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Showing posts with label American Comfort food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Comfort food. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mini Apple Poptarts

I have a secret. Do you promise not to tell my friends? I hope it won't ruin me!

I love Poptarts. I really do! I know that I'm supposed to be this serious and sophisticated Chef at this point in my career. I know I'm meant to have a sophisticated palette. But what can be done when the heart wants what the heart wants? There's just something so amazing about a sugar-packed pastry filled with fruit and topped with frosting! Am I wrong for loving them? I don't know about that...but I do know that recently experienced a tiny tragedy a few weeks ago.

I bought a Poptart from a gas station. (I was in a rush and experiencing a sugar crash, so don't judge me.) I took a big bite of it while I was driving and felt like I was being kicked in the teeth by a tiny sugar monster. I was utterly heartbroken. Am I just too old for Poptarts? Have I outgrown them? But how can one 'outgrow' the perfect parcel of pastry and fruity filling, crisp and crumbly and delicious? It was just too horrible to be true. I set this experience in the back of my mind until I received my farm box from Prairie Birthday Farm and happily opened a bag of Windfall apples. 

Yes! I thought. These apples weren't the pretty things you see in the grocery store, but the real apples that you get off the farm. I could make apple pie, of course, but what if I could take the opportunity to right the wrong of that Poptart experience I'd had some weeks prior? These apples were perfect for baking, and I was about to do just that. Here's another thing you need to know: Not every single produce item you have has to be absolutely gorgeous, especially if it's going to be put in something, versus presented to guests as is. The truth of the matter is that apples will simply jump their way off a tree when it's ready to be eaten and if it's found on the ground that doesn't mean that it is any less edible. We can talk more about that later!

Mini Apple Poptarts
yields 12 mini pop tarts

Perfect Pie Dough
  • 14 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • 8 oz vegan butter/any solid fat
  • Vodka, as needed
Apple Filling
  • 6 small apples or 2 big ones, peeled and chopped
  • 3.5 oz raw or brown sugar
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon or 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 1/2 tsp Mexican vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese long peppercorn
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Special equipment
  • A proper rolling pin
  • A fluted square cutter
  • A Silpat mat
Start with your pie dough. I know I've talked about it plenty of times, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to start with cold ingredients. Chop your cold fat, and put it into your cold dry ingredients. Rub your fat in with your fingers - not your palms - to keep it cool. Add cold vodka. Are you curious about what the actual mixing method is? Check it out - I've actually done a video about it!

Now that that's all settled, wrap your pie dough and chill it well! I like to let it chill overnight, but an hour will do the trick just fine if you don't want to wait. Are we ready to move on to the filling? I sure am!

Protip: The trick to doing good pop tarts is to chop the apples large enough to still have a sort of bite when eaten, but small enough to fit into your tart of size. I cut my pieces into thin slices and then had those slices cut to 2 cm in length. This, of course, all depends on the size you want, so please feel free to decide what size you feel appropriate! No matter what, make sure that your slices are all the same size, so they cook evenly.

Combine your apples with the sugar, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, vanilla, and spices, and stir well. Cover with a clean tea towel and let sit for about half an hour to extract all of those delicious juices and that wonderful pectin. This is called maceration, and it's used to soften fruits for sauces or fillings, while also making the flavors more intense. Keep in mind: the longer you let the apples sit, the more juices will escape and the more your flavors will meld...so feel free to start this the day before you want these treats! While we're waiting, let's talk a little bit about apples and the perfectly imperfect fruit that they are.

Apples originated in Central Asia. The apple as we know it was brought over by the European colonizers. Although technically an invasive species, we have plenty of delicious varieties that grow better in certain climates. Apples enjoy a temperate climate and require other apple trees nearby to cross-pollinate, which makes it difficult to grow and manage if you don't have a decent amount of space. The good news: you can dwarf an apple tree! This means that they'll grow out, not up, which is much easier to manage when harvesting! Shall we talk about harvesting apples, now?

The apple tree is an exceedingly clever plant, as it'll simply boot off any apples it deems ripe enough to eat instead of waiting for someone to pick it. This results in bruising, and bruised apples never get picked to go to the grocery store. This is not so great, since bruised apples are entirely edible. Apples do ripen quickly, however, so if you don't get them off the ground as soon as you can, they risk fermenting and trust me when I tell you this: drunk squirrels are funny, drunk hornets are not. 

