Kansas City Restaurant Week 2015

KC Restaurant weekDid you know what Zagat has rated Kansas City the Number 1 Bargain in dining? Pretty cool, huh? Over the last few years, Kansas City has been featured as a Top Destination by the likes of Conde Nast, Travel & Leisure, Saveur, and the Today Show.

Kansas City has a lot more going for it than barbeque and baseball. We’ve got a world class performing arts space, an affordable cost of living, a lively arts scene, and an independent restaurant scene that is grounded in local food.

Restaurant Week is a great time to check out some of the best Kansas City establishments without breaking your pocketbook. Not only do you get to taste some incredible offerings from some of the best chefs in the country right now, like James Beard award winner Colby Garrelts (both his restaurants- Bluestem & Rye are participating), but you’ll be helping a number of local charities too- like my favorite, Cultivate Kansas City, who works to grow food, farms and communities for a healthier local food system in the Kansas City area.  The pre-fixe 3-course menus cost $15 for lunch and $33 for dinner. Best to make your reservations while you can- many will sell out every table this week!

Many of the selections are gluten-free, and BRGR will serve any burger on the menu on a GF Bun. Look through the list- it’s extensive and see what tickles your fancy. If you’re a KC local- tell us where you dined!

Affäre: Fabulous Food and Gluten-Free Done Right

Recently, I wrote about getting gluten bombed at a local establishment well known for serving gluten-free items on their menu. Suffice it to say I’ve been pretty skittish about eating out anywhere since then. However, Mr. Kitchen Diva took me out on a date to a restaurant I’ve been hearing great things about and dying to try-  Affäre, located at 1911 Main Street. God bless him, he called ahead ask if they could work with a gluten issue and to make sure there would be safe items for me to eat, and when I arrived, this was waiting for me at our table. I cried a little..

Affare Menu

In advance of our arrival, our server had starred the items on the menu that are naturally gluten-free, and underlined menu items I would need to leave off so that a plate could be gluten-free. She also assured me that the folks in her kitchen were aware of my issue and that I would be safe in their hands. I cried a little more… (just kidding, but I was blown away by their care and concern, and their desire that I have a positive experience)

Affäre is one of a handful of German restaurants that have popped up in Kansas City in the last few years. I can’t speak to the others, because in my experience there’s not alot on a German menu that is naturally gluten-free, and so I haven’t bothered to check them out. Clearly, at least where Affäre is concerned, I was very wrong.

Chef Martin Heuser (who was incidentally nominated for a James Beard award for his outstanding work here in 2013), and his wife Katrin- who’s also a Sommelier, have created a delicious and innovative menu that is based not only on German tradition, but on sourcing local and seasonal produce. Their philosophy of supporting their local food economy as much as they can is one that resonates deeply with me. And for me as a consumer, there’s something very gratifying about eating at a local restaurant that is committed to serving local food.

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The ambience at Affäre is also right up my alley. Low backed booths interspersed with wooden chairs and small tables covered in heavy white linens provide intimacy in a room with an industrial feel- exposed brick and ductwork. There are also farmhouse style tables for larger parties. A number of local artists are featured on the walls, and while we were there Metropolis was playing on the TV behind the bar. My own aesthetic is very much vintage meets industrial, and I think they’ve struck a great balance. The juxtaposition they’ve created visually compliments what’s happening on the plate too- Vintage German meets Modern meets Local Food… For instance- Bison is prominent on the menu, and beautifully executed- whether as carpaccio with truffles, or as hanger steak with kartoffelplätzchen (potato cakes).

Since we are the adventurous type and there were so many delicious sounding options we couldn’t decide between, we opted to put ourselves in their hands and ordered the 4 course tasting menu,  adding paired wines. Every course was perfectly balanced and a delight to our senses. We especially loved the pickled butternut squash..I mean really- who thinks to pickle butternut? And yet when we tasted it, we wondered why everyone isn’t doing it. Brilliant.

Affäre also cures and smokes all their charcuterie- hams, bacon, sausages- you name it. If you’re in love with their bratwurst (we are) you can even purchase a pack of 5 (fully cooked) to take home and grill.

We enjoyed a perfectly prepared salmon with perhaps one of the most innovative sauces I’ve ever encountered: oyster-marzipan sauce… I really can’t even begin to describe the way the flavors unveiled themselves in my mouth… So good I wanted to lick the plate. Again, I kept thinking- HOW do people think this stuff up? And for the first time ever, I drank a German Pinot.

Duck & Quail Plate Affare

For me, wine pairing is the other half of what makes a great meal taste great. I love wine- but I love wine more with food. Recently, and for obvious reasons, I’ve spent most of my time learning French wines. I know next to nothing about German wines. Katrin introduced me to the wines of her favorite region in Germany, Bavaria to be exact- Franconia, where they’ve been making wines for over 1200 years, and a German red called Trölinger.

Affäre also has regular happy hour specials and no corkage Wednesday nights if you’d like to try your own hand at pairing a bottle. Frankly, I prefer to put myself in Katrin’s extremely capable and creative hands. Be sure to visit their website so you can ogle their beautiful food photography. My attempts at discreet photography don’t do their food justice.

Parking was also not an issue for us. I know many folks have been avoiding Downtown and the Crossroads because of the street car construction, but there’s a lot just a few doors down, and the parking instructions on Affäre’s site are very clear. Don’t let your aversion to a bit of construction deter you from an incredible dining experience.

I would like to thank Katrin and Martin and their outstanding staff. We had a beautiful experience and will be back as soon as we can for more!

 

Oak Street Mansion, Kansas City

Oak Street MansionJust before the holidays, Mr. Kitchen Diva and I had the opportunity to get away for a long weekend. It was much needed, and for various reasons- mostly having to do with time- we opted for a ‘staycation’ not far from where we live.

Kansas City is routinely making top 5 and top 10 lists for food tourism, sports, arts, and livability. If you’re coming from afar, or just need a romantic staycation to recharge your batteries, look no further than the Oak Street Mansion. Built in 1907, the Mansion was purchased in 2010 and lovingly restored for two years by the Sabates family.

 

AbstractRoomJust a stone’s throw from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Oak Street Mansion is an ode to art and artistry. Each room has an art-related theme, complete with gorgeous works on the walls. There is a gallery with changing art, as well as a permanent collection that owners Roland & Maria Sabates are happy to take you through. If you prefer to wander on your own, there is a book of the Mansion’s artwork in every room. Well worth the read if you have the time.

From the Oak Street Mansion, it’s easy to walk to the Country Club Plaza, or take a quick drive to any of Kansas City’s foodie and arty neighborhoods– there is plenty to experience here!

IMG_1256They were also very willing to make a delicious gluten-free breakfast. I was surprised and delighted to see my own mixes featured on the breakfast menu! John Sabates, one Maria & Roland’s sons, runs the kitchen and is highly creative. Breakfast was a daily feast, and one morning he even made gluten-free red-velvet scones! If you’re around in the late afternoon, plan to sit by the fireplace and enjoy a complimentary glass of wine, along with specially selected charcuterie.

 

Charlie Bird
Charlie Bird

 

However, in warmer months, the gardens are  inviting and filled with sculptures- so you could enjoy your wine al-fresco when the weather permits.

 

 

 

 

 

We’d love to thank the Sabates family for a lovely stay, and for contributing to the vibrant arts culture that Kansas City is becoming celebrated for nationwide. We’ll definitely be back soon!

PS- the mattresses were heavenly!

Even the lights are works of art!
Even the lights are works of art!

Gluten Cross Contamination- at home & in restaurants

glutenfreeI want to talk a bit about cross-contamination. Normally I try to focus on the positive aspects of being gluten-free; helping people to be proactive in their cooking and travel, and trying in my own life to experience fully the fabulous gluten-free options that are available to us.

But as I sit here reeling from the effects of serious gluten contamination Saturday evening at the hands of an inexperienced and very careless server at a restaurant we frequent often, I feel that I need to address the very serious issue of cross contamination and the ramifications of the gluten-free ‘fad’.

