Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eating My Way through Kansas City

Kansas City Barbeque

"You can't go home without tasting BBQ," said my host and so I sat down again to dine, this time at Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbeque in the Plaza. "Zagat's rated this place number one (for barbeque) in the country," she continued. And, we began noshing yet another meal ... starting with burnt ends as an appetizer. Kansas City originated these two-inch cuts of beef ribs renown for their charcoal-black crusty edges - the parts everyone fights over like the baked corners of lasagna.

"Killer," I said.

For the entree we ordered a combo platter of sliced beef, pork and lamb ribs with beans and coleslaw as sides. Jack Stack's meats are slow-cooked and covered in Kansas City style barbeque sauce which means a sauce that's tangy, semi-sweet, and tomato-based. Everyone knows Kansas City barbeque is the best. Right? Now don't remind anyone from Texas, Memphis or Carolina.

I attacked with my fingers and, needless to say, it's messy dining, but honestly the only way to devour the mouth wateringly delicious morsels. Soon, I was stuffed, beyond stuffed, but Toni insisted we sample dessert. "Just a bite," she argued. 

Presto. Our waiter descended with warm carrot cake drizzled with cream cheese frosting that oozed down the sides. Need I say more?

That was Sunday dinner, my final meal of a two-day whiz-bang tour and food extravaganza in Kansas City, Missouri. I do not even want to imagine the calories. 
Oversized guest rooms at the Ambassador Hotel
Ambassador's Chef Geoffrey van Glabbeck

Saturday had begun with an early lunch: a burger suggested and prepared by Chef Geoff van Glabbeck at the swanky new Ambassador Hotel downtown.  The juicy beef patty was served between a pretzel-bread topped bun-- yummy American comfort food at its best. For dessert, a plate of warm, fresh from the fryer, beignets appeared covered in a snowstorm of confectioner's sugar. Certainly not a bad way to start a day or finish lunch -- but little did I know what was in store.

We stopped by the Farmer's Market, a bustling hum of happy shoppers among piles of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. Nearby, the  Steamboat Arabia Museum sat in an underground nook. The venue turned out to be a surprisingly memorable museum with an impressive display of everyday objects that were sealed in the mud when the steamer sank in 1856.  The story of this local recovery effort reads like a modern day treasure hunt. Some have called it "the King Tut's Tomb of the Missouri River." Why, even the Smithsonian has their eye of some of Arabia's pristine quality artifacts.  

Farmer's Market and Arabia Steamboat Museum

Off to the Kemper for a tour of contemporary art. I was delighted to run into some neon-green Chihuly glass. I'd been finding this artist's glass-works in numerous museums across the country and the Kemper piece looked like a bubbly garden of see-thru gourds. The Kemper's special showing of map-themed media was shall I say, a trip. Toni explained that all art museums in KC are free.  How cool is that?
Chihuly Glass at Kemper Art Museum

"Time for an afternoon snack," she said, stopping by Andre's, the city's number one chocolatier.  I chose an Aztec truffle from the delicate creations arrayed in the case. However, I saved it for later because we continued down the street for artisan ice cream at Glace. Oh my! I consumed a serving of salted caramel and chocolate. That certainly should have been enough to keep me full all night.

Aztec Chocolates

But, no. We had dinner reservations at Bristol Seafood Grill in the Power and Light District. I attempted to eat light by ordering the fresh catch of the day. Ha! The fish was too sensational to resist.  Bristol's seafood can rival any well-known steakhouse in Kansas City any day.

I was also intrigued by the glass bin for recycling wine corks placed near Bristol's front door. Locals pop in and drop off corks like folks do with used printer cartridges at the office supply store. Cheers to an eco-conscience restaurant and community.

Cork Recycling at Bristol's Seafood Restaurant

A soulful two-man play (The Screw Tapes) followed at the gleaming glass and chrome Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The building's dramatic architecture is reminiscent of Sydney's soaring Opera House and is alone worth a visit. The Kauffman, completed in the fall of 2011 at a cost of $413 million, boldly declares Kansas City's commitment to live theater, the symphony, ballet and opera.

