Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Playing with fire- from Quick's Hot Spice

It's pretty cool as you get to know people, they like to have you sample their products and tell everyone what you think about them. In the course of food blogging and keeping up a Facebook fan page to go along with it, I have met some really great people, and I get very excited when a local producer asks me to try something they make and sell. In this case, it's hot peppers and seasoning mixes. Everyone who follows this blog knows we are nuts about hot and spicy food at the Little Lake House. We're brave enough to try anything! 

Quick's Hot Spice is a growing company on Des Moines' south side, owned by Paul Quick. We "met" on Facebook after having discovered we have several mutual friends- and we share a passion for HOT HOT HOT. Several conversations down the road and Paul offered to send us some samples of his seasoning mixes to try them out. Of course I agreed! A couple days later the mailman delivered the loot- Hot, Extra Hot and Blazzin' pepper blends (and a business card- Paul had no idea I am OBSESSED with business cards!!!). 

So what to do with this super hot surprise package.....

Let's talk about the seasoning mixes first. Hot is a fiery 17 pepper blend. It's a beautiful color- a lot like paprika but deceptively spicy. The blend is flecked with other spices as well, you can see little bits of things- but I don't dare ask for the secret combination. Paul recommends this as a shake-on spice for pizza, rather than the tired old dried out and stale red pepper flakes you see on restaurant tables. Until you know what you're sprinkling on, either taste test with a toothpick or start with just a LITTLE bit. 

Extra Hot is the same 17 pepper blend BUT Paul has added ghost chilis to the party. This amps up the heat quite a bit, but surprisingly you still get a real good deep pepper flavor, and not just heat. It's definitely not for the weak at heart- if you want to try something REALLY hot, this is a great one. 

Blazzin' is a masterpiece that is SUPER hot and definitely NOT for someone who has never experienced any of the superhots before. When using this blend START SMALL. You can always add more if you're crazy enough but if you overdo it up front, you can't take the heat out. Use this one with caution and make sure you tell anyone who is sharing your dish what to expect. Even the SCENT of this blend is a warning!

Peppers grown by Paul in his garden.
I promised I'd be cooking with these seasonings, so let's talk about how I used them.

HOT- Of course, we went with the recommended use- pizza! In this case I made a "white" pizza and I think those can always use a good boost in flavor- so mushroom, salami and 17 peppers spiced this baby right up! The pepper flavor is outstanding, and the heat is right on point. 

I also used the Hot Seasoning in a compound butter with some finely chopped chives. It is AMAZING on fresh Iowa sweet corn and melting over a sizzling steak, oh man......If you're looking to kick up flavor big time, this is the way to go!

EXTRA HOT- What can I say about Extra Hot except WHOA!!! Hang on to your meatballs ladies and gentlemen, this seasoning is NOT kidding around. I chose meatballs as a way to experiment with and showcase this wildly hot seasoning blend because hot and spicy foods make excellent appetizers and party foods, and this one is just waiting for football season. I used my regular meatball recipe with one pound of ground beef and added 2 tsp of seasoning to the meat mixture and another 2 tsp to the sauce, whether you're making a marinara type sauce or barbeque meatballs, and boy did it make it's presence known! If you like it hot, give this one a try for sure. Adding to barbeque sauce also gives you a lot more options for super spicy barbequed ribs, pulled pork, drizzled over sliced brisket, and serve with smoked sausage in a crusty bun. 

BLAZZIN'- Blazzin'......this one was just plain outrageous hot. Many of my friends would never eat something this hot. When you're working with a seasoning that packs this kind of heat you have two choices- showcase it in a supremely hot sauce, like mind-melting chicken wing sauce OR use it sparingly to add heat to a sauce, like a burger sauce. We've done the ridiculously hot wing thing so many times I thought a burger sauce would be a great option. So move over Sriracha, Blazzin' Barbeque Mayo has arrived on the scene and it's got something to say! For this spread you will need-
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
  • 2-3 tb barbeque sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Quick Spice Blazzin' Seasoning blend
Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill several hours for the peppers to meld with the liquid and evenly flavor the spread. Use on BLTs for a powerhouse summer sandwich or as a burger spread. 

