A new tome for the archives: Forking Fantastic by Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds

It's not often that I will tell you I have laughed out loud while reading a cookbook. Occasionally a chuckle, or a snort of derision, but rarely because it is over-the-top had to read it out loud to the hubby "oh my gawd - this is awesome you gotta hear this" funny. I can't say that anymore. Enter into my life Forking Fantastic. (Yes, I snuck a preview copy in when you weren't looking!)

Forking Fantastic is a book about hosting dinner parties. We are not talking about those old fashioned granny parties with the good china, better posture, fancy duds and Miss Manners glaring over your shoulder. This book is about inviting people into your life, cooking for them, getting drunk with them and having a great time while doing it all . The best part is that the authors of Forking Fantastic, Zora O'Niell and Tamara Reynolds are experts at doing just that.

I could go into extended detail about their food pedigree - how they meet while working at Prune and had an intense bonding moment over dinner one night -how they started cooking together, how they invited friends over to eat and eventually became the organizers of a Sunday Night Cooking Club dedicated to food, wine, laughter and song. It sounds pretty damn awesome doesn't it? The good news is - Zora and Tamara (can I be on a first name basis here ladies?) actually tell you all about the history of their love of food, how the party got started and how they keep it going - and they are much better at telling their story than I could ever be.

So the writing - My bout of hysterics were brought about by two factors.

First: this book is brilliantly written. Engaging, witty, naughty, down-to-earth, sassy...ummmm where is that thesaurus? A couple lines that tickeled me.

On vegetarians: "Our vision of vegetarianism, at least, includes a bacon exemption..."

In the intro to Spanish tortilla with saffron: "... Zora learned the technique from a Spaniard, as payback for teaching him the invaluable idiom booty call." (Zora, sweetie, we need to hear more about that! Where should I bring the wine?)

The second reason: These ladies are on the ball. Long time readers will know that once to twice a month I cook for anywhere from 10-20 people and speaking from experience, I can tell these women know how to rock large scale cooking in the home kitchen.

And they don't just talk recipes - they hit on logistics, organization, prep work, where and how to wrangle supplies so you don't break the budget - oh, and how to get people to "feed the kitty" AND bring a bottle of wine to boot. They are willing to tell you why something worked - and why some things things don't or can't or simple won't. The first part of this book is there so you don't have to make their mistakes - and you get to laugh with (yes, with...be nice...) them while they tell you about their misadventures.

Now on to the recipes...

I will confess I have not had the opportunity to test any recipes yet. (The better part of my kitchen is in boxes - you all will find out why in about a month...) I want to - oh boy, how I want to. Zora and Tamara ease you into the game with a few iron clad winners like roast chicken and pot roast. They include side dishes that work with the main course - not just because of the flavors, but logistically as well. At the beginning of each menu there is a action plan that gives you marching orders on how to execute your feast so that you don't rend your garments and lament openly on your front lawn because you were the victim of your own poor planning. After you try a few of their fool proofed menus - there is even more...

Feeling spunky? How about fried chicken for 30 people? Or a whole spit-roasted lamb? No kidding folks - there are even instructions on how to truss up the lamb to the spit so it doesn't descend into the flames of the fire pit you built (once again - instructions included).

When I finally get my kitchen back I am going for the "Fall Means Ham" menu. (A whole on the bone ham is one of the great party foods - there is something primal about bringing out a hunk of roast beast and putting it on the table with a nice big knife...then getting everyone likkered up.) In addition to the ham with a bourbon-brown sugar glaze, the menu includes sides such as potato and turnip casserole, roasted fennel with black olives, bitter green salad and apple spice cake for dessert. Seasonal, affordable and tasty.

Forking Fantastic hasn't been unleashed upon the unsuspecting yet. It will take the world by storm on October 6th, but you can pre-order it on Amazon or from you friendly local book purveyor. It's only $20!! It is cheap at twice the price!! What are you waiting for?!!

