Chad asks: "We moved here from Chicago and loved all of the great places there was to eat in that city. What about KC? We know there is great BBQ, but what are we missing that is off the beaten path? Love the RowHouse!"
Chad, the best way to find great KC places is keep asking. I have a handful of favorites, and though not in KC I have to mention Pachamamas, and Zen Zero in Lawrence - 2 regular favorites of mine.
My favorite "big night out" in KC places are, Room 39, near KU Med, Bluestem, (Westport), and 1924 Main, in the Crossroads district. All are outstanding, with ever revolving menus, and unique, unusual approaches to food. All hip, all intimate, and I love them in that order, but that changes with each new visit as well. Other favs, are LuLu's Noodle Hut in Crossroads district, One80 in Westport, and Sung Son, Vietnamese Restaurant in Westport has amazing food, especially the Green Papaya Salad I never stop thinking about.
I know there are many more, and I have a 1/2 dozen favorite Mexican places there, these are just some I think are outstanding, and I just can't get to KC often enough. None of these will disappoint.
What are the favorite recipes you turn to in a pinch?
My tomato dill soup. This recipe is my rendition of the house soup at Sarabeth's Kitchen in NYC, it is a snap to make for two to 100 people and always tastes outstanding. The base is garlic, butter, green onions, celery and a dash each of salt, pepper, and a couple of sugar. To that I add tomatoes I puree with a hand mixer, top with fresh or dried dill and finish with cream. I can make it in four minutes, seven minutes to hot and serve.
My creme brulee recipe has five ingredients, and I make mine in a 9 x 13 pan, can change it 25 ways and it's always delicious. I combined a style for creme brulee from the rendition at the Capital Grill in Nashville, layering it with phyllo dough as opposed to torching, and I modified a recipe I found years ago in a cooking magazine. Cream, sugar, egg yolks, whatever flavor (vanilla, orange, chocolate, pumpkin), and a touch of corn starch (don't gasp, it firms things up). It works almost every time, and it always gets raves.
You-name-it salsa. Salsa can go over entrees, on chips, on crostinis, on soups, it's just a magical splash of color and flavor. I always add vinegar to mine, always sugar, and 99% of the time diced red onion I have rinsed in cold water (cuts the bite). Imagination can go wild. Citrus, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, beans, radishes, jicama, tropical fruits. I love a good salsa, and I never let any go to waste.
Pesto .... Pesto is my go to for many appetizers as well. Nowdays pesto has so few boundaries. Mine always include
1. A fresh herb, though I have a great fennel pesto with fennel replacing the herb
2. A cheese, any hard cheese, bleu works great with walnuts though
3. Nuts, pinenuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachio, walnuts (I've used them all)
4. Olive oil
6. Salt, pepper and sugar
7. A dash of vinegar
Pesto over cream cheese on a crostini, can be a quick awesome appetizer, and pesto tossed with pasta is a no-brainer. I prefer pesto served at room temperature and don't like to keep it more than a day.
When you travel, what are your favorite food cities?
My favorite food city is Chicago. I go there usually four times a year and always have a great time. I never thought I'd be one of those people who repeatedly travelled to a destination, but now I've found that because Chi-town is so familiar, I don't spend my time sight seeing, I spend it relaxing and eating well. I'm going in December, and my big-ticket place for this visit is North Pond in Lincoln Park. I can't wait.
I also love eating out in Kansas City and Lawrence, and often I miss the awesomely exploding food scene in Nashville. I have too many favorite places to mention, but I try to write about my visits on my Web site. Thanks for asking.
I’m looking for a great cookbook to give as a gift. Can you give me some ideas?
My bible is "The Joy of Cooking." It is a must-have and can answer any question I've ever thrown at it. My recent favorite is "Cooking Light, Complete Cookbook." I love the magazine, and I love this cookbook for all reasons. I personally like cookbooks with lots of pictures. I definitely cook from pictures more than words.
When you’re hiring, what qualities do you look for in your wait staff and cooks?
First I look for someone who I think I would like spending many long hours with. I need someone open and positive, not all wrapped up in themselves, and healthy. I know that sounds like an odd attribute to look for, but it's true, I look for people who look like workers, not frail, weak people. I look for people who are good communicators, and seem like they have more than just one interest. I look for people who are respectful and good natured. I look for people who seem to “get” what we are trying to do here, and I look for people who are “Topeka Positive.” I am totally upfront that the one comment that will send me looking for someone else is, “Well, that's Topeka, and blah, blah, blah.”
I put experience a bit behind all of the above, and trust me, it has been apparent many of times that I've made many a bad choice, but the bad choices have ALWAYS weeded themselves out pretty quickly.
JJ Walker wrote, “Greg, your description of American Fusion was outstanding, but what are the factors that create a regional cuisine?
Factors include what's available and popular locally, as well as historic dishes, and almost always poor folk food.
“Obviously different parts of the country have their own twists on classic cooking, but how does that evolve?”
I think it involves trial and error with necessary substitutions, and also adding things that make it right for you. I glance at recipes but always begin them with ways I am familiar, and I almost always add something I think it's missing.
Take a simple classic recipe for example, Creme Brulee. It can be made with a number of twists, from squash and pumpkin, to liquors and fruits — season’s influence and simple flavors that are liked.
“I know you have worked in a variety of unique American cities, what styles of cooking have you taken from those places that have helped you shape your own style?”
