Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tomatillos

Every once in awhile, I like to cover fun ingredients that - maybe - not a lot of people out there in the Mainstream know about. Remember when I covered matcha? Of course you do. Because you follow me like a puppy. Anyway, time for me to cover another one of my favorite green things: Tomatillos.

At work today, while I was woman-ing(like manning but totally better) the deep-fryer so we'd have enough tortilla chips for the night, I asked the morning Prep Chef what was in the big pot next to the pork. I asked her in Spanish, because I'm trying to improve mine, and she answered - in English - "green tomatoes."

"Que? Tienen tomates verdes aqui?" I asked, confused. (For those of you who took French in high school, that means "What? We have green tomatoes here?")

THEY'RE SO CUTE
She laughed. "Como se dice tomatillo en ingles?"

Now I laughed. "It's just tomatillo! Like how 'chips' are just "'chips.'"

I'm guessing that, in Spanish, tomatillo just means something like "green tomato." It makes sense that it would have that name, you know, because it looks like a little green tomato in a tiny paper lantern. They're really beautiful little fruits - ones you've probably seen in the grocery store but never had any idea what the heck they were, so just went off to try something else.

Tomatillos are absolutely adorable. They have these cute little lantern-skins that keep them safe, and peeling them can be a bit of a pain...but fortunately you have me to help! Isn't that great? I thought so.

Simply take your tomatillos and put them in a large container, and fill it up with hot water from the tap. Pull off from the side and POP off the stems - those skins will come off quickly and easily, to reveal a beautiful little fruit. Rinse them thoroughly and then run cold water over them. Wash the tomatillos in cold water and rinse. Repeat this several times, since there's a weird and sticky kind of 'film' that will still reside on the tomatillos once they've been peeled, which is bitter and kinda funky. Three or four good rinses should do the trick for you. You'll know when they're clean because the water won't be 'foamy' anymore.

PROTIP: get small ones, as the larger ones tend to get bitter
To really give some fun ideas for what to do with these little gems, I found a bunch of great recipes that utilize tomatillos in different ways. Of course they're mostly Latin recipes in origin, as they're found in the Latin Americas.

The flavor profile of a tomatillo is both kind of bitter and spicy at once. The first thing I thought when I tasted them, I thought that it kind of has that umami flavor that tomatoes have. It honestly had a whole array of flavors that I didn't think a single ingredient could have, unless it was cheese or something.

Anyway, here are a few recipes that you can have fun with while using tomatillos:

Chicken tomatillo soup 
Chicken Tomatillo Soup is a great vessel for the complex flavor profile of tomatillo. Chicken is a wonderful, semi-neutral meat to accompany the bold and spicy-bitter taste, and it gives a beautiful green color along with the white.

One thing we do in the restaurant is Chile Verde, which just means "green chile", and we use pork. I'm not going to post our recipe from the restaurant(because I know my boss will kill me), but I will tell you how to make a decent salsa verde, which uses tomatillos. This isn't the recipe that we use at work, but this is a variation of a classic salsa verde that I love to use.

Shockingly, it's really easy, and kind of fun to do! Definitely wow your guests with this one - especially if you're white. (Sorry, had to put in some of my classic snide in there.)



Salsa Verde 

Ingredients:
This isn't exactly what mine looks like, but you get the idea
  • 8 or 9 small tomatillos, peeled, washed, and re-washed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, de-nibbed
  • 1/2 a large onion
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbps lime juice
  • 1 tsp lime zest
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced*
Using a large pan on high heat, dry-roast the tomatillos until they sort of 'burn' on the outside. The same thing can be accomplished if you own a gas stove and you simply roast them over an open flame, but not everybody has that. The key to this is just keeping an eye on it, turning it often. When all sides are blackened, remove the tomatillos and place in a bowl, then cover immediately with plastic wrap as tight as you can stretch it. Set aside either on your countertop or in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

Once the tomatillos have rested, gather your remaining ingredients and your blender. (A food processor or immersion blender is fine, too.) Peel the roasted tomatillos as gently as you can, leaving some of the char on the fruit. Add everything into the blender/food processor and blend on low for 30 seconds, or longer if you like a smoother salsa. It is at this step where you add the jalapeno, if you like an extra bit of spice. I advise, however, that you taste the salsa before adding anything else to it, just to see what the spice level is for you.

Serve in a red bowl (for color) and garnish with cilantro sprigs if desired.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

City Market Coffeehouse

So being a college student, I drink a lot of coffee. I mean, a lot of coffee. I would like to think of myself as a coffee aficionado, only because I drink so darn much of it. (I actually know I'm not a coffee aficionado. That's why I'm the Wannabe Gourmande.)

