Saturday, May 20, 2017

Who wants to open a restaurant?

Owning my own restaurant has been a lifelong dream for me, one that has eluded me for a variety of reasons over the years. I've spent countless years poring over ideas, recipes, themes, designs, ideas, menus, you name it. For years I walked through the skywalk system in downtown Des Moines, past a little cove in one of the buildings, every day thinking to myself that would be the perfect spot for a tiny little bistro. Something small, and elegant, with a menu that changes daily, depending on what's available. Seasonal, local foods, beautifully prepared and served, with a lovely selection of wine. Something that reminds people of a romantic spot in France. 

My very good friend Jessica and I share this dream. She and I found ourselves discussing the possibilities many many times. Would we do catering? Wines and cocktails? Should we go simpler, like a diner or coffee house, or maybe a tea room? So many plans, so many dreams, we even bought a small supply of antique dishware to use in our future tea room, and some kitchen equipment. Sadly, the dream had to be put on the back burner as real life issues were pressing, kids, bills, making ends meet, and we abandoned our immediate plans.

Every once in a while I try to get out and explore the world of food outside of the kitchen. I might sign up for a cooking class, or I might visit a specialty store and browse the unique options, and come up with some decent photos and a fun story. The other day I was flipping through some local stories, new restaurants and the farmers market and so on, looking for inspiration,      when I came across something that piqued my interest right away- the Iowa Restaurant Association was holding a free informational seminar- Restaurant 101, geared at people who were considering opening a restaurant. I knew right away I'd want to go check it out, even if I'm not actively looking to start a business.

The seminar was hosted by Stacey Kleusner. We learned about who the Iowa Restaurant Association is and what they do: they are a member based non-profit trade association. The Association protects, promotes, educates and acts as an advocate for Iowa's restaurant and hospitality industry. They represent the legislative interests of the restaurant and hospitality industry both here in Iowa and in Washington D.C., and they are an affiliate of the National Restaurant Association.

So what is the restaurant industry? Easy- any meal that is prepared away from home, whether it's sit down service or takeout. The industry is made of a mosaic of individual businesses that include clubs, full service and quick service restaurants, cafeterias and buffets, and more. The failure rate of today's new restaurants was a sobering statistic- one out of every four new restaurants will fail within the first year of business, and that increases to three out of five in the first three years. I can say without a doubt that here in Des Moines the competition is fierce. We live in an up and coming culinary hot spot and the new places opening each year prove it. Iowa, as of 2016, has more than 6,000 restaurants. That is just a crazy number to imagine in our state.

So HOW does a new restaurant achieve success in this day and age? Firstly, don't open a restaurant unless you have worked in a restaurant, and preferably, several. You must be a business person first. Just being a great cook doesn't mean you will run a great restaurant. Make sure you understand what customers like, not what YOU like, and then figure out how much they are willing to pay for it. Work your way up, maybe starting with catering, a food truck, or other SMALL venture before you commit to a big restaurant. If you are the owner of the business, you have to be prepared to do what owners do, and it's not always fun. 

Think you're ready to take those first steps towards opening a restaurant of your own? You have got a lot to do, my friends, starting with research. You want to study restaurant and food trends in your area over a period of time. Do you know that in 1955 about 25% of the average food dollar went to the restaurant industry but today that has jumped up to about 47%. Americans value their restaurants! Do your market research- for example, in Iowa in 2016 over $4 BILLION was spent on food and beverage purchases, in fact, on a typical day in Iowa the food and beverage industry estimates sales of about $11.7 million. Million!! While that number seems staggering, it isn't all peaches and cream. Assuming a 5% profit margin, that number of sales, after considering all expenses of operating, allows less than $100 profit as an average. 

Start up costs are an obstacle for many. The average cost to open a small restaurant is around $275,000. If you plan on purchasing a building, that start up cost goes up significantly. To help with costs, many people look to investors or loans to help finance their dream. This requires a business plan. Creating a business plan is crucial. What are the elements of a good business plan? The concept, the team, the market, the strategy, the location, the financials and the offering.