In the meantime to get your appetites whetted while you are waiting for your copy to arrive, you can check out the porn on Tamara's blog or watch the YouTube video of them cooking some fantastic looking mole. Oh...and they are going to have a website that will go live on October 6th - so make sure you head over and check it out...


BBQ - St. Louis and Kasas City

I am going to preface this part of my blog by saying that bbq is a deeply personal subject for most people. I imagine that there have been Hatfield/McCoy type feuds about whose ‘que is the best and while I am a woman of strong opinions, I would prefer not to meet any pissed off ‘que fan with a shotgun in an alley anytime soon…

Here in town, I’ve eaten ‘que at the two big chains –Hoggy’s and City BBQ. City BBQ and Hoggy’s ain’t that bad…but they ain’t that great either. They are acceptable bbq. If it was all I could get, I would be fine with that. However, I know that there is extraordinary ‘que to be had. I would rather wait for great than settle for O.K.

(My current in-town favorite is Smackie’s. You’ve heard me sing their praises before, so I won’t belt out that tune here.)

In St. Louis, there is a chain called Bandana’s. It is the equivalent of Hoggy’s - acceptable, but not the greatest. Every time I’ve been to St. Louis, this is the only place anyone could tell me had good bbq. However, this time I got to venture out into the surrounding area and went to Roper’s Ribs. Tate, who you know through last year’s adventure at Comic-con, did some research and wanted to visit Roper’s.

Smokin' in the front...

And in the back...

Roper’s is a tiny place north of St. Louis proper. There are three 4-tops, and an order window. This was obviously a place designed for carry out. On the walls, there are autographed pictures of celebrities proclaiming their undying love for Roper’s Ribs and a picture menu featuring all the items you can order.

Check out that menu. It was torture while we were waiting...

I wish I lived closer to St. Louis, because there is no way you can eat everything on Roper’s menu in one visit. They have an amazing array of goodie – including deep fried shrimp, snouts, ribs, rib tips, and brisket to name a few. Tate and I stared open mouthed for a few minutes while the two guys in front of us ordered. We finally settled on a rack of St. Louis style ribs, a brisket sandwich and rib tips.

Back at the hotel, we popped open the containers and started in. I love ribs. The St. Louis cut is my preferred style and these were truly excellent. They were cooked until done, but not overdone and soft. The sauce was a nice balance of tomato, sweet, sour and spicy. The tips were the same way – If you like to gnaw around the cartilage on a big slab of ribs, then rib tips are for you.


Tate ate the brisket. He said the flavor was good, but he disliked the way it was thin sliced – almost like a deli meat. We are used to chunks of brisket like we eat at Smackie’s, so we decided we were not qualified to rule on the brisket.

Our next stop was Kansas City – both states – MO and KS.

On our last trip to KC, we went to Rosedale’s. This year we went to two of the big players in town: Oklahoma Joe’s and Gates.

BBQ and Gas!!

Oklahoma Joe’s first. This ‘que joint was on Anthony Bourdain’s “13 places to eat before you die” list for Men’s Health magazine. This is why Tate was absolutely adamant that we go. This restaurant is really in a gas station. (I am beginning to think that being in a gas station may be one of the hallmarks of a good “joint”. Thank you, Diner, Drive-ins and Dives!)

I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and coleslaw on the side. Tate ordered a combo plate that had ribs and brisket.

The pulled pork was good. Moist and perfectly done, lightly sauced with their house sauce. (I was not offered a choice of sauces at the counter.) I added a little more of their “Night of the Living Sauce”. Most folks would find “the Living Sauce” fairly high on the heat scale, but for our group it was just warm.

This is as happy as Tate ever looks...
and it took eating some very nice red beans and rice to do it...

