Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pasta Fasul

3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 a cup red wine
1 (14.5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups cooked cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 package Fusilli pasta.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
10 basil leaves chiffonade
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large sauce pot
Saute, onion, carrot, and garlic for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Deglaze with red wine.
Add tomatoes, cannellini beans and simmer slowly for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check seasoning for salt and pepper and make adjustments as needed.

Cook pasta and finish with butter, add parsley and incorporate.

Check sauce for seasoning, make adjustments if needed.

To finish place hot pasta on plate, cover with sauce, garnish with basil and parmesan cheese.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Chicken Paprikash with Herbed Spaetzle

I've made these recipes separately, but after some brainstorming for tomorrow nights dinner, I decided they'd be great together.  I hope everyone enjoys this recipe as much as I will.

1 red onion chopped fine
1 T butter
2 T mild hungarian paprika
1 t cider vinegar
2 frying chickens cut into pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 T Flour
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup sour cream

Cook onion ten minutes in butter
Stir in paprika and cook until red in color
Add cider vinegar
Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to pan.
Cook chicken slowly for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour.
Add chicken stock
Cover and cook slowly for 20 to 30 minutes until chicken is tender, adding more stock or (god forbid) water to make sure chicken doesn't stick.
Remove chicken from pan.
Add sour cream and incorporate.
Strain sauce through strainer or china cap.
Add chicken and coat with sauce. 
Check seasoning and add salt or pepper to taste.

For Spaetzle

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme.

Bring a 4 to 6 quart  pot of salted water to a simmer. Fill a large bowl with iced water to stop cooking.

Whisk together flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Whisk together milk, eggs, and sour cream in another bowl, then whisk into flour until batter is smooth.

Working over barely simmering water, force half of batter through a colander.

As spaetzle float to surface, transfer to bowl of cold water with a mesh skimmer or sieve, then into a large sieve to drain. Repeat with remaining batter. Toss drained spaetzle with oil.

Cut 1 stick butter into pieces, then heat in a deep 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides and add spaetzle. (Skillet will be full.) Saute, stirring occasionally, until golden on the edges. Cut remaining 1/2 stick butter into pieces and add to spaetzle along with parsley, chives, thyme. Gently stir to coat. Adjust seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

This is dinner tomorrow night, so pictures will be posted for your viewing pleasure. :)

Food like it is supposed to taste... Simplicity.

Sometimes when I run across descriptions of food, lately on foodbuzz.com, I have to wonder how someone managed all of the flavors that ran across their "palate" while tasting their "favorite meal of the month".  It's always great to try new and great things, but a list of 5 or 6 distinct flavors on one plate may be beyond my simple thought processes when it comes to tasting food.  I may be missing something, but isn't food supposed to taste like what you started with?  In essence, that is our jobs as cooks, in my opinion.  I'm a strong believer that simplicity is missing in a lot of "foodies" minds.  I don't believe that if you cover the flavors of a food you are working with, that you've done any justice to the food at all.  Shouldn't the texture and taste of the primary ingredient that you are working with still remain after you are done seasoning?  The flavors should be enhanced, not overworked into a new product that doesn't resemble the food you started with.  And shouldn't the accompaniments to the food complement the main ingredient?  I can see contrast, but in a pleasant way.  I guess I am simple, but I'd rather serve someone a plate of complimenting flavors, perfectly cooked, than have to jump through hoops deciding which intricate flavor combination I liked most. 

I guess in afterthought that my palate might be to simple to even understand.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cheese Enchiladas

This is one of our family favorites.  It's pretty easy to make, and with the help of a few prepared items from the grocery store, it's quick too.

12 corn tortillas 
4 cups of shredded cheese.  The Mexican variety in the store is perfect.  About a bag will do.
1 can of purchased enchilada sauce poured into a pie tin or shallow bowl.
Black olives
A few cups of vegetable oil.

Start by lightly frying the tortillas... just till they start to puff, then flipped to the other side to finish that side.

After lightly frying, add them directly into the sauce in the bowl

Continue to fry and dredge the tortillas until all are finished

After dredging the tortillas use to prepared cheese to fill tortillas.  A pinch or so will do.  I added olives this time, but diced, sauteed onions are tasty too.

Roll them with the cheese and, in this case black olives, and place them in a greased baking pan that has been covered with a thin layer of enchilada sauce.

