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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lidia's Kansas City - Tiny Tables for Two, Big Flavors for All

I had the privilege recently to dine at Lidia's, which is arguably THE nice place to go in town, next to The American. Located in the Midtown/Crossroads area of Kansas City, it's nestled near other great places such as Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop(a new-er kid on the block, in comparison) and Grunauer. This place is a very upscale Italian-style restaurant that does not disappoint. The parking is fairly expansive for the area, and you get a great view of the bridges and the skyscrapers all lit up if you get out of the car just at twilight.

Walking in, the hostess stand is immediately to your right, across from a rack of coats which, I can only assume, belong to the other patrons. To tell you the truth, the idea of checking your coat literally next to the door with no employee directly next to it was a little unnerving, so I opted to keep mine. (Plus I get cold easily.)

We were seated within five minutes of arrival by a gorgeous Black hostess who, I must say, had the most beautiful head of hair I've ever seen. Her perfect red lipstick almost matched the decor. She sat us at a table that was easily the tiniest I've ever seen meant for two people and began to explain the wine choices for the evening. She stopped mid-sentence, though, to ask if we were over 21. I, a healthy 26, and my date, a robust 28, exchanged quizzical looks and promptly laughed as we nodded. "You two do not look over 21!" she exclaimed with a smile.

"Seriously? Look at his beard," I said. B laughed, she laughed, we all laughed.

The bread sticks, foccacia and compound butters and water were quickly brought to the table by our server, who was very well-versed at his job. The butters were vibrant hues of green and purple(one herb and one kalamata olive, if I had to guess) and both were and tasty. The bread wasn't my favorite, to be honest, but the fact that they make it in-house should be commended.

B was feeling a bit adventurous, and I know his appetite is always huge, so we went for a caesar salad and the antipasti plate to start with. The cheeses were served at near-room temperature, for which I was unbelievably thankful. We as Americans know nothing of eating cheese properly! Cheeses should always-always-always be served at room temperature! It's the only way to really appreciate the cheese's flavors and aromas properly. But, anyway, there were olives, salumi, pepperoni...all things that were good. There was this fantastic goat cheese, too, that I just loved. There was even vitello tonnato, an olive oil poached tuna that's left to sort of confit for awhile in that fabulous, flavorful fat. It was a little funky for B, so I happily polished it off. Thumbs up on the antipasti and it is definitely big enough to share! I don't know if B necessarily cared for his caesar, though; he made a comment about how he'd never had a caesar without the 'creamy thick dressing' before; this was more of a transparent-ish-vinaigrette style. It was good, but I can see what he meant. My darling Midwestern man...

See that? That's a big food coma, waiting to happen.
For dinner, he had the osso bucco, which was a dish he'd never had before. The meat was fall-off-the-bone, cut-with-a-fork tender and oh-so-flavorful I wanted to just crawl inside that shank bone and just make a house out of it. Perfectly done, if I do say so myself.

I saw that they had stuffed quail and just couldn't resist. Quail is fantastic little bird and is fucking delicious. I honestly have no idea for the life of me why it's not more of a thing in the US. The very classical Mexican/Spanish dish of Quails with Rose Petal sauce is divine, and you should try it if you ever get the chance. The mushroom-stuffed quail was pretty damn divine, too. The dish is just two perfect little quails, stuffed to the gourds with mushrooms, and served on a bed of roasted butternut squash and winter greens. The mushrooms were roasted well, as was the butternut squash. I loved the braised bed of greens that it was resting on, too. I really am a huge fan of dark, bitter greens, like kale or mustard greens, with game birds. I must say that my desire to be attractive and dainty miraculously kept me from sucking the meat off of those tiny little quail thighs in front of my date, so I made small talk and scraped it all off with a knife and fork like a lady.

It comes with two quails, forever entangled in a tango of flavor...
We were too full for dessert. I'm afraid we'll have to go back for it.

The service at Lidia's was excellent. We never saw the bottoms of our water glasses once; not even close. In fact, there was a point where I would take about three sips and a bus boy would come running with a pitcher of ice water. Our server was also cordial, professional, fastidiously groomed, and very knowledgeable about the menu.

The decor and atmosphere was great. Above us were these fantastic chandaliers of blown glass orbs all woven into, what appeared to be, some kind of industrial chicken wire.The lighting was warm and the colors were welcoming and friendly without being kitsch. In fact, it was very upscale, in my opinion. My only grievance was that the tables were tiny. Like, oh my god, so tiny.

Lidia's Kansas City on Urbanspoon
I understand that you need small tables to fit X amount into a restaurant, but B and I are long, leggy people that were a bit awkwardly cramped while people of a much more rotund nature walked by through the narrow aisles between the other tiny tables. Also, I felt a little low to the ground...but maybe that was because I'm so tall.

All in all, I give Lidia's Kansas City a thumbs up. Great service, expertly prepared food from a chef who clearly knows what he's doing, and a well-versed staff all make for a great meal. The Chef has been there for many years, now, and has clearly gotten his game down pat. I highly recommend Lidia's for a date night. It's romantic, intimate...and the food is to die for. But maybe skip the appetizers and save room for dessert, which is what I plan to do next time.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stroud's - An All-American Comfort Food

After 4 long years of living in Kansas City, I've finally made it out to Stroud's. This place has been featured on many a Food Network show, and for good reason. Stroud's is even the holder of a James Beard Award for American Classic/Comfort food. My boyfriend suggested that we give it a shot, finally, since we had just eaten at Julian last week and (being the wonderful, supportive, aspiring foodie that he is)thought that we keep the James Beard theme running. (I guess that means Michael Smith had better watch for us.) Gladly, I agreed.

I live in Shawnee Heights, so rather than going all the way up to the original location, we opted for the Stroud's on Shawnee Mission Parkway, which was only a 10 minute drive. The parking was a bit difficult, mostly because it was packed. I suppose that I shouldn't have been surprised that a Kansas City staple would be packed, even on a Tuesday, but we almost didn't go in. I figured that if the wait was more than 20 minutes, then we'd hit somewhere else, so we decided to go in and find out how long the wait was.

When we got out of the car, we found that the outer door wasn't actually a door at all, but a plastic "meat locker" curtain that led you to the entryway. When we got in, several tables were empty, and we were seated immediately. B was pretty surprised, but we later agreed that the parking was so few because of the many employees that worked there, combined with a small lot.

The interior was cozy without being kitsch, and the walls were adorned with family-style photos that one might find in your grandmother's house. There was also a lot of red gingham hanging out. Whatever. It's the Midwest, right? Go, gingham!

The managers pulled apart a larger table for us so that we could sit in a booth, and we were promptly greeted by our server. The bottoms of our water and iced tea glasses were never reached, and I must say that the service was, all in all, pretty darn good. The dinners came with appetizer, entree & sides, and a dessert of cinnamon rolls. B got the salad with ranch(like the true Midwestern man he is) and I got the chicken soup.
It was hot and yummy, perfect for a cold night.

The soup was good. No frills, no tra-la-la, no grease or slop...just a good, honest, simple bowl of chicken soup with dumpling-like noodles. I'd heard about the whole "chicken and dumplings" phenomenon in the middle of the country, but never really experienced it myself. B commented that the noodles looked like the kind his own mother used to make, so Stroud's gets a point for that. The herbs were dried herbs, and the salt level was perfect in the broth. I added a few dashes of tobasco, though, since I'm addicted to spice and acid in some form.

