Saturday, October 10, 2015

I Must Be a Farmer- I Grew My Own Fenugreek!

The world can be a very small place at times. Thanks to the Internet and social media it's growing ever smaller by the day. I am making friends in far away lands and enjoying those connections through food, through music, through family, all the commonalities that make in-person friendships so wonder also help shape our online friendships. In my journey as a blogger and Facebook page owner, I met a young lady who lives in Holland. She has a very diverse background, being of Trinidadian descent, born in England, moved about Europe and settled in Holland with her husband and daughter, where Sue cooks amazing Indian recipes using the freshest ingredients, all homemade, and demonstrates a skill far too many cooks these days don't know how to deliver- portion control.

On Sue's Facebook Page Sue, You and Cooking Too she shares photos of everything she prepares for her family. The first thing I noticed when I first met Sue, besides in creative use of spices and the Euro names for foods we call something totally different in the U.S., was the heavy handed use of fresh vegetables on her plate. Her portion size is perfect- no monster piles of meat and starches, and the vegetables are often the stars of the plate. Lots of stir fried and fresh steamed veg. Careful use of lean proteins such as fish and other lean meats. Of course, those spices. Sue is a flavor master when it comes to spices. She inspires me to get out of my comfort zone and try all things Indian.

The fenugreek plants were sturdy and bright and the
blooms were fragrant and pretty.
Since I have this desire to try these new flavors, and spices I have been accumulating them over the last several months. Fenugreek is one such spice that Sue and I were talking about one day. I have a packet of the seeds but Sue says the leaves of the plant are also commonly used in Indian cooking. a gardener that just seemed like a challenge and a great idea. I have always loved growing "weird" things just to see how they turn out. Last summer it was a pot full of lentil plants- which resulted in a small palmful of lentils. Kind of fun actually. I separated out about 6 or 7 fenugreek seeds and planted them in a pot on the deck. Lo and behold they sprouted- very quickly I might add, making their appearance on the third day after planting. The plants grew quickly but weren't especially huge- maybe because they were grown in containers, I'm not really sure as I have no idea what they are like ground in the ground (maybe at the new house?). Anyway, the leave were bright green and solid. Sue told me I should make curry and chop up and include the leaves from the fenugreek plants in my dish. I did a little research and found lots of recipes using the leaves. Sue said they stink, but I didn't find them stinky at all- I found them to smell green and herbaceous. With all this information I was armed with fresh fenugreek leaves and ready to get cooking.

My schedule being as it was I never was able to utilize the leaves in any cooking so when I saw seed pods forming I knew it would be best to let the pods go and until they were fully formed and dry. The leaves browned and dried up and fell off the plants, as most plants often do.

The pots looked like just a bunch of dead sticks but those sticks held on to the seed pods, which hadn't fully dried yet.

After a week or so on the plant, the pods were finally dried. Splitting them open was interesting- they opened easily and revealed a line of squarish brown fenugreek seeds, packed in there like sardines. They popped out easily and are ready to go into whatever dish I plan to use them in, or to replant, for an ever-bearing harvest of fenugreek.

What happened was not only did I replace the few seeds I began with, I have an additional couple tablespoons worth of seeds to add to my jar. I can see this being a regular part of my herb gardening from now on, even if just for the seeds. Since I have these beautiful little seeds, it's time to get busy making something with them. I'm going to rely on Sue for some guidance in this department and get a recipe recommendation from her. I know it's going to be outrageously delicious.

Sue's West Indian Masala Blend
Photo is property of Sue, You and Cooking Too.
Sue's West Indian Masala

 2 tablespoons coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Combine the seeds in a DRY skillet. Toast the seeds over medium high heat for several minutes until they become fragrant. Remove to a plate and allow the seeds to cool. Grind and use as desired.

So with Sue's masala blend, we are all set to make something really memorable. Once again I reached out to her for a recommendation on how to best use this spice blend and she suggested using the mixture as a dry rub for chicken or fish. She also said if you add a teaspoon of turmeric to the ground mixture it becomes a West Indian Curry. With that in mind, let's play around with some ingredients and do some research and come up with a great way to use this spice blend.