Tate traded me a bone for a bite of my sandwich. The meat on my rib was too soft and over done. I have teeth and like to get a little resistance when I pull the meat off the bone. This fell off with the first bite and got sauce all over my top – naughty naughty. Tate’s ribs came in two parts: the larger ribs and a smaller end. The large part was overdone, but the smaller end was perfect and tasted fantastic. That’s not a good sign to me… I like consistency in my ribs…

So would I put this on my list of places to eat before you die? Probably not - there was no life changing revelation about ‘que that would put this restaurant onto my list. I did, however, have that moment when I went to Allen and Sons and had Carolina pulled pork for the first time. It seems to me that KC ‘que is all about the sauce. Carolina ‘que was more about the pig – the sauce enhances the sweetness of the pork and the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Oklahoma Joe’s was some inconsistent meat with a pretty decent sauce on top.

Last on the list was Gates and Sons BBQ. Along with Arthur Bryant’s, this ‘que joint is a KC institution. I understand that most folks in KC fall into one of the two camps. Gates and Sons has the traditional tomato based sauce, with a balance of sweet, spicy and sour. Arthur Bryant’s (according to our friends who live in KC) is a little more vinegary.

Even if Gates is not your cup of ‘que, you have to go for the experience. The order taker belts out “Can I take your order?” and then relays your request back to the kitchen staff all at the same 100 decibels. This place is not for the timid. Jason and Bryan, our friends from KC, were all excited to see how high we would jump upon entering. Fortunately for us, we are not easily frightened. Otherwise we would never have heard the end of it.

Half and half sandwich

I once again got a pulled pork sandwich (see a trend?). I had wanted some burnt ends, but we had spent too long in the US Toys Magic Shop, which is right next door. The rule is – get there early for the burnt ends, ‘cuz when they are gone, they are gone. (Damn you magic people and your penchant for prolonged discussions about sponge bunnies!) Tony got a half and half sandwich consisting of ham and brisket and Tate decided to go whole hog (so to speak) and order the Four Bone combo which had ham, four ribs, brisket and two sides for $20.

Four bone platter

Gates and Sons cuts your meat to order, so when the order taker screams back what you want, they fish out the appropriate chuck of protein and cut away. My pulled pork was done correctly, moist and not too soft. It was not sauced before serving. I added their spicy sauce at the table.
Tony’s sandwich was really awesome. It was served on plain white poofy bread, but I am not going to hold that against it. Barbequed ham is really tasty and when piled up with the brisket – mmmmmmm. I am going to have to try replicating the ham at home soon.

Pulled Pork with French Fries.
The fries were really strange - like mashed potatoes in a crispy crust.
Not bad, but strange.

Tate traded me a bone for some of the pulled pork. The meat has some tooth to it without being tough. Tate was not too thrilled with the ribs because there were some small slivers of bone along the top edge of ribs. He did like the ham, but once again refused to rate the brisket because of the way it was sliced.

I had heard from other folks in town that we talked to that they did not like the meat at Gates because it was too tough, but loved the sauce. The sauce was a nice middle of the road tomato based sauce. The spicy sauce was decent, but not quite as good as the sauce from Oklahoma Joe’s.

If I had to, I would eat at Gates again. It was pretty good and the experience made it all the more fun.

So who was better Gates or Oklahoma Joe’s? Wow that is hard question…

If I had to go by sauce, it would be Joe’s. If I had to go by meat, I would pick Gates (mostly because the product was consistent, if the ribs had been perfect, it would have been Joe's hands down).

The next question is – if I had a craving for KC style ‘que where would I drive to for satisfaction?

I would say the winner would be Roper’s Ribs in St. Louis. Sorry KC!

Side note: For me, the perfect side dish for barbeque is cole slaw. And I am super picky about it too. Slaw should be cool and creamy, not watery, with a nice balance of salt, sweet and vinegar over top of crisp cabbage. I ate cole slaw at all three places mentioned above but my favorite was at Oklahoma Joe’s. The dressing was dead on and was not too gloppy. The cabbage was shredded rather large and held a nice crunch. The slaw at Roper’s was good, but not outstanding. Gates was good as far as dressing and consistency, but had green pepper in it – which I did not like. The green pepper flavor dominated the cabbage.

