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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!