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Eggs Benedict at Bluestem
Omlet at Bluestem

Banana French Toast at Bluestem
Come Sunday morning I wasn't scheduled for activities until brunch. I awakened early and hate to admit the audacity of nibbling my truffle in bed with morning coffee. But, I did. Even so, I devoured brunch at Bluestem Restaurant in Westport which prides itself on local ingredients. That and the fact that Chef Garrelts was nominated for a James Beard award.  A birthday at the next table allowed me the opportunity to take photos of the gorgeous plated dishes. I spied Eggs Benedict, and knew what to order-- one of my all-time favorites. Not only were the eggs poached to perfect semi-softness, the accompanying salad was a taste of springtime joy: light and refreshing.
A Caavaggio in the Nelson-Atkins

Courtyard Cafe at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

We were then off to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, one of the most architecturally complex art museums I have ever visited. The building contains numerous internal structures: chapels, villas, oriental temples and massive columned lobbies as well as one of the best Asian art collections outside China. One room featured an immense Buddha and Toni said yoga classes are sometimes scheduled there.

World War I Museum in Kansas City
The afternoon was not yet complete; we drove to the National World War I Museum- the only World War One museum in the United States.  The design is by the architect who created the Holocaust Memorial in DC.  As you enter you cross over a glass bridge above a garden of orange-hued artificial poppies. The guide explained that each of the 900 flowers represent 1,000 causalities in the war. Whoa- that statistic gave me goose bumps. What I soon came to realize was my scant understanding of WWI. I suspect most folks learn a great deal from the interactive displays and films with smoke and special effects.

Afterward Toni drove around the city so I could see State Line Road, the border into Kansas- but not Kansas City, Kansas--that's across the river. We then did what women are likely to do, stop to shop at the upscale Country Club Plaza. This 15-square block of Spanish architecture shops was built in 1922 (I would never have guessed). In fact, the Plaza was the first shopping style mall designed with the new fangled automobile in mind.  Many of the buildings reminded me of my hometown, St. Augustine, Florida which flaunts Spanish style architecture. However, St. Augustine charms with tiny streets and alleys while the KC Plaza pleases with high-end shops on wide open and airy courts. 

Country Club Plaza in Kansas City

We then exited a department store, turned the corner and found Jack Stack's BBQ. My waistline hasn't recovered yet. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Baking Mountain Dew Cupcakes

I'm not a fan of Mountain Dew, but I tasted a cupcake in Topeka, Kansas that was enough to make me holler, "Ya-Hoo". By golly, it did seem to tickle my innards- as the slogan claimed. I thought the unusual treat was fantastic and I loved its green color. I'd describe the taste as sparkling with lemon and lime flavors. 

My Mountain Dew Cupcakes

When I recently decided to bake cupcakes for a friend's birthday, I thought I'd try the recipe. Although my cupcakes seemed rather dense, they were still very flavorful and tangy.  I'd make them again.

Mountain Dew Cupcakes

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
zest from half of a lemon
zest from one lime
2 eggs
1-1/3 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup Mountain Dew
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp lime juice
3/4 tsp orange extract
neon geen food coloring, if desired

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add lemon and lime zest, then add eggs, one at a time.

3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large cup, stir together Mountain Dew, lemon juice, lime juice, and orange extract.

4. Add half of the flour mixture to the batter. Stir in the Mountain Dew liquid, and finish off with the rest of the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

5. Fill each baking cup 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cupcakes rest in pan for a few minutes before removing. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Mountain Dew Buttercream

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tbsp Mountain Dew
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 1/4 tsp orange juice
zest from half of a lemon
zest from one lime
neon green food coloring

1. Cream together butter and 1 cup of powdered sugar.

2. Add Mountain Dew, lemon juice, lime juice, orange extract, and zests.

3. Add remaining two cups of sugar (you can add more or less depending on your desired consistency). Stir in one or two drops of green food coloring, making sure the dye is fully incorporated before frosting.

Read this and other food blog stories on Wanderfood Wednesdays. 

Mountain Dew Cupcake in Topeka, Kansas

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Blue Planet Cafe, Topeka, Kansas

Street front view of the Blue Planet Cafe.

I only spent one day in Topeka, Kansas, but I've traveled enough to know a good restaurant when I find one. Actually I didn't find Blue Planet Cafe on my own. My host took me there, but from the continuous stream of customers in and out of the place, you can see it's a popular local's favorite--the best kind.

One reason-- just looks at the artistic presentation of cappuccino.

Beautiful cup of cappuccino.

Blue Planet opens Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch. Their freshly baked-from- scratch items include all breads, even the sandwich bread. The scones are very popular. They also have gluten-free and sugar-free items among an array of healthy food choices.

Blue Planet Cafe customers enjoy their lunch.
The restaurant buys local produce, recycles, composts and strives for energy efficiency. Their ballroom (yes, they have one) is used for live music, poetry readings and meetings. The main walls of our building feature a different local artist every month.