I didn't stop with spicy mayo either! I already make a spicy tomato jam that a friend shared with me last year, so I figure, why the heck not, let's kick that up too, and stirred a 1/2 tsp or so into a couple tablespoons of tomato jam. WOW- it was CALL 911 Hot !!!! Not for the faint of heart, that's for sure!

Now that we have been able to play with the awesome hotness, let me tell you a little about Paul. He started growing peppers around 1998. Back then the hottest pepper was thought to be the Red Savina pepper. About the only plants and seeds available locally were the usual Habaneros, Jalapenos, and hot bananas so he started with those. In 2001, at the urging of some buddies, he began selling his seasoning mixes and discovered the internet as a great source for a much larger variety of peppers. As his pepper collection grew, so did his desire to find more varieties and eventually led him to the ghosts and trinidads and the hottest peppers we know of today. He has grown nearly thirty different varieties of hot peppers.  His peppers have also won awards at the Iowa State Fair.

Paul is using his hobby as a way to generate a little income on the side as well. Quick's Hot Spice sells the seasoning mixes as well as peppers on their website. He sells many varieties of dehydrated peppers so even if it's not in season, you can get your hot pepper fix. I highly recommend you give him a try. It's a great product, a great guy and who doesn't want to help support a LOCAL business??

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."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Designer bags? No, designer BEEF!

Designer what? Designer beef, of course. You've heard of it- Wagyu and Kobe beef. Wagyu literally means "Japanese cow" and includes several breeds of cow. Named for the region they are raised in, and they way they are "finished", these types of beef are prized by gourmets all over the globe. An ancient breed of cattle, they have been in Japan since the second century, often used as work animals in rice cultivation, this beef is known for the intense marbling and exceptional flavor. Now Wagyu and Kobe cattle enjoy a much more pampered lifestyle.

Wagyu cow, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Since the cattle are raised in areas of very hilly, treacherous terrain and don't have large pastures to roam on, and exercise their muscle tissue, they are massaged with sake. Crazy, right? Sounds like a trendy spa treatment. Wagyu beef is also finished by feeding beer, which helps to increase their appetite. Many farmers treat their herd to a serenade of classical music as well, to help them relax. Because of the location they are raised in, the herds are small, making the meat even more limited. There are four types of Wagyu cattle, Japanese Black, Japanese Brown, Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn. In the U.S., these Japanese cattle have been bred with Angus cattle and fed a diet similar to their Japanese relatives. some are finished with red wine as well. 

Unlike Wagyu, Kobe beef comes from the Tajima strain of Wagyu cattle and are raised only in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. Kobe cattle does not graze, they are fed rice straw, corn, soybeans, wheat bran, but never pasture grass. If this particular cow is raised anywhere else, it cannot be called Kobe beef, pretty much along the same lines of champagne vs. sparkling wines. It's virtually impossible to experience real Kobe beef outside of Japan, although there are different kinds of beef sold as "Kobe style." To get the real thing, you better start saving your pennies!

So what is so special about Wagyu and Kobe beef? Why would anyone want to pay $200 or more for a steak? That really depends on who's buying! Who wouldn't want to try one just once? I sure would. These beef varieties are famous for their marbling and higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is exceptionally tender and flavorful compared to standard commodity cattle.

How do you cook it? Personally, I would want it prepared as simply as possible. A nice NY Strip cut, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and seared or grilled to medium rare. I would want to enjoy every bite of that steak, completely unadorned with steak sauce or meat rub. In fact, this type of beef really should NOT be cooked beyond medium rare, as the higher amount of marbling makes the meat melt. Overcooking would destroy the texture, and the experience.

I spent some time visiting with my friend Chef Todd Leech, from McCormick and Schmick's in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and he talked about using American Kobe Style beef in a tartare preparation, and his restaurant is currently serving a Kobe style burger. Todd recommended not cooking beyond rare to preserve the best texture. Todd's advice was echoed by Adam Holland, writer of The Unorthodox Epicure. He STRONGLY recommended NO SEASONING other than salt and pepper, cooked at high heat quickly so you don't overcook it. Adam has had experience with the "American Style" beef that is the only thing you're going to find in the U.S. and said he thought it was better than any Prime cuts of regular beef, and "if you have never grilled or broiled a steak, don't let these be your experiments." At several hundred dollars a pop, I agree!

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."

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Three Fs- Fourth, Food, Festivities

Oh we had SUCH big plans at The Little Lake House this year. We live right across the street from the park, and the lake's events committee had scheduled a live band to perform in the park as part of the annual Independence Day celebration- basically our front yard. So while other folks had to load up coolers, lawn chairs, blankets, food, drink and use the dreaded Kybo, we were going to get to enjoy the party from our front deck, the fridge just steps away, loads of food to snack on and comfy patio chairs.

Sadly, Mother Nature had to throw a wrench into my plans and a rainy morning and stormy forecast caused the band to be cancelled. But the food and drink shall go on. My sister and her husband came, armed with St. Louis style barbequed ribs, and cocktails, and the night went on- with our own music!

Captain and Coke and a few ice cold beers got us started, and then the feasting began. Our menu for the night-
  • St. Louis Style Barbequed Ribs
  • Tacos Al Pastor with Jicama, Kohlrabi and Carrot Slaw
  • Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip with pretzel bread
  • BLT Dip with crackers
  • Assorted cheeses and sausages
  • Mixed olives
  • Chipotle Ranch Tortilla Pinwheels
Yum, right? The ribs were made by my brother in law, Kim, who used Jack Stack Barbeque meat rub and smoked the ribs on the grill. Cheese and sausage was just cut into bite sized cubes. The BLT Dip had a little help from a couple mixes I had on hand- BTL Dip mix from a craft show (small batch local company) and some Bacon Bacon from Tastefully Simple, mayo and sour cream. We had lots left- thinking it's going to make a great burger spread! The artichoke dip was cheesy and creamy with chopped artichoke hearts, chopped fresh baby spinach, cream cheese, sour cream and a little packet of Okey Dokey Artichokey dip mix I had tucked in the cupboard. Chipotle Ranch Pinwheels also used a seasoning packet I'd had around- this one from Pampered Chef, with cream cheese, shredded Colby Jack and chopped scallions, served with salsa for dipping.

The Tacos Al Pastor took some research. I've had these tacos at Malo, but they actually stack the meat on a vertical roaster, which I don't have. So I have to improvise. The spices and chilies required for this dish were also quite an extensive and complicated combination and I thought might be a little over the top heat-wise for our guests, so looking over our spice and pepper collection I decided to start with Arizona Dreaming seasoning from Penzey's and play with that.

For the pork I used a boneless pork roast, about 3 lbs. It was very lean already so had no fat to trim. I cut the roast into six thick "chops" and placed in a ziptop bag. In a small bowl I combined a can of crushed pineapple in juice with about 3 tb. of the seasoning and a couple shakes of chili powder. I poured this into the ziptop bag and sealed it, then massaged the marinade allover all the pork, and placed in the fridge overnight. The next day I removed the pork hunks from the bag, browned in a little oil, then poured the marinade over all and roasted, covered, at 325 degrees for about 2 hours. When done I removed the hunks of pork, sliced into bite sized strips, and returned to pineapple mixture in the pot.

To serve the tacos, spoon some pork and pineapple into a tortilla and top with slaw. You can add salsa verde if you like. No cheese, no lettuce, just the fresh, crunchy slaw. 

Jicama, Kohlrabi and Carrot Slaw
  • 2 cups jicama, cut into matchsticks
  • 2 cups raw kohlrabi, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 cup carrot, shredded or cut into matchsticks
  • 3 or 4 scallions, sliced, including green tops
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 3 tb honey
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves (or Italian parsley)
Combine the vegetables in a large bowl. Zest the limes and add to vegetables. Season well with salt and pepper. Juice the limes into small bowl. Stir in honey till dissolved. Whisk in oil. Pour over vegetables and toss well. Add cilantro right before serving and toss again.

