Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Southern Accents

I don't always live in reality, which I find a healthy coping mechanism. When I'm at a teacher inservice, a doctor's waiting room, or faced with some other monotonous chunk of time, I can transport myself to a more interesting scenario. I often fantasize about being a Southerner. In this fantasy I wear a white seersucker suit and gaze at my magnolia trees while lounging on my front porch. I sip on a mint julep, which along with my seersucker suit makes me immune to the humidity. My words ooze like molasses as I curse chain restaurants and those damn Yankees up North. People call me Big Daddy and when people pay me a social visit, they bring me pies, bottles of whiskey, or baskets of peaches.

Why do I have an obsession with the South? There's a lot I love about the South - The Drive-By Truckers, kudzu, Elvis, the syrupy twang of voices, waitresses that call me hon', blues music, Southern storytellers, the Mississippi Delta, armadillos, Smokey & the Bandit, New Orleans, and the list could go on and on. However, it's the South's passion for food that appeals to me the most. Southerners love to congregate at the hilltop and sing the praises of their cuisine. I'm currently reading
Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing, a book celebrating Southern food. There are many foods endemic to the South - grits, molasses, molly moochers, ramps, scuppernongs, chitterlings, crawfish, muffulettas, po' boys, and Goo Goo Clusters. The book celebrates all of these foods, and when I read excerpts from this book, I feel compelled to hop in my car and drive south.

However my infatuation with the South is really fueled by the following: Being a Southerner is the polar opposite of being a Kansan. Most Kansans tend to be more subdued and restrained in their passions. We're shaped by our landscape, the Great Plains - a landscape that is seemingly ordinary, maybe even mundane or fly-over country, to most people. Being surrounded by ordinariness day after day tends to rub off on a person.
Once at a conference in Atlanta, someone from Louisiana asked me, "So, what's in Kansas?" I'm ashamed to say that I didn't really have a great response to that question. For the longest time I viewed myself as ordinary, and when I found myself on that hilltop ready to boast about my state, I'd scratch my head and defer to someone else. I guess, we're folk who are reluctant to boast.

Lately I've been intrigued by the fact that many states have designated official state foods. The following are a few examples:


State pastries: strudel and sopaipilla
State snack: tortilla chips and salsa
State pepper: jalapeno


State Jelly Mayhaw jelly
State Meat Pie
Natchitoches Meat Pie


State Vegetable Vidalia Sweet Onion
State Prepared Foods Grits

As you can see, Kansas isn't represented in this list. Why doesn't Kansas have any state foods? It probably stems from the observations I made earlier in my entry. I'd like to see denizens of The Great Plains rally and celebrate their cuisine. Our foods might not be as eccentric as the South, but there's much to celebrate. Over the next few weeks, I plan on nominating some foods to represent Kansas. If you have any suggestions, let me know.

Ad Astra Per Aspera,

P.S. I need to think about joining the following organizations:

Greater Midwest Foodways

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One Family, Two Views on How to Run Iowa Farm

"I tell people, our kids kind of grew up on a 'schizophrenic farm,' where dad farms one way [and I farm another]," Lavon Griffieon says. "I rail against genetically modified plants, while he plants genetically modified corn."

"The name of the game is yield, and you have to have the yield, so you have the bushels to sell," he says (Craig Griffieon).

I'm battling spring fever, so that last thing I want to do is sit in front of a computer and blog. I'm searching for some self-discipline.

Today I'm taking a shortcut and simply sharing something I heard on the radio. The above quotations are from a NPR story I heard Monday on All Things Considered. I found the feature interesting for the following reasons:
  1. It's ultimately about food.
  2. I've been thinking a lot about how my decisions as a consumer affect the world.
  3. It's about marriage and how one couple copes with individual differences. While this couple shares basic core beliefs, they don't always see eye to eye when it comes to politics and social issues. I'm interested in how they maintain a healthy, successful relationship. There's a lot to be learned from this couple.
  4. Finally, it explores the family farm, and lately I've been interested in recording oral histories to document the family farm in America. Throughout the year, NPR will report back with this family and share their stories.
Keep on the sunny side,

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Monkey Cupcakes

Last night my daughter had a dinner date to celebrate a friend's birthday. A good time was had by all, but the above monkey cupcake was my personal highlight. Cousin Jenny made these uber-cute cupcakes.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South

I've been reading Cornbread Nation 3: Foods of the Mountain South, an anthology of Southern food writing. Since I read the book before bed, I've had visions and smells of pawpaws, ramps, and country-cured bacon dancing through my dreams. It's no wonder I've been waking up hungry. I love the book because it celebrates family, community, and love that's often conveyed through food and cooking.