Your concept should contain an overview of your proposed business. What is your unique selling point? What will your guests' experience be? How about menus and signature items, things that set your restaurant apart from the others. You want to talk about your team, with brief biographies of each person. What is their background and experience? What will their role be? You want to focus on your market- who your target clientele will be. What's your marketing strategy? How will you purchase supplies and equipment? Your location will be an important part of your business plan. No one likes to discuss the financials but they are extremely important. where is the money coming from, and how is it being dispersed? What is your anticipated budget? There are lots of resources out there for new business owners to turn to for help. Local economic development agencies can help, the U.S. Small Business Association is another great resource. 

Now that you've some information about getting started, what are some of the licensing and legal requirements you might face? It starts with building permits, whether you're building or remodeling. Alcohol and food licenses are required, your business license, sign and fire permits, state and federal tax permits, food safety certification- lots of hoops to jumps through. There are insurance liabilities to research as well. Hiring a good business attorney would definitely be a first step in the process. 

Now The Chef and I have tossed around the possibility of opening our own restaurant many times. Will it come to be? Maybe, maybe not, but in the mean time, we will continue to enjoy learning, researching, networking and exploring the many restaurants that are already in business and have made someone's dream come true.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Expanding my cheese knowledge, one cheese at a time

As you know, The Chef cooks at a local upscale wine and small plates joint. He is surrounded by amazing wines and incredible cheeses, lots of beautiful charcuterie and ingredients to cook with. In the time he has been there he has been exposed to more types of cheese than in any other restaurant he has cooked at before. I love hearing the stories about what new cheese they got in, how he used it, what he paired with it. While I consider myself to be pretty well educated in cheeses, now and again he will tell me about something I have not heard of. Of course, I accept this as a challenge, and run off to the closest cheese counter and grab some to play with at home. Today it's Piave.

So let's learn a little bit about Piave cheese. I did some research online and learned this cheese is an Italian cow's milk cheese. It comes from the Province of Belluno in the Veneto region. Like so many food and drink, wine, oils, and so on, cheeses often have a DOP- a Denominazione di Origine Protetta, which is a Protected Designation of Origin. Europeans take their cheese, sausages, hams, balsamic vinegar, oils and olives, and winemaking seriously! These designations are assigned to food products depending on where they were produced. If you were to make this same exact cheese, using the same exact ingredients and process, but say you lived in Sicily- you cannot use the name Piave. 

Piave is what is called a hard cooked curd cheese. I had never heard of this before- I am no cheesemaker, that's for sure. Cheeses made in this fashion are cheeses that have had the milk curds heated during production, no more than 132 degrees Fahrenheit, and no less than 118 degrees. Cheeses we know as hard cheese are made in this way- such as Parmesan, and the melting cheese Emmenthal and Gruyere, and others. 

The cheese is available in five different "ages"- Piave Fresco is a very young cheese, aged only 20 to 60 days. Piave Mezzano is aged 61 to 180 days. Piave Vecchio is a cheese that's been aged more than six months. You have to wait more than twelve months to taste Piave Vecchio Selezione Oro, and more than eighteen months for Piave Vecchio Reserva.

Sampling the cheese was heaven. It's very nutty and very firm, but not as dry as Parmesan. It seemed to be almost a cross between Parmesan and Swiss cheese, both in flavor and consistency. It has a strong aroma and creamy color. I shredded it to top our pasta for dinner- it shredded fairly easily when cold from the fridge but became a bit crumbly as it warmed up a bit. It wasn't overpoweringly salty and it wasn't as strong as Parmesan. This cheese would be amazing in salad or sprinkled over onion soup. I wish I had a big glass of Grenache to enjoy with this cheese- it would pair beautifully.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Trying a New Grain- Bulgur Wheat

It's Sunday Funday. Around here, that means The Chef is rocking on guitar and I'm experimenting in the kitchen. The best part is while I am slaving away in the kitchen I get all the free screaming guitar I want. Some people have just one passion in their life, some people have several. The Chef has two. Cooking, and music. His time is literally spent doing one thing or the other. Culinary wise, we are on the same page. Musically, however, we have some differences. He likes classic rock, I am a definite hard core thrash/speed/death metal lover. He plays Stranglehold and I'd like to strangle him. I play Love You to Death and he moans and groans. We do have some musicians and bands that we both love, and that's cool. It works for us. 

