Hello! We're happy to have you!

Showing posts with label American Cuisine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Cuisine. Show all posts

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Favorite Apple Pie


My Absolute Favorite Spiced Apple Pie

Favorite Pie Crust

  • 10.5 oz all-purpose flour
  • 6 oz solid fat
    • Chilled butter, vegan butter substitute, cold lard, or cold coconut oil do just fine!
  • 2 oz granulated sugar
  • Vodka, as needed

Apple filling

  • 6 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp grand marnier
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 1/8 tsp freshly-ground Chinese Long Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground ancho chili powder
  • 9 small apples or 5 medium ones, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 oz all-purpose flour
To make the pie crust, simply combine your dry ingredients with a fork and rub the fat into the flour with your fingers. Add in some vodka until it's just moist...and mix together! How should you mix this all together, you ask? Well, lucky for you, I've discovered the joys of IGTV:

Isn't that great? I can do tutorials without having to get a youtube channel. 

Simply wrap and chill this dough for at least 30 minutes while you prepare your filling. All you really have to do is combine all the ingredients, except for the flour, toss well, and cover. Let this sit for the same amount of time you're letting your dough rest so the flavors can meld and mesh together. I like to let it all rest on the counter instead of the fridge because you tend to get a lot more juice out! A proper pie has a good dance of moisture and juicy filling, but we don't want to make our crust too soggy. When we can control the amount of moisture in our pie, we're going to have a good time.

When it comes to rolling out your dough, I prefer not to dirty up my counter with tons of excess flour, but to roll it out between two well-greased sheets of parchment paper. I do this for many reasons, but the main reason is that I don't want to mess with my perfectly-crafted ratio of fat-to-flour. After all, if we're going to be exact with our measurements, why screw it all up with more flour when rolling out? The other reason to do it this way is for easy clean-up. Simply give your counter a quick wipe and throw the parchment paper away! All you need is a good rolling pin, a good arm, and plenty of pan-spray to make this perfect. Even better, you can use the parchment paper to help you flip your flat dough into your pie dish. 

I love this glass pie dish because I can see the bottom, and therefore see when things are cooked or not. Glass is excellent at conducting heat, so for me, it is the ideal baking dish. All that must happen now is you gently line your pie dish with your dough and let it chill before adding the filling. I also like to let it chill before I trim it so that the dough has plenty of time to relax. This way, you can let any glutens that may have accidentally developed relax away. 

Your pie filling should have become quite juicy at this point, so now's the time to add your flour! You may need more than 1 oz, depending on how much juice has come out, but definitely don't use less than this amount. So long as the mixture has thickened slightly with the amount of flour but is still liquid, you should be safe. Add your flour, mix well, and fill your pie! 

Use your rolling pin to roll out a top crust and very gently let it fall over the top of the apples. You should have a nice high pile, which is exactly what you want! Don't stretch your pie dough too much, but be sure to let it sit atop your fruit for about 5 minutes before you crimp all the edges. Once the edges are crimped, with either your fingers or your fork, let it chill in the fridge until your oven comes up to 350 degrees F. Be sure to also cut some vent slits in the top. Get decorative at this point, if you like!

Line a sheet pan with tin foil and set your baking rack to the lowest possible setting so that the bottom of the pie tin is close to the bottom of the oven. Bake your pie on the lowest rack for 45 - 55 minutes, or until the crust is golden-brown and your pie filling is bubbling slightly out of the vent slits. 

This next bit is the tricky bit, but it's absolutely essential. You have to - and I'm not making this up - wait to cut open that pie for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight. 

I know, I know! It's apple pie! What is better than apple pie fresh from the oven??? Well, how about an apple pie that stays together and won't flood out into a big juicy, sticky mess, that sogs up your bottom like no other? It's imperative that you let the apples do their thing and let the pectin rest. You must do this, so when you warm up the pie again, by the slice, it'll actually stay gelled together. Apple pie really is quite easy, but the real secret ingredient is time, and time well spent. 

