Archive for the ‘Boonie’ Category

Sunday evening ribs…

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While down at my folks’ place yesterday, my father pointed out in the Target ad how cheap pork back ribs were: $1.79/lb. There was a limit of six racks per person, so I went with and we came back with 12. Four racks got cut into thirds and seasoned with Kosher salt, cracked peppercorns, cumin, cayenne and garlic salt. Into the smoker they went for about five hours with a little sauce basting from Big Boned Barbeque for the last 30 minutes. Baked potato, beans and a salad made for a wonderful sunday night with some of the neighbor “kids” from Sugar Valley – I don’t know why I say kids, we’re all old enough to drink. Sorry I couldn’t get any pics of the finished meal; cameras and barbeque don’t go together very well. But trust me, the table looked great!

I met the guys from Big Boned last year at Rib America in Des Moines and got along fabulously with them. (Thanks again for letting us use your oven to bake our beans!) Get a hold of Pat Nelson at Big Boned Barbeque to order a bottle or two for yourself and to see if their professional team of BBQ artists will be rollin’ into your city. And when ya see them, tell ’em Boonie sent ya!


“Pate a choux” kind of weekend

Photo courtesy Bethany Kohoutek

Photo courtesy Bethany Kohoutek

The forecast for the weekend wasn’t looking so great here in Iowa, so Bethany and I planned to spend our Saturday and Sunday in the kitchen. In preparation for her sister’s baby shower, the plan was to focus on some sweets. Myself, I’m not really into desserts or sugar indulgences. I can be swayed after a few drinks at the end of dinner into ordering creme brulee, though. And it is my affinity for just that dessert that set us sail on a stove.

Michael Ruhlman’s latest effort, Ratio, enticed me to try the versatile creme anglaise. It’s a sauce. Creme patissiere. Ice cream. And…it’s creme brulee. I chose option B, the creme patissiere. The flavor was great, but I think the amount of starch added at the end was a bit excessive at 6 Tbs. It thickened up a bit much, but a little more heavy cream and a spin with the whisk in the Kitchen Aid smoothed out the problem.

It ended up filling the pate a choux cream puffs that were made prior. I can’t begin to stress how fast and simple the pate a choux was to make. THESE are just as versatile as the creme anglaise; and cheap to make as well! Flour, egg, butter, water, sugar. Done. The pate a choux can easily be turned into profiteroles, gougeres, gnocchi, eclairs. Give it a try and you will be laiden with praise and adoration at your next family get-together…I promise.

Photo courtesy Bethany Kohoutek

Photo courtesy Bethany Kohoutek

Not content on just vanilla, chocolate mousse was on the docket for Sunday. The recipe was from The Professional Chef, 7th ed. I value this book like most others do in the kitchen; it’s my security blanket when I doubt myself. BUT, there are a few conflicts between visual instruction and recipe I have a problem with. “Chocolate Mousse” is one of them. Pages 976-977 give a detailed step-by-step process on the construction of said dessert. “Whites generally whip to a greater volume if they are at room temperature,” per the visual instruction. There is no mention of heating the whites (yolks, yes) over a water bath. However, page 978 instructs one to do just that; contradicting what was just explained a couple pages prior and “Whipping Egg Whites and Making Meringues” on page 867. I learned this first time I tried their mousse recipe last year. I received absolutely no volume out of my egg whites, despite my valiant efforts to inflate them. Is it just me? If so, I learned my lesson. I think the photos speak for themselves.

Photo courtesy Bethany Kohoutek

Photo courtesy Bethany Kohoutek

Hello, it’s me…

So, I've been thinking...

So, I've been thinking...

My foray into food began years; some of my first memories in fact. Like many other children, I’ve come to find out, my father put the food on the table…literally. Sunday dinner was and still is the culinary highlight of the week at my folks’ house. Dad prepares the same dishes that Midwesterners consider “comfort food.” Meat loaf, beef stew, homemade chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, “Iowa” pork chops, smoked baby back ribs and actual HOMEMADE-NOT-BREAD-MACHINE-MADE…(catch my breath)…bread. These were the same dishes my grandmother made for him when he was growing up. If asked, as many foodies do when gathered at a bar table after a few rounds, what their “last meal” would be, mine would be any of the aforementioned on Sunday afternoon…in Iowa…during Autumn.