After pan is full, add a couple handfuls of cheese on top of completed pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F.  for 30 minutes.  Let stand 5 minutes to let cheese set up, and serve with sour cream, salsa verde, or anything else that you think might go well with this.

Grilled Pork T-Bone with Pomegranate Glaze

For glaze-

3 Cups Pomegranate Juice
1 Cup sugar

Combine sugar and juice and reduce until about 1 cup remains, or until thick and syrupy.

4 Pork T-Bones
Season both sides with salt and pepper

 Grill over a fire or hot coals, about 4 inches from heat, brushing it with the glaze every 1 – 1 1/2 minutes.  Total cooking time will be 8 – 10 minutes, turning half way through, until the meat is thoroughly cooked, with no trace of rawness in the center. 

Alternately, the steaks may be broiled, about 4 inches from heat, turning them and brushing with the glaze as directed.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade

I almost always have good olives and sun-dried tomatoes in my house.  This is simple to put together and is always a hit at parties.

2 Cups Calamata olives
1 Cup Sun-dried  tomatoes oil packed
1 T capers
1/2 t red pepper flake
1 clove garlic 
1 hand full of italian parsley leaves
2 T olive oil

Chop all ingredients in a food processor adding olive oil slowly.  You want a fine mixture, not a puree.  Spoon onto toasted baguette or use as a rub for chicken or fish, like red snapper, or sea bass. 

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sea Bass Ceviche

This a continuation of my "Wishing it were summer!" marathon for a winter day.

1 pound sea bass, diced into 1/4" pieces
3/4 Cup of freshly squeezed lime juice

2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
1/4 onion, chopped fine
2 serrano chile peppers, seeded and diced
1/4 t of ground oregano
1 T olive oil
1 cup clam juice
salt to taste
white pepper to taste

Toss sea bass and lime juice together, and marinate 12 hours, refrigerated.

Combine in another bowl remaining ingredients, and mix together.  Add sea bass, and toss lightly with the remaining ingredients.  Serve garnished with a lime.

Mediterranean Marinated Cucumber Salad

I always get the holiday letdown the day after Christmas.   I desperately try and find things that remind me of summer.  This salad will do that.  

2 Cucumbers pealed and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes seeded and diced
1/2 a red onion julienne 
2 large avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed
4 oz of feta cheese, crumbled
16 Calamata olives, pitted
8 fresh basil leaves chiffonade
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, let stand for two hours, adjust seasoning, and serve, or refrigerate.

Oysters "Casino"

This recipe is a twist on the typical clams casino.  Of course the main ingredient is different, oysters swapped for the clams, and the topping has a few different flavors as well.  Call it a southwestern version...

16 large or 20 medium sized oysters, scrubbed
4 T unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced (1 teaspoon or so)
1 large shallot finely diced (2 tablespoons or so)
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 a cup finely diced roasted poblano or anaheim chile pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely ground dried corn bread. (coarse crumbs)
4 slices thin sliced bacon
At least two cups rock salt
lime wedges
rough chopped cilantro.

Carefully shuck each oyster making sure to cut the muscle under the oyster, and leave then inside, on the half shell. Pour the oyster juices into a cup and reserve.  As you shuck the oysters set them on a baking sheet lined with the rock salt to keep them level.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and saute the garlic and shallots until they are soft.  Stir in the cinnamon, then the oyster juices, roasted poblanos and black pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.  While the mixture is still warm, fold in the corn bread crumbs.

When the mixture has cooled a bit, use a tea spoon to distribute it evenly among the oysters cut the bacon into 4 or 5 pieces each, depending on whether you have 16 or 20 oysters, and put a piece of bacon on top of each oyster.  Refrigerate until you are ready to bake them.

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven a preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line four serving plates with rock salt.

Place the sheet of oysters in the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes until the back is crisp, and the oysters a bubbling.  Place 4 or 5 oysters on each plate and sprinkle a little chopped cilantro on each one and serve with lime wedges.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Roasted Ham in the style of my Grandmother, and her Grandmother too. :)

This is my families century old recipe for roasted ham.  My Grandmother taught my Mom, now I carry on the tradition.  Not because it's a tradition, it's an awesome ham preparation.

1 whole or half ham.  Bone in of course... 
About 20 cloves or so, depending on ham.
Ground mustard.  Enough to pack it on the entire ham.
Dark brown sugar. Enough to pack it on the entire ham.
4 cans of Pineapple - Orange Juice or just one or the other.
1 cup cream sherry

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees F.

