Friday, March 27, 2015

Can't win em all! Mahi Mahi and Lemon Sauce

I always say I share my failures as much as my successes in the kitchen. Today we're going to talk about one of those failures. While not a total flop (1 out of 3 isn't a TOTAL loss) it was enough to set me on a mission to perfect the mistakes and get this one right.

I was sooo super excited to see mahi mahi at our little grocery store the other day- and on SPECIAL as well. So much so that I bought it, and then agonized over how to use it. How do I want to cook it? What do I serve with it? Fruity flavors? Spicy flavors? 

The best mahi mahi I have ever had was at a restaurant in Des Moines called Dos Rios. They cut the mahi into little cubes, saute it and serve it in fish tacos. Let me tell you, it's so meaty and firm it was almost like chicken. But fish, and fresh tasting and absolutely delicious. I was leaning a little towards making fish tacos at home but didn't have everything I needed. Shelve that idea for another day. A quick browse through the pantry and fridge and I decide I'm just going to go with pan grilled. Throw some quinoa on the side and figure out a sauce.

Sometimes the best ideas just don't come to fruition. This would be one of those times. I used a tri-color quinoa blend and seasoned it with a French blend of seasonings (citrusy notes) and a teeny bit of butter. It was........ blah. Not special. I was disappointed. Flop #1.

The mahi turned out great. I patted the fish dry and lightly dredged in flour and the same French seasoning blend and some Feiny's Chesapeake Bay seasoning and pan grilled in butter. Letting it grill to a perfect golden brown slowly, in butter, was a great way to cook the fish. I could have eaten pounds of it and nothing else. 

Mahi is not he kind of fish you plop a blob of tartar sauce on the plate and call it good. You need something really special. Here is where Flop #2 occurs. Fish, being a relatively light protein, can use a substantial sauce. The quinoa was also light in flavor and texture, so I wanted a creamy sauce to accent these foods. I deglaze the pan with a little lemon juice, a splash of white wine, add some lemon zest, crushed dried thyme, and hit it with some half and half, heavy cream, and whisk is a bit of butter. 

Looks beautiful. Tastes...... like warm whipping cream. So, bump up the lemon juice and....... disaster. The sauce loses it's texture and is now too thin. Tastes better, definitely lemony, but I've lost that silky texture. Even worse, I think if I let it stand just a few minutes it will thicken up again. Sure does. Goes from liquid to a texture a lot like canned frosting in a matter of minutes. 

Oh well.........the fish was delicious anyway!!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Culinary Homeschooling- Eggs, Cheese and Principles of Cooking

As I get further into my first culinary school textbook, I'm finding all sorts of interesting things I didn't know, and a fair share of things I did. For example, I did know this, so here is a clever little bit of trivia in case you didn't- the white part of the egg is actually called the albumen. 

The section on cheese was very very detailed. Step by step instructions for making homemade mozzarella was a big highlight for me, and something I really want to try. This chapter talked about how all cheese are made- by adding enzymes to mammal milk. The typical enzyme is rennet, which comes from the belly of calves- a fact I did not necessarily want to know.

Say CHEESE !!!
Did You Know?  Did you know that traditionally mozzarella cheese is made using buffalo milk? It's kind of funny that foodie types seem to think they are really eating a gourmet specialty if they find "boofalo mootzarell" when it should always be that way!

After filling my brain with cheese facts, I started the next big section- Part 3-Principles of Cooking. The fun is really starting now. I learned right off that, my previous thinking- that cooking is an art- is not really true. Actually cooking is not an art, as much as it is a science. I learned about the molecular changes in different foods when heat is applied, and about the different methods of heat transfer: conduction, convection, radiation and induction. The section also breaks down and explains all the methods of cooking we are all familiar with: broiling, roasting, steaming, boiling, and so on.

Chapter 10- Stocks and Sauces was a great chapter for me. Stocks and sauces are the bread and butter of the kitchen- master these and you can make almost anything. I am a longtime stockmaker and always have bags of bones in the freezer waiting for enough to roast and make a batch or two of rich, flavorful stock. This chapter walked me through the steps to making perfect stock, which I already knew, but it was still fun to see if I was missing anything. I'm NOT a perfect gravy-maker so I learned a lot from this chapter and hope I will become better at making gravies.

