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

COOKIES

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!

Trippy!!!

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.