Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cuckoo for Cocoa Beer

Americans have been known to participate in some interesting fads.

Fad Rock

The good citizens of Kansas City are no less immune to a goofy fad than Americans in general. This is a tale of one such fad.

Kansas City happens to be home to the Boulevard Brewing Company. Probably their best known beer is their Pale Ale.

Screen shot 2012-02-26 at 2.08.36 PM

They sell quite a selection to cover your yang for beer. But Kansas City is not only known for barbecue and beer. Happily we can add gourmet chocolate to the list of good things to come out of Kansas City, thanks to Christopher Elbow.

trio 1

irish creme

I get way more excited about chocolate than I do beer plus the boss doesn't care if you go out at lunch and throw down a couple of chocolates. Hell, my boss asks me to bring some back for her.

I don't know who originally came up with the idea but back in 2010 Boulevard Brewing decided they needed a Valentine's beer to add to their speciality/seasonal roster. Why not make a chocolate beer? Better yet, team up with man known for chocolate in Kansas City, and make a Christopher Elbow chocolate beer. So they made a batch, put out the word in early January 2011 and Boulevard Christopher Elbow Chocolate Pale Ale sold out fairly quickly. Not only sold out quickly but apparently made an appearance on Ebay at a price way over it's original selling price. Local beer lovers took notice. Chocolate lovers took notice. Opportunists took notice. 2012 rolls around and Boulevard announces that yes, Chocolate Ale will return for the Valentine's holiday. However the marketing campaign for the beer went into overdrive. The brewmasters were giving television interviews. Christopher Elbow was everywhere pushing the beer, newspapers, magazines and radio. January was an onslaught of Chocolate Ale hype. When the beer finally reached the stores, the lines were deep and the people were waiting to buy as much as they could.

Boulevard Choc Ale

I think it sold out locally the same day it was released despite the brewery making three times as much as the year before. I didn't notice until I saw the signs up on just about every grocery store I frequent saying they were out of Chocolate Ale and wouldn't be getting any until 2013. Really? None to be had in the city? Yes, pretty much that was the scenario. I wondered if I could get a bottle from an online distributor? Certainly the KC madness couldn't reach into other areas? So I found a online beer seller and ordered a bottle. Or I should say that I thought I ordered a bottle. They took the info, my credit card number and shipping address. Actually the shipping was more expensive than the one bottle of beer. So I waited. It wasn't until later into the next week when I realized that I hadn't received a shipping notice or tracking number. The reply to my email inquiry as to when I would receive the beer I ordered made me realize that the stupidity had indeed reached even further out of Kansas City. The online beer seller was saying that when I had made my order that they actually didn't have any in stock. That I had neglected the big red warning that said just that. Of course I immediately called Shenanigans because had there been a big red warning (as there was now on their website) I wouldn't have ordered it. I would have kept on googling for a beer seller that actually had it in stock. Beer seller did not like my logic or the fact that I cancelled my order. I thought that was the end of the Boulevard Beer debacle but there was one more chapter waiting to be uncorked.

Turns out at least a third of the batch Boulevard sold had some "unwanted flavors". WHAT?? Punky chocolate ale? That's right and they would buy back that funky beer (after jumping through some hoops). This was just too rich. Even better? The online Beer Seller emailed me again claiming to have gone out and purchased more chocolate ale from other liquor stores in their area to keep up with demand for the beer. He also felt the need to add that his other customers were very happy with their service. This made me chuckle heartily. Whenever someone feels the need to say how well they are doing something it almost always means ass covering is in full effect. I couldn't resist one last email poke. "This beer you purchased, was it the beer that Boulevard is recalling for being nasty?" I can only assume that Beer Seller is just too busy accepting accolades from his many happy customers because my email in-box has been empty, waiting for his response.

So there you have it, a little February mania over beer and a little peek into life in Kansas City.

Friday, February 24, 2012

No Harm No Foul??

Does anyone remember this movie? CC and Company? Joe Namath, Ann Margaret? 1970? No? I remember it. I remember it for one thing and only one thing only. This clip.

Pretty funny huh? I especially like the dainty way Joe utilizes a paper napkin. But that's a bad 1970's movie. It shouldn't be real life. And yet....I see more and more people imitating Joe Namath in his seminal role as CC Ryder making a sandwich.

bulk craisins

Take for instance this bulk container of craisins. You and I might think it's bulk display to sell dried cranberries. Other folks look at it as a free range feeding station. Crunchy feely granola-looking girl certainly did. I watched in amazement as this skinny little woman stuck her unwashed paw into the display and grubbed out a handful that she quickly shoved into her mouth. Not one or two craisins but enough to puff out her cheeks like a greedy chipmunk. Still hungry, she grabbed another pawful. She must of felt my gaze because she looked up, saw me staring with my jaw dropped to my chest and skittered safely onto the next aisle. Now unless this chick got weighed on her way into the store and will get weighed again at checkout, bitch just committed petty larceny. This is not some poor soul, stealing bread for their starving family. This is someone who could afford a trendy messenger bag and some kicking boots. So why did she feel entitled to eat food that was obviously not hers? Why did she think I would want to purchase any of the remaining product after she grabbed a handful, ate them from her hand and then grabbed more? I'm trying to imagine just what other nastiness transferred to that big bag of craisins.