This chapter also introduces us to the mirepoix. The flavor foundation for all stocks, soups and sauces, the mirepoix is a must-have for all levels of cooking. This classic combination of onion, celery and carrots you will see used in soups, stews, casseroles, stocks and more.

Did you know? Did you know the proper name for vegetable stock is court bouillon? There are many kinds of veggie stocks out there but this is the mainstay, and is mostly used to poach or simmer other foods in.

Finishing out the chapter are the sauces- the History of Sauce, dating back to ancient Rome to today, and The Mother Sauces- Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole, Tomato, and Hollandaise, and loads of variations with recipes. Lots of practice in saucemaking going on with this chapter. We start off learning all about making a roux (mastered that one long ago), as well as using cornstarch and other methods of thickening. 

Of all the chapters I have read so far, this was the most educational for me. Sure the earlier part of the book had history and some basic terminology I had not heard before, but seeing the techniques in actual recipes like all the sauce recipes was a huge bonus for me.

Up next in the book: soups. Perfect timing, as winter is winding down finally. After that we'll be cooking meat- time to dust off the grill!

Friday, March 20, 2015

It's the weekend- might as well make some meatloaf

Why did meatloaf end up with such rep anyway? I actually LIKE it! It's the perfect comfort food, something you can get in almost every diner, maybe something you remember Mom making when you were little. I love the classic meatloaf with a drizzle of ketchup baked on the top, and once in a while I like to jazz it up a bit.

Meatloaf is easy to upgrade. Different meats, different toppings, different things tucked inside. We are big fans of mushrooms around here and I had some to use up so of course- mushroom stuffed meatloaf came to mind. Chopped up, tossed with some onion and garlic, it's a quick and easy stuffing with lots of flavor. A quick glance through the fridge and I also have half a package of bacon to use up so I grab that, chop it up, get it going in a pan....... and the rest is history.

Lakehouse Stuffed Meatloaf

2 lbs ground beef
8 oz package mushrooms
1 small onion
6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup beef stock
2-3 tablespoons cooking oil
half pound bacon
3 slices stale bread
2 eggs
salt and pepper or meat rub of choice

Clean the mushrooms by wiping with a damp paper towel. Trim the ends off the stems and chop the mushrooms. Finely chop the onion and garlic. Add to mushrooms and set aside.

Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a skillet. Cook the bacon until browned and crispy, drain on paper towel and set aside. Drain off the fat. I don't like to cook mushrooms in bacon fat- they absorb too much of the fat and then everything is overwhelmingly bacon flavored. Add the cooking oil to the skillet and when hot, add the mushroom and onion mixture. 

Cook over medium heat until onions are softened and mushrooms start to brown. Add the beef stock, raise heat to high and cook to evaporate the liquid. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, crumble the ground beef. Crush up the stale bread into crumbs, season with salt and pepper of a good meat seasoning/rub (we like Feiny's Everything) and mix together with the eggs. Don't over mix but make sure the eggs and bread are fully incorporated.

Place a large sheet of waxed paper on the counter and pile the meat mixture in the center. Pat out into a rectangle about 10x15 or so, make sure you keep in mind the size of the baking pan you're going to use. Spread the mushroom mixture over the meat as evenly as possibly.  Sprinkle the bacon over.

Grasp the long edge of the waxed paper and lift, rolling the meat over the mushrooms away from you and continue until you reach the other end. Seal as well as you can. Use the waxed paper to help transfer to an oil baking dish, and place the roll seam side down. 

Bake at 325 degrees for one hour. Remove from oven, pour off any grease in the pan and cover loosely with foil; allow to rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Served with mashed potatoes and homemade gravy instead of the ketchup drizzle, this was such a tasty take on meatloaf. The bacon pieces stay quite crunchy during baking and it's easy to slice after that rest time. We had lots of leftovers too- and I love a cold meatloaf sandwich the next day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, March 16, 2015

Irish Beef Pot Pie

Ya, so I am avoiding that whole corned beef and cabbage thing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the meal. I love corned beef,  and love cabbage. I just don't follow the herd when it comes to so called traditional holiday food and certainly not corned beef and cabbage on St. Paddy's Day. In an homage to the Irish I would much rather crack open a Guinness and whip up a rich a delicious meat pie brimming with onions and mushrooms.