Last night I read an essay from that book written by Tony Earley titled "Two Grandmothers." As you can guess from the title, it's a tribute to his two grandmothers. It's a tribute that is grounded in food memories he has of each grandmother. I haven't read anything by
Tony Earley prior to this, but this essay has prompted me to seek out his novels and short stories to read. I hope to read something else from him in the coming weeks. The following is an excerpt from the essay:

Granny moved into the farmhouse at Rock Springs when she was a nineteen-year-old bride, in 1933, and lived there until December 2002, when she feel and broke her hip at the church Christmas pageant. She has resided since then in an assisted-living facility. When I visit her now, she talks mainly about returning home, though she knows that she isn't likely to. What she misses most is the work. She still marks time by the seasons of labor that she followed for almost seventy years - when to break ground in the garden, when to plant or harvest each vegetable, when to can green beans or tomato juice, or freeze peaches or field peas. Though she found a solace in the work itself, her labor always resulted in comfort or pleasure or sustenance for someone else as well: a clean house, daffodils or irises or lilies blooming in the yard, a steaming bowl of corn circling the big table in the dining room during Sunday dinner. The only praise one usually receives for such a life is necessarily local and private, though in a perfect world perhaps it wouldn't be. The last time I tasted my grandmother's corn was Thanksgiving 2002, and I took it for granted that there would be another bowl come Christmas. I would not have said so at the time, but I now realize that love, in its most selfless form, tastes like sweet corn made by an old woman working at daybreak, during the hottest part of summer.

The last sentence still floors me. ". . . love, in its most selfless form, tastes like sweet corn made by an old woman working at daybreak, during the hottest part of the summer." I get goosebumps when I read that sentence. It's one of those sentences that I find myself reciting during quiet moments in my life. It resonates with me and reminds me that there is truth and beauty in this life. I aspire to write something that great that celebrates my family.

Thank you for this food,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Limoncello Mint Lemonade

For the record I don't watch The View. However, I remember hearing from someone about Dannny Devito's drunken appearance on the show. Apparently, he pulled an "all nighter" drinking with George Clooney and showed up on the set intoxicated. I don't find this strange or out of the ordinary. However, I find the fact that he got smashed doing shots of limoncello intriguing. This was my first introduction to limoncello, so I set out to learn about this magical elixir.

Limoncello is a aromatic sweet lemon liqueur that is made from lemon peels. It's not exactly "shot" material. For the record I don't advocate doing numerous shots of any liquor. However, Mr. Devito's made the mistake of doing too many shots of limoncello. Shortly after that infamous incident, Mr. Devito launched is own brand of limoncello.

Last year I made my wife a lemon drop martini using limoncello that smelled like Lemon Pledge and tasted like this cleaning product, so I moved the limoncello to the back of the liquor cabinet. Last week I dusted off the bottle and attempted to use it in a new cocktail, a limoncello mint lemonade.

Prior to this recipe when I thought about mint in my food or beverages, I turned my nose up. In my world mint was reserved for toothpaste, breath mints, and chewing gum. However, I believe in expanding my horizons, so I picked up some mint at my local grocery store and set out to try something new.

This cocktail was a hit. In fact, it knocked the ball out of the park. There's a lot I like about this cocktail:
  • First, this drink just looks beautiful and refreshing. It begs you to drink it. A big batch of this cocktail in a glass pitcher would be the perfert centerpiece for a lazy afternoon with friends.
  • This cocktail tastes great. It reminds me a lot of those bottled hard lemonade drinks they sell in the liquor store. It's not overly sweet though, and it's a drink that leaves me feel refereshed.
  • The recipe is versatile. It can be adapted and morphed into a variety of cocktails. You could substitute the limoncello with rum and make a mojito. If you don't have mint leaves, you could leave them out. I actually prefer this cocktail with a limeade concentrate.
  • I know it's not hip to embrace high fructose syrup, but the lemonade concetrate makes this recipe quick to make and it helps with the flavor of the beverage. Feel free to make your own simple syrup if you choose.
Limoncello Mint Lemonade

