Monday, August 31, 2015

Hatch Chilies- Put That In Your Sandwich And Stuff It

It's Hatch chili time again. Last year I roasted them, peeled them and made salsa. This year I want to do something different that really puts the pepper right out there to enjoy. I heard the Hatches were back in the big grocery stores so I went on a quest to find them. I struck out at the first store, where I had got them last year. Darnit. I was afraid I might have waited a couple days too long and was going to miss out. A quick plea to my friends on social media connected me with the right locations and Hatch chilies were acquired. Whew!

I'm not just playing with these guys though. I stopped at the local farmers market a couple days ago and snagged a nice bag full of gorgeous hot banana peppers- some yellow, some red. I love these guys! I have some great memories of banana peppers- my dad always grew them in the garden, my mom always made fried peppers and onions with dinner in the summer, and from my waaaay back years I remember getting a nice butt-paddling after overhearing my dad call the peppers in a neighbor's garden "bananas" so I went and picked them. All of them. Oops.

Of course no pepper experiment would be complete without America's favorite pepper- the jalapeno. To use them in this recipe I had to hunt down really good sized ones, and even at that, I'm going to tell you guys- don't bother with jalapenos. The banana peppers were thin and pliable and super easy to clean. Same with the Hatch chilies, but the jalapenos and their thick "meat" were really tough to get in there and get all the membrane out. If you REALLY must, they are delicious, but labor intensive. 

Growing up, one of Mom's summer specialties was the good old stuffed bell pepper. She made a simple stuffing- hamburger, rice, onions, tomatoes, some diced pepper, seasonings, piled into bell peppers and draped with slices of cheese, then baked until the cheese was browned and delicious. Nothing gourmet, but just really good and homey. I loved them. So as an adult I find myself experimenting with not only new pepper types and heat levels, but often revisiting those classic dishes and recipes and making them more "me" and more my cooking style. 

If you're not an Iowan you will never understand the deep rooted love we have for our Graziano's* Italian sausage, although I'd be willing to bet you have your own local favorite. For us Grazi's is the Holy Grail of sausage, for pizza and pasta and for fantastic Italian sausage sandwiches. We love our Grazi's cooked, draped with marinara sauce and cheese and served on crusty bread. I'm swooning just thinking about it. Many people like to pile theirs with grilled onions and peppers. All these flavors seemed to be speaking to me as I pondered what to make with the peppers I have, and then it hit me. Why not take that sausage, add some breadcrumbs, cheese and a little of my homemade habanero pizza sauce, squish it until it's meatloafy (yes folks, that IS a professional culinary term, I promise) and stuff it in those peppers? Genius! I couldn't just do a stuffed pepper though- that's too obvious and every day, and I wanted to do something completely different and that, my friends, is how Stuffed Pepper Po Boys became a thing.

Simple ingredients, you choose the heat level you like in your sausage, in your sauce. I used homemade habanero pizza sauce, but marinara or regular pizza sauce works just fine. Add crushed red pepper to any part of this dish- the meat, the sauce, sprinkle it on top. Use hot Italian sausage or mild, it's totally up to you. It is going to be delicious.

Stuffed Pepper Po Boys

1 lb Italian sausage
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1 egg
1/4 cup minced onion
1 cup shredded mozzarella
10-16 peppers
additional marinara sauce
additional cheese
crusty baguette bread

Prepare the peppers- use a sharp knife and cut the stem end off. Carefully run the knife down the length of the pepper on ONLY one side- do not cut the pepper in half. Spread the pepper open and remove seeds and membrane and set aside. 

In a medium bowl combine the sausage, marinara sauce, egg, breadcrumbs and cheese. Mix well with your hands.

Again, spreading the peppers open with your fingers, stuff the meat mixture into the peppers, mounding slightly. Spoon a little additional marinara sauce on top of each pepper, spreading it out a bit. Place on a baking sheet and pop in a 375 degree oven for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven when done and turn on the broiler. Sprinkle each pepper liberally with shredded cheese. Place under the broiler until the cheese melts and starts to turn brown. Remove and let rest a few minutes.