Despite the teachings of television sitcoms in the ‘80s, fathers also cooked. I could be wrong, but this is probably the only time T.V. has lied to me. I admired the work my father did in his kitchen. I took pride in the praise that he garnered from guests when my folks hosted company when I was young. He accepted it quite graciously if only because of the number of empty Busch cans stashed away beside the refrigerator. It was inspiring to see a grown man, my father, creating a meal that brought joy and happiness to the guests in our house. Who inspires me? Daniel Boone was the first…I’m not joking, my parents’ names are Daniel and Pat Boone.

My father’s humble culinary talents enticed me to try my hand at a few dishes when I was younger. “Sweet & Sour Meatballs” comes to mind. As does “Chicken Breasts Maryland.” Actually, I entered the kitchen through a book called Wok Cookery, where both of the previous dishes came from. It was a book published by HP Books authored by Ceil Dyer. Why a wok? Because my father also makes some killer egg rolls from scratch. I still haven’t had a better one…or a better sweet & sour sauce. My parents were married in ’77, so they were probably one of the first couples to receive the obligatory wok as a wedding gift. I was a novel gift back then that has since become the butt of many a wedding-gift-opening Sunday afternoons. Of all the utensils in my father’s kitchen I’d claim if given the chance, including a commercial range, it’s his WELL seasoned wok. It is an absolute thing of beauty. For many years, IT was the workhorse of the kitchen. From stir-fried beef & broccoli to breaded tenderloins, it made dinner happen when times were good and bad.

Fast forward to high school. For a couple of months during the second semester of my freshman year, I worked at a pizza joint in Madrid. I didn’t necessarily “need” a job, but I loved the product and wanted to become a part of it. It was a Victorian era house that was turned into a restaurant. It was an established place that had existed for about five years before I threw myself into the mix. I wish I would have stayed working there a little longer. I have fond memories of my time in the kitchen. Whenever I hear Cracker’s “Low,” it immediately takes me back to that pizza oven, shufflin’ deep-dish pies. Ignorantly, I chose extra-curricular activities over steady employment. I could have kept that job all four years of high school if I wanted. Even at a young age, I realized the service industry had a fast-moving revolving door, as a lot of my buddies and acquaintances moved in and out of that place at the same cadence.

Just a year later I did need a job. I was in a minor automobile accident that was entirely my fault. I needed a few hundred dollars to pay for the repairs wrought by my own misjudgment. My mother was, and still is, employed at Iowa State University. She had a coworker whose husband worked in catering at one of the university’s conference centers: the Scheman Building. With very few options and an urgency for some scratch, I gladly accepted the duties of prepping food, serving “tea, milk or coffee” and washing what would end up being millions of pieces of china and silverware through a Hobart carousel dishwasher.

The pay sucked, $4.35 an hour. No tips. No perks. No benefits. As a minor, by law I was limited to 20 hours a week. Friday and Saturday nights quickly became busied by banquet catering. I was working with college students at least five years my senior, which for a 16-year-old youth, was an eternity. I thought myself to be mature then and enjoyed the intellectual company they would share with me. That, and I was working side-by-side with college girls. No, “women.” Real. College. WOMEN. When Bourdain talks about the sexual tension that is present in many kitchens, he’s telling the truth. And it wasn’t just my adolescent hormones that were raging. Well, maybe it was. But the college-aged guys working there were immediately brought back to 16 when any of the gals flirted back or showed an interest in any of them. In fact, I learned a few years ago that some marriages were wrought from that kitchen. Whatever that tension was happening while we prepped food for a banquet reception sure kept the time flying.

It wasn’t haute cuisine or anything remotely close to food porn, but I started to enjoy it. The more I worked in that kitchen, the more I wanted to stay in there and not have to serve. The cook, Donnie, and I got along pretty well. He was easy going and I was eager to be more than just a pawn dropping tea off to a bunch of old ladies. Cooking pasta, grill-marking chicken breasts, baking potatoes, slicing meat. Lots of roast beef, fettuccine with red sauce, chicken parmesan, steamed carrots, mashed potatoes, etc. It was your All-American buffet menu. Basically, food that would stand up to two hours in a chafing dish…and lots that wouldn’t.

