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JasperEating with Chef Jasper Mirabile

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have seen me mentioning a meal I recently had at Jasper’s in Kansas City, MO.  Some of you may have even gotten the chance to see the picture I took of some of the amazing food Chef Jasper made for us.  Others probably saw the repeated comments that at any moment, I was sure I was going to burst.  Despite the worries about my own mortality, that meal was sooooo worth it.

Jasper – The Tradition

To set the stage for this meal, I should let you know that the Mirabile family has been serving up outstanding Italian food to hungry Kansas Citians for over fifty years.  It all began in 1954 when Leonard Mirabile opened Jasper’s with his son Jasper.  According to their website, back then you could get a three course meal for seventy-nine cents.  (I can only imagine how fat I’d be if I could still get Chef Jasper to cook for me for seventy-nine cents…  Yikes.)

Since 1954, Jasper’s has seen a lot of change.  For instance, they moved from their original location on Wornall to Watt’s Mill on 103rd and State Line.  They have also gone from a neighborhood restaurant to one of the most decorated restaurants in the country, earning a Mobil Four Stars for dining excellence, the AAA Four Diamonds and DIRONA award (among others).  The restaurant has also seen a third generation of Mirabile, Jasper’s sons Leonard and Jasper, Jr., enter the restaurant business.

Chef Jasper – The Culinary Icon

However, Jasper’s is more than a restaurant.  If there is a food event in Kansas City, Chef Jasper is probably there.  He teaches numerous classes all over the Kansas City area, on such varied topics as making mozzarella to teaching kids the joy of cooking.  He has cookbooks.  He has a radio show on AM 710.  His smiling face can be found in any Hen House market.  He works with cheese producers to evangelize good, artisan cheeses.  He helps local food producers.  He knows everyone.

In other words, there may be no single name more synonymous with food in Kansas City (which is saying a lot, since Kansas City is starting to establish itself on the culinary map.)

Jasper’s – The Menu

And there I was with Mrs. WellDone at Chef Jasper’s invitation eating the best (and by several pounds of food the largest) meal I have ever eaten.

For reference, here’s the menu:

  1. Lobster cappuccino with pancetta and foam
  2. Shrimp Scampi alla Livornese Over Polenta
  3. An “Appetizer” of Eggplant Othello and Lobster Ravioli
  4. Half a loaf of good Italian bread
  5. Caprese Salad with Mozzarella Made Tableside, Heirloom Tomatos Chef’s Wife Grew, Basil, and a Homemade Balsamic Reduction
  6. A Pasta “Tasting” Consisting Of
    • Pasta Nanni with Prosciutto, peas, romano, mushrooms, and tomato sauce
    • Gagootsa sauce (Italian gourd) sauce over ditali pasta
    • Rigatoni with a Melon cream sauce
  7. For our entrees:
    • Five hour slow roasted pork shank
    • Chicken Saltimbucco
  8. For dessert:
    • Peach Napolean with Chef’s mama’s pastry cream
    • Death by Chocolate
  9. After Dinner Drink:
    • Homemade Amaretto
    • Homemade Limoncello
    • Homemade Anisette
  10. House Wine

With a menu like that, I don’t even know where to start describing everything.  It was all amazing.  However, in the interest of space, I will limit this article to the two times in the meal when the food was so good I lost the ability to speak English.  (Later, I’ll talk about more of the food and maybe sniff out a recipe or two.)
 

Pasta Nanni – The First Moment of Silence

The first time I lost the ability to speak was when I took the first bite of the pasta nanni.  It came served on a long plate with three individual sections, one for each of the pastas on the tasting menu.  I didn’t know what it was, and frankly, I was far more excited about the gagootsa sauce.  However, I think the nanni was closest to me, so I started with it.

Mere words defy the flavor of the pasta.  I can tell you there was salty Prosciutto, earthy tomato, sweet peas, savory mushrooms, and rich cream.  But those are just words.  They cannot convey how perfectly those ingredients worked together.  The saltiness of the Prosciutto was perhaps the lead flavor, but the tomato sauce and the peas wouldn’t let that flavor dominate.  Then there was the touch of cream, giving the dish just enough richness to take it from great pasta to something magical.

As a side note, I have two regrets from the evening at Jasper’s.  The first was that I shared any of that pasta with my wife and the second was that I saved some it for later.  See, our entrees arrived with the pasta course, so there was other pasta, pork osso buco and my wife’s chicken to eat.  All the while, the pasta nanni got cold and while it was good when I got back to it, it was nothing compared to when they first brought it out.  Plus, I think my wife ate all the Prosciutto.  Which is a crime in some places I think.

To this day, I still want more.  I will not consider my life complete unless I can go back to Jasper’s and eat that pasta again. 

Chef Jasper’s Chicken – Pure Bliss

The second moment of bliss so intense words failed me was when I ate my wife’s chicken dish.  When she ordered chicken Saltimbocco, I laughed. 