6929 W Florissant Ave
St Louis, MO 63136
Roper's Ribs on Urbanspoon

3002 W 47th Ave
Kansas City, KS 66103
Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue (Kansas City) on Urbanspoon

W 103rd St & State Line Rd
Shawnee Mission, KS 66206
Gates & Sons Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

A Tale of Two Chickens: The Second Bird

Those of you who remember my last trip the KC might remember a mention of Bobbers. It's been two years and Eric, who was our traveling companion on that trip, still talks about the lunch buffet. When we told him we were heading to KC again, he said, “You can stop twice then! Once on the way there and once on the way back!”

Well, we only got there once this time, heading back after the massive BBQ-and-fried-chicken-fest that was KC.

Bobber Cafe is a local gathering place - the counter of the coffee shop is held down by a bunch of old farmers who meet there to eat a perfectly executed breakfast and drink pot after pot of coffee while they chew the fat. The parking lot fairly full when we got there.

Alas, we arrived too early – the lunch buffet did not start until 11 am and it was only 10 am. Tony and I wanted to wait. Tate, who had never been there, not so much. I think by that point Tate was contemplating where along I-70 he could hide two large bodies. So we cajoled Tate into waiting by plying him with beverages and amusing stories.

Pam - thank you for everything!

Our waitress, Pam, was intrigued by the fact that we had made Bobbers part of our vacation plans and told the cook in the back about the crazy people from Columbus, Ohio waiting an hour for her food. We could see people peeking out at us from the kitchen.

Thirty minutes later – the cook was putting out the buffet. The regulars thought she had gone offer her rocker – the buffet was never put out early! (I am sorry I do not remember the cook's name - if anyone knows what her name is please let me know so I can record it here!!)

Turns out – Thursday was fried chicken day. And the buffet gets busy on fried chicken day so I guess it was good we got their early.

yummmmmmmmmmm - fried chicken

The lunch dishes consisted of liver and onions, spaghetti and meat sauce with meatballs (Double your meat, double your pleasure!), fried chicken, and chicken and stuffing. There was also two types of homemade gravy (beef and white), really awesome mashed potatoes, corn, peach cobbler, homemade rolls, a salad bar and chicken noodle soup. And the cost for this amazing display of culinary prowess? Wait for it...wait for it.... $8.95!!! Even if you just went and got one plate, soup and salad, you would still have a deal!

Looks like hell - tastes like heaven. Real liver and onions...

Two gravies - the brown one is a beef based gravy.
The white is a country style milk gravy with lots of black pepper.
Both were excellent over the homemade mashed
potatoes lurking in the upper right corner.

Tony and I made the appropriate happy food noises. Tate seemed pleased – I mean he did go back for seconds. I loved the liver and onions – with the perfect mashed potatoes - oh boy! Was that awesome!

Now to the fried chicken – Can a platter of fried chicken from a $8.95 buffet go toe to toe with Straud's lauded by the likes Zagat and the James Beard foundation? Ummmmmmmm yes. The chicken at Bobbers was just as moist and succulent as the Stroud's chicken. The pieces were smaller, and the Bobbers chicken was not pan fried, but breaded and deep fried.

But still, I cannot say that those differences really diminished my enjoyment in any way. Really good food is really good food – no matter how much you pay for it...

Perfectly executed eats is a pleasure, no matter where you eat it and how much you paid to obtain it, but I have to point out its the staff that really can make or break a restaurant. The waitresses at both Stroud's and Bobbers were diligent, personable and excelled at their professions. The kitchen staff members were perfect in their execution of all the dishes we tried. That means they invested time and effort into learning their craft and they should be praised for the hard work and dedication they put into feeding strangers like me - and probably never hear a "Thank You" or a "Well Done" from those patrons. So if you are happy with the food and the service - please tell the manager. A job well done deserves notice.

So no matter which chicken you like best - Both Stroud's and Bobbers should be on your list of places to eat in Missouri. I know both are at the top of our list next time we drive to KC .

