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Monday, November 30, 2015

Adulthood to a Millenial

I couldn't tell you why, but this Twitter post got 16 "Likes" on my Facebook timeline.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How to Build a Gingerbread House

Or, rather, how I built mine.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to haul out the holly and celebrate the arguably most-prominent holiday in America, Christmas! I celebrate both Christmas and Yule, it's Pagan ancestor, and building gingerbread houses has become a new tradition for me!

Last year, I recreated (perhaps a bit haphazardly, I'll admit) the Garney Mansion, a historic and beautiful landmark of Kansas City that tragically burned down in March of 2014. The family was exceptionally gracious in their allowing me to recreate their beloved home out of gingerbread, and were even more gracious to buy it from the fundraiser, Gingerbread Lane.

Gingerbread Lane is a wonderful fundraiser held by the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired, located in Midtown Kansas City. Local bakeries and pastry chefs gather to create staggering creations out of gingerbread, in hopes that they'll be auctioned off to help further fund the CCVI. This was my entry last year.

While this looks like there's a lot more decoration on it, I assure you that it's more flash and less substance. It was a bit ramshackled, in my honest opinion, but it truly wasn't bad for my first try!

This year's entry, called "Steve", is a bit improved!

Notice the windows? They're made from melted jolly rancher candies, and piped over with royal icing! The house originally had a half-timbered look fashioned from hand-painted Twizzlers, but they were so waxy and bent that they just wouldn't stay on. I ended up knocking all of them off and instead hand-panted each and every little bit of royal icing that was on there. I almost wish that I'd been smart enough to stick a little battery-powered light on the inside of that house before I'd attached the roof. Still, I'm quite proud of it.

The shutters on the windows were made from chocolate bar sections, and then piped over with royal icing. I was really proud of how they turned out!

The roof was, by far, the most-daunting part of the entire house! The roof was painted green using gel coloring with egg whites, and then left to dry. I then piped medium-consistency icing to create the shingles. It wasn't perfect, but I ended up being proud of the final result. I know that it has no chance of winning anything, but I hope that someone ends up buying Steve, if only to have an extra $50 or something to the CCVI's name!

My amazing boyfriend, B, (who happens to be a fantastic architect) was good enough to stick by me through the process, and even design the templates for my houses for both years. My dear friend Jay(of whom I've written several times) was also good enough to break away for several hours and help with the construction. Her hands are steady and her handwriting is far better than mine, so she did quite a bit of the piping and even wrote "willkommen" on the door mat for me.

Structure was the scariest part of this endeavor for me, just because I knew that the creation had to be 18" tall. The chimney went all the way through the house and offered as a sort of support beam. It was the scariest part of construction because it'd actually cracked in a few places while we were assembling it. Quick-thinking and calm Jay simply smeared it all back together with icing. Fortunately, it was able to be hidden within the structure of the house and wouldn't affect it cosmetically.

The house was finished with mere hours to spare and only had a few touches here and there in my mind. I was also exhausted from a sheer lack of sleep, so I honestly figured it was better to just stand on what I'd done rather than adding more things after the fact. The delivery was set for 9 am and I meant to deliver on time. I didn't really have the time nor energy to do my sugar cone trees. I did, however, make a "stone" path to and from the house using chocolates and a fresh coat of snow that's actually homemade marshmallow. You can find the recipe for marshmallows here; a single batch is all that was needed to cover this entire creation, but you can double-up if you want a really high pile of "snow"!

I also used oven-tried coconut flakes to add a little extra texture, just around the house and front porch. A few well-placed candies on the roof's pitch gave an extra splash of color, and a few peppermint candies here and there didn't hurt, either. I just wanted it to be simple, you know? After such a hard and stressful week, I wanted to make something simple, something that I could live with. Will it win any awards? It's likely not, considering this is only my second year doing the fundraiser, and all of the others were so beautifully done and heavily-decorated. I can hope for people's choice, sure, by asking friends to vote for me, but I can live with the fact that I'll not win anything.

Being a chef has taught me that it's sometimes not about glory, but about accomplishing something.

With little-to-no sleep on a 48-hour time frame, I build a gingerbread house from scratch. You can, too, using this recipe for gingerbread dough:

Gingerbread Dough
yields: 3 lb dough

  • 8 oz shortening
  • 7 oz sugar
  • 0.6 oz baking powder
  • 0.3 oz baking soda
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 8 fl oz molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 38 oz AP flour

This is a basic cookie method. 

Preheat the oven to 350 farenheit, low fan. Sift your dry ingredients together. Cream your fats together with your sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, all using the paddle attachment. Switch to the dough hook and add in your flour. Don't worry about gluten development too much, as you're not really making this to be eaten. Chill for about an hour before rolling and cutting your shapes, which should be greased, for good measure.

For precision, roll out in large sheets, cut your pieces, bake halfway through, then cut AGAIN for trim while still warm. The initial bake should take about 10 minutes, and then an extra 8 minutes for the final set. I suggest cutting out the windows before the initial bake, then trimming away for straight lines, should you desire.

Royal Icing
yields about a pound

  • 12 oz powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 oz egg whites

Sift the sugar and set aside. Place the egg white and lemon juice in the standing mixer with the whisk attachment. Add about half the sugar and begin whisking on  medium low until incorporated. Increase the speed and check consistency. Add sugar as needed to correct.

