Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dinner on the patio- Lemony Wheat Berry Toss

Back to playing with grains- and this time I won't subject you guys to bad zombie jokes. I've been on a grain kick again lately, exploring the ancient grains and trying new textures and flavors. Wheat berries are on the menu today. These little bits of fabulous are very versatile! I've had them in artisan breads, but never had them cooked and served in other ways.

Because they are a heartier grain, they make a substantial addition to a salad entree. But what are wheat berries? Well, they are the whole wheat grain, the same thing that can be ground into flour. Besides being packed with fiber they are also a great source of protein and iron, so they make a great addition to vegetarian dishes. You can swap them out for other grains in dishes and their firm, chewy texture makes them a natural addition to salads. If you cannot have gluten or don't want to, this is NOT a grain for you. 

Because we don't want to sit down to a bowl full of nothing but grain, and we want the "fresh factor" and lots of fresh flavor, baby salad greens and especially baby spinach are the go-to choice for me. I find them to be extremely versatile, inexpensive if you buy, even easier to grow. Adding fresh veggies to a protein-packed salad like this one brings in loads more nutrients and fiber and flavor. 

So let's get started on our Lemony Wheat Berry Toss. You are going to need:

1 cup red wheat berries
3 cups water
a couple big handfuls baby spinach
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1/2 red onion, chopped
olive oil
1 lemon- you will need the zest from the whole lemon and the juice
salt, pepper

Start off by combining the wheat berries and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 50 minutes to an hour. You want the wheat berries to be tender but still chewy. Drain off any excess liquid. Set aside to cool.

In a large serving bowl combine vegetables and wheat berries. Toss with lemon juice, zest and a couple tablespoons olive oil. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

**NOTE: If you chill to serve later, I recommend chilling the wheat berries first and then combining the ingredients right before serving. Your veggies won't wilt and the berries won't soak up ALL the dressing.

This is intended to be an entree salad, so you can really have some fun with food here. You can add cubed cooked chicken, grilled shrimp, seared scallops, whatever you like. You can throw a palm full of fresh herbs in, thyme would go wonderfully with the lemony tone of this dish. Parsley would be an excellent punch of fresh flavor too. Growing some arugula or mesclun? Throw in a handful! I have a few different kinds of kale going in my garden so I plan on tearing some up and adding that next time. If you are one of those fried egg people who love the gooey yolk, top with a poached or softly fried egg. Some crusty bread and a nice glass of wine (Riesling is my favorite) completes this super easy dinner. I hope you'll give it a try! This dish is just begging you to take it outside and enjoy  summer dinner on the patio. 

Unfortunately for us, it was a cold and rainy evening, so dinner on the patio will not be happening at the Little Lake House. We are having ours with some pan-grilled kielbasa slices and homemade jalapeno ale mustard, which I must say, was quite delicious.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Recipe Re-do: Jalapeno Ale Mustard

Spring has sprung it seems- and soon (as soon as I get my "outdoor kitchen" set up like I'm wanting) the grill will be busy with browned and sizzling brats and other delicious meaty treats. I am such a mustard lover, as you know, if you've been reading RTK for a while, I make a lot of mustard myself. Every one is an experiment in texture and flavor. Some are spicy and robust, others are smooth and not as chunky and kid-friendly. I have always loved German-style mustards and love the flexibility of making my own.

I've done some taste-testing with other foodie friends who I consider to be pretty much expert level at judging and we all agree, some of them were a little TOO grainy and lost some smoothness in the canning/aging process. I need to add some additional liquid during some part of the process and have been mulling options over in my mind. I've made some adjustments to my basic recipe formula and we're trying again with a whole new brew.

Whenever I am out and about and see a store that sells beer singles, I always check out the selections. If something grabs my attention, I grab one, and hoard it away for future mustard or sauce making. Today I am working with Bent River Brewing Company's Jalapeno Pepper Ale. According to their website, fire roasted jalapenos are added to the mix, and upon trying it- it has a NICE pepper bite! It's hot! Not hot-sauce-hot but for a brew- definitely hot. It smells like fresh peppers and has a beautiful amber color. I wouldn't want to drink a six pack of it, but it's a fun beer to try just cuz you can.