I'm standing in the kitchen eating a lollipop. Cus I'm a food writer.
Those of you following me on Twitter and FourSquare know that already, but this is a blog that doesn't just go with random running esoteric jokes. I love that word; esoteric. Just say it: eso-TER-ric. Doesn't that just sound poetic? It's one of those words that I like because it makes me sound smarter than I actually am. (At least in my head.)

Anyway, being a Chef I work mostly at night, so that frees up my day to go to restaurants and coffeehouses during the day that would normally be crowded but aren't because - hey - 9 to 5ers are at work! I took my dog Howl to the dog park today, and let me tell you why that was an idiotic move for me to do.

This is Howl. Howl is white. Howl runs fast. Run, Howl, Run!

Hehe. Sorry.

GSD in repose. High fashion.
Howl is a big, white, German Shepherd mix. Therefore, he likes the water and he's goofy as all get-out. He's also 11 months old and a healthy 67lbs of pure, lanky muscle, and has no idea whatsoever where he begins or ends. I like to take him to Penn Valley Dog Park on occasion so he can run off some of that puppy/German Shepherd energy and I won't feel like such a monster for leaving him in the apartment all day. After about an hour or so of play he usually is fine with leaving and then he sleeps all day. Win-win!

So I'm an idiot for bringing him today because he's a white dog that loves to run and swim, and it rained yesterday. Yes. It RAINED. And somehow my dumbass brain thought "Hey, bringing a puppy to a dog park a day after a heavy rain couldn't possibly be a bad idea! Let me put on my white eyelet dress!"

Not even 10 minutes there he finds the one mud puddle and rolls in it. And then the Goddess showed herself in the form of an Angel who ran the So Fresh Dog Grooming company. She takes the dogs to the dog park before grooming them at her beautiful home in Roeland Park, so I let her take Howl with her while I went and ran some errands. Being in the downtown area already, I opted to go to City Market.

Just in case you don't know or if you're not a Kansas City native, there's this place in Downtown KCMO called City Market that's this really cool, first class kind of farmer's market that also has regular shops and things like that. They have stupid cheap prices, like $1/2lb of grapes. Definitely cool!

Anyway, I was cold so this all led me to City Market Coffeehouse, which is a place I'd never been to before. (By the way, by checking in on FourSquare it helped me unlock my Fresh Brew badge AND the Level 2 Explorer badge!)

The place was smallish, but I expected that. It had a beautiful, sexy old-world Industrial feel inside, with the brick walls and the old-timey-looking coffee roaster they have in the back that looks like a train engine from the 19th century. I mean, seriously. That's awesome. What's even more awesome is that when I went in(which was about 10:30 on a Tuesday) they were actually ROASTING coffee beans in this thing. Seriously - the coffee beans were still green and unprocessed, and the barista literallydumped a big plastic bin of them in the top. It was really great.

City Market Coffeehouse on UrbanspoonThey had a large array of syrups available for flavors, and a nice big menu written in chalk. Soy and almond milk were available for those of us who are lactose-intolerant, and they seriously know how to make the best coffee drinks ever. I had the mocha latte with soy milk and pumpkin spice - pumpkin spice - and it's February. I mean, seriously, that's amazing. I love pumpkin.



The barista there was kind of quiet, but she made she sh!t out of my coffee drink, and the muffins were really good too. Everything there from the breakfast burritos to the bagels to the pastries looked and smelled great. It's a true Kansas City experience. I highly recommend going, because I think I've found my new favorite coffeehoues in the Downtown area.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Oeufs a la Niege

This post/blog is specifically for my friend Dwight.

While Chef-ing it up at Pancho's Villa, I'm afraid I haven't had as much time as I would like to eat frozen custard in my bathrobe and type on my laptop using fun pictures I found on Tumblr. I barely have time to play the amount of Skyrim I want to play between full-time work, full-time school, and full-time being Momma to Howl. And my boyfriend? It's a wonder how a girl has time to sleep!
"I'm soft. This isn't. Now pet me."

Anyway, I was walking up to class in my torn jeans and oh-so-stylish strappy black American Eagle heels when I saw my friend Dwight sitting at the table with Izaak(another friend from class) and another girl that I can't remember the name of. They were brainstorming about what to do for their latest class project. They were the group that had to come up with an amuse bouche and a dessert.

"Well, mini pies and quiches are trending right now. So are custards and meringues," I said, being the savvy Tumblr-ateur I am. "Ooh! Or you could do oeufs a la niege."