I could go on and on and on about food waste and the problematic practices of how we harvest produce in this country. I'm guessing, however, that you are ready to cook your apple filling...so let's get to it!

Now that your apples have macerated, you're ready to add your tapioca starch! I love tapioca starch for this because it cooks quickly, is crystal clear when set, and mimics the jelly-like texture of pectin most naturally. Cook your apple filling over medium-low heat until most of the liquid has been reduced and thickened, about ten minutes, and set aside to cool. You'll want your apple filling to be at least room temperature for this next step!

Roll out your pie dough between two greased parchment sheets or between two long sheets of plastic wrap. This prevents you from making a mess! Roll it as thin as you can, about 1/8th of an inch, and use a cutter of your choice to cut shapes of equal sizes to make your tarts. Remember, each tart is going to use two pieces of cut dough. I had this gorgeous little fluted ravioli cutter that I found at a garage sale, so I decided to use that! You can use egg wash to help 'glue' your two pieces together, but water works just fine if you want to keep it vegan. 

Use a scoop or large spoon to portion equal parts of your cooled apple filling onto the bottoms of each tart and loosely sandwich the top piece to it. Allow the top dough to relax around the filling and press gently around the edges to get rid of any air bubbles. I used a fork to crimp the edges of my tarts, but you can use your fingers and pinch them together if you like. Make sure you poke some vent holes in the top!

At this point, you can freeze them for later. Why would you do that? So you can have them to either stick in the toaster oven in the morning for a quick breakfast! Even better, if you wanted to get a little crazy, you could deep fry these beauties at 375 degrees until golden-brown for an insanely indulgent take on the apple Poptart! If you're a traditionalist like yours truly, though, and you simply cannot wait to dig in, feel free to bake these beauties at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until golden-brown and delicious. Let them cool completely before you handle them. You can frost these with a simple powdered sugar glaze or buttercream, but I like them plain. They're a perfect little snack to beat the mid-afternoon slump!

I adore this recipe because it's easy to make ahead, and they're just oh so cute to look at and eat. It's got all the beauty of an apple pie combined with mobility. You can wrap these in paper and take them on a picnic, or pop them in your purse for an on-the-go sugar boost. You can grab one on the way out the door. Heck, put one in your pocket while you wander the wild and windy moors, lamenting over that handsome stranger that shot partridge on your land just Sunday last. The possibilities are endless!

Thank you so much, as always, for joining me today. I hope this has inspired you to try this recipe on for size. Now please excuse me while I help myself to some apple pie a la mode with my husband. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Beer-Battered Adobo-Fried Chicken

This is easier than you think. Trust me.
I chose a Filipino/Pinoy twist on this flavor profile because - and I cannot stress this enough - I wanted to. You're going to eat this so you make sure that it's something you want to eat. I love the sour-salty-kinda-sweet of adobo, so I thought it'd go perfect for the fatty fried chicken. You always need a little sourness to cut the richness to make a complete dish.

Sidebar: Filipino cuisine is highly individualistic, so when I tell you that there is no real recipe for Chicken Adobo, even though it is considered to be one of the most popular dishes in the Philippines, please know that nobody can agree exactly how to make it. The only thing everyone agrees must be there is vinegar, and that the dish must be stewed in the vinegar. Almost every incarnation I've seen of it has garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves, but that's about it for similarities. Filipinos, like Americans, have a great deal of difficulty agreeing on a lot of things.

When I say Adobo-style, I mean the chicken is marinated in mostly the same flavors that I personally use for my adobo, and then will be deep-fried for chicken. I absolutely adore the adobo flavor profile, and I hope that you will, too! It reminds me of my mom and how she would cook but gives me the wonderful crunch of fried chicken that I also love. I have, however, changed up a few things to make it work for this recipe!

