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All posts for the month August, 2007

Are you ready for some cajun?  Dominating one end of the new Mission Farms development, a trendy mix of resturants, fun stores, and good food, is a transplant from Saint Joe: Boudreaux’s Louisiana Seafood.  When my wife and I went to Boudreaux’s, I have to admit that I was not in the mood for cajun; we had tried to go to Blue Koi, but they were busy.  Then wife made the decision that we were going to eat a Boudreaux’s…and I owe her one.

Boudreaux’s has a typical cajun menu: gumbo, po boys, and broiled or fried shrimp, fish, oysters, and clams.  To this, Boudreaux’s adds foods not typically associated with cajun food (spin dip) or traditional food reimagined (grilled chicken po boy smothered in cheese.)  Even better, Boudreaux’s has a huge bar complete with a variety of specialty drinks.

My wife and I started with a chunky, vegetable laden spin dip which was accompanied by toasted bread.  There was almost a fist fight over who got to lick the bowl.  Next, I had to sample some of their gumbo.  They serve a deep, mohagony brown seafood gumbo that took me back to New Orleans.  If you have not had authentic gumbo, go to Boudreaux’s.  If I had any complaints about the gumbo, it would be that there was too much seafood and not enough of that wonderful broth. 

For dinner, I went with the incredibly friendly and helpful waitress’ recommendation and tried the broiled seafood platter (an assortment of the above mentioned seafood) which was executed well and enlivened with a tangy, creamy tartar sauce.   My wife ordered the massive smothered chicken po boy, a foot long sandwich overflowing with grilled chicken, cheese, and onions.  She could not stop singing its praises.

All in all, my palate left completely satisfied.  It was my wallet the felt a little hurt.  A drink, a tea, two dinners, a kid’s meal, dessert, and an appetizer set us back $90 after tip.  That price tag makes Boudreaux’s a sometimes restaurant, which is too bad, because it was a great place to eat.

I can say without hyperbole that I had one of the tastiest salads I have ever eaten last night.  I went to another cooking class, this one on vegetable preparation methods taught by Chef Cody Hogan from Lidia’s Kansas City.   Other than my incessant questions, the star of the evening was a simple salad made from asparagus, scallions, hard boiled eggs, and olive oil

The greens were boiled until cooked, shocked in a little cold water, dried with a paper towel, and then combined with eggs, a splash of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Chef Hogan served it warm and I made it disappear.

The salad was creamy because the scallions and asparagus melt the egg ever so slightly and combine with the oil to form a sauce.  I expected a “green flavor” and instead was treated to a salty, complex flavor that remined me of French deviled egs with anchovies.  Don’t let the A-word fool you.  The salad was absolutely fantastic and not overpowering one bit.

I went to a class on classic cooking techniques tonight where we made a couple of different dishes including a sauted veggie medley that was fantastic.  As I am shoveling zucchini into my mouth, I feel like I’m eating resturant quality food that I cooked.  I kept thinking “These vegetables taste so much better?  What is that flavor?”

Then I realized it was butter.  Fatty, salty butter.

So I’ve decided when I am cooking to impress, I will add butter to all my veggies.  They add a brilliant flavor to cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, etc.  But when I am cooking everyday food, I’ll stick with the olive oil.  It’s a lot healthier.

I made a trip to Penzey’s today because I needed some Arrowroot.  Tina and I had just gotten done eating at The Dragon Inn by the Overland Park farmer’s market (review to follow)  where I noticed how thick the sauce for the Szechwan Broccoli and the hot and sour soup was.  Because I am a total food geek, it reminded me that I was out of Arrowroot so I headed into the spice store. 

Arrowroot is magnificent stuff.  It is potent when fresh (it keeps its potency for about 6 months) and it is flavorless from the moment it touches the sauce.  This makes it better than most flour-based thickeners because there is no time required to cook out the wheaty, earthy taste common with rouxes (although I’d still use a roux when I need the flavor that comes from cooking fat and flour) and flour-slurries.

Try some for yourself, but start slow with one tablespoon at a time

  1. Mix the tablespoon of arrowroot with 1/2 cup of cold water.  (Always add cold slurry to hot liquid or hot slurry to cold liquid.)  
  2. Mix until the arrowroot is dissolved. 
  3. Add the cold slurry to the hot sauce and stir until the arrowroot is fully incorporated.  Watch in amazement as the sauce thickens.

Prologue: At Penzey’s I bought the 3.5 oz container, which should allow me to thicken about 6 months of soups, stocks, sauces, or the Mississippi River.