We stopped in for lunch and I ordered the black bean and cheese quesadilla. As expected, it was delicious but I truly appreciated the lack of oil used in the preparation. The tortilla was light and crispy on the outside with melted cheese goodness inside. Someone at my table ordered tomato soup which smelled divine and included nice-sized chunks of tomato in the broth.

Quesadilla of the Day

Ma Linda offers Sybil Cookies
Linda and Jeff Carson are the owners. Ma Linda (as she is called) made rounds offering freshly baked Sybil cookies. Ma Linda named them Sybil because they are multi-personality cookies with chocolate chips, cranberries, macadamia nuts, raisins, etc. How could I resist? 

The Blue Planet Cafe is not a fancy place, just a terrific place to meet friends for breakfast or lunch. They cater to vegetarians but offer selected lunch meats as well. Ma Linda explained that Saturday brunch was quite something to behold.  "Over here I get the church-type ladies, opposite sit the breastfeeding LaLeche Moms, the health food nuts linger around the corner and everyone else just fills in," she said.

It's a happy and happening place.   Don't miss it if you visit Topeka. 

Oh yes- they offer free Wifi.

Read this and other food blog stories on Wanderfood Wednesdays. 

Blue Planet Tomato Soup

Blue Planet Cafe
110 SE 8th Ave.
Topeka, KS 66603

785 783-8883

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fabulous Prix Fixe Dinner at Row House Restaurant, Topeka


When I thought of Kansas I imagined mile upon mile of corn and wheat fields. Of course, I knew I'd find cities, too, but I didn't expect the world-class meal I was served at Row House Restaurant in Topeka.

Row House Restaurant, Topeka, Kansas

Should you walk down Van Buren Street, I bet you'd never guess there's a restaurant from the exterior of the building.  Indeed, number 515 is a row home, a charming one with three levels plus a garden and patio--  all that work well for small group and intimate dining experiences. Many of the fresh ingredients are grown in the garden just steps from the kitchen. The ground floor includes a small bar with an atmosphere conducive to camaraderie. 

Chef Greg Fox changes the menu weekly, which is updated and posted on their website. He says, "I base my menus off the season, what's available, and what I feel like eating.  I am inspired by Kansas, by my upbringing, and by the many great women in my family who fed me all these years. You always find a taste of where I am from in my cooking. "

In the kitchen with Chef Greg Fox (right). 

Although the menu selections change from week to week, the meals always include a salad, soup, three entrees (one is always vegetarian), and three desserts. That means you get all those dishes at what I consider an amazingly low price -- $37.00 per person.  Personalization is available should you decide you want, for example -- a larger portion of just two of the entrees or just one dessert. 

I didn't make any menu changes because I wanted to taste each of  Chef's fresh dishes. The following decadent menu was served in late September.
Chef's Appetizer of the Day

Salad of romaine, radish, cornmeal croutons, and capers with Feta vinaigrette. The croutons were deliciously different.

Salad Course

The soup of the day was potato, carrot and kale: smooth and creamy but not too thick.

Potato Soup

Entrees began with the vegetarian choice: pumpkin and parmesan risotto with mustard greens.  Very appropriate for fall.
Vegetarian entree

Next came beef tenderloin, parsley chimichurri, and roasted root vegetables.  I especially loved the beets.

Lastly I was served a small portion of crusted chicken breast stuffed with Brie, cranberry cherry fool, and roasted root vegetables.  This was my favorite entree because I prefer chicken to beef and the sweet boldness of the cherries teamed well with the poultry.

Crusted chicken and vegetables by Greg Fox.

For dessert, three bite size servings arrived on one plate.  What a great idea. I wish other restaurants would offer this option.  Mine included chocolate cream pie with raspberry swirl, banana crumb cake and vanilla custard and apple walnut granola parfait. I have a sweet tooth and loved them all.

Dessert Plate served as the final course.

If I lived in Topeka I would be a regular at the Row House.  Greg Fox demonstrated his superior command of the kitchen and use of seasonally fresh produce to create tantalizing combinations. No wonder locals return time after time.

Row House
515 SW Van Buren
Topeka, Kansas
785 235 1700

Open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations strongly recommended.   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Medora, North Dakota: Pitchfork Fondue


Steaks are speared on pitchforks in Medora, North Dakota.

Medora, North Dakota is known as the home of former President and Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, the northern Badlands, and something called a  Pitchfork Steak Fondue.   Local families and tourists flock to the summertime event.

Cowboy cooks spear steaks on pitchforks and thrust them into vats of hot oil.  Don’t get too close, but it’s quite an operation to watch.

Steaks are cooked in a cauldron of hot oil.

