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!

Snow Day Homemade Marshmallows

David Lebovitz's MarshmallowsKansas City was the recipient of an epic- century sized- snowstorm today. We’re at over 12 inches and counting- making this the largest February snowstorm since 1900. And- this wasn’t your typical blizzard- here in the midwest we get Thundersnow! Yes- you read that right- Thunder, lightening, and heavy snow- all at once! Thankfully, there were no “snow-nado” warnings!

Now for those of you who live out west or in New England, 10-12 inches may not seem like much. But to the flatlanders out here 3 inches is enough to cancel school and tie up traffic for a good day or so. And when we start getting into the double digits- well- besides sledding, making snow people, and shoveling out the cars from the driveway, there’s not much else to do besides make hot cocoa and watch movies… Unless you feel brave enough to tackle homemade marshmallows!

Not feeling like reinventing the wheel, I hopped online and ended up at David Lebovitz’s site. Not only do I love reading about Paris, but David is great at sweets- something I am not. So, when I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone- this is where I go.

The Kitchen Diva in Training hard at work
The Kitchen Diva in Training hard at work

I was happily surprised to discover that marshmallows are one step removed from italian meringue, which I am now very comfortable with thanks to our Adventures in macaron making last month!

They are super easy, and taste Waaaaaay better than the plastic-y cylinders we all grew up eating. We added a touch of peppermint schnapps to ours, and then toasted them in our mini oven to gently carmelize them. They were the perfect addition to our post-snow shoveling cocoa!

For a great read, and a beautifully easy marshmallow recipe- click here. And the next time it snows buckets in your neck of the woods- try making your own marshmallows!

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Remember- we’re experimenting with Gluten-Free Croissants this month….. How’s it going? Post your comments below.

Gluten Free Pierogies

Gluten Free PierogiesNine and a half years ago, Mr. Kitchen Diva and I landed here in the midwest on a new adventure with nothing but our two kitties, a Ryder Truck full of mostly college-type furniture, and the apple of our eye- our eldest Kitchen Diva in Training. We had moved here for a job I took that among other things didn’t allow us to leave town during the holidays. That first year, far from friends and family, we were pretty lonely. But into our lives walked a Christmas Angel of sorts.

A fellow singer and adventurous chef took us under her wing and said “Let us be your family here!” She invited us for Christmas Dinner and didn’t bat an eyelash when I somewhat timidly mentioned my issue with gluten. In fact, she promptly set about making sure there was plenty on the menu I could enjoy. The twist in this story comes because everything on the menu was Polish. Kansas City has a very strong Polish heritage and community, and my dear friend and her husband both grew up in the heart of this community.

That Christmas, we were introduced to the delicious aromas and tastes of galumpkies, Traditional Polish Borschtborscht, and kapusto- all naturally gluten-free. We also tasted pierogies for the first time- yes, even me. My friend called a few days before Christmas saying she’d found a GF recipe for pierogies and would I like to come see how they’re made? Quite frankly, I was blown away.

Even after years of being GF, there are times when it still feels very awkward to disclose my dietary needs. There’s so much emotion tied up in food. Double that around the holidays. To this day, that simple act of hospitality has informed how I set my own table.

Treasured Polish Recipes for AmericansA few days before Christmas, the mini Kitchen Diva in Training (who was just more than two) and I arrived; aprons, rolling pins, and GF flours in hand to consult the grandmother’s Polish cookbook, and compare with a GF dough recipe we thought might work. A beautiful friendship was born in that warm kitchen 9 years ago. One that has sustained us, and led to many ensuing meals of Polish deliciousness. The pierogies? Not bad. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was so amazed someone cared enough to cook something special for me. We decided there was room for improvement, and over the years we’ve attempted to create Gluten-Free Pierogies off and on. A few years ago, Conte’s Pasta came out with their own version of Gluten-Free Pierogies. We started using them namely for the sake of time. Pierogies of any kind are an undertaking. We agreed there was still room for improvement.

Gluten Free Pierogi filled with potato-onion- cream cheese-green chile-bacon-chive filling.
Gluten Free Pierogi filled with potato-onion- cream cheese-green chile-bacon-chive filling.

