Carol asks RowHouse owner/chef Greg Fox: We always love eating at RowHouse and every time we have guests in from out of town we take them there. Any other local places you'd recommend?
Greg: On the RowHouse website I have lots of recommendations, both local and out of town and have links to most of them if you click on the restaurant name. I have many favorites so I keep updating the list. My favorite places to eat in Topeka, and I'm not saying they are the most daring of restaurants, but they are my repeats: El Mezcal on Topeka Bpulevard, Tuptim Thai on S.W. 29th St., Quinton's in Gage Center, and Oriental Express on S.W. 37th St.
These places offer me what I like to eat on a quick normal day. Comfort foods in my book. That said, I think Topeka has a lot more options than it is given credit for. I also think people tend to judge independent restaurants more harshly than others and are quick to write them off.
The magic with independent restaurants is that they don't follow a formula and things don't always come out the exact same way each time because they are not coming from a corporate kitchen. I can name many that I like: Celtic Fox, Lupita's, The Globe, New City Café, Juli's, Chez Yasu, Blind Tiger, Blue Planet, The Burger Stand, Henry T's and Pepe and Chelas.
There are many others, we just have to remember to support them. I'd also love to hear of any of your favorites if I missed any.
Lynda asks RowHouse owner/chef Greg Fox: I love the fall because it seems like such a great time for soup. Do you have a secret/awesome/yummy soup recipe you can share?
Greg: This is my most requested Tomato Dill Soup Recipe, and the easy version using canned tomatoes.
Tomato Dill Soup
1 can stewed tomatoes, pureed
2-3 green onions, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks of celery, diced small
1/4 stick salted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp dried dill
Pinch each coarse kosher salt and sugar
In sauce pan over medium high heat, get your pan hot then add butter. It should sizzle, but not burn, so not crazy hot.
Melt butter. Add green onions, garlic, and celery, stir for 1 minute. Add salt and sugar. Stir for another minute. Add pureed tomatoes. Add cream. Whisk to combine. Lower heat, and simmer until it's as hot as you like to eat it. Enjoy.
I can't stress enough that this recipe is as easy as it sounds and it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to complete. The vegetables need to stay crunchy.
Jake J. asks RowHouse owner/chef Greg Fox: Is there a secret to making really good mashed potatoes . I've had some with bacon in them, but was wondering if you had any great ideas for this tater addict?
Greg: Mashed potatoes … hmmmm. It's a bigger subject than you think and it's very personal. You have to start with the right potato for what you like. I prefer potatoes with texture like Russets, reds or new potatoes, but if you want really creamy potatoes, you need Yukon golds.
It's also important to keep an eye on them after they start boiling. Don't just boil them for hours until they are mush. At 10 minutes, check to see if they mash with a fork, then check again after a couple minutes. Lots of people boil potatoes way too long. Also after boiling, I add butter first, then sour cream, then cream … this way I have more control over them not getting soupy. You also need to add YOUR amount of salt, and in my world, I only use coarse kosher salt.
All the extras go in after you have your base mashed potatoes, Like roasted garlic, bacon, cheese and the like. I hope that helps.
What drinks do you like best in the summer?
I'm a beer drinker — not just beer — but I do love beer. My favorite summer cocktail is, and this may sound complicated, but I make grapefruit sorbet, put it in glass with vodka, and bit of cranberry juice. It’s basically a jazzed up seabreeze. Margaritas are always tops on my list.
What tips do you have for matching your drink with your meal — tips you might share with your customers?
I'd be lying if I told you my favorite drink with food is something other than beer — yea, even over wine. I love the texture of beer. I love how it cools hot flavors and doesn't interfere with taste — well unless I've had too many.
I like to drink wine with food but don't get too uptight about it. I follow some of the “rules” but not many. I drink wines I like. I don't particularly think white wine works with red meat, but if that's what you like, that's what you should do. If I'm drinking two different wines within the course of a dinner, I always go with the lighter (not necessarily whiter) wine first, because the bigger wines do take over, and I can't go from big red to little red — at least not and taste anything.
A bit of a secret: My favorite summer wine, is a traditional French Pink, lovely, dry, clean and crisp, with just hints of fruit and perfect before eating with barbecue or anything fun. It's a tough sell though. White zin has stolen the color and squashed people’s willingness to try pink wine.
JJ W. asked: “Hey Greg, I was wondering after reading your blog on brats, do you have any surefire grilling ideas that would impress my girlfriend ... or even my wife?! Something easy that will make me look like THE MAN! If you answer, thanks. Holla back!”
I think whole grilled veggies on the grill are impressive — meat isn't the only choice. Try brushing olive oil on halved zucchini, then salt, pepper and sugar. Or try big sliced grilled onions, even a whole pepper grills beautifully, and the charring makes it rustic. Other fav veggies on the grill: asparagus, squash, shrooms on a skewer.
And for my fave meat (well fave as far as not so usual), I love to put on a rack of New Zealand lamb chops. You can usually find them this time of year. Simply marinate in balsamic vinegar, a bit of salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. Then grill. Yum. Buttery, easy to eat and delicious.
Rebecca asked via e-mail: During hot, summer months, what are some good, easy meals to fix at home?
Many people know I am a salad nut! And I mean Meal type salads. Start with the basics, some good greens, slivered onions, cheese, and a homemade viniagrette, then add some substance, like cous cous, or black beans, or chicken, or fish. It's great to toss big pieces of a torn baguette into a salad as well. The additions add bulk to fill me up, and all of it is quick and light. The key is a homemade dressing. One part vinegar, 3 parts oil, 1/2 part sugar, pinch salt. I also always toss my ingredients together with the dressing.