Last night Ethan and I tried Kaya, an Asian eatery and sushi bar on 104th and Roe (roughly.)  I went in with high hopes for a new sushi establishment that I had never heard of.  Perhaps there is a reason I have never heard of it.  Ethan got chicken fried rice while I tried the tofu bi-bim-bap (sp?) and a few sushi rolls.  All of it ranged from nothing to write home about to plain lousy.

The chicken fried race was the best dish, though it was just some rice, soy sauce, and canned mixed vegetables (green beans, corn, and carrot cubes) that we were fed in school cafeterias.  I nibbled on a green bean and I could taste metal.  The bi-bim-bap was a scoop of white rice with some al dente vegetables and a few rectanges of very overly friend tofu.  Nothing was seasoned.  The flavor was improved greatly by the addition of a paste of soy and siracha.

Most disappointing was the sushi.  I ordered a shrimp tempura roll, a spicy tuna roll, and two maguro (tuna) nigiri.  I tend to judge a sushi restaurant by the quality of its spicy tuna and its maguro, which is why I’m not going back anytime soon.  The maguro had no flavor and the rice was packed too lightly to eat fish first.  The spicy tuna was not spicy and was rolled with a underripe avocado that was too tough to eat.  To make matters worse, the tempura seemed to be rolled in sugar making the tempura roll very sweet.  Last, the rolls were not packed tightly at all (probably due to the lack of rice) and kept falling apart, scattering sushi innards across the plate and in my soy sauce.

The experience was not all bad.  The wait staff was very pleasant, the food was served quickly, and the price was very affordable.  If only the food had been better.

Recently for the Next Food Network Star, I submitted this video.  While I plan to submit a second one….one in which I don’t suck… I thought I would share the recipe.

Wontons:

  • Wonton Wrapper
  • Egg wash (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon of water)

Pork:

  • 8 oz of smoked pork, finely diced
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons of cumin

Cut the pork into small pieces that will easily fit into a wonton wrapper and cook in a hot skillet for about 30 seconds.  Add lime juice and cumin.  Mix well.  Cook for another 15 seconds.

Sofrito (I don’t claim this is authentic, merely tasty.):

  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large can of dice tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 green peppers diced
  • 1 red pepper diced
  • 6 small sweet peppers diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red pepper flake to taste (I use 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Saute the garlic and red pepper flake for 45 seconds to one minute in a large skillet to flavor the oil.  Add onions and cook until they begin to become translucent.  Then add the red, green, and sweet peppers. 

Each time more vegetables are added to the skillet,  add another pinch of salt to help extract some of the moisture (and flavor) from the veggies.  Once the peppers are softened add the can of tomatoes, another pinch of salt, and the pepper.  Bring the mixture to an easy boil and let it reduce until it takes the consistency of thick spaghetti sauce.

To make the wontons, paint egg wash on two sides of the wrapper so that if it were folded in a triangle, dry side would touch wet.  Remember that egg wash is the glue that fastens the wrapper together, but egg wash sticks to wrapper, not more egg wash!

Place one generous teaspoon of pork and one tablespoon of sofrito on the wrapper.  I try to place the filling close to the egg wash painted corner.  Close the wonton.

To cook the wonton, deep fry in a neutral oil or pan fry in olive oil until the wrapper is completely cooked.

I’ve noticed something curious about how I find recipes.  I used to eschew all my cookbooks and head right to FoodNetwork.com anytime I needed a recipe.  That worked for a while, especially when I was in college and the Internet was working towards its current omnipresent state.

However, due in large part to the awfulness of the Food Network’s search engine, I’ve started using Google as my recipe manager.  If I want to learn how to make something, I head there first and look at what the world has offered up for recipes.  Once I’ve read 2-3 recipes, then I go to the Food Network and compare.  I still find that FoodNetwork.com quality controls their recipes better than most sites and that their recipes are more well-written so I tend to check there and use a recipe that is an amalgamation of what I found via Google and the technique writeups on FoodNetwork.com.

How are you finding recipes?

I started experimenting with some new recipes the other night.   I am trying to make dips for tortilla chips or crackers without using the old standbys (sour cream and cream cheese.)   I find both of those mediums to be high in fat and calories.  I realize that both come in 1/3 less calories and non fat alternatives but

1) The 1/3 less calories is sort of a baby step and still means you end up eating a ton of bad stuff

2)  The non-fat option neither looks nor tastes like what it supposed to represent.