Adobo-style Fried Chicken
  • 1 lb chicken thighs
  • 1/4 c white vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1 Tbsp each white and Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
  • Two fat pinches of kosher salt
  • 1/2 c water
  • Thyme, dill, and oregano from the garden, all chopped up fine
    • I wouldn't normally put this in adobo; I just have a huge surplus and I really need to start using it up. Plus, I'm growing it - I may as well use it!
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Chili powder
  • A bottle of beer
  • 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c semolina or cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Enough oil for deep-frying
This is a recipe that must be started the day before you do your chicken. Smash the garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle, along with the peppercorns. Scoop all of this delicious goodness into a bowl and mix with the vinegar, honey, and water. Add your thighs and let sit in the fridge, covered, overnight. In the morning, you'll drain the chicken and pat them dry. Next, you're going to steam your chicken!

A good rice cooker will get you far in life! It's NOT a uni-tasker!
When steaming the chicken, you can use a pot of water and a steamer basket or a rice cooker with a steaming feature. No matter what you use, make sure you add in the lemon, sliced, as well as the bay leaves to the water. Always add flavor when you have the opportunity to do so! You'll want to steam these for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces and if they are bone-in or not. I love bone-in chicken, but it can be sometimes hard for the novice cook to ensure things get fully cooked-through when you're dealing with bones. Steaming the chicken first will also give you some of the crispiest skin you'll ever hope to achieve!

Make sure you set your timer accordingly! These are boneless skinless thighs, so I'll only need 20-25 minutes. 

When your chicken is done steaming, transfer to a sheet pan or plate and let them cool in the fridge until you're ready to deep fry. If you like spice, sprinkle some chili powder or chili flakes right on top to let them sit until you're ready to fry! Let me also note that you can, if you like, sous vide the chicken if you have that piece of machinery at your disposal. I prefer steaming because I think it gives the chicken skin a better texture than the sous vide method does. Not only, but most folks can steam something more easily than they can get their hands on a sous vide machine! Please know that there are a lot of safety rules when it comes to using hot fat. Grease fires are a threat, but you should know that if you take the proper precautions.

Precautions to Consider
  1. You must not overfill your pot with fat. Remember that your oil will rise in size, so I usually fill my pot about halfway full from the top since I don't have a deep-fryer at home.
  2. Monitor your temperature with a thermometer. Invest in a candy thermometer! I love the glass kind that hooks on to the side of your pot that you can easily wash. 
  3. Oil + Water = BAD. Liquid from the batter or oil is okay in small doses, but please don't dump any liquid directly into your hot fryer.
  4. Don't overfill your hot oil with your food! When you introduce a new item into your hot fat, you'll lower the temperature. When you lower the temperature, you'll risk oil seeping in and making your stuff really greasy and gross. Be patient and fry in batches!
  5. Keep your chicken warm in the oven by holding it at 200 degrees F, since you'll likely only be frying a couple of pieces at a time.
  6. In case of fire turn off the heat immediately and cover your pot with a lid. Do not attempt to throw water on your fire. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby if you're really nervous. 
Keep all these things in mind and you are ready to deep-fry, safely, and with confidence! Are you excited? You should be. Once you get a proper handle on deep-frying, you open yourself up to the possibility of things like churros or doughnuts! 

We are making a battered chicken today, but I usually do a three-station dredge when making fried chicken at home. Don't ask me why I felt like doing a beer batter tonight; I just did. To make a proper deep-fry, you have to make a proper frying prep station. They'll usually consist of your classic:
  1. Flour
    1. Dredge your chicken in flour!
  2. Egg wash
    1. Mix some eggs with a little water, and dip your floured chicken in there to 
  3. Flour/breadcrumb/spice mix/whatever-you-have
    1. Give your stuff a final delicious roll in all of this goodness and set aside on another plate!

There are a lot of ways to do this last station of your chicken coating, and all of them can be highly preferential. Some like bread crumbs, some like batter, and some like just plain flour. All of these methods are absolutely correct, in my humble opinion, because there's no real way to do fried chicken that isn't totally delicious! Usually, if I'm feeling a little lazy, I'll simply take my flour into a paper sack along with my spices and shake my chicken pieces around inside and then set them on a sheet tray, spread out, so it can come up to room temperature. The trick: let your flour "sit" on your chicken for about 30 minutes to get a crispy skin!