Cut your baguette into sandwich size pieces and split in half. Spread with softened butter (garlic better is awesome) and broil until toasted and starting to brown. 

The stuffing stays so juicy- yum! You can serve with additional
sauce for dipping if you like, but it's not needed.
Top each baguette bottom with stuffed peppers to fill the sandwich. Top with the upper piece of bread and enjoy.

You can add any additional toppings you like, just like in the sub shop. I prefer to keep mine simple so I can enjoy the fresh peppers and that incredibly delicious Graziano's sausage. 

* I realized as I was writing this that we have not had an official Foodie Field Trip to Grazi's yet- so look for that in the very near future! Graziano's is an old old neighborhood grocery store with an incredible selection of Italian products, fresh meats, marinated olives, fresh baked breads and pasta.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Artisan Condiments- Spicy Tomato Jam

I don't normally share a whole lot of home canning recipes here, rather over on City Girl, Country Life, but this recipe just seemed to be more at home over here on RTK. So there. You don't have to freak out and think "What the ****!! I don't know how to can things!" You don't have to- you can freeze it as well. 

Fancy jams are another trendy food that gets labeled as "artisan" these days. I often think that term is overused but some foods, like homemade small batch jams, are probably deserving. Jams aren't just for breakfast anymore and that's where tomato jam finds it's unique little niche. Depending on your recipe it can be absolutely appropriate for the breakfast table, but a little switching up of flavors, spices and adding some heat and acidity and you've moved over into the savory condiment section. I call this my ketchup for grownups.

You might wonder what all the fuss is about. It's jam. Big deal. But it's much more than that. It's jam alright, but it's spicy and sweet and savory and it's delicious and the perfect thing for crowning a juicy burger or alongside a nice hunk of beef. Want a grilled cheese that's just a little more than sliced American and white bread? Break out the GOOD cheese, some crispy bacon or crispy prosciutto, a smear of tomato jam on crusty sourdough and grill that baby up. It makes meatloaf a little more special than gramma's drizzle of ketchup over the top, and it's REALLY GOOD. Really good. So good you'll find yourself never wanting ketchup ever ever again. That's just the BASIC recipe! This time we're rewriting a page from City Girl's Canning Cookbook and making it RTK Style.

This rich and gooey jam starts with tomatoes. Summertime in Iowa is without a doubt the best time to get tomatoes. If you grow your own- even better! This summer was horrible for my garden and I had zero tomatoes to speak of. Thankfully I have access to some great farmers markets and was able to get a nice 10 lbs or so of beautiful red ripe Romas. You can use any kind of tomato you like but Romas are known for their meaty texture and drier interior- so the jam doesn't have to cook quite as long as some of the juicier tomatoes do. Any color tomato works too. I love tomato jam made with orange or yellow tomatoes- it looks so beautiful in the jars. Prep was easy-I sat down with my tomatoes and halved them, removed the core, scooped out the seeds and diced them. I leave the skin on my tomatoes because it's too much work to remove them, I don't mind them in my food and they are extra fiber really, but you can blanch and remove the peel if you want to.

Dice them up and put them in a large bowl. Measure them as you go and you won't have to do it again later. This recipe relies on evaporation to thicken, not pectin, so the recipe is flexible. The amount of sugar depends on the amount of tomatoes and I just cut up tomatoes until I'd used them all.

We need some heat and spice in this jam. The original recipe calls for cayenne pepper, but we have all kinds of beautiful peppers here so a good handful of fresh kung pao chilies got chopped finely and added to the party. Also in the original recipe is shredded or grated fresh ginger. I just so happen to have all that crystallized ginger tucked away n the freezer, so I plucked out a few slices and minced them up. Cumin, cinnamon and allspice go in as well, and a twist on the plain old salt. Because this is used as a savory condiment, I like those savory notes to hit from all over, so instead of plain salt I used some Montreal Steak Seasoning. Love this stuff- I just keep it on the counter in a salt crock and use it on everything. 