For me being gluten free is not a ‘fad’. I’m not gluten free out of a desire to eat better, lose weight, avoid GMOs, or any of the other trendy reasons people go gluten-free these days. I have always said if you feel better not eating gluten, then don’t eat it. But for me, eating gluten-free is a matter of life and death. Let me explain what happens in my body when I have 2 BITES, yes 2 Bites of bread.

  • Within the hour I experience severe intestinal cramping which will last 6-8 hours. This isn’t like PMS cramps, this is like chef’s knives slicing apart my insides…
  • Within 24-48 hours I will experience a painful and unattractive acne breakout around my chin and lips. If I’m lucky the swelling will recede in 7-10 days.
  • Within 24-48 hours my legs will start itching. Depending on the amount of gluten ingested, they can stay itchy for 2-3 weeks. At its worst, its an itchy, blistery rash. At its best, a little cortizone and deep breathing can control the itching and it will dissipate in 7-10 days.

Forgive me if I get a little irritated when I hear waitstaff saying “a little cross contamination is okay”…

This happens whether or not I take a sip of beer (somebody served me a margarita spiked with beer at a party and didn’t tell me) or eat a bite of a Rice-Krispie treat (Rice Krispies have malted barley syrup making them not gluten free)

This is why 20ppm is the allowable gluten level for anyone with Celiac…that’s the amount of flour that fits under your pinkie fingernail…maybe 2 crumbs. Studies show that nearly 45% of ‘gluten free’ food manufactured in a facility containing wheat has more than the allowable gluten level. That means no Trader Joe’s lemon mustard aioli…It should be gluten free. It’s made with oil, lemon, mustard, eggs, etc.. No flour whatsoever. But it’s manufactured in a facility containing wheat- and even though their line might be far away from where the flour is, I can’t risk that jar being one of the almost 45%.

dsc03066And here’s the rub. The gluten-free fad has done wonders for raising awareness about gluten. When I was diagnosed almost 17 years ago with Celiac, people looked at me like I had 8 heads when I asked if certain foods contained gluten. Now, many who work in food service are at least aware. The problem is, many are not aware of the serious consequences that some of us have when we ingest gluten. Or they foolishly assume that people are asking for gluten free for frivolous purposes and don’t bother to be meticulous in the kitchen.

Successful gluten-free eating outside the home is a two-way street. It is the responsibility of the gluten-free eater to be proactive, ask questions, and ultimately decide for themselves what they feel comfortable consuming. And it is the responsibility of the restaurant, managers and staff if they are claiming they have gluten-free offerings to ensure those items going out to the gluten-free table are indeed gluten free. Apparently easier said than done. But I do believe continued education helps, which is why I’m being so forthcoming about what happens to me when I ingest gluten.

Restaurant owners/managers/servers- I’d love to hear from you. Gluten Free-ers, I’d love to hear from you too..

Here’s what I personally would like to see and experience in a restaurant:

  • Accurate menu descriptions… If you state on a menu that something is gluten-free, then don’t EVER send anything out on that plate containing gluten. It’s one thing for me to ask and verify that something is gluten-free, but well meaning grandparents, babysitters, parents of friends etc. will likely be too trusting and believe that everything on the plate is gluten free.
  • Instruct your waitstaff to never ever ever say something is gluten-free if they don’t know. Ever. The correct answer should always be, “I don’t know. Please don’t taste anything until I’ve verified with the chef/manager.” I will happily wait if it means avoiding hours and days of discomfort.
  • Come up with a system on your line to alert line cooks and expeditors that a ticket is gluten-free. This could be as simple as a red marker, or an extra button on the computer tickets.

In return I (and hopefully other gluten free diners)

  • Will be patient. I recognize I may be the first gluten-free diner you’ve encountered. I will answer your questions, and am willing to read labels or speak with the chef.
  • Will make an educated and informed decision about what (if anything) I feel comfortable eating in your establishment, and I will not complain if your kitchen is run in a way that makes me not feel safe. Since we’re not in Paris and there are no gluten free restaurants in the US (that I know of) I recognize I’m only 1 customer among many, and that your restaurant may not be a good fit for my needs.
  • Will be a loyal customer if I feel safe eating in your establishment. And will tell all my gluten free friends to support your restaurant too.
  • Will politely inform the managers if there has been an issue. (no need for tantrums)

Profit margins in restaurants are razor thin, and studies show that restaurants who maintain a reputation of being a safe place to eat gluten-free see a 17% increase in their bottom line… That’s huge. I also eat locally. I’ve found the kitchens and staff at local restaurants are far more willing to go the extra mile to earn and keep gluten-free diners’ business. While many chains are hopping on the gluten free bandwagon, most also have a CYA disclaimer saying they can’t really guarantee gluten free… Fine, that’s their prerogative, but that’s not quite good enough for me.

Have you been cross contaminated? Share your experiences below. Know of a safe and delicious restaurant? Share that below too. Check out our gluten free travel page for write-ups on places we’ve enjoyed. More will be coming in 2015!

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Make Your Reservations: Justus Drugstore, Smithville, MO

Christopher Elbow Chocolate and Gruet Rose ChampagneMr. Kitchen Diva and I celebrated our 15th Wedding Anniversary last weekend. Which means we were also celebrating 15 years of no gluten (I got diagnosed with Celiac immediately after our honeymoon). Lots has changed since then- not only for us personally, but for the gluten free world.

Fifteen years ago, servers would look at me like I was from another planet when I asked if their sauces contained gluten. Now, most people are aware enough that if they don’t know themselves, they can at least go check with the chef. But- eating out is still tricky. Possibility for cross contamination is a real risk- even in the finest establishments. And- when your date is planning a fancy dinner- advance calls and questions are just part of the package. Which brings me to Justus Drugstore, just north of Kansas City in Smithville, MO.

I started hearing about Justus from fellow foodies a handful of years ago, but had never had the opportunity to go. We typically stay closer to home when we dine out, and Smithville- although only 18 minutes North of the Broadway Bridge- seems like Minnesota. After 15 years of marriage I’ve apparently turned into a homebody!

But last week, to celebrate, we made the journey. Not only was it a journey worth making, I’ll happily go back as soon as I can. I would easily rank my experience last week in the top 5 if not top 3 best meals of my life. Why?

Justus DrugstoreJustus Drugstore Interior

Justus Drugstore is a unique mix of haute cuisine and casual, come as you are dining. The juxtaposition of formal and informal is right up my alley, because that’s what’s important at our house. Good food is a must, shined shoes- not so much. We were dressed up for the occasion, but there were families in shorts and flip-flops, and folks stopping by the bar for a round on their way home from work. I absolutely LOVED the welcoming friendly atmosphere.

The bar is filled with bottles and jars of homemade infusions, and vases filled with freshly gathered herbs. And while I watched the bartender work, I was reminded of an old-time apothecary crafting the perfect recipe for his patients.

The kitchen is also open- there are no mysteries about the magic made in Chef Jonathan Justus’ kitchen- although it is magic. As a passionate cook myself, I felt like I had the best view in the house, watching the sous fire 3 pans at once, taste and adjust, while another person in the back broke down fresh rabbit.. I could have watched all night.

The Food

amuse buche justus drugstoreLeft me utterly speechless. Giggly, actually. When was the last time food made you giggly?? As in best sex in your life giggly?

From the amuse buche of egg salad with seabass, broccoli and a pinch of cayenne & paprika, to the bacon wrapped chicken livers, or the arugula salad with bleu cheese ice-cream– it has been years since I have enjoyed food this delicious, this playful, this imaginative… I mean really- who dreams up bleu cheese ice-cream??? And the rabbit…most rabbit I’ve had in my life is a bit on the gamey side and a little stringy. Not this- it melted in your mouth. Seriously, melted. What can I say?