Sidenote: I think it's only fair to note that I personally don't often like to do a lot of batters at home. I do love a tempura batter because it's light and airy, but the main reason I don't like doing a batter is that it can get messy, fast! That being said, it takes up far less space and dirties fewer dishes. If you have a smaller kitchen as I do, I think you'll appreciate that. When deciding which one you want to do for your own fried chicken, know that the main difference is that if you do a breading station, you'll let your chicken sit on a plate or a sheet pan until it's ready to deep fry. If you do a battering station, you'll need to take your items straight from the batter into the fryer.

No matter which way you like to do it, know that your chicken is already cooked, so you'll only need to worry about frying that delicious stuff until it's totally golden-brown and delicious! If you're curious as to which kind of oil might be best for you to deep-fry your items in, Taste of Home did a comprehensive list here. I keep canola oil in my house for everyday use, so that's what I use. 

When Ready to Cook, combine your flour, semolina, baking powder, and beer in a medium mixing bowl and whisk until just combined. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes while you prepare your oil. You're going to want to deep-fry this around 350-375 degrees F, so set up your pot with enough oil to have the pieces fully submerged. Turn your oven on to 200 degrees and set up a sheet pan on the middle rack with a cooling/draining rack so your cooked food won't be sitting in a puddle of its own fat. Make sure you have a spider or a pair of tongs handy.

Give these puppies a quick dusting of cornstarch before dipping in your batter to make sure it sticks!
To prepare your chicken for the batter, simply toss your chicken pieces in cornstarch before dipping! Why? It'll help it stick, of course! I usually use beer for my battering, if I do it at home, but you can use a mixture of soda water and vodka, too! I love to use alcohol in my batters because they evaporate more quickly and at a lower temperature, and that you won't get as much gluten in your batter as a result!

It should all float!

Dip your chicken in the batter and make sure it's coated thoroughly. Give the piece a little shake to make sure that you don't have excess batter and gently lay your chicken in the hot fat, carefully. Let it simmer in that hot fat, monitoring the temperature. If the oil's temperature doesn't go down significantly in that first dredge, you can add another piece...but only if you have room to let both pieces float freely. I do two pieces at a time and monitor my temperature carefully to make sure that everything is cooked properly. It should only take 1-2 minutes on each side to get a perfect golden-brown. When you've reached a browning that you like, remove your chicken from the oil and pop into your oven to keep it warm.

Deep-fry in batches until all of your chicken is finished. Turn off your oil and set somewhere to cool, but - for the love of all that is holy - do not throw your hot oil, or any oil, down the sink. To dispose of it, it must first be at room temperature or cool. You can find a local restaurant that has a deep fat disposal dumpster behind the facility, or you can strain it into an old plastic bottle and dispose of it in the trash if you're desperate. You shouldn't have a large amount of batter left, but you can feel okay throwing it away when it's done, as it's not the best thing to reuse at this point. Clean up around your counter and wash your hands thoroughly. Make sure you get everything in the sink before serving your meal; you have time.

These are Lion's mane mushrooms, beer-battered and deep-fried! They look like nuggets, don't they?

Serve this with mashed potatoes and gravy, with macaroni and cheese, or with a nice side salad. You can also use this same batter to deep-fry some local mushrooms before you do your chicken. Enjoy the zing of the chicken with the fatty deliciousness of the deep-frying method! You've done wonderfully and I'm so proud of you.

Thanks so much for coming along with me on this recipe for fried chicken. I hope you all enjoyed it! I hope you're staying at home, staying safe, and practicing social distancing while wearing a mask while you're outside. Remember, it costs nothing to be kind to your neighbor, and being kind - right now - is wearing a mask while you go outside. Happy cooking and happy eating!


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

In addition to pancakes, I'm addicted to two other things: steak, and macaroni and cheese. My @Instagram is full of all three of those things!

A post shared by Chef Kolika (@wannabgourmande) on

Sorry, vegans - I'm not ACTUALLY one of you, but I do have a severely lactose intolerant husband and I'm both east Asian and Jewish so I really shouldn't be eating much dairy anyhow. It's really easy to cut dairy out of your home cooking entirely, and because of my husband's dietary restrictions I don't even have any in the house. No milk, no cheese, no butter, no sour cream. Because of this, any vegetarian meal at home that we consume is automatically vegan.

Just so everyone is clear: Vegan = no animal products.

Many folks go on to make this synonymous with no animal suffering. I disagree with that, as the ideology - although I'm sure is well-intended - does have some issues. Honey, for example, is considered to be not vegan. Here's the thing, though - harvesting honey from bees doesn't harm them at all, and any beekeeper will tell you that. Furthermore, if you buy local honey it'll help you immensely with your seasonal allergies. Not to mention all the jobs you'll help create by buying honey from your local beekeepers, but more beekeepers often means more bees.


  • If you ever find a wild hive that's come on your property, call your local apiary instead of an exterminator. Eight out of ten, they'll come and harvest that hive for you, free of charge, and will not kill the bees! The other two times, they'll give you the resources and phone numbers you need to call to get those bees off your property without harming the bees.

 What is harmful is all of the agave we're consuming. Agave is a plant that grows in Mexico, and the amount that we're harvesting is harming bats, who depend on the nectar to survive. Bats consume a ridiculous amount of insects, including mosquitos which both carry disease and are a plague on this planet. Bats are good! Please, eat honey and skip the agave - save the bats.

As you can see, veganism is a dietary choice and not necessarily a moral compass. There are many reasons to go vegan! And here, we're going to have some vegan macaroni and cheese. It's 100% dairy-free for my lactose-intolerant people, and totally pareve for my observant Kosher Jewish followers. You know what that means? You can have this with meat!

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese
serves 8
  • 1 lb pasta, cooked in salted water for 6 minutes until a hair harder than al dente (you'll be cooking it in the oven again, so it's okay if it's under-cooked)
    • Furthermore, you don't have to only use macaroni. You can use shell pasta, strascinati, penne, fiori, you name it! I do recommend using something that's not totally long and thin, though, as you'll want something sturdy for the oven. 
  • 2 tbsp vegan butter substitute, such as Earth Balance (you can also use coconut oil)
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 can plain coconut cream (do not use the sweetened version, or this will taste like someone kicked you in the teeth and said "f*ck you")
  • 1/4 c tofu sour cream (Tofutti is the best)
  • 3/4 c vegan cream cheese (tofutti and daiya make my favorite kinds)
  • 2 c cheddar-style vegan cheese shreds (Follow Your Heart and Daiya make the best cheeses)
This is your base recipe for the sauce. You can add more "cheeses" if you like, or substitute the cheddar-style for mozzerella style or pepperjack style. The beautiful thing about macaroni and cheese is that it's so incredibly versatile and you can add almost anything you like to it. Here is a full list of my favorite things you can stir in to your mac when you're ready to bake:
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  • Roasted brussells sprouts
  • Caramelized onions or leeks
  • Peas, fresh or frozen
  • Roasted squash, such as acorn squash or any kind of pumpkin
  • Braised winter greens (kale, mustard greens, etc)
  • Shaved asparagus
  • Spinach, fresh or cooked
  • Fresh herbs 
    • Dill
    • Savory
    • Tarragon
    • Parsley
Have I stirred other things into mac and cheese? Things like chopped chicken, beef sausage, roasted beets or cauliflower, sun-dried tomatoes from my garden, chopped green beans and more? Absolutely! Those things up in that list, though, are my favorite things, and I encourage you to make this into a full meal by adding whatever you like. 

To make this simple dish, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a casserole dish, either one large one or two medium-sized ones. I love using this recipe because it can feed a large amount of people, but if it's just my husband and I then I will separate them into several dishes so we can cover, refrigerate, and bake off at a later date when I'm feeling a little lazy. 

Melt your butter in a thick-bottomed saucepot on a medium flame. Add in the garlic and cook for about a minute, until just barely soft and brown. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk it together until it's smooth. You'll want to lower your flame just barely until it's all sort of simmering, and cook this roux for at least five minutes. Open your can of coconut cream and add, bringing the flame up to medium-high. Bring this to a boil, whisking constantly, and then reduce to a simmer. Add in your cream cheese and stir until incorporated. Sprinkle in your cheddar-style shreds, whisking constantly, a little at a time so as not to allow clumps. You may also add your fresh herbs at this stage, but it's up to you. 

