Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Last Touch

There was one part of my Thanksgiving appetizer platter that I didn’t tell you about in yesterday’s post, because I think it deserves special mention. It’s a small memorial to Gourmet magazine.

When the publisher, Condé Nast, decided to kill Gourmet and try to channel its readership to the publication Bon Appétit, it was like cancelling the Julia Child cooking show and telling everyone “we know you’ll love Rachael Ray!” —Ugh!!! Not the same!

So, getting around to the deviled eggs I made: They were prepared as a tribute to my long relationship with Gourmet, and to all the inspiration I’ve gotten from its pages over the years.

The initial idea came from the “wow! gee whiz!” reaction I had to a photo in the very last issue of Gourmet—November 2009, the last annual Thanksgiving issue. In an article entitled “From the Heart,” Ian Knauer presented a Thanksgiving menu centering on flavors and foods native to rural Pennsylvania, and the heartland in general.

There were, of course, several gorgeous photos showing the meal; the one that immediately caught my eye was of beet-pickled deviled eggs—the hard-boiled eggs weren’t technically pickled in the sense that they could have been preserved in Mason jars, but they were soaked a minimum of 2 hours in seasoned vinegar with a sliced, cooked beet. It was just enough soaking to make the outside of the eggs turn vibrant magenta and to impart a bit of the pickled-beet flavor.

It was an homage to the traditional beet-pickled hard-boiled eggs available at bars in Pennsylvania and the region; and it looks amazing when deviled, since the egg white near the yolk remains white. The presentation is genuinely special.

But that’s where I stopped with that particular recipe, because in my cooking notebooks I have a photocopy of the last page of the April 1995 issue of Gourmet, which I acquired from my neighbor, who was a real, live trained chef and who introduced me to Gourmet. (I looked up to her, and she looked up to Gourmet. Not long after that, I had my own subscription, and Sue, who loves me and knows what I love, maintained my subscription ever since.)

I’m not saying anything against the delicious-looking yolk preparation with the November 2009 recipe—it had caraway in it, and it sounded terrific—but I wanted something lighter. Brighter.

If you’re familiar with Gourmet, you know that they had a long-running feature on the very last page, called “The Last Touch,” where they’d select a food, an ingredient, or a technique, and hand you five or so brief recipes on that theme. And each one would be worthy as a “real keeper,” a “go-to” recipe.

In April 1995, the topic of “The Last Touch” was “Stuffed Eggs.” My neighbor, Sherri, had handed me the photocopy about a week before we were going to do an all-out joint feast, her and Steve, and me and Sue. Sherri told me to make up some deviled eggs, and she suggested these to me.

By the way, here’s a list of the recipes on that one page:

---Smoked salmon, cream cheese, and dill stuffed eggs
---Olive and anchovy stuffed eggs
---Watercress and radish stuffed eggs
---Curried stuffed eggs
---Lemon tarragon stuffed eggs
---Ham and horseradish stuffed eggs

They all sound good, don’t they!

Okay: so when I decided against the caraway-themed devilment, I returned to this fourteen-year-old photocopy and selected the lemon-tarragon version. Here’s a link to that recipe.

So that’s what I made, and they were of course a big hit. Even when I “messed with” the original recipe and crossed it with another, it came out perfectly, looked great, and tasted incredibly good.

And you know what? That’s Gourmet for you. Fabulous ideas that work, and enough context so that over time you can become confident about taking liberties with flavors and ingredients.

I’m already thinking of new twists on the idea. What about preparing a brine or pickling sauce using freshly juiced carrots (with that wonderful juicer I have), to give some of the eggs an orange color? Or do the same with something full of chlorophyll? A batch of fresh basil leaves, parsley, or spinach? Or turmeric or curry marinade on some? You could make a batch of different colors for an Easter platter. Think of the possibilities!

I’ll bet you ten bucks that most people who were inspired by that photograph in the last issue of Gourmet didn’t stick slavishly to the entire printed recipe but improvised to some degree or other—which, as I see it, is a tremendous compliment to an immortal magazine.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Some Veggie Appetizers

. . . So (continuing from my previous post on Thanksgiving yesterday) . . . as I was saying, I was in charge of bringing the appetizers. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of funky old cookbooks that give lots of eye-opening recipes for canapés and hors d’oeuvres, or maybe it’s ’cause I’m seriously missing Gourmet magazine (major, painful withdrawal, folks), but I decided to have some “fun” with this task.

