Erika asks: "Do you have any great kitchen gift ideas for Christmas?"
It is my opinion that anyone who really loves to cook, loves a new cookbook and or a magazine subscription. I've recommended a few current favorites of mine on our website this week. I love to buy, give, and receive cookbooks that are visually stunning. Filled with pictures and able to be left around the house. I also love cookbooks that combine stories with the recipes, but still heavy on pictures. Magazines like Savour, Food and Wine, Cooking Light, and my new favorite, Clean Eating are also interesting gifts.
As far as gadgets ... most cooks have what they need, but if they don't: KitchenAid stand mixers are a great gift. A lot of little gadgets are too cook specific, and a lot of souvenir items just end up going in the cabinets unused like shaped pastas and prepacked dry bean soups in a decorator bottle.
Simple things that are useful: veg peeler, spatulas, wooden spoons, wisks, bottle of wine with a new bottle opener, zester. All things that are useful and great to have more than one of.
Or, how about a gift certificate to a great restaurant?
Hope this helps! Happy holidays!
Karen wants to know: "What's your favorite thing about RowHouse restaurant?"
How do I answer that when I fashioned RowHouse out of all my favorite things. I really needed a place where each day I wanted to come to work, and to do that I had to make a place where all my staff really wanted to come into work. I've learned from places I worked and Places I've eaten. Favorite things are, Staff meal - each night all of us sit down and have a meal before we open, discuss the evening, shoot the breeze, laugh, eat, taste wine ... it's our family time. I love that we don't take more tables than we can handle and that we know when to say no. I love that the menu changes constantly which provides a lot of stimulation for myself, our guests, and the staff. I love my garden outback. I love that we are "off-downtown". I adore the building, I completely fell in love with the space the minute I walked in, and trust me, it looked nothing like it looks today. I love that we are in Topeka.
I know you asked for my one favorite, but I have so many more, and yes there are days when things don't go well, and I get to stressed, and the staff has me crazy, and the house needs repairs, and the garden is too weedy and dry, but at the end of the day, I love this place.
Anthony C. asks: "Who would you love to have dinner with?"
I don't know whether to answer sentimentally, intellegently, philosophically, or like a chef/owner of a restaurant would be expected to answer. Wow. So, I'm gonna cheat and break it down.
Sentimentally: I'd love to have a meal with my Mother who passed when I was 15. She inspired my life, and inspired my cooking, it would be magical to "check-in" with her, visit, and get some feedback.
Intelligently: I'd like to both prepare the meal, and sit down with President Obama. I'd like to assess him on a personal level and see what it feels like to be in his presence. I would love to know if his charm and charisma would win me at close range, and I'd like to be able to breath his air, and decide if I believed in him or thought him a total politician.
Philisophically: I'm not smart enough to even think of something intelligent to put here.
Expectedly as a Chef/Owner: I would flip to meet and dine with Julia Child, but if I had to choose someone alive ... it would be some of my personal favorite chefs who influenced me ... Chef Greg Kernodle, Chef Margot McCormick, Chef Sylvia Harrelson, Chef Sarabeth Levine. They changed my life with their cooking ... and I'd do the dishes.
David Colson asks: "There seems to be a trend with designer burger places. Have you ever put an upscale burger on the menu at RowHouse?"
Designer burgers do seem to be a current trend in these parts, I don't know that it's new, but it is making its appearance here now. I'm actually all about just a good simple burger, and I love the burgers at College Hill Tavern and Celtic Fox. I think quality meat, great buns, and fresh toppings are always gonna rule. But I admit I frequent the new Burgers at Quintons, and love the Bistro Burger.
I don't forsee a burger on the RowHouse menu. Limiting our entree choices to 3, one being vegetarian, doesn't leave a lot of room for a burger, but I never say never, and I've been dying to do a great meatloaf, so who knows.
Gary R. asks: My daughter (age 21) has finally decided to learn to cook. I am looking for a beginners' basic cookbook. Can you help?
My bible of cooking, is "The Joy of Cooking." It has 95% of everything I have ever looked for in it, and I have yet to have a recipe fail to deliver quality results. Another favorite is the "Annual Recipes" collection from Cooking Light magazine. It is filled with simple, easy to follow, healthful and delicious recipes. And I do love Julia Child's infamous "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," it reads like a book, but I don't always find the recipes easy or great for beginners.
Marta wants to know: What is your favorite music to cook by?
