Thursday, April 19, 2018

Cranberry Custard Pie

Seems like these days The Chef is spending more time rockin' the Gibson Flying V and less time rockin' the kitchen, and that means I get more "stove time" so yay!! I'm baking!! Seriously, as he is putting together a new band there is a lot of work to do. Working with other musicians can be as challenging as it is rewarding. You already know about his musical background, so let's talk about the future- still no solid band name, lots of ideas being tossed around. The lineup is complete with Mike, Steve and Dave rounding out the talent. The set list is mostly classic rock, not as heavy as I usually like, but its solid, has a great variety or eras and a lot of songs people are going to want to sing along with. 

The Chef is a big fan of Uncle Ted so Stranglehold is one he is particularly excited to play. He's got some Tom Petty in there, and the Buckethead/Alien Ant Farm version of Smooth Criminal, and of course, true classics from Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. He is a HUGE fan of Chicago so 25 or 6 to 4 is in the mix too. I tried to get him to add some Damn Yankees, to no avail, but a couple other suggestions might actually make the set list. I haven't given up on the Damn Yankees though. A girl can always hope, right?

The guys have been at this for a while now, sometimes derailed by the unpredictable Iowa winter weather. Schedule a practice on Monday and by Friday you're knee deep in heavy wet snow. Reschedule for Sunday but now it's 65 degrees and at least one guy is sopping up water in his basement. Plan on next weekend, but hey, ice storm!

As springtime reluctantly begins to shine here in Iowa, many of us, myself included, are thinking of all the beautiful spring berries that are starting to pop up in stores. Raspberries are by far my favorite of all berries, but there is a close second that you might find surprising. I mean, on one hand, we have plump, juicy and so sweet raspberries, and on the other we have kind of waxy textured, definitely not juicy and absolutely NOT sweet, and not in season in spring, cranberries. I love those guys! So much so that when they are in season, I will grab several bags of fresh crans and toss them in the freezer for later. When the holidays roll around I can always whip out a bag of cranberries and make homemade sauce, but I also like using them in other recipes, and outside of the normal cranberry season they are fun and unexpected. Which brings us to this pie. In all honesty I DID make this for Christmas dinner, but.... since I still have four bags of cranberries in the freezer this is something easy and inexpensive that I can whip up in a minute.

I make my own pastry usually but you absolutely can use purchased pastry- just roll it out and fit it into your pan, or use frozen in a disposable pan. I won't judge. Another pantry item I always have on hand is heavy whipping cream. I say pantry because I buy shelf stable heavy whipping cream at Trader Joe's. It's in the baking aisle and it comes in little boxes like juice boxes. No refrigeration is needed until you open the package. It's the best invention ever.

Cranberry Custard Pie
Adapted from Country Living

1 recipe single crust pie pastry
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries*
1 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg white
1 cup heavy whipping cream

*If using frozen cranberries, allow the thaw at room temperature for an hour or so. I spread them out on a sheet pan to help them thaw quickly.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the pastry, roll out and fit into 9 inch pie plate. Flute and crimp edge. Set aside.

Stir together 2/3 cups of sugar with the flour. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until stiff peaks form. Fold into the flour mixture, stirring in the cream as well.

Pour the cranberries into the pie shell. Sprinkle the 1/3 cup sugar over the cranberries, then pour the cream mixture over all. 

Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temp to 350 and bake for 40 minutes. Cool completely before serving. 

This pie is the perfect combination of sweet and tart and is absolutely wonderful with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Try it!!!

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."

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Holy Grail of Holiday Drinks- The Tom and Jerry

Before I know it, summer is going to be here, with the humidity and oppressive heat. I'll be moaning and groaning about it, most certainly. The Minnesota girl in me is built for cold weather and snow that's for sure, so it should be no surprise really, that while the rest of the state is looking towards spring, new flowers, leaves unfurling, gardening, even tornado season, I'm obsessing over something you only say in the coldest times of the year. It all started about a year ago. I was minding my own business, wandering an antique store here in Des Moines, looking for vintage cookbooks and doilies when I came across something that brought all the childhood feels flooding back- a Tom and Jerry punch bowl set. Holy balls!! I wanted to take it home with me but it wasn't in my budget that day, and someone else took home the prize- it was gone the next time I went.

Saddened by this lost opportunity I began browsing Ebay and online posts. I wanted one sooooo bad. A many times as I went back to the antique store, I never found another one. My dream of owning this precious piece of memories was fading quickly. I'd already worked out the recipe for the batter. The drink, you see, is a holiday tradition- a little bit like a hot boozy eggnog but not quite. Eggs, butter, sugar and warm spices are mixed into a batter that combines with brandy or rum and steamy hot water for a perfect cup of holiday cheer. Some families have their traditional recipes. My family bought the batter at a local grocery store. It was only available for a very short time and always sold frozen. My grandmother always called it "batter crap" ,my mother carried on that tradition and to this day my dad, sister and myself still say that.

I was minding my own business one day when I got a text from my sister. "Are you home?" she asked. I was not, of course, I was out and about food shopping and having a bite of lunch. "Well, I bought you something. I want to bring it to you." I had noooooo idea the surprise I was in for that day. She sent me two pictures and told me to pick which one I wanted. 

My heart stopped, I swear. The end of the search. The object I had been crushing on for years, the missing link, the be all and end all. The Tom and Jerry punch bowl set!!!!!! I picked the white set, and she kept the green set. The happy ending is mine. Tom and Jerrys shall be enjoyed in my home once again. I cannot tell you how many cups of this iconic holiday drink have been served by my family at Christmas time. I'm not sure any human has ever counted that high! Seriously! The Tom and Jerry is as much a part of my life, my memories and my DNA as blonde hair and freckles. 

The batter is made as follows:

12 eggs, separated
1 pound butter
3 pounds powdered sugar
1 teaspoon each: ground nutmeg, ground cloves, ground allspice, cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla *
big pinch salt 

*I used 1 teaspoon liquid vanilla and 1 teaspoon vanilla bean powder because I wanted the little flecks of vanilla in the batter, but you can use all liquid if you prefer.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

In another large bowl, beat the egg yolks until lemon colored and very thick. Set aside.

In a third bowl, beat the butter and the powdered sugar and spices together. Mix in the egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in the egg whites until completely blended. Pour mixture into a freezer safe container and store in the freezer.

To make a classic Minnesota-style Tom and Jerry, place 1-2 ounces of brandy, whiskey or spiced rum in a coffee mug. Add 2 tablespoons of the batter mixture and top up with simmering water or milk. My family always used water. Stir and enjoy.

Doesn't that just make you feel all warm and happy and cozy inside? I know it sure does me!!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Foodie Field Trip- Main Street Cafe and Bakery

Ohhhhhhhh cake. I have such a love affair with cake you just cannot imagine. On the heels of the cupcake bakery boom our city is seeing an uptick in bakeries, many serving lunches and dinner and I am having all sorts of fun exploring them. Everyone knows my almost-sister Jessica and I have our little "thing" we do- thrift shop for a weird variety of goodies that The Chef thinks I don't need (but honestly, I DO need more cookbooks and doilies and teacups and unusual knives and.........) and then we grab a bite to eat, and many times this is centered around what we might have afterwards for dessert. One recent Saturday, after a trip to a thrift store in Ankeny that didn't result in many great discoveries we decided we needed something to cheer us up- cake. 

Ankeny has been growing my leaps and bounds in the last several years and entire new section of town had sprung up- like a town center all by itself with loads of houses and apartments and new schools, new shopping and of course, new restaurants. It's in one of these little districts that the Main Street Cafe and Bakery can be found. Don't let the drive thru menu outside fool you- what you find inside is so much more than cheapo drive thru food. The menu is large but not overwhelmingly so. Lots of salads, sandwiches, burgers and a few pastas give you lots to choose from. There are ten daily soups- yes ten! 

My first visit to Main Street was so delicious. Jessica had been there before but I had not, obviously, and had no idea what to expect. She warned me there would be cake. Ohhhhh Lord she wasn't kidding. The entire counter was lined end to end with beautiful cakes. Chocolate, carrot, lemon,red velvet, grasshopper, so many, but the ones that caught our attention were the Chocolate Raspberry Cake and the Almond Cake. We ordered dinner- we'll get to that in a bit, and a slice of cake each so we could share. Now the chocolate cake was decadent, rich fudgy truffle-like frosting and moist cake layered with sweet raspberry filling. Three amazing layers of chocolate heaven. As wonderful and swoon-inducing as this cake was, it was nowhere near as sublime as the almond cake. One bite and the words wedding cake popped into both of our minds. Moist and tender white cake with a lovely vanilla and almond essence layered with almond buttercream. Ho.Ly.Heck. 

Like I said, we did actually order dinner before the cake, and it was fantastic. We both ordered a Frisco burger- juicy burger, Swiss and Cheddar, caramelized onions, signature sauce sandwiched between slices of sourdough coated in butter and Parmesan cheese. Crispy crust on the bread, super juicy burger and the sauce was awesome. I had a choice of side and went with a salad with Blue Cheese dressing- perfect partner. left room for cake!!  

On our second visit we knew to go easier on the dinner order and save room for the cake!!! This time around I had the Cheesy Chicken Tortilla Soup, which came to the table steaming hot, full of chunky chicken, corn, black beans, tortilla strips, all drizzled with crema. One of the best soups I have ever had in a restaurant. Jessica ordered grilled chicken strips with steamed broccoli and it looked amazing. The broccoli was so fresh!

So, again, we had cake. Jessica chose the coconut cake and I had KitKat Cake. The coconut cake was a snowy dream of vanilla cake and toasted coconut, creamy buttercream, promises of heaven and love and angels' wings. The KitKat Cake was another sky high chocolate masterpiece of luscious chocolate cake layers, milk chocolate buttercream, dark chocolate drizzle and miniature KitKats. Yum yum yum yum YUM. I kinda liked it, in case you were wondering. 

The cake keeps calling me back, and on my most recent visit, we met just for dessert. Jessica chose the almond cake again and I went with a raspberry almond cake. I keep going back for the raspberry cakes! Wow. Heavenly layers of golden vanilla cake layered with a swirled buttercream and raspberry jam. Sprinkled with slices of toasted almond and swirls of that creamy buttercream. Just wow. This might be my favorite of all the cakes I have tried here!

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, April 3, 2018

Buckets of Chicken, and Drunken Chicken

Let's talk about buckets of chicken. First of all, sometimes The Chef and I do get lazy and decide to just drive through someplace and get some chicken. A bucket of chicken goes a long way for us- fried chicken and all the fixins the first night, leftovers for lunch and maybe even a last couple pieces to cut up and toss in a salad or sandwich. Have you ever tried making chicken salad sandwiches with cut up FRIED chicken? OMG- you must. Now back on we arrive at the unnamed chicken drive through and order our chicken. We get to the window and the employee tells us they are out of legs, would it be ok if they subbed additional thighs in their place? Of course! Thighs are, for me, the best part of the chicken, right? We get chicken thighs. Those dirty rats shorted us on chicken!!! Ugh!!!

Speaking of buckets, have you ever heard of a guitarist who wears a chicken bucket on his head and conceals his identity? That would be Buckethead. He is a metal guitarist who has played with Guns and Roses and several others, and tours on his own with a unique show and playing style, most notably a white mask over his face and that chicken bucket on his head. I have no idea what this guy looks like underneath all that. Anyway, Buckethead has been on The Chef's bucket list for a very long time and since we got to see John5 a few weeks ago, hearing Buckethead was coming to town, The Chef just had to go. The show was unlike any he had ever seen before, both in volume and the performance. Buckethead plays with an accompanying soundtrack instead of a live band and uses an arsenal of effects to create some pretty unusual music. Definitly something a guitarist like The Chef would enjoy. 

The Chef often spends his time away from the restaurant playing at different jam sessions around town, and is working with his own band, perfecting their set and working on some new material. He is a very talented musician in his own right, and I can say that without being biased. He has well over 30 years of playing under his belt and it's just part of his DNA. Classic rock is his genre, and he will even sing on occasion if he has to. Of course, when it's my night to cook, that's when you'll definitely find him plugged in and shredding. I get a concert every night.

And with that, we are back to talking about chicken. With my new job and very long, but temporary, commute I get home a lot later than I did before and some days I just don't feel like standing in the kitchen cooking. Times like these are when I turn to simple braises to make a homey and delicious meal. Chicken is my favorite for braising and it doesn't take as much work as you think. A quick brown in hot oil in a big Dutch oven, some aromatics, and a braising liquid, popped in the oven for an hour or so and dinner is served, without the need for any special appliances or equipment. Braising is a very simple technique- you're simply roasting your meat in a liquid, to add flavor, and to bring on a tenderness that's nearly effortless. You can use almost any liquid to braise- stock or broth, wine, beer or vegetable juice all make delicious braises. Be sure to add aromatics like garlic, onion and herbs to really bring out the flavors. Fresh herbs are often too delicate for a braise, with a couple exceptions- thyme and rosemary work well, most others I prefer using the dried version.

The recipe calls for two cups of wine- basically it's a whole bottle with a swig for the cook *wink wink*, because honestly, we have to check the wine, right? I used a fairly inexpensive Riesling, a 2015 Rheinhessen, the kind in the cute cat bottle. It's not too sweet and it doesn't have that oaky taste I hate in Chardonnays. Riesling and Pinot Grigio are my preferred whites for cooking.

Quick note on the chicken- we bought chicken leg quarters- skin on and bone in. I cut the legs and thighs apart myself and removed the section of backbone that was attached. Not all leg quarters have that backbone attached. For a braised recipe like this you do not want to use boneless skinless chicken, and especially not breasts. You won't get enough flavor. The bones especially add a deeper chicken flavor to the sauce. Trust me on this. Learn to love chicken on the bone.

Monica's Drunken Chicken

4 chicken leg quarters
1 small onion, halved then sliced crosswise
10 cloves garlic, cut in half
2 carrots, sliced
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
salt and pepper
olive oil
2 cups Riesling

Use a sharp knife to cut the thigh and leg apart. If the thighs have the backbone attached, cut that off and discard (or save for stock). Season well with salt and pepper. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, to the pot and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside, repeat with all the chicken.

When chicken pieces are browned, remove and add the onion, garlic and carrot to the pot. Stir to coat with the oil and allow to cook for several minutes until just softened. Add the wine, scraping up the browned bits in the pan, and return the chicken to the pot, nestling down into the wine as much as possible. Place cover on the pot and place in oven. Cook for 1 and 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken pieces from the pot, cover and keep warm. Remove the vegetables with slotted spoon. Bring the juices to boil over high heat and cook until reduced. You can add a couple tablespoons of butter if you like. Serve the chicken and vegetables with roasted potatoes, drizzled with the sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

So easy and delicious, it was almost like I did nothing and boom- dinner was on the table. We served the chicken with roasted potatoes for sopping up all that delicious jus in the pot.

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."

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Foodie Field Trip- Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure

I'm not one of those new year new me types. Not at all. I do, however, tend to make a mental list of things I am going to do in the new year- foods to try, recipes to learn, places to eat. Last year I made a half hearted attempt at embracing the coffee bean. I went about it all wrong. You know the type- chain coffee shops with a million choices and more sugar than a soda in most of them. Did I love those? Well YA, who wouldn't? I mean come on, coffee or espresso, often hidden with creamy milk, sweetened flavorings, buried under a mound of whipped cream is enough to entice a lot of people. I learned right away that iced coffee beverages were my favorite, and then we had even more sugar going on. Then one day I slowed down, bought a coffee grinder, got a French press, some whole bean coffee and started at the beginning- a regular hot cup of coffee. 

What I learned is this, coffee is as varied and complicated as wine. Different beans, different regions, different roasts, different methods of brewing- I had a lot to learn. Jessica is the coffee connoisseur in my life and figured she would be the appropriate guide for me. She does enjoy Starbucks, having grown up in that region of the country where Starbucks was born, but she is a coffee person- not a froo froo espresso beverage person so I am going to learn a lot as we explore different kinds of coffees, and many unique coffee houses in Iowa. We have been making a list!

Our first couple coffee discussions did take place in a local Starbucks, over brewed coffee for her and some sort of latte for me. Most of the time the topic was how we both desperately want to own our own coffee place, with baked goods and maybe light meals. That's been our dream for a very long time. My curiosity about coffee also spurs a lot of conversation about the different types. One day Jessica and I sat around her kitchen table with a pot of freshly brewed Starbucks Kopelani Blend. All I needed was the slightest splash of half and half to make this cup perfection. Not a grain of sugar added. I could really taste the coffee without all the extra junk added. I loved that! That really fed my curiosity. 

Remember that whole bean coffee I bought? Let's talk about that- I chose Colombia Supremo Medium Roast from Trader Jo's. This whole bean coffee had an amazing coffee aroma the minute I opened the container. The beans were plump and once ground they were so fragrant. The cup they provide was lovely. Very smooth, not bitter at all. Again, just the slightest bit of cream and no sugar and I had the perfect cup of coffee. The Chef didn't like it as well from the French press, but in the regular coffeemaker it was much more successful.

Now as promised, we did not just make cups of coffee at home, we explored. Des Moines is home to quite a few unique coffee houses and first on the list was Zanzibar Coffee Adventure. I knew a little about Zanzibar from social media. As a locally owned business, which I prefer to support, I have been following their page for some time and was in awe of the list of available beans they publish every few days. The selection is crazy! More on that later though, first- the shop itself is a little Disneyland for coffee lovers. Situated in the trendy Ingersoll neighborhood in Des Moines, it's in an old building with sky high ceilings with stamped tin tiles covering it, big windows loaded with plants, a long counter for service, as a display for all the delectable baked offerings, and seating. Little round tables line one wall the entire length of the room, and shelves and cubbies dot the room- offering coffee supplies and souvenirs of all kinds.

Big chalk menu boards list not only the menu offerings but also the huge variety of beans available on that day. The selection varies depending on what they receive from suppliers. All of the beans arrive green and are roasted in small batches in-house in their famous Dietrich roaster. The day that we visited the beans available ranged from around $12 per pound to $62 per pound. The variety of flavors and origins was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Jessica made her coffee selection- a Sumatra, and I chose a cafe latte. Not iced, real hot cafe latte. I wanted something different. 

Remember how I said the counter where you order also has all the baked treats sitting there? Well.... there was a cherry pie sitting there, and we could not resist. The pie is baked by a local baker exclusively for Zanzibar- it was without a doubt the BEST cherry pie I have ever had in my entire life. The crust was flaky both on the bottom and the lattice top, which was lightly sprinkled with sugar to add crunch. The cherries- oh my the cherries. HUGE and juicy. Tart and sweet. I wanted the whole pie!

Jessica loved every bit of her coffee. Me, my cafe latte arrived in a bowl. Very light foam on the top- not sugary whipped cream, but foamed milk, and the coffee- heaven. It was coffee and steamed milk. No sugar. No sweet syrups. No crazy flavors. Just beautiful coffee and steamed milk. I was so in love with this coffee. Zanzibar has set the bar very very high for all the coffee houses we will be visiting in the coming weeks and months, and you can bet I will be back many times.

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, March 28, 2018

Ever heard of a Soda Tasting?

A what? You've heard of wine tastings, whiskey tasting, and beer flights but soda tasting? What kind of crazy idea is this? My crazy idea, that's who! 

Have you ever heard of a place called Rocket Fizz? Well, let me tell you about my recent visit to this unique store in Ankeny, Iowa. I first saw the store while stopping for lunch at the restaurant my daughter was managing, Zombie Burger and Shake Lab. Rocket Fizz is a couple doors down. Stepping through the doors was like stepping into my childhood. Sooooo many candies from all over the world, current and vintage. Literally everything I can think of. Candies I haven't seen in years. They even had a great selection of British candies, like Cadbury Flake chocolate and Fry's Turkish Delight- a rose flavored gel covered in chocolate. I had to take those two home, but there were so many others, like Aero and Allsorts, and so many more. They had Japanese KitKats made with matcha tea- had to have those too. 

The real reason I went to Rocket Fizz, however, was not for candy. It was for soda. I had seen an ad on their Facebook page for Pickle Juice Soda and I had a brilliant idea- host a soda tasting! At first I thought I'd just grab a couple bottles of Pickle Juice soda and have a few friends over for giggles and see how horrible or good it is, but wandering around Rocket Fizz, in absolute awe over the endless shelves of crazy soda flavors I knew this would be something so much bigger. I picked out a twelve pack of mixed sodas and you are going to crack up over these flavors: Tractor Organic Cucumber, John5 Limeade (more about John5 later), Lester's Fixins Buffalo Wing, Red Velvet Cookie Dough, Barf Soda, Big Red, Snooki Wild Cherry, Boylans Shirley Temple, Pickle Juice, Kickapoo Fuzzy Navel, and Sioux City Prickly Pear. 

Next step in the planning was to compile a list of the right friends, with a sense of adventure and no picky eaters. Usually the promise of tasty food will draw lots of volunteers but I needed to find the right group of people to try these weird soda flavors without balking. It was HARD to find willing participants, as one requirement was you must try EVERY flavor, no skipping, no excuses. I didn't find many willing to take the plunge with The Chef and I but we soldiered on bravely and tried them all. Let's break it down by flavor:

Tractor Organic Cucumber- HORRIBLE!!!!  Awful awful awful. By far the WORST of all the flavors, even Barf. This didn't taste in any way like cucumber, it tastes like soap and chemicals. Absolutely awful.

John5 Limeade- This one's bright green color should clue you in- it tastes a lot like lemon lime KoolAid. It's VERY sweet. Cloyingly so, and not very bubbly for a soda.

Lester's Fixins Buffalo Wing- Not as bad as I expected but not good. Quite fizzy and a weird after taste. Didn't have any of the heat associated with buffalo sauce and didn't really taste like wing sauce, but it was not sweet.

Red Velvet Cookie Dough- Boring. Overly sweet and boring. Tasted like creme soda.

Barf Soda- Big surprise here- Barf wasn't awful at all. It didn't taste like I expected, sour and gross. It was fruity, not as sweet as some of the others, and didn't even smell bad. It was very hard to actually take the first sip but we were very surprised.

Pickle Juice- Looks like, smells, and tastes like pickle juice. Gross gross gross. Dill pickle juice at that. One sip and we were done.

Big Red- Just a typical red creme soda here, no surprises.

Snooki Wild Cherry- Verrrrrrry sweet and not as bubbly. Red color was over the top, tasted like hard candy. This one was probably my favorite of all the flavors in spite of the sweetness. This would make a decent cocktail with a splash of vodka.

Boylans Shirley Temple- This one didn't taste like a Shirley Temple at all. It just tasted like unidentifiable fruit soda. Not horrible, not memorable. Would also probably benefit from a splash of vodka or something.

Kickapoo Fuzzy Navel- This one was gag-inducing. I expected a sweet and peachy soda with a little hint of orange but it was all wrong. No peach flavor, no cocktail flavor, no orange.

Sioux City Prickly Pear- Another one with an unidentifiable hint of something fruit flavored but you're just not sure what exactly. Since none of us had ever eaten an actual prickly pear we really didn't have anything to compare it to. Also another of the cloyingly sweet sodas.

Now, back to John5. In case you are wondering about this weird name for a soda, John5 is a heavy metal guitarist who has played with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Loser, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Meatloaf and others. He has also worked with MANY well known metal musicians including Ozzy, the Scorpions, Rob Halford and many more. In 2015 John5 teamed up with RocketFizz to create and release his own soda, a carbonated limeade, and that, my friends, is how this came to be. Amazingly, shortly before this story was finished, The Chef and I got a chance to see John5 LIVE at the Vaudeville Mews here in Des Moines- amazing amazing amazing show!!!!!

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, March 23, 2018

Laurie's Stuffed Chicken Breasts

I have told you a bit about Laurie before in a couple different posts. She began her career path in a very different direction, and ended up finding her passion in the restaurant business. Even though she is the textbook single girl with a very demanding work schedule she still finds time to cook at home on occasion and she comes up with some pretty delicious combinations. You can see the influence fine dining has made on her. She likes to cook with beautiful ingredients, lots of fresh vegetables and fruits and loves creating not only delicious dishes but beautiful dishes as well. Colorful plates, attractive combinations. This is one apple that definitely did not fall far from the tree, she absolutely has my love of food and cooking. In her current role, she is the general manager of Magnolia Wine Kitchen, a beautiful restaurant in the heart of downtown Des Moines. Situated in the Western Gateway part of downtown, the restaurant sits right across from the sculpture garden and features huge floor to ceiling windows overlooking the park, and a hip little patio tucked in the alley next to the building. The dining room is decorated with women in mind. Soft colors, plush seating, gorgeous artwork dots the walls. The wine bar features an outstanding selection of wines that changes often. Craft cocktails also are a feature of the restaurant, with Chef Nico creating amazing specials each week in the kitchen.

One of her many creations
Laurie may be front of the house for the most part but she is not afraid to jump in the kitchen and cook when she needs to. She always challenges herself to learn not only the recipes on the menu but to actively help in planning specials and other events. During the recent Culinary Food Fight she served alongside Chef Nico as his sous chef, preparing many of the items with him. I love this about her, she takes those skills she learns on the job home, and re-imagines them as something a home cook can produce just as easily. Tonight, as she was snapchatting me pics and details of her dinner she was making at home, you could see the influence of a restaurant chef in her description and technique. Her dish was a wildly creative mix of sweet and savory, acid and creamy. I knew I'd be stealing this idea! I made a few adjustments in technique, where she butterflied and stuffed the chicken then baked it, I am pounding out the breasts, stuffing, then rolling up, dredging in flour and sauteing before finishing in the oven. It's going to be delicious. Let's get cooking.

Laura's Cherry, Feta, Apple Stuffed Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 cup dried cherries
2 cups baby spinach
1 Granny Smith apple
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 scallions
all purpose flour
olive oil

Pound the chicken breasts to 1/4 inch thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Combine the dried cherries with the red wine and set aside. Chop the unpeeled apple into small dice. Slice the scallions, white and green parts.

Heat a swirl of olive oil in a small skillet. Add the apple and scallion and cook for a minute or two. Add the cherries with the wine and cook over high heat for a minute or two until the wine is almost evaporated and the apples are almost tender. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Laurie likes to serve roasted root veggies.
On each chicken breast, place a layer of baby spinach leaves. Divide the apple mixture between the chicken and sprinkle with feta. Roll up tightly into rolls, securing with toothpicks or cooking twine. I prefer cooking twine- it makes it easier to turn and brown the chicken.

Laurie's finished dish.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees and heat a large oven safe skillet over medium high heat. Add a couple tablespoons of butter and a couple tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Dredge the chicken rolls in flour, then add to the skillet to brown on all sides, then place in the oven to finish cooking for about 15-20 minutes. Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.