And Thanksgiving—whew! What kind of appetizers won’t ultimately injure your appetite for this, most possibly the biggest feast of the year? Unless you’re having a party where the appetizers function as the dinner itself, you don’t want them to be heavy. At Thanksgiving, you don’t need something to “tide you over”—Lawseh. You need something to pique your appetite, and that’s about all.

So I decided: No breads or crackers, and no meat. No cheese tray. All too heavy. Instead, I was going to focus on raw, fresh veggies. But I wanted to get away from the usual carrot and celery sticks, pile of broccoli florets, and a bowl of sauce to dip them into. And hey, I have the time to put some effort into this, so why not get more creative?

Another thing I decided: These should all be bite-size. Don’t you hate it when you bite into a lovely little hors d’oeuvre, and half of it collapses into your hand and drips down your shirt front?

Finally, I wanted them all to harmonize somewhat—which means no “United Nations” of flavors. Pick out a cuisine and its flavor palette and stick with it.

So here’s what I ended up with: stuffed tomatoes, stuffed cucumber cylinders, and canapés made using sliced yellow squash instead of crackers or mini toasts. All with a Mediterranean/Greek theme. I’m rather proud of them!

There aren’t actual recipes to relate, as it’s more about combinations and construction. So descriptions follow each photo.

Hummus-stuffed grape tomatoes. Yes, the grape tomatoes are still coming on in the sunny front side of our house! For the bigger grape tomatoes, I cut just a thin slice off top and bottom so they’d stand upright, then sliced the tomatoes into halves, making two cups. Scooped out the guts using a thin sharp knife, small melon baller, and heck, my fingertips.

The filling was hummus. Then, I had puréed some roasted red bell peppers with a tiny bit of chipotle (for added smokiness and zip), put that purée into a ketchup-type squeeze bottle, and squirted a bit of that into the hummus. It blurped out of the top in an attractive way. Then I garnished the top with a little cube of feta and a tiny sprig of fresh thyme. (Yeah, our herb garden is still going strong, too!)

Next slide, please . . .

Tzatziki-filled cucumber cylinders. Here, I bought some “gourmet” little cucumbers from Schnucks, which always has a great produce selection. (No, they’re not paying me to say that!) I cut these into cylinders maybe three-quarters of an inch tall. Again, I wanted folks to be able to eat them a single bite. I used the small melon baller to carve out a bowl in one of the sides, then filled it with a homemade tzatziki sauce.

Because tzatziki sauce usually has cucumber already in it, and I was going to be putting this into cucumber pieces, I made my tzatziki without cuke. (You can find lots of recipes for tzatziki—mine had garlic and fresh mint in it.) By the way, the thicker you can get the yogurt to be, the better, for this construction.

The garnish is finely diced kalamata olives. Pretty, huh?

Okay, next slide . . .

Finally, yellow squash with cream cheese–pesto sauce: round slices of yellow zucchini squash topped with a dab of cream cheese (I used the lower-fat Neufchâtel) mixed with pesto (I make up a big batch of pesto and freeze it in zip-bags so it’s always on hand). Garnished with a thin round of grape tomato, poked into the cheese at an angle, and a sprig of fresh parsley. (Hooray for the herb garden!)

I wanted these all to be so pretty it would almost hurt ya to eat them. But the punchy flavors kept that from happening, I guess, because there weren’t many of these left after the party!

The best part was that these were fun to make.

If you can manage it, cooking should always be fun, huh?

Thanksgiving Report

Hi, everyone! Sorry I haven’t been very good at posting this month—I’ve been pretty busy with “real life” and haven’t had much time for reporting or reflection. And honestly, I haven’t been extraordinarily inspired by much—the pretty autumn leaves are all dry, brown, and on the ground, and the skies have been gloomy overall. Today’s an exception—bright and sunny—and there’s a pleasant buzz as cars of well-fed shoppers cruise up and down Broadway beneath our windows.

Now, on to the subject of this post: The appetizers I made for yesterday’s Thanksgiving get-together. Sue and I joined my parents at my cousin’s house north of Centertown (that’s west of Jeff City, in northern Moniteau County). David, my cousin, and his wife Wendy hosted Thanksgiving again this year, and Wendy, as usual, did a lovely, lovely job with the turkey (22 pounds!) and all the fixin’s. You know . . . mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing, the traditional green bean casserole, that delicious ground cranberry relish with the oranges, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and so on.

My mom brought the sweet potato casserole—some recipe she has that’s out of this world, with brown sugar, marshmallows, and crunchy whole pecan nutmeats on top. I usually don’t go for sweet potatoes that have been doctored up with “more sweets,” but this dish is an exception. I had to indulge in seconds, even if I do “know better.”