I doubled the recipe on the gingerbread dough to create an 18" tall house with a chimney and a giant high-pitched roof. You can save the leftover dough and use it to create holiday ornaments for your friends and family. Simply roll out and cut using the desired shapes, and pipe designs in royal icing. These are wonderful gifts for family members, and they're truly a sentimental.

Word to the wise: make sure you drill that hole
BEFORE it's baked!
I visited B's family just this evening and saw their Christmas tree, fully decorated, complete with two of my hand-made gingerbread ornaments from last year. They truly do stand the test of time! You can write the names of your loved ones on the ornament to customize it further, and decorate it using different colored icings.

For any questions regarding these techniques, please don't be afraid to comment, because I can't bite you through a screen!

If you like "Steve", please come out to Webster House in Kansas City to vote for it, or any other house you like! Voting jars are placed at each house, and each dollar counts as a vote. Even if you don't vote for mine, you'll be voting/donating to a very worthy cause.

Happy holidays from WannaBGourmande.com!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Baking it forward with Ginger-Bread Pudding!

This morning, the illustrious Chef Alex Guarnaschelli showed up in my Twitter feed with this wonderful message:

Now, how could one refuse such a command from their Queen? I shan't shun my duties to Her Royal Majesty! And you shan't, either! Forthwith! Pip pip cor blimey! British things that are probably offensive! Ha ha!

Okay, I'm done.

Anyway, No Kid Hungry is a fantastic charity organization that fights against childhood hunger. Did you know that, even though about a third of children nowadays are overweight, 1 in 5 children in America are not sure where their next meal is going to come from? I think that's messed up on about ten different levels, but we all know my thoughts on childhood obesity by now, especially if you're a regular reader of my blog.

No Kid Hungry also partners with the Great American Bake Sale, which lets you personally start a bake sale to get your community involved and end childhood hunger! If that's a little too much for you, but you still want to help, simply tweet a picture of your baked goods, be they for the holidays or for "just because" with the hashtag: #BakeItForward and Food network will donate $1 per share to the No Kid Hungry fund! Need more proof? Okay, here you go:

See? Food Network is out there, helping us get involved! Sure, they could just donate a bunch of money, but isn't it more important to get the whole community involved? Isn't it more important to raise light to the issue that a fifth of American children are going hungry, and that we all need to do something about it? It's been a week since Food Network tweeted this and I'm just now finding out about it!

Share things on twitter and Instagram... Here are some of the things I'm sharing!

Ooooh, these are yummy Linzer Cookies, filled with cherry jam!

And just look at this wonderful Ginger-Bread pudding I made today, using leftover bits of gingerbread cake, all warm and gooey. I realize that the plating is a bit kitschy, but it's still a baked item, and I hope that Food Network will allow it.

Care to Bake it Forward with
a yummy pretzel bun??
Baking isn't just about feeding someone, it's about patience, and love. Some of my fondest memories come from being in my grandpa's bakery as a child, being plucked from my bed at 4 am and put in his truck, waking up in the bakery to the smell of cinnamon rolls being baked.

I remember being seven, and Grandpa in his white apron, handing me a hot cinnamon roll that was about the size of my face. I remember that joy, the smell, the steam rising from the oven. Baking is so important to me that I can't even express how much it makes me just well up inside to know that something as simple as a cinnamon roll, a warm bun from the oven, has made this much of a mark on me and my life.

I love baking because it's both science and art. Having the skill to bake is the most powerful skill I think I have.

Do I want bread? I shall have bread, and I shall not have to leave my house to get it! I see where cookies are not and say "That will not do." I want an English muffin and I can make an English Muffin. I am a Goddess that creates baked goods instead of people, and you can be, too.

Now, do you want to help? Of course you do! So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, and bake something! Snap a picture with your phone and get it on the internet! Fire up that twitter, that instagram! Do it!

Eh? What's that? You aren't sure what you want to bake? Hmmm, that is a problem, isn't it? Well, may I suggest a delicious  Red Velvet Cheesecake with Graham Cracker crust? If you'll forgive the quality of the picture, this recipe is a real throwback to my start in the Pastry world! I made it for a friend, who was going through a rough time, and it was my first at-home cheesecake, that was not made in a restaurant! If I can make this, you can, too!

Hmm, that one takes too much time? Yeah, I can see that. Cheesecake is a little tricky, too, and might not be the best start if you're just  now starting to learn to bake. How about a Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake, which is healthier than your average cake, and a delicious snack that you can easily bake in many shapes! You can bake this one in cupcake form, in ring form, in circle or square form...and it's delightfully moist. It's a very good cake that's just fine with or without icing. You can make a glaze for it, of course, but I just wanted a little powdered sugar on mine.

What? You mean  you want something more festive? Naturally! You'll want a festive cake for the holidays.... Okay, try this, Kansas City!

How about a Be Royal Roulade, in honor of the Kansas City Royals WINNING THE WORLD SERIES?!?!?!!!! You just try to NOT bake this for your holiday and get glowing reviews!

This cake is a fantastically fun bright blue spongecake with a marscarpone MOOOOOOOOOUSSE, fit for Royalty. And, if you like the roulade cakes, try a yule log, complete with chocolate bark and marshmallow meringue mushrooms.