I worked in NYC for a while, and I know what I brought most from there was a huge influence of vegetarian dishes. Also flare for plating, and I was able to try so many different ethnicities.
From the South, I learned much more about comfort food, and ingredients I now love, like grits, and sweet tators, lots of nuts.
But most of my cooking stems from the ways my family cooked, specifically my mother, grandmother and sister. I rely on their tips and secrets as much as anyone, and they are always my most reliable.
What does it mean to serve American fusion?
Combine bits of many types of cuisine with basic American comfort food standards. Serving beef tenderloin with potatoes is American standard comfort dish, but if you marinate the beef in soy and molasses, then add wasabi to the mashed potatoes, and serve it with braised bok choy, that's American fusion.
Taking a soup, like plain potato soup, but adding bleu cheese and basil, and making the potatoes a combo of potatoes, yams and beets.
It's all about giving dishes you love a twist and some more excitement.
Eating is an adventure, a very pleasurable adventure.
1. runnermom asked: “I love chili. So does my husband, but we have this ongoing battle. I believe chili is best with beans. In fact I believe chili demands beans. He thinks chili should be meat only. What do you think? Also, what beans do you like best in chili. I've been wanting to try something a little different (no doubt that will irritate my better half).”
Frankly, you're having an argument that will never find resolve. There are equal numbers on both sides. Me, I'm a bean man, from bean chili people. It's not chili without the beans, and rarely, but not never, am I a fan of all-meat chili.
I have used white, kidney, black, butter, navy, pinto, whatever bean is in my cupboard to make chili. I especially like to mix and match. One of my favorites — this will throw your hubby off — is a spicy brat chili with white, kidney and black beans. We've served it at the RowHouse, and it's a big hit.
Recently, I made a veggie chili, but I wanted a “meat substitute.” I used ground chickpeas as the “meat” and then made my chili the way I'd always make it. Many didn't notice the absence of meat, the texture was there, and it was really delicious. It made an “I never eat/like chili” eater, change his mind, and I loved it.
radar asked: “Well Greg, beer makes me think of brats, and that brings back memories of the best brat I ever had from a Wisconsin vendor at Taste of Chicago several years ago. I've never been able to find brats that good in Topeka. Where should I look for good brats and how would you prepare them?”
I honestly get my brats from the meat counter at Dillon's. I love the brats and the chorizo. If I can't find those, I go for Johnsonville Beer Brats, and yes they are not the Chicago Beer Brats, but they are a fine substitute.
I love brats. I make a brat chili that is amazing. Brats on pizza. I put brats in veggie soup for a meaty spicy kick. My favorite thing is to roast veggies in my grill with nearly-done brats, and let them cook, then toss over pasta. Simply cook the brats awhile first, but don't puncture, then cut up and toss with onions, peppers, garlic, carrots, whatever you want. Add ¼-cup sugar, big pinch salt, some black pepper, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Roast in the oven at 350 for 25 minutes, or on your grill, uncovered. Toss this juice and all with pasta or couscous or rice, and mix well. This is primo eating and awesome leftovers.
New beer added to my favorites list is Bard's. It is a gluten-free beer, a bit sweet, but nice with food, and doesn't leave me as full as other beers.
sweet potato asked: “Now that it's getting colder, I'm craving more comfort foods. Any recommendations? Also, how can you make comfort foods without them feeling like a casserole a woman wearing high heals would have cooked for her family in a black-and-white sitcom?”
I think most of us start craving the comfort foods we grew up with. Mine are chili, potato soup, veggie stew and lasagna... So many great things have come from a casserole dish, so I know what you mean, but I also have to add that there are some spectacular dishes that can come from that humble dish. Many of the vegetarian entrees we serve at RowHouse are done "casserole" style. I love gratins, frittatas, polenta, and baked and layered pastas.
The dishes I just mentioned, I think, can still be awesome for dinner and are much more up to date than some of the oldies, but come on, who doesn't like tater tot casserole?
I make my gratins with many different base ingredients, but my favorite is black rice. I add roasted carrots, Asiago cheese, and asparagus or broccoli.
I also make a beet, Parmesan, and jasmine rice gratin that is stunningly pink and super tasty.
Try things like lasagna, but don't use noodles, and don't use red sauce. How about a white sauce with pesto and instead of noodles, make the layers out of zucchini? It will work, and you will love it.
Egg dishes are great this time of year. My favorite is a leek and onion tart. I sauté onion, leeks and garlic in butter with salt, pepper and a bit of sugar. Once this is tender, I put it in a baking dish (casserole 9 X 9, or double recipe for 9X13). I top this with cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, you name it), then I whisk 3 whole eggs with 1 cup cream (double for 9 X 13). Whisk well, then pour over leeks and cheese. Bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes. You will love this dish.
Enjoy the fall. Make chili, make soups and stews, make casseroles, and serve them with a big green salad with fall fruits on top, like plums, apricots, figs, pears, nectarines ...you get the idea.
runnermom asked: “I always get so sad this time of year as the favorite foods I love picking up at the farmers market go out of season. This time of year, what things are you looking for, and what do you do with them?”
I start buying squash, yams, beets, leeks, many more onions, raisins, figs, dates, beans (I love beans). I use the ends of my herbs, and usually don't dry my own, but simply wait till next time they come back to life. Then I make dishes like the ones in the last question.