When I saw it on the menu, I didn’t think it was anything special.  It’s a Roman dish of chicken breast, ham, a little cheese, and some tomato sauce.  Traditionally, it’s rolled, but Chef Jasper says that it dries out the chicken too much so he left it unrolled.  There’s also a sauce made from lemon, stock, white wine, butter, and sage.  But still, when I saw it on the menu, I wasn’t excited.  I came for the big, the fancy, and the impressive dishes with hard names to say (ie osso bucco.) 

Don’t get me wrong, the pork was fantastic, but the chicken Saltimbocco was unreal.  It just worked.  The chicken was moist and the ham was perfect for adding a bit of salt, a bit of pork fat, and a bit of flavor.  The tomato sauce was gently nestled on to the chicken and added a nice bit of earthy tomato taste.  Then there was just enough cheese to top the dish to add a bit of extra saltiness and keep the dish together. 

Then there was the sauce.  That slightly citrusy, slightly tangy, slightly sagey butter-lemon-sage sauce.  To be honest, I shouldn’t like the sauce.  Citrus and wine together are about my least favorite sauce pairings, but there was I soaking it up with a piece of bread.

More than the ingredients, that dish worked because of the artistry.  You can probably find a frozen dinner with the same ingredients as that chicken Saltimbocco, but you probably can’t find a hundred chefs in the world who could make them absolutely sing like Chef Jasper.  I just can’t get over how there should be nothing special about an unrolled rolled chicken dish, but in a master’s hands, it was simply sublime.

Like the pasta, I would say that I wouldn’t consider my life complete unless I went back and had that dish it again, but I took care of it already.  So that part of my life is complete.  Though I am kinda jonsing for it again.

Chef Jasper Mentioned Melon Pasta Special

Also, I should mention the Rigatoni melon, which was the completely odd, but absolutely fantastic pasta dish with a sauce of melon, parmesan cream, and a little bacon.  If that sounds familiar, you might have seen Rachel Ray make it in her magazine, though Chef Jasper assures me his was the better version because of the bacon.  I refuse to argue against either Chef Jasper or bacon.

What amazed me was that dish its utter potential for chaos.  When you mix sour/salty parmesan cream with sweet melon and salty/fatty bacon, you should have a mess on your hands.  However, in the hands of a master, that combination was something both my wife and I loved.

And so that just part my meal with Chef Jasper.  I plan to talk about so many other parts of that dish and everything I learned from talking with him.  But for now, I need to go.  I hear some pasta nanni calling my name.

The logo was taken from Jasper’s website.

So in my post Watermelon Wine, I had mentioned that while I had been less than enthusied by the watermelon wine, I had not come away empty handed from Davenport Orchards & Winery on Sunday.  That’s because I found a new sweet red: Charlemagne.

I had to try more than one wine.  Far be it from me to stop at one glass when they are giving wine away.  I tried the Cayuga, the Seyval Blanc, and the Rhubarb.  But it was Charlemagne that really caught my attention.

The Sweet Red Wine Charlemagne

Yes, it was sweet.  Like after-dinner or reduced-to-syrup-and-served-over-ice-cream sweet.  At the same time, though, it had a bolder flavor than I am used to in sweet red wine and it had a nice floral bouquet.  Plus, the sweetness was not overpowering so I actually got to taste the wine, not the sugar.

Plus I found that the United States Marine Corps private labels it and serves it at its galas.  So I figured if it was good enough for them, well it was probably good enough for me, too.

Going to Lawrence

If you are ever in the Lawrence, Kansas area, stop by Davenport Orchards and Winery (it’s about 5 miles East along K-10.)  If you like dry reds, the Chat in the Dark is very good and their Apple Wine is still my favorite desert white ever.  Though don’t tell ’em that the blogger who didn’t like the watermelon wine sent you.  It probably wouldn’t do you any good.

Davenport Farms Norton GrapesToday, I stopped by Davenport Orchards & Winery today to pick up a few bottles of locally produced wine.

I owe a lot of Davenport.  It is the first winery tour I ever took and strangely enough, I think I still have a bottle of apple wine I purchased that day.  I can only imagine after 7 years, it’s probably lost some of its luster.

I have moved on to new liquid loves, but every year I make it back to pick up a little something.  For the past two years, it’s been apple wine.  Not only is it delicious, but they are always out of what I really want: their watermelon wine.

Not this year!  This year they had several cases of it.  Which could only mean that either I had come at a different time of the year, they had made more of it, or they had sold less of it.  I think they have only had it three years, so it is likely they are finally ramping up the production, although given the economy, it is quite possible that they are selling less.

Still, I was happy that I finally got to try it.

Watermelon Wine in Review

Well, sadly, all in all, watermelon wine is nothing to write home about (though strangely it is something to write a blog post about.  Oh well.)  Honestly, I think they cut the watermelon down too far because it tasted like rind.  Which is never good.