Yeah. I know that it's on a star-spangled glass cutting board. I realize that it's more appropriate, probably, for the 4th of July. But the point is you can use the same recipe for the royal roulade(minus the blue food coloring) and make a Yule Log for your Christmas/Yuletide gatherings this year. For the bark, just melt some chocolate ganache over a double boiler and "brush" it on with a silicone brush for texture! You can do the same thing with chocolate frosting, of course, but there's just something nice about the real chocolate stuff...

What? You just want cookies? Oh, fine. Here you go. Cookies.

This one is made from chocolate chips, orange zest, and mini marshmallows
This recipe is my ultimate go-to "vanilla base dough", adapted from Milk & Cookies's recipe in their cookbook. You can use it to make chocolate chip cookies, of course, but you can also add mini marshmallows, chopped up pretzels, dried fruits and nuts, or even your favorite cereal to create your perfect cookie.

That should get you started on your Bake it Forward journey. Now, please, get out there and bake.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pray for Paris

I am truly heartbroken to say that I am almost numb to the recent happenings in Paris. The death count is over 160 at this point, and the world seems to be in shock. There was also a big earthquake in Japan, yesterday, and now there's a tsunami watch.

I know that it doesn't do much to write about something. At this particular moment, I'm not sure what I can do. I'd love to do something, I really would. All I can do is say that I stand with you, I stand with Peace.

I can't believe how routine mass shootings and terrorist attacks have become for me. Perhaps this is what living in a warring country is like for other young women? Perhaps you become numb to it because if you felt how you were really supposed to feel, it might kill you?

Perhaps I'm numb over this despicable tragedy because I have nothing left to give at this point. Gods help Paris. Gods help Japan. Gods help us. Gods help me.

Gods help me understand why.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I know it does nothing. But perhaps someone else will see it and see that they aren't alone in feeling numb? Perhaps I'll be another thread in a great and beautiful fabric that will be woven in the coming days, weeks? Perhaps something will finally change?

We can only hope.

Yesterday was Friday the 13th, as well as World Kindness Day. I tweeted that morning about it. It all seems so surreal. Maybe Kindness is what we needed? Nothing brings kindness out in people quite like tragedy. I'm really glad I didn't make any jokes. I'd feel even worse than I do now; but at least maybe I'd feel a fragment of something.

My heart goes out to all the people of Paris, to their families and to their lost. My heart goes out to Japan, to Beirut. My heart goes out to all of you. I wish I could do something.

If there's anyone in Paris or Japan that would like a friendly thought or an ice cream recipe from a sassy American, or even a shoulder to cry on, the comment box is below for you to talk to me. I know it's not much, but all I can do is offer a listening ear.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Soapbox Rant: Selfies and Why I Love Them

Follow me on Instagram @WannaBGourmande

Instead of another food post, which I can't seem to find inspiration for, as of late, have a Soapbox Rant. 

*stretches* *pops neck* *steps on soap box*
While I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "normal" soap-box rant for me, I feel it needs to be said:
I am so vehemently pro-selfie. I really am.
I love seeing your selfies. I love seeing you. I love that you're saying "I am here."
"Oh it's narcissistic" you might hear some say? Consider this:
Great works of art were portraits of the rich, the royal, etc. Commissioning portraits could have been considered narcissism, don't you think? Maybe the argument is that it's documenting history? That this person was there, and existed? I think that's the same with selfies.
Another reason that I love selfies is because: WHAT IS SO DAMN WRONG WITH LIKING THE WAY YOU LOOK???
Yeah, I'm taking a selfie. I like the way I look. Does that threaten you? What's wrong with liking the way I look, in a society that tells me that I'm only allowed to like my looks if they fit [X] paramaters?
I picked up a women's magazine somewhat recently(I think it was Cosmo but I'm not sure) and on one page was "love your body" and then in the same magazine a few pages later there was an article about "LOSE THAT MUFFIN TOP SQUAT YOUR WAY TO A BETTER BUTT" and then a few pages LATER there was a cake recipe. What the f---why????
In a society where it is SO confusing and SO hard for women to find some kind of solid, consistent choice as to what to do when it comes to their looks, I don't see how taking a damn selfie is harmful.
A selfie says "I'm here. I look like this. And I'm okay with that."

Sure, you might post a few with angles and filters and makeup. So what? You're not hurting anybody. Take that damn selfie. I appreciate you and what you are saying. You're not waiting for someone else to come along and take your picture for you, to photoshop it to make you look good so you can finally look like those women in magazines. You're not waiting for someone ELSE to say "Hey, you look good, let's take a picture."
You are taking control of your body and your face by snapping that selfie. So keep 'em coming, because I love it. I silently cringe when I see your facebook profile pictures as anything OTHER than your beautiful faces and of cartoon characters or memes instead, even you dudes. Yes, I see that you like Looney Tunes, but I want to see YOU. I want to look into YOUR eyes. Please, take a selfie and use it as your profile picture!
I would love nothing more than to come back to this post a few hours later and find it full of selfies in the comments.
Please take selfies. Even you dudes. You can take selfies, too.
*steps off soap box*

Now, go. Take a damn selfie. You have the power to shut out those that call you narcissistic by ignoring them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Triple-Chocolate Mousse Tower

This is a triple-chocolate mousse tower I made at my new job! I won't tell you how it's made(as the recipes aren't mine) but I WILL tell you that it's fairly easy to recreate on your own time. I must say, though, that it's quite labor-intensive...but here's how you can do one yourself.

See these?