Spicy Sweet Tomato Jam

10 lbs Roma tomatoes
3/4 cup bottled lemon juice*
6-8 fresh kung pao chilies**
2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
vinegar of choice, if needed

*Always use bottled lemon juice because it has a stable acidity level
**If you don't have kung pao chilies, use cayenne or whatever you have on hand, to taste. You can use fresh or dried and ground. I would start with 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne and taste- add more if desired.

Peel tomatoes if desired. Halve; remove cores and seeds and dice. Place in large stockpot, measuring as you go. For every 3 cups tomatoes, add one cup sugar. I ended up with about 16 cups of tomatoes and used 5 cups of sugar. Stir to mix. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until mixture is very thick, reduced, and mounds when spooned out. Be sure to taste the jam at least twice. You want to adjust for heat, and if the jam is too sweet, add a splash or so of an additional acid- balsamic vinegar or rice wine vinegar are great. Make sure you do this while still cooking down so it maintains the thickness.

The tomatoes start out bright red.......
Prepare a boiling water bath canner and jars (pint or half pint), or freezer containers. Spoon hot jam into jars, fix lids and rings and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes; or spoon into freezer containers. Allow to cool slightly, then freeze.

Look at all the deep caramelization going on there.
Now this jam can take a loooooong time to thicken. I usually do it in the crock pot with the lid off. I can let it go overnight and in the morning be ready to go into jars and there is almost zero chance of scorching. Don't get discouraged if you go to give it a stir and it seems too watery- I promise, it WILL evaporate and thicken.

A couple notes about canning and food safety: 

Home canned foods can be amazing and wonderful and unlike any other food in the grocery store, but they can also be deadly. Be sure to practice safe food handling when canning- ALWAYS use a boiling water bath for high acid foods or a pressure canner for low acid food. NEVER place hot food in jars, invert them, and let them seal without heat processing. 

Along those same lines, it's very tempting to add a lot of extras to home canned foods to customize them. Unless you are a microbiologist or have a very in depth knowledge of home canning safety- DON'T. Stick with tested recipes. This recipe is only different from a USDA tested recipe because of the change in spices, which do not affect acidity. Never add things like onions or garlic as they can upset the pH and make the recipe unsafe and allow botulism to grow in the sealed jars.

Pay attention to your altitude. It affects heat and processing time. Always adjust for your altitude.

NOTE: This recipe has not been tested by the NCHFP. If you are not comfortable canning untested recipes, please do not use this one. For home canning information, visit the NCHFP website.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Exploring Polish Cuisine- Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Cucumber Salad

Exploring different types of cuisine is something we really enjoy here at The Little Lake House. It's virtually impossible to get stuck in a rut when you are constantly exploring new lands, unique food stores and reading ethnic cookbooks for ideas. Polish food is generally not something that comes to mind when you talk about a "cuisine." In fact, I'd be willing to bet not many people could even name a traditional Polish dish, and for far too many that think they know Polish food- it's frozen premade pierogies. That's sad to me!

Having a mother who was born and raised in Germany, I was exposed to so many different styles of cooking during my life. While she was not Polish, she did make some pretty killer cabbage rolls, which is a traditional Polish dish. The thing about Mom's rolls- the filling was the same basic mixture as her meatloaf and meatballs with a little rice added, and I've said it before- she was no Julia Child and she did the unthinkable- made the sauce from canned tomato soup. When I decided to reinvent Mom's cabbage roll recipe I knew I'd be skipping that horrific ingredient!

In order to get a beautiful, perfect little cabbage package you need a nice, firm, smooth and heavy head of cabbage. Look for a bright green head that weighs about three pounds and you'll end up with 12-20 rolls. I was shooting for 12 rolls so I'd have plenty to freeze for later too. Prepping the cabbage is super easy. Use a sharp knife to cut out the core (or as much as you can) and remove the outer leaf or two if they are beat up. 