Another thing I have to mention is, indeed, the dressing, which to me is a big deal. David makes it using our grandmother’s recipe. He enjoyed it at his family’s Thanksgivings growing up in Cheyenne, just as I enjoyed it with my folks (and with Grandma) here in Missouri. The recipe—and especially the flavors—are a very tangible connection to our grandma and to our decades of family Thanksgiving memories.

The dressing is made with cubed bread, apples, celery, and raisins. The raisins get all pudgy and soft in the process, and the entire dish takes on a character that is far more than the sum of its parts. Oh, purrrrrr.

As we dined, Wendy mentioned that she’d suggested that this year, maybe David should use craisins instead of raisins. Maybe that would be a delicious twist on an old favorite! . . . As soon as she related this, I barked, “No! No way! Can’t mess with perfection!” We all laughed as she explained that David had responded the same way!

My contribution to the shindig was to bring the appetizers—that’s what Wendy told me to bring. And wow, that didn’t seem like very much to contribute, considering that she and David were basically doing everything else. So I decided to “fly with it,” to give it some extra effort and creativity than the usual veggies an’ crackers plus a sauce to dip them in.

. . . And that will be the subject of my next post.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Storm Windows

Sometimes I think it’s an exercise in sheer perversity when we insist, each fall, in removing the big screens from our back porch and replace them with the heavy wooden storm windows that are original to our house.

Actually, they’re not original to our house. Originally, they were windows on a steamboat. That’s what my dad says; his grandpa salvaged them from a steamboat.

I’m posting this mainly to let you know what we go through each fall, and to let you know what most people went through in previous generations. These “real” storm windows are virtually extinct these days, and for good reason—they’re a bear to lift and to fit into place.

They hang from hooks the size of a thumbnail attached to the outside of the house just above the window openings. On our house, these hooks (like the storm windows themselves) are ancient and are coated with layer upon layer of green paint.

The windows are truly heavy, especially the one on the north side, which is over the lowest part of the back porch steps, so there’s no way we could use a ladder to help put it up. It all must be done from the inside.

It’s a three-person process: A pair of us on each side of the window, on the inside of the porch, holding the storm completely outside the opening, and then trying (mostly blindly) to attach it to the two hooks above, then to pull the lower part inward so we can attach the bottom to the inside of the frame with ancient hook-and-eye hardware.

Getting it on the hooks properly is where the third person comes in: This person stands outside in the yard and hollers up at us to let us know if we’re “on” the hooks or not. It usually takes us three or four tries to get both sides hooked at the same time. As we struggle, the window starts getting really heavy . . .

The process is complicated by the inevitable swelling of wood, settling of the house, and other factors that make the storm window a tight fit. It is scary to pull such a heavy window inward, with force, when you’re not quite sure it’s really attached at the top. To make a “mistake” would cause a tremendous crash and mess. And there’s no way for anyone to get on the “outside” to do the natural thing: push.

After we get the “big” one up, the three smaller windows that face east are a piece of cake. They’re much smaller and lighter, and a helper can stand on the steps and assist with both positioning as well as holding and pushing.

Once they’re up, the porch’s character changes drastically. Suddenly, sounds are muffled, echoed, and the air seems still out there. No more fresh breezes. Even though these windows are incredibly drafty, they are much better insulation than the screens would be.

The kitties have the worst time of it—the storm windows block off their direct channel to the sights and smells of the backyard. But then this gives them something to be happy about in the spring when we swap the screens back in.

And now there’s one less thing left to do this fall in preparing for winter.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Tomorrow Is the Christbaumfest

We're planning on driving to Cole Camp tomorrow to check out their annual Christbaumfest ("Christmas tree festival")--a craft fair in two locations: the gymnasium at Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Jaycee hall.

"Craft items include: Hand-carved train display, Hand-carved santas, Quilts, Wreaths, Quilted jackets, Counted Cross-stitch, Hand-woven rag rugs, Ceramics, Rag quilts and bags, Appliqued clothing, Baked goods, Stuff-your-own-critter, Candles, Floral Arrangements, Purses and Jewelry, Ornaments, Dolls, Scarves, Quillows, Pottery and much, much more."

Plus, there will be open houses at the town's antique and craft shops, and you can catch lunch at the Lutheran school's cafeteria, where they're serving soups and sandwiches, desserts, and drinks.

(This image was copied from Cole Camp's Web site.)

Here's the link for more information.

