Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Gourmet Meal With Ruth Reichl

The meal began with Onion and Fennel Bisque and Wolf Blass 2006 Eden Valley Riesling.

For the next course, we had Brussels Sprout Salad with Walnuts and Pecorino, and Stag's Leap Winery 2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay. The first main course featured Orecchiette with Rabbit Ragu and Penfolds 2005 'Bin 2' Shiraz/Mourvedre,and the second main was Braised Pork Osso Bucco with Sauerkraut and Penfolds 2004 'St. Henri' Shiraz.

By the time dessert arrived - Old Fashioned Apple and Raisin Dumplings and Penfolds 'Club' Tawny Port - I had become so engrossed in the meal and conversation that I forgot all about my camera.

Chef/Owner John McClure of Starker's Restaurant in Kansas City, Mo. had carefully selected each dish from the landmark new Gourmet TODAY cookbook in honor of special guest/past editor of Gourmet magazine, Ruth Reichl, who was gracious, warm and highly approachable. The evening's 'co-host' was renowned local independent bookstore, Rainy Day Books.

Reichl talked about the 1,000-recipe book into which she had put so much time and effort. Apparently, several conversations with her son, Nick, planted the seed. Reichl says he became an omnivore at age nine, and also enjoyed helping her in the kitchen. After Nick attended one semester of college, he moved to a dorm with a kitchen and began cooking in earnest. That's when Reichl learned that supermarkets - versus smaller New York specialty stores - had changed in recent years; Nick had no problem finding imported cheese or a wide variety of rice on grocery store shelves.

So Reichl and her team bought everything at the supermarket that 'surprised' them and began to create recipes. They also kept in mind how many people are now vegetarians. It's a far-different book from previous Gourmet cookbooks.

"This is an amazing time in American food," Reichl said. "These are all new recipes. Our mission, at Gourmet, has always been to get people back into the kitchen, which will make a huge difference in the future of [our country]." 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Food & Fun at the Kansas State Fair

I attended the Kansas State Fair for the first time, a couple of weeks ago. What a cool event! If you can't find something to do here, you're not trying very hard. There are dozens of rides and activities for kids of every age, and an equal number of livestock displays and competitions spread throughout the 10-day fair. Visitors can listen to live music, check out a nostalgic car show beneath the trees in Gottshalk Park or watch cowpokes attempt to shoot balloons mounted on construction cones as they zip around an indoor arena on horseback.
But my favorite part of the event is the food. You could eat your way through this fair and rarely repeat the menu even if you attended every day. Sample the state's best adult beverages at the Kansas Wine & Beer Garden. Purchase a tall, freshly squeezed cherry limeade or crunchy fried green tomatoes. Chow down on a bierock or - my personal favorite - a small block of vanilla ice cream drenched in hardened chocolate, topped with crushed peanuts. If you've never visited your state fair before, you don't know what you're missing.

The (Surprising) Henderson House Inn and Retreat Center

There's a surprising 'neighborhood' in tiny Stafford, Kansas. From the outside, Henderson House looks like nothing more than a beautifully restored 1905 National Register of Historic Places home, with a nicely painted sign. But it's only one of multiple buildings that comprise Henderson House Inn and Retreat Center, located less than an hour outside bustling Hutchinson.

The equally impressive Spickard House lies on the opposite corner. Guests also may stay at Littlefield House, just down the block, or at Weide House, which anchors the next intersection. The entire 'neighborhood' provides dozens of beds and multiple private baths amidst Victorian luxury and modern convenience. At Spickard House, guests from all houses eat breakfast on lace and linen-topped dining tables, which range from egg casserole - a comfort-food concoction of shredded hash browns, eggs, and cheese - to large, homemade cinnamon rolls.

But owner, Clare Moore, had more in mind than a traditional bed and breakfast when he assembled his neighborhood. That's why he also purchased an antique church and added a pavilion to the back of Littlefield House, with meeting rooms for up to 125 people, WiFi, a commercial kitchen and contracts available for multiple meals and refreshments. Moore also offers Murder Mystery or Wings N Wetlands Weekends (Quivira National Wildlife Refuge is nearby) and encourages wedding or hunting gatherings.

The Henderson complex is perhaps Stafford's busiest neighborhood - and it's best kept secret.