Spring in the Midwest is a weird weather situation. It might be warm and sunny one day, and 4 inches of snow falling the next. Those last lingering cold days are great for recipes like this. Slow simmered beef and vegetables in a rich gravy, topped with flaky pastry and baked to golden perfection, it warms the house and warms the soul.

Whoever thought to try cooking with Guinness is a genius. We're all familiar with the classical French technique of cooking with wine, but swapping the wine for a beer and you're venturing into new and uncharted territory. But honestly, this is territory you simply MUST explore. Dark beers, in my opinion, translate the best into cooking, but cook with what you like. 

Let's talk about this recipe a bit. This is one for those cold and crummy weather stay home days. You need to have plenty of time to cook the beef. I suppose you could cook it in the crockpot but for me there is nothing better than starting a pot in the Dutch oven and letting it slow simmer for a few hours and fragrance the whole house. A book, a blanket and a little music in the background and I can get up and check on the pot every once in a while. Sounds like a perfect lazy day to me. I like to use the leaner, cheaper cuts of meat for recipes like this. Round or chuck is perfect. Buy a roast or a big hunk of steak and trim and cube it yourself.

I chose not to add potatoes to this recipe and just bulk up on the root vegetables and mushrooms. The carrots are sweet by nature and go beautifully with the sugars and caramel notes in the beer. I chose red onion for it's bright onion bite and cremini mushrooms because I love their earthiness. While I was picking up mushrooms the store just happened to have some fresh oyster mushrooms as well so.... into the cart they went, and of course- into the pot! Herbes de Provence was a natural choice as well and was the perfect herbal note.

Pastry for this pie- now that's where I had more difficulty making a decision. I have made so much pastry over the years I can whip up a flaky perfect crust in my sleep......... but did I want to go that route or did I want to really make it special with puff pastry? Hmmmm............

Irish Beef Pot Pie

1 1/2 to 2 lbs lean boneless beef
cooking oil
12 oz bottle Guinness
1/4 cup Jameson Irish whiskey
1 tablespoon good quality beef base
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon tomato paste
salt and pepper
1 package fresh cremini mushrooms
1 medium red onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 pound carrots
pastry for one crust or frozen puff pastry

Trim the beef and cut into good sized cubes. In a shallow plate combine about half a cup of flour with salt and pepper to taste. 

Trim the stem ends and slice the mushrooms. I like to keep the slices pretty thick. Peel and cut the carrots into thick coins. I used baby carrots and cut them in quarters. Cut the onion into chunks, chop the garlic. 

Heat a Dutch oven over medium high heat. 

Add a tablespoon of oil to the pot and add the mushrooms. Cook and stir occasionally until the mushrooms soften and brown. Remove to a bowl. If additional oil is needed, add a tablespoon to the pot.

Dredge the beef cubes in the seasoned flour and brown in the hot oil. Do this in batches so the beef sears and doesn't steam. Add more oil as needed. Remove the cubes as they brown and put in the bowl with the mushrooms. 

Look at all that amazing flavor building up in the pot.
When all beef is browned add another tablespoon of oil to pot and add the onion, garlic, carrots and Herbes de Provence. I also add a couple grinds of black pepper as well. Cook and stir for a minute, then stir in the tomato paste. 

Deglaze the pot with the Guinness and stir in the beef base and whiskey. 

Add the beef and vegetables to the pot. Cover your pot and turn heat to low. Simmer for an hour or two, stirring once in a while.  

When the meat and vegetables are tender and sauce has thickened, crank up the heat in the oven to 400 degrees. If using traditional pastry, you will want to transfer the filling to a baking dish and cover with pastry. Flute the edges as desired, cut slits in the top to let steam escape. Brush with egg wash if you like and pop in the oven. Bake until deep golden brown, about 20-30 minutes.

If you decide to go with puff pastry, like I did, just grab a package of frozen puff pastry. We CAN make it ourselves but why the heck would we? Thaw according to package directions, cut the pastry into portions and bake as directed on package. It takes 15 minutes in the oven to get perfect squares of flaky pastry.

Spoon a serving of the meat mixture into a bowl and top with a portion of the baked pastry. Easy as....pie!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Artisan Condiments- Caramelized Ramp Relish

Condiments. One of the hottest new trends. Especially artisan condiments.

