Jen asks: "What cooking tool can you not live without? What tools would you suggest every home cook invest in?"
Always the same answer, first and foremost invest in good knives, 1 or 2 that will get you through everything ... a good chef's knife or santuko. After that, I use my Kitchen Aid mixer everyday, and also my Cuisinart food processor. Next in line for me has to be my immersion blender.
Toby wants to know: "When you are planning menus, do you plan by what you feel like eating that day, what is in season at the time or something else?"
Menu planning is based on a lot of things, but most important to me is keeping things seasonal. Most of the times it's easy, but there are those times of year, I yearn for tomatoes or a berry and I know it's not their time.
We have gotten in such a hurry lately that it has become increasingly tough to know what's actually in season for us, because so many products are brought in all year round. We start wanting tomatoes two months too earlier for example, and by the time our crop is ripe and perfect, a lot of folks have moved on. Right now, eat asparagus and rhubarb and early lettuce.
I do base menus on my current cravings as well, and I often become obsessed with a specific ingredient. At the moment I can't get enough fennel. Along with my likes, I have constant input from my staff and RowHouse customers of what they'd like to see.
When I'm in a pickle and idea-less, I have several favorite restaurants around the country and I go via the internet and look at what they are doing to see if that gives me a nudge, plus I'm always going through current food magazines and new cookbooks for fresh ideas.
Lance J. asks: "Despite the Wanamaker chain corridor, what is your take on the Topeka restaurant scene? Is it better than it has ever been?"
I have a lot of ways to answer this. Let's start with places I miss from Topeka's scene.
I miss the old Pore Richards and feel it has never been replaced or even come close for late night good grub in a cool scene.
I miss Mama Ilmas with breakfast late night, maybe even all night at College Hill.
I miss the old Tia's, and even though the new "Tequila's" is awesome, it is less of a stand-out than the old Tia's. It may just be the huge amount of competition, and good quality other Mexican restaurant's around now.
I also miss The Rooster Tail (or whatever the name) truck stop on Wanamaker.
That being said, I think Topeka has always had a fine restaurant scene. Sure we are not the big cities, but we have quality gems all over the place and always have had our secrets.
Topeka has, in my opionion, world class Thai, with Tuptim Thai. Outstanding Indian with The Globe. Many top-notch Mexican choices from East Topeka to Fairlawn. Our sushi is up there with several great choices now, including one of my favorites, Oriental Express. We've got Blind Tiger for an awesome Brew pub, The Celtic Fox and O'Dooley's both have great food and an Irish edge. I love the food at College Hill Tavern, formerly Varsity Blues. Everyone knows I think New City Cafe is hip and delicious. Chez Yasu is intimate and always tasty. I love Quinton's for a sandwich and a pint. G's Frozen Custard for custard.
I've left out many, but there are good choices here. I just think people often look at what's missing rather than what's in front of us. And to be honest, I'm not against the Wanamaker corridor. It brings many people off the interstate that used to pass Topeka by, and I'd hate to not have Chipolte, Jimmy John's, and a good steak from Longhorn.
So to answer the question ... we have a good dining scene, it may not be Chicago or Kansas City, but it is ours, and it is pretty impressive considering the size of our town, and I feel it fits our needs. Just last night I had dinner in East Topeka at Los Portales followed by ice cream right across the block at a lovely new Ice cream store. When is the last time many folks have stepped out of the box?
From Food+Flicks: "Is there a certain ingredient that you have recently discovered? Or, a meal that inspired you?"
I am nuts for Fennel and White Balsamic Vinegar since the beginning of the year. My favorite salad is to toss Orzo pasta, Feta, Arugula, Fennel, Cucumber and Red Onion with a mixture of 1/4 cup White Balsamic, 1/4 cup Sugar, pinch of Salt, and 1/4 cup Olive oil. Equal parts of all the first ingredients, with maybe a bit less onion.
I'm somewhat inspired by every meal, call me lucky. Recents fav's ... pizza from Via's, dinner last night at Los Portales and Katie's Pear Tart from our poetry revue.
From Keri: "What was your greatest cooking influence?" Love the RowHouse!"
I have a list, cause it is definitely more than one.
My mother, I loved to watch her cook, and my plumpness showed that well.
My friend Chef Greg Kernodle, from the Capitol Grille in Nashville, Tenn. He was the funniest, nicest, and most creative cook I've know.
Sarabeth Levine, from Sarabeth's Kitchen in New York. She was hard, and strong, and assertive, and just an awesome character study, not to mention an outstanding business person.
Margot, from Cafe Margot in Nashville, Tenn. She makes no compromises, runs a remarkable kitchen with a menu that changes completely every DAY.
