Friday, May 30, 2014

Trending: They've come to snuff the Rooster

Rooster Sauce, that is. The fight has been brewing in California for well over a year about whether or not the fragrance of Sriracha is a public nuisance or not. Of course, to the foodie world, we are shocked at the mere thought! Why would anyone go to war against Sriracha? Unthinkable! Eaten on everything from egg rolls to scrambled eggs, Sriracha is one of the most widely-recognized condiments, probably as popular as ketchup. In a way, you could say it's ketchup for grownups. Fortunately, I heard on the news the fight is over!! Yay!! Sriracha is saved!!

Another popular trend right now is the burger. Once the lowly drive in sandwich, the humble burger is making a major place in the culinary scene, from unusual meats to crazy marketing schemes and theme restaurants. Seems like the more outlandish the idea, the more popular the burger. Here at the Little Lake House we love burgers as well, and you already know that we play with our food. That's what happens when a professional chef and an amateur chef take up residence! We love our Sriracha around here, and we love Asian flavors too so it just seemed natural so want to combine them into something really delicious- and along came the Asian Burger with Spicy Mayo and Rooster Slaw. You can prepare the meat indoors or on a grill outdoors. Topped with a crunchy "slaw" it's a delightful burger we hope you will love too.

To make the burger you will need:

1 pound ground beef
2 TB Sriracha sauce
2 TB Hoisin sauce
1 TB sesame seeds, lightly toasted
small bunch green onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 TSP red pepper flakes (optional)
1 TSP finely grated fresh ginger or a few dashes dried ginger
salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand until thoroughly combined. 

Divide into 4 portions and form into patties. Preheat your outdoor grill, grill pan on the stovetop or skillet. Cook the burgers to desired doneness.

Meanwhile, for spicy mayo mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 TB Sriracha.

For slaw toss together:

1 cup sliced Romaine lettuce
1 or 2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup shredded carrot
enough of spicy mayo to moisten
some chopped water chestnuts, if you have it, add another crunchy element

To assemble burgers, toast sesame seed buns. Place burger on bottoms, top with slaw and bun top that has been spread with additional spicy mayo. Top with additional Sriracha if you like it super spicy.

That was easy and a fun twist on a burger. A little like Mongolian beef, a little spicy, this would be great with any kind of ground meat. Serve with some grilled asparagus or stir fried vegetables and you have a pretty fantastic meal! 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Foodie Field Trip- A most offal cooking contest!

Every spring in the Danish Villages in Iowa, Elk Horn and Kamballton, the towns throw a weekend-long party celebrating the Danish heritage and history of the many residents- Tivoli Fest. Every year over Memorial Day weekend the Danish Windmill is turning, the traditional Danish foods are abundant, parades marching down the streets, and fun for the whole family fill each day. Folks in traditional Danish dress, loads of entertainment, and yes, aebelskiver, the whole community celebrates.

Something new in 2014 was the First Annual Leverpostej Contest. Leverpostej...... the Danish version of liver pate. Commonly served spread onto Danish rye and topped with pickled sliced onions, thinly sliced cucumber and served cold, or maybe bacon and grilled onions and served warm, it's also known as smorrebrod. Cooks gathered in the Fire Station with their leverpostej, hoping for the winning recipe. The first ever winner was JeenLee McAlpin from Exira. She says she Googled recipes and has never made this before! The panel of judges included the Mayor and Des Moines Register reporter Kyle Munson.

Are you ready to try JeenLee's winning recipe?

You will need:

2 Tb butter
2 Tb flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 lb pork liver, chopped
1 lb pork fat, chopped
1/2 onion
2 anchovy fillets
2 eggs
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
salt and pepper
3/4 lb bacon

The method:

Heat the butter in saucepan until bubbly, add flour and whisk constantly. Add cream and half and half. Bring to boil, simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Combine cooled mixture with all ingredients except bacon. Process in batches in food processor or blender until smooth. Line a loaf pan with bacon. Fill with mixture halfway. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Cool and refrigerate, serve with bacon and mushrooms for garnish.

So what do you think- are you going to give this recipe a try? Are you brave enough?

*some photos courtesy of Tivoli Fest on Facebook

Monday, May 26, 2014

Nephew Night gets hot and spicy

I am the cool aunt. Yep. The aunt that takes nephews to concerts, Zombie Burger, goes to the World Food Festival with, and cooks. And why not? It's fun and rewarding to be an aunt and play a part in someone's life, especially if I can be a positive role model. I have one nephew that shares my love for heavy metal, and another that shares my passion for cooking.

Many highway miles have been traveled by my nephew Jordan and I- to Minnesota for Black Label Society and Mudvayne, to Council Bluffs for Halestorm, Stone Sour and Avenged Sevenfold. All good times and great memories. My nephew Jeremy and I share a passion for food and cooking. We share recipes, ideas, cooking videos- you name it. We go to the World Food Festival together and try weird foods we've never heard of before. And we cook.

Today we spent the day together, talking about different things, life stuff, tv chefs and of course, food. Jeremy brought over the stuff to make his awesome Steak Rolls, which we have shared here before. We had a great time talking over pounding out steak, cutting up vegetables, weaving bacon. Some time in the course of our conversation Jeremy had a stroke of brilliance- fried pickles made out of the ghost pepper dill pickles I made.

After rounding up some ingredients from the pantry for the fried pickles, he wanted to make a dipping sauce. So we browsed through the cabinets a little more and thought- why not use some of the pepper jellies I have on hand? Of course! While the meat roasted nicely in the oven, Jeremy set to work on the best fried pickles I have ever had! So brace yourselves for this zesty, spicy treat- Honey Sesame Fried Pickles with Cranberry Ghost Chili Dipping Sauce.

You will need-

1 quart whole dill pickles-Jeremy used spicy hot pepper dills
1-2 eggs
2 tb honey
dash of soy sauce
sesame oil, if desired
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup panko
2 tb sesame seed, toasted
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
dash ground ginger
cooking oil for frying

Drain pickles and cut into quarters or halves lengthwise. Spread out on paper towels and allow to dry for an hour or so. Meanwhile, in small bowl beat together eggs, honey, soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil, if using. In another bowl combine the dry ingredients. 

Heat oil for frying. Dip pickles in egg, then coat liberally with coating mixture, pressing to adhere well. Fry until golden brown, drain on paper towels and serve with dipping sauce.

Cranberry Pepper Jelly Dipping Sauce

1 cup cranberry ghost pepper jelly
3-4 cloves garlic, minced

Melt jelly in small saucepan with garlic added. Simmer until slightly reduced and garlic is tender. Pour into small bowl and serve with pickles.

*Note- We used cranberry ghost chili jelly that I had made, but you can use any pepper jelly you have, or you can click HERE for the cranberry ghost chili recipe.

Try these recipes the next time you are inviting guests for dinner. The steak roll is awesome served with some grilled or roasted asparagus or sliced and served like fajitas, with all the toppings and tortillas. The pickles are spicy and crispy and the dipping sauce has a VERY Asian flavor. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

No ammo needed for this hunt!

Every spring Iowans all over lose their minds, and their sense of direction, wandering the woods and hillsides, climbing over dead logs and muddy creeks with their minds fixated on their prey. They stalk through the trees, eyes scanning like lazers, searching.....searching. Part of the time it's turkey season, but no one seems to have a gun. What in the world are they looking for?


Yes, the elusive morel mushroom. That springtime delight that can be quite hard to track down. They are finicky little buggers- they need the right kind of spring, the right amount of rain and the right temperatures and if you're lucky and have a spot other people don't know about already, you just might find a few handfuls, or a few bagfuls!

Morels are a very delicious mushroom and can be used in so many different ways. Michelin star chefs use them in amazing and complex dishes. Your everyday guy breads and fries them. They can be stuffed, sauteed, frozen or dehydrated. Sauteed in butter and served alongside a tender, juicy steak, they are absolutely fantastic. I have been dreaming for three springs now about the perfect recipe for a blog post. Sadly, I think this spring has come and gone with again, no morels for me. Maybe next year!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Foodie Field Trip- Minnesota

Before you even ask "how can an entire STATE be a foodie field trip" let me just say- the foodie field trip part is just a BONUS. The reason for the road trip had nothing to do with food. Or kitchen stores. Or good restaurants. It just.......happened.

It was innocent enough to begin with. Mom and daughter. Road trip to Minneapolis to see Lady Gaga. Girl time. Fun and laughs. But the the fateful words "outlet mall" were muttered. I was all about to change from there. Barely 3 hours into our day I found myself in the kitchen store at an outlet mall near Owatonna. This is a very dangerous place for a person who loves to cook, loves interesting little shops, and LOVES to buy kitchen stuff. Very dangerous. It's not hard for me to find SOMETHING to buy in a kitchen store. I don't need to spend a lot of money- I can and will find something so I can say "I bought something there!"  Yes, I am that easy to entertain. So what did I pick up this time? A new tea steeper thing (since I cannot find my steeping mug from Teavana that I love so much) and a ceramic knife. I have lusted after a ceramic knife ever since I saw my first Kyocera knife at an upscale cookware shop in Kansas City several years ago. This store did not have Kyocera knives but they did have a KitchenAid ceramic knife for an exceptional price, so I grabbed one. I can try it out and if I'm not totally in love with it, I haven't splashed out hundreds of dollars. 

An outlet store full of Wusthofs. What a cruel, cruel twist.
THIS was not in my budget!!
We arrived in the Twin Cities with hours to spare. Checked into the hotel and went exploring Eagan for a place to eat. Bypassing all the same places we can eat at in Iowa, we decided to give Houlihan's a shot. 

I normally avoid chain restaurants like the plague but we were hungry and decided to brave it. We were not disappointed at all. The decor was warm and woodsy. The staff was very friendly and proficient. We didn't wait for anything. After the drive we were HUNGRY- and the menu looked pretty promising. They had a very impressive cocktail menu, including mini martini flights, and a pretty substantial "small plates" menu. Debbee chose a pasta special- fettuccine with lemon shrimp. Her salad arrived just moments after the waitress left our table- and was so much better than the usual boring and predictable bagged salad mix with 3 croutons. Fresh corn, bacon, blue cheese and a slightly mustardy version of ranch dressing.

The pasta dish was very generous. It arrived on a huge platter, with loads of fettuccine, a creamy lemon sauce and perfectly grilled shrimp.

I went with my old standby- steak. I chose the top sirloin, which was grilled and basted with a red wine sauce, and served with asparagus and baked potato and a Parmesan garlic butter to spread on top of the steak. So delicious, and perfectly cooked. 

We left, full and happy, and made our way to the Excel Center and had an amazing evening with Lady Gaga. But the fun didn't end there- and neither did the foodie field trip. The next morning we checked out of the hotel and made a beeline for Disneyland for Grownups, also known as IKEA. I'm not even going to sugar coat it. I'm in kitchen heaven in this place. Dishes- lots of dishes, several of which made their way into my cart. I'm always looking for good food props, and IKEA is a great place to find them. Their knife selection is impressive. The cookware is awesome. I've bought many many pieces from IKEA over the years and have never been dissatisfied. 

Another HUGE weakness for me- kitchen linens. I love love love kitchen towels. I must have a hundred. I'm sure I'm not done buying linens, although this trip did not include any. I did, however, find a very cool wheeled cart for things like farmers markets and I can't wait to use it !!

The Mall of America is surprisingly a good place to find cool little foodie things. Immediately upon walking in the mall we spotted a Vom Fass store. I had never been in one before- never even heard of them- but I soon was transfixed at the wall of oils, the wall of vinegars, the wall of seasonings. 

I was a little overwhelmed really- too much, in too small of a store. Of course we spent considerable time at the seasonings/spices, smelling everything and oohing and ahhing over the amazing aromas, even trying pumpkin seed oil. I had to make a decision, couldn't take it all with me, so I grabbed a couple jars, Aglio Olio & Peperoncino seasoning and Wild Game seasoning, grabbed a catalog, and begrudgingly left the store. 

We stopped for lunch at The Cadillac Ranch, where Debbee had the Black and Bleu Salmon Salad (Black and Bleu Catfood Salad as I call it) and I had the famous Minnesota Jucy Lucy. Browsed over the Vom Fass catalog while eating.......decided it was a good thing we left that store when we did........ and continued our trip around the mall.

There are several different foodie havens in the Mall of America. Williams Sonoma (which I avoided- we have that in Iowa), all the department stores which carry all my favorites as well, Teavana, and The Pepper Palace, which as you can imagine, is a store filled with nothing but hundreds upon hundreds of hot sauces, and things like Nacho Cheese scented candles.  I'll pass on the candles but the hot sauces are always my friend. They even carry Zakk Wylde's Berserker sauces. I was in awe of all the heat in one room.

I found this ADORABLE little piggy grill!!
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and so did my time in the Mall of America. The sad drive back to Iowa began and I always feel that longing to just stay forever in my home state. But halfway back, there was one last stop that also yields a few foodie surprises- Cabela's. Many of my friends think it's weird that I, a girl, love going to Cabela's so much. Well, it's the animal displays, the live fish in the aquariums (game fish- things I catch, clean and eat!) and the assortment of food-related items that make it a great place for people like me! They have a huge assortment of cast iron cookware, dehydrating and preserving equipment, jerky marinades, seasoning of every kind, game cookbooks- and big jugs of seasoned fish fry coating. Just what I was looking for!

And finally.........we are done. Tired. Shopped out. Headed home. Our much-needed mom and daughter trip now in the history books, back to real life, work, kids, bills, and writing blogs.......about my foodie field trip.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Foodie Field Trip- Early Morning Harvest

Tucked away in the countryside of Panora in Guthrie County, Iowa, is a very unique and special kind of -farm- Early Morning Harvest. This family-owned farm is an aquaponics farm, not your typical Iowa farm at all!! They are much more than just an aquaponics farm too.

What do they grow there? Lots of things! Fresh vegetables of all kinds is just the beginning. Certified organic grains and grain products such as flour, cereals and even granola, are offered for sale year round. Free range chickens provide eggs, and grass fed beef offer a better alternative to store-bought eggs and beef. They also have honey, fresh herbs, and tilapia- sold live. It's a very unique way to buy local and organic.

Every week the farm sends out an email containing a list of what's available that week and how much is available. What a great way to serve their customers! I think it's vitally important to our local communities and small businesses to support them by buying local and buying fresh. That's especially important in an area like I live in- rural communities that are far from any huge supermarkets. We need good choices, fresh foods, and supporting a sustainable local business is something I can really get behind. They also sell products at local farmers markets and from the farm.

You can also learn more about Early Morning Harvest by reading this recent article from Seedstock. And if you visit their website, you will find loads of pictures of the aquaponics equipment, the free range chickens, and much more. Check it out, and believe me, it's worth the drive to Panora.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Indian Experiment Part 2

Some time ago I decided to make it a point to try my hand at Indian cooking. So far, that has included only one dish, tandoori chicken. I'm nowhere near done yet- still tons to learn about and master. So many spices and flavors to discover and new ways to prepare things. So here I am, finding myself researching recipes and trying to find ways to best use the ingredients I have on hand. Since I stocked up on almost everything in the spice category, it's pretty safe to say I'm prepared for just about any recipe. No bugs though. And no monkey brains. I always say no to bugs and monkey brains. I may have an adventurous palate but I am nooooo Indiana Jones at a time like this.

Butter chicken, also known as murg makhani, will be my next experiment. Probably one of the most popular dishes, this comes from the Punjab region and can be as mild or as hot as the cook decides.  Mine will not be the burn-your-face-off searing heat many Indian dishes are known for, but a pretty intense blend of flavors, and aromas. The spices cooked briefly in the melted butter is just enough to make the whole house smell wonderful. Poor planning on my part landed Indian night on a weeknight, so I won't have time to play with dough and make pita or naan this time either, darnit. I bet it would have been great for sopping up the creamy, spicy sauce. This dish is often served with lentils, but I think I am going to stick with rice.

The more I get to reading and researching these new foods, the more I find I want to make. In a perfect world I would spend all day cooking and playing with food. If only I had all the time I wanted and an endless supply of ingredients...... a girl can dream though, right?

***Please note, I did not "invent" this recipe, but based it on's version. I did make a few changes based on ingredients I had on hand, but the result was fantastic. So let's get cooking.

What you need:

2 tb oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
3 tb butter
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp sweet paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tb fresh grated ginger
several dashes chili powder
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods, slightly bruised
1 can tomato puree
1 tb sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tb lemon juice

The method:

Heat oil in large wok or skillet. Add chicken and cook until nicely browned. You may need to do it two batches using 1 tb oil per batch. Remove to bowl and set aside. Reduce heat and add butter to wok. Add all spices to butter and cook until fragrant, stirring constantly, about a minute.  Return chicken to wok and stir to coat with spices. Add tomatoes and sugar, simmer for 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for a few more minutes until thickened. Serve over rice. (Make sure to fish out the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods- you don't want to eat those)

I'm so in love with fresh summer squash stir fried with Indian seasonings that again I went with that as a side. I have only made one other Indian dish so it can't technically be called a "rut" just yet. I like the mildness of the squash compared to the bold flavor of the entree- I don't have a plate full of competing flavors, which is more important to me. Concentrate on ONE dish and do it really well, and try a new side later, maybe when I have a couple extra hours for bread-making as well. 

Anyway, this dish really did come together very quickly, which is perfect for a weeknight when you don't want to spend the whole evening in the kitchen. It's basically a one-pot entree as well. If you are one of those super organized cooks, you can pre-prep just about everything- cut up the chicken, vegetables, mix the spices ahead of time. Then it's just a matter of heat, dump, saute and simmer. Done! Convenience food that's actually GOOD for you! I think we might be on to something here!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What is red shiso, and why did I buy it?

Tonight as I was looking through my seed packets, anxious to get the last of the seeds in before the rain arrives later, I came upon a packet of seeds I bought for this spring and forgot about- red shiso. Hmmm..... I wonder what I was thinking?

I know I have been doing a lot of research lately, trying to expand my repertoire of Asian dishes, and red shiso, a Japanese herb, definitely fits into that plan. I do know (from watching millions of episodes of Chopped) that the red leaves are used to get the distinct red color of umeboshi, or Japanese pickled plums. I've seen these odd fruits appear in the chefs' baskets of secret ingredients several times. I know they are very very salty and sour. 

Some sushi chefs sprout the shiso seed and use the sprouts in sushi-making. Maybe THAT will be a good way for me to experiment, as sushi-making is a new hobby around the Little Lake House. I've seen the leaves used as a serving vessel for wasabi on sushi plates before too.

The red leaves are also dried and crushed to make yukari, which is often used as a seasoning for rice and other dishes (or so I have read.......).

As I continue reading I see articles and blog posts of all kinds of things to do with shiso- from salad use to chiffonaded for a garnish. Use a leaf between the rice and the fish when making nigiri. Chiffonade and toss with rice or noodles. Here's one that catches my eye- infuse vodka with shiso leaves!! I can gt behind that!

Tomorrow I will be looking for a nice big pot and get some seeds started, so soon I can begin experimenting with this new-to-me herb, so stay tuned- I will have lots to share.

Product Review: Perfect Iowa pork on the grill with some sass rubbed on

My good friend Gloria owns a business that sells an awesome variety of sauces, salsas and rubs, Carolina Sauce Company, and a few months ago she sent me several items to play with in the kitchen. I love trying out new products and playing with flavors. I love repurposing things as well, creating something totally different in the end. One of the items she sent me ended up on the shelf over the cold months of winter, no thanks to the nasty polar vortex that made so many of us miserable.

Now spring has sprung and it's time to start thinking about grilling and smoking again. That means meat rubs. Lots and lots of meat rubs. The Chef and I love grilling and smoking different meats, especially ribs and chicken, and we have tried loads of different rubs, including making up our own on occasion. Some have been good, some ok, some bad enough to ruin the meal, and others outstanding. Since we own a smoker and like playing with barbeque techniques we have some basic things we look for in a good rub- it must NOT be salty, must not be overly sugary- just enough to encourage good caramelization, and must have the right amount of heat. Good pepper flavor and HEAT but not just melt your face off heat. That's fine for some things but we want a flavor underneath the heat.

Awwww the smell of summer...... smoking a hunk of pig.
So Gloria included a package of Adams Ultimate Rubb in our goodie package. It's an "all purpose meat, fish and poultry rub (that) has become the favorite among great cooks everywhere." Sounds promising! It also says "spicy" on the package, so that's a good thing. The back of the package has some great suggested uses- sprinkle on meat of choice and let marinate for 30 minute to 2 hours. Put a little in baked beans; sprinkle lightly on salmon; vegetables; french fries; use one part rub to 4 parts flour for fish or chicken breading. Sounds like fantastic ideas!

How about some smokey, fall-off-the-bone ribs?
I open the cute brown package and there is an airtight bag containing the rub- I can already smell it and it smells delicious. I check the ingredients- everything I'm looking for is there, brown sugar (can't have meat rub without it), red pepper, garlic, onion, smokey flavors and a papaya extract. Of course I can't resist a quick taste test. It's delicious, with a nice sweet base and spicy, smoky undertones.

Now all we need is some meat! Decisions, decisions. Pork butt...... chicken...... turkey breast...... brisket? Ribs are awesome, a smoker full of wings makes me happy too. We have to make a decision at this point so we go with boneless pork "country style ribs" and head for home to get cooking. In Iowa, pork is big business. BIG business. From bacon to chops, Iowa is definitely pork country. In fact, there are more pigs in Iowa than humans with around 30 million hogs raised every year. That is one-third of the nation's total pork production, making Iowa the top pork producing state in the entire nation. Pretty BIG business!

Now if you are unfamiliar with "country style ribs" let's talk about that a little bit. These ribs are cut from the sirloin end of the pork loin, also known as the rib end. They have no bones. Most of the time you find them cut into individual pieces already. They are perfect for barbeque cooking or grilling, even roasting. They also lend well to rub-type seasonings because they have a lot of surface area to hold on to the flavors.  These are by far meatier than bone-in rib cuts and are meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. Unlike the old days of Grandma cooking the life out of the pork chops, today's pork is leaner and needs to be cooked to only 145 degrees with a few minutes rest time before serving. **TIP- when cooking meat it's important to keep it as juicy as possible, so always use tongs to turn meat, never use a fork. Poking holes in the meat causes the juices to run out, leaving you with a dried out piece of shoe leather.

Ok, so I've got my rub. I've got my country style ribs. I'm ready to get cooking. The package says the longer you leave the rub on, the better, so I'm going to do that FIRST and foremost and get the meat resting. Pork country style ribs are very lean so you probably won't have much extra fat to trim off. I am going to sprinkle the rub very liberally over the ribs and really get them covered nicely. Place on clean plate and wrap or place in a ziptop bag and refrigerate, until shortly before cooking- then allow meat to rest at room temperature for a short bit.

When I'm ready to cook (I'll be using the grill pan for these since.....sigh........we have not yet filled the tank on the grill and have zero charcoal around) I like to drizzle the meat with just a touch of olive oil. It helps to NOT stick to the grill and I think helps caramelize and brown the crust a little better. Always add meat to a hot grill (or pan) or you will be picking mutilated meat shreds that are stuck to the surface. Plus you wreck your lovely meat surface. Country style ribs are more like thick rectangles than pork chops so I will grill on all four sides, turning each side to the heat just ONCE, and cook until the internal temperature is 145 degrees. It doesn't take very long to cook, so have your sides ready to go before hand. I am going to saute some fresh green beans (like they do in Chinese restaurants) and make a very quick and simple French-style potato salad (with a vinaigrette instead of mayo). Since I don't have store-bought dijon for the dressing I am going to use some of my Jalapeno Pepper Ale Mustard in the dressing- I'll toss some cooked potatoes with chopped Vidalia onion and dressing, freshly ground pepper- simple and delicious.

The results are, as expected, fantastic. The pork was juicy and tender. The rub added the right amount of spice and just a kick of heat. The brown sugar caramelized the meat beautifully. The papaya added a hint of fruity sweetness I didn't expect after cooking. I even sauteed the green beans with a hit of the rub and got the same sweet spicy delicious almost glaze-like sauce with the beans. I HIGHLY recommend you try this product. In fact, if you visit the Carolina Sauce Company, you will find a huge assortment of sauces and rubs to try. We are hot sauce nuts and they even have sample-size bottles so you can test several kinds to find the perfect sauce for you.

Now, fire up those grills, people! It's grilling season!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, May 9, 2014

Restaurant Review: Shakedown, thunderstorms and celebrating

Today was a WONDERFUL day. Lots to be thankful for. A new and exciting career change for my Chef, my son's birthday, my grandson's baseball games, my awesome children, my sister graduates from nursing school, and my middle child reaches a momentous step in her career path- managing the newest, hottest Latin restaurant in Des Moines.  

Whew! Take a deep breath, and concentrate. The shakedown- that's what we're here to talk about. Maybe you've had the unfortunate experience of going out to a brand new restaurant in town, only to be disappointed by less than stellar food, chaotic service, and an overall bad first impression. Des Moines has several amazing chefs that shape our city's culinary identity, and without doubt, George Formaro is at the top. When he opens a new restaurant, there is always "the shakedown"- before opening, the staff's family and close friends are invited to check out the menu, restaurant, and enjoy dinner on the house. It's a great way to shake out the issues BEFORE opening day, before you have a house full of paying customers, a great way to test the staff for training and make sure the menu is exactly what you want.

We already had a preview of the new Malo. The restaurant opens in 6 days and these last several days are their trial run. Tonight I was able to check out the food and drink and you better believe I was not disappointed, even though the weather was raging outside, and the power went out for several minutes in the restaurant. We barely made it in the door before Mother Nature unleashed her fury! Enough about the weather. Now, Des Moines has Mexican restaurants on just about every corner. This is NOT your average Mexican. It's an eclectic mix of Latin flavors with a few American twists thrown in for fun. The menu is amazing. No jalapeno poppers in the appetizer selections here. Oh no, instead you will find pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran food; seafood nachos piled high with shrimp, lobster and crab; giant house-made tator tots served with jalapeno ketchup, beer cheese sauce and salsa blanco, and much much more.

First order of business for us- a cocktail. Malo Punch for my sister, and Rum Rickey for me. The Malo Punch was a playful combo of Sailor Jerry, Captain Morgan and fruit juices, and falernum- not something you see used much in bars around here. My Rum Rickey was bright and fruity. White rum, raspberry gastrique and soda- very refreshing. We couldn't resist the Pineapple Mojito- rum, triple sec,pineapple juice, soda and mint leaves- a perfect summer cocktail.

Rum Rickey and Malo Punch
Tacos anyone? Malo has tacos- twelve different kinds, three different shell options and more flavor than you can imagine. Enchiladas? Try a Texas Gulf shrimp enchilada with salsa blanca for a fantastic change of pace. Steaks and seafood are given the Malo treatment and flavors shaped by Latin-inspired seasonings. 

Al Pastor taco and Carne Molida taco on house made flour tortillas

The most delicious enchiladas I have ever had- Texas Gulf shrimp
Hungry? Try the giant Tijuana Trainwreck- a colossal casserole dish filled with chorizo, tortillas, tomatoes, onion, avocado, salsa roja, cilantro crema and topped with a fried egg. 

You can get your pasta fix with Shrimp and Chorizo Fettucine, Ravioli de Maiz- jalapeno, lime, Cotija cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach and salsa blanca or Nacho Daddy's Mac & Cheese- a macaroni nacho dish with all the Mexican flavors. Even the sides are different and unique. Drunken Beans, Jalapeno Creamed Corn, Hominy with garlic and spinach, Tostones, Cilantro Rice, and much more.

Black beans and Cilantro Rice

Dessert will not leave you one bit disappointed. Mexican Chocolate Lava Cake is pure heaven on a plate. Chocolate gelato and fresh raspberries make this a beautiful dessert. The real star of the dessert menu is the Cubans and Coffee- chocolate "cigars", a truffle sort of dessert, rolled in cocoa and served with a scoop of coffee gelato and powdered sugar "ashes" in a pristine white ashtray. So clever and soooooo melt in your mouth amazing. Make sure you save room- it won't be easy. The portions are generous and the food so delicious you won't want to.

Powdered sugar "ashes" in an ashtray
The decor remains outstanding in the finished restaurant. Unique fixtures, perfect tableware, and a beautiful patio make Malo one of the most impressive restaurants in Des Moines. 

Of course, the mom in me has to brag up a little on my daughter. Laurie has worked in three different businesses owned by George Formaro, starting as a part-timer at Gateway Market, moving over to Zombie Burger in the East Village and now, reaching a goal for her- restaurant management at Malo. Where many parents would have been shocked and recommended their child NOT leave their corporate job, I trusted Laurie's judgment and experience. She will be a phenomenal manager. I am a very proud mom.

So there you have it- my shakedown wrap-up. I hope you will visit Malo in Des Moines. You're in for a really wonderful experience!