Steve T. asks: When you go out to eat, are you always trying new dishes or do you stick with favorites?
Well ... hmmmm, truthfully, if I go to one of my regulars, 90% of the time I eat the same thing (or my "favorites" as you said). I go out to eat for comfort, and I hate choosing. I'm about the company, and I hate the painstaking process of looking through the menu. If a menu has more than two pages, I'll get frustrated and definitely go to a dish I know (this is one reason RowHouse has so few decisions to make).
I hate when you are meeting friends for dinner and are super anxious to greet each other and catch up, and then comes the, "oh, we better stop enjoying ourselves and look at the menu" line. If I like something, that is often the reason I go back. If I'm traveling, I always search for something new.
So, I eat favorites. At Tuptim Thai I always have the appetizer sampler and the Panang Curry with Tofu. At El Mezcal I always have queso, a Side of jalapenos and Number 6. At Quintons the Smokestack, or a bistro burger. At Celtic Fox, the Spicy Chicken Salad or the Shepard's Pie. At College Hill Tavern the Crab Rangoons, and a burger with a side salad. At Henry T's, the Street Taco's or the Asian Salad. At New City, I have the Plantains with guac and the beef. So, I'm a favorites orderer, and I usually suggest my favorites to whomever is with me.
Sarah C. asks: My grandmother is growing fennel. Do you have any suggestions on a great way to prepare it?
Well, Sarah ... fennel is my current favorite vegetable, so you will find it almost every month in some form or two on my menu. I love it raw or roasted and think it is perfect in soup. I like to treat it like an onion or celery, it is a dramatic base note. It is awesome raw in salads and salsas. It is a beautiful nuance in bases of soup. It is perfection roasted for twenty minutes in the oven with a bit of salt and oil (and a pinch of sugar ... the love). Again, I love when fennel gets a bit of char on it.
A couple of weeks ago on the menu we had a fennel, red onion, and cilantro slaw. I served it over fish. I also made the same ingredients as a salad for folks who couldn't have dairy.
I could name a million ways to use it, but mostly I would say if a dish has onion or celery, add or substitute (most often add) fennel. Maybe think of it as 1/2 the amount of the onion or celery. A lot of folks shy away from fennel out of uncertainty, but if they try it, I have found 99% of folks love it in the dish and think it tastes especially "fresh and alive."
Seriously, I am a Fennel Fanatic ... and I am a huge fan of celery as the star in
dishes as opposed to a base ... both have awesome texture, green flavors, and
work harmoniously with many, many different things.
Robert43 asks: What is an easy way to make roasted tomatoes?
Depends on the tomato, in my opinion. Grape tomatoes you can easily roast whole, anything larger and I like to cut it in half and roast it skin side down (tomatoes roasted and catching their own juice) or "confit" in fancy jargon).
Here's how I do it quick:
Set oven to 375 degrees
Toss your halved tomatoes in just enough oil to make them shiny (1/3 tablespoon oil). Add a good pinch of (don't be stingy) salt, a dash of sugar and a sprinkle of pepper. I usually add some chopped garlic (3 to 4 pieces) but not necessary.
Spread this onto a baking sheet, skin side down (use cooking spray or parchment paper) and roast in the oven for approximately 20 minutes. I like the edges of the tomatoes to start to blacken, so I'll often go to 25 minutes to get the char. If you don't like the black edges take them out in about 18 minutes.
A better, more patient way:
Set oven to 200 degrees
Do all of the above, but let the tomatoes cook for up to 4 hours. The taste is awesome, I just lack the patience, but if you've got the time, I'm telling you, slow roasting tomatoes ROCKS. Serve hot or cold, or keep in your warmer.
Kelly asks: When you grill at home, what do you like to cook, and do you have any secrets?
I grill, but I grill embarassingly simply. I'm a burger, dogs, and brats guy when I'm doing it at home, and usually after (and during beers). I think there are expert grillers, I love the people who casually can put together a slab of ribs and perfect porkchops.
What generally happens to me, is that I only take the time to grill when I'm having a party. Therefore, I get easily distracted, which inevitably means I over cook stuff ... luckily, also embarassing, I love the taste of char. Not too much, just a bit of black on things. All this is probably not what you're expecting to hear, but I'm a truth teller and I'm an "in the kitchen cook."
Grills facinate me, but once the grilling starts — the smells, the sizzles — I just want to relax and not think too hard.
Now if you asked me what I like most about other people's grilling it's a different story. I love ribs on the grill and ribeye on the grill. I love corn on the cobb from a grill, and onions off the grill make me swoon. I love someone who knows not to "play" with the food and someone who inherintly knows when to turn things over. (I personnaly, because of the libations, need a timer when grilling, but not when roasting ... weird).
I love someone who knows just the right amount of sauce to put on what they are grilling and I'll propose to anyone who makes a tasty, tangy, BBQ sauce of their own. A master of the dry rub on a grill is my hero. I also love when Bobby Flay makes pizzas on his grill — and I don't generally allow myself to say that in public — but I'll watch him do it, without blinking ... and I'll want to eat, I just won't want to do it
Grilling is about fun. Grilling is, well, an art.
Sarah asks: With Spring here, what produce are you excited about cooking with?
I am most excited for the herbs, but we still have a long wait for most of those. My chives, Thyme, and Parsley are starting to peek at me, so they will be first. Then of course, of love when the Rhubarb comes in, and of course asparagus is right there with it. Mostly I love the anticipation that spring gives us all, and the relief that we made it through another winter.
Janice W. asks: It seems like your menu almost always has a really interesting fish dish. How do you create such amazing seafood when you are so far from the ocean?