Seriously, check out Cole Camp's Web site for more on the town's history. Many of their community events spring from the town's strong German heritage, and it's a beautiful historic town, surrounded by both prairie and Ozark hills. You might even say "idyllic."

. . . And we'll even enjoy the drive to get there.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Black Gold

This is real, true, black gold, black-walnut gold, exquisite, painstakingly shelled and picked, the ultimate nut, dark, rich, and smoky. Black walnut shells are incredibly hard; it’s a mystery to me how anyone can extract nutmeats that are larger than a crumb or a smear.

A sixteen-ounce bag of these fancy babies costs ten dollars (well, $9.99) from Hammons Products.

But my mom knows a fellow in Jeff City who has a contraption that makes the cracking and picking easier, and he produces shelled black walnuts for family and friends. This year my mom bought from him four quart-sized freezer zip-bags, stuffed full. You know what he charged her? Five bucks a bag. Seriously. (Though she insisted on giving him a more than that—you know—just because.)

Mom gets her black walnuts from this gentleman every year, and these nuts go into her fantastic lebkuchen, her billy goat cookies, and lots of other incredible holiday treats. She also shares her black-walnut bounty with her sister in Michigan and (hooray!) with us.

Mom says she’s never, ever, found a piece of shell in this man’s black walnuts.

So am I bragging? No. I’m just saying: This is really, really wonderful, you guys. I rejoice each time I think about these beautiful, tasty, fresh nutmeats, more special than candy.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Walking Stick

Another one of my little friends, Diapheromera femorata, the northern walking stick. This little fella crept quietly onto my leg when we were at Painted Rock last weekend; I was crouching in the leaf litter, trying to photograph a pretty orange mushroom.

. . . What a cool bug, huh?

Painted Rock Conservation Area

Painted Rock has been a favorite getaway for Jefferson Citians for generations. It’s just far enough away to keep it special, to make it a destination instead of a place to hang out by default.

This is another of those public lands that offer a variety of features, macro and micro, in both natural and human history. Comprising 1,480 acres, it’s a substantial area that can be visited repeatedly and continually yield surprises.

Where is it? Painted Rock CA is along the Osage River south of Jefferson City, southwest of the tiny town of Folk, off of Highway 133 between Meta and Westphalia. It’s about seven miles southwest of the junction of Highways 63 and 133. (That’s a pretty loop drive, by the way, between Westphalia and Meta, and then back to Jeff City through St. Thomas. I’m just sayin’.)

Human History

The Missouri Department of Conservation acquired the land in 1981, but it’s been used as a park and preserve since the last quarter of the 1800s. At that time, the land was leased and used by a group of affluent citizens of Jefferson City for hunting purposes. In 1907, when the land appeared to be in danger of being subdivided and sold, the group of hunters organized formally into the Painted Rock Country Club and purchased the property—1,086 acres.

The country club, whose members included Governor Herbert Hadley, had a clubhouse on the land, gathered there on the weekends, and had fall and winter hunts for deer, turkey, squirrels, rabbits, quail . . . this at a time when game was becoming increasingly scarce in the state due to the lack of centrally organized conservation efforts.

Again, these were prominent people; in 1909 the group’s annual banquet was held at the Governor’s Mansion, and it’s widely agreed that this club’s members were instrumental in developing and supporting Missouri’s first statewide hunting laws as well as creating (in 1936) the state’s department of Conservation.

The club’s heyday was in the 1920s, but it declined somewhat during the Depression; the land was sold in the mid-1940s and then sold again in 1952 to Sam B. Cook, a prominent Jefferson City banker who was the son and grandson of men who had been members of the country club. In 1981 he sold the property to the Missouri Department of Conservation, which developed the trail overlooks, interpretive signs, and other information, and worked to improve the quality of the area’s oak-hickory forests.

But the human history of the area goes back much farther than the country club. In fact, one of the first points on the interpretive trail is an Indian burial cairn (sadly vandalized long ago, so apparently there’s no good way to be sure of its age, or much else).

Also, there is the feature that gives the area its name: red pictographs of a buffalo and other symbols painted high on bluffs overlooking the Osage River by Indians between A.D. 1200 and 1300. For decades, the “Painted Rock” was a landmark for explorers, traders, and others who navigated the Osage, including Zebulon Pike, who noted it in 1806.

We tend to forget how very important rivers used to be in trade and transportation. The reason the state capital is at its current location is because the state’s early leaders specified that it had to be on the Missouri River, within forty miles of the mouth of the Osage.

