Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

There’s a downside to learning to cook great food at home: most restaurants just don’t do it as well as I can.

This isn’t a conceit – it’s the truth. I get to focus on two or four plates, not an entire restaurant. I can tailor the flavors to my own palate, the nutrition to my own needs and the level of execution to my own standards. This isn’t to say I’m rigid in what I like and dislike – on the contrary. Those who know me know there aren’t many flavors or foods I won’t eat. When I give it real thought, it’s a short list, and based on experiences I can pinpoint:

  • Yuzu and lemon together – an unfortunate tart at a restaurant in Denver
  • Duck confit – overly-greasy at a school in Kansas
  • Torchon of foie gras – a much-too-large portion at a bar in KC
  • Baby corn – general disappointment each time it appears

Even those examples aren’t deal-breakers for me. My rule is, if I don’t like something, I need to try it prepared by a chef I trust. If I still don’t like it, I don’t like it, but I gave it the best effort. I learned to love Brussels Sprouts because of a dish at Room 39. I crave beets thanks to a preparation at Rioja in Denver. Both of these items were on my short list before I had them prepared in the right way. Who knows, there might be a right way to prepare baby corn. I doubt it, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

I digress. The downside to learning to cook at home. It’s like learning to knit. Now that I can, and I know how simple it is, I can’t get myself to pay $40 for a cowl at the GAP. I will, however, spend $30 on yarn and make the cowl myself, with improvements. Same with cooking – spending money on a meal that I know I can do better at home is just aggravating. So I seek out places that hopefully can do things better or, at the very least, inspire me to do something new in my own kitchen.

Such was the mindset as we made reservations at The Farmhouse last Saturday. We’d never been, but the reviews were positive and the menu looked very good. Unfortunately, our experience didn’t meet our expectations.

The Farmhouse is located in the River Market area at 3rd and Deleware. The restaurant space is quite nice – it has that rustic upscale feel that’s been popular for a while, with dark hardwoods and antique furniture alongside bright artwork and twinkling lights. The feel is romantic and cozy, and we were charmed. I especially liked the chalkboard towards the back of the main dining room which listed the sources for all of the ingredients used in their dishes. A very nice touch indeed.

It wasn’t easy making dinner choices – everything sounded so delicious in the menu. We each ordered a different salad, but chose the same entree, and split dessert.

The salads were just okay. The ingredients were fresh, and both had high points – a perfectly fried slice of goat cheese on mine, and some beautiful polenta croutons on his. But they both had lackluster dressing with little flavor and too much oil. They were overdressed to the point that the oil flavor masked the fresh, local vegetables the restaurant is so proud of.

Our entrees were sort of a disaster. We both ordered a chicken roulade dish with smoked mushroom duxelle, sweet potato puree and arugula.  The presentation was lovely – the chicken was browned and crisp on the outside, the puree was smooth and creamy, the arugula was bright and fresh. The first couple of bites were very good. But then things went south. Neither of us could cut through the center of our chicken – they were completely raw in the center. At about this point, the smokiness of the mushrooms became overwhelming, then intrusive and ultimately boring. We ate about 75% of the dish (the cooked part) and informed our server that the rest of our chicken was raw. We didn’t want replacement meals, and asked that he simply inform the chef so that future diners didn’t suffer such a dining fate.

Not completely satiated from our entrees, we opted finally for a slice of pecan pie for dessert. Again, nothing special. My molasses pecan pie is much better, and Pillsbury crust is flakier and had more flavor. We both agreed that our meal at The Farmhouse was less than stellar, but we also agreed that some of that is due to our own culinary skills at home.

Some good things did come out of the meal. We’ll be making polenta croutons soon, and will also be adding some thinly sliced pear to our salads on occasion. The biggest revelation, though, is the chicken roulade. After some discussion, we decided that we can perfect this dish by tightly vacuum-sealing the chicken roulades, and cooking them sous vide until done. Then a quick sear in a hot skillet to finish. This will guarantee tender, perfectly formed, perfectly cooked roulades. I’ll let you know how that works, when we try it.

The Takeaway: The Farmhouse (http://www.eatatthefarmhouse.com/) just didn’t rise up to our admittedly high standards. Overdressed salads, raw chicken, lackluster pie – nothing was outstanding. However, their commitment to locally sourced ingredients is commendable. This may make a good brunch spot, but someone else will have to fill me in as we won’t be returning any time soon.

