chefrocks

chefrocks

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lake House Big Bad Fried Chicken Salad

Do you ever feel like you just cannot get enough vegetables into your diet? I know I do, and many times I will turn to a big entree salad to add some fiber and wholesome goodies to my diet. Make no mistake, I don't always keep it uber-healthy, like tonight- we're making a big bad salad with some really naughty add-ins, but that's not always the case. Remember, this is a whole meal salad, so we need some substance.

I get my salad mix from a nearby aquaponics farm not from the supermarket. You just cannot compare this to grocery store salad mix- not at all. Beautiful leaf lettuces, malabar spinach, rainbow chard, kale, nasturtium leaves and fresh basil bring so much flavor to the bowl. I sometimes add a little Romaine lettuce for some juicy crunch, and Romaine is nutritionally superior to iceberg lettuce. 

Look at all the goodness- the beautiful rainbow chard, and
that big beautiful nasturtium leaf- so delicious!
I absolutely loved the Lake House Steakhouse Salad I made a while back, so I am going to borrow an ideas from that salad- the fried onion strings. They were the perfect blend of crispy and sweet and made a fun and delicious topping. So we're going to go there again. Click HERE for the recipe for the easy onion strings and salad recipe- you'll want to try it if you haven't yet.

I'm borrowing the onion ring idea but changing up a lot of everything else. Instead of steak I'm thinking some good old fried chicken- like a couple chicken breasts, crunchy stuff and all, cut off the bone and cut up, shredded cheese, the last of our fresh home-grown tomatoes, might scope out the remains of the garden and see if I have any baby zucchini to add, and instead of just hard boiled eggs, how about a few deviled eggs instead? This is going to be big, delicious and not 100% healthy, but that's ok. I'm also going to cheat just a little bit by using a store-bought salad dressing but adding my own touches and kicking up the spice a bit- more like something we always eat around here.

Little Lake House Big Bad Fried Chicken Salad

8-10 cups mixed salad greens
1 cup shredded cheese (I used ColbyJack)
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (or chopped larger tomatoes)
3 deli or leftover fried chicken breasts, removed from bone and cut up
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
mayo, yellow mustard, salt and pepper
additional fresh salad veggies of choice, olives, etc
Salad dressing of choice* (spicy ranch or honey mustard are really good)
One recipe onion strings

Begin by cutting the hard boiled eggs in half. Flip the yolks into a small bowl, reserve the whites on a plate. Mash the yolks with a fork, add mayo, yellow mustard, salt and pepper to taste, and stuff mixture back into egg whites. Chill.


Place the salad greens in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, shredded cheese, any other fresh veggies you are using, and the chicken. Toss together well. 

You can use leftover fried chicken breasts or breaded fried
chicken tenders- they work great too and no bones to mess with
 Drizzle the dressing of choice over the salad, toss well to coat all the pieces. Pile a large serving amount on each dinner plate. Add a couple deviled egg halves to each plate. Top salads with a big handful of the onion strings. Go crazy!!!



*Note- For the dressing I used about a cup of store-bought ranch dressing and dressed it up. Chopped fresh chives, chopped candied (or pickled if desired) jalapenos, a splash of the candied jalapeno juice (or milk)- just a splash- just to loosen it up a little but not to water it down. Lots of freshly cracked black pepper adds a final touch.



Now you might not be a big fan of salads as an entree. I happen to LOVE salad meals. The nutrition from all the fresh vegetables is so many times better than a burger, all the fiber, antioxidants from the colorful veggies. Salads can be good AND bad depending on what you add to them. In this case I've added some not-so-healthy additions like the fried chicken, cheese, deviled eggs, but hey, we don't always add all this stuff to salads so it's all about moderation....and FUN- we want food to be fun, and something you enjoy, not something you feel shameful about eating. That whole "guilt-free food" thing- infuriates me. Yes, there are a few naughty treats in this bowl but it's also filled with wonderful things- like that amazing superfood kale, fresh tomatoes that came from the garden (no chemicals), that aquaponic salad mix with spinach and chard (all organic), lean protein from the egg white- also organic eggs from the same farm (the yolk is a treat). Yes, I kinda threw it over the fence with the dressing, but I wanted something creamy for a change so....... once in a while won't kill me. Eating is about finding balance, so I'm going to balance this plate on my knee and enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Happy Hour- Viniq

You can immediately tell when a new liquor comes on the market and it's marketed to women. It's always pretty, in an elegant bottle, flowery or fruity and usually light on the alcohol. The Chef and I recently stopped in a little shop we had never been in before and had a little look around. The selection was impressive, lots of different vodkas, a fairly good wine selection and a walk-in beer vault with a really nice selection of brews.

Don't try putting out a fire with THIS bottle!!
Trying to pick out a new and different cocktail was a real challenge when faced with thirty or so flavored vodkas. I'm not kidding. They had flavors of Absolut I never knew existed! Between the shelf after shelf of vodka, rum and wine I was like a kid in a candy store.

Hibiscus?? Grape and dragonfruit? I die !!!

Cherry, cranberry, acai and peach- fruit cocktail cocktail?
I took my time, considering all the options on the shelves and finally decided. I thought I was ready to go and went to collect The Chef from where he was browsing and something caught my eye. Literally just a flash of purple and I had to take a second look. Sitting on the counter was this tall, slim bottle filled with a mysterious purple liquor. I picked it up to read what it said and IT MOVED! The entire contents of that bottle instantly came alive with floating, sparkling glitter. I knew right then and there I was taking that home with me.


I would be doing you a serious disservice by showing you a picture of this bottle without you being able to see the glittery shimmer. You MUST go to the website and see it for yourself. Click HERE to see the amazing glittering bottle.

Now, let's talk about the drink. It is premium vodka, moscato and fruit. It makes a striking shot in a cute stemmed shotglass (which is how I drank mine) but would make a BEAUTIFUL martini or cocktail. I wish I had a cabinet full of mixers- I want to try this in lots of concoctions. It's 40 proof but it seems a lot stronger as a shot. It's very very fruity and is very "perfumey"- just the sort of thing I can see a bunch of girlfriends mixing up in a cocktail shaker on a Girls Night In. I couldn't really pick out any individual fruit notes but it has a very tropical flavor, maybe passionfruit or mango flavors hanging out in there. With alllll that beautiful glitter.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Rockin' the Cajun- Making Gumbo

Funny thing happened in our little small town grocery store- they had andouille sausage. I don't know about you guys but andouille to me means Creole, and you don't get much more Creole than a good ol' gumbo. The classic New Orleans favorite has influences from French, Spanish, native tribes, and African cooking. Canary Islanders bring the hot and spicy flavors to Creole cooking. Gumbo has been around since the early 1800s, if not earlier. Many old cookbooks from around 1800 have versions of gumbo with different meats- seafood to waterfowl to alligator- and seafood, okra and all kinds of spices. File powder is an option ingredient, which surprised me. I thought that was a must have, and amazingly enough is not part of my bookshelf of spice collection.



I have a game plan worked out for this dish already. Brown the sausage ahead of time. Cook the chicken breast and cut it up, also ahead of time. Get that Holy Trinity sauteed and softened and ready to add to the roux. 


I like to prep as much as I can ahead of time. Vegetables all
chopped and waiting, meats cut up and ready to brown.
I don't have any okra, so we'll be skipping that. I'm not a big fan anyway. It's a little slimy for my taste. I don't think I could find it around here right now anyway. I'm going to wing it a little bit- borrow some bits and pieces from friends' advice and recipes and make my own version, so bear with me and let's make some gumbo!


You could also use kielbasa but andouille has a spicier bite
To make this spicy gumbo, you will need-
  • 1 package (1 lb) boneless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1 lb andouille sausage
  • salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning
  • cooking oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (canned or fresh)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper or dash or two of pepper sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 pound shrimp
  • hot cooked rice
Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces. Sprinkle with Cajun seasoning (I just use a store bought blend). Brown in a little cooking oil. Just brown the chicken well, and remove to a bowl. Cut the Andouille into slices or half slices. Brown in the Dutch oven until it gets a nice golden crust. Remove to bowl with chicken. 



Add a little more oil to pot, add onion, pepper and celery. Cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned. Add garlic. Cook and stir a couple more minutes. Melt the butter and add the flour. Cook and whisk until the roux is nice and brown, about 15 minutes.  



Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, pepper or pepper sauce and meat. Simmer for 15 minutes or so, until chicken is cooked through. Add the fresh herbs and shrimp. Cook until shrimp are cooked, just a few minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice in shallow bowls.


That cute little mound didn't last long- mix it up and eat!
I didn't waste time with the pretty, perfect bowl. I mixed it all together and hit it with a couple of dashes of Marie Sharp's Comatose Heat hot sauce, which is NOT for the faint of heart. The vegetables still had the teeniest bit of crunch to them- which I love- and the chicken was tender and perfect. The shrimp would have been better off saved for another dish. I honestly thought they were a little lost in there with all the big flavors. I would make it without shrimp the next time. The andouille was so so good- spicy but not overly so. 



I have a feeling this is going to be one of those dishes that improves when you reheat it- as the flavors have a chance to hang out in the pot for a while, kind of like chili. It's always better the next day. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The End of the Trend

Sometimes I like to throw a question out and ask what all our readers think about a subject. So I did that. I posted this question on Facebook and then we'll talk about the answers-

"What is a current food trend that you wish would just go away?"

A couple people missed the mark, with answers like "McDonald's" and "high food prices"- not even in the ballpark. But I did get some great responses. What were they?

Kale- I for one am late to the kale party, but I definitely can understand this answer. For a while it seemed like everyone was making kale chips. Kale in smoothies with fruit kind of.......grosses me out. As a new kale eater I am just learning how to integrate this leafy green into different dishes but I can understand how anyone who follows food trends just might already be over it. Even when I posted a request to friends to help me find some interesting recipes for kale, I was overwhelmingly answered with kale chips. I'm pretty sure I don't want dried up leaves to munch on. So yes, the kale explosion is over. Time to move to the next super food.

Balsamic vinegar-  I am not on board with this at all, but I am a balsamic worshiper. I don't really see it as a trend, or even a trendy ingredient really. Sadly, most of what we use in the US is not true balsamic, even in upscale restaurants- rather it's a reduced and further sweetened vinegar with caramel coloring. A taste of real, true balsamic is a real treat.

Battered and deep fried anything-  I am not a fan of deep fried foods, in general. I rarely, if ever, deep fry anything I cook, and don't normally order fried foods if eating out. Not because I'm watching what I eat but just because I prefer to not eat so much oil and I am terrified of fire, so I don't even own a fryer. The worst time of year for these battered and fried treats are during the summer months, when all the fairs and festivals are going on- fried food vendors are everywhere,and they fry EVERYTHING- candy bars, Oreos, sticks of butter........ yuck.

Cupcakes-  Yep. I agree. Cupcakes are everywhere, even on television. Cupcake bakeries, cupcake competition shows. We have certainly gone into overdrive since the original Sprinkles Cupcake Bakery opened and created a monster. Pinterest is filled to the brim with cupcake recipes and decorating ideas. People are passing on the traditional wedding cake and instead doing cupcake displays. And don't get me started on cake POPS. Yes, I agree. It's time to say goodbye to cupcakes.

Paleo-  I had to look this one up. I've heard people talk about it and know a handful of people who eat a paleo diet but I really didn't know the specifics. Supposedly the diet is meant to reflect the foods that would have been available to people living during the Paleolithic period. Basically protein and non-starchy vegetables and fruits. No grains. Generally I am not a fan of any restrictive diet that takes large groups of food out of our diets. 

Clean Eating-  Apparently The Chef and I have accidentally been following this trend and didn't realize it. Clean eating is simply avoiding processed or refined foods and sticking to whole and unprocessed foods. We do so because we COOK but I can understand why others would choose this lifestyle. Processed food is full of junk. Period. As a trend, it's like any fad diet. It will be a buzzword for a while, and then fade away. In reality, clean eating is just what people did a couple generations ago before humanity became focused on fast and easy.

Food on a stick-  This is another food that goes hand in hand with fair season. Meant to be easy to eat while wandering around the fairgrounds, I can agree, this is a little overboard. The Iowa State Fair has no shortage of foods on a stick and a great many of them could be eaten without a stick just as easily, if not easier. Rice Krispie Treat on a stick. Um.....no. Get rid of the stick. Salad on a stick? Again, no. Impossible to dip into dressing and NOT have it all over your face. Have a seat and eat a salad. 

Bacon everything-  I love bacon. I cook with bacon. Sometimes, that is. Think about it- bacon wrapped everything is all over Pinterest and food blogs. Bacon ice cream. Bacon candy. Bacon donuts. Bacon wrapped hot dogs, tator tots, steak, whole turkeys, meatloaf, meatballs. Bacon vodka. Bacon milkshakes. Bacon OVERLOAD!!! Enough already!

Chimichurri-  The friend who gave this answer said "Chimichurri is the new aioli" and I absolutely agree! Aioli, a holdover from the mid 90s, was one of those things I thought would never go away. Mayo with a fancy name.... get out of here. I am seeing the same thing with chimichurri. I have made it once. That was enough. Not a big fan. I see this one everywhere- all kinds of recipes, as a marinade, a finishing sauce, a drizzle, a condiment. It's also not an especially attractive sauce. This one I also agree- chimi needs to go.

Chipotle pepper- As a pepper lover, I don't dislike chipotle, but I totally understand why the person who gave this answer did- chipotle is pretty much the bacon of the pepper world. It's in everything. It's everywhere. It's nothing special to begin with- roasted smoked jalapeno. Dried they look like......something a dog left behind. In adobo sauce they are just smooshy and gross. It's time to move on. Not to ghost peppers, either. Been there done that.

Pumpkin everything-  This one is a seasonal trend that will be gone before we know it. But it will be back, year after year. Every autumn pumpkin and pumpkin spice are given the "bacon treatment" and are added to everything- coffee, ice cream, cake, pie, savory sides, pancakes, candles, soap and room sprays. *cough*

And my food trend I wish would go away- sliders. Seriously people, they are just little sandwiches. That's all. White Castle may be credited with inventing the slider, but it's gone Frankenstein since then. Every sandwich appears in miniature, on menus, blogs, Pinterest, in cookbooks. Some of them are just plain goofy. BLT Sliders are just BLTs- quartered!!! Peanut butter and jelly sliders? No. Leftover Turkey and Stuffing Sliders? NO! Those are just leftovers on a dinner roll- something we have been eating for decades. Kind of like the cupcake craze, it's time to make a real sandwich again and stop with the miniatures!

So, The Chef and I want to hear from you guys. What is a food trend you would like to see go away?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Hour- Black Butte Porter

"The meek shall inherit, well, some pretty dull beers."

photo courtesy of DeschutesBrewery.com
That is the greeting you see when you first visit Deschutes Brewery's website. This craft brewery located in Bend, Oregon, has the goods to back that up. Visitors to the brewery are treated to a 45 minute walking tour of the facility, beer tasting and a little swag to take home with you. Bend is a little bit of a drive from The Little Lake House, but luckily for us Gateway Market in Des Moines carries at least one of these amazing brews. On our recent road trip to Des Moines we stopped in the market to do a little shopping, and grab an adult beverage for later. 


Deschutes boldly chose a dark beer as their first release and "flagship" brew, and that is what we chose to bring home. So totally worth it. Really. 

If you think you don't like dark beers, you're probably wrong. If you refuse to even try one, I feel bad for you- you have no idea what you're missing out on. Totally unlike the widely available American beer we're all familiar with, dark beers bring so much more to the table. 

photo courtesy of DeschutesBrewery.com
Pop the top off a bottle of this Black Butte Porter and immediately you know you've got something really special. The fragrance reminds me of breakfast- the warming aroma of coffee wafting around the house. 


Take a sip from the bottle? Naaaaa.....this one requires a glass. If you know how to pour a beer correctly you'll end up with nice head on the brew. Embrace that. It's like the frothed milk or the whipped cream on your macchiato. The color of this Porter is intense and dark- almost black. Take a big deep breath in and you will smell it too- coffee. Rich and dark roasted and so delicious, it reminds me of really good espresso. 


The second thing I picked up- chocolate. Deep, dark chocolate. 

Take a big, bold sip. Get right in that glass. Get a beer-stache. With a creamy mouthfeel a lot of dark beers are known for, it was like a velvety cup of hot chocolate, but icy cold. Don't be afraid of it- jump right in and experience what craft beer is all about. See if you can pick out those same flavor and aroma notes, or if you get something totally different.


Beer tasting is becoming every bit as popular as wine tasting, and just as technical. The educated beer drinker wants to know how the beer is crafted, what the malts and hops used are, how it was aged, all those things you normally ask a vintner, brewers are now answering. So here is the low down on Black Butte Porter. Malts: Pale, Carapils, Chocolate, Crystal, Wheat.  Hops: Cascade, Bravo, Tettnang. It's alcohol by volume is 5.2% and a 12 ounce serving has 192 calories. Black Butte has won award after award, year after year, and deservedly so.

Of course, I wanted to save one or two for cooking- my brain went wild with ideas as I sipped......but sadly we didn't pay attention and drank them. That's ok- just means we have another reason to go on a road trip! 

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."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Super easy weeknight pasta

It's no secret, we eat a lot of pasta at the Little Lake House. Pasta of all kinds. The Chef favors pastas like spaghetti and linguine with big bold Italian style red sauces, and I like lighter sauces, delicate pasta, or at the other end of the spectrum, big hearty pastas and creamy sauces. I'm not a big fan of Alfredo sauce, I think it gets overused on menus and reminds me of ranch dressing- overused. But toss the pasta with a scoop of ricotta or creamy mascarpone cheese and now we're talkin'. 



You definitely need a hearty pasta to hold up with a creamy sauce. Of course gnocchi is a great option, but so are bigger pastas such as orecchiete or "little ears." I love orcchiette because it's cute cup shape holds sauce and bits of garlic, onions, vegetables, whatever your sauce contains. Rigatoni is another big bold pasta shape that I love and also works wonderfully in the recipe we are making today.


Coming up with this dish was out of necessity. I had some prosciutto left over from a previous recipe and didn't want to see it go to waste, and some baby spinach left over from another recipe. Just enough of a few ingredients to make a quick pasta toss that's creamy and delicious. Like many pasta dishes, this one is very flexible. Swap the spinach for a cup or so of leftover peas. Add the last few mushrooms hiding in the veggie drawer. Have some unused fresh herbs? Toss them in! If you can't find mascarpone cheese, or say you have about half a cup of cream cheese to use up, go ahead and swap it. Now let's get cooking.


To make my Creamy Pasta with Prosciutto and Spinach, you will need-
  • 1 pkg orecchiette or rigatoni
  • 8 oz package mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tb olive oil, divided
  • 2 tb butter
  • couple big handful baby spinach leaves
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 or 5 slices prosciutto, cut up
  • juice and zest of one-half lemon
  • salt and pepper
Bring a large stockpot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook til al dente. Meanwhile, in small pan heat 2 tb of the olive oil and the butter. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender and browned. If needed, add the remaining olive oil and saute the garlic over medium low heat until softened and not browned. Add the prosciutto and cook for a minute or two until slightly crisped but not like bacon.


When the pasta is done, drain well, reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid. I like to use one of those bamboo-handled skimming tools from the Asian store- I can scoop the pasta right out of the water. Immediately toss the hot pasta with all the ingredients, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooking liquid if needed (I did not need it) to make a creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 



I love the freshness of the spinach in this dish. Barely wilted from the heat of the pasta, the flavor and nutrients are retained, and so is the texture. The Mascarpone cheese melts into a smooth and creamy sauce with the starchy pasta water and the garlic and Parmesan cheese bring a savory tone. The biggest bonus? A luxe ingredient like prosciutto goes a long way in this dish without robbing your wallet and it's much more subtle than bacon. It's so creamy and flavorful with the savory mushrooms and garlic and the fresh pop of lemon I hope you give it a try sometime.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In the Kitchen: Ceramic Cookware

My friends can attest, I have been obsessed with ceramics in the kitchen ever since I saw the first Kyocera ceramic blade knife. I just couldn't wrap my brain around how a ceramic knife is made, how it is sharpened, how it holds up to use in a home kitchen. I finally got the chance to buy and use a ceramic knife earlier this year and I was suitably impressed. Although it's a fairly delicate material to work with, it is remarkably durable at the same time. Very early on the teeniest bit of the knife's tip was chipped off (I have no idea how) but that has not affected the knife's performance at all.

Shortly after, I started hearing a lot of buzz about ceramic lined non-stick cookware. I was immediately interested. I started to do some research on the different brands and types, asked chef friends and foodie friends who own a lot of different types of cookware and learned as much as I could. Unlike the old Visions cookware line that Pyrex released back in the 70s, which were tempered amber-hued glass, modern ceramic cookware is typically aluminum cookware with a ceramic lining. It doesn't peel and flake like Teflon or SilverStone lined cookware, but it still requires a bit of a delicate touch. No metal utensils, no dishwasher, and they are not oven safe, but for what I want- a dependable pan I can cook eggs and fried potatoes in and not have to scrape the remains out of- this sounds like the perfect kind of cookware.



Bialetti is an Italian cookware company that also makes a couple different collections of ceramic cookware. Their "Easy" line is a modern, clean-looking range of cookware. I have seen it in the store several times and was always tempted to pick one up just to play with, so today, I did exactly that. I chose a 10 inch saute pan in a very sharp looking pewter color. The pan is made of three layers- a silicone bottom layer, aluminum core and ceramic interior coating. Care is very simple- wash with a sponge.  No dishwasher. I can live with that!


The first thing I cooked in my pan- eggs. Is it non stick? Heck yes! You do need to add a teeny bit of butter or oil French omelet and had gooey cheese and nothing stuck. The omelet folded effortlessly and slid right out. My Calphalon pans don't always heat evenly- this one did. A two-egg omelet is pretty thin and it cooked perfectly even-no flipping, no turning the uncooked parts over. I can't wait to try pancakes, potatoes and other foods that need a nonstick pan and even cooking. I hope the surface holds up for a long time. I am going to be IN LOVE with this pan!

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."