I have a great supplier and I use fish that I know they can provide me, we don't see a lot of exotic varieties on our menu, Halibut, Sea Bass, Mahi Mahi, and Salmon are the fish we use the most. There is a good supply, and I know the quality of the product I buy. The secret is in changing up sauces and sides. The fish is the base, but the rest is what makes the dish exciting.
Karen S. asks: I'm hosting a party later this month and was wondering if you would be willing to share a simple yet incredible appetizer with me?
Crostinis are super easy and yummy. Here's a basic. Slice a baguette and toast the slices, brushed with olive oil, for 10 minutes in your oven and then cool.
Whip cream cheese, or use spreadable cream cheese, and spoon that on the crostini. Top with pesto (cup herb, cup parmesan cheese, cup nuts, 2 tbs. olive oil, splash lemon juice, splash vinegar, pinch each sugar and salt, and 4 cloves garlic, whirred up in a food processor) or buy it. Top with a cherry tomato (roasted if you have time).
I also like to put out a few things I don't have to make, that not everyone has. Pickled veggies ... asparagus, okra, olives, pepperoncinis ... I toss feta cheese in with these.
Hummus is always a hit, (I do make mine always, but there are good ones at the store). Sam's has these new Pita Bites that look like Carr's Water Crackers, but are super inexpensive, and have the most yummiest crunch of any cracker I've had. Foccacia Bread Pizza also easy.
And I like to put out pasta dishes, which is more of a meal thing, but it always goes quick. (I roast whatever veggies I have on hand, with some chopped garlic and onion, oil, salt, pepper, sugar, and a dash or two of balsamic vinegar for 20 - 25 minutes at 375 degrees, cool and toss, liquid and all with pasta. Penne, and orzo both work great. Throw in some parmesan or feta for a little extra yum. Taste and season as you need.
Hope this helps.
Karen S. asks: Is there a guilty secret, something canned, something hokey in your arsenal of ingredients?
I liked this question so much it's on the front page of my website (http://rowhouserestaurant.net/). Here's what I said:
I was asked recently what some of my "cheats" in the kitchen were, meaning specifically what "go to" items I use straight off the shelf, or buy ready to serve. I thought and thought, and the two items I came up with didn't sound that exciting.
I 90% of the time use beans from the can, I'm just not patient enough to soak and wait. And I 90% of the time use stewed tomatoes, as opposed to stewing them myself. There you go, me exposed. I figure that's not so bad, but my dirty secret is out now.
I suppose my other biggest trick, is that I have go to "sure thing" recipes that I can manipulate and change many different ways, especially with baking. Probably a trick from my Mother, but as she would tell me "a cakes a cake, and a pies a pie, just put different stuff in them and bake, and taste it as you go."
Keep cooking easy, let the food be the flavor. That's how I cook.
Cheryl A. asks:"Your family seems pretty entrenched in the food/party business with your brother at The Celtic Fox, your sister at the Sixth Avenue Ballroom and you at RowHouse. Do you spend a lot of time talking about food when you get together?"
Greg: Hmmmm. We eat a lot when we are together, and we consume huge amounts of beer and margaritas, but it is very rarely that we discuss food. Occasionally my brothers and I will talk about the Celtic Fox, but not often, we keep our businesses very seperate, and my approach to running a place and theirs is very different. My sister works with me, helping with the accounting at RowHouse, so we see each other often, and talk work at work, and then not much after that.
I have one of those families where we all really get along well. and we love hanging out together. If we are together we are making each other laugh, and not talking about much of anything serious. I love that we all have similar businesses and that they all have their own sort of identities, and I love that we don't let it mix with the pleasure of each others companionship.
Charles asks: "You always have such wonderful salads, is there a secret to combining the right ingredients to make such a tasty dish?"
My philosophy on salad, and I LOVE SALADS, is you need something sweet, a little crunch, usually a cheese, and a green or two. I also always toss a fresh herb leaf in the mix as well (dill, cilantro, mint, basil). And, salads are best when they match the season. This is key. Add strawberries and blueberries in summer. Add pears, and apples in the fall. Fennel is lovely all the time. Arugula is my favorite (for now) green.
And you MUST MAKE YOUR OWN SALAD DRESSING!! MUST. It takes practice, but it is so worth it. I build on a very basic vinaigrette:
3 parts oil (I prefer light tasting olive oil)
1 part vinegar (I like them all)
3/4 part sweetning agent (sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
salt and sometimes but not always a bit of pepper
Wisk it together and dress your salad.
Great Creamy dressing
I often use the lowfat (not non-fat) ingredients:
1 part mayo
1 part sour cream
1/4 part vinegar
chopped fresh herb (love dill in creamy)
1/4 part sugar
salt, and again a bit of pepper is optional.
Both of these can be enhanced all over the place by changing the variety of vinegars, and changing herbs. A big salad dressing faux paux is don't overuse any dried herbs.
Karl Bacon asks: "I read that you are looking for a new Sous Chef. What qualifications and qualities does a person have to have to land a job like that?"
A sous chef Ideally has experience in a kitchen, and it is helpful to have gone through a culinary program. Sous Chef's basically carry out the Chef's menu. They often times run the kitchen line (the cooking) during service. They are responsible for specials, and much prep work. Mostly they are there to take some of the load off the Chef. Great Food Knowledge. Exceptional Cooking Skills. Ability to lead and handle other employees. Capable of adding their Culinary "mark" on the menu.
At RowHouse this is the person I personnally interact with and rely on the most, so I have to generally like them a lot, cause we spend hours each day together and are constantly exchanging ideas. I work with calm, organized types. I don't have any tolerance for tardiness, laziness or tempers, and any one who has joined us, generally chooses to leave for themselves if they don't fit into our standards.