While we're waiting, would you like to learn a thing or two about apples? 

We've all heard that phrase "as American as apple pie", but what if I were to tell you that apples themselves were not native to America? They are, in fact, native to central Asia, and have come to Europe by way of the Silk Road, which is the same trade route that gave Italy noodles, which would eventually evolve into the modern pasta we know today.  Apples were then planted in Europe, and then were brough to the American colonies by - you guessed it - colonizers. So, really...nothing is more American than apple pie, because apples - like most of us - are immigrants that have taken hold of the land and changed it forever!

People loved apples because they're delicious, but more importantly they are incredibly prolific. They do not self-pollinate like peach or plum trees (also from central Asia), but need a partner tree to be next to in order to produce. Once they do, however, they'll give more fruit than you could likely know what to do with! I'm specifically and explicitly forbidden to have a pair of apple trees in my own garden because my husband's childhood was "ruined every late summer" because he, his brother, his sister, and his mother all had to stop everything and process every single apple into apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie, apple dumplings, and more. Now, if you ask, "why not just let the animals have it?" Well, dear friend...

Apples are naturally high in sugar. When sugar meets water, it's going to begin to chemically change, especially with time and the right bacteria. Long story short, they ferment. When you get a squirrel or a deer biting into a fermented apple and drunkenly stagger around your yard, it's likely going to be quite comical. When you get a bunch of butterflies, bees, and hornets flying around drunk, it immediately becomes less fun. Apparently, hornets are like yours truly when they've had one too many - they'll fight anything. 

Apples on the ground are not bad or rotten. In fact, apple trees are exceedingly clever in that they will tell you when an apple is perfectly ripe and ready for eating by letting them fall to the ground with only the slightest breeze to invite you to eat them. So long as they don't have a big bite out of them from a squirrel or bug, it's best to just gather them from the ground. You can store them in the cellar, if you have one, just as they are, in crates. Please keep paper between the layers, however, as they do better this way. I hear that they hold the best when not touching directly, and each apple is individually wrapped with tissue paper. This is the reason we have wax on our apples, you see. When apples touch, skin-to-skin, they'll begin to ripen and ferment. They say you should wash off the wax before you eat them, but I've eaten apples with wax on the skin for years and nothing's happened to me yet. 

You can, of course, make this all into apple butter, or freeze the processed slices in bags. You can make candy apples. You can make it into applesauce, which - by the way - magically replaces eggs in a cake if you are in a pinch and can't go to the grocery store right that moment. You can do all sorts of things! The point is that you must absolutely know that you love apples, that you'll never get sick of apples, and that you have neighbors that love apples before you get yourself a pair of trees. That, and you have an excellent apple pie recipe in your back pocket. 

Serve this pie with ice cream, if you like, but I like it on its own with some good coffee. 

I hope you've enjoyed learning about apples, the history thereof, and the silk road. 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:
Follow me on instagram!
  • 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!

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.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange

For the second year in a row, Chef Howard Hannah has been nominated for the coveted James Beard Award, the "Oscars for Chefs", according to our local news anchors. (I honestly don't like that term, but it's been coined, so whatever...) In company with Chefs Patrick Ryan, Nick Wesemann, and the Gerrelts, Chef Hannah is one of the finest Chefs in the America, in this humble blogger's opinion, for one reason: he. just. cooks.

I was having a conversation with a coworker the other day and we agreed that the best part about Chef Hannah's work is that he just cooks; no fuss, no frills, just honest-to-God cooks. He respects the ingredients, is all about nose-to-tail cooking, and just...cooks! He uses every part of the animal. When I was in Culinary school, I went there on a class field trip of sorts and he showed us his pig ear terrine. 

"It barely sells, but I like it, so I keep it around," said Hannah. I remember it, still, so clearly, those years ago.