One can never have too many condiments, right? I am a relative newcomer to the relish trend. Memories of nuclear green pickle relish gave me a mindset that I don't like relishes. Commercially made giardinera with a "brine" of pure vinegar was so overwhelmingly sour I could barely stand it. It wasn't until recently, as I've begun making and canning my own relishes and quick pickles that I have learned to branch out and try new flavors.

I saw a recipe posted by a forager on Facebook, for a ramp relish, and since I am a big fan of ramps and have access to loads of them every spring, I thought this would appeal to me. A quick glance at the recipe and I knew I'd be completely remaking this recipe. Where this person used simply minced raw onions and ramps I decided to caramelize them for a better, sweeter flavor. Instead of soaking in plain white vinegar I am adding a splash of balsamic to mine, to refocus on the sweet tones of the onion and ramps instead of an overly acidic crunchy raw relish.

First and foremost, you must be able to get your hands on some ramps. Fresh ramps. For me, that means plodding about in the woods here at the lake during ramp season. For some lucky city dwellers you may be able to find them at farmers markets or gourmet shops. Fresh is imperative for best flavor, so even frozen ramps, I would pass on those. I also use both the bulb and the leafy green top in my relish recipe so make sure to reserve those tops!

Caramelized Ramp Relish

1 medium onion
2 shallots
1 leek
10-12 fresh ramps, including the tops
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Finely mince the onion and shallots. Using only the white part of the leek, slice lengthwise. Clean thoroughly to remove any grit, then thinly slice crosswise. Finely mince the bulbs of the ramps, reserve the leafy tops for later.

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Cook slowly over medium low heat until vegetables are caramelized to a nice golden brown. Chop the ramp leaves and add to the caramelized vegetables.

Add sugar and vinegars to the skillet. Cook several minutes until mixture is thickened. Transfer for a jar or plastic food container and refrigerate.

While this is a relish, it doesn't have the acidity need to make it shelf-stable in a home canner, so keep it in the fridge. It's a small batch so you won't have quarts of the stuff either. It's delicious on roast beef sandwiches, blended with butter to top a grilled steak or served with a cheese plate.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Guest Chef- Cookin' Italian with Joe Sciorrotta

Italians are serious about food.

There, I said it. You know it. I know it. What good Italian family doesn't gather around a table piled high with delicious food every chance they can? It might be a bit of a cliche, but it's absolutely true. 

Today we are going to get to know Joe Sciorrotta. I've known Joe for quite a few years. His wife Heather and I worked together in an office and he would stop in all the time and visit. I had no idea he was such an amazing cook! Joe likes to share pictures of his dishes online and recently launched a private chef/catering service- he prepares a fantastic meal for you to enjoy in your own home. It's a great niche market for busy people who want that home cooked experience, maybe a romantic dinner for two away from the crowded restaurant scene. Joe makes all kinds of homemade sauces and dressings as well, and has a lot of very happy customers.

Joe has been cooking literally elbow-to-elbow with his parents since he was about four years old. He says he would stand on a chair and chop garlic,  or stir sauces. He loves cooking old school Italian American dishes, the kinds of foods that simmer all day long. With all his experience he has his secrets to getting that slow-simmered taste into foods in a hurry but Joe really loves dishes that you put a lot of time, and love into.

I asked Joe about his role models, and who he feels inspires him in the kitchen. Again, he gives the nod to his parents, and his Nana, Congetta Sciorrotta, who he says was the most influential of all, always with a story to tell and a lesson to teach. He spent most of his time in the kitchen with her. Joe also talked about his grandfather Lyman Michael, who was a Navy cook. Like all big Italian families, he includes great aunts and cousins in the mix.

It's always fun to find out where the great cooks like to eat, so I asked Joe where he likes to eat around the Des Moines area. Tursi's Latin King, he says, is always great (and I have to agree- I have always enjoyed every meal there). Sonny's Bistro is what Joe calls "a diamond in the rough". He has eaten literally everything on the menu and enjoyed every one. Like me, Joe likes eating local, where there is almost always a tradition, a family, a story behind the restaurant, not some corporate entity.

Delicioso!!  Joe's son Gino is getting
a head start on his culinary career
Joe says for him, family, friends and food are life. Nothing brings a family together better than a great meal.

Joe is going to make some Italian Roasted Ped Peppers for us today. When you want to cook Italian, you need to have a solid foundation of the basics, and this is one of the most important basics. Roasted peppers are very versatile and can be part of a fantastic salad, they are delicious on sandwiches and when pureed, make an unbelievably wonderful sauce. 

Roasting brings out the natural sugars in the peppers and creates such intense flavor. When the skin is charred and blistered, it separates from the meat and is easily removed with a swipe of a paper towel. 

The char creates a slightly smoky flavor. Don't be afraid to let the skins really blacken.

Joe combines the roasted peppers with chopped garlic and onion, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. 

Italian Roasted Red Peppers

red bell peppers
extra virgin olive oil
fresh garlic
Italian seasoning 
crushed red pepper flakes

Choose fresh, plump peppers that don't have wrinkled skin or soft spots. Wash and dry thoroughly. Arrange the peppers on a baking sheet. Heat the broiler to high. You can also blister the peppers on the grill if you like. 

Broil the peppers until the skins become blistered and charred. Turn them several times to char the entire skin.

Place the peppers in a large bowl and cover tightly to keep the steam in. This will loosen the charred skin from the meat.

When cool enough to handle, wipe the charred skin off. A paper towel makes this a snap.

Remove the stems, seeds and membranes and cut the peppers into good sized strips. Set aside on a plate.

Peel garlic cloves to taste. We like A LOT of garlic around here. Chop the garlic, it doesn't have to be a fine mince, just a rough chop is fine.

Trim, peel and cut up an onion. Chop or slice into thin wedges, whichever you prefer.

In a large skillet, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened. You can get a little color on the garlic but watch it carefully- you don't want burned garlic, which is bitter and can ruin the dish. 

Add the peppers to the skillet. 

Next goes in about a tablespoon of Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.

Allow the peppers to simmer briefly to meld the flavors.

Our peppers are done, so now what? My friends, the possibilities are endless. These peppers are delicious piled onto a sandwich with stacks of Genoa salami, soppressata, provolone cheese. Chopped up with some olives and sprinkled with Balsamic they are a fantastic topping for bruschetta. Use the peppers to stuff pounded out chicken breasts, boneless pork chops or veal. Roll up and roast! Sprinkle strips onto a pizza. Buzz in the food processor and use instead of marinara sauce.

You don't even have to get too complicated here- layer with mozzarella on Italian bread for a grilled cheese sandwich unlike anything you ever had as a kid.

It will be summer here in Iowa before we know it, and I for one, cannot WAIT for all the beautiful fresh vegetables. I hope you will give Joe's roasted peppers a try, and experiment a little too- you can use this same roasting technique with Roma tomatoes for a roasted tomato sauce that is out of this world!

If you would like to contact Joe, you can reach him at Intimate Dining and Catering, 515-422-3026 or email or click the Facebook link highlighted above.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

All In The Family- The Restaurant Biz, Not the TV Show

The restaurant business is literally the lifeblood of our family. Not only does it keep a roof over my head, but also my daughter Laura, a restaurant manager, and her boyfriend Scott, an executive chef. It's business that can be challenging to work around- schedules often conflict with spouses and kids, holidays often mean the restaurant is still open, long hours, stressful shifts. It's not for the faint of heart. Working in the restaurant business requires a special sort of passion- for the food, for the customers and taking pride in what you do.

My daughter Laura got her foot in the door when she was still a college student. She wanted a part time job for extra money and applied for a job at Des Moines' popular Gateway Market. In this little upscale gourmet market she would set into motion a series of events that would bring her to where she is today- managing Malo, Des Moines' newest Latin restaurant. Always a hard worker she fit in with the staff and became a leader, catching the eye of the owner, George Formaro. George is a successful local restaurateur and James Beard nominee who, when opening up his hugely successful Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, took Laurie along with him to this new opportunity. She learned the ins and outs and eventually quit her full time corporate job to work at the restaurant full time. When George opened his latest restaurant, Malo, Laurie was offered a management position and the rest is history.