These are genoise cakes that have been baked in a very thin layer and then cut into rings.

Genoise cakes are dry, sponge-like cakes with little-to-no fat in them, so they're actually relatively healthy. A good genoise recipe is quite irreplaceable in a cook's repertoire, so I highly suggest finding one.

Genoise cakes are also fantastic for swiss rolls/yule logs, which I'll post about later to come in the holiday months! Sure, they're a little dry on their own, but they're truly fantastic for trifles and layered cakes, as their structure is quite nice and they stand up well.

These genoise cakes were baked in a very large sheet tray so that the batter was spread quite thin. Once cooled entirely, the cakes were stamped out using a ring cutter. You can, of course, use whatever shape you like.

If I were to make this cake again, however, I'd stack the whole, cooked cakes atop one another with each filling and then cut when it is entirely set, just to save myself some trouble and scraps. If you want circles, though, cut circles and proceed to the next step.

Now, I took the cakes and set them in ring molds like these ones. You can find these at just about any specialty store, or online. For extra help, you can also set them in acetate strips, which is excellent to help you see what you're doing.

These cakes are filled with milk, white, and dark chocolate mousses, all separated with a cake in each one. We decided on ganache as a topper, but you can use frosting or some kind of glaze. I personally think that they look quite nice just with a dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh fruit on top. The filling possibilities are truly endless, and they're a real show-stopper, especially if you're doing them for a party. You could even turn these into a tiramisu for a perfect individual portion!

How do you get that filling into moulds so neatly? Piping bags, of course. Simply fill your bags and pipe, paying attention to the height of each level. Again, this is where the acetate comes in handy, so you can see what you're piping.

See how neat and clean those look?

If you do use a ganache or frosting, however, be prepared to unmould them carefully and then smooth the sides with an offset spatula(or a butter knife) that's been dipped in very hot water. This will offer a smooth finish for you.

Garnishes, of course, are all up to you. I do, however, recommend that you only choose garnishes that'll make sense with your flavor profile. Don't put a random strawberry atop a tiramisu. Don't add random dark chocolate curls to a key lime flavored trifle. Don't choose for the sake of looks, but for the sake of taste. It doesn't matter what kind of pretty plate you have in front of you if it doesn't taste good. Taste first, guys. Taste. First.

Now, go, be inspired! Make towers of cake! Go forth, my children, and be free!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse - Small-town Hibachi = Eh.

This Saturday, my wonderful boyfriend took me to Shaake's Pumpkin Patch as my official first-ever experience in doing so. We had an absolute blast, and I could not have been happier. Not only did I have my first-ever pumpkin patch/hay ride experience, but got to eat some tasty pumpkin doughnuts as well.

Once we got actually hungry, we all decided to go, as a big group, out for Hibachi. Lawrence is a college town, with a small population of townies. There are so many book stores in this town, I can't even describe it! Admittedly, Lawrence isn't really a foodie town; it's a college town with a small population of townies. I heard a lot of people ordering their steaks "medium-well" and "well-done", so I knew what the demographic these people were cooking for were.

Entering, it's your standard, fun hibachi place. Red walls, lots of open tables, scores of college girls in kimono-esque robes as their uniform. Fun, I thought.

We were seated promptly and our drink orders were taken almost immediately. All six of us got the hibachi, and had a really fun young hibachi cook, who happened to be white. Does this matter when it comes to cooking other people's ethic cuisine? Absolutely not! Your ethnicity has nothing to do with your ability to learn to cook and appreciate other people's cuisine. Sure, there's the ever-so-slight stigma of your hibachi being cooked by the white guy and not the Asian, which I'll admit to. Asian peoples are very sensitive about our cultures, and it's honestly too hard to describe why, because I ran out of coffee filters and don't have the energy to hit the store to buy  more, so no coffee for me. Anyway, race doesn't matter.

Hibachi is more about the show, and far less about the food. We started with an appetizer of a tasty onion soup w/ paper-thin mushrooms, and a nasty-ass salad with bitter-ass iceberg lettuce and chunky-ass spicy aioli. It wasn't my favorite.

The veggies and fried rice were kind of underseasoned, but hey, it was still well-prepared. Hibachi is, again, about the theater, and our cook was fun, in a relaxed, constrained way, doing all of the tricks and jokes and spatula-flips in a chill young dude way. They're obviously trained to engage in the audience and have a cache of jokes. Keep this in mind.

When he was about to cook the meat, he said "smiley face!" and drew a smiley face with oil on the griddle. Then he took the spatula, smeared the eyes of the smiley face to be slanted and said "Japanese smiley face!"

White dude. In front of me, Asian girl, making a slanty-eyed Japanese smiley-face in the oil in front of us. I looked up to see my boyfriend(a white guy) making this face:

oh god nobody move

And all of my friends(also white) looking at the guy like:

did he just...?

Let me say this: I do not think it was intended to be racist, at all. I think they're taught a script and that they follow it. I do not think it was malicious in ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM or I would have said something. I heard the other cooks(who were of an ethnic persuasion) say the same thing as I was walking out, but it was still weird. I feel conflicted about it, mostly because he's a white dude and I was the Asian girl in front of him, and living in the midwest is weird for me because it's the first place I've ever lived where I've been reminded of my race from the outside.

It's easy to forget your ethnicity when nobody says anything about it. It's easy to forget a thing like racism exists when nobody is subjected to it. I get why white people in America aren't naturally sympathetic/empathetic to it. I'm not really mad about it or truly offended; it was just weirdly borderline racist, coming from that particular situation.