The prices seemed high, at first, for what we were getting(ultimately, fried chicken), but when I saw what it all entailed, I was honestly a little blown away. I had heard of the fabled "Stroud's family-style portion sizes" but I didn't think it would actually come with all of the sides in big fukken bowls that you stack around in the middle of the table to share. The gravy was thick, like my grandmother (my white Grandmother, not the Filipino one) makes, and was full of salty goodness. The green beans looked like they came out of a can, and the potatoes were so smooth it made me wonder if they were actually the instant mashed potato flakes that school cafeterias get. I'd actually be willing to bet money that it was, if I didn't get a tiny lump of potato chunk in a bite I took. To tell you the truth, though, I don't think I would mind the idea of the instant mashed potato flakes in a place like this, if they were using them.
I almost stood on the seat to get this shot, but ultimately opted against it.

I ordered the 3-piece chicken dinner while B had the Chicken-fried Chicken with gravy. The sides were obviously big enough to share, and there was so much leftover at the end of the meal. The chicken was a touch greasy and, disappointingly, the meat was under-seasoned, though deliciously moist. I wouldn't call it a spectacular fried chicken dish, but I wouldn't call it mediocre, either. The chicken, for which they were famous, was good. Just...good. Honest and good. I do now understand, however, what people mean when they say that they suck for leftovers: the somewhat greasy chicken isn't the best the day after...unless you know how to treat these kinds of leftovers properly, which means par-heating in the microwave and finishing in an uber-hot oven to get that crispy skin  back.

I wrote a piece titled 5 Comfort Food Spots in Kansas City and put Stroud's at the top of that list. I honestly did it as a bit of a risk, since I only knew it by reputation. Now that I've tasted the food, experienced the atmosphere, I must say that I still stand by my decision of putting it as my #1 choice for comfort food in Kansas City. This food is, honestly, exactly what I would imagine being the staple of the Midwestern diet, coming from a Southwestern/West Coast lifestyle. It is almost exactly what I expected in just about every way. It is, to me, a piece of Kansas City's culture, and I can understand why it received marks for "American Comfort Food". I understand why, now. I get it. It's just a good, no-frills, old-fashioned, family-style fried chicken place. It's tradition, family...it's the Midwest. I get it.
Stroud's on Urbanspoon
Just one word of advice to the ladies: don't wear your skinny jeans. Seriously. After all of the iced tea combined with the ridiculous amounts of food, I was about dying as I shuffled my way to the restroom. Just wear an empire-waist dress or your fat pants, and I wish you luck getting into the car.

I am Grateful for the Holidays

The holidays are upon us. I have a lot of feelings around this year.

For one, I feel like I have a lot going for me. I have a few friends that suffer from mental illness and anxiety and whatnot, and when I think about helping them, the voice in my own head goes: "you are the worst possible help." And you know, I think that voice is right. Because I have absolutely zero idea what they could be going through right then. I don't know what it's like to not be able to eventually just pick yourself up and be alright. I don't know what it's like to have your worst enemy be your own brain. I don't know what it's like to not belong. At least, not anymore.

Since I discovered my career, cooking as a way to make money, all of the bad feelings and thoughts and voices in my head just stopped. I'm sure I had my own demons and darkness, but not moreso than any other American woman might. Thing is, I've found my purpose, my reason for being, and I was fortunate enough to find that at the fresh age of 21, and haven't felt lost since.

I've felt things like anger, sure, and disdain, even the occasional bout of malaise. But I cannot recall the last time I've felt truly lost or hopeless. I can't remember when I felt so alone, so depressed. The only times I want to kill myself is when I'm bored. Not seriously, mind you; I just get so bored sometimes on my days off that I think to myself "I could just stab myself through the eye and stop with this mind-numbing boredom and
I also make cookies when I'm bored. It's a better
alternative to suicide.
be done with it." It's really stupid that I think this way, especially because suicide isn't really anything to laugh at.

But the long and short of it is that I feel very fortunate to have everything I want/need right now. I'm a woman living on her own, paying her bills, with a career. I'm biologically(75%) more white than anything, but I look like a minority, which is even more of a blessing when combined with my success. I mean, I really can't ask for much right now. I have a loving, fulfilling, happy relationship with my boyfriend, too, which is a big plus. It feels truly great to be with someone who has their own thing. I mean, he's got a career, too, and has his own car and friends and apartment and life. It's fucking fantastic to be with a person who has their own shit together.

Anyhow, the point of this whole post is that I choose actively to look at the positive things in my life versus the negative. Because of this choice, I am unable to truly empathize with my friends who suffer from depression, as their choice to be happy is nonexistent. From what I've observed, it's as if someone has taken away their will to be happy. There's some evil cloud above them, taking away their choices, their ability to look up and see that the world is a beautiful place. If I could describe it as having some kind of "beer goggle laser surgery" all the time, I would, but it's only beer goggles if everything you see is awesome. Everything sucks for the people that suffer, and it's not even about what's around them, but what's within.

So this holiday season, I ask my readers to be aware of mental illness. I'm only asking you to be aware because it's nothing you can fix for anyone. Prescribed medication helps, certainly, but the people that take it dislike it, so I've heard. An ex-boyfriend of mine took some kind of anti-depressant for a time and I loved it; he was not only bearable to be around, but actually kind of nice. Unfortunately, my ex hated the way the medication made him feel and the few side effects it had, and stopped taking it. I came to a startling realization that week: prescribed medication like that isn't necessarily for the benefit people taking it, it's for the benefit of the people around the person taking it; and that's kind of sick, in an odd way.

Some medications aren't meant to help you, but to sedate you enough so that you're less awful to those around you.

Seriously, I'm still doing MySpace selfies. That's how
happy and blissfully unaware I am.
I just want to go on record and say that I'm not a doctor, nor have I ever had any kind of medical training whatsoever(unless you count a high school CPR class). I am just a woman in her mid-20's doing a little writing.

But be aware of mental illness this season. Don't be a dick and say mean, ignorant things. Be grateful for that which you have. Do good in the world.

Happy holidays from Wanna B Gourmande.

Monday, December 8, 2014


I love cookies. Like, oh my GODDESS do I love cookies.

This will be short.

Because I love cookies and I made a lot.

So I'm kind of on a sugar high.

So here's the trick of the evening:

Make a basic "chocolate chip cookie dough" sans the chocolate chips and use that as your "Vanilla base dough." Use this base dough to create a wide variety of cookies, such as these ones below:

Picured are chocolate chip, marshmallow-pretzel-chocolate chip, and almond-apricot-cranberry. So take that in your pipe and smoke it.

Vanilla Base Dough

  • 7 oz oats
  • 8 oz AP flour
  • 1 tsp ea baking powder and baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 7 oz brown sugar
  • 7 oz granulated sugar
  • 12 oz butter, room temp
  • 2 eggs, room temp
  • Fillings/add-ins/candy of choice
Whip the butter using a paddle attachment until it has the consistency and look of mayonnaise. Add the sugar, and whip on medium-high for about 2 minutes, until it's uber-light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, on at a time, scraping after each addition, and whipping well. Add the vanilla. 

In the bowl of a food processor, blitz all of your dry ingredients until it's all a flour-like texture. You shouldn't see any oats being visible. Add half of the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix slowly until fully incorporated. Then remove bowl from mixer and remove paddle, and mix the rest of the dry ingredients to the dough by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula. Mix in any add-ins with the same spoon, too, as you don't want to over-mix. I like to use, for this recipe, 3/4 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup mini marshmallows, and 3/4 cups crushed up pretzels. 