Get a big stockpot of water boiling, and go ahead and salt that water too. Carefully place the cabbage head (yep, the whole thing) in the pot, cover it, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then carefully again, remove the whole head and place it on a rimmed baking sheet until cool enough to handle. Save that water and keep it simmering- you might find some of the inner leaves are still too crunchy and you might need to simmer the cabbage a little bit more. Plus, you will need a little water for later. Carefully peel off the leaves and set aside. Sounds easy right? Lets make some cabbage rolls!

Polish Cabbage Rolls (Golabki)

3 lb head of cabbage
1 lb hamburger (get the lean grind for this recipe)
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup chopped carrot
olive oil
3/4 cup uncooked rice
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Italian seasoning, if desired
3 cups tomato sauce, divided  (1/2 cup in the meat, the rest as sauce)
1/2 cup water

Finely dice the onion and garlic. Chop the carrots into small dice. In a large skillet heat a couple tablespoons of oil. Add the onions and carrots and saute over medium heat until onions begin to caramelize. Add the garlic. Continue cooking until the garlic softens but does not brown. Remove from heat and set aside to  cool.

Prep the cabbage as above. I'm shooting for 12 rolls so I am going to peel off leaves until I have enough. Now sometimes I get most of them peeled off and they are still too crunchy to roll- so pop them back in the pot of water for a few minutes. We have to deal with that hard rib, so grab a paring knife or vegetable peeler and shave it off. You don't want to cut through the leaf, we want to keep it whole. Set the leaves aside.

Save the rib shavings- you can chop them up and toss
in the meat filling too- no waste!
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, the sauteed vegetables. rice, salt and pepper, the parsley and one cup of the tomato sauce. Get in there with your hands and mix that up like meatballs- and then divide it up into enough portions for all the leaves you have. Then, roll em up!

To roll them, place the bottom of the leaf closest to you. Put the filling on the leaf, then fold the bottom over the filling, fold the sides in, then roll up. Place the rolls seam side down in a large baking pan. They will hold together well and you won't need toothpicks or anything like that. 

Sprinkle the rolls with Italian seasoning if you're using. Combine the remaining tomato sauce with 1/2 cup of the cabbage water and pour over the rolls in the pan. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until cooked through.

Typically in Poland the rolls are allowed to cool after baking, then covered and chilled- to serve brown in olive oil and serve with sour cream. You can also serve them straight from the oven with a little tomato sauce spooned over if you like.

Some potatoes with parsley and butter were perfect
with the cabbage rolls.
Now the typical Polish farm wife might serve these rolls with a side of tluczone ziemniaki (mashed potatoes) and falsolka z migdalami (green beans sprinkled with buttered and toasted bread crumbs and sliced olives) or maybe a cold cucumber salad. Sounds like a perfectly delicious and homey meal to me. Let's eat!

Frozen scoops of tomato paste- pop in the microwave
with water and you have tomato sauce in minutes.
Helpful hint-  I buy tomato paste in bulk- the big #10 cans, scoop it out onto waxed paper in 1/2 cup portions and freeze. When solid, I bag them up and store. It's easy to pull out a couple portions and thaw in water to make the sauce I need for this recipe- I used 2 scoops of paste and 3 cups of water (my rolls are a little saucy). This way I always have tomato sauce pretty much at my fingertips for very little money.

Want to have some fun with food? Let's make a quick cucumber salad to go with the rolls- and we're going to use a fun tool- a spiralizer. I have had a lot of fun playing with this thing and decided this would be a great night to break it out. They come in all price ranges from an inexpensive hand held one (like mine) to a $$$$ automatic thing I just don't need. It's not something I think to use very often, it's just fun. So for our salad I have two medium cucumbers. Gotta love farmers market day! There were literally picked an hour before I bought them. I used the spiralizer to cut long strands of cucumber- kind of like noodles, and then used a knife to cut through the pile of strands to make bite size pieces.

Into the salad bowl they go along with some slivered red onion. I had a few sprigs of herbs leftover from the night before so I added some thyme leaves and a handful of chopped parsley, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and gave it a toss.

A little vinegar and oil- simple and classic, like our European style meal, and it's ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Iowa Sweet Corn Gets Some Latin Lovin'

Photo from Iowa On A Plate
Here in Iowa we know a thing or two about sweet corn. How to grow it, cook it, sell it. We celebrate sweet corn with annual festivals devoted to this tasty summer treat. At the State Fair roasted ears of corn are gobbled up by hungry fairgoers by the ton. Growing up in Iowa it wasn't unusual to have a dinner of just a huge pot of freshly cooked sweet corn, dressed up with only butter and salt. Oh my yum. Much loved by people all over, sweet corn is often used in non-traditional foods such as sweet corn sodas and ice cream, even candy. 

Driving around Iowa you will see acre after acre of corn. This corn is used for all sorts of things- animal feed, food, fuel production, but it's not sweet corn. Iowa produces thousands of acres of sweet corn annually. There are hundreds of different cultivars, some heirloom and some hybrids. Some of the heirlooms are hundreds of years olds, as sweet corn was first identified in the late 1700s. Peaches and Cream is a very popular variety around Iowa, as is Silver Queen, and this year I have even seen pink sweet corn in the stores. 

Here is a fun fact: Did you know there is one strand of silk for every kernel on the ear of corn? 

Laura Duffield Beigger makes
a spicy corn stock with jalapeno
So sweet corn. While so many of us love our corn drenched in butter and salt, corn is getting some gourmet treatment these days. Far far away from Iowa, different cultures and different cuisines use our beloved sweet corn in many interesting and delicious dishes. Many Latin dishes, for example, use corn, ground, as flour and kernels. Mexican street corn is often roasted in the husks, and then peeled back and sprinkled with seasonings and queso fresco or cojita before serving. Corn is roasted and charred and cut off the cobs to toss in salads and salsas. Corn cobs get recycled into corn cob jelly and corn stock for delicious soups and sauces. My friend Laura Biegger recently made corn stock with some jalapeno for kick- I think this would be a fantastic base to build an awesome seafood chowder. Let's take a look at a couple unique ways to use Iowa sweet corn in recipes, this time with a Latin twist.

Up first is a fantastic recipe from local restaurateur George Formaro. His Malo restaurant in Des Moines is an upscale Latin spot in the heart of downtown and brings a fresh and unique perspective to Mexican and South American dishes. We have visited Malo a couple times, you might remember. Their Corn Queso is a very special twist on a classic Mexican snack and brings the much loved fresh Iowa sweet corn into the spotlight. While Malo uses a locally sourced frozen corn, you could easily substitute freshly cut sweet corn as a replacement. They graciously shared this recipe on their Facebook page a while back.

Malo's Corn Queso

1 lb easy melting cheese such as Queso Seguro or Velveeta
4 cups Iowa Choice Harvest frozen sweet corn
1 cup water
1 lime, juice and zest
1 tbs salt
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 tbs crumbled Cojita cheese, queso fresco is a suitable alternative

Using a food processor, puree the corn with the water until completely smooth. Heat the olive oil in saucepot and add pureed corn. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Allow mixture to simmer and reduce to a creamy consistency. 

Once a light pudding texture is reached, combine with salt, lime juice and zest and puree/process to eliminate any possible lumps. 

Melt the cheese over low heat until smooth. Fold in the corn mixture. Pour into a heat resistant serving bowl and top with crumbled Cojita cheese. Broil until the Cojita is browned and golden. Serve with tortilla chips. 

At Malo they use the corn pudding mixture in other dishes, and as a sauce for crab cakes.

Another popular use for fresh corn is salsa. The old days of nothing but tomato-based salsa are long over. Veggies and fruits of all kinds end up in salsa, sweet and savory alike. While I do love a good traditional salsa I'm a huge fan of corn salsa and black bean salsa. Combine the two and I'm in heaven! This salsa is easy to whip up for a party and if you had a lot of leftovers, you could pop it in the freezer for longer storage. I love it with chips and as a condiment for other foods, like enchilada, tacos and so on.

Deb Campbell's beautiful Iowa sweet corn, ready for the pot
Roasted Fresh Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa

2 ears fresh corn
olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped sweet bell pepper (I use a combo of colors)
1-2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
fresh Jalapeno pepper to taste*
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
zest of one lime
pinch of salt and pepper
dash of cumin, if desired

* I start with one Jalapeno and taste for heat. I also sometimes use any other hot pepper I might have around, including some of the super hots. Do so with caution!

Shuck the corn and wash well, removing all the silks. Rub the corn with a small bit of olive oil and roast the ears over a hot grill or under the broiler until some of the kernels are caramelized and golden. Set aside to cool. 

When cool enough to handle, slice the corn from the cobs and place in a bowl. Toss with all remaining ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. This salsa is also delicious with a diced avocado added. and piled in a taco salad. 

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."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dreaming About Kitchens

Many of us have one. A dream. The perfect house. Perfect hair. Perfect gardens and flowers. Perfect lawns. The perfect house, your dream home, and if you're really lucky......your dream kitchen. 

My dream kitchen. That's something to think about, really. What would I want in my dream kitchen? If money were no object and I could have anything I wanted......... space. Most definitely space. Bright light. Windows. Plants, fresh herbs maybe, or just beautiful plants. Perhaps a flowering plant or even a lemon tree, sitting next to a huge window, a wall of glass, overlooking a deck suitable for entertaining and enjoying a nice meal or morning coffee in the shade and soft breeze. Skylights overhead to let even more glorious sunshine in.

This GORGEOUS kitchen from is
so perfect- the color, the window, no island but I can deal
without one! LOVE the color and airy openness.
Overhead is a very under-utilized space. My dream kitchen would have overhead storage in the form of a very cook hanging pot rack. I used to have a teeny tiny one. I would have a BIG one this time, with my Calphalon and AllClad displayed proudly. I'd have loads of cabinet space too, so countertop clutter would not exist. I would have a large container for my favorite utensils to huddle together. Magnetic strips would keep my knives safe and eliminate that bulky knife block I hate so much. A big bowl or two for fresh fruit and vegetables, or maybe breads, would have a prime spot on the counter. Maybe on the island- of course I'd have an island, and it would be perfect for sitting at with a couple of stools.

I'd need a big, deep sink and a cool faucet. One of those neat pull-out types or a restaurant-style spring sprayer whatever that thing is called. You know what I mean- it hangs over the sink and sprays water wherever you want. Very contemporary looking. Just my style. A deep ceramic farmhouse sink would be awesome for washing a big load of fresh produce from the farmers market. 

Let's go back to that kitchen island for a minute. Have you ever seen the islands that include the cooktop? That's exactly what I'd have.  But not just any cooktop. Nope. This chef-wanna-be would go all out and splurge on a Viking. I'd love to have the island built around a flawless stainless steel six burner Viking range. Above that, a stainless steel vent hood. The awesome thing about this Viking range in the photo is unlike other ranges there is no "back" where all the knobs and so on would be- it tucks perfectly into an island space, and would make me oh so happy! The oven would be tucked under just like any other range, but I would also need a cool second oven built into the wall. A cook can never have too much oven space, right? 

Another trend I see a lot and really love is using pennies as a surface "tile." I've seen entire kitchen floors covered in pennies, grouted and sealed, but the counter top penny surface is one I really love. Of course I'd love to have a granite kitchen counter, but I still love the look of the pennies, and maybe could incorporate both into the same kitchen. If I wasn't able to do a true counter top, maybe I might do a resurface on a kitchen table- cover than with pennies!

Now let's talk about refrigerators. Oh man, I hate my current fridge. Big. Ugly. Inconvenient. I miss the side-by-side my last kitchen had, and I really miss the fridge over freezer I had years before that! The fridge-over-freezer is making a comeback in a big way, as evidenced by my recent visit to a large appliance store. Another style of fridge that delights me to no end is the semi-hybrid French doors with the freezer on the bottom fridge. Wow!! Even better, some of them have a freezer drawer at the top of the freezer compartment! Ice and water in the door (man how I miss THAT) and easy access to everything in the fridge section, this style of fridge is absolutely on my wish list. 