West Indian Curry Roast Chicken and Vegetables

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Sue's West Indian Masala (one batch with the turmeric)
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed to a paste
1/3 cup cooking oil
6 roma tomatoes, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 zucchini, cut into chunks
head of cauliflower, broken into florets
1 stick butter
1 cup coconut milk
chopped fresh parsley
hot cooked rice, for serving

Cut the chicken breast into bite sized cubes and set aside.

In a large bowl add cooking oil. Add the curry seasoning and the garlic, stir to coat with the spices. Add the chicken cubes to the spice mixture, tossing to coat the chicken with the spiced oil. Allow the mixture to rest at room temperature about half an hour to marinate the chicken.

Add the vegetables to the bowl with the chicken. Toss to coat everything. Spread out in a rimmed baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Drizzle with the stick of butter, melted. Roast in a 425 degree oven until the chicken is cooked and golden and the vegetables are crisp/tender. 

Remove pan from oven, with a spoon scoop out the chicken, zucchini, onions and cauliflower and place in a bowl. Use a fork to mash the tomatoes in the pan. Add the coconut milk to the tomato mixture and heat to boiling.

To serve, scoop a serving of rice into a shallow bowl, top with chicken and vegetables and spoon sauce over. Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley before serving.

Amazing, right? The vegetables really come to life with the flavorful spice mixture, and retain their texture and color in the oven. I added half a dried ghost chile, crushed, to the spice mixture for some heat. A LOT of heat actually. You can also add an orange veg such as carrots, butternut squash or sweet potatoes- simply cut into chunks and pre-cook until almost tender, then scatter in the roasting pan with the chicken and other vegetables. 

As a relative newbie in the world of Indian foods I am thoroughly enjoying all the culinary experiments. Sue has been an excellent tour guide too. If you're on Facebook you really should give Sue's page a Like. It won't be long and you'll see what I mean about her portion size and abundance of vegetables. The typical plate at Sue's house has a realistic portion of protein and a colorful variety of veggies- most steamed or roasted. The few times she does serve fried foods like "chips" the portions are small as regarded as a treat, not a main portion of the meal. You will also appreciate the genuineness of Sue's "real people food"- no fancy plating or tricks with lighting in her pictures, just real homemade cooking for her family. I can honestly say I have learned more from Sue than any other person in my foodie network.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bacon, You Have Been Replaced

Bacon, your days as THE flavor maker in just about everything might be coming to a close. Anyone who cooks knows the importance of using bacon- in soups, stews, sauces- cut into lardons or chopped, cooked until crisp and brown and added to the recipe at just the right moment, bacon can make the whole recipe. Can you imagine sweet and saucy baked beans without the crispy bacon and onions sweated in a little of the bacon fat? Of course not! That's a critical part of building the smoky savory flavors. Crisply cooked bacon makes beef stew so much richer and many soups just wouldn't be the same without it.

The Chef made a surprising choice today. After perusing the meat selections in the fridge he decided it would be a pasta day at The Little Lake House. It's a cool autumn day and a nice spicy red sauce over pasta is always a welcome comfort food. Meatballs versus meat sauce? Meat sauce wins out. The Chef has his secret recipe filed away in his memory and as he was working away he had a stroke of brilliance. Now, as we talked about, loads of cooks and chefs use bacon as an initial ingredient in making a memorable dish. Italian chefs have the same theory, but they tend to choose pancetta over bacon, as it isn't smoked and adds a different flavor. It just so happened that The Chef had a secret weapon tucked away in the fridge- a little leftover remnant of something delicious that he really didn't know what he was going to do with until it struck him- chop it up, saute it briefly and use to flavor that meaty red sauce.

What is this mystery ingredient? Capicola! You better believe it. That Italian deli standard, spicy and delicious, gets a whole new mission in the kitchen. There are as many versions of this ham-like dry cured meat as there are spellings. 

The Chef had been contemplating what to do with this end piece leftover chunk that wasn't enough for sandwiches, but too much to just throw away. In the name of science he cut the leftover hunk of capicola (left over from a big chunk that he had been slicing off for sandwiches at the restaurant) into small dice, tossed them in a Dutch oven with a little drizzle of olive oil and gave it a quick saute before adding the onions, garlic, mushrooms, and the remaining sauce ingredients and letting it simmer. The capicola infused the sauce with loads of warm spiciness and added just a subtle change in flavor. I knew something was different, but I couldn't figure out just what (he kept me guessing for quite a while). In the spirit of No Recipe Cooking I suggest you guys give this technique a try next time you're making red sauce, minestrone, or vegetable soup- you'll get an unexpected boost of flavor and hint of heat without overpowering your tastebuds. Delicioso!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Autumn Mushroom Season- Risotto with Forest Mushrooms

I was watching a rerun of the Food Network show Chopped the other day and this particular episode featured teen chefs. One of the teen chefs made a sorta-risotto that to me sounded like a pretty decent dish for an adult chef put in the hot seat, let alone a 16 year old. Risotto is not an easy dish to prepare well, especially under the pressure of a clock looming overhead and three competitors at your side. While this teen chef did a pretty good job and had what I consider a very successful dish, obviously it wasn't a true risotto. You have to invest the time and attention to have a well prepared dish, and you have to have the right kind of rice. Any old rice will not do.

So if you can't use regular rice, what do you use? Arborio rice. This Italian short grain rice is perfect for the long, slow cooking with constant stirring. It's high starch content keeps the grains firm, holds their shape perfectly and combines with the broth during cooking to make a creamy consistency. In the package it seems to be covered in a fine starchy dust. Other types of rice, such as long grain rice, could never hold up in this kind of cooking. The grains are too brittle and crumbly and your risotto would be more like Cream of Wheat.

Risotto is so much more than just rice though. Often times you will see recipes that include vegetables like leeks or asparagus, squash and even some greens. Mushrooms make a regular appearance in all kinds of risotto recipes and is a very unique way to use wild mushrooms, fresh or dehydrated. Every once in a while if my timing is just right I stop at the store in the city at the same time they have a huge selection of mushrooms. Today was my lucky day! They had all kinds of mushrooms I had never heard of, and one that many people forage for. 

The first mushroom I noticed was the Trumpet Royale. The price tag caught my eye as well, but I figured I was only going to need a couple....... This interesting mushroom is pleurotus eryngii, and is also known as a king trumpet, French horn mushroom, and a handful of other names. A native of the Mediterranean region this big boy is the largest of the oyster mushroom family. It has a thick stem, and a meaty texture. 

Another awesome score was a nice clump of grifola frondosa, known to mushroom hunters as Hen of The Woods. I remember my dad bringing these frilly delicate mushrooms home when I was a kid. In Japan this is one of the most widely used mushrooms, known there as maitake, and has many medicinal properties as well as being delicious. It's a clump of delicate petal-like mushrooms that cooks in a flash. If you ever see this one, you really should give it a try, it's a gorgeous mushroom.

Now I had never heard of Forest Nameko mushrooms before (philiota nameka) but I was definitely intrigued. They were teeny tiny and long like enoki mushrooms but had a more pronounced brown cap. I had to come home and do a little research to figure out exactly how to use these guys to their full advantage. If I ever decide to make miso soup, I'll be looking for these mushrooms. They are also great in stir fries.

Also on the shelf- brown clamshell mushrooms. Lyophyllum shimeji is native to the Asian region and is a mushroom that needs to be cooked thoroughly to remove the bitter taste it has in its raw state. It works great in stir fries and any dish with wild game. Agrocybe aegerita, or velvet pioppini mushrooms, are very similar and were also available at the store today, as well as the more common oyster mushrooms, cremini, and shiitake

I chose the trumpet royale, maitake and oyster mushrooms for my risotto and bagged up my mushrooms. While the trumpets were quite pricey, and the maitake not much cheaper, I figured it was worth the splurge since I didn't need a huge pile of each, and the maitake clump weighs just about nothing. A quick spin around the store and I finished up my shopping- a bag or arborio rice, a nice crisp white wine, and a carton of chicken broth along with something easy for dinner tonight, and I was on my way, with a recipe building in my mind. The resulting risotto is the perfect dish for a light dinner- just grab a glass of nice white wine. It also serves well as a side dish for grilled seafood, filet mignon, or grilled marinated chicken.

A couple bacon wrapped steaks seared in a hot cast iron
skillet make a great accompaniment to risotto.
Risotto with Forest Mushrooms

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh wild mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large leeks, sliced, white and light green parts
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
handful or two frozen peas, thawed
chopped fresh parsley

Clean the mushrooms and chop into evenly sized pieces. Thoroughly clean the leeks of any sand or grit and slice; mince the garlic; set aside. 

Heat the chicken stock in a saucepan and hold, covered.

In a large skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and cook until they start to soften. Add the leeks and saute until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add the rice to the skillet and stir to coat the rice with the butter. Add the wine to the skillet. Cook and stir until the wine has evaporated.

Begin adding the chicken stock a cup or two at a time. 

Stir while cooking. When the broth is absorbed, add more and continue until all the broth is incorporated and the rice is tender and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and peas. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve.

I have been seeing a number of "easy" risotto recipes making their way around the blogoshpere lately, even a baked version that promises to be no-stir risotto, but really, if you want the best dish, you need to invest the time to do it the right way, the real way, the Italian way. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sitting Down With a Good Book- The French Laundry Cookbook

A while back I spent the night at my daughter's house. I never pass up a chance to spend the night and watch over her "kids"- Napoleon the Chihuahua and Sebastian the Siamese cat. It was a mini-vacation of sorts, a time for The Chef and I to have some necessary alone time and a chance for me to unwind with a really really good book- Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook.

You might remember meeting my daughter Laura in a prior post about all the food industry pros in my family. She manages a popular restaurant downtown Des Moines and, just like her mom, has an interest in enjoying good food of all kinds and learning as much as she can about the culinary field. I was beyond delight when I found out she had this amazing cookbook and couldn't wait for the next overnight. I thought I had my chance back on Valentines Day, but Mother Nature threw a wrench- and a snowstorm- in my plans and caused my daughter to abandon her plans to travel. 

Staying in her adorable little bungalow is a real treat. Nestled in the historic Beaverdale neighborhood in Des Moines, the house is so cute, decorated beautifully, and a true oasis from an otherwise hectic world. Warm hardwood floors, soft and soothing wallcolors, modern and eclectic art on the walls and contemporary furniture bring it all together in a very inviting way. No heavy curtains dragging the windows down, she instead chose the clean lines of wooden blinds, in white to match the wood trim. Scented candles ensure her home has a welcoming fragrance, even if they aren't lit. 

What makes this house such a respite from the chaos outside? It's quiet. There is no cable tv, no satellite tv, no internet. No distractions. No noise. No commercials, no sitcoms, no bad movies. Why is this so wonderful? In her life, particularly, noise is part of the job. As a busy restaurant manager she s always on the go, always putting out fires, dealing with employee and customer needs, back office, front of house, customer service, scheduling, labor costs, overhead, ordering- you get the idea. So here I am, in this little haven, just me and the fur kids, and THAT cookbook.

The French Laundry is a restaurant in Napa Valley, California, but you probably already knew that, and Thomas Keller is the owner/chef. The son of a restaurateur he began his career working for his mother in her restaurant and drawn in by the magic of Hollandaise sauce he took off, cooking and apprenticing at some of the most incredible restaurants in the world. Many awards have been bestowed up Chef Keller. In 1999 he published The French Laundry Cookbook and the world has not been the same since.

And so I finally got my chance to settle in to the corner of that comfy sectional ouch in that quiet little bungalow with no electronic distractions, and slowly turn the pages. I am immediately drawn in. I had heard from other food nuts that the cookbook is pretentious and unrealistic- that no home cook could or would ever prepare these recipes. Pure nonsense. Honestly, with the exception of a few recipes involving an entire whole foie gras roasted or poached (and who can afford that??) everything in the book was very accessible to the regular cook like me. I am quite obsessed by canapes, hors d'oeuvres and cocktail party foods, and the first chapters filled my heart with joy. Pastry cornets filled with salmon tartare- the only way I can stand salmon is raw, and pastry work is my niche, how can I possibly NOT want to make this recipe? Quail eggs and bacon- a no brainer. Yukon Gold Potato Blini. Again, this is absolutely something I would make. 

I made a list. Things I Am Going To Cook From The French Laundry Cookbook. You better believe I did. First on the list? The Lobster Broth. The technique is fairly simple, not unlike stock-making,and the ingredients are not that out of line for a regular person like myself. I can come up with lobster bodies. Tarragon is growing in the garden. The rest is easy peasy. I wonder if I will be able to find anyone to volunteer as a taste-tester?

Thomas Keller's Creamy Lobster Broth

1/4 cup canola oil
3 lobster bodies, cut up
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 bunch fresh tarragon
2 cups heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large rondeau or deep straight-sided braising pot. Add the lobster bodies and sear over medium high heat for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, until they turn red. Add the tomatoes, carrots, and tarragon, cover the shells and vegetables with water, and bring to a boil. Skim off any impurities that rise to the top. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Strain the stock through a large strainer, pressing on the lobster bodies with a wooden spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Strain again through a chinois into a saucepan. Return the strained stock to the heat and simmer until it is reduced to 1 cup. Add the heavy cream. Return to simmer and cook until reduced to 2 cups, skimming as necessary. 

To serve, heat in a saucepan, whisking to a slight froth. Serve in demitasse cups as a light hors d'oeuvre

Sounds amazing, doesn't it? My dream vacation would include a meal at The French Laundry, among others. This sounds like an extravagant dish to prepare but really, 3 lobsters aren't all that expensive if you catch them on sale. I've seen them in our local gourmet market for under ten dollars for a lobster- which would be perfect for a nice lobster dinner, and reserving the bodies for this recipe. Even the technique is not too technical that even a beginner couldn't reproduce this beautiful soup with ease. This one is destined to be a favorite around here.

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, September 26, 2015

Bacon Isn't Going Away Anytime Soon

I know I said bacon is so last year. It kind of is, but it's still delicious, and we're all still gobbling it up by the ton every year. How well do you know your bacon facts? 

The average slice of bacon is 1/16 of an inch thick, and about 16-20 slices per pound. This sliced bacon, which I have never seen, is 1/32 of an inch, and thick sliced measures up at 1/8 of an inch, which yields 10 to 14 slices per pound. Two slices of regular bacon, in spite of appearing to be mostly fat, seem pretty diet-friendly at 73 calories. In the United States over 60% of restaurants have bacon on the menu. At the breakfast table, bacon clobbers the other breakfast meat, beating out ham and sausage and making up nearly 50% of meat eaten at breakfast! A survey of U.S. households revealed over 80%of households purchased bacon in 2013 and 2014. The average American eats about 18 pounds of bacon every year. **

That's hard to imagine. I'd like to meet these "average Americans"- I certainly am nowhere near 18 lbs. of bacon! 

As you know, I got to visit a modern pork producing farm earlier this summer and got to meet the baby bacons literally at the moment they were entering the world. It's amazing that on one farm those baby piglets will grown up, be weaned, and move in graduating barns as they grow up, until they reach market size and....gulp.......go off to the pork plants. I'd rather not dwell on that part, because pork is just so delicious, and I am so thankful to get to see how invested the farmers and producers are in the animals' welfare that it does give me some level of comfort. 

Once we have passed the unpleasant stage of meat production, we have, well, meat. In this case pork, and if it's going to become delicious bacon it's got to be cured and smoked. A lot of folks have been busy curing their own bacon at home in recent years, perfecting their techniques, the cure mixtures, smoking temps, even the cut of meat can be a bit off the track. My friend Ross, from STATE, often uses part of a pork butt to make home cured bacon instead of belly. This must make one of the leanest bacons imaginable. Another friend, Marty, from Ohio, goes the more traditional route using pork belly. He shares his technique and recipe HERE.

Check out Marty's bacon- perfectly hand sliced even!
I noticed in Marty's directions he mentioned smoking to an internal temp of 150 degrees by smoking at 200 degrees. Amazingly that was something my friend George, a professional chef and master of all things food, mentioned I asked him about curing your own bacon. He balked at the recommendation but didn't say what temps he shoots for when curing and smoking meat. Trade secrets and all, you know? Dan, from Waterloo, says he warm smokes bacon and even does a vegan bacon. You might remember Dan- he is the pit master at Phat Kat Barbeque and is a barbeque judge and has shared food stories with us before. 

All this bacon talk has got my mind whirling. I happen to have some bacon, not a lot, but enough to do something with....... and some bone-in country style ribs, a cast iron skillet, and untold numbers of herbs, spices, sauces and condiments around I bet I can whip something up really quick- like this Recipe Free Dinner.

Easy to do- season the bone-in pork country style ribs with salt, pepper, whatever meat rub you like and lay two slices of bacon on each one, lengthwise, securing with toothpicks. Heat that cast iron skillet til it's nice and hot, then place those ribs in there, bacon side down, and let them cook til the bacon is starting to brown. Flip em over, pop the skillet in a hot oven to finish (145 degrees for perfect juicy pork). Sauce them if you like, and serve.

We can't be totally recipe free however, so I am going to share a recipe that was shared with me, and since we're on the bacon topic- well, you just need to try this. Bacon jam. Yep. Jam. You know I am always checking out the latest unique and artsy fartsy condiments, and when a friend was telling me about this one- I became hooked. I have no idea where the original recipe came from- she passed it on to me and I'm passing it on to you guys. I can see millions of possibilities for using this stuff to make amazing dishes. I plan on keeping my freezer stocked from now on. Let's make some!

Bacon Jam

3 lb bacon, cut into pieces
4 large sweet onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups leftover strong coffee
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a heavy Dutch oven cook the bacon over medium low heat, in three batches, until browned and crispy; removing each batch and draining off the fat in between. Reserve 2 tablespoons fat from last batch.

Return Dutch oven to medium heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring often, until softened but not brown. Add the garlic and cook another couple minutes. Add all ingredients except the bacon. Bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes.

Add the bacon and stir well. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thick, sticky and syrupy. Spoon into freezer jars and store in the fridge, or freezer for long term storage.

Now for those of you who are curious about making your own home cured bacon, you can check out Marty's recipe by clicking that link above. I did a little searching online and found all kinds of recipes and smoking styles and cure recipes. I'm sure you'll find one you like or create your own!

**National Pork Board

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Peek Inside Old Mother Hubbard's Cupboard- Indian squash soup

Old Mother Hubbard has a cupboard full of Hubbard. Hubbard squash that is. If you have never seen one, they are GIANT things, my favorite variety being the big Blue Hubbard. The first time I saw one I was in awe of this gorgeous unique looking vegetable. There is an apple orchard not too far from the Little Lake House and it was on a tourism day for work that I visited, an they had a huge display of many different kinds of pumpkins, gourds and squash, but the big Blue Hubbard really stood out, and I had to have one.

A few smaller blue Hubbards among pumpkins and
other winter squash squash is a lot. I spent the better part of an entire day cutting up, seeding, peeling, and cubing that monster. It had to be a good forty pounder. I ended up with over 20 quarts of canned squash cubes. Twenty quarts is a lot of squash to make other foods out of. I didn't just have the Hubbard- I'm not that smart. I left the orchard that day with the back of my SUV full of Hubbard, butternut, Celebration, turban-type, acorn, Delicata, pumpkins and of course, apples so I have tons to work with. Home canned squash is very tender and works best in recipes that call for a puree. Baked goods such as bread and cakes, pies, soups, puddings- all delicious options for using squash. We have been on a soup kick since embracing the home baked bread idea and, well, we have all that squash and hopefully we can use some of it before our upcoming move away from the lake. No one wants to pack, load, unload and unpack heavy quart jars of squash......

I think next to the pumpkins and other squash, you can
get an idea of the enormity of this Hubbard.
Besides making bread at home, learning new cuisines and food cultures has been a goal of mine, and especially exotic things like Indian flavors. I've stocked up on many new spices used in Indian cooking, and now want to try them out. So many incredible flavors make up any given Indian dish. Learning to make tandoori chicken was a crash course in spices. Lots of chilies are used in Indian cooking, from mild to mouth-scorching hot. Ajwain is a pungent seed that flavors stir fried vegetables wonderfully. Cardamom, peppercorns, cumin, celery seed, fenugreek leaves and seeds, mints, mustards, ginger, cloves, cinnamon- the list goes on and on. Some add a savory element, some add color, some heat, some an herbaceous quality. The sweetness of squash is the perfect background for creating an interesting mural of flavors.

In researching my Indian flavors I did come across a great blog featuring "How To Build an Indian Pantry". Click HERE to visit.

Now let's talk about spices. Indian spices are so perfect and beautiful on their own, combined in blends they take on a whole new dimension. Complexity, flavor, some with heat, some sweet, most are a true test for the palate- what exactly IS that in there?  This soup uses garam masala which is  a Northern Indian blend. Garam tells us it's a "hot" spice, but rather than hot pepper burn your face off heat, it refers to the intensity. Normally this mixture contains turmeric, white and black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom pods and cumin seeds,all ground together. You might find nutmeg, mace, star anise and allspice in there as well. In terms of Indian spices- the more the merrier! Toasting the spices really brings out the aromatic qualities and flavors in the spices.

Let's make some Indian Spiced Squash Soup. You will need-
  • 4 cups pureed cooked Hubbard or other winter squash
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons garam masala
  • 3/4 cup canned coconut milk (NOT cream of coconut)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • Herb Oil (recipe follows)
Heat the olive oil in a deep stockpot. Saute the onion until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. Don't let the garlic brown. Add the garam masala and stir, cooking another couple minutes to bring out the aromas of the spices.

Add the squash, coconut milk and broth to pot. Mix well. Cover and simmer for about an hour. Puree the finished soup with an immersion blender (or CAREFULLY in batches in blender). Serve drizzled with a little Herb Oil.

Herb Oil
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup parsley leaves
  • pinch of salt and pepper
Buzz in mini food processor til smooth. Use any leftovers in salad dressings, marinades or chimichurri.

This soup is perfect on a chilly, rainy fall day, and even better if you have a fresh from the oven loaf of crusty bread to go alongside. The Indian spices bring a warm feeling to the smooth creamy soup. Give this recipe a try!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My First Food Truck- The Outside Scoop

Finally! I got to experience my first food truck! A while back I talked about food culture. Food trucks definitely have made an impact on food culture. Des Moines has a new and growing food truck scene and I am so glad to be here to experience it from the ground up. Lots of other cities have HUGE food truck followings. Austin, Portland, Los Angeles, New York- and loads of others- have swarms of fans who follow their favorite trucks on social media to see where they are setting up every day, and loads of people who see the trucks as a great way to try something new and totally different.

photo from The Outside Scoop's Facebook page
Like I said, Des Moines is a little bit late to the party, but our local trucks are more than making up for it. From the humble taco trucks to some pretty upscale menus and clever food carts it's a fast growing part of the culinary scene here. The city has been craving something new and food trucks are the answer. Lunchtime in downtown is  food truck heaven. Every day the different trucks post on social media where they plan on setting up for lunch, and later in the day as well- some as late as bar-closing time. Some trucks and food carts have "residencies" at local breweries and clubs, setting up in the parking lot and giving patrons some great food options. Works well for everyone- the trucks are making money, the bars don't have to have kitchens and the customers don't have to go somewhere else for something to eat. Just step outside.

I couldn't wait to get to the window- my first food truck!
(this is an unknown coworker)
Some of the big employers, including mine, often contract with food trucks to visit office complexes over the lunch hour as a convenient lunch option. The other day our company had a visit from The Outside Scoop. Based in Indianola, The Outside Scoop has a slogan- Small Batch....From Scratch, and their ice cream is beyond delicious. Owned by Joe Doering, this ice cream shop prides itself on it's small batch recipes that utilize as many locally sourced products as it can. The custom recipes include real chocolate, homemade baked goods, real fresh fruits, and no additives like emulsifiers or stabilizing ingredients. I can tell you, after tasting this ice cream personally, you can TELL this stuff is free of all those chemical ickies that are in the commercially made mass produced stuff in your grocer's freezer. Their menu is a rotating selection of about sixty flavors.

So The Outside Scoop has a storefront in Indianola, and at some point Joe decided to expand his venture and join the food truck scene. This was an awesome decision. The pretty pink Outside Scoop truck looks like it's got fudge sauce drizzling down, and pays homage to downtown Des Moines, known as The Loop, with "Scoopin' the Loop" proudly displayed on the truck. As I said, the truck paid a visit to our office the other day and it was a very very popular break spot for all of us. The sun was shining and it was a warm late summer day- perfect for an ice cream break. The truck had a great selection of flavors that day- vanilla bean, chocolate brownie, blueberry lemonade, pumpkin, salty caramel, strawberry sorbet, snickerdoodle and nutter butter. I could not resist the salty caramel, a fact that is well known by my friends and family. If it says salted caramel I am going to want it, and it was heavenly. So creamy, so smooth, good caramel flavor, not excessively sweet, and every once in a while I'd get a hint of salty flavor. I don't know they did it, but it was incredible. The ice cream definitely had that homemade consistency- I can't really describe what I mean by that, it was just icy and creamy and there was no "fatty" feeling in my mouth after eating it, like you get with some ice cream brands. I wish I could have tried more flavors that day but you can bet I'll be following these guys around.

Stay tuned for more food truck adventures as we visit all the Des Moines food trucks and food truck events.

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."