Other favorites for me are Roasted veggies and pasta, hot or cold. I love to make my own Hummus, and eat it as a sandwich with cucumber slices, and swiss, plus a bit of viniagrette.
I'll cook rice and pasta for the week and keep it in the fridge till ready to use, which is great for a quick stir fry, or stir fried rice (veggies and egg)
We eat lots of sandwiches, which can be boring, but it's light and cold.
Having some quality frozen fish filets in the freezer, can be thawed and either roasted or quick seared and paired with couscous for a quick elegant dinner. Just add a veg.
Which reminds me, an awesome item to keep in the pantry for quick fix is couscous. It cooks in no time, just pour hot water over and cover, ready in under 8 minutes. It can be plain, or dress it up with things you put in a salad. It's great as a side dish, or I eat it as the main event for lunch. I just add veggies on hand, green onions, peppers, parm cheese, then toss it like a salad in a quick vinaigrette. Frozen peas or canned corn are fine quick additions.
Think light, quick, and cool for summer menus, and always remember a sorbet from the store with some fresh berries served in a wine glass is an awesome elegant dessert.
Lauren asks RowHouse owner/chef Greg Fox: If you could only have three spices in your kitchen, what would you choose and why would you choose them?
Greg: Is this a trick question? I am hoping you are not counting salt, sugar and pepper. If you are, those are my three. I always use coarse kosher salt. I like a pinch of pure cane sugar in most things. Pepper — restaurant grind or fresh ground — I can take or leave, but if I only get three, pepper would have to be the third. Why? These three bring out the ingredients but don't color or cover them. I find many people over season with specialty spices. The ingredients are the star in my book. Many people feel that the spice is.
Now, if those three are a gimme, I would say my next favorites are, and again I'm assuming you are talking dried spices: dill, cumin and red pepper. They are my three favorites, and if I could get a forth, my current infatuation is with celery seed. I don't know why, but I'm putting celery seed in almost everything. I like dill for it's simpleness. It's a background flavor and so subtle, especially with anything creamy or tomatoey. Cumin and chili are perfect partners. Zip and nuance, but not too much of either. Celery seed is again subtle and different. it adds a earthy freshness without overpowering anything.
Katy asks: We had an amazing Asiago Cheese Risotto at RowHouse recently, what is the secret to making a tasty risotto? Is there a way to make it quickly?
Greg: Risotto is delicious, but it takes time. I don't know a way around that, but I can tell you to cook it ahead of time, even a day or two and then finish it in just a minute with a little stock and the remaining ingredients.
When I make risotto I always feel like I'm having to work real hard, the steam is in my face and I'm tired of stirring, but then I taste it and I forget how much effort went into it.
Try this: Oil in a hot saucepan, just covering the bottom. Medium high heat. Stir in onions and garlic. Cook 1 minute. Stir in the Arborio rice (risotto) until rice is coated with the oil in the pan. Add 1/2 cup white wine. Stir until liquid is nearly gone. Add stock 1/2 cup at a time, and keep stirring. When risotto is al dente, (just about soft) remove from heat and stir in other ingredients such as cheeses and/or roasted veggies and make sure to season to your liking with coarse kosher salt and a pinch of sugar.
Put aside in the fridge until serving. Keeps a couple days max. When you are ready to eat. Put a saute pan over medium high heat, add 1/4 cup stock. Add cooked risotto and stir until creamy. Add any greens to finish, maybe a pinch of salt. Taste and serve it up. (3 minutes)
Karen K. asks: I absolutely love the holidays but am tired of the same old side dishes — green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and such. You always have such wonderful sides at RowHouse and I'm wondering if you have a great holiday side dish idea I haven't thought of?
Greg: Sorry I missed the holidays with this one, but I am with you 100 percent. The Thanksgiving "casserole" extravaganza is no bueno for me. Not that I don't love them, but the bird is so beautiful when it comes out of the oven and everybody hacks it down and takes it apart to keep in the warmer, then serves it with the same side dishes we've seen for so long that are all the same color.
I love green bean casserole, but why not simple blanched and sauteed string beans. Same with Sauteed Carrots in butter. Or Butter Braised Red Cabbage. I'm a big fan of Roasted Brussels Sprouts … cut them up, toss with enough oil to coat, big pinch of salt, and roast for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.
Instead of stuffing this year I made a Roasted Pumpkin and Fennel Couscous with pistachios. It was the big hit of our table.
I know the casseroles are convenient, but sometimes simple is better, and much less filling. I hope this helps. I also like to mash beets and or yams and do them up like mashed potatoes, no brown sugar or marshmallows. Delicious and so pretty.
Maury62 asks: What is the secret of cooking with wine? I'm never sure I am doing it right.
Don't go too cheap, but not too expensive. You shouldn't in my opinion, cook with a wine you don't want to drink. That way you can have a glass while you are cooking. The wine has to be reduced, otherwise all you tend to taste is the alcohol. I also add a pinch of sugar to dishes in which I use wine.
Start with the wine in a warm pan over medium high heat, add garlic, and onion if you wish, and let this bubble till the pan is nearly dry. Then whisk in butter or oil, and whatever else you are making.
Getting the wine concentrated first is the big step. Many people add the wine at the end which is not the best way because it doesn't cook down. Patience and practice.