Drain your pasta and toss with a little oil, and return it to your cooking pot. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat. It is now that you will add whichever mix-ins you like. The one in the first post at the top of the page has pumpkin, caramelized onions, and bok choi. Last month, I made one with peas and carrots. Just a few days ago, I made one with plenty of parsley and frazzled leeks. The point is: be creative!

I actually had some dairy-free cheese slices in the fridge so I thought it'd be fun to
add torn pieces of those throughout to get extra 'pockets' of cheesey goodness.

If you like a little extra crunch, you may crumble up some potato chips or crackers from your pantry and sprinkle on top, as well as some vegan parmesan shreds, extra cheese, panko bread crumbs...whatever you like! I don't always have panko bread crumbs in my pantry, but my husband is addicted to potato chips so I like to crush them up and put them on the top. 

You may bake the amount you need and put the rest of the dishes in the fridge to have at a later date. No matter what, you'll bake at 350 for 30 minutes from cold and only 20 minutes if you're baking this dish from hot. Serve hot, straight out of the casserole dish, and share this meal with a friend. While it is a wonderful thing to love one's own company, I am of the mind that it is unhealthy to eat alone. A good meal should be shared, so invite your neighbor over for food and get to know them. Or, you know, just post a picture of the mac and cheese on Facebook and see if any friends want to pop in. 

I hope you get out there and enjoy making mac and cheese. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Last Single Cabbage Roll

These were the star of #Foodiechats last Monday
A little less than a month ago, I married the most wonderful, kind, generous, sensitive, intelligent man I've ever met. Our wedding was beautiful, the food was lovely, and I was so happy to take this next step in my life with someone that I was so proud to call my husband. This journey has been a long one. B and I have been together for over four years now, and he's now lovingly taken to telling me my favorite line from his wedding vows:

"From now until forever."

I look forward to many years together. In my vows, I promised that he'd always get the last slice of pizza, the big piece of fried chicken, and that no matter what, his home would be full of good meals, as would be the rest of his life. I show love by cooking, and he's my favorite person to cook for. Now,  you would think that I'd have chosen something a little more loving and poetic than Lithuanian cabbage rolls as the last meal I cooked for him before he moved out of our house the week before our wedding. You would think that I'd take "the last meal" before our wedding day with a little more thought. You'd probably think that I'd put something a little more photogenic on the table, wouldn't you? Well guess what!

I didn't. I put dumb old cabbage rolls on the table and looked across to my then-fiance and realized: this is the last meal I'll cook for him until we're married. As you can imagine, I about cried. The next meal we'd have together would be our rehearsal dinner, of course, and then our wedding tacos, but I didn't make those. Oh, sure, I made the cake, but that wasn't a meal. The last meal I had made for my husband before we were married were dumpy old cabbage rolls. And you know what?

He loved them. He loved the cabbage rolls, ate them heartily, and kissed me lovingly and thanked me for taking the effort to cook him such a nice meal. I was near tears with how embarrassed I was over the silly things and he loved them! Looking back on it now, I can only assume that it was the stress and jitters of everything all coming to fruition. He'd proposed on Valentine's Day and we got married on October 21st. I'd planned the best wedding I could and I'm so happy with how everything turned out.
I'm making a funny face but I love the movement in this shot.
Those veils are hand-sewn and hand-embroidered by yours truly!

And I looked freaking fabulous, too.

Anyway, on to the cabbage rolls! These won foodiechats and had the most-response out of any photo I've posted in recent memory. It turns out that cabbage rolls are an emotional food for many! It's a humble dish by nature and one that's seldom found in restaurants. You get cabbage rolls from grandmother's table, not the gastropub in the hipster part of town. (Or maybe you do nowadays? I don't know, I've never seen them there.)

Holishkes are the traditional Jewish stuffed cabbage that are usually stuffed with a minced meat of some kind, sometimes with rice to fill it up, and then simmered in tomato sauce. It's a pretty common dish at Sukkot, which is a fall harvest festival in which you eat like a pig for seven whole days. Balendeliai (which means 'little doves'), or Lithuanian stuffed cabbage rolls, are eaten just because.