Rabbit Liver Crostini
I loved his laid-back attitude about everything. So I was really excited to drag my boyfriend there for a Saturday night dinner. I should have known better than to just walk in and not call ahead, but it was a sort of spur-of-the-moment thing, so we just sat at a table in the bar. I had looked ahead at the menu, though, on Foursquare and immediately wanted a rabbit liver crostini appetizer. B got the winter greens salad. The whole menu was American-French in style; American ingredients with classical French techniques, it seemed.

I didn't take a picture of the salad because I was nearly blinded by the flash of my camera. One thing about the Reiger: it's dark. I mean DARK. It wasn't just "ooh, this is nice and relaxing and so intimate dark"; This was "I can barely see the plate in front of me" dark. Maybe it would have been better in the dining room, but come on.

I get that you're supposed to have a fancy restaurant with dim lighting to make it feel more intimate...but honestly if I hadn't used the flash on both the crostinis and the sweetbreads, I wouldn't have been able to even see my food, which is a shame: the food is beautiful! I just want to see my beautiful food! Even just the tiniest little nudge on that dimmer would have made a difference; just enough to see the food without getting blinded by the flash of the camera. Sure, sure, I don't have to take pictures of the food...but, in my defense, if I didn't, I would have barely any idea what's what. 

Then again, on another note, there are restaurants that are completely dark, totally blind, that you have to be guided in by your blind server to your seat. You eat completely in the dark and are completely encapsulated by every other sense, which opens up since your eyes can't. You enjoy the food more. You experience the food more. But I don't know if that's what was going on here.

Anyway, the rabbit liver crostinis were absolutely delicious. Honestly, I could have made a meal out of the entire thing. Just give me a tub of rabbit livers and a crust of bread and call me a happy girl. I just love liver. I think that it's a fantastic little morsel and the fact that chefs are turning their attention to these fantastic little morsels is one of the best things that could have happened to this modern age. People are thinking about food, now, in ways that we haven't in years. We show respect to the animal by using all of the parts, by enjoying all of the parts...nothing goes to waste, which is what 'nose-to-tail' cooking is all about.

Sweetbreads with grits and butternut squash
I got the sweetbreads, since I knew that if anyone would show them the proper technique and work, Howard Hannah would. B(who has never even heard of what sweetbreads could possibly be) took a bite and loved it. The hominy grit that it came with was so filling and creamy that I barely finished my proteins...my own fault, of course, since I loved it so much that's mostly what I ate. And the butternut squash was perfectly roasted. I loved the flavor of the sweetbreads, but I almost wish that it didn't have the breading on it...I almost wished that it was just simply pan-seared with some sweet cream butter with a little salt, not a layer of breading all around it to make it appetizing for the less-adventurous diner. Maybe I'm picking at it too much? Oh well, it's what I remember thinking.
The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange on UrbanspoonB's flatiron steak was so tender he didn't need a fork. I offered to take a picture of it so he could see what it looked like, but he laughed and said no. We were both so full by the time we left that we were practically hobbling to the car. I really should have worn my "fat" jeans.

All in all, I loved it. Amazing, simple, non-pretentious food that's not trying to do anything 'special', necessarily...they're just respecting the food, the ingredient. The servers there know a lot about the food and the respect and love that Chef Hannah puts into every bite, and it shows.

So, yes. Great service, great food. Don't make the mistake of not wearing the fat-pants, though. You'll thank me when you walk to the car.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Stroud's - An All-American Comfort Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Development of American Cuisine

Disclaimer: This is my Final essay for my English Composition class in college. Yes, Culinary school is work. Good news is, though, that I got a 60/60 for it, giving me a perfect 100% in the class. Yay me! (PS this isn't just to gloat. This is to put those Thinking caps on for some of you and perhaps help you figure out your own definition of American cuisine!)