I’ve never seen the “Painted Rock” pictographs; I don’t know where they are. The MDC literature for the Osage Bluff trail states they are “not accessible by the trail.” You can see recent images of them here. Apparently they are growing fainter and disappearing as the rocks weather; some disappearing in the last two hundred years.

I’d love to see the pictographs someday, whether from a boat or on foot. But for now, for me, the name “Painted Rock” can refer symbolically to the lovely splotches of mosses and lichens painting the many stones and outcroppings along the trail. This area must be home to dozens of species of bryophytes and their miniature amigos, crustose, foliose, and fruticose.


There is much to enjoy on the 1.6 mile Osage Bluff Scenic Trail, a loop that begins at a nice gravel parking lot and leads through pleasant forested territory before reaching tall bluffs and a nifty observation deck overlooking the Osage River, with a view of Bloody Island (which has its own colorful lore).

The trail then skirts the river, gradually descending to its lowest elevational point (a footbridge that crosses Cove Creek), then ascends a cool, fern-covered, north-facing hillside to emerge on another observation deck overlooking the Osage. Then, it’s another fairly level hike through oak-hickory woods back to where you parked.

There are some fairly steep sections of the trail, but these have long, mild switchbacks that make the grades less strenuous. Another issue for some hikers could be the rockiness at some places; yes, this is the Ozarks, and rocks are forever poking out of the soil. You know. “Ozark potatoes.” So flip-flops and penny loafers just aren’t a good idea. If you have Leki poles, you might be glad you brought them.

More Things to See

Probably the most remarkable things about Painted Rock are the breathtaking views of the Osage River from along high bluffs. The southern viewing platform is 140 feet over the river, and you have a tremendous view of the Osage Bend (yes, which the town of Osage Bend is named for; that burg lies across the river, within the river’s big loop). You can see flat cropland and farmhouses, and gentle distant hills that, the interpretive brochure points out, would have become steep Osage bluffs if the river had flowed to the west instead of its current course.

Also at the southern overlook, there’s an eastern red cedar clinging to the bluff that is approximately six hundred years old. It’s not very large. Sue, the bonsai artist, always admires it—and many other cedars on these bluff—for their strong, twisted shapes and tremendous character.

I should mention that there are a number of wooden benches at different points overlooking the Osage. We usually like to bring an apple to gnaw on while we enjoy the view. These overlooks are fantastic places to see sunsets, I might add.

Along the bluffs overlooking the river is also a good place to look for soaring birds, ranging from turkey vultures to bald eagles, as well as great blue herons and others associated with large rivers.

Another thing to enjoy at Painted Rock are the unpainted rocks—I mean, the basic geology of the area. The Gasconade Formation rocks that poke out in places were deposited as ocean sediments over 400 million years ago. There’s lots of sandstone, chert, and dolomite about, much of it eye-catching as you walk.

There’s a point, about midway in the trail when you’re getting close to river level, where you pass a remarkable shelf of dolomite and chert—which is a cool grayish-purple—there’s nothing under it, as a softer, tannish dolomite layer beneath it has eroded away.

Atop the shelf layer is an icing of sandstone, which sparkles when it catches the light. It’s so soft, it looks like it’s melting from the elements. There are holes, tiny caves, in it.

We always pause at this outcrop and smile as we fancy that this outcrop, with its decorations of various mosses, looks like a miniaturized version of the bluffs around us. It’s fun to take pictures that represent this; with a little imagination (or confusion), you might think you’re looking at a long-distance view of the bluffs, or a side of a mountain.

I really like to go hiking where I can be delighted by both small things and expansive things, and if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy Painted Rock Conservation Area, too.


“History of Painted Rock Country Club Tied to Development of a State Conservation Program,” in Gary R. Kremer, Heartland History Volume 3 (Jefferson City, Mo.: City of Jefferson, 2004), 28-31. (This essay includes some neat pictures of the country club's parties and outings.)

Osage Bluff Scenic Trail: Painted Rock Conservation Area, trail brochure published by the Missouri Department of Conservation (n.d.), available at the trailhead.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chilly Night

They sleep hard by day, concealing from you their pointy fangs. They visit you in the middle of the night to suck your precious body heat. Mirrors mean nothing to them. . . . And the only way you could ever dream of getting rid of them would be to drive a stake through your own heart.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Blue Heron, Lake Ozark, Missouri

First, I’m going to tell you right away that this is a positive review. Yes. But I hope you’ll read on to find out why I like the Blue Heron. It’s really quite unique—a very special place. If you are not sure you want to dine there, read on; some of what I describe are things you could decide are drawbacks or virtues; at least you will get an idea of what the place is like, and you can decide for yourself.