It's been a while since we have cooked with a "new" grain around here. Time to get back on the wagon, especially since that was one of my Foodie Resolutions for 2016 and we are about halfway through 2017! So far we have experimented with wheat berries, millet, and a few other grains. The Chef recently took all of my grain hoard out of the pantry and set it on the kitchen island, so we could make some meal plans and use some of these. There are a few more I've been hearing about but I'm strictly forbidden from buying anymore until we use these ones up. It's time for bulgur wheat to make it's appearance. What is it anyway? Bulgur wheat is a grain that has been parcooked and dried. It's a very common grain in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. If you've ever heard of, or tried, tabbouleh, then you know what we're talking about.

Bulgur is another grain that's very high in protein and fiber, with loads of health benefits. What's not to like about that? The recipe we are making today is a salad. I call it jeweled because the bright color of the pomegranate seeds or cranberries look like sparking rubies, and the bright green parsley and scallion tops remind me of emeralds. You can serve this as a side dish or it can easily be turned into an entree with a bit of leftover chicken to bump up the protein, some crumbled cheese or just as it is for a great vegetarian option.

Jeweled Bulgur Salad with Lime

2 cups bulgur wheat

1 can garbanzo beans
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries
small bunch parsley- chopped (about 1 cup)
2 limes, zest and juice
4 tb olive oil
1 tsp cumin
2 tb honey
2-3 scallions, sliced, including the green parts

To cook the bulgur, place the 2 cups wheat in a bowl. Add 4 cups boiling water. Cover and let sit for at least an hour. Drain off any excess liquid.

In large bowl combine garbanzo beans, pomegranate seeds or cranberries, lime zest, scallions and parsley. Toss with bulgur.

In a small bowl whisk together the lime juice from the two limes, the oil and the honey.

Serve at room temperature for best flavor. The cranberries (I used cranberries as pomegranates weren't available) add a lovely sweet taste and spark of acidic tartness and the parsley adds such an herbal flavor.

Speaking of parsley, have I ever mentioned how much I love parsley in salad? I grow loads of it in the summer. Love love love big handfuls tossed in a leafy green salad. The leaves are bright and peppery and I love their perky flavor. Italian flat leaf parsley is the best but I grow both because I love them both. Another great fresh herb that is wonderful in salads, including this one, is basil. That's another herb that comes in lots of varieties and colors and looks gorgeous and tastes delicious. Mint is another herb that is a bright addition to salads. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

It's Morel Mushroom Season

Mushroom haters, look away. Things are going to get really mushroomy in a very short time. It's springtime and in most of the country, springtime means rainy cool weather mixed with a few warm days combined with woodsy landscapes and lots of decaying leaves and wood and that makes the perfect climate for fungal things to start to grow. Things like moss, mold, and mushrooms! In Iowa, as in many other states, the big prize in the woods is the morel mushroom. People will spend entire days tromping through wet and squishy wooded areas, mesh bag in hand, eagle eyes focused, hoping to find that one in a million gem- the morel. Personally, I keep my eyes focused on the ground and scan the trees for my favorite spring mushroom- the pheasantback, which is also plentiful during morel season but it often overlooked. Anyway, the morel is the big draw here and if you're not a mushroom hunter, you better know someone who is and isn't stingy because these babies will cost you a mint in the grocery stores, upwards of $30 a pound depending on the season.

I have to admit, I no longer wander around the woods looking for mushrooms. Growing up as little girls my sister and I always went mushroom hunting with our dad, and in fact the last time I did go out was also with my dad. We found nothing, not even a tick, but ended up having a nice lunch in a small town café afterwards.

This year I had all but given up on the hope of having any tasty mushrooms to eat. Someone offered to sell me some, but they would have to be mailed and honestly, for $30 I wasn't sure what condition they'd be in by the time they arrived, so I declined. Then a miracle happened. One night, and we're talking everyday average weeknight, the kind of night you might do some laundry, or catch up on your DVRd shows or lawnwork, I got a text, from my daughter, and in that text was a picture. It was captioned "Is this a morel?" Incredibly, my daughter, who lives in the city even, was mowing her yard and doing her lawn thing and she found not one, but three nice morel mushrooms growing right  in her front yard. Of course, I exclaimed YES IT IS and then promptly asked "Can I have them?" I drove right over and claimed my prize.

It's pretty unusual to find a morel mushroom growing in a city yard. That's not really the ideal climate for these guys to grow, but on a shady slope in her front yard, apparently there is a pretty significant underground body to this mushroom because it sent up several of the fruiting bodies. Besides the three she found, we saw several stumps of stems where either a keen-eyed dogwalker had spotted a couple, or maybe a squirrel or raccoon found the tasty tidbits. Regardless, I still had two pretty big and one small morels to cook. I'm happy about that!

Most people, at least most people I know, egg, coat in cracker crumbs or flour and fry them. Like a vegetarian chicken nugget in a way, but to me this seems like a boring thing to do to such a delicacy that we have available for such a short time. I decided mine were not destined for the dredging plates but instead would meet some cousins, fellow forest dwellers porcini, wood ear and cute little white mushrooms and have a party atop a sizzling ribeye. Yes, that's definitely the way to go. My recipe is sized for dinner for two, so adjust accordingly if you're cooking for a larger group.

To get the most garlic flavor, use Sinful Food garlic olive oil. It makes a big difference in flavor! You can get your big clicking HERE.

Pan Seared Ribeyes with Wild Mushrooms

2 rib eye steaks
1/2 package (about 5 or 6) smallish mushrooms
3 morel mushrooms (fresh or dried)
4 or 5 dehydrated porcini mushrooms
3 or 4 dehydrated wood ear mushrooms
2 tablespoons chopped sun dried tomatoes
6 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
Sinful Food garlic olive oil
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
1/3 cup half and half
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in a teaspoon of water
chopped fresh parsley for serving

Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water until soft enough to cup up. Slice the button mushrooms and place in a medium bowl. Drain and pat the other mushrooms dry. If using fresh morels be sure to soak and clean them well and inspect for insects. Cut the mushrooms into half inch pieces.

In a heavy skillet (I recommend cast iron) melt about 3 tablespoons butter and add 3 tablespoons olive oil. When sizzling hot, add the mushrooms. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally to allow the mushrooms to brown and cook off any excess liquid. Add the garlic and the tomatoes and cook for a minute or two. Season with salt and pepper.

When mushrooms have browned, add the cognac OFF THE HEAT and the beef broth. Bring to a boil and allow to reduce slightly. Add the half and half and continue cooking until thickened, using the cornstarch slurry if needed. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.

Rinse out the skillet. Set back on the heat over medium high. Season the steaks well (I like to say season aggressively) with salt and pepper. Add a swirl of olive oil to the skillet and add the steaks, cooking to desired doneness, then remove to a plate to rest. To serve, slice each steak into strips and place on serving place, top with the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

This dish looks so impressive when plated with the morels peeking through the rich sauce. We like our steak medium rare and the perfect side for this was a simple green salad with Dijon vinaigrette and shaved Asiago cheese. Simple, delicious food.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Roasted Vegetable Frittata

They say opportunity will never come knocking at your door. I'm here to tell you- that is totally not the case. Sometimes, rare as it made be, that is exactly what happens. In my case, I was recently approached by the general manager of one of Des Moines' newest and trendiest restaurants and asked to help collaborate on a brunch menu for the new weekend brunch they were planning to add. Talk about thrilled! My brain immediately started kicking into overdrive. Ideas flooded my head, but I couldn't go with just any old brunch dish. This had to be really special, something I haven't seen in every other brunch spot in the city. I proposed a number of unique dishes, but this one was my favorite.

Many restaurants and chefs are embracing the "farm to table" ideal. Here in Des Moines that is also the case. In Iowa we have some of the most beautiful and varied produce you can find. We also have four seasons, so the availability of fresh fruits and vegetable is always changing. Farmers are going organic more and more often. There are a couple large well-known local farms that provide a good chunk of produce, especially salad greens, to some of the metro's best dining spots. Local chefs are developing relationships with local meat producers as well, which means the chef has an eye on their meat literally from birth to butcher- they can see how the animals are raised and fed, and if you think that doesn't make a difference, you need to have a side by side tasting and see for yourself. Iowa is home to several notable meat producers like Rustik Rooster Farms, owned by Carl Blake, who raises the amazing Swabian Hall hogs. Rustik Rooster has even been featured on Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods (I will spare you the details of what they were eating......). Beef and pork from the Niman Ranch make their appearances on many menus in the city.

And then........we have the market. Our farmers' market. Des Moines is home to one of the biggest and most visited and diverse farmers' markets in the country. It's even become a summer tourist destination- for real! What once was a line of stands along Court Avenue filled with your typical garden produce in downtown has grown into a huge market encompassing many blocks, several streets, sidewalk brunch in the many restaurants, live entertainment, ethnic food stands, produce of every kind imaginable, fresh flowers, baked goods, snacks, arts, crafts, jewelry, even farm fresh eggs and meats. It's crazy how much our market has grown over the years, and every year it just gets bigger and better. With the growing market, of course the variety of produce has grown and evolved. For me, this means a whole wide world of delicious things to play with.

Let's face it, I am a veggie nut. I'm definitely a meat eater, don't get me wrong, but I am perfectly happy with a few bites of steak and a whole plateful of something that grew in the soil. I'm sure I've told you that growing up my mom boiled the life out of every veggie my dad lovingly grew in their garden. Not so with me. I prefer to roast my veg. Roasting brings out the earthy flavors, creates crispy edges and caramelized goodness, retains texture and color and nutrients, and they're just so GOOD when they're roasted! Roasted veg get incorporated into a lot of dished at our house, even though they are just as amazing on their own. While we rarely have leftovers, they make great additions to salads and soups and pizzas and just about anything you can create.

Ewwwwwww !! Powdered cellulose! That's WOOD!
Today we're making a roasted veggie frittata, which, incidentally, was one of my suggested recipes for this restaurant's weekend brunch menu. It's just a fancy Italian word for a big fat omelet/quiche hybrid that you start in a skillet and bake in the oven. Mine is going to be loaded with roasted vegetables and not overloaded with cheese- just enough. Choose whatever cheese you like. I love so many cheeses it's nearly impossible to choose just one, and for this recipe I chose Jarlsberg and Asiago. Jarlsberg is one of my very favorites for cooking because it melts so perfectly and Asiago is so intense- it adds a lot of savory impact without a ton of cheese. If you can't find it, Parmesan is a great substitute. I highly recommend using FRESHLY SHREDDED Parmesan or Asiago in this dish, instead of the dry grated stuff in the plastic jar. You get a much better flavor and appearance using shredded, and for the very very best results, buy a hunk and shred it yourself right before using it. You will not regret the extra time or the extra little bit it costs to buy good cheese. The stuff in the bags and jars at the store- I know we all use it, even I do on occasion- is usually loaded with cornstarch and anti-caking agents and other fillers. It'll work, but it's not the best option. Also, I often lecture people on the butter vs. margarine debate. Please please please if you never listen to another word I say just please I beg you, use real butter. Butter melts into this lovely flavored liquid fat that's a real dairy product. It's real. Margarine melts into an amalgamation of horror that's mostly water. It will ALWAY affect the consistency of your finished dish and the fake butter flavor never is the same.

Sinful Food's amazing olive oils are key to adding flavor to this dish. In this dish, you can use the basil oil, garlic or Italian herb, whichever you like. You can buy yours HERE.