The basic mustard mixture includes:

1 1/2 cup mustard seed  (I used 1 cup yellow and 1/2 cup brown)
1 12 ounce beer
1 cup apple cider or white vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl, cover and refrigerate at least overnight. I always soak 2-3 days. 

The mustard seed will plump up and absorb most of the liquid. Transfer mixture to food processor, process to desired "graininess". Jar up and store in fridge. However, if you want to process for canning (more on that later) you will need to make some adjustments, as the heating and aging on the shelf makes the mustard a little too thick.

Because I have had some issues with mustard being too thick after processing in the water bath, this time I am going to add additional beer. After 24 hours of soaking I can already see the difference that additional amount of beer has made. Longer processing in the processor and the extra beer are going to solve my problem with too thick of a consistency. There is plenty of extra liquid still with the seeds and I can always add another splash or so if I need to. I ended up using an additional 1/2 a beer (about 6 oz) and 2 TB additional vinegar.

Now, another thing I want to mention- add-ins. Add ins are a great way to add some extra color or flavor to your mustard. In this case I am going to add:

freshly ground black pepper
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced
additional jalapeno pepper- a few slices of pickled jalapeno finely diced will work perfect
extra beer for moisture

Another thing I am going to do this time is process the mustard a little longer so it's less chunky and more "spready." Once that's done all you need to do is pack the mustard in sterilized jars (i use the 4 oz jelly jars for mustard), fix lids and rings and process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. If you don't want to process in a canner you can store in fridge or even freezer but they won't be shelf stable.

Now, let's go get that grill started!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Grillin' and chillin' in Wine Country

Oh, did you think I meant Napa? Or California Wine Country? Oh heck no- Iowa Wine Country! I suppose a lot of people don't realize that Iowa has become one of the wine-producing hot spots in the nation, with more than 300 vineyards and over 100 wineries currently producing in the state. In fact, Iowa is divided into five separate "wine trails" that cover the entire state and make for some awesome day-tripping. Some of the wineries make wines exclusively from grapes grown in their own vineyards, while others import juice or grapes from other regions and make some of the wines most people are familiar with, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Iowa, being in zone 5 for agriculture, requires grapevines that can withstand cold temperatures for the long months of winter. Most of the familiar vines cannot, so growers here raise vines such as Edelweiss, Chardonel, Frontenac, St. Croix, and many others. Some closely mimic their warmer climate cousins, and some have unique flavors and aromas all their own. Touring a vineyard and winery in Iowa is fun! I've toured wineries that were little more than a garage with a few fermenting tanks to an elegant Italian villa setting in the middle of a downtown business district. Each Iowa winery is distinctive and has their very own niche.

Cooking with wine is very rewarding. By integrating the flavors in your glass into your food you are immersing yourself in the wine experience as much as possible, and adding depth and character to whatever you are preparing. I love a good steak marinated in rich red wine and herbs. The wine adds such a delicious fruitiness to the meat, residual sugars help to add to the caramelization on the grill, and nothing beats adding herbs for a punch of flavor. Herbs allow you to have a lot more flexibility in the flavors of your food too- some are more earthy and hearty, like sage and rosemary, while others, like thyme or chives, bring a fresh "green" flavor.

Today we are grilling up some steak kebabs. I'm a big fan of kebabs because they are quick to cook on the grill, keeping the meat juicy and tender, and when you add vegetables to the skewers you can make a little steak go a lot farther. Veggies are another great way to customize your meal. Cook only what you like! In this case, we're grilling, so if you wanted to add potatoes, say baby new potatoes, you might want to precook them a little before threading into the skewer. I like to stick with things that cook at about the same length of time- summer squash, onions, mushrooms, peppers. Cherry tomatoes work well also. Asparagus on the grill is phenomenal. Use what's fresh and what's in season.