Fast forward to this year, when for some crazy reason it seemed like I had gobs and gobs of time before Christmas. So I volunteered to tackle and improve our Gluten-Free Pierogies and bring them for Christmas Dinner. The traditional filling for Pierogies is a mixture of potatoes, onions and melted (usually cream) cheese. I got all ambitious and decided to improve upon this by adding green chiles, chives, and bacon. I even peeled the potatoes! Sadly, the filling was so delicious we gobbled it up while we were making and rolling the dough for the other fillings, and only made about 4!

We also made two additional fillings. The first blended crimini and black-trumpet mushrooms, onions, sour cream, rosemary & nutmeg. The second- butternut squash, onion, cream cheese, and sage.

According to the Polish Kitchen Diva, the dough we finally settled on ‘tastes like it should’. I don’t think there could be higher praise. Be warned- this dough is very delicate, and at times can fall apart. I found that a little water helped fix the cracks, and that in spite of the delicacy in rolling out the dough, it held up nicely through the boiling and frying steps.

On this Twelfth Night of Christmas, as we celebrate the end of a season and remember the gifts of the Magi- I invite you to remember those unbidden, seemingly small gifts you may have received from friend or stranger. The best gifts are usually not material. Rather they are acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, and hospitality. May we all have the grace to receive such gifts, and the boldness to pay them forward.

Gluten Free Pierogies-makes 2-3 doz depending on the size

IngredientsGluten Free Pierogies

1 cup sorghum flour

1 cup millet flour

1 cup corn starch

1 cup potato starch

1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 stick salted butter (if using unsalted, increase salt to 1tsp)

1 cup sour cream (full-fat)

ingredients for the filling are up to you

Directions

Gluten Free Pierogi doughBefore starting, have your filling ready to go, and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Allow all the dough ingredients up to room temperature- it’s important to let the butter get very soft.

Place dry ingredients in a stand mixer, or if working with a 1/2 batch, in a food processor. I actually prefer to make my dough in the food processor, so I work in 1/2 batches.

Give the dry ingredients a whirl or a few pulses so that they are sufficiently mixed together.

Mix the eggs and sour cream, and softened butter together. It should have a smooth consistency.  Add this to the dough. Mix or begin to pulse.  As soon as the dough has come together, pull it from the mixer/food processor and place on a large piece of floured (with cornstarch or tapioca starch) parchment. Break off a chunk of dough, and sprinkle with additional cornstarch (or tapioca starch). Knead gently, reflour, and roll to 1/8th inch thick.

Using a biscuit cutter, make circles in the dough and remove the scraps. Gluten Free PierogiesPlace a generous tablespoon of the filling in each center and gently fold the dough in half. Using wet fingers, press the dough together so that the edges are slightly scalloped. You can also use a fork to get a different look.

Note: This dough is very fragile and more prone to breakage. Overfilling will definitely lead to breakage. However, it’s easy to squish the dough back together again- they just won’t look as pretty.

Place 3-4 pierogies in the boiling water and cook for 5-6 minutes. They will begin to float to the top as they near readiness. Use a spider or slotted spoon to remove them from the water and gently shake them to remove excess water.

Gluten Free Pierogies boiling

 

If you are planning to fry and eat right away: Preheat a medium saute pan while the pierogies are boiling. Place a dab of butter in the pan (I am generous with my dabs, but the amount is up to you. You could even use Olive Oil).  Once the butter has foamed, place the boiled/shaken pierogies in the pan and fry on each side until they start to turn a nice golden brown. How long you cook is really up to you. I like the color of a longer-cooked pierogi, some prefer them gently warmed through and not golden brown.

If you are saving for later use: you may place the boiled pierogies in a storage container (I used a stainless steel mixing bowl) and place a little butter on them. The heat from the pierogies will melt the butter, and help prevent sticking when you’re ready to fry them. Seal. I have read that pierogies will last over a week in the fridge, and even longer if you choose to freeze them. Mine have never stuck around that long!

Ideas for fillings Mushroom filling for Gluten Free Pierogies

Potatoes, cheese, onion (traditional)

Sweet potato or butternut squash and onion

broccoli and cheese

sausage and onion, or sausage and kraut

mushroom and shallot

blueberries, cream cheese and lemon zest (dessert, obviously, sprinkle these with powdered sugar before serving)

apples, butter, cinnamon

You get the idea- PLAY!