I don't think I would have been as annoyed with the guy had he not overcooked the steak and smothered the bejeezus out of it with thick teriyaki sauce. To be fair, I ordered the sirloin, which came in strips, so it's really easy to overcook. Also, he's cooking for a demographic that seem to like their steaks more "done" and smothered in sauce, so I cannot - in good conscience - fault the guy for that. I cook professionally, too, so I totally get it. I can't tell you how many times, when people order medium-rare, they send it back to the kitchen when it's "pink in the middle." I understand that it was probably a rare thing for a person to actually mean medium-rare when ordered medium-rare, which is why I didn't say anything at the time. I also just kind of wanted to get out of there at that point.
Kobe Japanese Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
The food was generally well-prepared, I ate most of it(because I was starving), and it was a really good value for the money. Plus, we got a yummy dessert of orange sherbet, which not only came with the meal, but tasted like the those Flinstone's push-up pops that you got when you were a kid!

All in all, it was okay. It was good for what it was, which was small-town hibachi. Lawrence is not the foodie paradise, and I was very much reminded how fortunate I am to live in Kansas City, which is and is becoming more and more every day a foodie paradise. If you're in Lawrence, maybe try something other than this place. I'm sure they do burgers somewhere really great, and I hear that there are a few bakeries that can't be beat!

I don't think I'll be back; 90% because I don't live in Lawrence, 10% because the food was mediocre. Aside from the borderline racism, though, the hibachi cook put on a very good show, which is really why you go to a hibachi place.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Soapbox Rant: Bullying, and What I Think We Should Do About It

I post these things on my Facebook that I call "Soapbox Rants." These are things in which I begin with: *steps on soap box* and end with *steps down from soap box*. These are little rants in which I say my annoyance/disdain for a certain issue, back it up with the reason I think it's happening, and usually offer a solution that I think would be good. It's a way to ramble, and also a way to get a conversation going.

I think that problems can be solved with communication, and problems can be started with either lack of communication or just plain poor communication. I've been posting soapbox rants on my personal Facebook feed for some years now, and have just recently been reminded as to how important it is to share your thoughts with your friends. Enjoy, now, my soap box rant on bullying, available on my Facebook page for WannaBGourmande.

*stretches* *steps on soap box*
I feel like the whole bullying thing has gotten out of hand. I feel like that instead of saying "stop bullying", or go with the argument of "don't let them make you a victim", let's do something else:
Let's figure out WHY kids become bullies.
See, I feel like kids are products of their environment. Sure, they have their own personalities, but they still act the way that they're taught is acceptable to act, and that begins at home. What if that child is acting out because they're abused at home? What if they're just being ignored? While I'm not excusing being a shitty person, if a kid is bullying another kid, it really is a severely misguided cry for help.
I feel like this whole anti-bullying movement/mass shooting thing has gotten to the point of no return. Bullying has become routine. Mass shootings, in the United States, have become routine. That's wrong on so many damn levels.
Is there a solution? Sure, we could argue gun reform, we could argue better access for mental illness and healthcare...but I feel like that's a long way's away. I think there's something we can do now:
Engage someone.
See a person sitting alone at lunch in your school's cafeteria? Ask to sit with them.
Is someone crying? Ask if they're alright.
See someone having a rough time on Facebook? Private message them and ask them if they want to talk about it.
See someone looking lonely, make eye contact and say a quick and friendly hello. It doesn't have to be a long conversation. But if you make eye contact with someone, smile, nod, and move on your way. Remind people that they're not alone. Remind people that there's anonymous good in the world.
It doesn't take much. There were days where a smile or a tiny "have a good one" from a stranger that really made a difference to turn my mood around if I'm having a bad day.
Maybe you have social anxiety yourself? Don't be afraid to engage in someone; I know it might be hard sometimes, but it could end up being your new best friend. If it doesn't, though, it still doesn't hurt to be that anonymous good person that reminds another human being that they aren't alone.
*steps down from soap box* *goes to get more coffee*

The idea of sharing these thoughts publicly came up today because a friend of mine commented on this photo that I shared to my own private Facebook page.

A friend commented on it saying: "I can't even begin to express how much it helped seeing this, this morning. After nightmares all night [...] this really helped. Thank you."

That hid me hard, man. It made me realize that, although it may not be necessarily meaningful to me, it could really help someone else. While it might make me seem narcissistic to be sharing MY thoughts to the world because "I HOLD THE SOLUTION TO ALL", I'm willing to look like that narcissistic asshole in hopes that it might help at least ONE person.

Maybe there's something to my Soap Box rants? I'll be posting them here, too, from now on, in hopes that someone out there will see it, and know that they're not alone.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Smoked Octopus

You might cringe at the thought of eating octopus. After all, it's got a rather unsettling look. One might conjure images of Ursula, the Mer-Octopus Sea Witch, coming to life in your stomach. One might just get freaked out by the sight of the tentacles. Maybe you think of the suckers sticking to the inside of your cheeks, or your throat, and you choke? If you think all of those things, you and I are very much alike.

People in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc., have been eating octopus for centuries. I hear that octopus is also quite popular in South America/Mexico, but I personally haven't seen it. I admit that I haven't traveled to the far reaches of Mexico and the rest of South America, so I am most-likely not an authority on the subject. What I do know, however, is that octopus is delicious, and the American palette is coming to terms with that and being a more adventurous eater...thank heavens!

Learn how to make this grilled octopus dish here!
Octopus has a fabulously meaty flesh, and is too-often cooked incorrectly, which results in a horribly rubbery texture. As a general rule, more muscle equals more flavor, but it also equals more cooking. For example, beef short ribs take a long time to braise to break down all of those yummy tissues and collagens that'll eventually dissolve with time. Octopus is similar, as the flesh we eat is simply a pure muscle, that's unique because about 3/5 of the octopus's neurons are in its tentacles(which is probably why my mom nearly forced me to eat octopus because she was convinced it was going to make me smart). While octopus does benefit from a quick, high-temperature cook(such as deep frying for tempura), it also benefits from low-and-slow cooking methods, greatly.

If you don't want to watch the Master Sushi Chef Jiro talk about it, I'll just tell you that his apprentices massage the octopus they get for 40-50 minutes by hand, and they serve the octopus warm to bring out its fragrance.It's hard work, certainly, but I'm sure they don't have to ever go to the gym.

I love octopus because octopi are extremely delicious, and relatively sustainable. Of course, offshore octopus fishing has a lot of consequences(like many), but octopi caught offshore are (generally) okay. In general, the octopus is a fast-growing, short-lived species that's thought to be able to withstand fishing practices, particularly in Australia. Octopi mature quickly, but farming for baby octopi isn't so great. There's been a high demand in octopus lately, too, so please make sure you ask about responsible and sustainable farming wherever you get your octopus.

With all of this nonsense and fuss, is eating octopus absolutely worth it? You ultimately have to answer that for yourself, but I personally believe it is. Furthermore, living in Kansas City has taught me what a fantastic method of smoking is! It's simple, it's cost effective, and it makes your hair smell like wonderful hickory! I am vehemently pro-smoker, and I can't tell you what a wonderful cooking method this is for the almighty octopus.

Now, I could tell you how easy it is to just marinate some octopus for a day or so, dry it off a bit and let it smoke for 12 hours, because it's pretty much "set it and forget it"...but only if you have a smoker. Instead, try this recipe for Spicy Charred Octopus from Epicurious.com and post your results below!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Green Apple Macarons

I am not a classically-trained Pastry Chef. I am a classically-trained Chef. I never wanted to be a Pastry Chef and work with nothing but butter and sugar and chocolate all day. I wanted to get my arms burned by the oven, work on the line, feel the dinner rush, make a billion salads and sear steaks to perfection, all while making that just-right beurre blanc to go with that fish for table 9. I wanted to be a Chef, and that's what I signed up for when I went to school. I am not a classically-trained Pastry Chef, so when I get something right that's difficult for me to get right because I didn't have that pastry fundamental block...I celebrate.

I can think of few things that are more finicky than a macaron, that elusive and heavenly "cookie" of epic skill level. There are so many things that can go wrong so it's hard to land on how you can get it right, but I think I've done it. I think I've gotten my method down, and if I can help you get yours down, I am more than pleased to do it.

Green Apple Macarons
(adapted from Thomas Keller's recipe)

  • 212 grams powdered sugar
  • 212 grams almond flour/meal
  • 92 grams plus 110 grams egg whites
  • 236 grams granulated sugar
  • 8 grams kosher salt
  • Green & yellow food coloring, preferably gel(I had Kelly green and Golden yellow from the Wilton gel dye set)
  • Apple butter, as needed
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F, and turn it to high fan. If you do not have a convection oven, I've found that if you preheat your oven to 350 and then immediately drop the temperature to 300 when the macarons go in the oven, it works quite well. Set yourself up a pot of simmering water, too, that will serve as a sort of double boiler for your eggs.

Whisk/sift together the powdered sugar, salt, and almond meal. With a spatula, stir in the 92 grams of egg whites with the dyes. I used about 3 parts yellow and one part green, just to get the color I wanted...but you can play around. Like I said, use a gel dye if you can at all help it, as the moisture content in this is important. You'll want this to be a nice smooth-ish paste before continuing to the next step.

Combine your granulated sugar and the 110 grams of egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer, and set your bowl over that simmering pot of water. Whisk to combine, and then start whipping by hand while the water simmers. You want the egg whites to warm up enough to sort of dissolve the sugar easily and be warm to the touch. You'll want the egg whites to be shiny, too, before you move them from the double boiler to the standing mixer...and this can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Be patient.

Whip your egg whites until stiff-ish peaks form. This recipe has a lot of sugar in it, so you're going to get a thick, white, almost nougat-like peak out of your whites, and that's a good thing. Fold in a third of your stiff-ish whites to your almond 'paste' and don't worry so much about volume on this one...you just want to lighten the batter. Fold in your next third, scooping and letting it fall on each stroke. On the third and final addition of whipped egg whites, make sure your batter is fully incorporated, a generally uniform color, and has the consistency of hot running lava. Now comes the fun part...

Pop your mixture into a piping bag. You can fit it with a medium-sized round tip, or you can simply have a plastic, disposable piping bag that you've cut the tip out of. I chose the latter, because it's easier to just pitch than fish for a meringue-y tip out of the garbage if you toss the bag on accident. 