This was my first time cooking with both jicama and kohlrabi and I have to say- they were so crunchy and fresh and delicious. I am SOLD! The lime and honey dressing was the perfect partner for these veggies. I did have to use parsley because I had no cilantro but it was just as fresh and delicious.

Our evening was capped off by fireworks around the lake and a ride around the muddy backroads in a Jeep- muddy and FUN !!!! So today, it's muddy laundry and cleanup and RELAX. I hope you all enjoyed a safe, fun and happy 4th of July. 

*Fireworks photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

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, July 1, 2014

Amazing Asian-style Dragon Noodles

Funny things happen when your friends are as foodie as you are. Normal conversations don't really exist. You spend hours discussing grains, or Kobe beef, or the best way to make kimchee. You each look up the same food blog online and pore over recipes, dissecting the ingredient list and making substitutions and technique changes that you usually agree on. Day long conversations (via email usually) center around food and drink, interspersed with  "OMG I'm getting sooo hungry" one of the most commonly used phrases.

My friend Andi and I are just like this. Every day, pretty much. We talk food like it's our job. What we had for dinner last night. A new restaurant in town. What we're cooking tonight. New versions of tomato jam. Things to do with bacon. The pros and cons of curry. Cake. Lots of cake. And we always land on "OMG I am sooooo hungry." 

Today for example, almost as soon as I got to work and signed online I got a message from her. It went something like this:

(link to recipe on website)

I'm just gonna leave this here

For you

I made them last night


You get the idea, right? We are OBSESSED !!!! By now you're probably wondering what kind of recipe we were talking about too, right?  Well Andi had come across a website called BudgetBytes. We are both always searching out new ideas and new dishes to make. We are not "same old same old" people- we like to find new recipes to try all the time. Anyway, she found this website and it's loaded with great budget-friendly recipes. EASY recipes with ingredients you probably have in your kitchen already. I think we spent an entire day discussing the meat-free noodle dishes ! We got to talking about which recipe looked super easy and delicious, bookmarking, printing and saving recipes, and we came across one that looked soooo good we were both dying to try it. She made it last night, I am making it tonight. The recipe is called Dragon Noodles, and to make it you will need:
  • 4 oz lo mein noodles (or linguine)
  • 2 tb butter
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tb brown sugar
  • 1 tb soy sauce
  • 1 tb Sriracha
  • 1 sliced green onion
  • handful fresh cilantro
Bring a pot of water to boil and cook noodles.  While noodles are cooking, mix the sugar, soy and Sriracha in a small bowl and set aside. In a skillet, melt the butter. Add the red pepper as it melts. Beat the egg and add to butter in skillet, cook, stirring until done. Remove from heat and set aside.

When noodles are cooked, drain completely, then add to skillet, adding sauce mixture. Return to heat and cook, tossing noddles until excess moisture is gone and noodles are coated with sauce. Sprinkle with green onions and cilantro and serve immediately.

I had a couple small pieces of sirloin in the fridge so I thinly sliced, stir fried, and tossed with my noodles. It was perfect- like a hot/sweet Mongolian beef. **NOTE- I also multiplied everything else by 4 to make leftovers, using a pound of pasta. This recipe is super easy to double, triple or go bigger.

Honestly, I wish I could claim to be the culinary genius behind these noodles. But that honor goes to BudgetBytes. I hope you stop by the website and check out all the delicious recipes there. Like so many recipes, Dragon Noodles is so ridiculously versatile. You can add whatever Asian veggies you like, cooked mushrooms, tofu, thinly sliced and cooked meat of almost any kind (imagine chicken or even shrimp.....yum!) to turn this into an entree (increase the sauce mixture by two or three times). This dish literally comes together in the time it takes to boil water and cook noodles. The sauce is the key to the delicious DRAGON heat with sweet, hot and salty all at the same time.

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."