For this dough, you can also use peanut butter cups, chopped up, chopped dried fruit, any nuts you like, or just plain chocolate chips. It'll all work out, I promise. Because this is the best dough recipe I've ever found. (Thank you, Milk & Cookies Bakery, NYC!)

Scoop using a disher(I like 1 oz. ice cream scoops, which you can find at any kitchen supply store) onto parchment-lined sheet trays and chill well before baking at 325 degrees F for about 9 minutes. 

They'll be cray-good. 

They'll store for as long as you don't eat them. Which is an hour, probably. 
If sugar cookies are more your thing, I'll be doing a blog on that later, too. 

In the meantime, check out the cookies I did for my cookie decorating class yesterday! My students were really fast learners, and their cookies turned out great, too!


This student was a cake decorator that had never done cookies!

A bit of mine, all mixed together!

My other student did REALLY Great for a beginner!!! So proud...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Busy Life(Gingerbread Ornaments)

So much has happened.

Which is why I haven't blogged. At all.

I have a pocket of mixed feelings about blogging, lately. Work is so busy and I feel so fulfilled. But when it's not, and I blog, I feel fulfilled. Blogging fills the empty space, but when I make a committment to blog daily, and I don't, I feel empty. But if I don't blog, it's because I've just spent myself a 10-hour day at work and all I want to do is curl up with my dog and watch episodes of "Switched at Birth" on Netflix.

It's a good show. If you haven't seen it, it's really good.

I want to write about everything that's been going on in my life. I really do. But I have work in half an hour. So here's a quick holiday tip:

Take the gingerbread dough you have leftover from building gingerbread houses and use them to make Christmas ornaments. They smell great, the oven heats up your house, and you get to have a lot of fun with making them.
I had a snowflake cookie cutter that worked great

Use royal icing to pipe anything!

Then tie with dental floss for a minty smell!

Happy holidays, everyone! And don't be a dick and say "No, it's Merry Christmas." When we say "Happy Holidays" its to acknowledge that there are literally 4-times as many holidays as Christmas this time of year. It's not a "war on Christmas," you pricks. It's a "Hey, I'm trying to be aware that you might celebrate something else." It's a "Hey, I'm not ignoring the entire Jewish/Islamic-Arab/African/Wiccan-Pagan/Atheist population" blanket greeting.

Hey, it wouldn't be a blog post if I didn't have a tiny grievance to share. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 19 - Homemade Marshmallows

Complete with Myspace Angle and all
Happy Saturday, Kansas City! I have to bang this out quickly, since I work at 9am today. 

There's frost on my window this morning, and it reminded me of the (very seldom) cold mornings in Tucson. I know that I keep going on and on about Tucson, reminding you all that I'm "not one of your own", but I would like to continue believing that the Midwesterners are known for hospitality, and really are some of the nicest, friendliest people in America. Certain displays and behaviors I've witnessed here have made me believe that this bipolar weather has made a whole of Kansas City to be unfriendly and miserable and God-awful, but(fortunately) the friends I have made here have proven otherwise. So, in reality, it's just like everywhere else! Some people are miserable and some people are friendly. The friends I have made here are warm and welcoming and hospitable, more than happy to usher in the new, which brings me to my point.

What fights winter/fall weather like hot chocolate? Not a lot.

Thanksgivings at home would usually begin with cooking breakfast together, stuffing our faces, then going over to Grandma's house to help cook and set up. My dad and I would make pancakes, sometimes in the shape of saguaro cacti, and watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade together. He wouldn't want to watch it(his thing was football), but he would turn it on for me. Pancakes are a big part of families being together, I think, but the family that you make(your friends) is just as important. If you're hosting an Orphan's Thanksgiving, like me, be hospitable. Make hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows as a breakfast offering for those coming over to help you cook.

With breakfast, Dad would have coffee and I would have hot chocolate. Nothing would sooth a cold morning away quite like hot chocolate would, and it brings back fond memories, indeed. We preferred the Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate Mix with the mini marshmallows, but Dad knew how much I loved marshmallows so he would always have the Jet Puffs at the ready.

This was my dessert, all finished! Not bad for a 1st year
culinary/savory student!
Fast forward to Culinary School and my Baking & Pastry Midterm is coming up. We worked in groups, and each group would reproduce a dessert from our textbook as best we could, following technique and skill, but form and presentation were entirely up to us. The dessert was a brownie, and it had to include mandarin sorbet, ganache, marshmallow, and a chocolate decoration in some form. My love affair with marshmallows had only increased in intensity during my college years, especially since I was so broke that I practically lived off of them. Kansas City was expensive for me at the time, but housing was exponentially cheaper here than it was when I lived in Los Angeles, so that was helpful. The thought that I could make them at home, on my own, without having to buy them was almost too exciting to bear.

The point of this whole introductory spiel into marshmallows is to let you know that if they mean this much to me, they might mean this much to  somebody else, and making some at home for your kids, your family, your friends might be that extra thing that sticks with them. The Jet Puffs stuck with me for years, without my Dad ever knowing how important they were to me. Maybe someone who is coming to your Thanksgiving dinner in a few weeks will be touched by this? You could have them for breakfast, or save them for your after dinner/after pie coffee. It's all about making memories and sharing things together, right? The best marshmallow recipe I've come across is from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. I've adapted the method just ever-so-slightly to work for home cooks. Enjoy!

Vanilla Marshmallows
  • 1/2 cup each powdered sugar & cornstarch
  • 2 tsp powdered gelatin
  • 4 lg egg whites
  • 1 cup + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp light corn syrup
Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper and/or plastic wrap. Sift half of the powdered sugar/cornstarch mixture generously in the pan and set the rest aside for later. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/4 cup of cool water and about 1/2 tsp vanilla extract to allow to “bloom”. Blooming takes three or four minutes, and once it’s bloomed, blast it in the microwave for 15 seconds. Set aside.

Place your egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add another 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, if you really like the flavor. Add in a pinch of salt at this point, too. Combine 1 cup of the sugar, the corn syrup, and water into a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring only once to dissolve the sugar, then continue to simmer for another 5 minutes, until your syrup reaches about 250 degrees F.

When this temperature is reached, turn on your mixer to medium speed. You’d like to have your whites at medium peaks when the syrup reaches somewhere between the 281 – 284 degrees F. When the egg whites start getting foamy, add in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. Once everything is at the right stage and your sugar is at the right temperature, slowly-slowly-slowly(and carefully, please) pour in the hot sugar mixture in a thin stream to your egg whites, pouring between the side of the bowl and the moving whisk.

Once everything’s in, pour in the gelatin mixture and increase the speed to medium-high, and continue to mix for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick, glossy,  and warm, but not quite hot.

Spray a spatula with nonstick spray if you have it, or simply butter the sides of it with super-soft butter. Pour out and spread the marshmallow evenly as you can into your prepared pan. Take a piece of parchment paper or wax paper and spray it with pan spray or butter generously. Lay it gently on top of your marshmallow mixture and press to create a uniformly smooth top. I usually like to let mine set for at least an hour before trying to handle, but you can let yours hang out over night at room temperature. You don’t have to worry too much, because the sugar has cooked your eggs, and this is basically a candy now.

In the morning(or in an hour), flip out your marshmallow onto a parchment-lined cutting board. Sprinkle the top of your peeled marshmallow with more cornstarch-powdered sugar if you need to. Fresh marshmallows can be difficult to deal with, so spray your knife with nonstick spray as you cut cubes. You can alternatively put the marshmallow mixture in a piping bag and pipe out little drop shapes and leave to set over night. This is all about the look and which looks you ultimately prefer. I personally prefer rectangles and squares, because they really give a distinct look, and when you plop them into piping hot chocolate, they seem to melt more evenly.
I snagged this picture from UseRealButter.com, another food blogger I love!

 If you make ambrosia or sweet potato pie for your Thanksgiving feast, you can make them ahead of time and use them in your recipe as your topping. If you have brownies, too, you can plop them squarely on top of them to serve them as a dessert. These can keep for quite a while in the fridge, but they probably won’t last too long.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 20 - Salted Caramel

Caramel, once mastered, is a skill you will not
regret acquiring!
It's Friday morning. I'm sitting in my office, in the back of my bungalow, up on the hill which overlooks Armourdale, the river, and a sprawl of trees, warehouses, and towering hotels in the distance, directly to the Northeast. I've got some leftover pasta from last night, and it is just perfect for these blustery mornings. I must say, the idea of being a Midwestern girl is becoming more and more romantic by the day. Kansas City certainly is growing on me. I sit out and look at the changing golds, greens, browns...and all I can think of(aside from this pasta, of course) is caramel sauce. Warm, buttery, fantastic, caramel sauce. All of it, just drizzled over something. Maybe apples.

I love caramel. I love those delightfully chewy and sticky caramel confections that Brach's makes. I also love those hard toffee candies that you can just let sit and melt in your mouth. Caramel is complex, interesting, almost indescribable to a person who's never experienced it before. It's what happens when heat is applied to sugar, and there's just something about it that's so autumnal to me.

Perhaps it reminds me of the autumn because of its deep golden-brown color. Perhaps it's because it's complex, and it's what happens when sugar "changes", or "evolves", if you will, and the leaves on the trees change, too. The difference is that it happens to leaves when it gets cold. It happens to sugar when it gets hot. Also, there's nothing so autumnal to me than warm poached pears drizzled in a hot, salty caramel sauce. Or sticky toffee puddings. Or even caramel apples.

Going with the theme of preparing for your ultimate Thanksgiving feast, I hope that this is argument enough to include caramel sauce in your meal somehow. Maybe with an apple crumble or apple cobbler, you could use the caramel powder I've recently discovered how to make? Just substitute it with half of the sugar you would normally use. I'll post a recipe for that one later(possibly tomorrow), but today let's just focus on caramel sauce and the fundamentals of that. I cannot stress how delectable a warm, homemade caramel sauce is, especially when poured over ice cream. The best part about caramel sauce is that you can make it at home, in large quantities, and just stock it in the fridge until you need it. If you have sufficient canning skills, you can also process jars of it by the batch and keep them in your cabinet, or give them to your neighbors as gifts. It is the season of harvest, of giving, and nothing says "I care" quite like a homemade gift. This is a basic caramel sauce that I use at work. You can take this sauce/base and use it to create whatever you wish. I'll put some variations in, too, if you'd like to get creative.

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 oz butter, unsalted
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Kosher salt to taste
Find a heavy-bottomed pan and have a whisk ready. Have your cream and butter at the ready, too, since this is the kind of thing that goes fast. Measure your corn syrup directly into a heavy-bottomed pan instead of using a cup measure. Honestly, if it looks like half a cup in the bottom of the pan, it's probably fine. You don't have to be 100% exact with this particular one. Then add the water, vinegar, salt, and sugar, in that order. Cover your pot and put it on medium-high heat for 2 minutes, at least. After 2 minutes, check it. 

The sugar boils and dissolves into the water, and the lid helps to create steam, which washes the sides of the pan down for you, so you don't have crystallization to worry about. The vinegar also helps to prevent crystallization, but you don't want to really agitate the pan at this point. Just check on it every minute or so, leaving it alone. You can increase your heat as you boil, but don't go too far away. I would check on it every 2 minutes or so. My caramel at work takes about 10 minutes to get to the color I want, but your stove might be different. I also have a really sensitive sense of smell, so I seldom worry about burning it, as I can smell it. 

After some time of you diligently checking your caramel sauce, you should see it start to turn color around the outsides. It's generally safe, now, to give your sugar a tiny swirl, since the sugar crystals are now at a point where crystallization isn't really in the cards much anymore. You can lower your heat to medium, now, and keep an eye on it. The trick to caramel is having the confidence to let it become that nice, dark, gorgeous color. I personally like it to be a deep amber color, as I think it's a more complex flavor, but if you like the lighter stuff, by all means do it. This is your recipe, now, and you may use it as you wish. 

When the caramel reaches the color you desire, turn off the heat and add the butter. Stand back for a second and let it sputter, but keep your whisk at the ready. Its basically stopping the cooking process for you as well as cooling the hot sugar syrup. You must be very cautious, though, because this is a substance that's probably somewhere between 300 - 350 degrees F depending on how dark you had it. The worst part is that it sticks to you when you get it on your skin, which takes off layers. So don't be careless, please. 

When the butter has stopped sputtering, carefully stir with your whisk, nice and slowly. Add in your cream a little bit at a time. You can use cold, room temperature, or warm, but I prefer on the lighter side of cold. It helps cool your caramel faster, and though it will rise up and steam, it's better to have that, I think, than to have it expand too far and boil over with the heat. So, it's my advice to use cool-to-room-temperature cream for this particular juncture. Add in a big fat pinch of salt now, too, as you stir. When it's cool enough to taste, add more salt if you like. I like it when you can actually taste the salt in the caramel. It's a component, you see, in this stage, and not a stand-alone thing. 

Making a fancy brownie sundae is an option, too.
If you'd like to make it a stand-alone kind of thing, simply line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat and omit the heavy cream for a fat tablespoon of creme fraiche(or just sour cream, the fattiest you have). Pour your caramel mixture onto your prepared pans and allow to cool before cutting. These can be individually wrapped in wax paper and left in a candy dish on the coffee table. If you leave the warm buttered caramel mixture in the pan, however, you can dip apples into it and make your own caramel apples. You can also pop the mixture between shortbread cookies while it's still warm (use a cookie cutter to stamp out the shapes, and some latex disposable gloves to help protect your hands) to really dress up some store-bought cookies.

Another way to dress up store-bought chocolate chip or sugar cookies using this recipe, omitting the heavy cream all together and reducing the butter amount to four ounces. The trick is to keep the caramel on a super-low heat so it keeps your sauce suspended in a liquid form. Carefully--and I do mean carefully--dip the bottom of the cookies in the sauce and place them on a parchment sheet to set. This creates a candy-like caramel coating on the bottom and gives it that little extra something special. 

Or, like I said, you can make this large batch of sauce and can it, and then give it to your neighbors and friends as holiday gifts. This stuff can say safe for weeks in the fridge, since it's so high in sugar and fat. I hope that this, at very least, gives you a stand-by recipe for your repertoire. 

Happy Cooking and Happy eating. And check out my syndicated blog at LookyLocal.com/KC!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

DIY Autumn Lantern Centerpieces

Happy November 6th!

It is 21 days until Thanksgiving, and what a beautiful Thursday morning it is! I love Thursdays. It's garbage day on my block, and there's just something so oddly therapeutic about taking out the garbage in your house. It's almost like it's readying you for the week, you know? You get a fresh start. You take all of the trash cans out of your bathrooms, kitchen, basement, and then pile them neatly on the curb. Then some wonderful truck with some wonderful men(or women) come and take away all that you no longer need/want/use. They take out your trash. They ready your home for the new week. Am I reaching? I feel like I'm reaching...

Anyway, it's too early to really plan out Thanksgiving in a huge way(i.e., do any cooking), but you can get ready by planning who will be there, what activities to do, and how you'll decorate. You might even come up with some wonderful new Thanksgiving tradition!