The Farmhouse
300 Delaware Street
Kansas City, MO

Have I mentioned that I love chocolate? Because I do. I’m also a fan of VitaTops, so a flavor called Triple Chocolate Chunk is obviously something that draws my interest. But will they taste as good I hope they will?

First things first…

Looks

The promise from Vitalicious:

The wrapped:

The unwrapped:

It looks little drier than the image in the picture. However, there is a definite variety of chocolate chunks – three, to be precise. The white ones seem to be retreating into the cake, as if they are drawn inward by some interior quicksand.

Texture
The cake is a little bit dry, but I managed to get a chocolate chunk in each bite, which helped moisten the cake. It’s really dense and fudgy. I like it. I really like it. It’s chocolate. Times three. What’s not to love?

I have one complaint, and it’s really petty. When the chips are scattered around the edges, I end up getting chocolate goo on my fingers each time I pick up the VitaTop to take a bite. It’s not that bad, since I end up licking the stuff off my fingers anyway, but still, it’s sort of messy.

Taste
The cake is the same dense chocolaty cake used in the Deep Chocolate VitaTops. It’s very chocolaty and rich, with no discernable aftertaste as in the Fudgy Peanut Butter Chip variety. Each of the three chocolate chunks also has their own flavor. The dark chip-shaped one is like semisweet chocolate. The light chip-shaped one is a mild, sweet white chocolate, and the chocolate chunk one is like milk chocolate. I really like the white chocolate ones and find myself wishing that there were nothing but white chocolate chips in this one. The triple chocolate chunk is definitely chocolaty – almost too chocolaty. Almost. I do think I’d like this one more with some fat-free Cool Whip dolloped on top.

Sitstay’s Takeaway
Overall, I like this one a lot. But, it’s really similar to the Deep Chocolate in taste and texture, and since those are available for cheap(er) at Costco, I’d just as soon stick with those. The Triple Chocolate Chunk isn’t worth going out of your way for if the Deep Chocolate is easier and cheaper to get. But, if Costco isn’t an option or is out of stock, and it’s the same price for these or the Deep Chocolate, I’d get these over the Deep Chocolate because the white chocolate chips are the yums. The takeaway:  A really good way to satisfy an intense chocolate craving.

I have a sweet tooth that trends towards chocolate. I really, really, REALLY love all things chocolate, and that’s one of the reasons I was so unhealthy in the past. When I started to change my diet for the better, I knew I would have a problem if I couldn’t find a suitable outlet for my chocolate cravings. I found salvation in a Deep Chocolate VitaTop.

Looks

Here’s the promo picture of the Deep Chocolate VitaTop from the Vitalicious Web site:

The reality:

Here it is in its nakedness:

The Deep Chocolate VitaTop is definitely deep and dark. Like a chocolate black hole. It looks moist, dense and chocolaty. Everything a good snack should be :) While there’s an obvious congregation of chocolate chips on the edge, there are some noticeable ones in the center that indicate potential for chocolate chips in every bite.

Texture
Soft, yet not mushy. Dense, but not too dry. These are good right out of the freezer or thawed. I’ve not tried them warmed, but I have a feeling that would be good, too – dense chocolaty cake and melty chips… yum.

Taste
You always remember your first, and for me, it was this flavor. Therefore, this is the chocolate VitaTop by which all others are measured. There’s no weird seaweed aftertaste like in some flavors, which is a bonus. The chips are semi-sweet, so they build upon the already chocolaty flavor by adding a touch of bitterness, and some welcomed moisture. These are particularly good right out of the freezer – cut it in half crosswise and slather on some fat-free Cool Whip for a guilt-free dessert sandwich. Heck, these are so healthy you don’t even need to consider them dessert!

Sitstay’s Takeaway
These are easily my favorite VitaTop, for many reasons. First, they are really, really good. But what I love most is that I can get these at Costco for $9.99 per dozen. That is an INCREDIBLE deal. I’ve paid upwards of $6 for a box of four at times, so the Costco deal is like finding gold on the sidewalk. The takeaway: If you can get them at Costco, buy a truckload. You’ll be glad you did.

On a typical workday, I eat breakfast at my desk while going through e-mail and the like. I’ve never really been a weekday breakfast person (weekends are another story), but I know that one of the keys to successful weight loss is to keep myself from getting hungry. So, I eat breakfast, whether I feel like it or not.

An easy breakfast to have at my desk is some coffee and a VitaTop. While I’m a big fan of chocolate, I can’t really get myself to eat a chocolaty treat first thing in the morning. So I usually turn to the non-chocolate varieties. This morning, it was the CranBran.

First things first…

Looks
Vitalicious displays the CranBran thusly:

Looks good, right? All oatmeal and juicy berries. Drool-worthy, if you ask me. So what’s the reality?

All wrapped up.

Not too bad…

Naked CranBran!

Hmm… not exactly like the Vitalicious picture. The cranberries are scattered about the periphery, like cran-refugees in a sea of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie dough. You know what I’m talkin’ about – we’ve all eaten our fair share of Oatmeal Cream Pies.

Texture
The bran varieties all have a similar characteristic that you may or may not like. Have you ever let a bowl of Raisin Bran get soggy? You know that texture – the grainy mushiness of what were once flakes, coupled with the not-quite-stale chewiness of the raisins? That’s what I’m reminded of when I eat a CranBran VitaTop. Now, before you go and think this is a negative, for me, it’s not – I happen to like it when my Raisin Bran gets soggy. Call me weird. Go ahead. I don’t mind.

The CranBran texture isn’t mushy, but it isn’t dry, either. It’s sort of spongy-grainy. The cranberries are chewy like you would expect dried fruit to be, but they aren’t so chewy that you have to fear you’ll rip out a molar or anything.

I don’t toast mine – I like take them out of the freezer about 20 minutes before I’m ready to eat. I would guess toasting would change the texture, so if spongy bran isn’t your thing, you might give that a try.

Taste
This variety is sweet, but it’s not too sweet. Chocolate in the morning is too sweet. Donuts are too sweet. This is just right. It’s got just a bit of cinnamon flavor to make it interesting, and the cranberries are like little candy jewels mixed inside. As you can tell from the picture, the cranberries tend to retreat to the edges, but occasionally one or two are still in the middle and are like fun little surprises.

I don’t notice any odd aftertaste with the CranBran VitaTop. The taste left is similar to what you get after having a slice of wheat bread with strawberry jam. I can’t taste anything that’s not supposed to be there, if you know what I mean.

Sitstay’s Takeaway
Of the Bran VitaTops I’ve tried, this one is my favorite. It pairs really well with a cup of coffee, and leaves me full enough until lunchtime.  The takeaway: if you like bran cereal, and you like cranberries, you should love this.

I love chocolate. I love peanut butter. I love VitaTops. Obviously, I’m going to love the Fudgy PB flavor, right? Um, not exactly.

Looks
The Vitalicious product page gives us this delectable image.

A tempting PB treat...

I love how the chips are literally flying off the muffin.

In reality, we’ve got this:

A not so tempting reality.

The chips are all huddled together, like smokers trying to band against the frigid December air. They also have a strange, waxy sheen, which matches their texture. I pulled this one out of the freezer about 30 minutes before I snapped this photo. I don’t typically toast them, but I have been known to eat them frozen.

Texture
The texture of the Fudgy PB Vitatop is a wee bit grainer than the Deep Chocolate. It’s also a wee bit softer overall – not as firm. The chips are also a bit mushier than the ones in the Deep Chocolate variety. I have to say that I prefer these frozen over thawed. The cold distracts from some of the more negative aspects. Speaking of…

Taste
Unlike the Deep Chocolate flavor which is full-on chocolate bliss, the Fudgy PB chocolate cake has a very strange background flavor going on. At first, I couldn’t place it. But then I realized where I’d tasted that before: at a sushi bar. The cake has a seaweed-type flavor that is reminiscent of nori (those green paper-like sheets used to roll sushi). For me, this flavor was very distracting and not very pleasant. I’ve finally found something chocolate doesn’t go with: seaweed.

As for the chips, they definitely had a peanut butter flavor, but it was a kind of puny, meek peanut butter flavor, like someone watered down real peanut butter, mixed it with some sort of binding agent and poured the result into chip-shaped molds. Imagine chewing up some real peanut butter chips for about 2 minutes, then spitting that into ice cube trays to freeze. It was sort of like that. Only not as gross.

Sitstay’s Takeaway
As VitaTops go, these aren’t my favorite. The texture is too soft, and the chocolate and peanut butter flavors aren’t strong enough to mask whatever it is Vitalicious puts in their products to make them so ridiculously healthy. I would rather have a Deep Chocolate or Cran-Bran any day. But, if I had a chocolate/sweet craving (which happens often) and these were the only VitaTops around, I’d eat one before I’d grab something that wasn’t a VitaTop. The takeaway: if these were the last VitaTops on Earth, I would eat them.