Better still, the food is local. It represents the best of what I love about living in Kansas City. Three farms fully support the restaurant, in addition to an array of other local growers. And- this is the best part- they also harvest wild food- be they mushrooms, asparagus, or greens. You will not find food like this anywhere else- because no where else is quite like here.

bleu cheese ice creamI also loved the suggested pairings that accompanied each selection. They were spot on and the two together enhanced the experience of both food and wine. My only suggestion might be to offer a flight of 3-4 smaller pours for people who love to experience wine and food pairings.

Chef Jonathan stopped by our table for a brief chat, and I immediately felt like we were kindred spirits when it came to food philosophy and creativity: For him- it’s all about respect. Respect for the life of the animals, respect for the butchery process, respect for the growing and the harvest- respect for the land. This shines through in his cooking- but not in a pretentious or precious way. It’s down to earth, yet wildly imaginative. I love it. It’s the kind of place you can visit again and again, and still be surprised by something new each time you visit. You can also enjoy some of Chef Jonathan’s artwork which adorns the walls of the restaurant!

Gluten Free

Chef Jonathan’s menu is very much influenced by the time he spent in Southern France. Because of this, there’s plenty on the menu that is naturally gluten-free. And while substitutions are not possible they know their ingredients and preparation processes, and are very willing to leave something off the menu if you are concerned. For me- that meant leaving a few items off that had been fried. At this point there is only one dedicated fryer, and I so I opted to not risk possible cross contamination. It did not diminish my experience in the least.

Make Your Reservations

Wednesday – Thursday 5:30pm to 10pm,
Friday and Saturday 5:30pm to 11pm,
Sunday 5:30pm to 9pm
Phone: 816-532-2300

106 West Main Street
Smithville, MO 64089

 

Gluten Free Paris: Bio Sphere Cafe

DSC05735In the 8th Arrondissement, just beyond Haussmann Boulevard and Place St. Augustin is Bio Sphère Café. Its charming owner Sylvie, opened the organic (Bio is french slang for organic) cafe in 2010, but at first it wasn’t 100% gluten free.

” From the beginning, I wanted to open an organic bakery. I wasn’t aware about coeliac decease. As I propose the galette bretonne with buckwheat flour which is gluten free, I have customers that were asking me for gluten free cakes. I did some research about the disease and recipes.  I started to make one cake : it was a success. Another one and so on. Then the baguettes & the pizza.”

 

Les Baguettes Sans Gluten
Les Baguettes Sans Gluten

 

 

Yes, you read that right…. Gluten-Free Baguettes. And can I tell you they are sublime? Just what you’d expect a baguette to be- crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. A slightly pliable crust that crunches when you squeeze it.

And I have to say, walking around Paris with a baguette in my bag like a real Parisian made me feel somehow like I…. belonged…..like the best of Paris was accessible to me too!

Zucchini Soup w/ Gluten Free Baguette
Zucchini Soup w/ Gluten Free Baguette

 

But there’s more to Bio Sphère Café than phenomenal baguettes. Oh yes, there are delicious galettes sarrasin (the buckwheat galettes mentioned above), creamy fresh soups, creative pastas, quiches, salads..and oh yes- pizza. According to the Kitchen Divas in Training (and I happen to agree) the best gluten free pizza crust they’ve enjoyed to date!

 

 

Gluten Free Pizza!
Gluten Free Pizza!

 

 

One of the big challenges in creating a gluten free pizza crust is keeping a consistent texture. Too often the crust is chewy on the outside, but mushy on the inside, and that’s just not enjoyable. Or, if it’s a good texture on the inside, it can be overcooked at the edge. Sylvie’s pizza crust was perfect! A lovely texture- not too thick, and evenly cooked from crust to center. The Kitchen Divas in Training simply could not get enough!

 

BioSphere Cafe

Lastly, there were the desserts! A whole case of gorgeous patisserie. In addition to singlehandedly running her restaurant, somehow Sylvie manages to have the time to make great patisserie too! We enjoyed creamy lemon tarts, an array of macarons (she learned from the fine folks at Laduree no less!) eclairs, little cakes, and lighter than air tiramisu! Seriously, it was like eating a cloud- I could have eaten 10! I did actually, by the time you count all the desserts we sampled!

 

 

Gluten Free DessertGluten Free Lemon TartGluten Free Raspberry CakeMore often than not, in commercial venues gluten-free=not so good. So to find an organic & certified gluten-free restaurant like Bio Sphère Café which also happens to offer delicious, excellently prepared meals, and pastries, and gluten free baguettes? Oh yes, let’s not forget a pretty tasty gluten-free beer to accompany your pizza!

C’est un miracle!

Merci Sylvie, pour votre généreuse hospitalité, votre charmant restaurant, et vos baguettes incroyables! Nous sommes très heureux de vous avoir rencontré!

If you don’t have time to enjoy a meal at the restaurant, but would like to try a baguette- they are available a emporter (for take away) by reservation. You may contact Sylvie via her website here.

Gluten-Free Paris: Helmut Newcake

Helmut NewcakeJust off the Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement, is one of Paris’s best gluten-free patisseries (pastry shops- and yes, there’s more than one!), Helmut Newcake.

Helmut Newcake is one of 3 dedicated (and certified) gluten-free eateries in Paris. In addition to the incredible patisserie they make, they also have a daily lunch special and offer brunch on Sundays. Brunch is very popular here- in fact the first time I called to reserve a spot- 2 days in advance– they were already booked up! After reserving 4 days in advance so I wouldn’t miss out, I can see why!

Helmut Newcake Interior

The space is warm, friendly, and eclectic. Mismatched furniture, interesting art, and cosy tables are tucked into corners alongside a mini grocery area & bookshelves filled with Marie Taglioferro’s personal cookbooks.

gluten free eclair helmut newcakeWho is Marie Tagliaferro? The inspiration behind Helmut Newcake. Her husband, François, runs the front of the house while she makes magic in a tiny kitchen 1/2 the size of my own! Several years ago she was working for Lenôtre, one of the best pastry establishments in Paris, when she was diagnosed with Celiac. Imagine being a pastry chef diagnosed with celiac- it’s like being an opera singer who’s told she can never sing again.

Like many of us who’ve struggled with a transition to a completely gluten-free diet, François agreed the transition was not easy. “Marie gave up cooking. For awhile we both managed restaurants in London.” Thankfully for us, she couldn’t stay away.

“At first, she started experimenting, and at first it was a disaster.” smiled François. (sound familiar home chefs??) “But eventually it got better and she started working on specifics- percentages and writing down exact measures. Then in December, 2011 they took the plunge and moved back to Paris to open Helmut Newcake.

Gluten Free Pastry Helmut NewcakeSince then, they’ve been taking the gluten-free world by storm. They’ve been featured on David Lebovitz’s blog, the New York Times Magazine, The global news agency AFP (see their video about Helmut Newcake here), and many other well respected European publications.

We visited on several occasions- enough times to enjoy nearly everything in the pastry case. While everything we tried was delicious and beautifully presented, the stars were the eclairs. *Hands Down*, these are the lightest, most perfectly balanced eclairs I’ve ever enjoyed. The filling is creamy and a delicious contrast to the light and airy pâte à choux. And, for those of you who can still eat gluten- I guarantee in a blind taste test you could not tell which one has no gluten- and in fact, I bet you’d prefer Marie’s eclairs. They’re that good.

From a pastry standpoint, I know that gluten-free pâte à choux can be a challenge. Too often it gets tough and stringy, and then it won’t puff in the oven- or it will collapse. Marie has elevated gluten-free pâte à choux to an art form, and if you only have time to stop by for one pastry- get an eclair, or another treat made with pâte à choux. Gluten-free paradise indeed.

As for that brunch we enjoyed? Heavenly. Think baskets of fresh gluten-free bread, smoked salmon, bacon, pancakes, savory tarts, and perfectly coddled eggs. And dessert? Let’s just say the sign on the counter about gluten-free paradise is correct.

I think the next time we visit Paris, we may need to stay in the 10th, just so we can stop by every day!

DSC05882Brunch at Helmut Newcake

Merci Beaucoup Madame (et Monsieur) Tagliaferro! Vous êtes une source d’inspiration pour les chefs sans gluten partout. Nous vous remercions de votre persévérance, de dévouement et de passion.