Regular readers: I know by now you’re thinkin’ that I’m all in love with down-home cookin’, church suppers, German home cooking, and retro recipes, but I want you to know I have another side. In fact, Gourmet has been my absolute favorite magazine—no, my ONLY magazine—for years and years, and its demise has me in a huge funk. So don’t be surprised now when I start telling you about the Blue Heron at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Walking in the Door

Don’t get me wrong—there is something homelike about the Blue Heron. But you know how the Olive Garden says, “When you’re here, you’re Family”? The Blue Heron isn’t like that. Instead, at the Blue Heron, it’s like you’re visiting someone else’s family. Someone with a fantastic chef. And tonight you’re the guest of honor.

It begins when you step through the door. When we walked in, the owner himself, Joseph Boer, welcomed us cheerfully, with a big smile, and chatted with us for a little while. We had arrived right at opening time—5 p.m.—and after introductions and some light conversation, and some pleasant joshing around, he motioned us jovially toward the lounge, with its doorway to the outdoor pool area: “Go swimming!”

Great American Songbook, classic jazzy vocalists were playing in the sound system. I had a quick flashback to Las Vegas.

I noticed there are ramps everywhere there might have been a step or two. This makes it easy for people with physical disabilities, and it makes it easy for the waitstaff to cart the platters of food to the tables. Yes, they use real wooden carts. You never have to worry about a waiter dropping a tray of ice waters down your back.

Throughout, we found the service attentive but not omnipresent, which is the way we like it. The young woman who was our waiter knew the menu well and advised and served us gracefully.

Relaxing in the Lounge

The lounge. The lounge? Hey, we didn’t ask to be seated in the lounge! But wait—we are here to relax, aren’t we. And we just got off the highway. We’re here to enjoy ourselves! So, okay. Throw us into the briar patch! (Yeah, we could have requested immediate seating.)

This isn’t like Ruby Tewsdee’s, where you stand uncomfortably in the drafty entryway holding an oily surprise-buzzer in your hand, waiting anxiously for a table so you can be fed and outta there ASAP. Here, indeed, it’s not a “wait” to be seated—there were plenty of open tables when we arrived—instead, relaxing in the lounge before dinner is part of the experience. (If you had dinner guests at your house, wouldn’t you have them relax in the living room for a spell before inviting them all to the dinner table? Yes, you would.)

It also gave us a chance to examine the menu at our leisure.

Nota bene: The Blue Heron doesn’t take reservations; it’s first come, first served. It behooves you to arrive early, or else just resign yourself to an actual true wait. They don’t rush their customers through dinner.

In the lounge, we settled into some comfortable furniture around a small table with a blue votive (on a doily) on it. A waiter brought us a complimentary small plate of light hors d’oeuvres, with spiced mixed nuts, a sampling of olives, a seasoned cream cheese dip, and water crackers, and then served us beverages. They have an extensive wine and spirits list and proudly advertise that they’ve received Wine Spectator awards consecutively since 1983.

Sue and my dad wandered outside to the pool area to enjoy the sunset and had a terrific time chatting and enjoying the absolutely spectacular view of the Lake of the Ozarks. The Blue Heron stands on a bluff overlooking Horseshoe Bend, and the pool patio affords a fabulous sunset view. There are plenty of café tables out there, plus a romantic little gazebo. As well as several striking sculptures of herons and a few enormous wind chimes.


After we’d had this chance to relax for a bit, our server told us our table was ready, and we were led to a nice table next to a window. This time of night, at this time of year, the darkness obscured the view, but during the height of the season, I’ll bet many tables get wonderful views of the lake.

The Blue Heron is a large restaurant with at least a few serving rooms, and as we dined, the place began to fill up. Nevertheless, our service was excellent and never seemed rushed, and we never felt crowded. They have comfortable chairs, too, which my mom and her bad back enjoyed.

There is a nice selection of appetizers. When we saw that they offer escargots, we couldn’t resist. Not many restaurants in Central Missouri offer it—I suspect that many midwesterners (who nevertheless will snarf down brain sandwiches and braunschweiger) can’t abide by the thought of eating “snails.” The Blue Heron offers them in the shell or “homeless” (we chose the latter), and you can get your half-dozen of them in either a traditional garlicky butter sauce, or two in a curry sauce, two in pesto, and two in the butter-garlic. We chose the latter and greatly enjoyed them and the thin light toasts they were served with.