If you're not quite the best with a piping bag or uniform cookies, yet, don't be ashamed to break out a pencil and trace uniform circles on your parchment paper for you to fill. And, yes, you'll want to use parchment paper...or a silicone mat, if you have it. Don't bake this straight onto the pan...it'll get sticky.

They're not 100% perfect, but they're generally the same size and shape!
The resting part is crucial, but will vary in time depending on how humid it is where you are. Humidity is such a factor with these stupid things that I won't even bother if it's even a possibly rainy day. The idea of the resting, though, is to allow the cookie to form a sort of "shell" that will stay still when it's baked. The shell should not be sticky when lightly touched with a finger; this takes me anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Be patient. 

Pop the cookies in your oven and bake for precisely 8 minutes at either 300 high fan or started at 350 and then immediately turned down to 300 if working with a conventional oven. Once baked, you'll be able to assess how many made it and how many did not. 

This cookie is incredibly finicky, but here's a troubleshooting guide that encompasses the problems I've had:

  1. The cookies crack
    1. This could be caused by:
      1. Over/undermixing
      2. Oven too hot
      3. Opening/closing the oven door to check on it at the wrong time
  2. The cookies don't have "feet"
    1. This could be caused by:
      1. Not enough resting time
      2. Improper technique
  3. The cookies have collapsed
    1. This could be caused by:
      1. Not enough resting time
      2. Underbaked
      3. Oven too cold
      4. Oven unevenly heated
  4. The cookies are hollow
    1. This could be caused by
      1. Improper mixing
      2. Oven's too hot
      3. Fan's too high
      4. Too long of a baking time

I'm missing a lot of things, but these are the problems and solutions found this far in my journey. 

Make sure you let the cookies cool completely before filling with your favorite apple butter. You can buy this stuff at the grocery store, or make your own. There's nothing wrong with a convenience product here and there, however, so don't be ashamed to fill these painstakingly-made cookies with a shortcut or two.

As for storage, gently wrap in plastic wrap and "buffer" with crumpled up deli papers, newspaper, or even bubblewrap, if it's lasted long enough to be useful to you. Macarons freeze absolutely perfectly, and they even will develop a nicer flavor after about a week in the freezer versus just eaten immediately. This is called "maturation" of flavor, and is oddly important to this magical cookie, that's both crunchy and chewy. 

Don't be afraid to fiddle around, too, with ratios and whatnot. If this recipe isn't working for you, please seek another. If this technique isn't working for you, then please seek another. 

This technique and this recipe work really well for me, but it may not work for you, and I'll respect and accept that. I only ask that you are not too frustrated with your previous failures that you give up entirely on your dreams of making macarons. 

These macarons that I've made are not perfect, but they are successful enough to pass, and are technically correct. While they're not necessarily the prettiest things, they're still great and I'm still proud of them. I hope that you try this recipe and report back with any tips and tricks you may have discovered along the way....I'm still not convinced that mine is the perfect method, and will happily admit that.

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pumpkin Macarons

These are plain vanilla macarons with a pumpkin butter filling. The pumpkin butter is made from the ones found in my garden.

I would love to tell you what I did to make these a success, but I have no idea. I thought I had screwed up halfway through. Apparently, I didn't. A few of them had cracks, sure, but mostly they were about 90% all successful.


Beer Gelato

October is in full swing, and I could not feel happier about it! I am ready for the new year.

What's that? Oh, right, let me explain...

To Pagans/Wiccans/Witches, October is the last month of the Wheel of the Year, which is our calendar. The end of October is called Samhain(pronounced SOW-wehn), the night of the year in which the veil between this world and the next is the thinnest, and you can pass through and cross over. This is a time for honoring your ancestors, the last harvest, and the end of the year.

What's that got to do with beer?

Oktoberfest is upon us, too, and nothing says October like beer, cider, apples, pumpkins, and lots of sausages as you snuggle up in scarves and rake the leaves. I love ice cream, gelato, sorbets...any sort of churned frozen dessert, really! Here's how to make my Beer Gelato, made infamous by FoodieChats and  Rogue Ales & Spirits.

Beer Gelato
  • A scant 3 cups Oktoberfest(your favorite brand) beer
  • 5 dried apricots(you can usually find this in the bulk section of most grocery stores)
  • 6 allspice berries
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Combine 1/4 cup of the sugar, the beer, apricots, and allspice in a saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and let it cook down. 

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining sugar and salt with the egg yolks. Whisk slowly, at first, just to combine it all, and then start whipping, by hand. You basically just want a smooth-looking custard. It'll look dark and you won't be able to tell if the eggs are lemon-colored after whipping, but just look for a nice, smooth, uniform custard. You're not looking to get air into it, just make it smooth.

After about 10 minutes of reducing, you should have about 2 cups of liquid left. Fish out the allspice berries and pop your apricots in the pitcher of your blender with about a cup of your beer reduction. Blend on low to make a smooth sort of apricot cream and slowly add in your warm beer in a trickle. When that's entirely incorporated, scrape all ingredients into your saucepot and whisk over a low, gentle flame until it thickens, just ever-so-slightly. If you have a thermometer, you'll want it to get to 175 degrees F/79 degrees C.

When ready, strain into a container and pop into the freezer to cool. You can also set up an ice bath for your container for even faster cooling...but your custard must cool entirely before churning. When you do churn, let your ice cream machine make it to about 5 minutes before you're done, and then turn off the chilling part of the unit and just let it turn for awhile. This will make cleanup for you much easier and yield a nicer mouthfeel.