The Development of American Cuisine

The development of American Cuisine has spanned over centuries of cultures colliding, melting together, and trying to define if there is a Cuisine out there that is truly American. North America as a nation – specifically the United States of America – has only a handful of things that truly belong to the homeland, versus the things it has acquired via immigrants and trade. The only thing that is truly American when it comes to cuisine is that it is simply a melting pot of cultures and, therefore, a melting pot of cuisines.
When one thinks of American cuisine, they think of things such as burgers and fries, or pizza, or ice cream, or soda. Hot dogs are things we think of when we think of American cuisine, and we also think of steak or mashed potatoes. Certain dishes are associated with American home classics might be lobster thermidor, pot roast, chili, macaroni and cheese, roast beef, turkey dinner, honey-glazed ham, chicken soup… the list goes on and on. One could argue that each one of those things can be traced back to its original homelands(France for lobster thermidor), but these things are American because of a few fundamental reasons, such as why they were made and how.
Hot dogs, burgers, pot roast…everything about American cuisine has been about ingenuity in some form or another. Hot dogs are emulsified sausages that are made by utilizing all parts of the animal you wouldn’t normally use. Pot roast is a simple slow-cooking method used by the New Englanders for years when they landed on Plymoth Rock. Macaroni and cheese, however, was something that’s almost truly American, being something that was served at the White House by Thomas Jefferson in the 1800s, who had his own ‘macaroni crank’ in his home.
American food isn’t something that the rest of the world necessarily holds in high regard. It is often seen as fatty and without any discipline or real technique. Nowadays, some would consider American Chefs to be up-and-comers in the Culinary world. With organizations such as the American Culinary Federation(ACF) in tow, American cuisine is gaining more and more reputability by the day.
Developing and understanding of American cuisine is very much like finding all the pieces of a puzzle that your cat knocked off the coffee table, with the box bursting wide open. One almost has to assemble the puzzle itself before being able to figure out if all the pieces are there. Every piece, though different, is equally important when trying to create a whole understanding of what the picture is.
The James Beard Foundation hosts an annual event called Taste America. It is a “national celebration of food, the arts of the table, and American cuisine.”(www.jbftasteamerica.com) In 2008, Las Vegas hosted the event in such hotels as the MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace, The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino, and more. There were over 100 Chefs at the event, as well as food critics, cookbook authors, et cetera, all to celebrate American cuisine. At the event, foods from these Chefs are served and judged, and only the best receive the illustrious James Beard Award. In 2007, Taste America was celebrated across 20 cities in the US.
The Chefs at this, and all other Taste America events, are an eclectic bunch that is considered to be, of course, some of the finest Chefs in the United States. They hail from Southern Arizona to the Pacific Northwest, from the California coast to New England. With all these Chefs who had studied in America and who-knows-where-else, one had to wonder if they were the authorities on what American cuisine was. After all, a Chef is a master of his/her own domain, and with that knowledge that comes with being a Chef, surely there must come knowledge of what American cuisine is – and each one of them said something different.
In 2007, the James Beard Foundation surveyed Americans on their Taste America Events website(www.jbftasteamerica.com) if they thought there really was such a thing as American cuisine. The results came in, and 90.8% answered Yes, with 9.2% saying No. The Taste America team also found that the speakers at the various foundations had their own things to say on what they thought American cuisine was. One speaker in Charlotte was Laura Shapiro, a woman who had extensively written and researched about the food industry and the way we cook and eat. She noted how the period between the 1950s thru the 1960s was a period which gave birth to the string bean casserole, and how it is crucial to American cuisine:
“It’s not our best cooking and certainly not our only cooking, but it is the most American cooking there is, and that’s the stuff we invented after WWII. I think that the American dish is string bean casserole that you make with frozen string beans, canned mushroom soup, and French fried onion rings on top. It’s entirely artificial and we invented it,” quotes Shapiro.
While this accomplishment is not entirely flattering, American cuisine has never been held in high regard until fairly recently, as Chefs across America are trying their best to teach Americans how to cook and eat. We must keep in mind, however, that this revolution of food and eating – catapulted by such talents as Julia Child and the Food Network – is something that’s developed solely within the last 30 years. Before that, American cuisine was something laughable. Even though we Americans have been cooking for centuries, there are few that find American cuisine to be anything but appetizing.
Isadora Duncan, a famous Russian ballerina, quoted “I would rather live in Russia on black bread and Vodka than in the United States at the best hotels. America knows nothing of food, love or art.” 
Henry Miller, the famous American writer, quoted “You can travel fifty thousand miles in America without once tasting a piece of good bread.” He also said “Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup, mustard, chili sauce, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavor of the dish.”
The favorite quote, however, comes from American author Mark Twain, a man who always had an interesting perspective on life. It is not so much a quote on how American cuisine is laughable, but more a quote on the lifestyle of the American eater versus the European eater. He said: “A man accustomed to American food and American domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe, but I think he would gradually waste away, and eventually die.” What does this mean?
In Europe, almost nothing is processed the way it is in America. Good bread is served at nearly every meal, and the portions are much, much smaller. The European lifestyle also differs from American in the way that public transport, biking, and walking are often preferred ways of getting around versus automobiles. All in all, American lifestyle isn’t as healthy as it could be – and it is often reflected in our foods. But what is American food?
Going back to the topic of surveys by the James Beard Foundation, the question of how American cuisine was defined came into play. In the survey, 34.2% of the participants defined American cuisine as “regional”(The James Beard Foundation Taste America 2007 survey). This makes sense, because American is a very large country, and its cuisine varies greatly from region to region, depending on lifestyle, geography, and resource availability. This explains the other 16.2% of the participants that used the word “culture” to define American cuisine.
This, truthfully, doesn’t make much sense since food and culture goes hand in hand, and the term “culture” is entirely too subjective of a term to be used as a definition with anything. Food is a part of any culture, and not solely American. It is the opinion of the author that this just contributes to the fact that many Americans can sometimes be illiterate and uneducated, and can sometimes be just as ambiguous as can be.
In continuing on, 9% of the survey participants said “comfort” was a word that came to mind when American cuisine was put into play. Comfort food plays a huge part in what it means to be American cuisine. So what is comforting? That warm, fuzzy feeling when Mom pulls something out of the oven – the sense memory that takes one back to a simpler time.
A survey participant quoted “When I bite into a juicy cob of sweet corn grown from my parents’ farm in West Central, Minnesota, I taste America. The corn is home-grown and home-cooked by a farmer who provides food to our country.” Another survey participant quotes “American cuisine is the fast, easy, and common. The cereal, milk, and orange juice in the morning, the peanut butter and jelly for lunch, and the hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken and apple pie for dinner. These are American, and are associated with America.”
In the survey, participants were also asked to list five iconic foods that were quintessentially American. The results were as follows.

Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers
Fried Chicken
Mac’ n’ Cheese
Apple Pie
Source: The James Beard Foundation’s Taste America Survey 2007

While all of these things can be prepared in about a thousand different ways depending on the region, these are the things that are considered to be quintessential American cuisine. American cuisine – while still technically undefinable – is something that isn’t static. American cuisine is Mom’s cooking. American cuisine is regional and adapted from many different cultures. American cuisine is comforting and wholesome. It is the meat-and-potatoes type of food that we’ve had since we began this wonderful country.
James Beard himself said “We have a great tradition of home cooking and restaurant cooking that spans three centuries. We are now, I hope, in a new epoch of gastronomic excellence that, with a liberal seasoning of common sense, will draw on the best of old American cookery as well as on the technological advances of the new.”(“’American Cooking’”, 311) It is with this quote in mind that we can begin to push forward and truly pioneer what American cuisine is and can become in the coming years.

1.       “State of American Cuisine”, Mitchell Davis, Anne McBride, James Beard Foundation; July 2008
2.       “Trying to Define American Cuisine,” Chef John Mitzewich,
3.       “American is the New Ethnic”, Gigabiting, Open.Salon.com; December 12, 2011
4.       “The New American Food Culture.”, John Ikerd, Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri, 2005
5.       500 Years of Food, KeyIngredients.org
6.       “Guns, Germs, and Steel”; http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/