Laura, at the Roasting Cancer Chili Cookoff 2012
Get to know Laura-

1. What is one thing you really enjoy about restaurant management? I guess I really enjoy getting to meet new people on a day to day basis. I've done the whole corporate desk job, and warehouse job, and I am very outgoing- a social butterfly so being in the service industry is perfect for me. I constantly meet new people from all over and then I have my regular customers I see weekly, sometimes daily, and I get to know them on a personal level.

2. What is one thing you really dislike? What I really dislike are people who think they understand the restaurant business, not just customers but also employees. Some people think it's such an easy job and they could do it without question. Wrong! There is a lot that goes into every day and night.

3. At one time you had a dream of opening your own place- now that you have been behind the scenes, do you still think you would do it? Hmmmm, there was a point in my life where I wanted to own a salad bar/protein shop, I'm not sure if I'd still want to. At least not right now. I still have a lot to learn about what goes on behind the scenes of the restaurant business.

4. What is one recipe you really want to learn to make?  I don't really have on particular recipe I want to learn. I just like learning anything I can. I don't have much time to cook at home because of my work schedule, but I do watch and see many new dishes every week that wow me.

5. What is one thing you love to cook yourself, at home? Desserts! I loooooove my sweets and I love making and getting to eat them!

Laura takes after me- not only does she love cooking but she
appreciates quality cookware, like these LeCreuset bakers!
While working at Malo, Laurie met Scott Stroud, who was the executive chef working with George to develop the menu and get the restaurant opened and running. Scott has quite an impressive resume, starting when he was 14 years old and working at Sheffield's Deli. After graduating high school he worked at Chef's Table and Des Moines Golf and Country Club in addition to the deli. He is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis and had his externship at the Grand Hotel du Val Andre in Van Andre Pleneuf, France. Returning to the U.S. he worked at Bouchard in Las Vegas, The Cafe in Ames, Iowa, a resort in Kenai, AK, Dos Rios in Des Moines, IA, Gigi and Big City Tavern in Boca Raton, FL, Willy's Cantina and Tavern in Townsville, Australia, and many others including the Jethro's family of restaurants in Des Moines, among others. His favorite restaurant to cook in is still The Cafe

Chef Scott Stroud
Get to know Scott-

1. At what age did you decide the culinary field where you wanted to be?  I was 14 and working at Sheffield's Deli. That simple act of completing a task from beginning to end (cooking) provides me with an instant gratification that has gone unparalleled. To get through the rush of a busy service and provide guests with a satisfactory experience where everything goes right- there is no better feeling. I started like most in this profession, doing dishes and prep and eventually working my way up to where I am today. I owe a lot of credit to Sheffield's. Yes, my mom cooked but we never really spent time in the kitchen. I eventually did collect her recipes and all our family recipes. I have been cooking for 16 years and I can't imagine doing anything else. It's all I've ever done and all I really know how to do.

2. What food trends do you think will be big in the coming year? A few things- food trucks, locally, with legislation in Iowa loosening, that was never an "if" but a "when." That will open the floodgates for everyone. You will see a mix of great food from people who can't afford a standing restaurant and want to make an honest living, and work their way up to the end goal of four walls. I'm also expecting some people to try and make a quick buck who will put out crappy overpriced food but Des Moines will not tolerate this, they will flash and sizzle in the pan one day and be gone the next. 

When I visit other cities I see a lot more snack type restaurants, where you can spend hours eating smaller plates and drinking wine. I would compare this idea to one of my favorites, The Cheese Shop, but with even more seats and a broader menu.

Food and restaurants will always be here but I believe society as a whole is embracing the culinary scene more than ever. We love celebrity chefs and The Food Network. With that, we have cookbooks coming out of every kitchen in the world. I think we will continue to see more cookbooks coming out of restaurants and from chefs like we have never seen before.

Microbreweries- we have more Iowa beers available than ever before. I see this trend continuing to grow and with restaurants all over the state supporting these local quality products, I wouldn't limit it to beer even. I would expect to see more in the distilled spirits department continue to grow in our own backyard.

3. Something you HATE to cook?  I think a lot of chefs hate making dessert and pastries. It takes a certain kind of person with patience and understanding, two traits most kitchen managers don't have. I can only speak for myself but in school we briefly covered the topic- only 8 weeks, compared to a 1-2 year program focused solely on sweets. I've made some of the most basic desserts, such as creme brulee, chocolate lava cakes, and ice cream. I wish I had spent more time or had better training in desserts because the possibilities are endless and everyone loves dessert!

4. Goals- do you see yourself owning your own restaurant one day? I used to dream about owning my own place, but then you hear that nine out of ten fail in the first year, you think twice. I've worked for ma and pa restaurants and I've worked for large corporate hotels as well, and I like where I'm currently at. Jethros/Splash it's not so corporate that it has no soul, but at the same time it's not small that I worry about not getting a check, or something goes wrong. The company takes great care of us and I'm really happy in my current position so it's hard to say if I would ever want my own place. I have no immediate plans to do so.

Scott cooks at home- roast chicken, French corn sauce
5. Who would you say is your culinary icon(s)? Anthony Bourdain- a teacher I had in high school knew I worked in restaurants and gave me "Kitchen Confidential." I was hooked, I wanted to go to the places he had and do the things he had in his book.

Thomas Keller- I graduated high school a semester early and was working at three restaurant jobs before culinary school and getting burned out. My dad got me a copy of "The French Laundry Cookbook" out of nowhere and I was never so inspired by a chef. So unrealistic and over the top, it's really a coffee table cookbook because no average home could afford let alone reproduce most recipes. Years later I staged for Chef Keller in Las Vegas at Bouchon and that is a whole story for another time. Everything his kitchens produce is as close to perfect as possible. A couple years ago I was able to get a reservation at The French Laundry and it was hands down the best meal of my life.

Locally I have been inspired by working for Jason Simon at Alba, George Formaro with Orchestrate, and Dom Iannarelli at Splash/Jethros. They gave so much to their businesses and worked their tails off to get where they are today. I'm very proud to have worked and learned under these three culinary leaders in our community. Everything from scratch, lots of hours, but priceless experiences in those kitchens.

Last, and in no way least, is my chef, Joe. Unlike many of his peers, Joe did not attend culinary school. He began working in restaurants as a teen and worked his way up through the kitchen, serving in several positions along the way. He got his start in a Greek restaurant and has worked in several Italian restaurants over the years as well as American, Mexican and barbeque restaurants. He has worked in catering, also at Des Moines Golf and Country Club, a dinner theater, a mobile food cart, and a lake resort, The Port on Lake Panorama, as well. One highlight of his career was the menu design and pairing of food and craft beers at an event hosted by Olde Main Brewery, designing dishes from appetizers to dessert that complimented their different beers.

Chef Joe Riccio
Get to know Joe-

1. Culinary school regrets? If I could go back and go to culinary school, one skill I really would want to master would be ice carving. With a lot of catering experience in the past, ice carving definitely would have been an asset.

2. Favorite piece of kitchen equipment? My favorite pieces of kitchen equipment are my knives. A good knife sharpener is also very important. You don't get far with dull knives. At home I really love using a Kitchenaid stand mixer for making fresh pizza dough.

3. Name a food you hate to work with. Not a fan of beets- not to eat and definitely not to work with. Messy and not a vegetable I like at all. Not into liver either- it smells terrible and the texture is awful.

4. What kind of cooking competition do you think you could kick some serious butt in? If I ever entered a culinary competition that I felt I could dominate, it would be Italian cooking. I have a lengthy history of Italian cooking and love playing with pizza recipes. I would definitely give someone a good run for the money in a burger cook off or chili cook off too.

5. Who is your culinary icon? Mario Batali. Watching old reruns of Molto Mario is a favorite pastime of mine and I'm amazed at Mario's extensive knowledge of Italy and food.  
Joe's Homemade Stuffed Peppers, a customer favorite
at The Port on Lake Panorama
Besides those family members that work in restaurants, the rest of us love eating out and checking out new places. We are all great cooks. It gives me something interesting to write about and I get an inside look at coming food trends and local restaurant news. My daughter, son in law and grandson recently treated me to dinner at Americana, a newer restaurant in downtown Des Moines. It's on my list of must-try Des Moines restaurants so I was super excited to go. The restaurant itself is an interesting mix of arty, contemporary and industrial decor and the menu is a mix of tapas style dishes and upscale American classics, such as Truffled Mac and Cheese, Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf, Shrimp and Grits and so much more. It was a great Sunday night meal and I'll definitely be back.