The following recipe makes a 10-oz drink:
  • 2 tablespoons lemonade concentrate
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 6 or so mint leaves
Place the above ingredients in the bottom of a glass and using a wooden spoon, muddle mint leaves with lemonade and lemon juice - this will release the mint's oils. I like the idea of muddling. Usually when I muddle things up, I'm screwing something up. It's nice to know that I can muddle something up and it's part of the process. In addition, I get a drink out of the muddling.

Top the glass with the following:
  • Ice cubes
  • 1/4 cup limoncello
  • 1/2 cup club soda
Stir and then garnish with:
  • Lemon slices and sprigs of fresh mint


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

King Arthur Dough Whisk

When I see a new kitchen gizmo or gadget, I envision it revolutionizing my life and impressing friends. I think I need to own it. I'm like the kid who thinks he needs the $150 sneakers to play basketball well. However, over the years I've learned that there are a number of gadgets and gizmos that I never use. Instead of revolutionizing my cooking, these items simply take up valuable storage space. I still rue the day I shelled out 60 bucks on a Cuisinart ice cream/sorbet/frozen yogurt maker that I've only used once in five years. With age comes some wisdom, and I've learned to exercise a little restraint before I purchase something for the kitchen.

However, occasionally I can't restrain myself. Last month when I attended the King Arthur Flour Baking Class, I was impressed with how the instructor used a dough whisk. Within seconds I knew I needed this to become a better baker, so I purchased one directly from King Arthur Flour.

I love this little tool. The dough whisk allows me to mix doughs without fluffing flour all over my counter and floor, and it's easy to clean. This whisk works much better than my old wooden spoon, which becomes encased with plaster-like dough. I highly recommend this tool for home bakers.

As an added bonus, this kitchen tool could be used to threaten young children. "Don't make me get out my dough whisk. I whup your behind!" Just kidding. I might threaten young children, but I'd never beat them.

My beloved King Arthur Flour Whisk (Someday I'll pass it on to my daughter!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gin Daisy

Sorry for the hiatus. I've grown a little frustrated with trying to photographing my food. I hate interrupting my cooking to take photographs, so I've quit doing it for a few days. Without photographs I've been reluctant to post. I need to get over this. I promise to change my attitude and relax. Posting today is my first step. Last Friday's cocktail of the week was a Gin Daisy, a recipe I found at, one of my favorite food sites.

I'm a relatively newcomer to the world of gin, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite spirits. There's something very comforting and soothing about the aroma of gin that I love. Lately I've been thinking about how I can cook with it.

I enjoyed this cocktail because it's simple and refreshing. It's a great summer cocktail. I really liked it because it's not an overly sweet cocktail. My wife didn't care for this cocktail. She said, "It's just missing something." However, she never elaborated on the specifics of this comment.

Note: I didn't have any grenadine.
It seems like whenever I buy grenadine I use it once, and then there's a five-year gap until my next use. With this recipe, I simply used a little cranberry juice its place. It gave the drink it a nice pink tinge, without disrupting the flavors.

Gin Daisy
  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grenadine
  • Cold club soda
  • Slice of lemon and sprig of mint
  1. Shake the gin, lemon juice, and grenadine with ice; then strain into a chilled glass filled with cracked ice. Add club soda to fill. Garnish with a lemon slice and a mint sprig.


Bourbon Daisy: Substitute bourbon for the gin, and float 2 teaspoons Southern Comfort on top just before serving.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Portabella and Asparagus Salad

After trying the somewhat hoighty-toighty Bon Appétit recipe on Monday, I was ready to return to my roots. I kept it real, practical, and simple with my beloved asparagus. This is the way we typically roll in Kansas. We're practical, down-to-earth souls.

However, we still appreciate a good meal, and this flavorful, colorful dish will turn heads and tantalize taste buds. This salad is the real deal. I'm sorry my photos don't do it justice.