The bread basket included a nice array of fresh rolls and bread slices, and the green salad is tossed with a variety of ingredients ranging from slivers of carrots to radish slices to bean sprouts and is served family-style in funky retro-modern white plastic bowls. The dressings—three—are brought to the table in small dispensers. All are homemade: French, house poppyseed, and ranch. Croutons (homemade, buttery, with the flavor of real, fresh garlic) were served separately in a small bowl, and toasted pine nuts were available in a shaker (like the kind used at pizza restaurants for parmesan, but cleverly modified for pine nuts with a single, larger hole at the center).

The vegetable of the day was cooked summer squash and onions sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese. For my druthers, it seemed a tad overcooked and oversauced. Since I knew the entrées would be filling, I would have preferred lighter, simpler, “healthier” veggies with a cleaner presentation; something more of a foil for the lavish meat dishes . . . but the squash preparation was certainly delicious.


I had studied the menu online before we drove down to the lake, but I still had a hard time deciding what to order. The dishes are mainly classic Western European and American entrées, grouped into categories by meat type. Seafood, beef, poultry, and so on.

Note: As far as I can tell, there is not a single vegetarian entrée—not even the tried-and-true “roasted vegetables in a phyllo shell” that makes good use of last night’s leftover side dish (it simply amazes me that in 2009 they don’t have a vegetarian option).

Here’s a partial list of what we had to choose from.

Seafood: Cape Cod seafood pot pie; baked or champagne lobster tail; 1 lb. Maine chicken lobster; Russian crab leg; shrimp de Jonghe (a casserole of shrimp, garlic, sherry, and bread crumbs).

Meats: aged NY strip; “B&B twin” (filets with Bearnaise and Bordelaise sauces); beef kabob; steak and lobster stack; steak and trout combination; center-cut tournedos; veal schnitzel with foie gras; peppercorn-roasted lamb rack; smoked lamb rack.

Poultry: chicken morel; fried chicken breasts; Cornish game hen; pecan encrusted chicken.

They also offer, as a “post script” to the menu, trotter osso buco, which I was sorely tempted to get, except that for the sake of providing a quality review for you, I ordered one of the Blue Heron’s most famous dishes instead.

So I ordered one of their signature dishes, an entrée that is original to this restaurant: batter-fried lobster tail, served on a bed of shoestring potatoes, with hot butter for dipping. Yes, you read that right: batter-fried lobster tail. And it seems a strange thing to do to such a top-notch piece of seafood. Then again . . . the dish was executed well. The batter was light and crispy, and the huge chunk of meat inside delicate and moist. Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever order it again, because in the grand scheme of things, I think there are better ways to prepare such a fine foodstuff. Plus the crispy shoestring potatoes seemed to be not so much for eating as for keeping the tail from looking lonely on the platter.

Indeed, the dish—as with all the entrées—comes with a choice of potatoes: baked, shoestring, French fried, or Dutch whipped. I had to try the Dutch whipped. In fact, everyone at our table selected this form of potato, since none of us could remember having it before.

Dutch-whipped potatoes are quite a bit like twice-baked potatoes; they are finely whipped potatoes (with, apparently, butter and cream and seasonings), piped into a ramekin and baked until the top gets a nice crisp surface. Very creamy and enjoyable.

Mom ordered the 14-ounce Kansas City strip steak, which was enormous and (of course) comes cooked to your specification. I didn’t hear any complaints from her about it! It certainly looked good.

Dad, as is his wont, ordered the lightest, healthiest-looking item on the menu, the salmon Florentine, which came with asparagus. It was just the ticket for him, and it looked fabulous.

I was sorely tempted to get one of the restaurant’s three Dover sole dishes: the Dover sole Waleska (served with a creamy sauce with bits of chopped lobster), the Dover sole meunière yearling, 14 oz., or the Dover sole 18 oz. Hmmm. Sue ordered the 14-ounce sole meunière, in part because of the story about Julia Child’s Rouen revelation regarding this dish.

But I’m pretty sure that a service mix-up caused her to receive the sole Waleska instead; the plate that Sue received had two lovely pieces of sole with a creamy sauce, small chunks of shellfish, and a rounded mold of white rice, in addition to a beautifully carved lemon garnish. It was not the typical simple preparation of fish dredged in flour and cooked with brown butter, à la meunière. We didn’t ask, though we should have (indeed there is a price difference); at any rate, it was delicious and decadent.