Gluten Free Austin

Chef Erica's Shrimp & Grits (MAX's Wine Dive)
Chef Erica’s Shrimp & Grits (MAX’s Wine Dive)

Gluten-Free Paris posts will return soon, but today I want to tell you about what’s happening in the Austin food scene. I’ve been in Austin for the last 4 days at a conference and have had the chance to experience some great gluten-free food.

Like any city with a thriving local restaurant scene- Austin is pretty easy to navigate if you eat ‘sans gluten’. (Yes, I can’t help the French references at the moment!) Restaurants in Austin are committed to supporting their local growers. It has been absolutely delightful to repeatedly see long lists of growers whose food is used across the city. I was very fortunate to have a conversation about this with up and coming chef Erica Beneke- executive chef at MAX’s Wine Dive (207 San Jacinto Blvd.). Erica is super talented and after enjoying one of her creations- a flavor packed, fresh take on grits with spicy butter broth, shrimp, bacon, scallions, parsley and jalapenos- I know her career is going to rocket to the moon and beyond. Of Course, appearing on this Sunday’s episode of Chopped is going to help too! Chopped is on The Food Network, and will air tonight (June 2) at 7pm Central. I suggest tuning in to watch this talented young lady make food magic. You can watch online after its first airing- the episode is called Fry Fry Again.

Kitchen Goddess Chef Erica of MAX's Wine Dive (& me..on the left, in awe..)
Kitchen Goddess Chef Erica of MAX’s Wine Dive (& me..on the left, in awe..)

Half of MAX’s menu is all about gourmet comfort food. Think pork stuffed piquillo peppers, burgers made from brisket, chuck and beef belly, and ‘Haute’ Dogs made from Wagyu beef. The other half of the menu is a celebration of seasonal, local ingredients and changes about 5 times a year. Right now you can find creative items like a raw kale, avocado, and beet salad; or seared scallops with sweet corn, purple potato and rainbow carrot succotash. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to eat my way through the whole menu!

Other delicious finds have been at Cedar Door, one block south of MAX’s. The quinoa salad came with an enormous hunk of peppered avocado, and a carrot habanero reduction. The pulled pork and green chile tacos they serve are easily the best outside of Albuquerque. I was also thrilled to see that they use beef that is antibiotic and hormone free, and that they grind their own beef in house for burgers etc., to keep the flavor as fresh as possible.

Quinoa Salad- Cedar Door
Quinoa Salad- Cedar Door
Pulled pork & green chile
Pulled pork & green chile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was also really impressed with the kitchen staff at Old School Bar & Grill in the heart of 6th street. They cooked me up a salmon filet that was to die for. For those of you who’ve never been to Austin- 6th Street is lined with bars- all sporting their own band, hawker bouncers who shout out the evening’s specials, and signature drinks. It’s also the mecca for all things weird about Austin. Great fun- especially if you’re looking to step outside of your comfort zone, or dive into local flavor!

Best Popcorn Ever at Moonshine
Best Popcorn Ever at Moonshine

Moonshine, immediately south of the Hilton Hotel on Red River, was also a great find. Housed in a building from the 1850’s, the site has been a domino parlor, saloon, and general store. They make an incredible popcorn appetizer that was so good I couldn’t stop eating it. I was ready to beg the chef for the recipe. Imagine popcorn with paprika, celery salt, a bit of cayenne, and a little bit of Texas Magic. I’ll be attempting to recreate this at home very soon. Like the other local restaurants mentioned, Moonshine held its own with green chile grits and super fresh salads.

Twin Liquors on 7th & Red River also has a great selection of gluten-free beers, as well as a knowledgeable wine staff.

Basically, if you’re gluten-free in Austin, throw a dart and wherever it lands- you’ll be golden. Everywhere I went,  I discovered waitstaff and chefs who were happy to work with my gluten-freeness! There were so many good choices, I didn’t begin to scratch the surface. If you go- you are certain to enjoy yourself, and eat well- what more could you ask for?

L’Express Bar- Paris

Monsieur Le GarrecThis- is Monsieur Le Garrec- a Celtic Frenchman, formerly of Le Dorac, now living in Paris. How is it, you might ask, that an American family comes to spend time with such a gentleman? It is thanks to the miracle of the universe and the help of our neighborhood watering hole- L’Express Bar (23 Rue du Roule, 75001).

Every arrondissement in Paris has a gathering place like this. Some more than one. I very nearly wrote about another- Le Rubis, only to be scooped by David Lebovitz just the other day. I guarantee you- in every neighborhood bar there is a story as riveting as Monsieur Le Garrec’s waiting to be told. The story just needs a listener. This conversation took place entirely in French, and if the details aren’t 100% accurate, it is because of my faulty comprehension.

Monsieur Le Garrec- Marcel- was 8 years old in 1943 when the Gestapo marched into his village of Le Dorac- a small village not quite halfway between Limoges and Poitiers that was right on the dividing line between Occupied and Vichy France. Eight years old. Not much older than my younger daughter. The fear he said he felt was unimaginable, untranslatable. His parents were both active in the Resistance.

The elder Le Garrec's Carte d'Resistance- still carried by Monsieur Le Garrec
The elder Le Garrec’s Carte d’Resistance- still carried by Monsieur Le Garrec

Often he was left home alone all night to sleep by himself, while his parents risked their lives for the sake of a free France. His mother, like many women of The Resistance, carried messages. His father, part of the Maquisard– the men of The Resistance; guerrilla fighters located primarily in Vichy France, was involved in more dangerous activities: Radio transmittals to Britain that moved every night, smuggling downed Allied paratroupers to Spain using Russian papers, distributing weapons or sabotaging German stations in advance of the Allied Invasion.

Marcel told us with great emotion that when he was 10- his mother brought him to Normandy- to Sainte-Mère-Église – the site of a violent battle during the D-Day invasion, where many Allied paratroopers were killed. She showed him the tomb of a fallen American soldier, instructed him to say a prayer for the young man, and in a Private Ryan-esque moment, told him to  “earn this”. These men died so that young Marcel, young Arianwen & Katerina could live in a world free from the worst type of evil and prejudice. That same year, his father- also Marcel- introduced him to an American General at a reunion of Resistance fighters and rescuees in La Doret. This general shook the hand of the elder Marcl and thanked him for resisting. ‘Without the Resistance, we could not have succeeded.’ The highest accolades for a gentleman who refused all decoration from the French government in the years to come.

Marcel- now 78, is an artiste- a singer with a lovely tenor voice, who will be traveling to Bologna for 2 months next summer to better study opera. He calls himself a ‘comédien’. In France that means an entertainer/actor  of song, poetry, and writing. His wife has passed, his daughters remain, and still he sings and reaches out. We spent the better part of the evening discussing the finer points of movies, music, art and food.

Ouefs Mayonnaise- typical wine bar fare. Delicious
Ouefs Mayonnaise- typical wine bar fare. Delicious

The first night we met him he was enjoying an excellently prepared steak frite at our Bar. He heard us speaking English to the girls and asked if we were American. He thanked Jack for the aid of the Americans in WWII. Neither of us has ever had that experience. Jack responded that we still remember the aid of the French in our own Revolution.

It is encounters like these that make me happy I’m an artist and a writer. Stories like Marcel’s need to be shared- alongside the wine, l’eau mineral, and planchettes (charcuterie planks) that are part and parcel of a neighborhood gathering place.

I hope to meet Monsieur Marcel again for a verre du vin, or perhaps ‘ouefs mayonnaise’. before we hop a plane to come home. I hope we can spend the evening talking about the finer points of Gershwin, Cole Porter, George Brassens, and the importance of making music and sharing food- wherever we are…because artists naturally seem to find each other.

Wherever you are- I encourage you to find your local watering hole- your own L’Express Bar, and for a moment, put aside all preconceived notions about who people are and just listen to the story of the person sitting next to you. It’s likely you’ll be amazed.