Thanksgiving in your 20s is interesting. I haven't been home for the last couple of years, and this year will be no different. Sometimes spending it with the families of lovers or friends is a way to do it, but why not throw your own "Orphan's Thanksgiving" at your apartment? It can be a pot luck. But since you're hosting, take it upon yourself to do the main course. Everyone else can bring a side, the drinks, the napkins, etc. It can be big or small. But a Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without those in your life you are thankful for.

The first Thanksgiving in the New England colonies most-likely had game birds, eel, oysters, beer, roasted nuts, venison, etc. You can take a nod to them by adding those things to your menu, but most will associate turkeys with the holiday. Plan your menu around your entree, and have fun with it. But today's blog post won't just be about planning; let's have some fun!

I found this DIY project on my Tumblr. I have an abundance of brightly colored leaves in both my front and bac yard, as well as on my walks with Howl. The leaves at Liberty Memorial are my favorite, since the colors just can't be beat...and it's less than a five minute drive from my house. When doing DIY projects, you shouldn't have to spend a ton of money. You can spend the money on fake leaves if you want to, but I choose to use what's natural. So here's an easy centerpiece/decoration idea for your Thanksgiving table, via CraftRiver.com.

DIY Leaf Lanterns
What you need:

  • Leaves of varying colors(real or fake)
  • Mason jars, vases, anything that can hold a candle
  • Mod Podge(you can pick this up at any arts & crafts store)
  • Sponge brush/paint brush**(this is optional, but it makes it easier)
Choose colorful leaves, the bigger and brighter, the better. That is, of course, unless you're doing smaller glass objects. If your mason jars are little, use little leaves. But try to find leaves that are whole and intact if at all possible. You can buy leaves, of course, at the local arts & crafts store, but I find it to be more fun to find your own. Think of it as a fun little scavenger hunt, especially if you have kids for the afternoon! Nothing beats the after-school blues like getting outside in the crisp autumn air, playing around in crunchy leaves! Kansas City has no shortage of foliage, so why not take advantage of it? Rosedale Park also has some great ones, and you can even find a few perfect specimens in the Briarcliff Park, right off of Mulberry Drive in the Northland. The point is to look around and pay attention, really enjoy the autumnal season and be a part of it. Even if you're not an outdoorsy person, you can have fun with this. You can't say a few hours spent outside would hurt someone. Unless they have photosensitivity or lived next door to a pit of rattlesnakes or something. But you don't see a lot of those in Kansas City. 

Make sure you're working with clean jars/vases/whatever. Glue sticks to clean, dry surfaces, and mod podge is no different. Also, it might not hurt to cover your work area with old newspaper, especially if you're working with small children. If you don't want to go out and get mod podge, you can use Elmer's glue, too, but it won't last as long. Either way, prepare your work space.

Using a sparing amount of the chosen adhesive, paint your leaves on. Be random with it. Overlap them. But be sure to leave a little negative space, for the light to go through. This works beautifully on colored glass, if you find a vase at a garage sale that you really like. A green glass or brown glass vase which could use a little revival would be a wonderful vessel for this project. You can even use this technique on the bottoms of glass serving trays or cutting boards, anything that you don't have a problem with. Just make sure it's not going to go on a surface that you'll be eating off of, since, you know, it's actually leaves and glue.

I've noticed that it takes about an hour or so to dry, so just leave them alone to dry before using. You can finish with ribbon, pieces of straw(as pictured) or maybe some rustic-looking straw/string/twine. This can be a great idea for a centerpiece or for place settings. Maybe tiny mason jars with candles in them, with your guests's names tied on with a nametag? Little things like this that only take an afternoon really put a special touch on your evening. Your guests will walk in and say "Holy Pinterest!" 

My friend JJ works at Yankee Candle Company, and suggest spicy cinnamon candles for the insides! Something about cinnamon is homey, and it is considered to be the spice of making friends in India. It also livens up the party instead of relaxes, so it makes it not as easy to go into a food coma afterwords. 

If you give this a try, please don't hesitate to send in your photos! I will reblog them with great pleasure! And make sure to check out Pinterest and CraftRiver.com for more fun DIY projects!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Countdown to Thanksgiving

Is it Thanksgiving yet??
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It is a true American holiday and I am in the ranks of its #1 fans. Christmas is cool. Halloween is a blast. But Thanksgiving? Oh, Thanksgiving.

You roast a giant bird and eat a giant amount of food without any underlying pretense, other than just eating, eating, and eating. Abraham Lincoln was the one that was really made it the American holiday it is today, with, you know, proclaiming it and all...but the point is that it's an American holiday. Nobody else in the world does it! I mean, I'm sure that they have some version of it in Australia, but it's pretty much the All-American Holiday, and I just adore it.

So, today is November 5th, and Thanksgiving is the 27th. That means we have a mere 22 days until then!

So let's band together, keep Christmas back to its own month--December--and come together for a best Thanksgiving ever!

I won't be home for Thanksgiving. But I will be here, in Kansas City, my new home. I'll be planning something fun for my own foodie family and friends. Maybe a pot luck. Maybe I'll make myself some pizza! But today is the 5th of November. I won't start posting recipes yet, but my goal is to post one every day until Thanksgiving Day. Should be fun!

Happy eating and happy blogging.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dia De Los Muertos Pumpkin

Last night, I attended a fantastic Samhain ritual via Mrs. Witchy Words. I was pretty excited to go because she always does the best parties/rituals, but even moreso because of my pumpkin. (I love pumpkins. Remember my blog on pumpkins and pumpkin soup? Of course you do.)

Every year, no matter where I am at, or who I am with, or if I have kids even remotely around me, I carve a pumpkin for Samhain/Halloween. I don't know why, but I always do it the morning of, and I always light it up. It brings me joy to do this little thing every year, and I don't see the harm in it...unless, of course, I'm clumsy and stick myself with a knife. Then there's harm.

The original Jack-o-Lanterns were carved out of turnips and such, and were pretty scary. I mean, odd little faces just hanging somewhere in the middle of some misty Celtic field? Freaky. I much prefer the pumpkins.
"Dafuq are these doing on my lounging table?"
This year, however, was different because my family did a wonderful thing! They announced a Pumpkin Carving Contest, via my mom and dad, saying "To the victor go the spoils!!!" And the "spoils" was $100 donated to the charity of your choice. I've donated and sponsored kids with Children International off and on, and I always liked them. Plus, I'm already doing a fundraiser for the CCVI this year(Children's Center for the Visually Impaired, right here in Kansas City) and volunteering with Young Women on the Move...so Children's International seemed like a good bet. 

When I was a teenager, I spent a fair portion of my allowance on a little boy in Guatemala, who was about 4 years old at the time...let's call him Miguel. 

I remember when Miguel would draw me pictures in his letters of his family or grassy fields or whatever. I don't know why, but the thought of a kid being so happy even when having so little, always made me tear up a bit inside. I think Miguel would be about 15 right now. But I digress.

As an Arizona girl, I am a huge fan of Dia de los Muertos. This is the Mexican festival of the "Day of the Dead", on the 2nd of November, where everybody goes nutshit crazy in the graveyards, the bars, the streets, the churches... The Mexican culture knows how to throw a party. I will say that. The long and short of it is that it's a celebration to honor your dead, get drunk, leave tamales and sugar skulls on the graves, and eat like you'll die tomorrow(probably because of all of the stuff you ate). I used to love coming to school in Tucson on Halloween to see all of the Mexican girls dressed up like Muertitas, with their glorious make-up jobs and flowers in their hair. I must say, I was envious. This was the inspiration for my pumpkin.

Out of the three pumpkins I had on my porch, I chose the One Too Many Squash, which was large and impressive, and also had a great combination of warty green and dusty orange. Plus, the seeds and pulp were tasty, and plentiful, so I could eat half and then throw the other half in my backyard for the birds and animals to have...and hopefully for me to have more of next year, if you know what I mean!
If T-Mobile wants to send me money for having an impromptu
ad in my blog, I wouldn't be mad...

I typically don't use those cut-out things anymore for pumpkin carving. You know, the paper templates you can buy at most grocery/super stores? I just found a picture of "sugar skull" on my computer and used that to draw inspiration from. I drew with a red sharpie on the (relatively) smoothest side of my pumpkin, and proceeded to evacuate all of the guts. I would have taken pictures of that, but my hands were all gross, and such.

The trick to making those professional-like glow that seems so luminescent is to scrape the bejeezus out of your pumpkin flesh. I mean, seriously. This guy had a 2" thick rind at least, and I spent a fair amount of time just getting the flesh around the parts I wanted thin enough. But, to save myself some time, I only scraped around the parts I knew I would need it. You'll see why.

See those scraped parts at the top of the skull? I needed them thin on the inside so the glow would come from within. The carved flowers on the upper corner also needed a thin wall behind, so it could really show. I did a few test runs in the dark of my bathroom with the candle lit on the inside so I could really see how it looked. I must have stopped and scraped and re-scraped it about four times before I was finally satisfied with the luminescent glow from within. 

Not bad for me crouching in my tiny bathroom with my camera phone...

I submitted photos of the finished pumpkin to my parents and they announced, this morning, that I won! So Children's International can get some help, all thanks to my awesome knife skills! I could have just donated myself, but this was fun. Plus, I got the opportunity to practice some stuff I learned in college, so that's good. And it got everybody in the spirit of carving pumpkins! I was so proud, I took it in to work and popped it on the host stand for everybody to see. Guests were greeted  by my Dia de los Muertos pumpkin and delighted by housemade pumpkin seed brittle in a nearby bowl. Then, when I got off work, I snatched the pumpkin from its pedestal and took it to the party/ritual with me. Pictures to come on that one via WitchyWords.Blogspot.com! 

Felices Dia De los Muertos! Happy eating!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween/Blessed Samhain!

Happy Halloween and a most-blessed Samhain wishes come to you from Mademoiselle Wanna B Gourmande!

Those of you whom are close friends know that I'm no stranger to the occult, but to my readers I just want to let you know a few tiny tidbits about this holiday, and maybe about myself in the process! So here are some tips for enjoying the holiday, because it is meant to be enjoyed.

  • Halloween is, first off, one of the safest nights of the year for trick-or-treaters/children! The number of children being poisoned by candy in the United States is zero. There aren't any records of it. It's just an urban legend!
  • The biggest danger to trick-or-treaters is cars for obvious reasons.
  • Speaking of cars, please do not be that parent/guardian that uses the car to trick-or-treat. You know who I'm talking about; those people that drive in a slow creep down the street, letting their kid get out at each house, then going back into the car immediately to drive to the next one. It's embarrassing for the kid, really bad on your gas, and honestly it's just f#cking stupid. You're taking the fun out of the holiday.
  • There are towns out there with curfews on Trick-or-treaters being out after nightfall. So if you're in one of those towns, protest by going to people's doors at night. And if you're not, be grateful that you're not. 
  • You're not in danger of sex offenders. Seriously. No records have been shown. You're more likely to get harassed for that "sexy nun" costume at the college party than your kid is for dressing up like Wolverine. 
  • You carve jack-o-lanterns tonight and set them out to ward evil away. There are now battery-operated candles that keep going all night, that can fit in those little buggers! They're safer, sure, but tea candles make the pumpkins smell good! 
  • Speaking of jack-o-lanterns, don't throw the guts out! Pumpkin seeds are good eating, or you can just throw the unwashed guts out into your backyard and enjoy a pumpkin patch next year! Seriously, it's way cool, and your kids will love it. Plus, you'll feel good about growing plants and feeding bees, which are dying off. at a scary rate.
  • Halloween is a modernized version of Samhain, which is the time of year which Wiccans/Pagans believe that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is the thinnest. That's why you wear masks, so the evil spirits don't come and mistake you for someone else, and take you back with them. 
  • This is another reason you do the treats: you appease the spirits so they don't come inside and steal you away. Or TP your house. 
  • Some kids have mental illness, cognitive disabilities, or just can't afford costumes; so don't harass a kid that doesn't have a costume. It's everyone's holiday, so don't be a dick. 
  • This is a holiday, in serious tones, to remember the dead and honor your ancestors. To many, this is the Wiccan/Pagan's most sacred holiday. So don't be a dick to people's religious beliefs if you don't agree with them. i.e. don't crash Circles or Rituals; it'd be like if someone came into a Catholic church during mass and just did naked cartwheels down the aisle. It's weird and rude. 
  • Pagans/Wiccans don't believe in Hell. Or the Devil. That's a Christian thing. So calling someone a Devil-worshipper is really more awkward than insulting. 
  • Don't sacrifice black cats. Seriously, it's cruel and just plain fucking stupid. I mean, what do you hope to accomplish? Honestly?
  • Don't take the fun out of the holiday for the kids; drop them off, have a cell phone in their pocket, and pick them up in another hour once they've gone around the neighborhood. And don't do the trunk-or-treat thing. Please. It's embarrassing for me to look at you dragging your poor 10-year-old around a church parking lot in some sad, sick and twisted version of tail-gating. And I'm sure the kid is happy about the candy, but it's not what the holiday is about. 
Follow these tips and enjoy a Happy Halloween/Blessed Samhain!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Caramel Powder

I learned a new technique the other day!

I'm calling it a technique only because "recipe" doesn't seem right. A recipe, to me, implies the ingredients and method for a whole food item, ready to be consumed. This is a recipe for an ingredient, like a recipe for fish paste or curry paste! Only this isn't curry paste. This is caramel powder.

What is caramel powder? Instant caramel dust! You know how you can buy powders at the store that, when added to milk, turn into chocolate pudding? It's like that, only with pure, wonderful caramel. Add this powder to a baked good, used like/with sugar, and you add in a note of caramel. Seriously, I used them to make apple cobblers today...it was insane; it was just like biting right into a warm caramel apple. So here's how you make it!

Caramel Powder

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups light corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white vinegar
Put the corn syrup on the bottom of the pan, and then add in the salt, sugar, and vinegar. I know that the vinegar seems like an odd thing, but I always add in a touch of white vinegar to my caramels/hot sugar mixtures just to "invert" the sugar, and make it harder to crystallize. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and keep it covered; the steam will help cook the sugar evenly and wash down the sides of the pan. After about three minutes, remove the lid.

The color on the side of the sugar mixture should be turning colors now. Basically, the trick to a good caramel is just having the confidence to let it become that wonderful dark golden color. Meanwhile, prepare either a silpat mat or a buttered sheet of wax paper/parchment paper on the surface of your choice, preferably a sheet tray that's been lined. Once the color you desire has been achieved, pour out your hot sugar mixture carefully and let it cool.

Once it's cooled and hardened completely, the fun may now begin: Wrap it in a linen napkin or a super-clean tea towel to break it up in...OR just break it into manageable chunks to where you can get it in the food processor and grind it up. It's going to be loud, but worth it. The resulting powder(which might have big chunks, but that's ultimately okay) is known as caramel powder. You can add this to your hot drinks, your baked goods, your anything, really, to give it a taste of caramel. Mix it in with your tea! It will dissolve and give it a perfect new flavor. Or substitute it with half of your sugar for a cake. Or all of the sugar for your cake! Make as much or as little as you want. But I made the above amount to put into about 16 apple cobblers, that tasted just like a hot and wonderful caramel apple. 

Enjoy! Happy eating!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bitterness in Varying Degrees(Chocolate)

Chocolate tart, praline cremeaux, blanc mange, chocolate biscuit...just lots
of different things. It tasted amazing. 
Many people, too many people, think that chocolate is sweet. It's not. Chocolate is bitter. Cocoa is bitter. It is bitterness, in varying degrees, which makes chocolate unique. It's by far the most luxurious ingredient there is. Fuck truffle oil. Forget gold leaf. It's chocolate. Nothing evokes luxury and romance like chocolate. Nothing evokes depth like chocolate. Nothing. It stands alone.

If someone says they don't like chocolate, I immediately distrust them. My CDC(Chef de Cuisine) said once he's not a chocolate fan. I'm slightly uneasy leaving him in charge of my dessert things while I run to Restaurant Depot, because he told me that once over a year ago. I don't think I'll ever trust him truly, but he is a very good chef and has made some of the best soups I've ever had in my life. I mean, he's like the soup guy. But I still will never fully, truly, wholly trust him. I mean, not liking chocolate seems just fundamentally wrong. It would be one thing if he were allergic to it, but he's not.

Spiced walnut & chocolate verrine w/ cherry
Yesterday, I had the good fortune to attend a Chocolate Workship/Pastry Demo at Johnson County Community College, hosted by Barry Cacao/Callebaut Chocolate with the recipes/works of Chef Rocco Lugrine. He said fall was his favorite season(mine too), so he came up with all of these wonderful chocolate desserts that featured praline and pecans and walnuts and coffee and fruit...all of these gorgeous things. "And, and, and..."I wasn't very smart in my planning in going; I didn't eat breakfast so by the time I got to work I had eaten so much chocolate I couldn't stand without shaking. I clocked in and immediately made myself the saltiest pizza I could so I could hoark it down and be stable enough to work my shift without going into some sort of diabetic coma. I swear, I wasn't anywhere near the possibility of becoming diabetic before my career switch to Pastry Chef...but I think I'll get there by age 30.

Impending Diabetes aside, I love chocolate. And I love being a Pastry Chef. It's made me explore deeper parts of my psyche, and kind of helped me deal with a lot of stuff that I didn't know I could deal with on my own. I'm not saying that this can work for everyone, but cooking is and always has been very theraputic to me. I find comfort in cooking because I know the rules. I find comfort in knowing what happens when you add X to Y at temperature Z. Things like these are constants in my life when nothing else is.

I will never love any person as much as I love this dog. Just accept
that and be offended on your own time. Howl and I will be
chilling, enjoying each other's company. 
I also find comfort in my dog, Howl. He's a charming creature, magnificent in his derpiness, and a big pile of shedding love. I find it comforting that he will never care what I do for a living or how much money I make or if I snore or whatever. Dogs don't care if you're dumb or wise or funny or skinny or fat. Dogs love on a level which we are, I truly believe, incapable of. I see pictures of animal abuse or hear stories of it and I feel sick. A few people get slaughtered, I feel sad. An animal dies in a movie, I'm inconsolable. But when a human dies I kind of feel like... "Eh, that sucks, but they were probably an asshole at some point." Oh my God, how sick is that?

Love will come and go. Relationships come and go. I've learned to not make plans, since it seems like every time I do, something comes up. I've learned that the language of my life is one of fluidity, so it's best to just strap in and go with the flow. But life has also taught me that with sweet, comes bitter. Sometimes I fear that there is so much bitterness built up within me that none of the sweet will ever do any good. Am I palatable? Will I ever truly be? Why do I care so much?

Everybody wants to be loved. Is that so wrong? I am loved by my family and my friends and, of course, my dog. I feel love in the way the world works. I sometimes feel that I'm fooling myself when it comes to love. But I am coming to realize that it's because of my past. I'm letting my past hurt my future with my fear, my scars, my bitterness. This is something I've seen ruin every other love around me, and I had always vowed to myself I would never allow to happen to me. But I find that I'm making a conscious effort to not let my past bitterness destroy my present sweet.

Chocolate mousse, pecan caramel, short crust, etc...
I realize that this blog is turning into some weird, sappy, emo kid bullshit rant, so I'll sprinkle in a few pictures of the stuff we learned how to make at the workshop here and there. The things we learned about were so gorgeous, so perfectly executed. I learned that I need to use my immersion blender more, as it is, apparently, the Pastry Chef's greatest ally, aside from the knife and scale. I actually started using it for my chocolate stuff tonight at work and found it to be an amazing tool that I have seriously under-utilized. Maybe I'll post a blog about that in the morning.

But it's late, now, and I feel happy and hopeful and yet afraid. I wonder if this is how it's supposed to feel when you're my age? I wonder if there is any real such thing as "supposed to" at this point. I think we are coming to the realization as a collective mind that "supposed to" is a subject that is incredibly open to interpretation. God, I'm sleepy...

Russian Egg Volcanoes

On my Facebook page for WannaBGourmande, I posted a video(I think Russian in origin) of an egg dish I had never seen before! I had a little bit of time before work, so I did my own version of it. And by that, I mean followed the video to the letter. (So to speak...)

Fluffy Russian Egg Breakfast Thing

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 slices of bacon
  • 2 slices of toast
  • butter, salt, and pepper as needed
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Heat a pan and cook the bacon over medium-high heat. While that's going, whip the egg whites to a stiff peak. Since you used 2 eggs, just divide the fully whipped mixture in half when putting it in the pan. Drain all but 2 tsp of the bacon fat from your pan, and set the bacon aside to hang out. Plop the 'meringue' mixture into two snowy mountain-looking things in the pan. Gently let the egg yolks slide into the meringue. Pop the whole thing in the screaming-hot oven for about 4 minutes, or until everything has browned/crisped up just enough. 

Butter your toast, arrange your bacon on the plate, and when the fluffy egg volcanoes are done, they'll come right out of the pan quite easily using a rubber spatula.

To tell you the truth, it wasn't my absolute favorite, but it was still pretty good! It was fun. It was fluffy and light, and kind of reminded me of a souffle/frittatta kind of thing. I could have probably let it cook less, but I wanted to make sure that the egg whites were cooked. It honestly could have gone fine for 2 minutes, since my oven gets really hot really quickly. But the yolks were warm and still runny, so what more could I ask for?

I hope this encourages you to try new things. And check out the original video here

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blogging/Acting/Living like a Big Girl

That is to say, not blogging like a fat girl. Not that I'm fat. Not that it matters, really. I'm more bone than fat, I think. Or maybe I'm more organ tissue? I have fat on me. But I don't know how a 'fat' girl is supposed to blog or act. I just act the way I act. I know that I could come up with a few rhymes or reasons for a few of my actions and habits, but I've really heard a lot of "like a fat girl" or "inner fat kid" or whatever on the interblag lately when coming across food articles. Well, not lately. Always.

What's up with the whole "like a girl" thing, by the way? It's a little insulting.
"Bitch, please..."

But that's neither here nor there. I really don't want to get into all of that. Most of my friends know that I feel the way I feel, and if you read my stuff you probably are of the opinion that women are people. At least, I hope you are. Because we are. Women, I mean.

But "Blogging like a Big Girl." I'm big in the sense that I'm tall. I border on 5'8", and can kiss B. without craning my neck if I wear the right shoes(he's 6'2"), specifically the pretty pink wedges I bought circa 2012 from H&M. But does big have to mean big? Why can't it just mean grown up? I'm a big girl, now. I'm a grown-up now. And in my 26 years on this rock, I've figured out some stuff.

Being an adult is what you want it to mean. Being an adult in America means being over 18(or 21, if you prefer). Aside from that, it's up to you. Society tacks on a few other things, like paying your bills or buying your own car or whatever. Which I do. I pay my bills and I have a car. It's hard to balance budgets on your own, I will admit, but the point is that it's doable.

I recently started working with a group called Young Women on the Move. The girls I met with were shy. They were shy and afraid. When I was telling stories about my life and career, they kept on smiling and nervously asking "But weren't you scared?"

"Yes," I said. And then I shrugged it off and kept on talking.

"But weren't you scared?" must have come up at least fourteen times during my two-hour period of time there. Of course I was scared. It's okay to be scared. But whatever. No big deal. So what if you get scared? Was I scared to ask for a raise when I needed it? Yes. Was I scared when I went an applied for a job I wasn't really qualified for? Yes. Was I scared to start socializing in the ACF, fearful of the thought that people would reject me? Yes. But the worst thing they could have said was "no." Well, not the worst thing...

Sometimes, to ease the tension, I like to imagine the worst possible thing happening. I mean, off-the-charts, weird, fukken worst. I went in for a job interview once and was very nervous about it. What if they don't like me? What if the restaurant is horrible? What if the Chef is horrible? What if the FOH manager is a creep that wears gold rings and leaves his shirt hanging open all the time? What if the kitchen is infested with mold? What if I trip on the way in and break my neck? What if, on my way in, a pipe bursts in the bathroom walls and floods the entire restaurant? There could be an ex-boyfriend in there. There could be no gravity in there--and I would walk in and slam up on the ceiling, and then gravity would turn back on again, and slam me back into the floor, breaking my face. There could be racist ninjas in there. There could be Vladimir Putin in there. Zombie Fred Phelps could be in there. ALL OF THE HORRIBLE THINGS could be in there.

But probably not. You know what the actual worst thing that could happen would be? I didn't get the job. Could I live with that? Probably.

Fear is darkness. Find the light within.

So I'm blogging every day. I don't know what I'll blog about, always, but I figure that I can have a few filler blogs here and there. It's a regimen. It's good to have short term goals. Also, that Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake from yesterday is still moist as the day is long, and I didn't even cover it with plastic. It was just sitting on the counter, still being delicious.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Ring of Pure and Endless Cake (Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake)


I'm trying to blog every day. It's working, now that I have Google Fiber and a great little computer. Sure, it runs on Windows XP(#hipsteroffice) but it was free! You can't complain about free, can you? And my office is beautiful, with a lot of potential. I'm thinking of starting some fun DIY projects to really beautify my work space. I have a little room in the back of my house that overlooks the backyard, which overlooks the river. It's kind of a catch-all room right now, but once I clean it up and get rid of the big orange chair, it'll be a functioning office that I can do other things in like scan in images and recipes from my favorite books. Or drawings and doodles that I do on napkins when I'm drunk. You know, whatever.

If anybody wants that orange chair, comment below.
SamJack is not for sale
When I have time off, I like to keep busy. I currently volunteer with a group called Young Women on the Move, which pretty much consists of just hanging out with these awesome young ladies and instilling self-actualization while having fun. I basically take a few hours out of my day to show these girls that you can do anything you want, and need nobody's permission to do so. Know what I'm doing now? I'm blogging. Because I'm an adult. I have my own house. My own office. My career. I have those things. An American woman has to work hard to get those things, but it can be achieved. We're planning a big Garage/Bake Sale around the 7th of November, so mark that calendar! I'll definitely keep you posted on the details, because I know you'll want to help support these girls.

Anyway, when I'm not doing that, I'm usually hanging out with friends, but if I have work in the afternoon/evening, I'll have a lot of time in the morning to do things, such as run errands, or bake cakes. I've taken to a lot of experimentation with substitutions(i.e. subbing oil for butter or subbing sour cream for milk in a baked good recipe) lately, and it's really been a lot of fun. Plus, my neighbors totally love me for bringing over all of these cakes and muffins and cookies! I think people should bake more. I think it makes you happy, and it makes the people who receive them happy.

Anyway, I was craving lemon cake but I didn't have enough butter nor did I have enough milk. So I took my favorite recipe and had some fun with it. Fortunately, I had some cherry yogurt in my fridge, so that made it interesting...

Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake

  • 7 fl oz canola/grapeseed oil(any neutral-flavored oil will do)
  • 2 scant cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 fat pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3 cups AP flour, sifted
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cherry flavored yogurt(I had Belfonte, but you can use whatever brand you prefer)
Preheat your oven to 350. Remember that these substitutions of oil vs butter and yogurt + milk versus all milk will affect your final cake's outcome. Oil results in a moist cake with a nice crumb, but when creaming butter and sugar together, you create air bubbles which will act as a leavener for the cake. Since you can't quite create the same air bubbles with oil and sugar, I added a little more baking soda, a chemical leavener. I also made it 7 oz oil versus 8 oz butter because I knew that there was plenty of fat in my yogurt, and too much fat in a cake can result in a not-so-great thing. 

Combine the sugar and oil together. I used a paddle attachment and beat it together for 2 minutes on medium speed, so to combine/dissolve the sugar. Adding one egg at a time, scrape the bowl down after each addition to ensure even spread. The mixture will start to get a lovely color.

Add the lemon zest, almond extract, lemon juice, and salt. Beat together for 1 minute on medium-high, and then sift in 1 cup of the flour plus your baking soda, followed by your milk. Mix to combine. Add the second cup of flour, mix, then the yogurt. Finish with the final amount of the flour and mix until combined. Scrape the bowl down and give a final turn with your paddle before popping your batter into the pans of your choice.

This will yeild two 9" round cakes, or(in my case, since I wanted a ring cake) 1 savarin mould plus 1 6" round cake. Bake at 350 until done, about 30 minutes. My savarin cake was done in about 20, though, so just set your timer for 20 and check.
It's a good idea to trim the brown stuff off of your cakes
before you frost them/cut them for layers. Use a serrated
knife and long gentle strokes!
 I didn't need the extra 6" cake, so I messily trimmed and layered the cake with some of the mulberry jam I'd made from the berries I had picked from my neighbor's yard. I ended up giving the cake to the neighbors. It was a nice day out, and my neighbor is also my mechanic. He fixed my brakes for me when I was in a tight spot, so I like to do nice things in return. As for the ring cake/savarin, I don't like frosting all of the time, so I did something else.

Cherry Yogurt Glaze

  • 1/3 cup cherry yogurt
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp water + more as needed
Combine all using a spoon or spatula. Taste for salt and glaze half of your icing over the cake while still warm. When cooled, glaze over the remaining icing. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.
It's a tiny slice so you don't feel bad about eating five of them.
Baking is chemistry; it's science. Science is something that can be tested and explained. So if you're short on milk but have some yogurt and sour cream, just substitute it! See what happens! I mean, really, what's the worst thing that can happen? (#FamousLastWords)

Happy Eating! And if you're in the Kansas City Area, check out LookyLocalKC! I write lists and tips and recipes on there, too, so look and see what Kansas City has to offer! Or just sit and drool and the pictures. Up to you.