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Bluestem, a cookbook for progressive American cuisine

Written by Rebecca Christian

Bluestem is a restaurant in Kansas City, much-praised for creating dishes that are imaginative but that ordinary people might actually want to eat: Smoked Salmon Panna Cotta, Rack of Venison with Pickled Lady Apples, Stone Fruit Cobbler, Oatmeal-Ale Cake. It's run by passionate foodies and husband-and-wife chefs Colby and Megan Garrelts. Bluestem is also the name of their new cookbook, which is written in the first person with instructions such as "Know thy monger and thy butcher."

If you're already thinking Christmas like I am, it would make a nice gift for the foodie on your list (and maybe he or she would invite you over to try the Honey Custard with Linzer Wafer Cookies). The book becomes available from Andrews McMeel Publishing November 8, and you can order it for $28.22 from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Bluestem-Cookbook-Colby-Garrelts/dp/1449400612

It's also filled with the chatty asides you might expect from those who live and breathe food, such as dessert maker Megan's anthropomorphism of sugar : "As a woman, I can confidently say that sugar is definitely female: It can be cranky and temperamental...Hell hath no fury like hot sugar."

The cookbook is divided into seasons, keeping the emphasis on cooking whatever is fresh, good, and locally available. Each season has recipes organized this way: amuse-bouche, cold, hot, pasta, water (seafood), land (meat), sweet, and petits fours.

This autumnal recipe for Risotto with Butternut Squash caught my attention:

Risotto, butternut squash, allspice
Serves 8 as a first course,
4 as a main course

If you’ve ever patiently stirred risotto until it’s thick and creamy, you know why it is such a rewarding task when it turns out right. Despite the patience required, you’ll want to make it over and over again.

Risotto is not difficult to make. But before you start, make sure that you have the correct variety of rice (long-grain rice will not yield the right results), all of the stock warm and ready to go, and, above all, the time. Don’t try to rush this, or you’ll end up with rice that looks cooked but is gritty and hard within. And make sure you’re ready to eat it right when it’s done. Risotto does not reward your patience with patience; it has a very short shelf life once it’s cooked. Let it sit for more than a few minutes and it will begin to turn soft and gummy. Any type of fleshy winter squash will work for this recipe, including pumpkin and acorn squash.

8 cups Chicken Stock or Vegetable Stock
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups butternut squash in ½-inch cubes
2 cups Carnaroli rice
¾ cup white wine
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
Freshly grated allspice

Heat the chicken stock in a stockpot over low heat. Cover and keep warm.

Heat the softened butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic, and butternut squash and stir until softened, about 5 minutes (you don’t want to develop any color). Using a wooden spoon, stir in the rice, coating it with the butter and seasonings. Continue to stir and toast the rice for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it evaporates.

Stirring the rice continuously, add the warm stock, 1 cup at a time, making sure that the liquid is completely absorbed by the rice before adding the next cup. The rice will start to release its starch and thicken into a creamy porridge, about 30 minutes. Depending on the texture of risotto you like, the grains of rice should be tender to firm, but not gritty. Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and let sit for a couple of minutes.

Beat the cold butter and Parmesan into the risotto. Serve immediately. Grate a bit of allspice over the risotto with a nut grater or Microplane zester and any additional Parmesan over the risotto at the table if you like.

—From Bluestem: The Cookbook by Colby Garrelts and Megan Garrelts with Bonjwing Lee

I was also taken with this one for Beets with Whipped Blue Cheese and Candied Pecans, with an introductory comment from Colby:

Beets, whipped blue cheese, candied pecans
Serves 4

I can’t keep Megan away from beets when the gem-like baby ones roll in. Lucky for her, beets are readily available year-round in the Midwest. Although this salad can take on one of many variations, we strip it down to its bare essentials, focusing on the beets, whose sweetness seems intensified against the salty whipped blue cheese that we pair with it. Candied pecans give the salad some needed snap, and a few tendrils of baby frisée lettuce frame it all nicely with a frilly border.

This salad is particularly pretty if you use different-colored beets. Just make sure you keep them separated before arranging them on plates so they don’t stain each other.

1 pound baby beets, trimmed of greens
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 ounces blue cheese, softened
¼ cup Champagne Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
⅓ cup Candied Pecans, chopped (recipe follows)
Baby frisée, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Tightly seal the beets, whole, in a large sheet of aluminum foil. If you are using different-colored beats, package the beets separately by color so that the red ones won’t stain the lighter-colored ones.
Bake the beets for 40 minutes. To test the beets for doneness, a knife should slip in and out of them without any effort. Let the beets cool. Peel the thin layer of skin from each beet. Cut the beets into quarters. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, whip the cream cheese on high speed until soft and fluffy, stopping to scrape the bowl as needed. Add the blue cheese and continue to whip, scraping the bowl as needed, until the two cheeses are evenly mixed and fluffy.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and whip a little more to incorporate.
Toss the beets with the vinaigrette. If you are using different-colored beets, toss them separately by color to prevent them from staining each other. Divide the beets among 4 plates.
Transfer the whipped cheese to a pastry bag and pipe the cheese in small mounds around the beets. Or you can simply spoon the cheese onto the plates. Garnish each salad with some pecans and frisée. Serve immediately.

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Champagne vinaigrette
Makes about 13/4 cups

With a nice balance of sweet and sour, this is an extremely versatile vinaigrette. At Bluestem, we find a place for it in every season.

1 cup Champagne vinegar
1∕₃ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1∕₃ cup honey

Combine all of the ingredients in a nonreactive bowl, adding the honey last to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the bowl. Whisk vigorously until combined. Tightly sealed, the vinaigrette will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Before using the vinaigrette in a recipe, bring the vinaigrette back to room temperature and rewhisk to combine.

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Candied pecans
Makes about 1 cup
 

We always have candied nuts on hand to use as a garnish for everything from salads to desserts. This recipe calls for pecans, but you may substitute any unsalted nut, though the wrinkly ones (like walnuts) give the candied glaze something to cling to. Just make sure that you adjust the baking time according to the size of the nut so that you don’t burn them.

1 cup pecans (about 31/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Spray a baking sheet or pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, tossing to coat the nuts with the seasonings and corn syrup (use your hands or a wooden spoon to get everything evenly mixed). Spread the nuts on the sheet evenly so that they don’t touch (clusters will be hard to break up after baking).

Stirring or shaking the pan occasionally to break up clumps, bake the nuts until they turn a deep golden brown and the sugar mixture is bubbling (about 15 minutes). Let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet. Gently break the nuts apart if necessary and store them in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

—From Bluestem: The Cookbook by Colby Garrelts and Megan Garrelts with Bonjwing Lee

 

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