With a knife score the entire fat cap on the ham, crossing diagonally.
At each intersecting diamond stud the ham with a single clove.
Pack ground mustard onto entire ham.
Pack brown sugar onto entire ham.
Pour juice and sherry onto ham.

Roast ham until internal temperature is 140-150 degrees F. Basting with cooking liquid every half hour, until done.

This is the easiest way I've ever roasted a ham, and it's really, really, great ham.

Merry Christmas!!!

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christmas is special.  It's the time of year where diets go out the window, and most of us choose to expand our taste buds. Whether it's trying a new cookie recipe, eating out at a new restaurant, or just enjoying what we have always enjoyed around Christmas.  This year I'm choosing the later.

This past year has been tough on our family.  We are fortunate to have escaped, to this point, any real huge loss of income, but this year has been a roller coaster of another manner.  My Mom has been very sick since April of this year.  She's been given death sentences from her chronic illnesses twice.  She has been in hospice twice, and made it out twice.  We don't know if there is another dip in the track around the next curve.  So we've decided to do culinarily what we've done in the past that have been our favorites.  Here's the menu, it's a classic for us.

Roasted Ham prepared with cloves, dried mustard, dark brown sugar, pineapple and orange juices, and spiked with sherry.  It's my Grandmother's recipe, and we haven't changed it.  It's wonderful.  We baste it every half hour with the pan juices, and when it reaches 140 I pull it from the oven and let it carry over while it's resting.

Cheese Souffle made classically.  Sauce B├ęchamel mixed with several cheeses then mixed with some of the stiff peaks of egg whites, then the remainder folded in, and then baked until it's light and airy.  It's my favorite part of the holidays.  My Mom has fixed it for years.  I'm doing it this year.  My first cheese souffle... I'm excited.

Steamed Broccoli with caramelized onions.  There isn't anything special about this dish.  We usually use brussel sprouts, but I love them, so we've eaten them once a week since Thanksgiving.   Broccoli is a fan favorite around here so we'll go with that.  The caramelized onions just add a richness to the broccoli that really completes the trip across your palate.

Mincemeat and Pumpkin pies will be the dessert tomorrow night.  I've purchased the mincemeat from the meat department of a local grocery store.  I don't think I could make it better... I could, but I'd need some venison and I don't have any hanging around this year.  The pumpkin is coming straight out of a can.  I've never tried to procure the flesh of a sweet pumpkin, but this year is not the year for that either.  We'll use my Grandmother's recipe for that too.

Tonight I made chocolate bark with dried fruit, inspired by this recipe.  I did a few things differently, namely the nuts and dried fruit that I swapped with  varieties that I had on hand here in the house.  It's setting up.  It should be great tomorrow.  I made more Chewy Noels, and I might make another candy or cookie.  There are these apricot pastries that my Dad used to make...  I'll see how industrious I feel in the morning.

Tomorrow I'll be sure to take pictures as I'm going along and post them here.  I'm really looking forward to that souffle.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cedar Plank Salmon with Red Onion Confit

I love cedar plank cooking. I love the flavor that it imparts on the salmon. Not quite smokey… Just a light flavor. You can find the planks in a BBQ store or sometimes in your own mega mart. This also works well with alder planks as well.

6 oz filets of salmon
Sea Salt and Freshly cracked pepper.
Clarified butter
Cedar plank

Heat oven to 350 degrees
Brush cedar planks with clarified butter.
Preheat plank for 15 minutes.

Brush salmon with clarified butter, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. After plank is heated add salmon directly onto plank. Cook to desired doneness.

Red Onion Confit

1 red onion sliced very thinly
clarified butter, enough to saute red onion
3 oz red wine vinegar
1t sugar
salt and pepper
1 T whole butter

Saute red onion in sauce pan with clarified butter until translucent. Add vinegar, sugar and reduce heat to low and cover, sweat onions until they are well cooked and really soft. Remove lid from pan and raise temperature to med and reduce liquid in pan until there are just a tablespoon or so left. Remove from heat. Finish with whole butter. Check seasoning.

Prepare red onion confit before adding salmon filets to plank and keep warm.

I like to serve this with bulgar wheat and steamed brussels sprouts.

Fire Roasted Corn and Avocado Salsa

This may not be seasonable for those of us on this side of the equator, but I was watching the snow and remembered this salsa from a warm day in the summer.  This goes well with anything from pork loin to chicken and especially fish.  It's great with red snapper.

4 Ears of fresh sweet corn
3 avocados cubed
1 T rough chopped cilantro
1/2 a red onion fine dice
Juice of 1 lime
1 serrano chile finely chopped. Seeds and veins remove
1 T olive oil
Sea salt to taste

Pull back , but do not remove the husks from the ears of corn.   Remove the silt, and apply olive oil, then sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to the ears of corn.  Roast the 4 ears of corn over a low fire on a grill, charcoal or wood fired preferably,  or in a hot oven.  Let the husks brown, while letting the corn inside roast inside the husks.  About a half our. Turn every 15 minutes or so. Cool and then cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife.

Combine all ingredients except avocado and olive oil, and mix well. 
Carefully fold avocado and olive oil into mixture, trying to retain shape of the avocado cubes.

Check seasoning, and adjust as needed.

Let this come to room temperature before service.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Great Fudge Recipe

This is a simple fudge recipe that has been in our family for decades.  I hope you enjoy it

2 Cups sugar
10 marshmallows
1 small can evaporated milk

Put on med heat and bring to boil, lower heat to a simmer and  cook for 5 minutes
Remove from heat and put into a bowl.

1 package chocolate chips 6oz.
1/4 pound butter
1 T vanilla
1/2 t of salt
1 Cup chopped nuts (walnuts are my favorite.)

Mix above ingredients with heated ingredients and pour into greased bowl.
Let set up.

Grilled Salmon with Caramelized Sweet Onion Risotto , Citrus Beurre Blanc

A few years ago I helped open a kitchen at a church.  It was one of the super duper mega churches. This is one of the dishes we served during my time there.  This was for a church board meeting.
Grilled Salmon, Caramelized Sweet Onion Risotto, with a Citrus Beurre Blanc.  It was fun time cooking there, and since it was such and unusual place to serve really good food, it made it tough sometimes.  All in all I had a great time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter Flavors

When winter comes around, what flavors of the season do you start to crave?

I love to play with the hard squashes, legumes, citrus, especially kumquats and blood oranges, and definitely grapefruit, lettuces, ham, hard cured sausages, occasionally a rabbit or two, monkfish, of course with bacon, leeks, dried fruits, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, sweet potatoes, anything that is braised, collard and mustard greens…  The list could be endless. My list could be more inclusive.  I grew up in Southern California.  As long as it wasn't an unusually wet winter, the first strawberries are picked in February and are spectacular after the long winter that is the end of December to the middle of February...  If you can call what coastal and inland SoCal has weather wise, actually winter.  

What's on your list as winter foods?  

What to do with all of that ham that you've got left over...

Ham is a staple on a lot of peoples Christmas tables.  This recipe will break the habit of just making sandwiches out of it.  I worked for a private club, and I made a version of this recipe after Easter one year.  The guys who ate from our buffet loved it, and it became an everyday addition to the buffet.  This recipe should be used as a guideline.  Add more or less of any ingredient to your liking.  The older chefs I knew called this "cooking by rule of thumb". 

Ham Salad

1 pound of ham cubed to fit in a food processor 
2 hard boiled eggs
1 T sweet pickle relish
1 T whole grain mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise (or to the consistency you like)
1 T chopped chives

In a food processor chop the ham and eggs.  Chop finely by pulsing. Do not puree the ham and eggs.  Remove from processor bowl.

In the new bowl add the remaining ingredients and mix.  It might need more or less of the mayo.  Use your own judgment.

Chill and use in sandwiches or simply atop some lettuce.  

Friday, December 19, 2008

Easy Duck Breast Salad

This recipe is a favorite of mine.  It's easy and cooks quickly.

For duck breast. Serves 2.

2 frenched duck breasts
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

For vinaigrette.

1/2 cup of champagne vinegar (white vinegar can be used as a substitute)
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/2 cups walnut oil. (canola oil will work as well) 
1 t sugar
sea salt to taste

puree dried cherries with vinegar and sugar. Slowly drizzle oil into blender, until completely emulsified. Season with sea salt to taste.

Carefully score fat on top of duck breast. Do not score completely through the fat into the meat. Season both sides of breast with salt and pepper. Sear in hot pan, searing fat side first. Cook to desired temperature. I prefer mine rare, at 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on thickness of breast.

I like to serve this with a salad of seasonal greens. The organic mesclun mix from the local supermarket will do just fine. Drizzle with vinaigrette and serve.

Mignonette sauce... It's oyster time!

After I dig out of the snow and ice that have fallen here in West Des Moines tonight, I plan on getting oysters tomorrow.  I'll be heading to Waterfront Seafood.  I believe they are the best fish mongers in the city.  I could also head to Gateway Market, but I've never purchased oysters from them.  I think I'll find a wider variety at Waterfront.  I like to eat them with mignonette sauce, or simply with tabasco and lemon.  Horseradish is one of my favorites too.  I'll find some horseradish while I'm out...

Here's my recipe. This will make a little over 1 cup of sauce. Enough for more than a few oysters.

Mignonette Sauce 

1/2 cup champagne 
1/2 cup champagne vinegar
2 finely chopped shallots
1 T of minced celery leaves
1 1/2 t sea salt
4 t of freshly cracked black pepper

Mix all ingredients well.  Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Taki Japanese Steak House
2601 86th St
Urbandale, IA 50322

I have been hearing about how great Taki is for a few years and needed to visit. As I pulled up I was looking to be impressed. There were great looking people in the parking lot, and as I walked in I realized this was a place where the “pretty” people come. This night I didn’t try the sushi, instead going with the popular teppan room. I was assured by my date that it was something really special. I must admit that I have been to at least 20 of these places, and had seen some of the best in Los Angeles, and other locations on the Pacific Rim. I’m not a fan. Usually the trick cookery is the same where ever I go, and while it is interesting and a show, it gets old. Lots of banging knives, spatulas, shakers, and forks against the griddle. Tossing things around behind their backs, and of course the ever famous toss of an egg into their hats… Oh and yes the favorite, lots of fire from a bottle of 151. No surprises here. The show was fun, but lets talk about the food.

I ordered the Filet and Scallops. Before this we were presented with bowls of stir fried rice that were really marginal. The rice was overcooked and mushy, and the predominate taste was that of soy sauce. We had been given sauces. One was a fish sauce, the other a sauce for the meat. Let me say that I’ll blow the not so hidden cover off of the fish sauce… It was mayo and ketchup. Maybe one or two ingredients were in there, but to my trained taste buds, it was just mayo and ketchup. If there is more in there than that someone didn’t taste it. As a professional chef you must taste what you serve. If it wasn’t suppose to taste like that someone made a mistake. Well back to the rice. The cook at our table suggested the fish sauce go on the rice. It was pretty terrible together. The rice sucked, and to add essentially what was mayo and ketchup to it didn’t help at all. Not a good first course. The meat sauce tasted like citrus and soy sauce with some ginger. It was okay. Nothing special at all.

This is where the review gets better. The cook then started with the preparation of the filet. He cut it into cubes and seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper and essentially fried it on the griddle. The scallops were cut in half and cooked with a little bit of a teriyaki glaze. They were good, but the steak was fabulous. They had cooked it perfectly to my order of medium rare, and it was seasoned just right. The only problem I saw was a logistical one. My steak was cold when I ate it. My date had ordered medium well, and they had started the steaks at the same time. I am a gentleman. I waited for my date to eat my meal. This could have been handled with a simple change in the cooking procedure. Fire the medium-rare steak after the medium well one. When the medium well was farther along in the cooking process add the medium rare to the griddle. I have seen this done all the way through my career, and at the price of the meal it should be happening already. So I waited and ate my steak cold. It was still medium rare… but cold none the less. It was however a tasty steak even cold. It was so tender you could cut it with a fork. Nice job. Not fantastic, but simply okay. I’ll expect better next time I’m in, and you’ll all know about it.

Overall I have this to say about Taki Steakhouse… It’s a good place for a show. The girls are pretty, the bartender makes strong drinks, and the steak would have been great… If it wasn’t cold.

We heard the pizza was good... It wasn't.

Tavern II
1755 50th Street
West Des Moines, IA 50266

I usually can find the silver lining in a restaurant. I’m having a hard time with this one. Okay… I found one. The server knew why the tomato sauce on the pasta was as hot as tabasco. The cook that day always made the sauce with more heat than the other cooks. It WAS tabasco!

Other than the above, for which I had to dig deep to find a positive, the experience was awful. Lets start with the obligatory salad. The lettuce was wet, so the blue cheese salad dressing, which was passable by itself, was diluted. Washing and spinning salad should be easy enough you’d think. Apparently not at this place. My table mates aren’t foodies. In fact they are easy to please. The above mentioned tomato sauce was served to my Aunt who had just made it in town after a flight from Washington D.C. I tasted it. It was HOT. Don’t think this was a simple pomodoro, this was flavored with Tabasco, lots of it. The waitress informed us that if we came back another day that it would be different. The cook that was there that day always made it hotter than the others. So much for standardized recipes… I ordered a small pizza. Sausage with mushrooms and olives. Thank heavens that I didn’t order a cheese pizza or there wouldn’t have been any flavor at all. The crust, for which I had heard was the best in town, was tasteless and limp. Salt anyone? Not a speck of it was in that dough. The toppings were poor as well. The canned mushrooms and tasteless olives were just texture to the somewhat salty italian sausage. Des Moines is home to a great sausage maker, Graziano’s. Why they didn’t use their great sausage, I don’t know. They should.
This meal was truly forgettable.

On a follow up visit for lunch I tried The Italian Grinder. It was passable. They claim they made their own special sausage. They shouldn’t have. It was slathered in tomato sauce, this time the sauce didn’t taste of Tabasco, but it was completely predictable. By predictable I mean it wasn’t special. At almost 8 bucks I expected something special. Again a dissapointment.

The service both times was passable. Really nice people, serving really lackluster food.

The Tavern II is an offshoot of The Original Tavern in the Valley Junction area of West Des Moines. They have been in business since 1950. I haven’t been there. I don’t know if I will. If it is anything like The Tavern II it will be a waste of my hard earned cash. I had heard great things about this establishment, and I’m sorry that I can’t give them a better rating. I want to like this place. It’s a West Des Moines favorite, and I went in expecting a whole lot more. I guess that’s why I’ve never seen the neon “NO WAITING” sign out on 50th St. unlit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Favorite food sites...

I thought I'd list a few food sites from my wanderings around the internet.

First of all I'd like to say that through the ACF-IA forum I was introduced to foodbuzz.com.  What a great website.  I think there is something for everyone on this site.  I've already contributed a few recipes that I've found on various sites, and a couple family recipes that are favorites.  I've reviewed restaurants...  It's fun.

ruhlman.com is a great blog.  While I don't really agree with everything this guy has to say, he's written a few great books.  Soul of a Chef is my favorite, and you can buy a signed copy of any of his cookbooks on the site.  He also colaborated with Thomas Keller on The French Laundry Cookbook.   I believe that is for sale on the site as well.  His book Charcuterie is great.  I think it's one of the cookbooks that cooks should own.  

French Laundry At Home is a great blog.  This bog chronicles the bloggers attempt to create everything in the French Laundry Cookbook, at home The author has moved on the another great chef's restaurant with Alinea At Home, from the link at the French Laundry At Home blog.  The chef of Alinea, Greg Achatz is a wonderful chef who has been associated with a group of chefs practicing "molecular gastronomy".  I have a take on that definition that would take more time than this one post could take.  Read the wiki at the link and see for yourself

Cityview's Food Dude provides a look at the Des Moines restaurant scene. While it won't be helpful for most outside of the area, it can be a look at a town that will someday be a great Midwestern food city.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Chewy Noels

This recipe that has been a family tradition for years.  We make several batches throughout the holiday season.  You know it's Christmas when someone bakes the Chewy Noels.

2 eggs slightly beaten

1 T vanilla extract

1 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 T AP flour
1/8 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

2 T salted butter... Do not use margarine.

Confectioners sugar to dust top of bars.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Add vanilla extract to eggs.

Mix dry ingredients well.

Combine dry mixture to egg mixture.

Line the bottom of a 9" square pan with parchment or wax paper.
Melt butter and coat bottom of lined pan completely with melted butter.

Add combined mixture to pan, trying to not mix in the melted butter.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.

When done, immediately turn pan out onto wire rack, remove parchment paper from bottom and dust with confectioners sugar. 

Let cool, then cut into bars.

EAT! Make more...


 My father was from upstate NY.  The Mohawk Valley area near the Erie Canal to be exact.  It's one of my favorite places in the country. Rolling hills with dairy farms and small, dying towns that once were homes to the factory workers who did everything from sewing dresses and making slippers, to making chewing gum for Bubble Yum.  Those factories are long gone, and the town my Dad grew up in is emptying out.  There isn't even a gas station or a corner store. I think houses are selling for about 9 grand.  I digress...  

My Grandmother worked long days in the factory, so it was my Dad's job to cook dinner for the family of 6.  Part of that responsibility was to take care of their rather large vegetable garden, that included raspberries, blackberries, and concord grapes, a long with mustard greens, tomatoes, green beans... Well just about anything you would want.  As a result my Dad learned a lot about gardening, good food, and how to stretch what they had into meals year round. He became a great cook, and even better with the land he worked at the community gardens that he helped establish in our area of the concrete pad that is Los Angeles County. 

It seemed everything we did revolved around going to the garden.  It was a nightly excursion.  He'd come home from his day job as a banker, have a scotch on the rocks and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.  He'd then make his way to my parents room and he'd change into his gardening clothes.  We'd drive in his pick-up to the garden and spend the evening there.  I'd help harvest the constant abundance that is a vegetable garden in a Mediterranean climate.  I learned how to treat and amend the soil with natural products like manure and compost.  Mites messing with the tomatoes... Sulfur powder.  Simple stuff that most kids growing up in suburbia wouldn't have learned.  I learned when vegetables were ripe and ready to be picked.  I hadn't eaten a frozen or canned vegetable until I went to grade school, and they tried to feed me canned beans...   Uh...  There was something wrong with those things...  Salty... Mushy... NASTY!  I learned to love food.  When it was in season, and at it's best.  I respected it.  It took work to get that stuff to our plates... Even if the greens still had a bit of grit in them.  

When I moved out of the house in '92 and moved to Des Moines I didn't have a garden.  I was 19 and working at a hotel in downtown Des Moines.  I didn't have a garden and couldn't find vegetables that tasted the same.  I found the farmers markets in the area, but honestly life in a kitchen didn't afford the time to even cook at home.  I worked in the banquet department and grabbed food when we had time.  It seemed as if there was never time to cook for myself.  

A few years later I married my high school sweetheart, and later that same summer my Dad died of bladder cancer. No garden.  The cancer and chemo had taken his taste buds and wrecked them.  In the end he couldn't enjoy the thing that made him happiest.  His garden, and food in general.

 She was a canned bean person, thought Mexicans actually fed themselves with food like they had at Taco Bell, and that all tomatoes tasted like wax.  We didn't share a love for food.  That was really hard.  McDonalds became more than a place I worked for insurance money so I could drive as a teenager.  It started to appear in my home.  I was never there, and when I was I didn't want to eat a greasy mess.  I worked a lot of hours at a couple different jobs and we slowly lost interest in each other.  She didn't want to hear my stories from the Line, and I didn't want to hear or have time to hear her long stories about the terrible customer she had on the phone. We didn't like the same things anymore, and my passion was something she didn't even care to know about.  I guess that's common with cooks.  

In 1999 my Mom's health failed.  I was newly divorced and moved back home to California to care for her.  She had a really short life expectancy and I agreed to be her caregiver.  It was never suppose to last as long as it has.  Maybe a couple years... It will be 10 in July.  Honorable? yes.  Good for a career? Not at all.  After a brief stay in Arizona, we moved back here to Iowa.  Life was cheaper here, and I really liked it.  Iowa wasn't just a place to say that you had visited or lived, it was a great place to call home.  Winter isn't really fun, but you get used to that too.

My Mom is still alive... Doing well actually.  She has enjoyed the food that I've been able to bring into our home.  The passion for food and cooking hasn't gone away.  It just had a smaller audience.  I've catered a few parties for fun since I worked in the industry.  It's easy to blow people's minds if they don't know what to expect.  With changes in how my Mom is going to get her care in the home, I'm able to get back to school and play with food again.  I've done a lot of reading over the past 10 years.  I was really surprised when Andrew Dornenberg included a letter that I had written him years ago about how his book had changed my life, in the preface of his revision of Becoming a Chef.  It talked of passion and education...  That was in '95.  Passion lives!!!  And the education is there for me to take if I work for it.  How could I not?

First of all...

I love to write...  It is however hard to do for me.  So the conundrum...  

I'll be posting my views of my world as they come to me.   I'm going to be using this blog as a review of my culinary education, as well as a place for me to just have a lot of fun.  People new to my world hopefully find me likable at least.  There is a lot more food coming your direction.