Portabella Mushroom and Asparagus Salad

  • 4 large portabella mushrooms, stems removed (used baby portabella mushrooms because they were less expensive.)
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, tough ends removed
  • 1 point grape tomatoes, halved (I used cherry tomatoes).
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Greek seasoning blend (I just seasoned with salt and pepper because I didn't have any Greek seasoning, but I've included a recipe for this seasoning, which I didn't make because I didn't have any dried mint.)

  • Brush mushrooms, asparagus, and tomatoes with olive oil.
  • Grill mushrooms until tender, 10 to 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Cut mushrooms into thin strips; place in a medium bowl.
  • Grill asparagus 3 to 4 minutes, turn occasionally. Cut asparagus into 2-inch lengths; add to mushrooms in bowl.
  • Grill tomatoes, cut side down, 3 minutes. Add to mushrooms and asparagus in bowl.
  • Drizzle lemon juice over vegetables; sprinkle with Greek seasoning, tossing gently to coats.
  • Serve.

Greek Seasoning


  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried minced garlic


  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to 6 months.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Bad Kind of Funk

I'm bad about letting the tragedies of the world weigh me down, and I occasionally spiral into a blue funk.

On my drive home yesterday, I listened to a story on NPR's All Things Considered about rising food prices afflicting impoverished nations. For example, food prices have increased 40 percent in Haiti, a country where the average income is two dollars a day. As a result riots have broken out in the country. As a parent, it would be extremely heart wrenching to stand helplessly and watch my child starve. I can't think of a crueler injustice in the world.

Unfortunately, these stories of starving nations aren't new. In the 38-years I've lived, you think someone would develop some solutions to this age-old problem. Some countries have an abundance of food, so you think that the solution would be to simply spread the wealth to poorer countries. It's a basic concept we learn in preschool - share. However, the principles I learned in the sandbox of my youth don't apply to the world..

I won the lottery win I was born. I was born in the United States. I had great parents. I've never gone to bed hungry. I had the opportunity to obtain a college degree. I strive to not take any of this for granted, but I still tend to occasionally whine and complain when I have a bad day. I feel guilty about this.

I also feel guilty about having a blog celebrating cooking, food, and eating when so many people in the world go without the basic necessities of life. I'm trying to come to terms with this guilt, and I've spent time thinking about what I can do to change the world. I've also thought about how my blog can transcend frivolity and become a force of change.

I don't know. Maybe I'm taking myself too seriously. Or maybe we all too often stand with our heads in the sand and underestimate the power of the individual.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Panko Crusted Asparagus

Excuse me while I ramble a bit. I promise I'll eventually get to the Panko Crusted Asparagus.

I don't always feel comfortable at parties. Much of it has to do with me being an introvert, so when I attend a party I feel like a vegetarian at a BBQ - I feel uncomfortable, uneasy, and out of place. I also spend a lot of time worrying about appearing interesting to the other guests. I guess, I'm still that junior high boy wearing corduroy pants who's approaching the cute girl at the junior high dance. At age 38, you'd think I'd be over this by now.

By now you're wondering what this Oprah-like confession has to do with asparagus. Well, my friends, when I'm socializing I imagine scenarios like the following:

I'm at a party and someone approaches me and asks, "How do you prepare your asparagus?"

I reply, "Well, I simply steam it."

Then there's an awkward silence. The individual finishes his/her drink, searching for a way to escape any more conversation with a boring guy who thinks steaming asparagus is the best and most interesting way to prepare it."
I know this is a bit strange. My friends, welcome to my world. I live inside my head too often, and I do imagine such scenarios. I know I shouldn't care what others think about the way I prepare asparagus, but I do. I don't want to be a close-minded dolt who refused to expand his culinary horizons.

I'll be honest with you. I do like my vegetables prepared simply. I'm the guy who cringes when someone dips a piece of broccoli in ranch dressing. Please don't deep fry, glaze, or drizzle a sauce over my vegetables. I like my vegetables naked. I want their full unadorned glory and nutritional value to shine down on me because I believe salvation can be found in a plate of well, prepared vegetables.

With the abundance of asparagus in the local markets, I've decided to dedicate myself this week to finding new ways to prepare asparagus and incorporate this wonderful vegetable into my culinary repertoire. Today's recipe is from Bon Appétit and possesses a very unwieldy title, Roasted Sesame-Panko Crusted Asparagus. Therefore, I condensed the title.

Panko-Crusted Asparagus

  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, divided
  • 3 teaspoons soy sauce, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger, divided
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)*
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 pound thick asparagus spears, trimmed, bottom 2/3 of each spear peeled
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce*
  • Preheat oven to 450°F. Oil large rimmed baking sheet. Whisk mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon grated ginger in pie dish. Mix panko and sesame seeds in another pie dish. Toss asparagus in mayonnaise mixture to coat (This part was extremely painful for me to do), then roll in panko mixture. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons sesame oil. Roast until browned, turning once, about 16 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, whisk 1 teaspoon water, brown sugar, chili-garlic sauce, remaining 3 teaspoons vinegar, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil in small bowl for sauce.
  • Transfer asparagus to platter; sprinkle with salt. Drizzle with sauce.

*Available in the Asian foods section of some supermarkets and at Asian markets.

My final verdict: I couldn't bring myself to drizzle my glorious asparagus with sauce. Rolling it in mayo traumatized me enough, so I drew the line when it came to drizzling. Much of the panko fell off during the cooking process. I wish it would have browned and coated more evenly.

This flavor wasn't bad, but I don't think it trumped plain ol' steam asparagus. Nothing beats the simplicity of nude asparagus. I don't think I'll prepare this recipe again.

Wednesday, I'll try an asparagus salad that is much simpler and mirrors my cooking philosophy.

Take care,

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich

I'm addicted to reading just as much as I am to food and cooking, so I visit the Lawrence Public Library at least twice a week. Each time I walk out of the library with my arms full of books, I can't believe that simply possessing a library card gives me this privilege. I treasure my trips to the library.
(muddywaters with daughter on her first trip to the library)

I have a four-year-old daughter, so she often accompanies me to the library. I'm happy to say that she 's becoming quite the little book addict. Last weekend we picked up a book that I thought I'd share with you. It's called Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich by Adam Rex. The picture of Frankenstein on the cover attracted my daughter. I thought it looked like a goofy book until I read the subtitle: And other stories you’re sure to like because they’re all about monsters, and some of them are also about food. You like food, don’t you? Well, all right then.

I do like food, so we checked the book out and reading it has been an absolute joy. It's a collection of poems sharing the problems various monsters face. My daughter loves not only the illustrations, but the author's playful language and sense of humor, which reminds me a bit of Gary Larson's Far Side cartoons. It's a witty, bizarre sense of humor that I appreciate. Check out the following poem from the book:

"Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night with Spinach in His Teeth" by Adam Rex

Will someone please just tell him? It looks so undignified.
The zombies almost mentioned it. The Headless Horseman tried.
But when he said, “Vhat are you staring at?” they lost their nerve and lied.

It’s been stuck in there for hours now. It’s getting kind of sick.
I would offer him a toothpick, but he gets this nervous tic
If you ever come too close with any kind of pointed stick.

Well, really. Can you blame us if we don’t know what to say?
His castle has no mirrors, so I guess it’s there to stay.
What was a vampire doing eating spinach, anyway?

I hope you chuckled. We can all relate to Dracula's spinach curse. The illustration that accompanies the poem doubles the delight.

Anyway, I hope you check out this book. It would be a good book to read during the Halloween season.

Happy reading,

Chorizo Tacos

Since we'll be out of town this weekend, we're trying to clean out the fridge of any leftovers, so I haven't been doing a lot of cooking this week. I did try a new apple dumpling recipe last night, but you'll have to wait until fall for me to share it.

Today, I thought I'd take a little bit of time to share a fabulous recipe for Chorizo Tacos that I prepared for last Friday's supper. It's a quick, easy recipe from Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures: Recipes and Stories, a book written by Rick Bayless and his daughter. Mr. Bayless is a Chicago chef who has garnered numerous awards, including the James Beard National Chef of the Year. I've tried several of his recipes and haven't been disappointed yet. He seems to be rooted in using simple, fresh, and seasonal ingredients, and he doesn't get too uppity about food.

The success of this recipes hinges on two important elements:

1. Roasting your own green chiles. You could make this recipe with canned green chiles, but I like the flavor of fresh peppers. I also like the whole experience of roasting chiles. I usually use a poblano chile, but you could easily substitute an Anaheim. For a guide to chile peppers, click on the following link at The Cook's Thesaurus: A guide to chile peppers. If you're unsure of how to roast a chile pepper, consult the following link: How to roast a chile pepper.

2. Good chorizo. I'm sure you could make this with a less expensive chorizo, but I like the sausage made by The Community Mercantile in Lawrence. I don't know a lot about chorizo, but I look forward to learning more in the coming years. If you're a vegetarian, there's a product called Soyrizo that you could use in place of chorizo. I haven't tried it, but I plan on slipping it into a meal in the near future.

Chorizo Tacos

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) Mexican chorizo sausage
  • 3 medium (3/4 pound) red potatoes
  • Salt
  • 2 medium poblano chiles roasted
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I think you could get by with a little less)
  • 1 small onion
  • salsa
  • guacamole
  • sour cream
  • cheese
  • cilantro
  1. Cook chorizo in large skillet. Break it up as it throughly cooks. If there's a lot of fat, drain it off. Remove chorizo from the skillet.
  2. Cut potatoes in half, then cut each half into 4 pieces. Place potato pieces in non-metal bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss. Cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high power for 4 to 5 minutes, until completely tender.
  3. Pour oil into skillet and heat over medium heat. Add sliced onion and stir regularly. Cook for 2 minutes until onions are translucent.
  4. Add potatoes and cook. Stir regularly and cook for 5 minutes until browned.
  5. Stir in chiles and chorizo. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes more. Taste and season with salt if necessary (Although I've never needed to salt this recipe because there's plenty of seasoning in the chorizo.)
  6. Keep warm over very low heat.
  7. Serve: Heat corn tortillas according to directions on the package. Serve with your choice of condiments. I usually keep this taco very simple as you can see in the pictures. I usually only eat it with a little cilantro and maybe some guacamole.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's Good to be a Jayhawk

Our household has been celebrating the big Jayhawk victory. Tomorrow we all go downtown to purchase our National Championship T-Shirts. I'm proud of what the team accomplished this year. In the tournament they did a great job representing the state of Kansas.

A nasty cold kept me from joining the downtown celebration. I felt really puny, so I took some Nyquil before bed. I guess that sometime during the night I got out of bed, and when my wife came downstairs to check on me, I was standing in the kitchen holding a bottle of whiskey. When my wife asked what I was doing, I responded, "I'm not feeling very well, and I thought a few sips of this would help." Then I guess I went to bed.

I don't recall any of this, which is rather disturbing. I think, this is another one of my wife's tale tales constructed to tarnish my good name. If this story is true, it validates my decision to abstain from a night of drunken celebration downtown.

Tomorrow I'll return to discussing food in this blog when I share my Chorizo and Green Chile Taco recipe.

Take care,

Monday, April 7, 2008

Basketball & the Barbecue Gods

(The simple menu at Payne's BBQ in Memphis)

I anxiously await the big game. I'm nervous,, light headed, and lack an appetite. Despite these maladies, I'm still blogging.

We battled North Carolina, and now we tangle with Memphis - both heavyweights in the world of BBQ. Coincidence? I think not, my friends. There are no accidents in this world. I think the BBQ gods are smilin' down on me with big toothy grins and smudges of sauce and grease at the corners of their mouths. This is a call to action - inspiration. I'm meant to cook some BBQ.

I see food in everything 24/7. I pretty much see the world as one big ol' buffet table.

I saw that Kathleen Sebelius made a bet with the Tennessee governor. She's wagering some Kansas beef while his wager consists of BBQ from The Rendezvous in Memphis. If KU wins, Gov. Sebelius will dine on some pretty darn good dry rub ribs.

However, my favorite Memphis BBQ is Payne’s. They serve a mean pulled-pork sandwich with some spicy coleslaw, and they serve it with love. I fondly remember the couple behind the counter and the guy in the kitchen treating us like family. I can't wait until I get the chance again to journey down to the Mississippi Delta. A lot of good people live in that region.
(Checkout the bright yellow, spicy slaw on the pulled-pork sandwiches.)

If you want a great profile of the food in the Delta and throughout the South, pick up John T. Edge's book Southern Belly. When you read it, pack a Wet-Nap because you're bound to get greasy.
(muddywaters circa 2000 at Payne's BBQ.)

(Bucky and muddywaters -circa 2000)
Keep the sauce on the side,

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Jayhawk Victory

The spring sun shines down on Lawrence today. Flowers and trees bloom. Children, free from the shackles of winter, joyfully peddle bikes down streets. The whole town pulses with energy after KU's victory over North Carolina last night.

After the final buzzer, I stepped out to my backyard. A cacophony of whoops, hollers, car horns, and joyful screams reverberated throughout the town. Fireworks even illuminated the sky. Saying that this was amazing is an understatement.

I didn't join the throngs of revelers who congregated downtown. I'm hoping that I'm able to do that for the real celebration tomorrow night.

Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Black Bean and Mango Salsa

To accompany our cocktails yesterday afternoon we made this sweet, tasty salsa. It's a nice alternative to your typical tomato-based salsa and goes well with grilled fish, pork, and poultry.

If you don't have any mangoes on hand, you could use pineapple. Even canned pineapple works well with this recipe. When the winter blah's have a stranglehold on me, I'll whip up this salsa with pineapple to give me a taste of the tropics.

We grilled hamburgers this afternoon and served this on the side. The salsa's flavor improves with time.

Black Bean and Mango Salsa


  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine
  • ¼ cup minced red onion
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced or you could use a serrano pepper if you'd like more heat.


Mix all of the ingredients together and season with salt to taste. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest to blend flavors. This salsa will keep 2-3 days.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Scarlet O'Hara

I'm at the point in the year when monotony dominates. It seems like my life consists of waking up, going to work, picking up my daughter from preschool, preparing dinner, spending a little bit of quality time with the family, giving my daughter a bath, and before I know it, I'm ready for bed. Then I get up the next day and do it all over again. Of course, I'm not alone in this. The rest of my family follows the same routine, and many readers of this blog probably adhere to a similar schedule.

When this monotonous funk afflicts my soul, I rebel. I, like Dylan Thomas, will not go gently into that good night; I will rage, rage against the dying of light so, I seek out activities to reclaim my mojo. I know life is just a series of mostly ordinary events. However, I believe we have the power to occasionally make the ordinary extraordinary. We can slow down the sands of time and savor the gifts life has bestowed us.

This is why I'm resurrecting our cocktail of the week ritual. Two years ago I gave my wife a cocktail shaker for her birthday, and every Friday we tried a new cocktail. This was a healthy way to unwind after a hectic week. However, this ritual got lost in the daily grind of life. After a seven-month hiatus, today marked the triumphant return of the cocktail of the week. After a seven month hiatus, this week I'm resurrected this ritual.

This afternoon we mixed up a batch of Scarlet O'Hara cocktails, a refreshing drink that had us speaking in a sweet, syrupy Southern drawl after a few sips. We perfectly ended our week - sipping drinks, grazing on chips and salsa, talking about the events of the wek, and planning our weekend. We successfully made the ordinary extraordinary.

Scarlet O'Hara

Things You’ll Need:

  • 4 ounces Southern Comfort
  • 2 ounces lime juice (approimately 2 limes)
  • 4 ounces cranberry juice
  • Cocktail mixer and strainer
  • Cocktail glass
  • 6 cranberries for garnish
  • ice
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and all teh ingredients except the cranberries. Shake vigorously until the outside the shaker is beaded with sweat and frosty.

Strain into cocktail glasses, garnish with cranberries, and serve.

Makes two 5-ounce drinks, or you can you make yourself one 10-ounce drink.

Carolina BBQ

I read in the paper today that governors Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Mike Easely of North Carolina are wagering barbecue on tomorrow's game. Ms. Sebelius is placing some Fiorella Jackstack BBQ on the table, and the source of Mr. Easely's "Q" is unknown. I'd like to know the name Gov. Easely's favorite BBQ restaurant, but in North Carolina, revealing this info. might alienate voters. There's probably passionate debate over who has the best Q in North Carolina. Kansans for the most part don't get as charged about their BBQ as Carolinians.

For the record, the majority of the great BBQ in my region comes from the Missouri side of Kansas City.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Greasy Five: North Carolina BBQ Bucket List

This weekend the University of Kansas Jayhawks face the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Final Four. Today’s Greasy Five is inspired by this monumental event.

You won’t ever catch me making any disparaging remarks about the great state of North Carolina in this blog because I don’t want to be barred from the state. You see, someday I hope to dine on their great BBQ. I know the BBQ universe extends well beyond Kansas City, and while I’ve enjoyed great Texas and Memphis BBQ, I’ve never had the privilege to feast on Carolina Q. Before I die I will visit the great state of North Carolina and partake in their glorious BBQ tradition.

How is the Tar Heel state’s BBQ different than Kansas City Q?

1. The pig is King in the Tar Heel state. It sounds like you’d have to search long and hard to find beef brisket on any menu.

2. In the eastern portion of the state they BBQ the whole hog and serve it with a vinegar-pepper sauce.

3. In the western half the state, pork shoulders are BBQ’ed and served with a tomato-based sauce.

4. Hush puppies or something called corn sticks are served with their BBQ.

5. You probably won’t find fries on the menu. However, you might find boiled potatoes served with your meal.

This month's Greasy Five consists of the five North Carolina BBQ restaurants I hope to visit before I die. To help compile this list, I pulled from my cookbook shelf North Carolina Barbecue: Flavored by Time by Bob Garner, and John T. Edge’s outstanding book Southern Belly.

The Greasy Five

North Carolina BBQ Bucket List

Note: Each restaurant on my list still uses wood in the cooking process. Call me a BBQ snob, but I refuse to eat at a restaurant that cooks any other way.

  • B’s BBQ in Greenville: In Bob Garner’s book on North Carolina BBQ, there’s a picture of B’s Barbecue where smoke lingers above the restaurant and the parking lot overflows with cars – two sure signs that this BBQ joint knows their business. B’s also doesn’t have a telephone. I like the thought of good BBQ being disconnected from mainstream culture. They’re out there doing their own thing, oblivious to the trends, fads, and whims the rest of the world follows.
  • Parker’s in Wilson: They raise their own hogs for their BBQ. This is the type of dedication and commitment I expect from a great restaurant. They also serve fried chicken, and supposedly do it very well, selling as much chicken as BBQ.
  • Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden: Their motto is the following: “If it’s not cooked with wood, it’s not BBQ.” National Geographic declared this restaurant the BBQ Capital of the World in 1984.
  • Lexington #1 BBQ in Lexington: The owner of this restaurant, Wayne Monk, is considered one of the godfathers of Carolina Q. I’d love to dine at this establishment because you can order what they call a “brown” tray, which consists of chopped meat from the flavorful, smoky, outside portion of the pork shoulder.
  • Wilber’s BBQ in Goldsboro: A BBQ restaurant that serves fried gizzards and oysters along with BBQ sounds like my kind of place.

My list could easily be longer because North Carolina is a BBQ Mecca. Someday maybe I can talk my wife into letting me spend two weeks rambling around North Carolina.

Additional Links:

North Carolina BBQ Trail Map from the NC Barbecue Society

Kent’s North Carolina BBQ Page

Shinola North Carolina BBQ Page

North Carolina BBQ Quest

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rice Pilaf

I used to rigidly follow recipes. To be honest, I'd get downright uptight about following recipes. However, during the last two years, I've learned that it's O.K. to deviate from the printed recipe. Sometimes it's necessary to substitute ingredients if I don't have something on hand, or I add ingredients that suit the tastes of my family. Or I simply use an ingredient that's leftover in the fridge because I hate seeing anything go to waste.

I'm now a much more relaxed, flexible cook.

Tonight we grilled pork chops, so I decided to prepare rice pilaf as a side dish. I love this recipe because it can be adapted to what's in my pantry. I'm sharing the base recipe that can be easily adapted. Sometimes I add corn or chopped carrots to this recipe. I just add them with the onions and celery in step #1. Tonight towards the end of preparing this dish I fluffed in a little leftover wild rice I had cooked earlier. I hope you learn to prepare this recipe to cater to your family's tastes.

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped celery
  • 3 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery and onion. Cook until soft.
  2. Add basmati rice and stir until the kernels are coated with oil. Stir another 2 minutes until the rice turns opaque.
  3. Add the water and salt. Then bring to a boil.
  4. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, cover, for 5 minutes.
  6. When ready to serve, fluff the rice with a fork.