I would argue with my managers on every angle as to why I should stay in the kitchen and not endure the monotony of participating in beverage service. I pleaded with them that it was crucial that I stay back-of-house so that I might get to dishes sooner. Donnie would side with me. The faster his station was cleaned up and broke down, the faster he was able to get to the bar after his shift.

The first summer I was employed there actually wasn’t spent in Ames among my newly made college friends. Charles, one of the managers at Scheman, was charged with staffing a few scout camps around the tri-county area. I just happened to live about six miles away from a Boy Scouts of America camp, Camp Mitigwa. Being offered $6.36 an hour, I jumped at the chance. I was in charge of assisting the morning cook with lunch service and then preparing dinner for up to 450 scouts, leaders, counselors and C.I.Ts. C.I.T. stood for “Counselors In Training.” We extended the acronym to read “Scout Help In Training.” Go ahead, you can spell it out. I had four of them in the kitchen to assist me with front of house duties, plating and dishes. Most were teenagers, around the same age as me, spending about six weeks of their summer in the middle of Boone County, Iowa…without any gals to be found anywhere.

Again, nothing at all gourmet. Most of the foods we received were either frozen or sealed in #10 cans. A couple of times a week, we’d have dozens of loaves of bread and gallons upon gallons of milk delivered to us. Most of the entrees were dropped off by one of the Memorial Union’s drivers. Fried chicken, pizza, BBQ chicken, salisbury steak, hot dogs – classic camp food, eh? When was the last time you boiled 800 hot dogs in a gigantic steam kettle? I was only a few degrees away from the 4077th’s cook, Igor, on M*A*S*H. But, I learned time management and delegation quickly as young, smart-assed 16-year-old kid.

I did the camp thing for two more years. I’ve since heard they replaced all of the ovens and installed air conditioning in the kitchen. Go figure. Out of eight burners, maybe half worked. None of the ovens were reliable, so I used a tall cook ‘n hold unit provided by the university. “Meatball” dining at its best.

After working at Scheman for a little over a year, I got to know a lot of the other people working in Hilton Coliseum and CY Stephens Auditorium. I asked why we never catered any of the events in Hilton i.e. concerts. I was told the Memorial Union didn’t have the contract for those events and that many of the bands had on-the-road caterers with them, or hired them regionally. One of my co-workers, Teri Martin, got a foot in the door for me in February 1996. A woman by the name of Deb Van Gorp called and asked if I wanted to be a runner for Ozzy Osbourne in a couple of days. Hell yes! I would be working with Chicago-based caterers, Eat Your Hearts Out. I had to skip school to spend a day backstage, with only a hint to what I was to expect. I did know what I was missing: an English exam on Walden, Thoreau and Transcendentalism. When I did take the exam, I failed. Somebody snitched on me, as I got the impression that my teacher was not very thrilled with my deliberate truancy.

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I met the chef and catering coordinator early that morning, neither of them the nicest people I’d ever met. As a catering runner, I was responsible for doing an assload of grocery shopping. All I can recall vividly from that day is buying twenty gallons of milk and a carton of cigarettes. Cigarettes only because I was underage. It was at a Quik Trip on the corner of Duff Ave. and Lincoln Way. I worried I’d be busted, but they didn’t even ask for my I.D.

It wasn’t very glamorous, but I was backstage and had a laminated pass to prove as much. So, did I meet Ozzy? No. I held my vinyl copy of “Tribute…” and stared as he shuffled by me near the elevators. Star-struck I was.