Desserts, Coffee, Cordials

We didn’t have room for dessert, but FYI, here is a small list of items I got from the Blue Heron’s Web site: apple “phyllo bouquet”; chocolate soufflé; creme brulée; cream puffs with chocolate bath . . . you get the idea.

They offer a fabulous selection of after-dinner cordials, spirits, and liqueurs. They encourage you to enjoy desserts and cordials out by the pool, if you wish.

Additionally, they offer some terrific after-dinner coffee preparations: espresso tableside; French presse; and small or large vaculator (that’s a vacuum coffee maker—most of us would view it as a “retro” coffee preparation; I’m dying to try it. The contraption looks like a cross between a swanky manual-drip coffeemaker and a bong).

Also, they offer Kopi Luwak, which I wish I had ordered, and would have, if I had recognized the name: Its other name is “civet coffee”; you might have heard of it. It’s made from coffee berries that have been ingested and excreted by Southeast Asian civets. Kopi Luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world, and many say it’s the most delicious—bright, with no bitterness, with a certain “je ne sais quoi” imparted by the unique “enzyme treatment” the beans receive. So—my goodness!—does the Blue Heron sell the real thing, true Indonesian weasel coffee? I guess we need to go back and find out.


The prices aren’t listed on their Web site; I guess to do so would be tacky. A place like this isn’t cheap, but remember that in addition to all the carefully prepared foods on your table, you are also paying for the view, the service, and the fact that you are absolutely not rushed here. They don’t have to turn over the tables ASAP at the Blue Heron, so you can linger and talk all you want.

The least-expensive entrée was about thirty dollars, but most are in the range of forty to just under fifty. The breads, salad, and vegetable come with the meal. Appetizers, drinks, coffee, and desserts are extra.


They’ve worked hard at creating a romantic, elegant, grown-up restaurant, so this is not the place to bring toddlers and ill-behaved children. In fact, they might not allow little kids in there at all (call them if you need to know). Also, don’t insult the other diners by wearing inappropriate clothing or behaving like a country rube. And overall: This is not where you go to “grab a bite” before dashing off to do something else. If you need your food right away, this restaurant (and much of Europe, for that matter) probably isn’t the place for you.

Instead, bring someone special here for a memorable night. Order some old-school, traditional gourmet foods that you never make at home. Finish with some excellent cognac. Make an evening out of it. This is the idea at the Blue Heron; the restaurant experience is itself the evening’s entertainment.

It may or may not agree with you, but the décor—particularly outdoors—is all blue-themed. It’s rather kitschy because it’s almost too much blue-blue-blue. The spherical outdoor lamps are fitted with blue light bulbs and emit a blue glow. The patio furniture is blue. The wood trim is blue. And so on. I sense that a high-class designer or big-city guru of taste would think it’s too much, but I enjoy the exuberance and the fun of it. I sense a bona fide personal touch, with a bit of a sense of humor about it. Thumbs-up.

A Word about the Owner

There’s more on the Blue Heron’s Web site, but here is a brief recap: Joseph H. Boer came to America from Holland at age twenty after working and studying in Holland and Switzerland; he worked at fine restaurants in Kansas City and Topeka. At age twenty-six, he began his first restaurant at Osage Beach, “The Top Deck.” Two years later he opened “Lefty’s Little Chef’s Steakhouse” on the Bagnell Dam Strip, which is where he developed the batter-fried lobster tail.

He took a sabbatical from running restaurants to study business administration at the University of Missouri, then returned in 1972 to Osage Beach, opening the venerable Potted Steer Restaurant at Grand Glaize, and opening the Blue Heron, at the intersection of Business 54 and Route HH, in 1984. This past year, construction on the Highway 54 expressway forced the closure of the Potted Steer (to the grief of many), so the Blue Heron remains this cordial and enterprising Dutchman’s only restaurant.

He makes a real effort to greet his customers at the door and to approach them toward the end of their meal to make sure everything was satisfactory. He’s a real character, a memorable fellow with lots of stories and a quick wit. If you go there, tell him hi for me. Tell him I’m the one he thought looked “devilish.” (Maybe he saw me trying to take photographs of our dinners and figured I was trouble!)

When They’re Open

I hate to say this, but the Blue Heron is closing for the season on November 21. Additionally, they are only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, which by my count leaves you with only six more nights this year to head to the lake to enjoy the Blue Heron. They’ll reopen for the new season in April. Check their Web site or call them for the official word on next season’s opening, but for the remainder of this fall, they’re open 5 to 9:30 pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and 5 to 10 on Saturdays.

I do encourage you to take some time out and enjoy a relaxing evening at the Blue Heron.

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