Bobber Cafe
16975 B Highway (Exit 103 off of I-70 between St. Louis and Kansas City)
Boonville, MO 65233

Bobber Cafe on Urbanspoon


Too Many Cooks: Blogger Night

I just wanted to thank everyone who came out to hear myself and the other bloggers talk about our passions last night. I had a great time meeting everyone and hope to meet up with you again sometime in the near future.

It was nice meeting Nick, Bethia and Zach who I had not had the pleasure of meeting before and I hope we can meet again soon...it's not like we don't have a lot in common...
As a tease for all those who did not come last night (shame on ya!!), here are some pictures...

Two bloggers blogging...

Marmite Danties from HungryWoolf - I liked them alot.
The hubby said that he would "hide my body
where the hunters won't find it" if I made him try some...

Nick made what I know as "Toad in the Hole" -
Lord help me but I can't remember what he called them.
(It's my advanced age...sorry Nick!!)

Dave and his wonderful foccacia.
It was perfect, Dave, so stop worrying!

Pastellios from Becke - man these were good!
She also made this fantastic roast pork that I would die for...

CMH Gourmand made two types of chili - one with venison and one with kittens - I mean vegetarian. And Zach provided some awesome homemade pork and beans...emphasis on the pork. Sorry, there are no pictures - I blame the camera for how crappy they came out...

Me- I made my killer banana bread royale and gooey peanut bars... That's me - all about the sweets...


A Tale of Two Chickens

Tony in food heaven!

After my review of Annie Gunn’s, I bet all of you are thinking that I am cheap bitch who isn’t willing to pay for good food. That is not true. In the slightest. I’ve shelled out plenty of clams for a great dinner – and am willing to do so again – provided the food is worth the price being asked.

My first example is going to be Stroud’s from Kansas City.

I had never heard of Stroud’s. None of my friends in KC had been there. I really hadn’t done much research before our trip, so when we pulled into KC Sunday night, we were hard pressed to find someplace we really wanted to eat. After surfing Chow.com and Roadfood.com at the hotel, we stumbled upon Stroud’s.

I asked myself – how could I not have known about this place? It has a Zagat excellent rating PLUS a James Beard award. Then we looked up the website. Sticker shock set in. $16.00 for a chicken dinner? After our lunch at Annie Gunn’s, we were a little wary of $16.00 entrees.

But as we were hungry AND the internet (the fount of all knowledge) said this place was good, we opted to take the plunge.

We were so glad we did.

Stroud's prides themselves on their pan fried chicken. Pan fried – not deep fried. The chicken is barely coated with seasoned flour then fried in a cast iron skillet. That takes time. That takes skill.

Every chicken dinner comes family style. That means you get an overflowing bowl to be shared by everyone at the table. The side dishes for the chicken dinner consist of your choice of potatoes, green beans, chicken noodle soup or side salad and cinnamon rolls. Being classically minded people, we opted for mashed potatoes – with homemade gravy.

The noodle soup was great – and so was the homemade poppy seed dressing on the salad, which was served on your basic iceberg lettuce house salad.

So while we are waiting on our drinks, we are watching people go out the door – and there are a lot of boxes and bags in their hands. We assume the folks with the bags were getting huge to-go orders, 'cuz fried chicken traditionally transports pretty well. The boxes – we had no idea. Maybe they were taking out the garbage?

Since it takes time to put out pan fried chicken, we asked for a ½ order of chicken livers. We figured it would be 6 or 8 livers on a plate. This is what we got.

We stared at it a moment. “This must be a mistake – I am sure they brought us a double order.” Tony said. At that moment the manager walked by and said, “No, its a half. Did you want a full order? I can get that for you.” “No no! This is fine!”

Best freakin' chicken livers ever in a restaurant. Perfectly done and served with a side of gravy.

Before we had finished our livers, out came the chicken and side dishes. Holy cow – it was a lot. I grabbed a chicken breast to see how dry it was. Not at all. Moist, Juicy...(I am now salivating all over my keyboard.)


The mashed potatoes were creamy and rich – and the gravy...