Le Bistrot St. Germain

Notre Dame in Spring

 

 

Bonjour a tous! The Adventuresome Kitchen is on the road again- back to Paris where we are working on an exciting project to be unveiled later in the year.

Paris in spring is much different than Paris in December. I have to say I’m just as enchanted. Flowers are peeping out everywhere, and on the sunnier days, the cafes are filled to bursting with people watchers.

 

 

ChateaubriandOne pleasant discovery has been Le Bistrot St. Germain. On a little side street, just off St. Germain de Pres, I stopped to read the menu, and Monsieur Alex, immediately invited us in. I confess it was a bit of an awkward moment- we had intended to eat at a creperie a few doors down (we later found out it was closed that day!), but I like to stop and read the menus and look at the prices. The menu looked good, and the restaurant looked really cosy, and after a few moments of hemming and hawing, I explained that the Kitchen Divas in Training and I must eat meals ‘sans gluten’. “Pas de problem” (no problem) he said. “I will take care of you!” And so adventuring we went.

Monsieur Alex certainly did take care of us. I asked him about a number of ingredients and he even brought out onion soup sans bread, and clarified it was not thickened with ‘farine’ or ‘ble’. Those words mean flour, and can be used interchangeably.

Moules He brought the girls veal steaks perfectly grilled and seasoned without sauce. I enjoyed a tender lamb chop, and Mr. Kitchen Diva had the best meal of the day- a starter of plump, sweet mussels cooked in wine and shallots, and a juicy chateaubriand (a porterhouse steak). It was cooked to perfection, and not too big. The pomme frites and haricourt verts were perfectly seasoned and appropriately crispy. The ladies were in french fry heaven!  I realize I have just used the word ‘perfect’ about 6 times, but it was really, really good. There were several gluten-free desserts on the menu, and we settled for mousse au chocolate and creme caramel. Creme caramel is just like creme brulee, only the sugar hasn’t been crisped. Brulee means to burn. All this for a mere 12.50 euro per person! A price that for the quality, would be hard to beat in any neighborhood in Paris! I noticed after we sat down, that they also have a slightly more expansive menu for 17.50 euro, and we intend to return to sample some of the more adventurous options.

The restaurant is tiny- only 10 tables or so on the ground floor, with exposed beams and a lovely old wooden bar in the back towards the kitchen. The walls are covered with old pots and pans, artwork, and even a pair of skis. It definitely has the feel of a cosy mountain chalet. The cuisine here is hearty, and they claim to make ‘Savoyarde’ (Swiss) cuisine as well, namely fondue. I don’t know if they serve fondue in spring, but if they do, that might have to be on our next menu as well!

Le Bistrot St GermainCreme Caramel

 

 

Of course, all work and no play makes everyone a bit grumpy. And given that there’s so much food to try, we need to walk and run to build up hearty appetites. In spring, this means multiple visits to the Jardin du Luxumbourg, where they have one of the best play areas I’ve ever encountered. The Jardin du Luxumbourg isn’t just for children. There are plenty of play areas for adults as well. We noticed lots of tennis courts, but our favorite was the Boules area. These men and women take their Boules seriously- including trash talk and commenting to the watchers. Seriously fun entertainment.

Jardin du Luxumbourg

 

 

 

 

 

Boules in the Jardin du Luxumbourg

Gluten Free Meatloaf w/ Barbeque Sauce

Gluten-Free MeatloafThere is nothing attractive about meatloaf…..except the taste. To be honest, until last week, I’d never made gluten free meatloaf. It’s not on my list of favorites. My impressions of meatloaf from childhood are less than positive.

But after repeated requests from Mr. Kitchen Diva- it’s his favorite after all, I took the plunge. Only in my case, because I can’t stomach the thought of cooking an enormous lump of ground beef with only eggs and breadcrumbs, I ‘hippiefied’ it with the addition of carrots and kale. Then I “Kansas Citified” it with the addition of our favorite locally produced BBQ sauce, Oklahoma Joe’s Cowtown Bar-B-Q Sauce.

Oklahoma Joe’s is a barbeque joint in a gas station at the confluence of KCK and KCMO. They have the reputation of being the best barbeque in the world. Seriously. People wait in a line that wraps around the gas station for hours for this stuff, it’s that good. We locals know better than waiting and just call it in. Their sauce is gluten free (yay!) and it’s also without that other nasty ingredient- high fructose corn syrup. Oklahoma Joe’s has a thriving mail order business which I linked to above- if you’re curious or just plain love good barbeque sauce, head over and order a few bottles. I promise you, your tastebuds will thank you! And when you get your jar in the mail, you can make this gluten free meatloaf and think about making Kansas City your next vacation destination!

 

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Salmon in Parchment a lá Rosalie

Salmon ready to be cooked in parchment
Salmon ready to be cooked in parchment

Have you ever been on the receiving end of an epic meal? I can think of at least three such meals off the top of my head: The Inn At Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island where I spent an incredibly romantic evening on my honeymoon (pre gluten-free). Our meal here was so fantastic I was dizzy. And not from the wine! It was the first time I realized that a meal could be a full-on sensual experience. This realization inspired me to start actively pairing food and wine, and taking serious flavor risks in the kitchen. I wanted to recreate how I felt eating this meal all the time!

And yes, nearly 15 years later, I could tell you exactly what we ate!

The second such meal was at Q’s at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder. This was my first fancy gluten-free meal, and it was a revelation. I could still enjoy an incredible, flavorful, visually stimulating, and texturally interesting meal and feel great after! More recently, Salon Helene Darroze in Paris was another epic meal. It was also the first super fancy meal (not cooked by me) that the Kitchen Divas in Training got to enjoy. They savored every bite and commented on the dishes as if they were the Iron Chef judges. It was truly delightful.

What constitutes an epic meal? In my mind there are 3 things:

  • Company: A meal shared is a meal enjoyed. Food is meant to be shared, lingered over, experienced. The better the company, the better the meal- even if the food is average. Laughter can fill us up as much as the food.
  • Food that is prepared with heart and care: Notice I didn’t say super-snobby, fancy ingredients, fine crystal, etc. Often snobby-food meals like that are epic. But eat in a fine establishment with a rude waiter and your hopes for epic-ness are dashed. When you’re aware that you’re eating food that has been prepared with love, it’s transformative- no matter where you happen to eat it, or what the food is. I can think of a picnic I enjoyed in the middle of an ancient stone circle on a cool, sunny March day in the Cotswolds over a dozen years ago. We enjoyed freshly made local cheese and beer while we waited for the faeries to hop out and dance with us. Incredible. I can still remember the conversation I had with the shopkeeper who told us what cheese and beer to buy and where to find the faerie circle.
  • Heightened Senses: Think about the meals you’ve had where you remember the minute details of smell, texture, music, taste…Those meals that engage all of our senses, or that sharpen them, are the ones we remember for years to come.
Whether it's a meal for 2 or 20. Any shared meal can be epic.
Whether it’s a meal for 2 or 20. Any shared meal can be epic.

The other day, my friend Rebekah, who is currently living in a tiny village in Southern France, excitedly skyped me to tell me about this epic meal she’d enjoyed the night before. By the end of our conversation not only was I dying of jealousy, but I wanted to recreate a tiny fraction of what she experienced. This recipe is a loose interpretation of one component of her host Rosalie’s epic meal, and is named in her honor. I hope I get to meet Rosalie someday. She sounds like my kind of fellow cook and food-lover.

Saumon en PapilloteI have never made Salmon en Papillote before, and was surprised at how easy it was. The prep time is more lengthy than just putting salmon in a ziplock to marinate, but the results are worth it. The salmon is juicy and the flavors are intense. Don’t be afraid to really pile on the flavors. Salmon is rich and if you’re too delicate with your seasonings you will be left wanting something more from the dish. I was surprised at how generous I needed to be with the herbes de provence I used.  When I daintily sprinkled the herbes over the first few pieces, we couldn’t even taste them! It took sprinkling the herbes through every layer before they stood out and really added something to the dish!

Poached egg with Saumon en PapilloteBecause this dish at its core is so simple, you have complete freedom to add or subtract flavors based on your own personal tastes. Food should be a reflection of who we are, and those personal touches are often what elevates a meal from sustenance to memorable. In fact, we added a poached egg to the leftovers for breakfast, along with more herbes de provence, lemon zest, and truffle salt. Ooh Lo Lo! I just wish I had a bottle of champagne on hand to accompany it.

So here’s a toast to the Rosalies of the world. The love you bring to others through your food is a gift indeed!

What epic meals have you experienced in your life? Share them in the comments!

Saumon Rosalie (Salmon in Parchment a lá Rosalie)

Saumon en PapilloteIngredients

Salmon Filets, sliced into little 3-inch squares. (we used 2 sizable filets and made 10 packets.)

Fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly

Fresh tomatoes, sliced thinly

Fresh basil leaves- enough for 1-3 leaves on each piece of salmon

olive oil

1 tsp Herbes de Provence for each salmon packet

salt

1 lemon for zesting

Directions

If your salmon does not come de-skinned, remove the skin. Slice filet into 3-inch squares. No need to be exact on this. I made the squares bigger on the thinner side of the filet, and some squares were more rectangular. Do what seems right for your meal.

Cut a length of parchment paper- about 8-10 inches wide. Fold it in 1/2 with the short sides touching. Then fold in 3rds- so it’s about the size of an envelope, and turn the paper so it’s long and skinny and fold in 3rd again so that it’s a rectangle that can fit in your hand. Unfold the 3rds, but leave so that it’s still folded in 1/2- you should see 9 sections. Pre folding helps once you’re folding the parchment around the filet. I learned this the hard way!

Place a filet in the center of a folded piece of parchment. Sprinkle a bit of salt and part of the herbes de provence. Add a piece of mozzarella (Cream cheese can also work as a substitute). Sprinkle more herbes de provence. Add a thin slice of tomato, or two. Sprinkle more herbes de provence. Top with a few basil leaves and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

Just about anything can be used to close a parchment packet
Just about anything can be used to close a parchment packet

Fold the packet around the salmon and tie with a bit of string. You will notice in these pictures that I used kitchen string, satin ribbon, and a clothespin. I discovered just as I reached for the string that the Kitchen Divas in Training had absconded with my kitchen string and used it for a Mideval art project of epic proportions! Use what you’ve got on hand- the oven temperature is only 350, and will likely not damage anything you use to secure your packets.

Place the packets on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan and cook at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (about 180 degrees Celsius) for 20-25 minutes. The thinner filets will be done at 20. The thicker ones need a little more time.

IF and only IF, you know your fishmonger and you can get superfresh salmon – we cannot here in the Midwest- you might cook your thicker filets to 20 minutes. This would be very tender in the center. Ideal, but only if you trust your food source. Otherwise, make sure your fish is opaque at the center.

To Plate: Unwrap the packets and slide each piece of fish onto a plate. Sprinkle with more herbes de provence, a tiny bit of salt (we like truffle salt for this) and a generous sprinkle of lemon zest. You could even squeeze a bit of lemon over the top.

Most importantly- enjoy with people you love!

Gently reheat leftovers and top with a poached egg.
Gently reheat leftovers and top with a poached egg.

Gluten Free Albuquerque

I’m continually amazed at the exploding world of gluten-free awareness. This past week I was down in Albuquerque to do Thanksgiving with my relatives- a gluten-full bunch, but who always make me and the Kitchen Divas in Training feel welcome at the table. While I didn’t have much time to hit the streets in search of new and exotic green-chile culinary delights, I did manage to stop by a few new places in my favorite Nob Hill neighborhood.

Slice Parlor– a newish establishment with tasty GF Pizza has a great sports-bar vibe and great pizza by the slice. If you’re GF you still have to order a small pizza, but the ingredients are great, and they have hard cider on tap- another bonus.

They’re right across the street from Albuquerque institution Il Vicino, which I’ve heard has caught up to the times and is now also offering GF Pizza crust! I haven’t eaten there in years, (because of the lack of GF crust) and will definitely hit them the next time I’m in town.

Lastly- I ducked into Zacatecas, a new taqueria and tequila establishment run by Chef Mark Kiffin who also owns and operates The Compound in Santa Fe, known for its elegance and outstanding cuisine. I was pleased to learn that practically the whole menu is gluten-free. Passionate about chile rellenos, I grabbed a duck confit and goat cheese to go. It was dipped in a cornmeal batter and fried crispy. The combination of texture and taste did not disappoint- although I personally would have used slightly less goat cheese so as not to disguise the chile and duck flavors.  That said- I’ll definitely be making an evening out of Zacatecas the next time I visit Albuquerque.

No road trip would be complete without coffee. This gem of a find right by Old Town, Coffee and Tiles de Santa Fe, not only brews great espresso, but they make a full compliment of pie- including pie with gluten-free crust! While they were out of the GF crust the morning I stopped by, my husband enjoyed a delicious quiche, and a green-chile apple pie that I am going to have to try to create here at home. Green chile truly makes everything better!

If you’re looking for a decent cup of coffee East of Albuquerque, look no further than Kix on 66 in Tucumcari. This funky diner serves a full compliment of espresso, teas, juices, and of course breakfast food- every day. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have a hot cup of non-truckstop coffee for the long drive back to Kansas City.

Wherever you find yourself traveling this holiday season- remember to support your local economies, and don’t hesitate to ask about gluten-free. You may just be surprised at the deliciousness waiting for you!

Cafe Gratitude

There’s a new restaurant in town that has captured my heart and my imagination. Cafe Gratitude is a new restaurant in Kansas City that is vegan, has a mission to use locally sourced ingredients, and is almost entirely Gluten-Free! I went there for lunch a few weeks ago when my Mother-in-law was out for a visit and was blown away. One of the most impressive parts of my experience there was reading the menu- every menu item is a personal affirmation! How lovely to sit and read a menu of “I Am Fabulous”, “I Am Trusting”, “I Am Extraordinary”- how can you not love food that makes you feel so loved and beautiful?!?

And the food was good, too. So good, in fact that I forgot to take pictures! We don’t eat out very much anymore- in part, because as the kids have grown and we’ve tried to preserve our budget, we’ve discovered we’re a lot more picky about where we spend our dollars. It’s disappointing to spend 40 or 60 dollars on a meal that’s not as good as what you can create at home- for less than 1/2 of the cost. However, Cafe Gratitude will be a place we return to when we can- the food and flavor combinations were delightful, reasonably priced, and the atmosphere was uplifting. Another touch I loved was that the waitstaff posed a question of the day- one we could answer or not, but it was posed to get us thinking. Our question: Who are you in love with today? Lastly- I was impressed that there was a selection on the menu that was priced as donation only, with the understanding that you may pay what you choose, and that no one will be turned away. In this day of increasing food insecurity for the poorest among us, it’s nice to know that anyone can come to Cafe Gratitude and be fed a wholesome, nourishing meal. I’ll be supporting them again for this reason alone. Check out their inspirational menu here.

The photos included in today’s post are a riff on the meal I enjoyed at Cafe Gratitude- I Am Whole. I didn’t have sea vegetables to add to mine, so I used zucchini noodles (made by using my carrot peeler) gently warmed with a little olive oil and ginger. The kimchi was homemade (napa cabbage, radishes, onions and poblano peppers mashed into a quart jar, salted and left to ferment for a week on the counter- YUM!), as was the tahini (process sesame seeds in your food processor until smooth, slowly add sesame oil until you create a paste. For this post I added the juice of one lemon and a heaping spoonful of herbed garlic powder.) Serve over quinoa with shredded kale, carrots, chopped tomato, avocado, and a sprinkling of almonds. It tastes best when you mash it all together. We’ve also tried the leftovers with a fried egg on top!