I also noticed that stainless steel seems to be the new trend. No more black or white painted appliances, I spied one small forlorn white fridge hidden way back in a section I assume was the scratch and dent area. Everything else was stainless and I'm ok with that!

Let's get the conversation going here- what is YOUR dream kitchen like? What are your must-haves and wish-I-hads? Share your dreams and upgrades with us!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Church Cookbook Recipe Renovation- Company Chicken

Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away.... no wait. That's a different story. Well just about that far away and long ago my late mother-in-law used to make this baked chicken dish. She called it Company Chicken, and she got the recipe from the cookbook assembled and published by the ladies at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Des Moines. She made this dish all the time, and man oh man, was it ever good. Naughty. Really naughty and totally not healthy in any way. Company Chicken was simple to make and required ingredients most people had on hand: chicken, bacon, canned soup, sour cream and a jar of dried chipped beef. 

Like so many old church cookbook recipes, there wasn't a lot of seasoning or herbs going on. Just basic belly-filling food. Here's the deal- take a boneless skinless chicken breast half, wrap it in a couple slices of chipped beef, then wrap that in a couple slices of bacon and put it in a casserole dish. Mix together canned cream of something soup (usually chicken) and a cup of sour cream and pour that over. Bake it, probably about an hour, seems like most of those dishes are 350 degrees for an hour, and you get this rich, creamy sauce and these juicy chicken breasts wrapped in salty savory goodness. Add some mashed potatoes and a vegetable and it's "good enough for company." It really was good! I've even made it a bunch of times for my own family.

Times have changed and while I am not particularly concerned about turning those recipes into health food, they often do need an upgrade- modern ingredients and new techniques (or heck, old techniques, just new to the dish) and fresh combinations can take those dated old recipes and turn them into something totally new. I've talked about how my mom cooked every evidence of life and freshness out of just-picked garden-grown vegetables. So did Evelyn. Freshly snapped beans looked like they came from a can from the grocery store, spinach or broccoli cooked into oblivion. What they did to asparagus would make you cry. My renovation includes fresh asparagus as well as red bell pepper and keeps the fresh flavor and texture intact. I still use a can of cream of chicken soup, but the sauce is a little less rich with half the sour cream and milk added. Let's get this renovation on the road!

Modern Company Chicken

6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
6 slices bacon
small bunch scallions
1 large red bell pepper
1 bunch asparagus
Penzey's Greek Seasoning*
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper

Clean the scallions and cut into 2-3 inch pieces. Cut the bell pepper into julienne strips. Snap the ends off the asparagus. Set vegetables aside.

In a small bowl, stir the soup until it's smooth, adding the sour cream and milk. Pour into a large baking pan, like a lasagna pan, or a deep 9x13 pan. Set aside for now.

Pound out the chicken breasts to an even thickness. On a board, lay on strip of bacon, pointing away from you. Lay the chicken breast on top of the bacon, so it's centered underneath. Sprinkle liberally with the Greek Seasoning. On each breast lay 3 or 4 pieces of scallion, 3 or 4 pieces of red pepper, and 5 or 6 asparagus spears. Roll up using the bacon strip to help, and securing with a toothpick. The bacon makes it easy to secure with pick. Place the roll in the baking dish in the sauce. Continue with all the chicken breasts.

Sprinkle additional Greek Seasoning over, and salt and pepper. Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for about an hour until chicken is cooked through, bacon is crisp and the sauce is thickened. Serve with rice, spooning the sauce over.

*I used Penzey's Greek Seasoning for this dish but you can use any seasoning blend you like. Italian seasoning is also delicious.

This was such a great update to a classic homestyle recipe. The vegetables inside the chicken were cooked perfectly and the sauce is rich and creamy without being overly heavy. I'm a huge fan of roasted vegetables and the asparagus and pepper had that roasted flavor and texture. The bacon is super crispy and delicious on top, but on the bottom it stays soft, and the fat from the bacon lends another savory element to the sauce that's really delicious.

For me, this was such a successful "renovation" I think I'll spend some quality time with those old cookbooks, and see what else could use a little remodeling.