While you can get away with those alternatives in a dip where the mixins are the star, I’d still prefer to add a different substance with it’s own flavor profile and start from there.  I chose tofu.

So far the results have not been exactly what I had hoped.  I bought both silken and firm tofu in order to play around.  My first dip was a carmelized onion and sun-dried tomato dip in silken tofu.  This dip was SUPRISINGLY sweet, though after consideration a good carmelized onion has the sugars developed to the point that it becomes sweet and sun-dried tomatoes can be sweet as well.  Still, the flavor was good, but the consistency was all wrong.  I used silken tofu, which is also used in smoothies, and decided that I didn’t like drinking my tofu dip.  I also think my tofu to mixin ratio was all off…

So I moved on to a firm tofu and pimento dip.  This dip was so wrong for so many reasons.  First, the pimento tasted terrible and the firm tofu broke up into little pieces that, strangely enough, looked like the pimento spread that you get in the store (well that you can get in the store, the only person I know who eats it is my grandmother.)

All in all, I struck out.  But that’s not going to keep me down.  Next time I am going to create a mixture that is 3 parts firm tofu to 1 part silken tofu and make sure that I have enough flavoring to go in.  I think I’ll stick with a family favorite and use ranch dressing mix and green olives.  That combo never lets me down.

Tonight for our wedding anniversary my wife and tried the new churrascaria Amor Fiery Steakhouse de Brazil at 119th and Metcalf.  This was my wife’s choice (as I do not eat meat), however, I went in anticipation of their 50 item salad bar.

For those who have not yet been to a churrascaria, let me explain what the restaurant is.  First, you have the aforementioned massive salad bar offering salads (portabella salad, Brazilian potato salad with granny smith apples, and chicken salad with what looked to be curry), cheeses (blue and aged Parmesan), ahi tuna, shrimp, salmon mousse, bread, and other goodies lined the bar.  Once you have gotten your salad, gauchos walk by carrying slabs of prepared meat: lamb, ribs, sirloin, prime rib, garlic beef, pork tenderloin, and other delicacies.  You tell the gaucho you want a slice of meat and they oblige by slicing one off the slab (with you at the tongs) and you eat until stuffed silly.

The first thing that struck me about the restaurant was the air of luxury.  The team of greeters dressed in black dresses or suits, the gauchos in their boots, golden gauchos, and fashionable shirts, and the wait staff in suits could have fit in any fine dining establishment (well…maybe not the gauchos, they were a little silly looking.)  The fine silverware, the polished furnishings, the leather couches in the bar and waiting area, the wine list, featuring over 250 varieties, and the cocktail list also spoke to an elegant dining experience fit for any upscale restaurant.  Still, they accepted my wife and I in jeans and a polo/T-shirt as quickly as the couples on dates dressed to impress.

The greeters were friendly and actually attentive as customers entered the premises.  Once we settled in, the wait staff proved to be quite friendly (one waitor even kissed my wife for being a Jayhawk and no one seemed to be upset by the ravings of a fussy 21 month old.)

The good things I have to say about the restaurant end here, however. 

Brazilian steakhouses are predicated on being big.  Big selection, big wine list, big salad bar, big portions, etc.  However, they were also big on the use of salt.  Everyone in the party was dismayed to find that their meat was oversalted.  This tendency to overseason carried over to the salad bar where the ahi was rolled in far too much pepper, the mousse was combined with far too much of something bitter and the mushroom bisque had far too much cognac.

Even worse the gauchos disappeared for great lengths of time.  Whereas there appeared to be at least 8 servers, I counted only three gauchos for the entire establishment which meant we were waiting for long periods of time with empty plates.   This is in sharp contrast to Kansas City’s other Churrascaria Em Chamas where the gauchos and wait staff have to be beaten back with sticks lest they be too helpful.

Even worse, the check was also excessive.  For a salad bar, a meal with meat, a tea, and a caipirnha (a vodka cocktail like a mojito without mint) the bill was near $100 before tip.  I would not mind to pay that price if a) any one in the party had enjoyed their meal and b) Em Chamas was not half the price including the gas to drive to the Northland.

All in all, I would not recommend going to Amor.  I could have gone to McGonagles and ruined my own meat with too much salt for far less and still been able to watch the game.  However, if you want the Brazilian churrascaria experience and do not want to drive to Parkville, check out Amor soon.  Unless the kitchen can get some serious deficiencies smoothed out, it is not going to be there long.