Gluten-Free Louisville Part 2: Derby Day Mint Julep Recipe

The Kentucky Derby absolutely lives up to all the hype. And speaking of, did you see the Preakness today? It looks like we may have witnessed the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years. We’ll know 3 weeks from now!

So what made Derby Day so amazing? Well of course there was hat-watching, and viewing/speculating/pretend betting on all the other races that day, standing with 165,000 people as the horses leaped out of the gate, but truthfully, the experience of drinking a Julep at the Derby, enjoying a little Kettle Corn and a fancy lunch from The Streetside Lounge (Where the buns were kept in a separate chafing dish from the BBQ and brats thank you very much!) and experiencing a slow, sweet meal from De la Torre’s Spanish restaurant will remain with me long after the multitude of hats, people, and races blur in my memory.

De la Torre’s is located on Bardstown Road, a few (long) blocks down from Avalon. It shares a kitchen and management with its sister tapas bar, La Bodega, located immediately next door. We were really torn between sampling a variety of small plates, and trying the paella offered in the restaurant. The paella won. Although, I have to say, we very nearly threw it over for the roast suckling pig that was the chef’s special that night. If only Louisville was a tiny bit closer!

While we were waiting for the paella to arrive we nibbled on a beautiful plate of Spanish cheeses, and sampled the grilled calamari. I love calamari, but rarely enjoy it outside of my kitchen because most restaurants prepare it with flour. This calamari was not only beautifully presented, it was grilled over a tiny charcoal brazier. It never would have occurred to me to prepare calamari on my backyard grill, but after tasting this appetizer I’m definitely going to try! Calamari has the perfect consistency to stand up to the heat of a charcoal grill, and the smoky flavor it gets from that application made me want to ask for seconds.

The paella was a traditional seafood paella complete with lobster tails, shrimp, scallops and more calamari. The rice was the perfect consistency and deeply flavored with saffron. It was a true pleasure.

A word about paella: Like most traditional dishes, paella varies from region to region, restaurant to restaurant. In España, seafood paella is usually considered Paella Valenciana– or Valencian Paella. Valencia is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean, and their regional dishes are filled with fresh seafood. Traditional paella from Madrid includes chorizo, chicken wings, pork, and shrimp. Clearly a landlubbing dish for a landlocked city. But one that is no less delicious.

If you make paella at home, you don’t need a fancy paella pan- although a good cast iron skillet might come in handy. You don’t even need to spend a fortune on fancy ingredients. Use what you have on hand and spend your money on good saffron and paprika.

As fabulous as our previous courses were, it was dessert that knocked me out.  Normally I would have chosen the chocolate dessert, but I was intrigued by the preparation of the banana…I was delighted and surprised with the flavor, and texture. And even though I was full, I couldn’t put down my fork!

De la Torre’s is a wonderful, low-key restaurant with a wonderful old-world, intimate setting. It the perfect landing spot after the crazy crush of humanity that was the Derby. They even offer gluten-free Spanish beer (yay!) I’m only sorry I couldn’t try more of the menu.

As our trip wound down and I packed the car to head home, I had one last stop to make before hitting the road. A locally owned coffee shop called Quills. I’m grateful for Starbucks and all when I’m on the road- especially because I have fond memories of frequenting the original Starbucks at Pike Market in Seattle, where I attended college. However, I prefer the ambience and coffee of a locally owned establishment.

Quills is right off of I-64 on Market Street in New Albany- if you’re driving cross country and you need a pick-me-up- here’s your chance! Not only do they have free wi-fi, their own brand of coffee, and a case full of goodies, some of those goodies are gluten-free! And the coffee?? Best cup I had in Louisville!

Derby Day Mint Julep

Now for that Julep Recipe I promised- there are several variations of a Julep- below are a few

Recipe A:

One shot of Kentucky Bourbon 

1 tbs mint infused simple syrup

Pour over a cup of crushed ice and serve with several mint sprigs- enjoy!

Recipe B:

One shot of Kentucky Bourbon

1 tsp powdered sugar

6 sprigs mint

Dissolve powdered sugar in a bit of the bourbon, add crushed ice and the rest of the bourbon, add the mint- enjoy.

Recipe C:

Muddle 1 tbs sugar and 1 tbs chopped mint

add a bit of bourbon to dissolve the sugar

add crushed ice

pour 1 shot of Kentucky Bourbon over the top

Add mint sprigs- enjoy!

Gluten Free Louisville part 1: Kentucky Oaks

Yes, you are looking at a shot of Churchill Downs, site of the famed Kentucky Derby. I checked off a major bucket-list wish this past weekend when I met my mother-in-law in Louisville, Kentucky to experience everything Derby Weekend had to offer. It was all hats, horses, and deliciously gluten-free!

We stayed at the charming Admiral Bicknell Inn just outside the mayhem in New Albany, Indiana. New Albany sits on the north side of the Ohio River and is 15 minutes from everything you’d want to experience in Louisville. Like many small towns, it has definitely struggled during the recession. But, its downtown corridor is still bustling and filled with local coffee shops and several locally owned restaurants. None of which I tried this time (well I did try the coffee and you’ll read about that in a later post), as my focus was on Louisville. However, the lovely Valla Ann, who runs Admiral Bicknell was such a delightful host, and was so great about making me delicious gluten-free breakfasts, I’ll definitely be spending more time in New Albany in the future!  

Our first evening in Louisville was spent on Bardstown Road, a bustling, eclectic area of the city known for its art galleries, specialty clothing shops, and multitude of locally owned restaurants. We visited Avalon, a boisterous restaurant that is a strange cross between sports bar and posh dining. However, I’d read they make a mean gluten-free lobster mac ‘n cheese, and that’s what I was there to try. It was pretty fabulous- a generous portion with a super-creamy sauce and tons of lobster. However, I did find myself wishing for some acid to cut through the richness- either in the form of lemon, zest, or even some salad greens with vinaigrette.

My mother-in-law ordered one of the best pieces of salmon I’ve ever tasted. I don’t think I’ve ever had a piece of salmon that was downright juicy- but this one was. It was prepared with a beurre-blanc sauce and served with whipped lima beans,  pea shoots, and fresh asparagus. The flavor combinations made experiencing this dish a true pleasure.

 

The next morning it was all about the horses and the hats. We enjoyed an early morning backstretch tour before returning later in the day dressed for Kentucky Oaks. Oaks day is all about the ladies and the fillies. The grandstands were a sea of pink, and the main race of the day, The Kentucky Oaks, is a race entirely comprised of fillies. The signature drink is nothing less than a pink cocktail named the Oaks Lily. They tasted a bit like vodka and fruit punch, although I learned later that they’re more like cosmos with a twist. I didn’t have the presence of mind to photograph these refreshing beauties, but I will tell you how to make my version at home.

Kentucky Oaks Lily

Place 1 oz vodka in a rocks glass filled with ice. Add 1 tbs simple syrup, 1 tbs cherry syrup (I use the juice from my Morelo Cherries) fill to the top with cranberry juice, add a splash of Grand Marnier, and garnish with a healthy sprig of mint. Best enjoyed while watching a horse race!

My favorite meal of the weekend was at the L & N Wine Bar and Bistro, a lively and friendly restaurant just south of the river and east of downtown Louisville. L & N has a cosy neighborhood atmosphere, super-friendly service, and an incredible kitchen. This meal was the highlight of our weekend. They were very gluten-free aware, and nearly everything on the pre-fixe Derby menu that night was naturally gluten-free.

I also appreciated the very reasonably priced aperitifs, and tasting sized options on the wine list. I love pairing wine with food, and to have the option of a tasting portion of wine with each course was delightful! Our server really knew his wines and suggested the perfect pairings with each of my courses. Below are pictures from two of my courses: A beautifully prepared pair of pan seared scallops accompanied by a wild mushroom ragout and tomato confit, and Gulf Shrimp paired with smoked tomato chutney and served atop locally sourced cheddar cheese grits. Both dishes were outstanding and paired beautifully with an Italian varietal called Falanghina and a phenomenal Sangiovese, respectively.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

L&N Wine Bar & Bistro is the kind of place I’d visit regularly if I lived in Louisville. They are committed to sourcing locally grown, seasonal food wherever possible, and the staff seems to be the kind of people that would remember your name after a few visits. I certainly felt welcomed into their fold for the few hours I was at the restaurant and hope to return again.

