Friday, October 13, 2017

Summer School- All About Tea Chapter Three

My summer school is dragging into the autumn months!! Oh well..... we will just keep plugging ahead. Chapter three focuses on herbal teas. This chapter was filled with information I did not realize. For one thing, rooibos is not a tea at all, but the leaves from an herby bush in South Africa.. This was SO surprising to me. I have been buying a rooibos blend for years from a tea shop and had no idea it was herbal. Rooibos can be red or green, depending on the specific shrub it's from. Red rooibos is allowed to oxidize like black tea, and green rooibos is steamed and treated like green tea leaves. This tea has no caffeine and no calories.

Among the many teas in my collection are several hibiscus teas and blends. Hibiscus flowers for tea are not the same as the kind we grow in gardens. It makes a bright pink, beautiful and floral tea with some proven health benefits. Ground up, the hibiscus petals a lot like matcha powder, especially in cooking, giving the beautiful fuschia color and a unique flavor that is unlike anything else.

Mate tea is also not a tea- another surprise for me! It's from a plant that's a relative of the holly plant, and this one has caffeine. It's about the same level of caffeine as a cup of coffee. Mate is also used to make a Brazilian latte drink with cocoa, almonds, and steamed milk. In my collection I have a rooibos and mate blend that is just fantastic. It has little bits and bobs of things like fruit peels, flower petals, chocolate bits and spices. It's absolutely fabulous as a hot cup of tea. It's probably my favorite. I purchased this tea, which is actually a half and half blend of two of my favorites, from a tea shop in the mall, and I've head that they were bought by a huge coffee company and are all being sent to the chopping block. I's so saddened by this news. I can only hope the coffee chain will continue to sell these beautiful teas. My container is quite large and is currently full but it won't last forever, so as long as I still have it, why don't we make a latte?

Rooibos Latte

1 tea bag or 1 teaspoon loose tea
1 cup milk-dairy, almond or coconut milk will work
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon sugar

Combine the milk and water and heat until steaming. Add the tea to the mixture. If using a tea bag, open the tea bag and dump the loose tea into the liquid. Whisk the tea in and simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla and sugar. Strain into cups and serve.

This is probably the easiest latte recipe on the entire planet. No steaming milk separately, no mixing hot ingredients- it's all heated and steeped together then strained into the cup. Super fast!! You need to try this!

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."

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mom's Easy Stuffed Bell Peppers

Each year as the holiday season approaches I find myself thinking about my mother. Everyone who has lost a loved one understands the empty place at the holiday table, and the feelings that go along with that. I am sad that my mom was not here to meet The Chef, and be with Dad at our wedding a couple weeks ago. She would have adored The Chef and I'm sure they would have been great friends. I've talked about my mom's recipes with you guys before. Seems like the summer months really make me miss Mom and some of the things she would make for dinner. She always made a cucumber salad that was so simple and delicious, and a tomato salad with the exact same vinegar and oil dressing. She always made a giant pot of green beans, ham and potatoes, which was a huge family favorite. She made zucchini in the simplest way, sliced, sauteed with sliced onion and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. As a kid I thought I hated zucchini but as an adult I realized how wrong I was.

When my friend Lisa brought all the jalapenos to share to the office, she also brought a big bag of bell peppers. It just so happened to be one of those days that I really didn't know what I was going to make for dinner, nothing was inspiring me, and I knew I'd end up at the grocery store. As soon as I saw the bell peppers I knew I'd have to make stuffed peppers. I snagged three peppers to take home and knew I'd be making Mom's stuffed peppers.

These stuffed bell peppers were a staple of my family's when I was growing up. Dad always grew bell peppers in the garden and Mom always made this version. Unlike the stuffed peppers I see a lot of other people making, this one is not filled with a meatloaf-type mixture. The stuffing is more like beefy Spanish rice with diced tomatoes, herbs and spices, diced onion, garlic and extra bell pepper simmered with rice (Mom always used Minute Rice). She used Italian herbs to season the mixture and each pepper would be topped with a strip, i.e. half a slice, of American cheese before popping in the oven to heat through and brown the cheese. Like Mom, I also use Minute Rice for this recipe but I just say no to processed cheese and instead go with some shredded Colby Jack. I like the peppers to still have texture and bright green color. If you like a softer pepper, steam the unfilled peppers for a few minutes to soften before stuffing and baking.

Mom's Super Easy Stuffed Bell Peppers

4 large green bell peppers
1/2 medium onion
5-6 cloves garlic
2 lb. lean hamburger
1 can Italian seasoned petite diced tomatoes in juice*
1 small can tomato paste
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
2 cups instant rice
2 cups water
olive oil
2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese

You can use diced fresh tomatoes instead if you like- use about 2 cups diced tomatoes.

Cut 3 of the bell peppers in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds and membrane. Cut away the stem. Place in 9x13 baking dish and set aside. 

Clean and dice the remaining pepper, the onion and the garlic. Heat a large skillet over medium high eat and add a swirl of olive oil. Add the vegetables and saute for a few minutes until softened. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble the ground beef into the skillet and cook, breaking the meat up, until the beef is cooked. Drain off any accumulated fat.

Add the undrained can of tomatoes, tomato sauce, rice and water to the skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Cover, remove from heat and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes. 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a small casserole dish and set aside.

Pile the filling into the peppers and replace in the baking sheet. Pile any remaining filling (there is usually a lot) into the small casserole dish. Cover peppers and extra filling with shredded cheese. Place in oven and bake 45 minutes until peppers are crisp-tender and the cheese is browned and melty.

Serve this favorite Iowa summer dinner with fresh Iowa corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, and crusty bread.

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."

Friday, October 6, 2017

Russian Roulette Jalapeno Poppers

It's finally October. The weather, while still pretty warm, is cooling off gradually, Halloween has taken over the stores, leaves are turning, pumpkins are everywhere. I love this time of year.  Scary movies are a big highlight of this time of year for a lot of people and sometimes that includes me. Right now I'm really into American Horror Story. This season's theme revolves around a bizarre cult and plays on the fear of clowns. The clowns are just incredibly creepy, and not very friendly. Lots of scary things going on in this season!! All the movie channels are featuring the usual suspects- Halloween with Michael Myers, that nasty Jason Vorhees who haunts Camp Crystal Lake in the Friday the 13th movies (funny, too, because we have a Friday the 13th this October!), zombies, vampires and probably a Frankenstein here and there if I look hard enough.

I've been invited to a Halloween party this year so........ I need a costume idea. It's so hard to decide what I'd like to be. I prefer to make my own costumes rather than buy store bought ones, they're always so cheaply made and most women's costumes are borderline hooker wear. Sexy witch. Sexy cat. Sexy bat. Sexy cop. Sexy vampire. Sexy doctor. Sexy nurse. You get the idea. I don't really wanna go that route, and who wants to stand around in high heels and fishnets all night anyway? Not this girl. So I have to dig deep into the imagination and find something fun and cute and fully clothed.

Once October rolls around in Iowa the pumpkin patches, corn mazes, apple orchards and fall festivals are in full swing. Families make the trek out in the country to find the perfect pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns, a nice bushel of Iowa apples, apple cider, Indian corn. It's also the end of gardening season, and end of the farmers market season. Another year has gone by and I did not make it to the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market but that's ok.

My friends continue to share their garden goodies with me, this time a big bag of jalapeno peppers. My love for peppers is well known and my friend Lisa brought a big bag to work for me. Half of them were Mammoth jalapeno peppers, great big peppers with the normal heat level and the rest were a cultivar known as Coolapenos, which look and taste exactly like their hot counterparts but have zero heat. They are just as mild as green bells but still have that distinctive jalapeno flavor. Just to make it fun, I piled them all together to make Russian Roulette poppers- you don't know if you're getting a hot one or a cool one. Fun, right? Another fun twist to the recipe, some of them are wrapped in bacon, and some are not, but they are just as delicious both ways. Seriously delicious.

Unlike the breaded and fried jalapeno poppers, these guys are filled with a mixture of cream cheese, Colby Jack, and just because I had some hanging out in the fridge, a scoop of goat cheese, caramelized minced onion and garlic, and mild pork sausage. The filling is wrapped with a strip of smoky bacon and baked until hot, bubbly and golden brown. These easy poppers are great to make ahead and store in the freezer. They are quick to heat from frozen and make great party snacks, football nibbles or a nibbles for a night of scary movies! They are also super easy to prepare and take to a Halloween party if you happen to go to one. What a great way to use up all those peppers at the end of garden season!

Super Easy Party Poppers

fresh jalapeno peppers*
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
1/2 medium onion, minced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb mild pork sausage
2 lb bacon

*This quantity of filling made quite a bunch of poppers. I had a couple pounds of jalapenos to use up. If you make the filling and have extra, freeze it for future batches of poppers.

Prepare the peppers by halving the jalapenos lengthwise. Remove seeds and membrane. Set peppers aside.

Crumble the pork sausage into a small skillet, break up into very small pieces and brown the sausage until cooked through. Drain well and cool. In same skillet heat a small amount, a teaspoon or so, of cooking oil and add the minced onion. Cook over medium heat until softened and just turning golden. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional two minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

In a medium bowl beat the cream cheese and Colby Jack cheese together. Stir in the cooked onion and garlic, and the sausage. Season with pepper.

Use a spoon or knife to stuff the filling into the halved jalapenos. Cut the bacon slices into halves or thirds, depending on the size of the peppers, and secure with toothpicks.
I left some without bacon and they are just as delicious  

Place the peppers on parchment lined baking sheets and transfer to the freezer. Freeze until solid, the place peppers in zip top storage bags and freeze.

To serve, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place frozen poppers on baking sheet and place in oven. Bake 25-35 minutes until bacon is crispy and filling is bubbly and browned.

These are great to have on hand for all kinds of occasions. Many nights I get home from work and just don't have the energy to cook a whole meal, and if The Chef is at work, it's just me, a small pan of poppers go in the oven for a quick and easy dinner.

Monday, October 2, 2017

No Recipe Baking? Yes you can!

It's my one week anniversary and yes, I'm still feeling a little loved-up and in the bubble. I can't help it! Whenever I feel this happy and homey and surrounded with happy, I of course want to show that in the kitchen. What better way on the eve of October then to bake a pie? Autumn is apple season and the markets are loaded with beautiful apple varieties. Honey crisp is one of the first fall varieties of apples available in Iowa. If you've never had this type before, you need to find some. They are the perfect fresh eating apple. Juicy and sweet, the skin is a blushing red and yellow. They can be pretty big too. Also readily available right now are Granny Smith apples, the perfect pie apple.

Now we all know that generally speaking, baking is an exact science and it's not easy to "wing it." Finding the right balance of dry to liquid ingredients, the right leavening agent, the perfect balance of sugar and tart, these take a carefully followed recipe. However....... I am going to show you how to make a delicious, juicy and just right sweet apple pie from fresh apples- no gross sloppy canned pie filling here- and flaky crust. If you want, you can cheat and buy a pre-made pie crust- which honestly, I do quite a lot of times, or you can whip up a super fast crust if you're good at eyeballing ingredients. Spoon about 2 cups flour into a bowl and add a good pinch of salt. Grab a stick of cold butter and slice most of it, about 2/3 of the stick, into pats right into the flour. Cut it in with a fork until it looks like fine crumbs then toss with a couple tablespoons ice water just until the mixture holds together. Gather into a ball- DON'T KNEAD it, wrap in plastic and chill about an hour before cutting in two and rolling out for your pie.

Fruit pies are a favorite and are so much easier to make than you think! You don't need all the goo and saucy stuff common in prepared pie fillings, in fact that usually makes a soggy pie. Yuck. Fresh fruit needs only a few adjustments to be perfect in pies- a little sugar, a pinch of salt, a splash of lemon to make everything taste awesome, sometimes a little spice like cinnamon, ginger, gloves, and some kind of thickener. I prefer using flour or cornstarch in my fruit pies. I use flour for the less juicy fruits and cornstarch for berries and very ripe peaches. Once you have this basic recipe figured out, you can whip up a homemade fruit pie any time just off the top of your head!

For the filling you want 4 or 5 fresh apples. Granny Smith apples make the best apple pie, trust me on this. We are making an 8 inch pie so 4 to 5 apples is plenty. Grab a large bowl, peel, core and slice the apples into bite sized pieces. Add about a tablespoon of lemon juice, some sugar to taste (I keep a tablespoon in my sugar canister and I just spooned 4 or 5 heaping tablespoons into the bowl), a few dashes of cinnamon and any other spices you like- nutmeg and ginger go great with apple, and a bit of flour. Experience tells me a couple tablespoons is plenty for apples. Toss it all together to mix it thoroughly.

Roll out your pastry, and fit the bottom into an eight inch pie pan. Pile the fruit in the crust and dot with butter all over. Roll out and fix the top crust on top, seal the edges, crimp and flute. Decorate your pie however you like, and be sure to cut some vents in the top crust. You can do a traditional full top crust or something fancy like lattice or pastry cut outs. Brush the pastry with milk and sprinkle with additional sugar for a sparkly crisp crust, if you like. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and slide that pie into the hot oven. Bake for 50 minutes until the crust s golden brown and apples are tender. Let cool slightly before serving with whipped cream or ice cream.

Wasn't that simple? And just think, you did it without following a written recipe! Like I said, this basic fruit pie recipe works great with just about any fruit. Apples and pears need just a couple tablespoons of flour to thicken the juices, but some berries will need more, or use about the same amount of cornstarch, which is roughly twice the thickening power. Adjust your sugar as needed- if working with something really tart like rhubarb or gooseberries, you want to bump up that sugar a bit. Don't be afraid to experiment and have fun!

Friday, September 29, 2017

REALLY Rockin' and some No Recipe Cooking

After all this time, we have yet to have a story about music. Well friends..... we are going to change all that right now. Those of you who know me understand my crazy love of heavy metal, death metal, dark and looming lyrics of hellfire and damnation, gruesome topics, war and disease, the hardest of the hard stuff, and amazingly enough, Lady Gaga. Yes, I am a Little Monster, and I am proud of it. The obsession took hold when she first came on the music scene. I had not yet heard a single song but I saw article after article about her in the London Daily Mail. The more I read about her, the more the fascination grew. Her crazy clothing. Her hair bow made of hair. Shoes that are mile high. I was so curious about her and eventually heard the song Poker Face. My bestie Ronda and I fell in love with the catchy songs on her first album and played them daily, usually accompanied by a round or four of Jager bombs in the townhouse we shared. 

The first album, The Fame, was firmly committed to memory when The Fame Monster came out and a whole new round of songs had to be learned, and learn them we did. Mastered the Bad Romance dance. Slayed it, and slurred it. Born This Way came along next, and by that time Ronda had moved away and The Chef and I had moved to the Little Lake House. Born This Way was filled with songs I just couldn't get enough of. The title track was a favorite, and I'd often belt it out at the top of my voice driving to work. Scheibe- loved it. Bloody Mary- crazy obsessed. It was after this album that I had my first opportunity to see Mother Monster in concert. My daughter Laurie, her friend Jim and I made the drive to Minneapolis on a pilgrimage to see our Mother in the Born This Way Ball. My life was complete that day. I cried when Highway Unicorn began and she rode onto the stage riding upon a giant mechanical unicorn. I died. I truly died, and went to heaven.

Artpop was the next album and once again, became part of me. Every song on that album was fun to sing and I learned every word. This time around when she came to the midwest my other daughter Debbee and I made the drive to Minneapolis to experience ArtRave. The stage was incredible- acrylic floors and waves and Lady Gaga walked all over during the show, singing and dancing over the heads of her screaming Little Monsters. Amazing. The costumes, pure amazing. Again, the songs filled my heart, Venus, ArtPop, Mary Jane Holland, Gypsy, every one was great and made me want to dance and sing, and I did so right there in the arena, with full abandon and not a care in the world.

Lady Gaga's most recent album Joanne is a collection of a totally different kind of songs. These songs are very personal to Lady Gaga and tell the story of her life and different times of pain and happiness, of struggle and triumph. Joanne is named for her late aunt Joanne, who is also her namesake. While the album has a raw, funky almost country vibe, the World Tour lives up to everything her fans expect. This time Laurie, Debbee, Jim and I made the trip again to Minnesota to bask in the presence of our Mother Monster. This show featured no opening act, we were plunged right into the heart of Joanne from the opening notes of Diamond Heart to the classics Bad Romance, Telephone and Poker Face, Lady Gaga just astounds me with her energy and stage presence. Again I cried as she took the stage, and screamed and danced and raised my paws when she asked me to. The show was over in a flash, and I felt so sad walking out of the arena. I do know that I will be back to see her again.

Because the Twin Cities are just three hours away, we didn't grab a hotel for the night. We hit the road and headed home. With good weather, and only a couple stops along the way, we rolled back into Des Moines around 3 a.m. annnnnnd crashed. The next day was a lazy day for me, The Chef's day off, so we lazed around and did very little. I needed to recoup from all the walking, dancing, and driving. So we eventually got to the time of day when tummies are grumbling but neither one of us really wants to cook, and we certainly have no game plan for the meal- what we do have is a package of chicken tenders and a package of frozen gnocchi. These things need to become a meal!

The gnocchi is a no brainer. Trader Joe's has again made it easy, and delicious, for me to get a side on the table in just a few minutes, less than five minutes to be exact. Having already fallen in love with the sweet potato gnocchi, I still had a bag of Gorgonzola gnocchi in the freezer waiting for me to try. I thought this would be perfect with a juicy steak on the side but chicken is what's available today. Following the directions on the package, all you do is pour the contents into a bowl or saucepan and heat. You don't add anything, not even water. Frozen cubes of the creamy sauce and the delicate little potato dumplings heat up in a snap to creamy tender perfection. I wish I had thought ahead and grabbed some fresh parsley from the garden- while these were ridiculously delicious and I will absolutely buy them again, they were pretty rich and needed an herbal note to cut the richness a bit, and could have used a pop of color. Flavor-wise they were awesome, perfectly tender and the sauce was creamy and had the right amount of cheese so that it wasn't an overpowering Gorgonzola taste.

For my chicken, I just went on a whim with a few ingredients from the fridge and pantry. I used a 1 to 1 1/2 lb package boneless skinless chicken tenders, but you could use breasts if you had them, or even cut breasts into strips or nuggets. Drain them well, place in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, then add 2 tablespoons mustard to the bowl. Use Dijon or a spicy deli style mustard- grainy, I don't recommend regular yellow mustard but hey, if that's your thing, go for it. Use your hand to distribute the mustard evenly over all the chicken pieces and  set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine half a cup or so of flour with salt, pepper, your favorite herbs and seasonings. I used a good tablespoon of Penzey's Bouquet Garni and a generous tablespoon of Emeril's Essence. Mix those together well. 

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add a tablespoon or two of oil. Dip the chicken into the flour, coating lightly and add the the hot skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side, until cooked through and golden brown. Don't crowd the skillet or you will have soggy nasty chicken goo. After I had browned all the chicken, I added a tablespoon f butter to the skillet and a couple glugs of Riesling- I had an open bottle I needed to use up. A quick sprinkle of bouquet garni in the sauce and dinner was served, drizzle the sauce over the chicken if you like. The mustard added a nice flavor to the chicken and the flour brought that crispy texture. Quick, easy, and on the table in under 20 minutes.

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, September 27, 2017

Foodie Field Trip- Culinary Food Fight 2017

Once again, it's all about who you know!! Or in this case- who you are related to! Once again I got to enjoy the fun and excitement of culinary competition as a spectator, not a frazzled contestant, at the most recent installment of Culinary Fight Night, Des Moines. How? Well, let me explain. See.....I have told you guys before about my younger daughter, Laurie- the restaurant general manager. As is often the case when you know someone "in the scene" she would often invite me to different food events and a couple years ago she invited me to a Culinary Fight Night, the first of it's kind in Des Moines. You can get all the details by clicking HERE, but briefly- boxing rink, two chefs, six course, loads of great food, one winner. This time around, she is not only in the scene, her chef is one of the competitors, and she is helping in the kitchen! Talk about exciting! Since Laurie would be in the kitchen for this event, my other daughter Debbee joined me for this fun evening of sampling some of the best dishes Des Moines has to offer. Laurie's restaurant, Magnolia Wine Kitchen, was represented by their very own Chef Nico Ebtinger.

Chef Nico comes to Magnolia Wine Kitchen with a pretty impressive resume. Before joining Magnolia as a chef he was the executive chef at Prime Land and Sea in West Des Moines, the sous chef at Pricci and chef de partie at Cherokee Town and Country Club, and cooked at Bistro Nikki in Atlanta, GA. He attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Atlanta. Chef Hailey Dixon is the chef at the new West Des Moines brunch spot, Eggs and Jam Brunch Cafe. The restaurant boasts a fun hp hp theme and creative dishes with clever names such as Slim Shady, Flava Flav Flatbread, Rumpshaker, and Ludabiscuits. It's brand new on the culinary scene and lots of people are talking about it.

Of course, I would be a terrible mother if I didn't boast about my daughter, Laurie. She, as you know, is the general manager of Magnolia Wine Kitchen, the fantastic downtown restaurant and wine bar that provides the total girlie dining experience and even lets you bring the guys if you must. The restaurant is gorgeous, the menu very chick-centric. Beautiful ingredients and interesting combinations dominate the menu. Charcuterie and cheese plates are all the rage and Magnolia features some wonderful selections. The salad combinations are some of the most creative I have seen in years, the lobster roll- oh man, HUGE chunks of lobster, and the dinner menu is just stunning. Anyway, Chef Nico is in the ring and Laurie is supporting him in the kitchen, prepping foods, preparing sauces, and plating the courses. Laurie made the lemon picatta sauce for the salmon entree and it was heavenly- you better believe she is going to be teaching Mom how to make that sauce at home!

Now, let's get down to business- the fight and the food. The appetizer round always starts off the event and this time we sampled two dishes that were somewhat similar in flavor, but totally different presentations. Chef Nico prepared a beautiful panzanella salad with big chunks of chewy focaccia, lovely baby lettuces, heirloom tomatoes, bright red sweet pepper, cucumbers finished with a cherry vinaigrette and balsamic. The salad was a gorgeous plate. The colors of the vegetables were so vibrant, tip top freshness, and not overly dressed. The cubes of bread were dense and chewy, not like rock hard croutons, and were perfect for sopping up that delicious sweet and tangy vinaigrette.

Chef Hailey's appetizer was a favorite at our table, and a quick glance around the room, was a favorite of most people. She featured charred baby tomatoes, with the perfect kiss of flame and just perfect char marks, not enough to cook the tomatoes, just enough to give that hint of charred flavor, nestled alongside a scoop of creamy burrata, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic syrup. Perfectly crispy croustades alongside made this the perfect bite- a little smear of the cheese, a chunk of tomato, and that crispy crunchy toasted baguette. So delicious. My daughter Debbee has never had burrata before- she was sold! This was a very delicious and creative take on caprese salad and something I'd love to eat every day.

In between the courses our host and organizer of the event, Walt Henderson,  brought members of the audience up to the ring for some fun and games and prizes. He held a blind tasting, a Name The Celebrity Chef, and Identify the Herb contests, and drew for cash and gift card too.

The entree round was even better. This time the chefs went in very opposite directions. Chef Hailey created a Pistachio and Ricotta Raviolo, with Sauteed Shrimp, Golden Raisins and Brown Butter Cream Sauce. For me, Hailey won in creativity but fell down a little bit in execution. The flavors were fantastic. This dish was a textural masterpiece. The creamy ricotta filling was peppered with bits of crunchy pistachio and herbs. More pistachios adorned the top along with the surprise of golden raisins and sauteed shrimp, with a healthy drizzle of the browned butter sauce. The filling was delicious. It was not sweet, definitely savory, and the pistachios added a much needed texture. The pasta was a little too thick in spots, especially the edges, so it wasn't evenly cooked, and had some tougher spots. The butter sauce and raisins were an interesting addition but the shrimp seemed out of place. They were simply sauteed- nothing more, and perched atop the raviolo with a little garnish of micro greens. Stunning presentation though.

Everyone who knows me knows I HATE salmon. Hate it. Detest it. Except for raw in sushi, to me salmon looks, smells and tastes like cat food. Gross. I dreaded the salmon entree but Chef Nico totally changed my opinion with his entree- Roasted Faroe Island Salmon with jasmine rice, Haricot Verts and Lemon Caper Picatta. Was it the roasting that made the difference? Was it the type of salmon? I don't know what, or why, but I was in love at first bite. The salmon was perfectly cooked, flaky and tender. The haricots verts were roasted and some of them had crispy ends and those little touches make me so happy. The jasmine rice could have been a little more elevated but it was absolutely delicious, and my tablemates raved about it. I just could not get over that salmon! Nor could I put my fork down! We were served a very generous portion and we were getting full but I could not stop!!! Yes, it was THAT good. I really want to talk about the lemon sauce. It was phenomenal. Creamy and lemony and sprinkled with capers it was the perfect accent for that gorgeous piece of fish, and for dragging a forkful of rice through. Amazing, and so simple- nothing but freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest and butter. Lots of butter. You can bet I'll be getting this chef's secret recipe and making this at home.

In spite of all that salmon and me being unable to stop eating it, we had to save room for dessert. Chef Nico's dessert, Bourbon Apple Crepe Flambe with Jack Daniels Chantilly Cream and Honeycrisp Apple Compote was the ultimate autumn dessert. The apple compote was amazing. The apples were bathed in bourbon, you could taste it without any icky boozy taste- just the woody warm bourbon and a kiss of honey. The chantilly cream again, the essence of Jack Daniels but not a whiff of harsh boozy edge. But that crepe though! It was thin and light and perfectly cooked, just perfect. I have made more than my fair share of crepes and this one was flawless.

Chef Hailey present us with a crispy Lemon Shortbread cookie with White Chocolate Mousse and Blueberry Compote. Everyone at our table raved about the mousse. It was very good. Not perfect, but very good considering it was made for a crowd. Kudos to Chef Hailey for that. The blueberry compote was a much needed touch but not truly special. Could have been kicked up with some limoncello or Gran Marnier or something. The lemon shortbread was delicious and lemony and buttery. The ladies at our table went crazy over the cookie. Hailey's dessert was good but it didn't have the wow factor for me or Debbee like Chef Nico's did.

The judges completed their scoring, the audience filled out their People's Choice ballots and the winner...... by the tiniest of margins....... was Chef Hailey. Our host Walt presented her with the Culinary Fight Night Championship belt as the crowd cheered. It was a great food fight, and we, the audience, got the real prize- all those delicious courses. The food fighting doesn't end here. November will host another round of courses with two different chefs, and the two winners, Chef Hailey and whoever wins the next bout will compete in the third Culinary Food Fight for a grand prize. I am looking forward to these events- and you should too. Keep watching my blog and social media for a chance to grab your tickets!!

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."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Eat the World- Korean Beef Lettuce Wraps

One of my favorite of all foodie events in Des Moines is happening this coming weekend- the World Food Festival. If you aren't from Des Moines and you think you might like to visit the city, THIS is the weekend to do so. The World Food Festival is an annual event held downtown, this year in Western Gateway Park, and it's an awesome opportunity to try some foods you might normally not have an opportunity to try. The festival was usually an event for Nephew and Aunt time with my nephew Jeremy but he has moved to Texas so I'll have to find a new partner to taste test the wonderful foods on offer.

"Eat the World" is a theme I have come to really embrace over the last few years, challenging myself to learn techniques and flavors from all over the world. What a fun and delicious way to experiment. Many of the European cooking styles aren't too different from what I'm used to cooking here at home, but when it comes to Asian foods it's a whole new world. A trip to the Asian grocery store can leave you so confused about flavors and spices and sauces and..........everything. If you're like me, and love Chinese food, you try to replicate some of those dishes at home and they're just not the same. That umami component is just not there unless you have the right combination of flavors. But how do you get that? A good Asian cookbook is a start, and so is hooking up with a great Asian cook. Get in there, learn about the ingredients, experiment with fish sauce and oyster sauce and strange looking vegetables. Buy a wok. Buy a really good santoku knife. Be fearless! It's only food and if you don't like it you never have to eat it again, right?

I added several dashes to get the heat level up there.
The recipe we are making today is a bit of a stretch. In all honesty this is absolutely NOT authentic Korean food. It's Korean influenced. The flavors of bulgogi are there, with some modern and healthier twists- like eating the meat from rolled up lettuce leaves- no carbs, no fat, almost no calories in those lettuce leaves. My version features a healthy dose of mushrooms to add protein but no fat, and quite honestly, if you prefer a meat-free recipe, leave it out altogether and use a ton of mushrooms. You'd probably need about 3 pounds of mushrooms for the same yield. Using mushrooms also means your dinner is vegan as well, and if you have gluten or soy problems- just switch to liquid aminos instead of soy sauce. It's so versatile. 

Speaking of versatile, halfway through my cooking, I realized I did not have enough Sriracha so quickly subbed sweet chili sauce. It was a great substitute but had less heat, so a few dashes of Jason's Fire Infusions Spontaneous Combustion sauce did the trick. Just the right heat!

The beef rolls are beautiful rolled up in the lettuce leaves but you can bring more eye appeal by adding some tiny julienned red bell pepper or shredded carrot to sneak some vitamins into your kiddos. Not into rolling your food up in a leaf? That's ok too. Prepare a batch of rice and serve as Korean Beef Bowls. Sticky rice is the best for this use. Let's get cooking!

Easy Korean Style Lettuce Wraps

2 lbs lean ground beef
8 oz package mushrooms
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tb brown sugar, packed
1-2 tablespoons Sriracha or sweet chili sauce
6 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame seeds 
hot sauce to taste, if desired
sesame oil
cooking oil
small bunch scallions, sliced, white and green parts
1 head Bibb or butter lettuce, separated into leaves

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant. WATCH CLOSELY! They will go from pale to burned in seconds. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Dice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch dice. In the same skillet, heat a couple tablespoons cooking oil. Add the mushrooms and half of the sliced scallions and cook over medium high heat, stirring often until the mushrooms are golden browned and all liquid has evaporated. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

In the same skillet, add a couple teaspoons sesame oil. Crumble in the ground beef and cook, breaking up any large chunks, until cooked through. Drain off any fat. Stir in the soy sauce, brown sugar, Sriracha, garlic, ginger, the mushrooms, and half the sesame seeds. Cook for about 3-4 minutes to reduce the sauce slightly.

Serve the beef mixture in the lettuce leaves, adding rice if desired. Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and sliced scallions. 

Leftovers make tasty Korean Beef Rice Bowls for lunch
the next day. Delicious!
The wraps make a great low carb entree when you skip the rice and you can use any ground meat you like- chicken or turkey are really delicious in this recipe and so is lean pork! It's a fun Asian twist on the same old "taco night" meal and even if it isn't truly authentic Korean food, it's pretty darn tasty.

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."