Tomato, tomahhhto

It just wouldn't be an Iowa summer without the tomato. There is nothing better than crisply cooked bacon, crispy fresh lettuce and still warm from the garden sliced tomato on toasted bread. Beats ANY lobster or steak you could set in front of me, hands down. It can't just be any old tomato though. You have to grow these yourself, or get them from a friend. No grocery store tomato EVER tasted this good. What is it about a home grown tomato that makes it so special?

For one thing, you put in all the man-hours. Digging, planting, watering, supporting, pruning, watching for pests, more watering. Maybe you even started them from seed yourself- which makes them even more special. With thousands of varieties of tomatoes available, you can have any size, any color, any flavor, any acid level you could ever want. Tomatoes for fresh eating. Tomatoes for canning. Tomatoes for paste. Cherry tomatoes. Grape tomatoes. Yellow, orange, even purple tomatoes. Peach tomatoes that even have a little bit of fuzz on their skin. Heirloom or hybrid. Beefsteak or Early Girl. I can spend hours in a garden center browsing the tomatoes. I almost always pick up more than I have room for, which means more containers to be bought, more soil, more work, more tomatoes! You might have also spent years amending the soil and planting different things to get just the right, perfect, happy garden soil tomatoes thrive in. You spent hours weeding and inspecting your plants, always keeping an eye out for the dreaded tomato hornworm.

Cherry tomatoes **
Every winter I look forward to the inevitable arrival of the gardening catalogs. Ahhhh yes, like Christmas in February, these catalogs will be well worn by the time I'm done with them. Circles around all sorts of vegetables, but especially......tomatoes. The long, cold Iowa winter can be quite depressing, but seeing all the beautiful vegetables in the catalogs gives me hope for warmer times to come. As a home canner, I like to find higher acid tomatoes (for safety) and thicker meaty tomatoes like Romas and San Marzanos for paste and sauce. Salsa can be lots of fun when you use different colored tomatoes. Mr. Stripey is one of my very favorite heirloom tomatoes. So are yellow pear tomatoes- they are awesome for low and slow long roasting and covering with olive oil for future use (store in the freezer). 

Heirloom tomatoes **
Some people prefer hybrid tomatoes for their disease resistant qualities and high yields. Celebrity tomatoes are a variety I have grown myself and really liked. Good tomato for fresh eating and pretty good for salsa and canning chunks. I know I have tried many others but don't remember all the names. Sometimes I'll be browsing at a greenhouse or garden center and just grab a pack of plants that looks nice and healthy- they may or may not have a tag even! I just know whatever the variety, the warm Iowa summer will produce the best, juiciest and tastiest tomatoes no matter what kind they are.

The really fun thing about those hybrid tomatoes is the future of those seeds. Every year somehow I end up with some seeds left behind, whether it's the last yucky tomato left on the vine or one that dropped off the plant, those seeds end up on the ground, survive the Iowa winter and produce something that just makes me so happy every year- volunteers. I love finding them hidden among the weeds underneath my deck, growing in cracks on the sidewalk and between the gravel of the driveway. This year I found three volunteers in the middle of my front yard. They had sprouted up and grown like crazy and I happened to notice them on a stroll through the yard to check on beans and cucumbers. I immediately had to dig them up and transplant them!! Can't let them be mowed down by the mower! What makes these volunteers so much fun to me? I have no idea what I am going to end up with! They might be heirloom seeds and I'll have three more Mr. Stripeys or Romas to play with. If they were a hybrid I won't get the hybrid again- I'll end up with what I call "golf balls", or golf ball sized tomatoes. They are roughly double the size of a cherry tomato but not big enough to be a good slicer. They do, however, make excellent tomatoes for puree, for drying (cut in half and dehydrate for "sun dried tomatoes"), and for fresh eating in salads. Plus they're FREE !!!

Three tomato volunteers in the yard!
Since repotting in great big pots on my deck they have more than doubled in size in just a week! They are starting to blossom and it won't be long before baby tomatoes appear on these gifts from Mother Nature. I'll happily take them! I can't wait to see what kind of tomato I end up with!

**Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia