Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy Hour- Black Butte Porter

"The meek shall inherit, well, some pretty dull beers."

photo courtesy of
That is the greeting you see when you first visit Deschutes Brewery's website. This craft brewery located in Bend, Oregon, has the goods to back that up. Visitors to the brewery are treated to a 45 minute walking tour of the facility, beer tasting and a little swag to take home with you. Bend is a little bit of a drive from The Little Lake House, but luckily for us Gateway Market in Des Moines carries at least one of these amazing brews. On our recent road trip to Des Moines we stopped in the market to do a little shopping, and grab an adult beverage for later. 

Deschutes boldly chose a dark beer as their first release and "flagship" brew, and that is what we chose to bring home. So totally worth it. Really. 

If you think you don't like dark beers, you're probably wrong. If you refuse to even try one, I feel bad for you- you have no idea what you're missing out on. Totally unlike the widely available American beer we're all familiar with, dark beers bring so much more to the table. 

photo courtesy of
Pop the top off a bottle of this Black Butte Porter and immediately you know you've got something really special. The fragrance reminds me of breakfast- the warming aroma of coffee wafting around the house. 

Take a sip from the bottle? Naaaaa.....this one requires a glass. If you know how to pour a beer correctly you'll end up with nice head on the brew. Embrace that. It's like the frothed milk or the whipped cream on your macchiato. The color of this Porter is intense and dark- almost black. Take a big deep breath in and you will smell it too- coffee. Rich and dark roasted and so delicious, it reminds me of really good espresso. 

The second thing I picked up- chocolate. Deep, dark chocolate. 

Take a big, bold sip. Get right in that glass. Get a beer-stache. With a creamy mouthfeel a lot of dark beers are known for, it was like a velvety cup of hot chocolate, but icy cold. Don't be afraid of it- jump right in and experience what craft beer is all about. See if you can pick out those same flavor and aroma notes, or if you get something totally different.

Beer tasting is becoming every bit as popular as wine tasting, and just as technical. The educated beer drinker wants to know how the beer is crafted, what the malts and hops used are, how it was aged, all those things you normally ask a vintner, brewers are now answering. So here is the low down on Black Butte Porter. Malts: Pale, Carapils, Chocolate, Crystal, Wheat.  Hops: Cascade, Bravo, Tettnang. It's alcohol by volume is 5.2% and a 12 ounce serving has 192 calories. Black Butte has won award after award, year after year, and deservedly so.

Of course, I wanted to save one or two for cooking- my brain went wild with ideas as I sipped......but sadly we didn't pay attention and drank them. That's ok- just means we have another reason to go on a road trip! 

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, October 19, 2014

Super easy weeknight pasta

It's no secret, we eat a lot of pasta at the Little Lake House. Pasta of all kinds. The Chef favors pastas like spaghetti and linguine with big bold Italian style red sauces, and I like lighter sauces, delicate pasta, or at the other end of the spectrum, big hearty pastas and creamy sauces. I'm not a big fan of Alfredo sauce, I think it gets overused on menus and reminds me of ranch dressing- overused. But toss the pasta with a scoop of ricotta or creamy mascarpone cheese and now we're talkin'. 

You definitely need a hearty pasta to hold up with a creamy sauce. Of course gnocchi is a great option, but so are bigger pastas such as orecchiete or "little ears." I love orcchiette because it's cute cup shape holds sauce and bits of garlic, onions, vegetables, whatever your sauce contains. Rigatoni is another big bold pasta shape that I love and also works wonderfully in the recipe we are making today.

Coming up with this dish was out of necessity. I had some prosciutto left over from a previous recipe and didn't want to see it go to waste, and some baby spinach left over from another recipe. Just enough of a few ingredients to make a quick pasta toss that's creamy and delicious. Like many pasta dishes, this one is very flexible. Swap the spinach for a cup or so of leftover peas. Add the last few mushrooms hiding in the veggie drawer. Have some unused fresh herbs? Toss them in! If you can't find mascarpone cheese, or say you have about half a cup of cream cheese to use up, go ahead and swap it. Now let's get cooking.

To make my Creamy Pasta with Prosciutto and Spinach, you will need-
  • 1 pkg orecchiette or rigatoni
  • 8 oz package mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tb olive oil, divided
  • 2 tb butter
  • couple big handful baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 or 5 slices prosciutto, cut up
  • juice and zest of one-half lemon
  • salt and pepper
Bring a large stockpot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook til al dente. Meanwhile, in small pan heat 2 tb of the olive oil and the butter. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender and browned. If needed, add the remaining olive oil and saute the garlic over medium low heat until softened and not browned. Add the prosciutto and cook for a minute or two until slightly crisped but not like bacon.

When the pasta is done, drain well, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. I like to use one of those bamboo-handled skimming tools from the Asian store- I can scoop the pasta right out of the water. Immediately toss the hot pasta with all the ingredients, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooking liquid if needed (I did not need it) to make a creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

I love the freshness of the spinach in this dish. Barely wilted from the heat of the pasta, the flavor and nutrients are retained, and so is the texture. The Mascarpone cheese melts into a smooth and creamy sauce with the starchy pasta water and the garlic and Parmesan cheese bring a savory tone. The biggest bonus? A luxe ingredient like prosciutto goes a long way in this dish without robbing your wallet and it's much more subtle than bacon. It's so creamy and flavorful with the savory mushrooms and garlic and the fresh pop of lemon I hope you give it a try sometime.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In the Kitchen: Ceramic Cookware

My friends can attest, I have been obsessed with ceramics in the kitchen ever since I saw the first Kyocera ceramic blade knife. I just couldn't wrap my brain around how a ceramic knife is made, how it is sharpened, how it holds up to use in a home kitchen. I finally got the chance to buy and use a ceramic knife earlier this year and I was suitably impressed. Although it's a fairly delicate material to work with, it is remarkably durable at the same time. Very early on the teeniest bit of the knife's tip was chipped off (I have no idea how) but that has not affected the knife's performance at all.

Shortly after, I started hearing a lot of buzz about ceramic lined non-stick cookware. I was immediately interested. I started to do some research on the different brands and types, asked chef friends and foodie friends who own a lot of different types of cookware and learned as much as I could. Unlike the old Visions cookware line that Pyrex released back in the 70s, which were tempered amber-hued glass, modern ceramic cookware is typically aluminum cookware with a ceramic lining. It doesn't peel and flake like Teflon or SilverStone lined cookware, but it still requires a bit of a delicate touch. No metal utensils, no dishwasher, and they are not oven safe, but for what I want- a dependable pan I can cook eggs and fried potatoes in and not have to scrape the remains out of- this sounds like the perfect kind of cookware.

Bialetti is an Italian cookware company that also makes a couple different collections of ceramic cookware. Their "Easy" line is a modern, clean-looking range of cookware. I have seen it in the store several times and was always tempted to pick one up just to play with, so today, I did exactly that. I chose a 10 inch saute pan in a very sharp looking pewter color. The pan is made of three layers- a silicone bottom layer, aluminum core and ceramic interior coating. Care is very simple- wash with a sponge.  No dishwasher. I can live with that!

The first thing I cooked in my pan- eggs. Is it non stick? Heck yes! You do need to add a teeny bit of butter or oil French omelet and had gooey cheese and nothing stuck. The omelet folded effortlessly and slid right out. My Calphalon pans don't always heat evenly- this one did. A two-egg omelet is pretty thin and it cooked perfectly even-no flipping, no turning the uncooked parts over. I can't wait to try pancakes, potatoes and other foods that need a nonstick pan and even cooking. I hope the surface holds up for a long time. I am going to be IN LOVE with this pan!

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."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Taking a break from steak and potatoes

Good ol' steak and potatoes. Truly an all American, stick to your ribs, man-pleasing classic and something I get a craving for every so often. I love a good steakhouse and classic steakhouse food, but there are days when it's just "too much" and I'm looking for something a little different. I also love a good, hearty salad for dinner and with garden season in full swing, salad veggies are everywhere, fresh and plentiful. Might as well combine the best of both worlds and make it a new classic!

Steak doesn't always fit in the budget these days. Meat prices are going through the roof in many parts of the country so you really have to watch the stores and get the best steaks when they are on sale. For this recipe I chose a sirloin steak which is a fairly tender steak and not too pricey. I was able to get a nice steak that weighed in at just under a pound and was the right size for this recipe. It's boneless, not fatty and a good thickness also, which will help prevent overcooking and drying out the meat. 

For the salad I went with a mix of baby spinach and romaine lettuce. The baby spinach gives a nod to the steakhouse classic, creamed spinach, and the romaine, of course, represents Caesar salad. Dressed up with salad veggies and a creamy Dijon vinaigrette, salty bleu cheese crumbles and a crunchy topper, it really comes together perfectly for a one-dish at-home steakhouse New Classic. So let's get cooking and get this on the table.

Lake House Steak House Salad
  • 1 good sized steak- I used a sirloin just under a pound
  • 3 tb vegetable oil
  • 2 tb soy sauce
  • 1 tb balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp steak seasoning/meat rub
  • 4-6 cups mixed salad greens (I used baby spinach and romaine lettuce) 
  • desired salad vegetables- tomatoes, cucumber, carrot, radish, etc. Use what you have and what you like
  • 3 oz. package bleu cheese, crumbled
  • Dijon vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • fried onions or croutons (recipe follows)
Place the steak in a resealable plastic bag. Add oil, soy sauce, balsamic, garlic and meat rub. Seal the bag and rub the marinade into the meat. Allow to marinate at room temperature for an hour (or longer in the refrigerator).

Prepare the vinaigrette dressing and chill. Prep salad veggies and hold in fridge.

Make the fried onions or croutons, allow to drain on paper towel until time to assemble.

When ready to start dinner, preheat a grill or broiler. Remove steak from marinade and place on hot grill (I use a grill pan on my stove top). Discard the bag with marinade. Cook steak to desired doneness. Around here we like it medium rare. Remove to a plate and allow to rest for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the salad vegetables. Add about half the dressing, toss. 

Add half the bleu cheese crumbles to taste and toss again. Arrange salad on plates. Using a carving knife, slice the steak into bite sized strips, arrange over salad. Sprinkle with more bleu cheese, drizzle with dressing and top with fried onions or croutons and serve!

French-style Dijon Vinaigrette

6 tb extra virgin olive oil
2 tb balsamic vinegar
2 tb Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in a jar. Cover and shake to blend and thicken. Chill until you need it, shake again before using. This is my favorite of all salad dressing recipes- so simple, classic and delicious. This is a basic recipe everyone should have in their repertoire.

French Fried Onions

thinly sliced onions
milk or buttermilk
all purpose flour
salt and pepper

Thinly slice as many onions as you need. For my salad I just need a small onion for two servings. Place in a bowl and cover with milk. Mix a cup or so of flour with salt and pepper in a bowl, stir to combine. Heat oil in a shallow pan. Remove onions from milk, dip in flour.

Fry in hot oil until golden brown and crispy. Allow to drain before serving. Pile on top of the salads.

If you don't feel like frying onions, you CAN go with croutons. If you want to make homemade croutons, click HERE for the quick directions.

Needless to say, the salad was a hit with the Chef. He cleaned his plate completely, even loved the dressing even though he says he doesn't like balsamic vinegar. This will definitely be on the menu again. Not only was it delicious but it was a great way to stretch a steak and seemed like a very decadent treat with the bleu cheese, Dijon dressing and fried onions.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A chill is in the air, time to heat up the oven

Someone has created a monster. Like me. A braising monster. Frankenbraise? Count Braiseula? I cannot stop myself. I now look at everything in the cupboard, grocery store, freezer, and try to figure out how to include it in a braising recipe. I'm not kidding! Of course, this means that I have to drive back to the city for some really special ingredients to make a really special dish. 

Some days the grocery store is like Disneyland!
I managed to get a great deal on some boneless beef ribs (marked boneless beef short ribs) from our local market, but like I said, the produce section is often sorely lacking variety, and I had some ideas already going in my brain. A road trip to the city is in order. So that's exactly what I did. Braising beef in wine is always the right thing to do so Merlot went in the basket (good deal on a bottle). I wanted something other than the plain old white mushroom too, so grabbed a couple varieties and kept wandering. Ohhhhhhh great deal on a ceramic skillet, which is something I have been wanting for a white, so I pick up one in a cool platinum color. Some baby bok choy, Peruvian purple potatoes, shishito peppers, a trip to the olive bar (of course....) artisan bread, some other things for other recipes this week and off I go.

Ready to go in the oven
Now mind you, all of these things are not for this recipe today. I have a few things to work on this week so I figured it's the best time to get just what I needed while I was at the BIG store. Mascarpone and orecchiette will make a magical pasta dish. Shishito peppers, beautiful olives and white Vermont cheddar with Hatch chilies will make great nibbles and with the cooler temps, and I have another lush soup to put together this week. Those Peruvian purple potatoes are going to make a simple fish dish a little more special.

Any day I get to use the Le Creuset is of course, a good day! If you don't have a Dutch oven, you seriously need to get one. You don't have to plunk down a ton of cash either. Lodge brand makes a great cast iron Dutch oven that's under fifty dollars and as cast iron, will last a lifetime if you season and care for it properly. While I wish I had an actual braiser pan, a Dutch oven subs nicely, and is perfect for lots of great dishes.

Getting ready to braise- the beef snuggled down in the herby
wine with bacon, smothered with leeks and mushrooms
Alright, so let's talk about our ingredients. I will be using-
  • boneless beef ribs (also called country style ribs) 6 to 8 pieces
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 lb assorted fresh mushrooms
  • 3 leeks
  • 5-6 cloves garlic
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups Merlot 
  • 2 tbs chopped sun dried tomato or tomato paste
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried, crumbled
  • 2 lay leaves
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram or 1 tsp dried, crumbled
Wipe the mushrooms clean. Trim off the dried stem end and discard. Remove stems if desired (reserve for soup or sauce). Slice the mushrooms thickly. Set aside.
I used a mix of button, baby bella and cremini mushrooms
Peel the outer tough leaves of the leeks. We will need the white part with just a small bit if the green part, so cut that off and discard. Trim the roots of the leeks but leave them intact. Slice the leeks lengthwise and rinse thoroughly to make sure there is no sand (leeks can be pretty gritty). If your leeks are big giant leeks like I had  you can cut them into quarters lengthwise.

Leaving the root intact holds the leek together while cooking
In a small dish place about 1/2 cup or so of flour. Season the meat with salt and pepper on all sides.

Save yourself a dish to wash- use the meat wrapping to hold
the flour- then just throw away when you're finished.
Cut the bacon into pieces- a little larger than "lardons" but not quite an inch wide- about the width of your finger. 

Cook the bacon in the Dutch oven until crispy and brown- no soggy flabby bacon allowed! Remove to paper towel to drain.

It doesn't look like much but a little bacon goes a long way

In the same pot with the bacon fat we are going to brown the beef. Dredge the beef in the flour and brown in the hot pan. Sear the meat quickly without cooking through. Remove to a plate as you get them browned. Don't crowd them in the pot- they won't brown, they will just steam and become mushy and not brown and seared.

After meat is browned, add a tablespoon each of oil and butter if needed. Place the leeks in the pot cut side down and cook until slightly browned. Flip them over and cook another minute or two. Remove to plate with the meat. 

Turn the leeks with tongs for easy handling.
Again, add another tablespoon each of butter and oil to pot. Add half the mushrooms; cook and stir until mushrooms are browned and any liquid has evaporated. Remove to bowl and repeat with other half of mushrooms. Remove to bowl.

Add garlic and herbs to pot, cook and stir for just a minute. You don't want the garlic to brown. 

Look at all the delicious fond in the bottom of the pot. A
quick deglaze and it's part of the sauce.
Add the wine to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring to lift up the crusty browned bits. Boil for a couple minutes to reduce slightly. Return the beef and bacon to the pot, followed by the vegetables. 

Deglazing a pot is probably the most important step in making
a beautifully flavored dish. So much deliciousness clinging to
the bottom of the pot. Use it!
Cover and place in 300 degree oven. Slowly braise for 2-3 hours until the meat is tender. Check once or twice and add a splash of beef broth if needed. 

Remove meat and vegetables from pot and place in serving bowl. 

Once you carefully remove the leeks, beef and mushrooms you will have the most beautiful, flavorful jus on the planet. It doesn't look anything like the wine it was to begin with. The vegetables and meat have added their own juices to the wine and now you have a ready made sauce. Bring cooking liquid to boil and reduce by half. 

Look at all those little bits of garlic, herbs, bacon, sun dried
tomatoes and all the cooking juices.
Serve meat and vegetables with mashed potatoes with sauce and lots of crusty bread for dipping.

Very easy. Very delicious. Very French. Bon appetit!