This is not the first time I've seen someone boost some breakfast. I was in a grocery store closer to where I live when I overheard two boys snarfing down on Long Johns. You know the oblong chocolate iced donut? The one boy asked other other what he thought of their treat. Apparently his response was a bit hesitant because the first boy shared that they were much better early in the morning when they were fresh. They walked away in the general direction of a woman who I was assuming was one of the boy's mother.

house of thehen donuts

She was busy not paying attention to them. Did they pay for them? Not a clue, they were still shopping when I left but the donut case is near the front of the store so I'm guessing that good old mom failed to mention to the cashier about her son and his friend's little snack. Again we're not talking a ton of money to either the grocery store or to the shopper. But what the hell is this mother teaching her son? Hey, if you don't get caught, it's not a crime? We're not talking a family at the point of starvation. We're talking a grocery store located in a county that counts itself one of the most affluent in the United States.

Is this something I'm just seeing? Is anyone else noticing such petty pilfering in their experiences? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Eating at the Abbey

OK this is just an excuse to post a pretty picture of some of the lovely ladies of Downton Abbey but there's a fascinating piece over at NPR about the complexity of food before and after two world wars in Great Britain.

Plus I might even watch one episode of Top Chef again if it could be arranged to have the Dowager Countess could put the smack down on Chef Tom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Construction 101

I'm not sure why but I seem to be taking on cooking projects that are more like actual construction projects than simple, making fun dinner recipes. This is what happens when you cannot let something go to waste, like fresh okra. I still had some fresh from my okra pie quest. I wanted to use it in a non-traditional way (because okra pie is so yesterday...) and I also like to stretch my kitchen skills muscles. My first thought was to take the basics of shrimp gumbo and make them into a tamale filling. The cuisines of countries south of the US are largely unexplored by me so tamale making required some research. It looks fairly simple, make filling, make masa, place masa and filling in soaked corn husk and steam - VOILA! Right now all the righteous old school tamale makers are cackling at my naivety. My research did not scare me off from the process but it did change the course of the filling. You see tamales, in their final cooking stage, steam quite a bit, depending on the recipe you follow. I'm not sure how shrimp would hold up to that and I really didn't want to find out the first time I made tamales. So I shifted gears into thinking about a different filling to pair up with my okra. Traditional choices seem to be slow cooking a pork shoulder in many wonderful spices and then shredding the meat. But that's a lot of meat even with a small pork shoulder and pork didn't seem to be the right combo with the okra. Then I had lunch at a new downtown restaurant, The Tamale Wizard.


No, that's not a tamale but anytime a KC restaurant has soft shell crabs on their Fish Friday menu, you'll soon find me sniffing around. Actually it was the second time I had lunch here that gave me (stole) the inspiration for my tamale experiment. It was a delicious and juicy short rib taco. Short ribs would be a great pairing with the robust flavor of okra. With my filling choices and flavors decided, it was time to draw up a schedule and begin construction.
Recipe Construction Schedule
As you can see by my construction schedule, the short rib filling is an all day preparation. But that's ok because your crockpot is your friend when it comes to cooking short ribs.

short ribs 1

But first it's best to braise them in a little bit of oil. For this recipe I'm using 2 pounds of bone in short ribs, English cut.

short ribs 2

Once you've browned them on all sides (3 - 4 minutes) you're going to put them in your crockpot with 4 strips of bacon, a quartered medium onion, 4 cloves of crushed garlic, 1 cup sliced grape tomatoes, 1/2 cup cilantro, 1 bay leaf (I use fresh), 1 tablespoon each of cumin, chili powder & smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons each of coriander and kosher salt. Add 2 cups beef stock to the ribs and spices in the crockpot. If the stock does not just cover the ribs, add enough water until it does. Let that cook on low for 8 hours. Once 8 hours has passed, turn off the crockpot and let it cool down for an hour still in the crockpot. Then transfer to a container and cool completely until you are able to handle the meat. Shred the meat and discard the bones but save all the cooking liquid.


While your meat is cooking, you need to start soaking your cornhusks in a large shallow pan of hot water. Weigh the tamales down with a plate so they stay submerged. Corn husks come in different sized packages so you want to soak at least 25 for the amount of filling and masa this recipe makes. In my area, finding corn husks was fairly easy but your area may differ. Soaking can take 2 to 3 hours because you want those husks soft and pliable. Once they are soft, rinse off any remaining grit and set aside for assembly.

Your meat is cooking, your husks are soaking, you now need to start your masa. Masa is made from dried hominy and if you can find a place to buy corn husks, it's a sure bet they also have masa. Take 4 cups of masa and mix it with 2 1/2 cups warm water. It will be a dry dough at this point. Set it aside. In a bowl combine a tablespoon of kosher salt, 2 teaspoons of baking power and a cup of lard. Now if you are anti-lard, you can substitute vegetable shortening. I broke out the lard for this recipe. Mix in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Now you're going to add the masa to the lard mixture a fourth of the masa mixture at a time, making sure the masa is well incorporated before adding the next. Once all the masa has been incorporated, add one cup chicken stock and beat for 5 minutes. Now for the important floating masa test.

floating masa

Grab a small ball of the masa mixture and drop it in a glass of water. If it floats, you're good. If it doesn't float, mix it some more and test again. Once it floats, cover the masa with plastic wrap and chill for an hour. After an hour pull it out of the fridge and add another 1/2 cup of chicken broth and mix well. Conduct second float test. Once it floats, your masa is ready for assembly.

Now for the last part of the filling puzzle, the okra.

roasted okra

Unlike the pie recipe when I used okra's slime, here I wanted to eliminate the ooze. Again, I heeded the wise words of Chef Virginia Willis, roast it and the slime will be gone. There's also another reason to roast okra. It just makes it better. Actually you can apply that little sticky bit of advice to almost any vegetable. You want to taste a vegetables' true flavor? Cut it up, coat it in a little bit of oil, sprinkle on some kosher salt and roast it in a hot oven until it caramelizes just a little bit and eat it hot. Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and all the leafy greens can be roasted. It's just good stuff. So that's what I did with the okra. Roasted in a 400 degree oven for not very long, you have to watch so it doesn't burn.

Let the assembly begin.

tamale assembly1

Here is the husk with masa dough spread out. Roughly you want a four inch square of masa about an inch away from the top and bottom of the husk.

tamale assembly2

Then you put your filling down the center of masa. I'm fairly certain I have too much mixture to masa in the picture above. You want to be able to roll the sides of the masa over the mixture and seal in the middle but those first tamales were just butt ugly things to behold. However, when you've reached this stage, there's no going back. So the general idea is to fold the corn husk over and roll it to seal the tamale. Then you fold the bottomed tapered edge towards the top. Some recipes call for tying the tamales with kitchen string, others don't. I tied and learned a valuable lesson. Don't tie too tightly because the tamales expand in the steam and your string will cut your tamale in half. Not pretty.

So all my tamales were assembled and ready for steaming. Not a hard thing right? Miss Think's She Can Do This With A Jury-Rigged Steamer had all the answers right? FEH! Unless you have a steamer insert in your kitchen job-box, just go buy one of these. It costs fifteen bucks and you can use it to steam just about anything.

This nifty little pot has an insert with steamer slits and hole in the middle that allows you to add water to your steamer without it getting all over your tamales. So you take your tamales and place them standing up around the edges of the interior of the steamer. Again, don't pack them in too close together so they have room to expand. Place a few extra soft corn husks on top of all your tamales to help seal in the steam. Add the lid and steam them for at least an hour and 15 minutes. Again, the steaming time varies recipe to recipe. I went two hours and the test is to pull a tamale out of the steamer and see if the husk pulls away from the masa easily. If it does and the masa looks and feels spongy, they are ready.

At this point you can eat the tamales as is but I hate wasting anything so I decided to make a sauce of all that lovely liquid that the short ribs cooked in. The first step was to bring the liquid and the accumulated solids to a boil. Reduced it down a bit. Then I hit it with my stick blender to incorporate the solids and let that cook down. Next I took the results of that and strained out the remaining solids. The strained liquid I put back in the pan and tasted. I found it a bit salty so I added a tablespoon of brown sugar and let it blend into the flavors over a medium heat for 7 - 10 minutes. Tasted again and found the saltiness was now balanced with a bit of sweetness. Still it was missing some heat and complexity. Added some healthy shakes of some wonderful ancho chili powder and again let it cook again for 5 minutes. Almost there. Another shake of chili powder and the juice of half a lime. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes and taste. Oh yeah, that's the flavor I was looking for. Add just enough beef broth to loosen the sauce up and drizzled it over my freshly steamed tamales.

short rib okra tamales

Oh my goodness, they may have been ugly, they may require many man hours of professional contractors but damn they are good. The sauce is just a tad sweet with a whole lot of spice and the meat and okra mixture is bold and hearty. Bless you leftover okra for a job well done. I think I'll give my crew a bonus.

New Toolbelts for Everyone!!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Chocolate Solar System

Too beautiful to eat, it's the chocolate solar system.

chocolate planets

Sadly these beautiful chocolates are only available thru L'eclat of the Righa Royal Hotel of Japan.

choc universe

And no...they don't ship overseas. Whaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!