While you can stick to the traditional recipe of forcemeat with rice, I honestly like to make cabbage rolls using leftovers. No, really! You take you leftovers, roll them up in a sturdy veggie burrito, and simmer them in a sauce...then boom! Your leftovers have been reincarnated into something that looks like you did it on purpose. This is what I did for the last single cabbage roll.

Chicken Cabbage Rolls
yields a dozen cabbage rolls, plenty for two with leftovers
  • 1 young cabbage, quite small - or a regular-sized cabbage using only the more tender leaves in the middle
  • 1 lb shredded chicken meat (this was leftover from the chicken tacos I'd made the other night)
  • 1 cup onion, diced quite fine
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced quite fine
  • 1/4 cup fennel, shredded fine
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried dill
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed
This doesn't sound like a whole lot, but trust me, it'll be plenty! You're only using it to stuff things, and each roll won't take more than three tablespoons of filling safely. Then again, I had a rather small, young cabbage that I'd grown. These ingredients sound like a mishmash of leftovers. I have news for you: they were. This was a dish I'd thrown together without even thinking about the fact that it was the last meal I'd cook for my wonderful partner before we were separated then married.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix your chicken, diced veggies, and rice in one large bowl. Don't worry about seasoning this part, you'll season the broth vigorously. Meanwhile, bring to boil a medium sauce pot of salted water, and prepare the cabbage. You'll want the younger, more tender leaves so be sure to peel away the larger layers. Trim the hard stem part away, only an inch or two of it, with a paring knife. Using tweezers or your bare fingers - only if you haven't any feeling left in them anymore, like me - blanch your cabbage leaves for about 30 seconds per leaf, just enough to bring out the color and make it soft enough to roll. I suggest doing all the leaves at once so you can lay them flat on a warm plate, ready for rolling.

See? Nice and tight, like little cigars!
When ready, take a spoonful or two of your filling and smash it into a cigar shape. You'll roll by rolling up the bottom, just to cover, and then folding in the ends/sides, nice and tight, to look like an envelope. Roll it up firmly yet gently, almost like you're swaddling a baby bird, and then store them on another plate with the seam down. Repeat until you have no more filling!

Take your favorite dutch oven (I've got mine that I inherited from my great-grandmother) and get it nice and hot on the flame. Add a tablespoon of a neutral oil and let it heat. Once you're good and hot, sear the cabbage rolls, seam side down, to seal, and then on the other side to get some flavor. You will most-likely have to this in batches, but that's okay. Once everything's all seared, you'll reintroduce your cabbage rolls, arranged as tight as you can arrange them, to your pan. Pour in the beef stock, the tomato paste, dill, bay leaf, and whole smashed garlic. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and adjust seasoning. You want to make sure that your cabbage leaves are wholly covered. While you can keep it simmering on the stovetop, I like to use the oven.

Pop the lid on your dutch oven and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Traditionally, you serve this with lots of sour cream and fresh dill, maybe even some scallions if you're feeling fancy. We don't do dairy in the house, so we like Tofutti's sour cream substitute. The best part about this food is that you can set the pot on the table (with a pad underneath that hot pot, of course!) and serve straight out of the cooking dish. I also love that you can make these a day ahead and just heat up as needed, which - trust me - I did, all throughout the week of the wedding. Fortunately, I had my best friend and Maid of Honor Riley there to keep me sane while she lived with me for the week. Bless her.

Riley, you've saved my life so many times. Thank you so much for being my best friend.
So that's it! That's the delicious cabbage roll, that made a spark of interest on the #Foodiechats chat! Thanks so much for reading. If you try any of my recipes, subscribe to me and comment below on your results.

Thank you so much! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Anna's Oven - Americana, Searching for a Voice

"Beef Stroganoff"
I live near the 39th st/Volker district, and I love it. I love the diversity, I love the culture...I practically live on 39th street! I even have a credit at Prospero's Book store; they gave me $30 more on my store credit when I gave them my old espresso machine for their newly renovated upstairs! Across the street from Prospero's Book Store, however, is a quaint little bistro called Anna's Oven.

I know the Lead Cook/Chef there because he's got a dog that's about the size of mine. I spotted this gorgeous Great Pyrenees from across the street and went up to pet him; about five minutes later, I acknowledged the human that it was attached to, and we started chatting.

Thank you, Anna's Oven.com!
What really grabbed my attention at Anna's Oven was their commitment to charity. 50% of the profits this restaurant makes goes to the improvement of a girls' school in Kenya. I realize that there are many domestic problems, but part of being American is helping others, oddly. I know that sounds odd, but when your neighbor trips, you help them up, and that's a very American mentality, regardless of the certain Xenophobes in Congress. I finally was able to drag B here tonight and check it out.

Anna's is a small bistro with globally good intentions, but the staff running it is a bit cobbled together. This is not a bad thing! The lead cook, Victor, has been a Sommelier, a cheese monger, and a world traveller in his lifetime. He's been to France, Italy, and he and I always find something nice to chat about. He lives in the 39th street area, too, so I see him around a lot. It's just him and his apprentice in the tiny kitchen at Anna's, and they're really trying their best. They're even experimenting with more vegan options so they can better serve their clientele!

"King me."
Anna's has a really fun and eclectic environment. I think it's the perfect fit for 39th street, because it's a little bit funky, and it's a little bit home-y. The table that we sat at had a checker board built in, which chips in a tiny coffee cup to play! B crushed me, of course, but whatever, checkers isn't my game. I am more of a rummikubs kind of girl. What was really cool about the table was that the checks themselves were cut-outs of pop culture and paintings. We had fun recognizing the pictures, and chatting about it.

B got the chicken Pot Pie, which had a crazy flaky crust on top! It was poofed up like a big frosted cupcake, and I heard the audible crunch as he broke through it with the spoon. The flavor was good, but the inside itself was rather soup-y and thin. It was disappointing, and not the wonderful thick gravy that you would normally expect from something labeled chicken pot pie. When I spoke to Victor about it, he said it was made that day by the apprentice who was still learning; a forgivable offence, in my mind. I mean, hey--you remember being young and still learning! I think what people forget is that there are individuals cooking for them in restaurants. People are very hard on the cooks, who are often just trying their best. But I digress.

Good lord, that's a lot of pasta...
I got the Beef Stroganoff, which was oddly red-colored and not the traditional thick, white creamy mushroom sauce that we all know and love. It tasted a bit of tomato, probably to give it a different kind of kick, and was in need of seasoning...but it's, in my mind, not quite Beef Stroganoff. It was a good beef noodle dish, but I wouldn't call it Stroganoff. Beef Stroganoff is a very traditional comfort food that we have come to adopt and love here in the Americas, and we know how we like it. So it's a classic; what's wrong with keeping it a classic? In America, when you say "Beef Stroganoff", you have a vision in your head of what that should be. It's not red, and that unctuous mushroom flavor is very apparent. The noodles, however, were paper-thin, and while it was odd...it was good! They make their lasagna with it, which is really neat. I think the sauce could have been a little thicker, and more mushroom-y, but the flavors were really great. Again, though, I don't think I'd call it beef stroganoff.

When Victor and I first spoke, I told him I was a pastry chef and he asked for a few tips on creme brulee. I didn't want to give away all of my secrets, but I did give a tip or two...so when we came in tonight, we were brought out one of the lavender creme brulees. And it was good!!


They did a really great job of infusing the lavender, and the texture of the creme brulee was just perfect. It had come out of the oven not long before we arrived, so it was still a touch warm...but quite the perfect texture. The only trouble with having a still-warm creme brulee is that the heat often prevents the sugar from getting terribly crisp, or rather, staying terribly crisp. It was crisp to begin with, but as we ate it, it got a little soft from the residual heat. But, hey, I won't say no to a creme brulee! I can tell you that once it cools, it'll be a really good dish.
Anna's Oven on Urbanspoon
All in all? Though I think the menu itself is a bit all over the place, I still give Anna's a solid 7 out of 10. There are some technical flaws, probably things that only an anal-retentive foodie jerk like me would notice, but they're good people working for a good cause that are really trying their best. I will be back.

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.