Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Iowa Corn Pudding

September and October is an odd time in Iowa. Take a drive out to the countryside and you will see weird sights. Alien looking vehicles with lights all over, stirring up the dust in the fields. It's harvest time in Iowa. 

I might be a city girl, but I definitely live in an agriculture state. For over 150 years, farmers in Iowa have chosen corn as one of their main crops. In a typical year Iowa farmers produce over 100 billion pounds of corn. Used for food, animal feed, exports, fuel production, and so much more, field corn is THE major crop in this state. For comparison, the sweet corn we all love so much is less than one percent of that total. That was a little hard for me to comprehend considering all the corn stands and corn festivals we have every summer. 

I absolutely love the corn festivals and corn stands. Pulling up to the stand on a warm summer day, loading a few dozen ears of sweet corn into the car and heading home for a day of shucking, blanching, cutting and freezing is absolutely one of my favorite things to do. It's like filling the freezer with summertime. I like to pack one quart bags full of cut corn. It freezes quickly and is easy to measure out of the bag if I need a smaller amount for a recipe. I have tried canning corn at home but the lengthy processing time and high temp int he pressure canner causes the sugars in our very sweet Iowa corn to caramelize. The corn browns slightly and gets a slight burnt sugar taste. With freezing the corn retains its fresh taste and texture.

Bags of summertime, ready for the freezer.
Harvest time is also holiday time, with Thanksgiving right at the end of the season. My family always asks for scalloped corn for Thanksgiving, and I've always made my mom's recipe. Simple and easy, made with store bought canned creamed corn, eggs and saltines it's quite tasty with a browned crunchy cracker crust on top and creamy corn filling. This year I decided to step it up a few notches and pass on the commercial canned corn and use frozen sweet corn, creamy half and half, a hint of cheese and scallions. That crunchy cracker crust will still be there just like Mom's.

Iowa Corn Pudding

6 cups fresh corn kernels
6 scallions, minced
3/4 cup finely shredded Colby Jack cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper
1 cup crumbled saltines, divided
4 tbs melted butter, divided, plus more for dish

Generously butter a 2 quart baking dish. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the corn, scallions and cheese. Mix in the eggs, half and half, sour cream and 1/2 cup cracker crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Pour into baking dish. Toss remaining cracker crumbs with remaining butter and sprinkle over the top. Bake for 50 minutes until puffed and golden brown.

Sprinkle with sliced scallion tops to garnish, if desired.

The pudding puffs up during baking and has a delicious custardy texture that's so much better than the old style creamed corn in a can. The cheese adds just a bit of depth and the scallions bring in just enough savory to keep that Iowa sweet corn from being too desserty. This delightful dish is going to be a regular on my family's holiday table from now on!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Apple Pie on a Stick? Yes!!

This is a post from City Girl Country Life, centering around the Iowa State Fair, and food on a stick. The blog City Girl Country Life is heading into retirement so many of the recipes originally shared there will make an appearance here over the next several months. This story was originally published in August, 2015.


It's that time of year again. The Iowa State Fair kicks off in two days with the annual parade through downtown, and ten days of  rides, shows, food, competitions, concerts, food, tractor pulls, lemonade, food, baby animals, arts and crafts, food, free stuff, contests and of course- food! The Iowa State Fair is the once a year event for many of us to throw good eating habits out the window and have that fried-something-naughty-on-a-stick. You can't eat that everyday but once a year, you just have to!

The first ever Iowa State Fair was held in 1854, a mere eight years after being granted statehood.  It was quite an event for the time, admission was 25 cents. Women on horseback was the entertainment highlight of that first fair. Ten women participated, all competing for a gold watch as the prize. The fair moved around Iowa several times before finally landing at it permanent home in Des Moines in 1879. In 1886 the current location of the fairgrounds was purchased, and the rest is history.

Our great state fair is well known for many things, from crashing locomotives for entertainment, to the famous Butter Cow, and most notably, for being the inspiration for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Tony Award-nominated musical State Fair, the story of the Frake family and their Iowa State Fair experiences in 1946.

Now, without a doubt, when we talk about the state fair, we usually don't talk about the historical stuff (other than the musical, because most Iowans think that is pretty cool actually), we talk about the FOOD. Starting in the early days with humble lemonade and popcorn, to today's fair with more vendors than I can count, selling everything from corn dogs, to hot beef sundaes (yes, it's a thing) to deep fried butter on a stick (yes....that is also a thing). Deep fried, on a stick and hugely oversized- think smoked turkey legs- is the Special of The Day at the fair. Every year several new signature items are added to the food lineup. This year they include the Bacon Brisket Bomb, Corn in a Cup, and fried Apple Pie on a Stick. 

I used regular bamboo skewers you can find in any kitchen
store, but I cut them in half.
Of course, our office loves to have food days. We have one for loads of occasions and certainly State Fair Food sounds like an amazing chance to whip up something utterly naughty, maybe fried, maybe on a stick even..... and share it. So the committee that plans events sent out an email last week announcing a State Fair Food Day with prizes in several categories. My brain immediately started planning......and after much internal debate settled on Apple Pie on a Stick. I have heard that the fair's apple pie on a stick is simply apple wedges, threaded on a skewer, then dipped in funnel cake batter and fried. Well......I can do better than that!! Let's make MY version!

Apple Pie on a Stick With Bourbon Cinnamon Glaze
(makes about 36)

2-3 Granny Smith apples
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 batches double crust pastry (3 packages store-bought)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
bamboo skewers

Prepare your pastry. If using the store bought rolled up kind (and hey I did!!) let it rest at room temp while getting the apples ready.

Peel, core and chop the apples into small cubes. The "pies" are small so you need tiny pieces of apple. Place apples in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice and ginger over. Toss well to evenly coat the apples with the mixture. Set aside.

I love the flavor of cinnamon and allspice with apples, so I
went pretty heavy handed with spices. You can adjust to suit
your taste, same with the sugar.
Roll out (or unroll) the pastry and cut into circles using a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter or, as I did, the ring from a canning jar- that is the perfect size. Working with one pie at a time, use your fingers to moisten one side of a pastry circle. Press a skewer lightly into the pastry.

A canning jar ring made the perfect cutter. I moistened the
pastry circle with water and lightly pressed the skewer into
the dough so it would be pretty secure.
Spoon on about a tablespoon of the apple filling into the middle. 

Top with a second pastry circle and press the edges to seal. Crimp however you like, as fancy as you like, and cut a couple slits in the top to allow stem to escape.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

If you like, you can brush them with milk and sprinkle with
sugar before baking. I did not, since I was adding a glaze.
I made a batch at a time, working on the next dozen while one was in the oven.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

Aren't they pretty?
In a small bowl combine the powdered sugar, bourbon, vanilla, spices and enough milk to make the glaze a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over the pies (on a rack over the cookie sheet is good) and allow the glaze to dry before storing loosely covered.

I was a little disappointed that the food day ended up being cancelled because not many people were able to participate. That's not unusual this time of year- it's back to school, fair time, families are busy with kids, sports, school supplies, vacations and so on. Sadly that meant no prizes and no voting, but I did get a quality coupon that's redeemable for paid time off as a thank you for participating, so I was happy. All my team members said I would have won Best Food on a Stick so I went home with very few leftovers and feeling pretty good!!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Radish Slaw with Apple and Mint

Spring is just around the corner, and here in the city I have amazing access to all kinds of beautiful fresh produce. That's a good thing, because I absolutely love vegetables, especially when I can eat them raw in salads. We're talking way beyond lettuce, folks, all kinds of delicious and crunchy things find their way into my salad bowl. Today we're going to focus on radishes. Poor radishes. They are the orphans of the relish tray, always left behind after the olives, broccoli and baby carrots are all nibbled up. They just sit there, looking forlorn. People don't give radishes the love they should. There is so much more to the world of radishes than the everyday red globe roots we are used to seeing. Indeed, radishes come in a rainbow of colors and a variety of "pepperyness." You know what I mean, radishes can have quite a peppery bite to them, like white radishes- they are often quite hot. Not hot like peppers like radishes!

I grew up with a veggie crisper full of radishes. My dad always grew them in the garden. They were always the first harvest and one of the last things in the cool fall garden. My mom always made relish trays for get-togethers and always sliced up a small pile for salad. We ate radishes all the time. We even ate them like the French- halved and smeared with a teeny bit of butter and dipped in salt. Fresh radishes are crunchy and juicy and it's true, different varieties taste totally different. Watermelon radishes, have a white to green outer skin and interior flesh that's bright pink- hence the name. They have a sweet flavor with just a slight hint of the peppery note of the common radish.

Icicle radishes are white fleshed and look a lot like little carrots. Most white radishes have quite a bit more bite than red radishes. Black radishes are black on the outside and creamy white inside with an intense peppery flavor. Radishes come in just about every color. They look absolutely beautiful together, roasted briefly to bring out the sweetness, or sliced and made into quick pickles, or even just added to a salad. Today we're going to hit the store and see what kinds of radishes we can find, and we're going to make them into a crunchy and fresh slaw with apple and cucumber and lots of fresh mint for an Asian twist. Sinful Food basil olive oil is going to bring our dressing into the spotlight with its fresh basil flavor and aroma and Signature Seasoning bumps the flavor up several notches over plain salt and pepper. Let's go shopping!

One of my favorite places to shop, especially for produce, is Gateway Market. We shop here all the time, and have shared a shopping trip or two with you before, so I won't repeat all the many incredible things you can pick up here, most notably the mile long (not really but practically) olive bar that gets me in more trouble with The Chef.... We'll concentrate on produce. I found during my quest for watermelon radishes that they are not easy to find in February in Des Moines, even though they are in season. I had to contact a produce distributor for help, and when that failed, I contacted Gateway Market for help. Their produce guy, Brian, was super helpful and walked me through requesting special produce. Super easy and one email later he let me know when the radishes would be in- so here I am, at Gateway, browsing the rest of the fresh goodies, and that super naughty olive bar that gets me into trouble every time.

I got up bright and early on Radish Day, even long before my alarm. You could say I was a little excited. Gateway Market is just west of downtown Des Moines in a historic area of the city called Sherman Hill. Surrounded by lovely Victorian homes and ultra-modern lofts Gateway is such an amazing store. Since we've visited Gateway before let's just skip ahead to the good stuff- the produce. At first I had trouble finding the watermelon radishes. I expected them to be either sold in bunches with greens attached or packaged in bags. I did not expect the produce guy to bring me a giant case of loose radishes and allow me to pick the exact ones I wanted. I was very surprised to see how big they were. The radishes in the case ranged from golf ball size to baseball size. I really didn't have a preference as to size, since we will be cutting them into matchsticks anyway so I just grabbed a bag and made my selection. 

I always spend most of my time in the store in the produce section and today was no different. I was looking for a few other items for the rest of our meals for the weekend so I picked up some really nice organic baby potatoes, organic baby rainbow carrots and a nice box of big cherry tomatoes. These veggies I planned on roasting and serving with my beef roast for dinner tonight. I also snapped up an organic cucumber, some crisp and fresh scallions for the radish slaw, as well as a couple Granny Smith apples, and as I was making a last scan over the vegetables something bright and green and beautiful caught my eye. I think my eyes might have bugged out too and I think I actually squealed out loud when I reached out and picked up the one thing I have been searching and searching for and certainly did not expect to find on this trip- a Romanesco cauliflower! Laugh all you want, you ought to know by now, I am a total vegetable nerd. Anyway, my list of foodie resolutions for 2016 included tracking this beauty of a veg down and cooking it and I never did find one. Suddenly, here it was, in my hand, and I was soooooo thrilled to have it, I didn't even remember to go the olive bar...........

Radish Slaw with Apple and Mint

1/2 lb radishes, multi colored if available
1 medium cucumber
2 Granny Smith apples
1 bunch fresh mint
2-3 scallions
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Sinful Food basil oil
3/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Sinful Food Signature Seasoning
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Cut the radishes into matchsticks, along with the cucumber. Place in large bowl. Slice the scallions including the green tops and add to bowl. Cut the apple into matchsticks but leave the peel on, add to the bowl.

Pull the mint leaves off the stems and give them a rough chop. Add to the vegetables in the bowl.

I was unable to get fresh mint, so I subbed fresh parsley. You
can substitute parsley or basil if you don't like mint.
In a jar with a lid combine the vinegar, lemon juice, both oils, mustard and seasoning. Screw the lid on and shake vigorously to combine. Pour dressing over the vegetables, starting with about half the dressing. Toss to coat. Add the almonds, toss again, and add more dressing to taste.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Family Cookbook- Cranberry Orange Bundt Cake

Ohhhhh how I love cake. Everyone who knows me knows about my passionate love affair with cake. I guess that's a hazard when you're a baker. In school I was a bit of science geek and well, science goes hand in hand with baking. In most other forms of cooking you can wing it, and eyeball ingredients as you go. Not so true in baking. There is absolutely science involved- getting the right combination of fats to flour to liquid to leavening. Sugar to make it palatable. Salt to make the flavors stand out. Fat to keep the texture soft and moist and melt in your mouth. We haven't even got to the frosting yet!

Cake as a food has been around since ancient times. Back in those days, cakes were more like bread and likely to be sweetened with honey. Fruits and nuts often were the only flavoring available to make cakes a little more interesting. Cake a little closer to what we are used to made its appearance in Europe in the 1600s, when the technology of the day included ovens in homes and metal food "molds" and pans. Early icing recipes started to show up in kitchens too, but most were boiled and created something like a candy coating. These cakes often used yeast to rise. The mid 1800s brought us...... cake as we know it today. All the heavenly happiness of leavening ingredients like baking powder and baking soda, cocoa and chocolate, and.........Lord help me.......buttercream icing. 

The Fannie Farmer Cooking School Cookbook was published in 1918 and cakes made regular appearances in the home of people all over the country. Decades later we would see a wide variety of cake mixes on store shelves, packages of flavored frosting mix, and eventually, those plastic tubs you just need to open and spread on your cake.

It's no surprise that my kids inherited my love of cooking and baking. My oldest daughter Debbee baked this fantastic Bundt cake for our family's Christmas dinner and everyone raved. Not too sweet and not overloaded with frosting, if there is such a thing, it was a great way to finish off that big turkey feast. The cake is buttery and soft like a pound cake with so much fresh orange flavor, lots of juicy fresh cranberries and a drizzle of creamy glaze. We enjoyed the cake for our dessert but it would also make a lovely coffee cake for breakfast or brunch.

Cranberry Orange Bundt Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Thoroughly coat a Bundt pan with cooking spray for baking. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of sugar in the pan. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer until light and lemon colored. Beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Add the zest and orange juice. Stir in the sour cream and vanilla.

Add the flour and baking powder. Mix for several minutes until incorporated and smooth. Stir in the cranberries.

Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes until cake tests done. Cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes, then invert and remove the pan. Allow cake to cool, the drizzle with glaze.


1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons half and half

Stir together until smooth. Drizzle over cake. You can also use orange juice instead of the half and half and sprinkle some additional orange zest over for even more flavor.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Purple? Yes, purple. Purple sweet potatoes.

Sometimes the internet can be a bad thing. A bad influence. An enabler. Like Instagram for example. Of course I follow a number of food bloggers, restaurants, stores, and food companies. You have to, if you want to stay on trend. Frieda's Specialty Produce is one of the companies that I follow and love seeing all the interesting and unique kinds of produce they offer. Many of these fruits and vegetables are tropical and cannot be grown here in Iowa, and many more are rare or a fun hybrid of traditional vegetables. I was minding my business one evening, posting silly memes about rock stars and food, tossing some recipe ideas around in my head when Frieda's posted something that immediately caught my eye. Sweet potatoes. Ok, sure, I like sweet potatoes. Love them baked like a baked potato and they are a must have with holiday turkey. These ones though......these ones were........PURPLE!

Yes, purple! Bright Minnesota Vikings purple, and unlike many other purple hybrid vegetables, these beauties do not lose their color when cooked. Think about this for a minute, we have such colorful vegetables already, with all shades of greens, yellow, orange, red, tomatoes in a rainbow of colors, now we're adding a deep gorgeous purple to the mix? Yes!!!!

We eat with our eyes, as they say, so I didn't want to hide these guys under an ocean of marshmallow. I wanted to showcase not only the color but the nutrition and healthy fiber sweet potatoes provide. I wanted these potatoes to be front and center in whatever I made. First things first though, I have to actually find them and get my hands on a bag. This is not always an easy task. Des Moines is a big city, and we have big big grocery stores with all kinds of amazing produce but sometimes I miss out on something really wonderful, like the pink sweet corn some friends were able to snag last summer. By the time I got to the store- all sold out. The amazing folks at Frieda's made sure I didn't miss out. They reached out to me via Instagram and helped me track down a couple different locations in Des Moines where I'd be able to find the Stokes Purple Sweet Potato, and after work, I headed over to Trader Joe's and incredibly enough, got the LAST bag in the display. I went home with my 3 pounds of playthings and began to narrow down my recipe options.

Like I said, I did not want to treat these guys like an everyday sweet potato. I can do that, well, every day really, so I wanted to use them in a creative way. I love roasting vegetables, it brings out such a different flavor and texture, especially with sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are loaded with good things too, B vitamins, and loads of beta carotene which is so so good for us! I decided to cut up one or two, give them a little roast in the oven, and toss them with other bright fresh vegetables in a salad, lightly dressed with a honey vinaigrette to bring out the sweetness. Here is my unique take on salad.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Kale Salad Bowl

1 or 2 purple sweet potatoes
2-3 cups baby kale
2-3 cups baby spinach
6 scallions
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted slightly
Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 1 1/2 to 2 inch cubes. Toss in a bowl with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread out onto foil lined baking sheet that's been sprayed with cooking spray. Roast the sweet potatoes at 400 15-25 minutes until tender. Allow to cool slightly.

Toss the baby kale and spinach together in a large bowl. Add the scallions and almonds. Toss with some of the vinaigrette. Add potato cubes and toss again.

Easy Honey Vinaigrette

1/3 cup olive oil
2 tb Dijon mustard
2 tb balsamic vinegar
2 tb honey
salt and pepper

Shake together in a jar until thoroughly emulsified.

But the REAL fun came when dreaming up ways to use the sweet potatoes in a very delicious way. I knew I just had to figure out a way to use this tasty tuber in a sweet recipe, a dessert of some kind. There were so many good options too- pudding, mousse, ice cream and sweet potato pie. If you have never had sweet potato pie, you simply must try it. It's a lot like pumpkin pie but the potatoes are so rich and smooth and the spices make the pie so warm and inviting. All you need a simple crown of whipped cream and you have pie perfection. Now, let's make it purple!

Crazy Purple Sweet Potato Pie

1 1/2 lb purple sweet potatoes
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup half and half
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
small pinch ground cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
one pastry shell

Bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven until tender, 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool until cool enough to handle. Slip off the skins.

While potatoes are cooking, line a pie plate with pastry. Trim and crimp a tall edge. Cover and set aside in a cool place. I popped mine in the fridge.

Place the sweet potatoes in a bowl. Use a form to break up and mash the potatoes, and beat in the softened butter until completely mixed in. Mix in all remaining ingredients.

Pour into pastry lined pie plate. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You may need to cover the edge of the pastry halfway through baking time to prevent burning. Use foil or a pie protector if you have one. Cool completely and serve with whipped cream.

I used a small pie plate for mine, because we are a small household, and I had a little filling leftover so I baked that in a custard cup alongside. Baking in cups is a great gluten free option, too, if you omit the crust and spray well with cooking spray. Just look at the color of that filling! It tastes like autumn but looks like a pop of summer color.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Planned Leftovers- Monica's Marinara

There are two chefs in his house, and therefore, two very different ideas on how to cook various dishes. The Chef is more of a wing-it kind of cook, whereas I am more of a detail oriented cook, especially when it comes to traditional recipes like marinara. I want my sauce to be reliable and as I remember. I'm not someone who wants a pot full of surprise sauce every time I make it. After my trip to the local Italian market in town yesterday I had loads of great ideas for dinner for the next few days, I just needed a big pot of red sauce to pull it all together. So while The Chef napped after his morning at work, I whipped up a nice pot of marinara using some of the items from the Italian market and some of the amazing Sinful Food gourmet olive oils. 

I start my sauce with minced fresh onion and minced fresh garlic. I absolutely cannot imagine sauce without them. Dried or powdered simply will not do in a sauce I am going to simmer for a few hours. I grab a small yellow onion and mince up into tiny pieces. A handful of fresh garlic cloves- 8 or 9 or so- also get a super fine mince. Using my big stockpot I add a good swirl of Sinful Food Basil Olive oil- and right here is where we are going to stop and talk about the oil. This was the first time I've used or tasted the basil oil. I've tried lots of different flavored oils over the years but honestly, Sinful Food has created a miracle here. The second the cork is out of the bottle the aroma of fresh basil surrounds you. Seriously. It has the fragrance of a bunch of freshly picked basil. Green and leafy and so beautiful. A little taste of the oil and I'd swear I was nibbling on a leaf. This stuff, guys, hands down the BEST flavored olive oil I have ever ever tried.

I heat the oil in the pot briefly and that fresh basil aroma just wafts around the kitchen. I added the onions and gave them a little stir for a minute or two to soften before adding the garlic. I'm ready to grab a fork at this point! In goes a good 3 tablespoons Garziano's Italian seasoning and a decent dose of crushed red pepper, stirred around to bring out all the flavors, then in go the roasted tomatoes and tomato paste. Enough water to reconstitute the tomato paste goes in the pot next and I let the sauce simmer for a couple hours. You can use red wine for up to one third of the quantity of water if you like. I didn't have any on hand so I skipped that. Here is the recipe for the sauce-

Monica's Marinara

1 small yellow onion
8 cloves fresh garlic
Sinful Food basil olive oil
3-4 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
Sinful Food Signature Seasoning
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups oven roasted tomatoes or crushed tomatoes(canned or fresh)
3  6 oz cans tomato paste

Finely mince the onion and garlic. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, over medium heat until onion is softened and translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for about one minute. Sprinkle the Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, Signature Seasoning and black pepper to taste. Stir over medium heat for a minute or two until the herbs and spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes, and tomato paste. Gradually stir in water- general rule is 3 cans water for each can tomato paste. Stir well and raise the heat to bring to a soft boil, the reduce heat and simmer, with a cover ajar, two to three hours to meld the flavors and thicken the sauce.

So now we have a pot of sauce, and a fridge full of Italian groceries. For a household of two, this much sauce will make several meals for us so I will be dividing it up. For tonight we are having baked cavatelli with mini meatballs. The basil oil is going to make another appearance in this dish. I cook one pound of cavatelli pasta in boiling salted water just until al dente. Drained well, it gets tossed with a tablespoon of basil oil and enough sauce to cover. The meatballs get tossed in too and the whole thing goes into a buttered baking dish or individual dishes. A blanket of Provolone cheese goes on top and a drizzle of basil oil. The casserole goes in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until hot and bubbly and covered in melty browned cheese.

For the next meal, I portion out enough sauce for The Chef and I to have fusilli with sauce, a salad and maybe some garlic bread. I can only imagine how delicious this basil oil will be in salad dressing or drizzled over a fresh Caprese salad. This can go in the freezer so we can have it a week or so later. His half of the sauce will get a can of baby clams for his favorite- pasta vongole, while mine will either have a handful of mushrooms added or just as is for a great vegetarian dinner. I don't do clams. Yucky.

The last portion of sauce will be used for tomorrow's dinner- Italian sausage sandwiches on tomato focaccia. I'll patty up some Graziano's Italian sausage, cook until done then slather with heated marinara sauce, cover with Provolone and serve on grilled focaccia that's been brushed with Sinful Food basil olive oil and toasted. So good, so simple.

Get YOUR Sinful Food oils and seasoning by clicking HERE.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a "sponsored post." As a Brand Ambassador, the company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift or something of value. Regardless,  I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Graziano Brothers

Have I ever said how much I HATE shopping? The mall is so depressing to me. I never go there. The worst part of the holiday season- shopping. Back to school time- shopping. Mindlessly shuffling through the giant tomb of consumerism just sucks the soul out of me. 

Unless it's foodie shopping. Ohhhhhh ya. Then I am alllll about hitting the store. Not just the everyday grocery store. Foodie shopping. Gourmet groceries. Unusual produce and ingredients. Ethnic foods. Kitchen equipment. Spices and herbs. Oils and vinegars. Wines. Cookware. Knives. All the knives. Now you're talking to my heart, folks. My foodie friend Mary was in town for the weekend. We met for sushi on Friday evening and decided we better hit Graziano's in the morning so she can restock cooking supplies for her Missouri home, and I can stock up on a few things too. A few things- ha! Who are we kidding here?

So Friday night over dinner at Sakari Sushi Lounge and sake bombs Mary, our friend Angi and I munched on fabulous sushi rolls and discussed the upcoming Chocolate Affair in Hannibal. Angi and I are planning a road trip for the event- yay!! Girlie Foodie Field Trip!- and the discussion turned to Graziano's. For those of you who aren't familiar, Graziano Brothers is a landmark food store in Des Moines. Founded in 1912 by Louis and Frank Graziano, two brothers who had emigrated to Iowa from San Morello, Italy, and made their way to Des Moines. Louis opened the grocery store while Frank remained employed by the railroad company until the store was well on its feet. The grocery store sits just south of downtown Des Moines in an area that was once known as Little Italy and has supplied Des Moines with authentic Italian groceries, pastas, breads, homemade sausage, meatballs, imported deli meats and cheeses, bulk spices and herbs and some of the best olives on the planet for over 100 years.

The quaint store facade is suited perfectly for the old time feel of the store. Not a huge store, they have a small collection of shopping carts at the door. You'd think you wouldn't need one here, but if you know me...... ya, you do. The first items in the door are the bulk spices on the right, olive oils on the left. This is where Mary and I began our stock-up shopping. Graziano's house blended Italian seasoning is the best thing I have ever tasted. Herbs, garlic and bits of crushed red pepper are the perfect seasoning for any Italian dishes from pasta to pizza sauce. I grab the usual size bag for our house, it's priced at $3.25. I kid you not, there is a good 3 cups of seasoning in this bag, easily enough to last us a year or more. At home I transfer it to an airtight container to keep it fresh. I also grabbed a bag of crushed red pepper, again easily a year's supply, for $3.45. You just cannot get a better deal anywhere.

We love mushrooms at our house and in the same section of the store you will find beautiful dried mushrooms, like porcini, portobella, and woodear. I grabbed some porcini and woodear because, well, you just might need them, and at $2.75 and $1.15 respectively, I just can't say no. I also snuck a nice bag of sun dried tomatoes, soft and raisiny, not dried and crispy into my shopping cart. I am often searching the supermarket for sun dried tomatoes and most of the time find just the oil packed kind. That's not usually what I want for cooking and baking. Sun dried tomatoes that are packed by themselves like this are excellent in breadmaking.

Continuing down the aisle, Angi had lots of questions. Recommendations for a pasta sauce? Type of olive? Recipe ideas? For a first timer in the store she was suitably impressed by the variety and selection, especially when we got to the meat and cheese counter. Italian sausage was bought by all, and Angi grabbed some of the extra hot sausage. Mary tried a couple different imported salamis and cheeses that were new to her, Angi got several of the hot pepper cheeses and I went with the traditional famous Italian sausage and provolone cheese- sliced to order every time. It's hard to beat the Iowa classic Italian sausage sandwich especially with the best sausage hands down.

The pasta aisle was like an amusement park for food lovers. Every shape, every size. Every pasta you can possibly imagine in sizes from one pound packages to giant bags I'd guess to be 5 pounds or more. I grabbed some fusilli and some cavatelli as my mind had trouble focusing on just on or two types. I am not kidding when I say it's so easy for any self respecting foodie to go absolutely freakin bonkers in here. In the same aisle I was just as tempted by several different kinds of arborio rice and risotto mixes and seasonings. Bags of wandas tempted me, but I resisted. Italian cookies and candies also beckoned to me, but I was strong. After all, I did have a giant tub of Graziano's olives in the cart- a whole quart container for $4.75.

South Union bread is sold here, and the aroma of that freshly baked bread was so welcoming. Italian rolls, breads, focaccia, loaves, so so many options. I did not get out of that aisle without a focaccia in my cart. I can't wait to eat it.

At the front of the store there are several large frozen and refrigerated cases containing fresh mozzarella, Italian sodas and beverages, more sausages like salami and others, marinated peppers and......more olives. Different types of olives. Yes, again I fell victim to the lure of olives. This time I grabbed some castelvetrano olives. If you ever get a chance to try these you simply must. In the frozen case you can find prepacked Graziano's Italian sausage in one pound hunks, pasta sauces from some of the local Italian spots, and housemade meatballs- even miniature meatballs. I grabbed a pound- they will be awesome with the cavatelli! Here again, pasta is king with probably 20 or more varieties of handmade ravioli, lasagna, cavatelli, pastas, manicotti, and the whole reason for coming here in the first place- cannoli. Oh. Em. Gee. Creamy ricotta cheese, just the right amount of sweet, chopped pistachios, bits of bittersweet chocolate and that crunchy cannoli shell. You bet I got one!

Also at the front of the store is this amazing piece of history- this beautiful and old old old butcher block. How I'd love to sit around that table with an espresso or macchiato and talk about the old days with the many people who have labored over that surface, kneading bread, rolling pasta, cutting wandas, chopping, singing, feeding their family and sharing the love. It had to be a prominent part of someones home kitchen at one time. The top is worn with years of use- Mary and I wondered about the many generations of cooks who stood beside this table and thought about all the meals prepared by hand. Kind of gives me the shivers to think about all that table has seen over the decades.

I'm happy to say Mary and I got Angi off to a good start with some Italian marinara sauce, delicious olives, some giardinera she picked out, and her sausage and cheeses. I'm pretty sure she will be back. I KNOW Mary and I will! Now........ off to go cook something............

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."