.
Recently, EBT Restaurant General Manager Adam Horner invited local writers and foodies to sample dishes from the menu updated by Chef Tate Roberts.
Renovated in 2006, the restaurant’s decor and atmosphere reflect its rich history and contemporary touches that offer a classy setting for drinks and dining. Here’s a description from the restaurant’s website:
Much of the decor for the restaurant comes from the Emery, Bird, Thayer Department Store that operated in downtown Kansas City until the 1960′s. EBT Restaurant was opened to honor that department store, which has ties to Kansas City history dating back to the late 1800s. The stained glass, much of the masonry, wrought iron archways and most notably, the two brass elevator cages were all salvaged when the EBT Department store was demolished in 1971.
Guests can reserve a table in one of the two elevator cages for a touch of elegance and novelty or secure a table in the refined dining room.
The draw for this gathering was Chef Tate Robert’s additions to the classic repertoire of dishes on the menu. Roberts has been with the restaurant for a number of years as it has undergone change to revitalize its offerings and attract new clientele under the stewardship of Adam Horner. Roberts cuisine presents classic dishes with a contemporary touch. Nothing too cutting edge that will discourage traditionalists seeking comfort or so revered that it can’t be reinterpreted for modern adventurous palates.
New dishes under the heading of contemporary include pan-roasted duck breast brushed with sweet currant orange glaze and served with sweet corn and Yukon gold potato hash, and bacon green beans; rosemary studded Colorado lamb T-bone; and grilled vegetable Napoleon. Classic entrees range from peppercorn beef tenderloin medallions to pan seared Chilean sea bass.
Other new items on the starters menu are grilled flatbread pizzas (truffle-dressed spinach, ricotta and candied Shallots; hummus, roasted red peppers and mint infused goat cheese) and my personal favorite, bacon wrapped tiger shrimp. For a list of menu items, check www.ebtrestaurant.com/menu.
Among the new signature cocktails, I tried the Pimm’s “New” Cup and The Original (Old Fashioned). The Pimm’s ‘New’ Cup (Pimm’s Cup) blends Pimm’s No. 1 with cucumber-infused lemonade and is served on the rocks with a lemon twist and cucumber slice. Refreshing and crisp, this drink is the perfect antidote to a busy summer day when it’s time to relax.
The Original (Old-Fashioned) is a pour of Woodford Reserve Bourbon over an Angostura bitters-soaked sugar cube and muddled fresh peach and blackberries served on the rocks with a splash of soda and peach flag. While it was a fruit-filled alternative to the citrus and cherry flavors often found in an Old Fashioned, the execution was not quite as satisfying as the Pimm’s. The drink was too strong and the flavors were not clean and distinct.
I look forward to returning to the restaurant to explore the cocktails, wine list, and other dishes on another visit. Conveniently located at I-435 & State Line, the restaurant also houses a lounge with live music Thursday-Saturday.
Recently, Pam Taylor and I traveled to Chicago and Boyne City/Traverse City in northern Michigan for a week’s vacation with the kids. We ate a few places that were easy to find if you’re in the area and were not touristy at all.
A standout discovery was Red Mesa Grill with locations in Boyne City and Traverse City. The menu features foods with Latin American flavors from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. The atmosphere was upbeat and cordial with bright decor. The Boyne City location seemed to have plenty of locals dining there, but I’ll bet this is a popular spot during the summer tourist season.
The food had distinct flavor combinations and presentation that didn’t feel Americanized at all.
Subtly spiced ground beef empanadas were perfect light pastries with a chipotle cream dipping sauce. Peruvian armadillo eggs are not what they seem, but they are delicious as an appetizer. I tried the masa dusted sauteed whitefish which was sourced locally and prepared to perfection – light crust and flaky, tender filet. Served with steamed vegetables and a chile sauce, the whitefish was a pleasant change from heavy breaded fish and chips. The Cuban black bean cakes were a hearty vegetarian dish. And the Costa Rican garlic steak was a winner as well. We savored the variety of housemade sauces served with dishes as well as bottled sauces on the table.
Other dishes I want to try on some future visit include corn Roasted walleye, wild mushroom fajitas, and roasted pineapple quesadilla. We did leave room for dessert which was a good call. The coconut bread pudding was insanely tasty. The kids enjoyed trying habanero fried ice cream which sounded adventurous, but was more cinnamon and fried dough than peppery.
Service was friendly and attentive. The only drawbacks to visiting Red Mesa Grill were that we had to leave the area soon for the return trip home and that we couldn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo there.
Until next time, I’ll settle for this recipe from the Red Mesa Grill’s website.
Roasted Tomato Salsa
5 lbs Red Ripe Roma Tomatoes
6 each Fresh Jalapenos
6 each Fresh Garlic Cloves
1 tbls Salt
3 tbls Cider Vinegar
1 lb White Onion Small Diced
1 bunch Fresh Cilantro, rough chopped
1 ea 15 oz can Salsa Diced Tomatoes
1) Wash tomatoes and place on baking sheet, and roast in a 500 degree oven until well charred on the outside.
2) At the same time on a separate baking sheet roast garlic, and jalapenos until charred.
3) Place roasted garlic, jalapenos, vinegar, and salt in blender and puree
4) Add charred tomatoes to jalapeno mixture and slightly puree, leaving salsa slightly chunky.