I would go and get just the gravy and eat it with a spoon. Rich, flavorful... If you have ever had really good gravy, you know the what I am talking about.

Ladies - is you husband not as "attentive" as he used to be?
Just apply this gravy generously to the neglected area...

The green beans whisked me back to childhood – soft with pieces of ham in them. No healthy fresh veggies for us!

So we ate and we ate and made obscene sounds while doing it – because this was food sex.

Then we got the cinnamon rolls for dessert. These are not what most folks think of as cinnamon rolls. Think more along the lines of monkey bread – yeast dough rolled in butter, than coated in a thick crust of cinnamon sugar. They beg for coffee or milk...

Now I will tell you - we put a serious hurtin' on our food and still couldn't finish it. So without asking, Michelle, our server, brings over a big stack of styrofoam containers for the leftovers. AHHHH – now the light goes on. All those bags leaving with the other patrons...

I haven't mentioned this before – but Tate had opted to stay back at the hotel and watch “The sexy vampire show” on HBO, so we had ordered his dinner for carry out.

We had been going to play a trick on Tate. We are evil like that and Tate would not hesitate to do the same to us if he had the chance. (He is evil too – it's why we get along so well.) The plan was, before pulling into Stroud's, we would stop at Steak n Shake and order something, then put his dinner in the Steak n' Shake bag. We would says that the chicken place was closed and here is your dinner. He would be pissed until he opened the bag -awesome! Nothing like pissing off the guy you have to spend lots of time with for the next three days. We are brilliant!

Tate's order came out in a box. Second mystery solved. Evil plan squashed.

Screw Doggie Bags!

So we waddled out to the car with our bag AND a box of food, drove back and laid like beached whales on our bed while Tate gobbled down his dinner. He made the appropriate orgiastic noises appropriate when one is eating really good food sitting on a hotel bed and saying, “These guys must be sadists! There is so much and I can't stop eating!”

And by the way, leftovers do keep and microwave very acceptably – we got two more lunches out of them. Screw eating fast food in our room...

We went back on Wednesday before we left and had lunch – Tony was weeping for chicken livers with potatoes and gravy. I had some of the best pot roast I have ever had and Tate ordered the chicken fried steak. All excellent.

And yes - there were leftovers. I packed them into the cooler
and ate them for a late dinner when I got home. Damn....

A note about something other than the food: The staff was fantastic. Both servers and the managers were friendly, they put with our constant demands for attention and even took our picture posing with boxes of food. Bless you Stroud's staff members!

Melissa was fantastic! And so patient!!

I am only sorry it is a 10 hour drive to KC, since I would be stopping in at least once a month for some of their top notch food.

Stroud's (Fairway) on Urbanspoon


They're here.... they're live...they're on the inside....

So you wanna see what REAL LIVE BLOGGERS look like?

Wild Goose Collective will be displaying us...I mean... having myself and other Columbus bloggers talk about our love of food this Sunday at 7 p.m.

Other bloggers include Jim Ellison from CMH Gourmand, Nick Dekker from Breakfast With Nick, Dave Scarpetti from weber_cam and Dave’s Beer, Bethia Woolf of Hungrywoolf’s Food Blog, and Becke Boyer from Columbus Foodie.

Each one of us is going to cook something tasty for you to eat...so wear loose pants....

When: Sunday, September 6th, 7 PM

Where: 2491 Summit Street, Columbus, OH 43202

It's $5 at the door - looking forward to meeting everyone!

R.I.P. Shelia Lukins

The Silver Palate Cookbook has sold over 2.5 million copies. That's a lot of chicken liver pate, boys and girls.

When I first started getting into cooking in the mid-80's, the Silver Palate Cookbook was one hot commodity. The couple who I worked for at the time complained that "if I eat one more recipe from that book at a dinner party..." But they had it on their shelf too and used the recipes in their catering work. It was what people wanted.

So thanks Shelia for goosing us in the behind and getting us to try a whole new world of party food...