I’ll leave you with a montage of just some of the lovely hats I saw, and the promise of a Derby wrap-up post that includes another great restaurant I enjoyed on Bardstown Road, as well as a recipe for the ultimate mint julep!

 

 

 

 

Gluten Free St. Louis

As I travel the world, I’m continually amazed at how easy it is to have an enjoyable gluten-free food experience.  It does require a little bit of homework and advanced planning; but in general,  I have to say it’s waaaaaaay easier than when I got diagnosed 15 years ago when nobody even knew what was, let alone how to prepare something delicious without it.

As you know we just spent four days in St. Louis attending and participating in the FIRST Lego League World Festival. This festival brings together 85 middle school teams from around the world to compete in the areas of Robotics, Research, and Teamwork, and celebrates all that they have accomplished. Simultaneously, there are international High School competitions as well. In all, over 35,000 people descended on St. Louis to celebrate and compete last week.

I brought lots of gluten-free snacks to keep the Kitchen Divas In Training going during their long days, but was surprised at a few of the delicious meals I had outside the arena. Here are 3 locally owned places you must put on your list the next time you visit St. Louis. In addition to being locally owned, all of the restaurants note on their menus that they source local ingredients wherever possible. This makes me so happy!  There is wonderful food to be had here in this part of the Midwest, and anytime we can support our local growers and ranchers, it’s better for all of us. Just click on the restaurant name in each section to visit the restaurant websites and look over their menus.

ROOSTER

This was our first stop when we arrived in St. Louis.  Known for their gluten-free/vegan crepes, and just down the street from the America Center, this seemed to be the perfect place to begin our St. Louis Adventure.

The food did not disappoint. They have an extensive mimosa and bloody mary list- I enjoyed the “Mimo” a mimosa flavored with pomegranate. At first, I thought I had been brought the wrong drink, as I was expecting bright red pomegranate juice. However, this restaurant specializes in local/organic, and if you’ve ever had non-POM pomegranate juice, you know it’s more brown than red. Whatever the color, the end result was delicious, and I only wish I could have enjoyed two.

The crepe selection was enormous, and I could have stayed for days trying all the different kinds of crepes. The ladies both enjoyed a German Sausage #2, which contained a locally made, somewhat spicy (and very flavorful!) sausage, apples, cinnamon, and lots of gruyere.  I enjoyed a sirloin crepe with bleu cheese, sundried tomatoes and arugula, while my husband enjoyed a pulled pork crepe that was accompanied by a cinnamon syrup. He was nice enough to order a GF crepe so I could try it.

The crepes were a huge hit, both in flavor and portion. They were enormous, and fortunately we were very hungry. The crepe itself was remarkable. It was large, thin, and strechy- just like a good crepe should be. I asked how the chef made them, and got a few hints, but then the server said the chef started to get nervous. I completely understand not wanting to give away your secret recipe!  Three cheers to the chef for making a fabulous, satisfying crepe!

I must mention that the service is very laid back here. Almost to the point of being annoyingly slow. I enjoyed our server very much, but the restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived, and it felt like we had to beg for attention. I’m willing to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt- maybe the server was new, maybe there was a shift change and we got lost in the shuffle. Whatever the case, I’d be willing to try The Rooster again, at the very least to enjoy a new mimosa and another fabulously constructed crepe.

PW PIZZA

This gem of a pizzeria was right around the corner from our hotel, and our group ended up ordering 26 (yes 26!!!!!) pies from them. I had the pleasure of working with Linda on our big order, and she was a dream!

They brought us one salad with all the accoutrement on the side to accommodate the variety of food allergies/dietary needs in our group, and made several GF pizzas for us. Linda even called the next day to see how I enjoyed the GF Pizzas! That’s taking customer service to another level.

While I didn’t get to enjoy the ambience of the restaurant, I did read they have an extensive beer selection on tap, and a nice upper patio that I bet would be perfect for evenings al-fresco.

Everyone was very happy with the pizza. I ordered a number of their specialty pies on GF crust- both so I could try the crust, but also to experience some of the flavor combinations in action. They were great!!

At first, I felt mediocre about the GF crust. My gluten-eating taste testers enjoyed it, but I felt that it was a little grainy. In hindsight, I think that may have more to do with the size of our order and the cooking/waiting time than the quality of the crust itself. We snacked on leftover GF pizza for most of the 4 days we were in St. Louis, and the crust was great. It held up well in the ‘fridge, and reheated beautifully. We even enjoyed a GF sausage pizza with vegan cheese. I was a little concerned the girls wouldn’t enjoy the cheese, but they loved it, and spoke highly of the sausage.  

Hands down, the favorite pizza was the roasted veggie pizza with goat cheese. The pizza was absolutely loaded with vegetables that had been roasted to perfection. Often a roasted veggie pizza can get a little soggy because of the olive oil, but this was just right- and you could taste each individual vegetable.

One of the other pizzas we really enjoyed was the candied bacon and pear pizza. This was a winner in a contest they held, and I can see why- of all the specialty pizzas, this one went the fastest.

I can honestly say that you can’t go wrong visiting PW Pizza. We tried many of their pizzas and were happy with all of them. It did not occur to me to see if they carry GF beer. You can look on their site, and if they don’t, perhaps with a little prodding, they will soon!

MOSAIC 

Mosaic was a delightful surprise on every level, and quite honestly the best meal I’ve had in ages. Mosaic is located on Washington, just up from the America’s Center, and is a beautifully designed and executed tapas restaurant. I was a little hesitant to enter, as we saw the lovely white tablecloths through the window, and asked the hostess and servers if we were too underdressed for their establishment. Keep in mind, all of us were sporting light-up bunny ears and painted on whiskers! They cheerfully said “Of Course Not!” and welcomed us in.

I was also surprised and delighted at how knowledgeable our server, Ben, was about the food preparation in the kitchen. I cornered him almost immediately while the others were getting settled to discuss what might work on the menu. He took his time with me and went over nearly every dish available, explaining the ingredients and exactly how it was prepared. On the few items in question, he consulted with the chef, just to make sure. This is the kind of service that makes a foodie downright giddy.

I have a soft-spot for tapas. I learned how to eat well and cook well when I lived in Madrid. Although this menu takes tapas beyond the traditional to a new level of food experience, I love the concept of little tastes.  Especially when there are so many delicious things on the menu.

The roasted butternut soup infused with vanilla was the best I’ve tasted. And the creamiest- it was so smooth it was almost like pudding. The lobster bisque, which my adventurous younger daughter decided to order was presented beautifully, and poured over a lemongrass-shitake foam. When they poured it, and the aroma of the lobster filled the table, I thought I would faint with joy.  Seriously. It smelled that heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also enjoyed a watermelon gazpacho, a surprise in that the traditional flavors of tomato gazpacho were present, just softened and sweetened with the watermelon. The lobster-crawfish risotto was creamy and saucy, and nearly every bite contained a succulent bit of shellfish.

 

My favorite though, was the watermelon salad served with baby greens, thin radish slices on the watermelon cubes, and a science beaker of balsamic vinaigrette, all on a schmear of foamed herbed goatcheese. It was incredible. The combination of color, texture, flavor and whimsy practically had me singing in my seat.

 

Dessert was the perfect end. The chef kindly served a flight of mini gelatos in tiny cups for the girls since they couldn’t do the cones. We also enjoyed a beautifully presented carmelized panna cotta with fresh berries marinated in Grand Marnier. I was so satisfied I didn’t even need a post dinner espresso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a meal this lovely. I would seriously stop in St. Louis again just to return to Mosaic. I heartily recommend you do the same!

And as for the robotics tournament- how did my amazing kiddos do? Their team took home the 1st Place Award in the category of Inspiration!!