I love to listen to Old school Italian when I cook, and drink wine (together and when I'm alone is my very favorite). Dean Martin does it for me.
Carol wants to know: I am thinking about cooking a risotto for a dinner party with about 20 guests. Is there a way to hold risotto and still maintain it's integrity when serving?
The best way is to cook the risotto to a tiny bit more firm than how you wish to serve it. Then, keep it in refrigerator. When ready to serve for dinner, start your sauté pan with some stock, simmer, then start stirring in the risotto, adding stock till absorbed. Takes 5-6 minutes max.
I suggest you do a practice round first, and make sure your aldenté beginning risotto is aldente enough. Do not overcook the first time or there is no hope for the reheat method, you will have a starchy blob. Most of the flavorings, such as cheese, lemon, spices, are all able to be put in beginning batch, and you can add more when finishing before serving.
Good luck, Risotto is a tough one to master, but once you get your method down, it is so well worth it.
A Food+Flicks reader asks: "What would you want your last meal to be?"
This is a question I have often been asked, and I love it, and I never change my answer, I would have #6 at El Mezcal, along side a Jumbo Margarita on the rocks, no salt. It may sound boring, but it is my go to comfort food, and I am always in an awesome mood by the time I am finished. Nothing fancy here. One step further with that question, and we were just talking about this at RowHouse, if I had to eat only one meal for an extended period what would it be? I would choose Rice and Beans, any style it is my favorite, Spanish, Cuban, Cajun, Thai. I could exist happily and healthy eating that combination. How boring is that for someone who cooks for a living.
Troy G asks: It seems like there are dozens of cooking shows on TV? What is your favorite reality cooking show, and who are your favorite TV chefs?
My favorite is "Chopped," followed by "Iron Chef." I love the competition on both, but Chopped seems more believable to me, and I love the mystery basket with ingredients, and that it is one dish per round. Iron Chef seems like they obviously had a plan to begin with cause you never see them discussing where to begin once the ingredient starts and they get so much assistance, but what I love about that show is the food presentation and the comments from the judges.
Other Faves for me are, "Ace of Cakes," and "Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives."
Favorite TV chefs ... Giada, simple, elegant, lovely dishes, with thorough explanations. I'm in awe of Morimoto, and I really like Aaron Sanchez's food.
Karl asks: Tell me more about the Wednesday night Preview night at the RowHouse.
Each Wednesday is the first night of the new menu. Besides being a discounted price from other evenings, $32 as opposed to $37, there is only one seating, and the house is generally filled for these nights. My commitment has always been to never have gone to the plate completely with these dishes before, unless of course it's a dish I've been asked to repeat. So there is no choosing on Wednesday, unless there is something you are not able to have, and the food starts coming as soon as you are ready. There is always a bit more festive tension in the air this night as sometimes things go perfectly as planned, and some wednesdays there are bumps in the road. I've never quite figured it out, but I think people like the stress I put myself and the staff through on these days, it's like a bucket of cold water over our heads, and a great adrenaline rush. I also ask for lots of input on Wednesday, letting people help me decide if changes need to be made for the rest of the week. As the guy planning the plates it still excites and strikes fear in me when a plate I plan is perfect or when it's a wreck that needs worked on.
Since the beginning of RowHouse it has been a favorite night of the week. We have many guest who only come on Wednesdays. It's a bit more hectic and light, and quick, and some weeks I am never able to make it out to the dining rooms to say "hi," but there's no denying it's appeal. Come check us out some Wednesday, we'd love to have you.
Former Topekan Keri B. asks: Did you always know that you wanted to work in the restaurant business?
It has always been in my top 2. I feel fortunate to be one of those folks who has been lucky enough to spend time in each of the fields I always wanted to work in. I've always wanted to perform, and I've always wanted to have a restaurant. Some nights I combine the two. My mother, aunts, and grandmothers are all excellent cooks, and I was always allowed to experiement in the kitchen, and to help, and of course to clean up. There are many tricks that I use in cooking that I learned from these women. A get a lot of scoffs to that answer, but it's true. I come from a family who has always enjoyed entertaining, and though not extravagant, the preperation, and the anticipation were always so exciting to me. Top that with the response and the happiness of those who got to eat, It's just awesome.
I would draw up plans for restaurants, and think of names and search out old buildings. I have always loved restaurants and dining out, it's my hobby, and I hate that I don't get to do it as much because of my schedule, but it's the thing I look most forward to.
So, in answer to the question, cause I could go on and on. Yes, I always knew ... Kind of. lol