Soon, it became every show. Neil Diamond, Phish, Reba McEntire, Michael W. Smith, KISS, Vince Gill and on and on. I wasn’t just a runner, in fact, I was seldom a runner again. Apparently, the university didn’t like the idea of a teenage boy driving their vehicles around town. Go figure. I ended up staying in house washing dishes, by hand mind you, for 16 hours a day. Sure, I helped prep a little bit, but not much. Needless to say, the novelty soon wore off. Most of what you see in the movies that presents the glamour and lore of groupies and cocaine “backstage” is about as real as the tooth fairy. I’m sure some of that debauchery happens, but I never saw much of it. Oh, brown M&Ms? Van Halen initiated that myth. Back in the day, promoters weren’t fulfilling the requests of the bands per their rider. Van Halen had their agent insert some ungodly amount like 5 lbs of “green” M&Ms. So, if the band arrived and had only green chocolate candies, the rider had been completely read. If the promoter called their agent and asked if this was necessary, the rider had been completely read. Either way, the promoter couldn’t use the alibi “I didn’t see (blah blah blah) in the contract. Pete Townsend did the same thing, only with a “brand new Mercedes.” Some schmuck was dumb enough to call The Who’s agent and ask, “What color would Mr. Townsend like?”

Besides Eat Your Hearts Out, I was introduced to another outfit from St. Louis, Bellybusters. Bellybusters was owned by New England transplant, Larry Weinles. I got along magnificently with Larry. Over the next five years, I would do a lot of traveling with Bellybusters. Some good, Missoula, Montana for a week at Grizzly Stadium with Pearl Jam and some bad, any of one of the countless appearances at a racetrack in Quincy, Illinois. Quincy sucked. Our running water was a solitary hose. Refrigeration was an armada of ice chests. Despite the accommodations, the ever-present chasseur chicken always seemed to be popular there. Chasseur chicken was a Larry mainstay almost every other show. That and tuna steak with capers. And because of those dragging, long days in Quincy, here’s a reason to stay in school kids:

A Typical Day in the Life of a Concert Caterer – ‘First in, last out’

Arrive at the “venue” around 5 o’clock in the morning. Now, the venue could be an actual coliseum or arena. More than likely, with Larry, it was either an ice arena, rodeo barn, racetrack or a public gymnasium. (Did ‘em all.) Promptly start unloading the trailer and van that was haphazardly packed because you had to get on the road after last night’s show in order to make the venue “call” by 5 a.m. today. Get a hold of the electrician to hook up power to the distribution box so we can get toasters, an oven but more importantly, the coffee maker, running. Breakfast is at 7 a.m. and there’s gonna be some hungry truck drivers and hungover tour managers wanting some grub and it had better be hot. Eggs, bacon, sausage, toast and coffee with a touch of diesel exhaust from the generator to give everything that little taste of the “road” nobody can seem to get out of their clothes, or mouths. Breakfast is over, get those pans and dishes washed promptly in the plastic, makeshift “Barbie” size sink with no hot water. Better get ‘em done fast because you’re going out on a grocery run. Grocery store is 10 miles away, better not forget anything, you ain’t got time. Chef’s happy, he’s ready to focus on lunch. Production finally gets you the new “rider” for the day. (The rider is a huge contract sent to the promoter; the requests made by the band and production “necessary” to make the show fly.) The rider you received when you forwarded the show two days ago has changed. Damn. There’s four dressing rooms plus, front-of-house sound, stage left, stage right and production office locations to drop off beverage requests. Did you get everything for this at the store? No? What, we don’t have “Guacamole and Salsa Doritos” in the trailer? Didn’t have the new rider yet, but the chef needed those chicken breasts early in order to allow them to marinate. Back to the store for a beverage run. Lunch is 11-1 p.m. and you haven’t done any prep for the large salad bar that needs to remain set up all day. Hospitality is gonna have to wait. Set up a temporary prep area, gather your lettuce and veggies and get chopping. At five ‘til 11, salad bar is done, dressings are out, paper plates at stacked at the beginning of the buffet line and the chafing dishes have new Sterno under them …and had better be steaming hot. Man the line for a while until the initial rush has passed. Take five minutes to shovel a little food down your throat and get working on those coolers that need stocked with various beverages. Hey, who’s doing those dishes?! It’s 3 o’clock, coolers are done. Drop them off at their various locations along with tea kettles, coffee makers, linen and flatware for the bands’ dressing rooms. At 4:30, go around and re-ice the chests and drop off fresh drinking ice. Sound check at 5 o’clock shortly after the bands arrive. Dinner at 6 o’clock, make sure there’s fresh Sterno, salad, dressings and cold beverages in the green room. Music? It’s gotta be Sinatra. (Larry insisted on Frank at every dinner service.) Dinner’s a quick and relatively painless event because first band is on at 7:30. At 8 o’clock, sit down to a brief dinner of whatever was left on the line. After the only restful moment of the day, it’s time to break down the line, scrub pans in the Barbie sink and pick up the linen from the green room. There’s no coffee? Who said? Oh, the truck drivers and bus drivers? Coming right up. Show’s over, but those busses aren’t going to come and pick up the beverages and ice requested per the band’s rider now are they? Nope. And there’s no way anybody on that bus is gonna do it either. Schlep a few ice bags, case of various sodas and some beer over to the sleeper coaches and knock on each door. The tour manager invites you in. Fill the built-in ice chests with “beer only, mate,” and ice ‘em down. The manager thanks you for your hard work throughout the day and bid them adieu. Day’s over. Wait, it’s not? Oh yeah, we need to pack everything we own back into our trailer and van and wait until most of the road crew has packed away all of their flight cases in their respective semi trailers. By this time, you’ve been on your feet for almost 18 hours. Soda, Power Bars and Emergen-C has done all it can do to ward of the inevitable fatigue you don’t have time for. At midnight, unplug the coffee pot, leave a case of soda in a cardboard box, lined with plastic, full of ice. Congratulations, here’s the end of your day. Get your rest, ‘cause the next venue call is only a few hours away.

Obviously, some days were better than others. It just depended on a few variables. A big one was the attitude and demeanor of the road production and tour manager. They seemed, more often than not, to set the tone for the entire day, if not an entire tour. They could make it heaven or hell. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed working close to home, especially in Hilton. The local crew there took care of us and we took care of them. It made all the difference having a rapport with them when you felt like you were getting in the weeds…they’d bend over backwards to accommodate us.

After a few years, things changed. Scheman, or more accurately the Memorial Union, acquired the contract to provide all of the catering needs for any tour production at Hilton or CY Stephens. I was approached by some of the house staff in Hilton to take over as their “Day Of” catering coordinator. I accepted and held the position for about a year. All I had to be responsible for was set up of the green room, hospitality and look over service for all three meals. No more of the in/out of an armada of coolers and makeshift kitchen equipment. Pretty easy, huh? Yeah it was. But after five years of catering and waiting on bands hand and foot, I quit. Lynyrd Skynyrd had broke me. They had requested an entire buffet, chafing dishes and all, in their dressing rooms. It just seemed over the top and pretentious. It didn’t help that one of the women in production had been riding my ass and been a bitch towards me all day. I’ll admit, I broke. You’ll be hard-pressed to find me at an arena show still to this day.

That was the end of my catering. I had just turned 21 and found a new hobby, drinking. After five years of serving everyone else, it was time to serve myself. I was sick of food and ate it only out of necessity to live. I really didn’t care about food on any level at all for about seven years. Absolutely no interest at all. I hadn’t heard the word “foodie” and would have just as quickly punched anybody I was within earshot of hearing talk “academically” on the level of service at restaurant X or bistro Y.

Then, a friend of gave me The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman. I was drawn in by his almost erotic, almost sensual description of making one’s own brown veal stock. He honestly made it sound like a love affair. I can’t recommend that book highly enough to anybody with even the slightest interest in the culinary arts. “Master the basics,” Ruhlman inscribes in copies of Elements. So true.

So, through Ruhlman’s books I found Bourdain, Ripert, Keller, Achatz, McGee, Escoffier, M.F.K. Fisher, Beard and this guy by the name of Ferran Adria in Spain. Heard you need to call ahead to get a table…just kidding. I didn’t realize that there was more going on other than what the Food Network was pushing. (Not a fan) My wife had always been a champion of the farmers’ market, the slow food movement and buying food locally. Food is finally refreshing again. Something I look forward to eating but more so, preparing.

Sorry for the lengthy expounding, but I hope my story validates me, if only slightly, as a worthy contributor to the food scene in a state I love. I look forward to meeting many of you in the dives, bistros, bars and restaurants around Iowa.