My former business partner in Tennesse, Chef Sylvia Harrelson, who has the best taster in the world, and can make anything delicious, Her food is my comfort food.
From Mary27Smith: "Does the chef take offense if I send something back to the kitchen?"
That's a tricky question, and I believe you will recieve many answers. I'm certain there will be folks who don't agree with me. If you are unhappy with a dish, I want you to send it back. I'm mortified if you don't. Cooking is personal to me, and the only way I can know if you are unhappy, is if you let me know. I will stop the kitchen in it's tracks to fix the problem.
I've typed this answer ten different times expanding on my thoughts, but in the end the sentence I began with is the only one that matters. If it is wrong, give us a chance to fix it, or at least let us know. Restaurants learn from their customers.
Please remember, it is an unpleasant situation for you, and the restaurant wants you happy, but it will take a little time. And, if your emotions continue to escalate, it does cause everyone to be even more on edge. Manners and respect should always be present, and I mean on both sides of the plate.
Oliver H. asks: "I love wine but am never sure what wine is supposed to go with what kind of food? Is there an easy way to remember? Also, do you have any good moderately priced wine suggestions?"
Wine is a vast subject, and I am not the best guy for intense wine questions. I do know how I like to choose wines, and what appeals to me. If wine drinkers were classified from 1 (being beginner) to 10 (being an expert), I'd fall in the 6 category. I personally go for wines with a good feel. Richer wines, that are not very complex, but are more interesting than real budget wines. I am a big fan of blends, both reds and whites, and there are many under $15 that are delicious. Blends are safe choices for groups and for casual drinking. They are not necessarily made to pair with food, simply to enjoy. Some favorites, Evolution, from Sokol Blosser in Oregon, for a white, and Hayman and Hill "interchange. For Reds there are many choices in this price range. Menage a Tois is an fun one. Gain's Bay, Stephen Vincent's Crimson. None of these are priced over $16.
Traditional we've all heard, white with fish, chicken, and pork. Red with Beef, Lamb, Red Sauces, and Spicy food, but my philosophy is to drink what you enjoy.
Wines made to pair with foods are more acidic with a drier mouth feel than those meant for casual drinking. A wine that is very rich will tend to cover up foods, while a wine with a bit of a more acidic quality usually enhances the dishes.
Whichever choice, drink more wine, and experiment with new choices. There are so many, and the only way to learn is to drink them. Your tastes will also evolve and change with time. That's part of the excitement.
Erin asks: Just bought a new Dutch oven - a Le Creuset – what is a good and easy dish to prepare in it?
Well, I am filled with jealousy, believe it or not I shopped both Williams Sonoma and Crate and Barrel for one of those this past weekend and clutched at the purchase. I've never used one, but love the way they look to cook on TV. What I long to cook in one is Beef Bourgandy, and Coq Au Vin, which are both pretty much made for those dishes. Browning the meat covered in flour, then deglazing with wine, and adding veggies. They are supposed to be top notch for that, and I can't wait till I get my own. I'm sure you'll love it.
A reader sent us an e-mail: Ask Greg if he knows the secret to making lump-free gravies. Not having any luck at our house.
Try stirring the flour into a slurry (a paste with water) before adding to the rest. Or try thickening with Corn starch as opposed to Flour. Again the cornstarch needs to be mixed with cold water before adding. (2 parts dry to 1 part wet) or there about.
Elaine asks: Greg help please ... my mother-in-law is visiting us at the end of January and I want to impress her with a home-cooked meal. I'm not the best cook, so any idea on whatI might be able to pull off. THANK YOU!!!
That's a broad question......I don't think you should try anything that makes you nervous even before you start when cooking for someone. Food feels the tension. Simple is always better. A favorite, and impressive meal, in my opinion, starts with a simple salad, and a homemade dressing. Say, Greens, Bleu Cheese, Sliced Pears, and a Balsamic Vinaigrette (1 part Bals Vin, 3 Part Olive Oil, 1 Part honey or Sugar, and a pinch of Salt)
For an entree, try a simple roasted meat, Chicken, Fish, Beef or pork. Brush them with Olive oil, add a pinch of Salt, Pepper, and Sugar, Then roast in the oven at 350 for (chicken 20 min, fish 10 min, pork and beef 20-30 min to desired temp). A great, easy side dish is cous cous (morrocan pasta) and then do some sauteed carrots of string beans, or you could even put the veggies in the oven with the meat to roast as well.
And, keep dessert simple too. Maybe a store bought sorbet with fruit, or a purchased pound cake with ice cream or real whip cream and berries.
Just don't stress, KIS it, Keep it Simple!
I hope this helps.
I also love lasagna for company, and It's easy to make, and okay to cheat and buy the sauce.