Iowa Wine Country Steak Kebabs

top sirloin steak- allow about 4-6 ounces per person/serving
fresh vegetable of your choice- I used zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, mushrooms and           onion
1 cup Pinot Noir
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more
herbs of choice- I used Herbes de Provence for this batch 
salt, pepper
crushed or minced garlic, usually 3-4 cloves will do

Cut steak into generous cubes- I like 2 inch cubes- they don't overcook and they are easier to thread onto the skewers. Place in large zip close bag and all everything except the vegetables. Close the bag, removing as much air as possible. Smoosh and massage the bag to distribute the wine and seasonings evenly. Place on plate or tray in fridge for 2-4 hours, or as long as overnight. I used Pinot Noir in my marinade, but any big bold red will work- Cabernet is awesome, Chianti is a little "spicier", Merlot is also very good. Use whatever red wine you like but stick with a drier wine- this is not the place for a red Moscato.

Meanwhile soak skewers in water to prevent burning, or use metal ones. Clean and cut the vegetables into pieces about 2 inches like the steak cubes. Using separate skewers for the vegetables, thread them onto skewers as you like, alternating bites or make skewers of all the same vegetable. Sometimes this way works better when you are using veggies like baby potatoes that may need several more minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Remove meat from marinade. You can pat dry lightly with a paper towel but don't rinse off the meat. Thread the cubes onto the skewers. Drizzle or brush with a little bit of additional oil to prevent sticking on the grill. 

Cook skewers until desired doneness. To serve, you can either let each person have a skewer of each or you can remove everything, discard the skewers and serve in bowls/platters- whatever works best for you. I find that if some people like their meat more rare than others, it's best to leave them on skewers and separate. 

If you're wondering what the heck is the deal with the four mini
skewers on the top rack- we have furkids,  and they are spoiled!
Most importantly, please serve the wine you cook with alongside the meal. Never ever ever buy "cooking wine"- you should never cook with something you aren't willing to drink. If you don't want to drink it right now, save it and make spritzers or sangria, or freeze the wine for future cooking (old ice trays are great for this). It's ok to use an inexpensive wine, as long as it's also something you are willing to drink. 


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Pumpkin Flour Project Part 2- Pumpkin Gnocchi with Browned Butter

Way back in the fall I began an experiment I called The Pumpkin Flour Project. Somehow I got it in my brain that I wanted to dehydrate pumpkin and grind it into flour. Why not? After all, people are grinding all sorts of things into flour- grains, nuts, even acorns! I love cooking, experimenting and "winter foods" so I guess I thought pumpkins would translate into flour fairly readily, plus one pumpkin should give me at least a couple cups of flour to work with.

Pasta dough seems simple enough and fettuccine is a great size and shape to work with. I have a plan for that. But first, why not jump in head first and go for something big and with a level of difficulty many cooks shy away from- gnocchi. As I did my research on gnocchi-making I saw the same thing repeated over and over "too hard" and "too difficult." What might be a deterrent to others is a challenge to me, and therefore I decided that my first recipe made with the pumpkin flour shall be.........Pumpkin Gnocchi.

Growing up we were the only non-Italian family in an entirely-Italian neighborhood. I remember playing at my friends' houses and seeing many tablecloths spread with gnocchi to dry. Seems like everyone's mother made them except for my German mother! Now it's my turn to give it a shot and it's going to be an adventure that I hope turns out deliciously. 

To make the gnocchi you will need:

2 or 3 potatoes (Russets) washed well
1 egg
1 cup flour (plus more for dusting)
1 cup pumpkin flour

Fill a stockpot with salted water. Cook the potatoes whole and unpeeled until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Peel potatoes while hot and scrape/mash with a fork (or use a ricer if you have it) onto sheet pan. Spread out and allow to cool.

Combine the two flours in a bowl. 

In a large bowl measure out one cup of the mashed potato. Stir in the egg and flour until thoroughly combined.

If dough is too sticky, add flour a little bit at a time until no longer sticky. Roll the dough into long ropes, cut ropes into half inch pieces. Shape your gnocchi as you like. I made small disks and semi folded them. Spread out onto a towel that's LIGHTLY dusted with flour. Let them dry for a bit, as long as a few hours.

I'm not so sure I'm happy with the pumpkin flour. There were
quite a few bits that were like cornmeal and didn't blend well.
When ready to cook, bring pot of salted water to boil. Add gnocchi, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to serving bowl and toss with sauce. 

If I were making regular potato gnocchi I might choose pesto or olive oil and Parmesan cheese with herbs to dress them. Since this is pumpkin and a little "autumn" flavored I decided to go with browned butter and herbs- sage is my favorite to use with butter and I think it melds well with the pumkpin. Easy to do, all you need is a stick, or half a stick of BUTTER. Yes, you get the NO MARGARINE lecture again. For obvious reasons- you cannot "brown" margarine, so save your money and leave that chemical and water nonsense on the store shelf and go with butter. Melt the butter in a skillet, let it heat and foam and stir very often until it has reached a nice golden color- medium heat is best, if you cook it too quickly you will burn the butter. I tossed in a clove of minced garlic with the butter too- I wanted to bring something a little more savory into the pumpkin flavor. Remove from heat, toss in a good palmful of minced sage and toss with your gnocchi.

So, I suppose you are wondering how the gnocchi turned out? Paired with oven roasted chicken breasts seasoned with fines herbs and sage and Brussels sprouts, they were not too bad. The buttery sauce with garlic and sage were the perfect combination. Like many people say, when making gnocchi for the first time, it was a little dense and chewy, but they were cooked well and the pumpkin brought in some sweetness but not really a pumpkin flavor. I will definitely try my hand at making gnocchi again. I want to nail that light and airy dumpling texture.

Stay tuned, because I still have pumpkin flour, and I promise, there will be a Pumpkin Flour Project Part 3, and it's gonna be HOT.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sneak Peek- the Latin side of George Formaro

As if the zombies weren't enough of a clue, now it's obvious- he is going to take over the world!!!! The culinary world in Des Moines, Iowa, that is. Who is he? Chef George Formaro, Des Moines native, horror film enthusiast, restaurant genius. Founder of several outstanding and successful restaurants in Des Moines and partner of Orchestrate Management, he has added another feather to his cap, this time with a Latin flair- Malo. Back in 2012 I sat in on a cooking demo of George's at the World Food Festival in Des Moines. He prepared barbecoa and hinted at a new venture with a Latin flair. Starting mid-May, we will all get to experience the new Malo.

The old saying "It's all about who you know" really does hold a lot of truth. I happen to know the manager of this brand-new, not-yet-opened restaurant and today was treated to a tour of the restaurant. Of course The Chef and I said YES! I have never worked in nor opened a brand new restaurant. I've been in a couple kitchens over the years (of course The Chef has opened and worked in MANY kitchens) so for me this was a particularly exciting tour. Malo is housed in the old Des Moines Fire House #1. 

Just needs some outdoor signage!

The patio and trees will soon fill the sidewalk
Malo shares the building with The Des Moines Social Club, which is another fun-filled nightspot many locals love. Inside Malo's expansive dining room are very few reminders of the old fire station, but the hole in the ceiling where the pole once was is still visible. 

The main dining room is enormous. Bench style seating lines a dividing wall and has beautifully designed upholstery in muted versions of the bright ceiling tiles suspended above and crocodile embossed seating.

West End Architectural Salvage designed much of the accents in the dining room, repurposing interesting materials to give the walls some texture. The tables are beautifully finished wood, and the bar-side seating features plenty of high-top and large-group tables, interesting artwork, and unique lighting. 

I LOVED the light fixtures. The hostess station was also designed by West End Salvage and is surrounded by amazing artwork.

But the kitchen........oh the kitchen. All the stainless steel appliances, sixteen burners, ovens, stacks of gleaming saute pans, stainless steel utensils lining the racks. 

Something I have never seen before, a state of the art tortilla press, sits ready for house-made tortillas. Walk-ins as big as my HOUSE. Part of the kitchen is "open" to the bar area, and there is an expansive prep area behind that. I can just imagine the energy in the room when the restaurant opens and the staff is juggling tickets and making it all come together. 

In addition to all the indoor seating Malo will also feature a large patio street-side and a large courtyard in the back with seating for dining and an outdoor movie theater. Large banquet facilities are on the second floor of the old fire house. It's truly an amazing location.

Sorry about the burry snap- I was just too excited and in awe!
Because my "in" at Malo is the new manager, my daughter Laurie, I am looking forward to the preview friends and family tasting- I can't wait to check out the menu and see the finished space and all the amazing dishes created by George and his chefs. If it's anything like the barbecoa........it's going to be killer!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Holiday memories and cranberries

Are you an entertainer? Like the dinner party host/hostess of a generation ago? I am. I love cooking for other people. LOVE putting together fabulous meals that require lots of prep and shopping and planning and time tables. Perfect place settings with real china and silver, crisp linens and starched napkins. Place cards. The whole bit. One year for Thanksgiving I did exactly that. The whole nine yards and then some. Oh the menu was fantastic. Rather than the usual family dinner of people swarming the kitchen plopping food on plates I recruited my daughters to help me serve the courses. What was the menu?

Trio of Appetizers:
Shrimp Martini
Mini Crab Quiche
Sweet Corn Madeleines with Creme Fraiche and Caviar
Cream of Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards
Baby Field Greens with Dijon Vinaigrette
Herbed Roast Turkey
Chestnut Stuffing
Rustic Mashed Potatoes with Pan Gravy
Green Beans Amandine
Cranberry Sauce with Roasted Shallots and Port
Pumpkin Pie
Caramel Apple Cheesecake
Nut Praline Tart

Ohhhhhh if only people had started taking food pictures all the time 12 years ago........

What does this menu have to do with anything? Nothing really and I am NOT sharing every recipe right now- good grief, this would be the longest blog post in the history of mankind. But I happen to have a freezer full of cranberries and a chicken to roast so I thought I'd dig out this cranberry sauce recipe and share. I did not write this recipe- it's from an old issue of Bon Appetit magazine from November, 2002. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Cranberry Sauce with Roasted Shallots and Port 

18 shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise through root end
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
5 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar

1 2/3 cups ruby port
1/3 packed brown sugar
12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1/4 cup dried currants or raisins
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss shallots with oil and 3 teaspoons of the thyme, spread onto rimmed baking sheet, season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Mix 1 tablespoon of the vinegar with 1 tablespoon of sugar, drizzle over shallots.Continue roasting about 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

In saucepan bring port, brown sugar, remaining vinegar and 1/2 cup sugar to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add cranberries and currents, cook until berries pop, stirring occasionally. Mix in marjoram and remaining thyme. Stir in shallots. Transfer to bowl and chill overnight. Serve cold or at room temperature. Can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Of all the holidays our family has celebrated, this one was truly memorable. The food was divine, yes, A LOT of work and prep but so worth it. I hope that some day you and your family will give this one a try. It really is delicious. And just maybe I'll share a few more of these recipes in future posts.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Happy Anniversary and memories of a European childhood

Probably the biggest benefit of being a well-traveled child has been acquiring an international palate at a very young age. My mother was born and raised in Germany and spending a lot of time in Europe exposed me to foods that your average American mac and cheese kid probably never tasted. Twelve different countries and several years spent overseas exposed me to so many incredible cuisines. The other kids in my neighborhood likely never heard of steak tartare or duck confit. Schnitzel Holstein with spaetzle would be another language altogether. Rouladen? Is that a video game? What in the world is lefse and lutefisk? What do you mean Italians don't eat Spaghettios?

It was especially fun as a child to order these dishes and watch the server squirm and try to direct me to a more appropriate selection, a burger maybe? Or spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese? They just couldn't grasp the idea that a kid knew exactly what Spaghetti Caruso is, and actually wanted it. Kids aren't supposed to like those kinds of things, right? I'm pretty sure more than a handful of servers were disgusted beyond belief watching my sister and I mix together raw ground steak, raw egg yolk, chopped onion, capers, pile it on crusty bread and munch it down. Think about it- do YOU know any 8 or 9 year olds who order and actually EAT steak tartare or tried carpaccio? 

Ready to mix and spread on crusty bread. Mmmmmmmm
As my Chef and I celebrated our 4th anniversary of coupledom we visited our favorite Italian restaurant, Riccelli's, for some old world, traditional family recipe Italian, and you will never guess what they have on the menu!! You got it- Spaghetti Caruso. So while I dig into my plate of deliciousness, I'll share the recipe I use when making this at home, a loose adaptation of my mother's version. She always made red sauce that cooked for hours, with dried herbs, and while that's perfectly fine, I like the freshness of herbs just picked from the garden. I'm not even going to ask for Riccelli's sauce recipe. I know how valued those secrets are. One thing you don't want is an angry Italian nonna chasing after you!

Sadly, in today's world the likelihood of finding these fantastic "raw" options such as steak tartare is very rare, and unless it's sushi, you're going to have a hard time finding raw anything. Improper food handling and fear of food poisoning makes it a risk most restaurants don't want to take. Even with sushi, so many people are concerned about "what's in the fish" and so many false stories make their way around the internet...... 

Finding some of these old-time foods can be a bit of a challenge, but if you find a non-chain, family-owned old Italian joint, you just might find.....

Spaghetti Caruso

3-4 cups tomato sauce
approx 1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup finely minced onion
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tb fresh oregano, chopped
2 tb fresh marjoram, chopped
2-3 tb fresh basil, chopped
1 lb chicken livers, cleaned
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
1/3 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter
1 lb spaghetti (I prefer THIN spaghetti or angel hair)
Parmesan cheese to taste

Combine tomato sauce with oregano and marjoram. Set aside. In large skillet heat the olive oil. Add mushrooms and onions and saute for several minutes until onions are soft and translucent and mushrooms are tender. Add garlic, cook and stir for a couple more minutes. Add tomato sauce mixture, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make sure livers are free from fibers and dark spots. Cut each liver in half. Season flour with salt and pepper, dredge livers in flour. Heat vegetable oil, fry livers, half at a time, until browned and crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove to paper towel-lined plate.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside.

Remove oil from skillet, wipe clean. Add butter, heat until foamy. Add livers, and stir.

Place pasta in large bowl. Add chopped basil to sauce, pour over pasta and toss. Top with livers, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Now I know a lot of people get squeamish at the thought of anything liver, but I hope you will give this recipe a try- with an open mind and an open palate. It really is delicious. Chicken livers are small enough- you can suck it up and try it! Crusty bread and butter or hot, crunchy garlic bread go amazingly well to sop up the delicious sauce too. 

I didn't really spell out the recipe for steak tartare, although I did snap a pic of the ingredients before I indulged in my tv snack. Very simply, you need HIGH QUALITY, very lean ground beef, about a pound- grind your own if you can. One raw egg yolk, some chopped onion, some capers, salt and pepper, mix it all up and spread it on crusty bread for an amazing taste experience. It is not "bloody" or gross or slimy. It's fresh and delicious and tastes amazingly light. The teeniest drizzle of extra virgin olive oil transforms it into something you might enjoy with a wonderful chianti at a sidewalk cafe in Italy, much like it's cousin, carpaccio. 

Be brave! Go forth and try new things!