Really, that’s pretty much all I have to say about it.  It was not near sweet enough and it tasted green.  I was saddened, because I figured I’d be taking a small loan out to buy their entire supply and spending the next month drunkenly blogging about watermelon wine recipes.

Still, I didn’t come away totally empty handed.  More on that tomorrow.

But until then, please has anyone else had watermelon wine?  Leave me a comment and tell me your experience?

Photo courtesy of Davenport Orchards & Winery.

Well now I’ve stepped in it.  I’ve decided to tackle the topic of how to simmer food.  This is one of those topics that illicits great debate on exactly what the proper way to simmer is, what temperature to use, and how best to deliver heat to the simmering liquid.  Before we get into the particulars, a definition is in order.  Dictionary.com defines simmering as “to cook or cook in a liquid at or just below the boiling point.”  Simmering is also sometimes called stewing, poaching, scalding, braising, and (erroneously) boiling.

In other words, food is placed in a (flavorful) liquid and cooked at a temperature anywhere between 175 to 200 degrees, depending on which cookbook you read.  Ideally, one should shoot for 180 degrees because it is hot enough to cook the food, but cooks the food slower than a 200 degree liquid.  No matter what temperature you choose, it must be less than a full boil (212 degrees) or else you are no longer simmering, you are boiling and that is a different cooking methodology all together.  Also, no matter the temperature, the liquid should have bubbles forming on the bottom of the pan that pop before they reach the surface (unless you are simmering something like oatmeal which just will not bubble.)

What will happen is as the cooking liquid reaches about 105 degrees, the liquids inside the food start to cook out of the food into the cooking liquid and at a 160 degrees the collagen in the food starts to breakdown allowing the food to reclaim juices it lost and some of the liquid.  Which is all well and good except that beef and fish are cooked when they reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees, pork at 155, and chicken is cooked at 165.

So as a cook, you want to get the liquid to a temperature above 160 degrees and keep it there, but the food itself should be pulled out of the liquid when its internal temperature is around 140 degrees.  That means you get to watch a thermometer to make sure the food does not get over done.  Remember the part about simmering at 180 degrees?  That comes into play here.  If the liquid is at 180, the internal temperature of the meat will rise slower than 200 degrees allowing you the cook the freedom to not stand over the pot.

So with all that thrown at you, here is how to simmer:

  1. Make a flavorful liquid.  Just like boiling, you want to cook the food in something that has some taste to it.  There are a number of options: poaching in wine, broth/stock, or brine.
  2. Bring the liquid just barely to boil in a sauce pan over medium heat.
  3. If you are simmering cold food, add it now.  If not, wait until step 5.
  4. Turn the heat down so the liquid just stops boiling.
  5. If you are simmering warm food, add it now.
  6. Watch the simmering pot until the food is thoroughly cooked.  If the liquid starts to boil, lower the heat slightly, and pull the pot off the burner until the boiling dies down.

Any questions?  Feel free to send them my way.

Thanks to Ochef for giving me the temperatures at which the liquids and collagens breakdown.

There is tremendous scholarship concerning what types of wine to pair with which foods.  It is pretty well established that one should pair white wines with lighter dishes and red wines with heavier meat based dishes blah blah blah.  (I find this last point particularly troublesome since I prefer whites and oftentimes find the tannic flavor of some reds more than enough to drown out the taste of a good steak.  I also wonder about the appropriateness of this maxim given the large number of steakhouses that prominently feature white wines.)However, there is much less being written about which wines to use when cooking.  For a while, the Food Network held a debate across its many shows about whether one should cook with so-called cooking wine or normal wine purchased from a wine shop.  Uncorking a wine shop bottle rather than screwing off a plastic cap seems to have won hands down as the general consensus is that cooking wine is a salty, cheap, and has an overall bad flavor.But does varietal, appellation, or grape matter?  Let’s first set aside the obvious distinction that when a recipe calls for red wine, you should use a red and when it calls for a white, you use a white.  But when you open your wine cellar (or closet or drawer or whatever) is it better to pull out a dry Chardonnay or a sweet Riesling?  A merlot (which tend to be lighter) or a shiraz (some of which can coat your tongue)?To be honest, I do not believe it matters.  I have yet to make a salmon en papillote and said “You know, I wish I would have used a drier white” or made really fancy Sunday gravy (that’s spaghetti sauce to non-Sopranos fans) and thought that I would have preferred a sweeter or drier variety.  Again, I will frame the conversation and say that I would never add a dessert wine or a port to a savory recipe, but at the end of the day, I just am not concerned about which style of wine I put into my food.

Ultimately, when you cook with wine you are concentrating the flavor.  Just make sure you like the flavor in its unconcentrated form and your dish should come out just fine.

What have you found when cooking with wine?