You can enjoy this now, or set it in the freezer for a little while longer to set up enough to scoop. I personally like it a little more chilled, so I can scoop it and sandwich it between cookies, or perhaps just on a cone. If you like it a little softer, like my parents do, go ahead and have some now.

You can also blend this stuff with some milk to make a beer milkshake...or maybe make a beer float with some more Oktoberfest and some of this? Have fun with it. It's yours, now.
A photo posted by Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on
Thanks so much to Rogue Ales and Spirits for the blog request, and to FoodieChats, of course!

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Hello, Foodie Friends!

A lot of changes have happened in my life quite recently. I feel like pain and change and difficulty in dealing with change is subjective; this is why I sometimes shut down or will just feel icky for no reason during times of change. Your emotions and your body are connected, because it all stems from one place, your brain.

Anyway, as a gift to myself for surviving a new job, a menu change at my old place, moving to a new home with my boyfriend to a beautiful house that we own, I've bought myself a little treat!

Notice at the top, how it no longer has "Blogspot" in the URL box?

That's right, I've bought WannaBGourmande.com! Now enjoy seamless blogging to your heart's content, without the pesky extra step in finding the site!

Treat yo self, WannaBGourmande!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Moving Day!

Goodbye, Howl Manor.

Good morning, Internet!

I'm trying to be more prolific with my blog writing, and failing, unfortunately. Now that I have a nice, new, beautiful office space/Circle Room, there's really no excuse for me to not be blogging more. I would really like to see if something can come of this, as I don't have any plans on changing career paths any time soon, and I truly enjoy writing...why not see if I can't do something more with it?

I've been thinking a lot about my neighborhood of Rosedale and what to do with it. I'm moving from one end of the neighborhood to the other, and today is the last day I have to move the last of my things out. I'm leaving Howl Manor to a friend of mine to take over, who will in turn inherit my sofa, coffee table, dining room table and bench, as well as a giant pumpkin patch and some nice tomato plants. I'll be cleaning out/vacuuming the place, too, as much as I can, with the amount of dog hair that there is there...

The damage to the house isn't bad. My ex was dog-sitting once and the dog tore up the carpet in the bedroom, so I don't expect to get my pet deposit back. I also tore a giant hole in the blinds on the front window the other day when moving some stuff around, so I'm sure that'll come out, too. Other than that, the unit has been somewhat improved since I've lived there. The bathroom walls have been painted, as has the back office. My mom did an awesome facelift on the house, and I'm honestly sad to leave it behind. I loved that little house so much

I'll even miss this tiny little kitchen...
 I lived at Howl Manor for two years; one year(ish) with my ex, one year alone. We had broken up about seven months into that lease, but he still lived there for a month or so while he figured some stuff out to leave. I won't say that I didn't mind, but I also understood, so I didn't make too big of a stink about it. I'm very happy, though, that I can say that I lived on my own for a year. Sure, my boyfriend stayed with me a few nights here and there, but I paid my bills all by myself, and that meant a lot to me to be able to do that.

Howl Manor was a place of growth and change for me. I got a promotion there. I cultivated a garden there. I discovered so much about myself there. It was almost as if the house itself was a fortress of strength for me. The house was old, so it creaked here and there, had a few insulation issues in the winter and in the summer; that being said, I wouldn't have traded it.

I loved that little house, and I hate to leave it behind. That being said, I can proudly say I have completed my goal of living on my own for one year, and now move onto my new chapter: Howl's Stationary Castle.

Now with a backyard that he can actually run around in!
This is a new chapter in my life, and I would be lying if I sad I wasn't scared.

Moving in with a new person after gong from man to man to man is, indeed, scary. I know all of the things that can go wrong, and for me to be optimistic at this point is for me to be, essentially, stupid. That being said, I can't do my boyfriend wrong by dragging my old baggage into a new house.

I feel that it's wrong of me, or any person, to bring old baggage into a new house because that new house had literally nothing to do with what happened to you before. It's not my new house's fault that I'm bruised and damaged and scared. It's not my new house's fault that I've had bad experiences with old houses. It's not fair to my new house to be sour about the past when I'm trying to build a future.

And that even includes tearing out old carpet in a new house to put down new flooring!
(Which looks glorious, by the way...)
Plunging in has always been my superpower, of sorts. It is a thing that friends have told me that they admire about me. I failed so many times, but at least I had the courage to try. My father, who is so very important to me, told me that the thing he admired about me the most was the fact that I have "sheer guts," that I have a "why not?" kind of attitude and that I go for it. I don't want to let go of one of the things that makes me special, so I will plunge.

Plunging is not taking a leap forward because you aren't scared; plunging into something new means that you are scared, but you're brave enough to take a chance that the fire within you will burn brighter than the fire around you. You take a chance, knowing that it could turn out poorly, but it might turn out great.

If there's a chance that it'll turn out as great as I hope it will, I'll take it. I can't speak for all, but I can say that the greatest regret I would or could ever have is the not knowing what could have been. I will always fear not knowing what could have been far more than the alternative.  After all, it is from our failures that we grow, that we learn. It is from our failures and how we rise from the fall which defines us.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I hope that the one person that does read this blog will read something that strikes a nerve with them enough to pass it along, or to make that change. If I can make a change for one person, then it's worth it.

Wish me luck. Let's plunge.