Roasted Vegetable Frittata

1 small bunch asparagus
1 small to medium zucchini*
1 or 2 bell peppers- choose red, orange or a purple variety
1 lb. baby potatoes- choose a colored variety
6 cloves garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped basil
salt and pepper
10 eggs
3/4 cup half and half
1 cup shredded Jarlsberg
1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese, plus more
1/4 cup butter
Sinful Food olive oil- garlic, basil or Italian herb 

* I used baby zucchini and cut them into bite sized chunks.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut the vegetables into one inch pieces. Chop the garlic. Toss together in a large bowl with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, one teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. I tossed the red pepper, asparagus and garlic in a separate bowl because they take less time to cook. Place on a large baking sheet lined with parchment, spread out into a single layer and roast for 15-25 minutes until just tender and some edges are beginning to brown, adding the reserved vegetables halfway through. You can also pop under the broiler for a quick minute to get some browning if needed. Set aside.

Beat together the eggs, half and half, herbs and cheeses.  

Heat a large heavy ovenproof skillet such as cast iron over high heat until hot. Add 1/4 cup of butter and melt, swirling to cover the bottom. Reduce the heat to medium low and add the vegetables to the skillet, spreading evenly. Pour the egg mixture over and cook for about 2 minutes without stirring. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until set. Sprinkle with additional Asiago cheese during the last 5 minutes of baking.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.

Talk about the perfect lunch, brunch or picnic dish- this is it! It's filled with good for you ingredients and lots of protein-rich eggs. You can make it ahead and warm it in the oven, covered tightly with foil, and it travels like a pro. The recipe is also super flexible so you can use up whatever bits and bobs of cooked veggies you have hanging out in the fridge, and you can add bacon, sausage, ham, seafood- whatever you like. Have extra taco meat? Use potatoes, bell peppers and onions and top with a little dollop of sour cream, guacamole or salsa. Go Italian with ham or sausage or ground beef, veggies and a little spoonful of marinara over each serving. Use your imagination and create the perfect brunch dish for you!

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, May 6, 2017

Dinner for Two- Eggs in Purgatory

Farmers Market season is just a mere five days away now and I can hardly wait! Des Moines is home to the number two  of The Best 101 Farmers Markets in the nation as ranked by The Daily Meal. That's pretty exciting! This year the market opens with 288 vendors, selling everything from produce, to crafts, to meat and eggs, to home baked goods and so much more. Hard to believe our amazing farmers market began with just fifteen vendors, so long ago in 1976. Seems a lifetime ago. Now it's a destination, a great spot for a date, a family outing, and with all the condos and lofts in downtown, a fantastic place to grocery shop!

Some of my farmers market goodies from seasons past
So, it's time for the 2017 farmers market. I've been reading up on what's new this year. Forty seven new vendors, that's what!! The market averages 97 farmers and produce growers. I love the fresh produce, not just the everyday stuff, but the unusual lettuces and greens, carrots in every color, all kinds of unusual mushrooms, just everything you can think of. Livestock farmers bring some of the most amazing meat products and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. Have you ever had a true farm fresh egg? Yes, the yolk is bright orange and not the dull yellow of commercially produced eggs, but the shells- the shells are not usually white! Most often you'll find brown eggs but many chickens produce "Easter eggs" in all shades of blue and green. They are beautiful and delicious. Ever try a duck egg or a quail egg? You can find them at the market.

Iowa is a rising star in the winery and brewery worlds and those businesses make their place at the market too. Iowa is a wonderful state for grape growing and we have some fantastic varieties. Brianna, Edelweiss, Marechal Foch and Frontenac are just a few. Need something to go with that wine? You can find artisinal cheesemakers at the market too. In fact, with some of the gourmet food producers, you can assemble a pretty darn good charcuterie plate from goodies you bought at the market. Grab a baguette from one of the many bakers that have stands, and take home a jar of jam or jelly too.

The changing seasons give you an ever rotating selection of fresh produce. Spring vegetables like asparagus, spinach and morel mushrooms are among the first to appear. The warm summer months bring bushels of green beans, onions, more salad vegetables, Iowa sweet corn, and the joy of the market- the Iowa summer tomato. I can taste them now. Summer gives way to the cooler days of autumn, and that means last season crops, greens, onions, potatoes, squash and pumpkins. Soooo many beautiful squash and pumpkins. You might even find a pumpkin pie or two.

Hungry now? You're in the right place, and you don't have to munch on your fresh produce. The market is packed with great food to eat as you stroll. Egg rolls, pupusas, Nepalese dumplings, breakfast burritos, pastries, gelato and breads, and if you are in a people watching mood, the Court Avenue District has a host of restaurants with sidewalk seating, so you can enjoy the gorgeous sunshine, sip a mimosa or Bloody Mary or an iced tea and watch the action. You will always find some live entertainment too. Musicians, street performers, dance troupes- there is always something fun going on.

I had a couple handfuls of sliced scallion and chopped
tomatoes in the fridge- tossed them in there too.
Before we get to our recipe, let's go back to the tomatoes. If you have ever had a garden, if you've ever tasted a juicy tomato fresh off the vine and still warm, if you've ever had to settle for a supermarket tomato in the middle of February, you know what I'm talking about. Summertime is also when we are the busiest, and least likely to want to come home and cook a big meal. As a kid we would even have dinners of sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and maybe some sweet corn. Believe me we weren't poor, but Dad was a gardener, and those home grown tomatoes....... mmmmmmm. Anyway, the farmers market is the perfect spot to grab the ingredients for this simple dinner. Basics- tomatoes, eggs, herbs. This classic Italian egg dish is so quick to get together whether you use fresh tomatoes or a can of crushed tomatoes. Grab a box of those beautiful Easter Eggs and some fresh herbs, a head of garlic, and a baguette. Now you're all set! The origin of the name "Eggs in Purgatory" is a little fuzzy. It's very similar to the African "shakshouka" and not all that removes from Huevos Rancheros if you think about it. Maybe it's the slightly spicy tomato sauce the eggs are simmered in, I don't really know, but I do know this- it's delicious, easy and good for you! Let's make some.

Eggs in Purgatory

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
big pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 eggs
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
crusty bread for serving

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of olive oil and add the garlic. Cook and stir until garlic is softened but not brown. Add the Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper, and cook for about a minute until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes to the skillet. Reduce heat and cover. Allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, cut 4 slices from the crusty bread. Brush each side with olive oil and toast on both sides. Place two toasts on each of two plates and set aside. Reserve remaining bread for serving.

I had dinner for one, so I spooned a small amount of the
sauce into my mini cast iron skillet for one egg.
With a spoon make 4 wells in the sauce. Break the eggs into a small bowl, one at a tie, then slip each egg into a well. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook to desired doneness. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Use a slotted spoon to place the eggs on the toast slices, sprinkle with additional cheese if desired. Drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with additional bread for sopping up the sauce.

My yolk was soft but not runny, and it was still delicious.
Since The Chef was not home for dinner, mine was actually dinner for one. I soooo love breakfast for dinner, and trying new ways to prepare eggs. Normally I am not a  runny egg yolk kind of person but I am really trying to embrace them, especially since May is National Egg Month and Iowa is one of the top producing egg states in the U.S. The slightly spicy Italian sauce and crusty bread helps. This easy meal is perfect for busy nights and needs nothing more than a little salad with a vinaigrette on the side to complete your feast.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tex Mex Chile Lime Rice Bowls

My nephew moved away this week. My fun foodie nephew Jeremy who you all have met in a few posts over the years, as a guest chef, and when we visited the World Food Festival. I'm both sad and a little envious at the same time. Sad, because Jeremy and I shared a special bond with our interest in food and cooking and the Transformers, and envious because his path of life has led him to The Lonestar State, Texas, the first state I moved to as a young adult. My first big move away from home. The biggest city I had ever lived in at the time. The state where I would teach myself to master crepes, pate choux, brining a turkey and won my first cooking competition.

Jeremy and I had a great chat the day before he left. I'm proud of all of my nephews but especially proud of Jeremy for taking control of his destiny and hitting the road for new adventures. How many of us toil away day after day and yet wish we had to chance to do the same thing? The company he works for offered a transfer to Texas and he embraced the opportunity. He shared regular updates from the road, where they were, and also what they were eating. The first day of travel got him all the way to Norman, Oklahoma where they stopped for some sleep and some kickass ramen. His first meal in the Lonestar State was, what else? Barbeque! The Goat (my secret nickname for Jeremy) had his first Texas barbeque from Dickey's Barbeque Pit in San Antonio and the picture looks like he had some pretty tasty grub.

The next day meant more miles to drive and more sights to see. He shared pics of the Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas skyline, which made me horribly homesick for Fort Worth. Jeremy is headed for San Antonio, where I have never been, so I'm super excited to see pictures of where he lives and where he hangs out. Texas is a fantastic place for a foodie to live. Austin is widely considered the Food Truck Capital of the World. Texas is also a huge beef producing state with cattle ranches dotting the landscape outside of the cities. Then you have Texas style barbeque which is HUGE, and Tex Mex everything. I'm a big fan of Tex Mex flavors and I think this regional cuisine has really evolved over the years.

REALLY better- and not salty either. My favorite brand.
Tex Mex is one of those delicious fusions of cuisines- southwestern American and Mexican. It's been around for well over a century and takes cues from Mexican, American and Spanish dishes to create a whole new world of flavors. Texas chili, street tacos, giant burritos and fajitas are just a few of the dishes included in Tex Mex cooking. Lots of cilantro is used and that's definitely an acquired taste for some people. Things can get pretty cheesy too, and sometimes a little too cheesy, so for our recipe today we are taking the focus away from the cheese and making some Iowa pork the star.

I started with a pork loin roast and cut it into cubes.
I'm taking my newest Tex Mex dish in line with another new trend- the rice bowl. Pinterest is loaded with rice bowl recipes and they are perfect for lunch bowls and meal prep days. I am braising tender chunks of pork loin with garlic and chili spices, combining with zesty lime and serving with rice and all kinds of tasty and healthy toppings that add lots of flavor and texture but not a lot of extra calories- avocado, chopped tomatoes, onion, whatever you like. I'm going to go with some pan-roasted corn kernels, avocado, chopped tomatoes and onion. I might add cheese.....but you really don't need it.

Chile Lime Pork Rice Bowls

1 boneless pork roast, about 2 lb.
6 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
2 cups chicken broth
1 lime
2 bunches scallions, sliced
1-2 tablespoons chili powder, to taste
cooked rice for serving
toppings: avocado, chopped red onion, chopped tomatoes, cheese, sour cream, salsa or pico

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Cut the pork roast into one inch cubes and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside for now.

Mince the garlic cloves. Zest the entire lime and juice. Slice the scallions. Set aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a heavy Dutch oven. Add the pork cubes in small batches and brown on all sides. Remove to a plate and continue until all pork is browned, adding more oil if needed. Remove last of the pork and set aside.

Add the garlic to the pot and cook, stirring for a minute or two until softened. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the chili powder and continue cooking one minute until fragrant. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring to boil, stirring to bring up the stuck on bits at the bottom. Return the pork and any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Stir in the lime juice, half the scallions and zest. I threw in the squeezed lime halves as well, and removed them after cooking. Cover and place in the oven. Braise for 2 hours until very tender. You can also cook this on the stovetop at very low simmer.

Prepare the rice and other toppings while the pork is braising. Slice avocados, coarsely chop cilantro, chop red onions and tomatoes. Shred some good cheddar or Mexican cheese. 

Remove the pork from the oven. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry (1 Tb cornstarch and 1 Tb water).

Serve the meat over rice in bowls with the toppings of your choice.

We had our pork with brown rice, pan-roasted Iowa sweet corn that I had frozen in the summer, avocado, tomato, sliced scallions and just a little bit of shredded cheese. You can customize your rice bowl with the toppings you like. The pork was so tender and flavorful. Even The Chef raved about it and threatened to steal the recipe! 

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