Dwight didn't know what they were, so I gave a brief explanation/example of one I had done before. Basically, it's a meringue(I prefer Italian meringues because of their strength) that's poached in milk and served in creme anglaise. The one I had done before was a ginger-infused meringue in a beautiful sake sabayon with a little hibiscus reduction for color. I remember we put a tuille cookie or two on there, as well, for some texture. Maybe I'm wrong. It's been awhile.

Anyway, it's a beautiful dessert and can be done to order in a flash. Who's ready for pictures? I am!

 This is a more classical Ouefs a la Niege in presentation. But you can get creative with this kind of thing! (Isn't that the beauty of cooking?)

One of my favorite things about being in Culinary school and being a Chef is that you don't exactly just memorize recipes all day. What you do is learn techniques and methods and classics, and once it is instilled in you as such, you can really have fun and twist things up.

Think about "Chopped." I'm a big fan of the show and I love to play along at home. I can't cook along with them, of course, but I know the way you have to win - recognize what is familiar out of what is not. Say you're given black chicken, licorice, quinoa, and persimmon. Sure, these are messed up ingredients that would make a normal person's head explode...but once you break it down into something familiar, it's not so bad. The chicken is your protein, the quinoa is your starch, and persimmon is(well, kinda) your veggie course. Once you have those three, you can kind of start to build on it!

Oeufs are just meringues, and the 'niege' is an anglaise sauce made from it. I learned a simple recipe from a book from the Kansas City Public Library, but my favorite recipe is from Alton Brown. You can find that particular recipe on Food Network.com, but I'm going to give you my favorite recipe.

Ingredients

Oeufs:

  • 8 oz water
  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup 
  • 4  pasteurized egg whites, room temperature
  • ** 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 squirt of lemon juice

Neige:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 4 pasteurized egg yolks 
  • 1 tsp Cardamom
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
First thing is first, which is creating a simple syrup from the sugar, water, and corn syrup. You can infuse the simple syrup with anything you like, from tea leaves to cinnamon to spices to citrus. I love orange peel for this, so that's what I like to use. Making a simple syrup is just boiling it together until the sugar dissolves.

Whip together the egg whites until frothy on medium speed in your electric mixer, then add the lemon juice(or a pinch of cream of tartar, if you like) and put the speed up to high. When the egg whites have tripled in volume and become shiny at soft peaks, add in the hot simple syrup in a small stream down the side of the bowl to 'cook' the egg whites.

To create the base for the niege, which is basically an anglaise sauce, and I find the easiest way to do that is to create something we call the 'ribbon.' Whisk the egg yolks briskly in a large metal bowl and slowly-slowly-slowly add 1/4 cup of the sugar until the color changes to a pale yellow and becomes thick. It reaches the 'ribbon' stage when you pick up the whisk and the yolk mixture comes off in a 'ribbon.'

As this is going on, have your milk, 2 Tbsp sugar, vanilla, cardamom, and salt cooking over medium heat in a medium saucepan on the stove. Make sure it's stirred often, or this will not work. Bring the milk to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer.

There are many ways you can do this, but I have a few favorite methods to poaching the meringues. You can pipe them in using a pastry bag and snip them off using scissors, like Chef Zakarian did in the most-recent Next Iron Chef. You can also use two spoons and make quenelles, or even an ice cream scoop and portion them into the simmering milk that way. Whatever way you choose, poach the meringues in the simmering milk for five minutes each. When done, simply remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

This is meringue in custard with berries. Not oeufs, but still pretty
To create the anglaise, bring the milk up to a more-rapid boil and then immediately bring back down to a simmer. Splash some of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and whisk-whisk-whisk. Once the milk is incorporated, add the egg yolk mixture into the rest of the hot milk and whisk like mad, while simmering, until sauce thickens.

To serve, ladle in the creme anglaise into a serving bowl or dish and pop two or three of the oeufs, which will sit like little floating islands. From this point, you can top them with anything from caramel syrup to chopped nuts - I like hazelnuts - on top. Et voila! Oeufs a la Niege.


Once this is understood, you can do just about anything with it, from adding reductions to switching up sauces. Maybe instead of a creme anglaise you could try a sabayon, which is an alcohol-based custard sauce? Or just do a chocolate anglaise. Or a raspberry sauce. Or something.

Anyway, they're great. The wonderful thing about them is that it's like eating clouds. Make sure you add a crunchy element, though, like a cookie or something.  Have fun. Eat. This is what matters.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pancho's Villa(dos)

I would have written "part deux," but we're a Mexican/Latino restaurant. It wouldn't have been right.

Anyway, things at work are going well. We're slowly expanding, but still not nearly enough people know about us. Today was Super Bowl Sunday and I knew we were going to be slower than usual - just like most of Parkville seemed to be - so not only did we clean-clean-clean...but I had some fun with our FOH manager taking fun pictures of our delicious food, and I even got to have some fun along the way with it. Here we go!

Enchalupa. Nomz,
This little item was my lunch today. For those of you following me on Tumblr have seen this before, I made it again - and it was DELICIOUS!

Sadly, this isn't on the menu(yet), as I've only recently invented it...but I hope to make it a lunch special sometime in the near future. It's something I call an "enchalupa." It's a flour tortilla deep-fried with the chalupa 'mold' so it forms a cruncy-fried bowl. Layer a touch of our queso dip, chicken, tomatoes, onion and enchilada sauce. Top with shredded cheese and pop it under the salamander til everything is melty and delicious. I like it with sour cream and cilantro on top. Serve this with beans and rice, and BAM! Instant lunch for the Chef.

Isa's pork taco lunch
This next item is the pork tacos. We have three types of meat at all times at the restaurant, which are chicken, pork and beef. They come in the form of chili colorado(red chili, beef), chile verde(green chile, pork) and our boiled chicken in broth.

The favorite of the FOH staff seems to be the pork, or chile verde. Our two FOH managers both absolutely love pork tacos, and usually put that in as their lunch orders. Isa was nice enough to let me take a picture or two of her pork tacos right after I made them for her lunch. She's very nice to me.


Sopapilla con hiel

This is a sopapilla. It's a beautiful dessert of deep-fried tortilla strips tossed in cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg, and served with ice cream. Being a Kansas City restaurant, of course we support Belfonte, which is a local company that makes premium dairy products for the public. I absolutely love their vanilla ice cream, which is both rich and light, while being super indulgent. Top it all off with honey, and you have our favorite dessert at Pancho's Villa. Also, here are a couple of pictures I took this morning of downtown Parkville. Enjoy!

100 S Main Street - that's us!

Sitting on a bench, looking out!

From the porch

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Crossroads Coffeehouse

When I was 18, I moved to Los Angeles. There was a coffee shop near FIDM called Fusion, that had lots of neat things like boba and cappuccinos and muffins and a big bulletin board of things that bands would put up. Sometimes there would be Singles ads, and once there was an offer to learn Korean; I didn't call, but it was neat that someone was taking initiative enough to teach someone and make their own way.

Breakfast of Champions, yo
 I remember being 18 in Los Angeles, right there with my beautiful canvas bag, high heels and big sunglasses thinking "This is where I belong." I felt so grown up, so independent. Reality always set in, but by the time I was 20, older and wiser, I still loved that coffee shop because it reminded me what it felt like to be 18 again and in the city for the first time.

 Call me a little crazy, but I think that coffee shops sort of cast a spell on you - at least, independent ones do. I sometimes like Starbucks(let's face it, when you're 18 you carry around that coffee cup like it's a status symbol), but I will always love and support independent coffee shops if I can. Not only will it remind me of why I love coffee, but it will give me that same sense of being independent and grown up.

 At the moment I'm sitting at this coffee shop called Crossroads Coffeehouse on Southwest Blvd and Central in  Kansas City. It was nearly nothing like Fusion, all white and clean-cut with bamboo flooring and the neat paper lanterns hanging, but it gave me that sudden overwhelming feeling of being a grown-up - a strong, independent woman in a new city. Even though I've lived here for over a year, I still don't feel like this is my home. At least, I didn't - until I walked into this coffee shop.

Crossroads Coffeehouse on Urbanspoon
 There's something about a good, independent coffee shop that just emulates the vibe of a city - or at least a part of a big city. Fusion was very LA because it was so eclectic and new and clean-cut and upbeat yet with that wonderful Asian-fusion/we're-going-to-the-future together kind of thing.

Crossroads Coffeehouse is so Kansas City! Maybe it's the exposed brick wall? Maybe it's the beautiful art on the walls done by local artists(something that Kansas City is not short on? Maybe it's the smell of roasting coffee beans(downtown KC boasts the old Folgers coffee plant, which is sadly being torn down)? Maybe it's the combination of wood with concrete floors and the beautiful black chairs that just seem so somehow scream "jazz, sex, and rock and roll" in the most subtle of ways? I don't know what it is about this place, but I finally get Kansas City. And I have to say I don't hate it.
The view from my table

 It's funny how places can connect you to places. If I ever go back to Los Angeles in the future, I'll probably go to Fusion first and order a sandwich and mocha with soy like I always did. When I go back to Tucson, I'll get a coffee at the Chocolate Iguana on 4th Ave. And if I don't end up staying in Kansas City forever, I'll come back to this place, get a Purple Haze(a delicious concoction of coffee with caramel, hazelnut and chocolate) and remember what made me finally fall in love with it after a long, drawn-out affair of going between affection and didsain.