Cowboy cooks prepare the beef.
You may feel as if you are in prison when given a partitioned metal tray but trust me, the food is delicious. Select your sides from the buffet - baked beans, baked potatoes, salad options, coleslaw, Texas toast, and fresh fruit – then let the cowboys slap a perfectly done medium-rare steak on your tray.  Wine and beer are available for an extra fee. 

Metal Tray holds the Pitchfork Fondue Meal.

Events begin around 6:00 pm in a pavilion on a hill overlooking the town.  The view is spectacular with nearly 360 degrees of open sky. Musicians from the famed Medora Musical serenade diners with some foot stompin' tunes.

Town of Medora, North Dakota as seen from the Pitchfork Fondue Pavilion.
Kids are attracted to the hillside which simply begs for a roll. Photographers eagerly await sunset at the panoramic site overlooking Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Eventually, dessert is served. Brownies and cake earn high marks and rank as crowd pleasers.

Most folks hang around until the Medora Musical begins in the nearby amphitheater.  The wait is a bit long as the show doesn't start until 8:30. However,  stomachs are full and just sittin' and soaking in the scenery seems rather nice. 

Read this and other food blog stories on Wanderfood Wednesdays. 

For other dining options in Medora please read my trip specific blog: Good Girls in the Badlands.

Dining at Theodores in the Rough Riders Hotel.
Fine Dining at Theordores.

Breakfast at Cowboy Cafe.
Town of Medora, North Dakota

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lunch with an Astronaut


As a travel writer I’ve met my share of million mile airline members and platinum level frequent flyers, but I recently dined with a man who undoubtedly has flown more miles than anyone I’ve ever met.

Debi Lander with Astronaut Charlie Walker

Charlie Walker, veteran of three space missions, and I were introduced before he spoke at the Kennedy Space Center’s Lunch with an Astronaut program.  Charlie was very personable and willing to share his experiences.

The luncheon began with a slideshow, Charlie's aptly chosen topic:  Food in Space. 
Astronaut Charlie Walker speaks with guests at Kennedy Space Center.

Anyone old enough to remember the first Mercury 7 astronauts may recall space food in squeeze tubes. Certainly not a meal I'd enjoy, but these were men who had the right stuff and were boldly going where no man had gone before.  They were so busy in their cramped space capsules their food didn’t really matter.

The Gemini and later Apollo flights to the moon had more palatable provisions. Astronauts drank what became a popular instant orange drink called Tang. They nourished their bodies with freeze-dried foods like stew or pot roast.  At mealtime an astronaut would inject water through a syringe to rehydrate the packaged contents. Charlie’s photos didn’t make these meals look appetizing either.
Dehydrated Space Meal 

By the late 1990's, NASA had established a space station and the food onboard was more normal.  Charlie told the story of a crewmember of Mexican decent who chose tortillas for his menu. When the other astronauts saw how easily he managed to roll up his lunchmeat or breakfast eggs, future missions included burritos and tortillas.
Space Food

More recent flights used trays with Velcro corners to secure meal containers and magnets to restrain utensils in the weightless environment.  The quantity of  fresh food has remained scarce and the overall quality was never intended to be gourmet. 

The Lunch with an Astronaut program also includes a question and answer period.  Kids in the audience particularly enjoyed asking Charlie about the sensation of  flying in space and his favorite memories.   

Visitors to the Kennedy Space Center can attend Lunch with an Astronaut for an additional fee.  The buffet offerings are fresh, healthy and quite delicious. No space food or fast food is served.
 Price is $24.99 for adults and $15.99 for children ages 3-11, in addition to admission.

If you would like to meet an astronaut, you can make reservations online or call 866-737-5235.
Seating is limited.
Click here to view the program menu.
Seating begins at 12:00 p.m. daily. Briefing runs approximately 1 hour. 
Read this and other food blog stories on Wanderfood Wednesdays.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blueberry-Cornmeal Pancakes

This recipe comes from Kris Hutcheson, innkeeper at the beautiful new Horse Stamp Inn, a bed and breakfast in Waverly, Georgia.  Kris uses eggs from the barn and homegrown blueberries from the Horse Stamp Inn gardens.

Welcoming sign at the Horse Stamp Inn, Waverly, GA


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup whole milk
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh blueberries

Whisk dry ingredients; whisk wet ingredients; whisk together the dry and wet ingredients. Pour the pancake batter onto a hot skillet and then add blueberries to the pancakes while they are cooking.
Read this and other food blog stories on Wanderfood Wednesdays.

Bacon quiche and Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes