Locally Grown

The Incredible Inedible Egg (Acosted By DeCoster)
2010/08/31, 5:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Congratulations to us!  Iowa agriculture has made the news in a big way thanks to the A-holes at DeCoster and state agriculture “regulators.”  It seems, according to newly released legend, that 75 year old Austin “Jack” DeCoster is a person of very questionable business practices and should not be trusted with any type of agriculture venture.

"Jack" DeCoster, One Bad Egg in a Sea of Salmonella

Even former/aspiring future Governor Terry Branstad admits of DeCoster that “He’s been trouble ever since he came here from Maine.”  When did he come to Iowa?  In the 1980’s.  He has been trouble since the 1980’s, is listed as a habitual violator of EPA regulations, has expanded his business even after being banned from operating ag business in our state.  This “person” is a greedy bastard who has been putting people’s lives at risk since entering Iowa in the 80’s, and now after around 30 years of dangerous practices and a few fines and slaps on the wrist, DeCoster has managed to cause the salmonella poisoning of over 1,300 innocent people, the recall of a mind-boggling number of eggs, and the tarnishing of Iowa’s Agricultural reputation.  I want you to notice the emphasis on the time frame of Jack’s reign of ag-terror.  Where were the authorities who are supposed to be looking out for your safety?  Why was there no real reinforcement of laws, and what about the new regulations which took effect around the same time the poison eggs were being shipped?  And what of our illustrious former governor’s admission that DeCoster has been a problem all this time?

It doesn’t seem that these public officials are looking out for your safety at all.  They have allowed at least 1,300 people to be maimed by an avoidable salmonella outbreak, and the tarnishing of the reputation of our local agriculture.

This is why you have to know your food, people!  The government can and will only do so much to ensure your safety (and it really shouldn’t have to, I do realize it’s the a-holes contaminating the food supply who are really to blame).  Buying local, educating yourself, and knowing exactly where your food comes from is very important in this day of food-borne illness outbreaks.

You can go read all of the data from recent inspections of these tainted egg merchants if you feel the need, but what you should really do is take a good look at what you will do to keep YOUR food supply clean, for you and your family.

Buy Local, Eat Local, Be Local.  For your safety and health.

The Cook


Angry Dishes/Toasted Posties
2010/08/30, 5:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s Monday again?  How many times is this going to happen?  It’s almost as if the last week plus a few days was all a dream filled with flying tickets, profanities, non-stop business, more business, and almost no time for much needed sleep (which is where these restaurant horror-dreams NORMALLY live).  If you have ever graced a busy restaurant with your employee-dom, these dreams have probably invaded your sleep-scape more than once – the never-ending mocking sound of a kitchen printer, the demanding guests who’s table is at the top of a mile-long spiral staircase, the blinking “pending orders” on your screen, plates mysteriously slipping from your grasp and crashing to the floor as angry patrons scream for their dinner, the vomitorious feeling of running on a speeding treadmill who’s placed right in front of the very gates to whatever “bad place” your spiritual beliefs have prescribed for heathens, and all you can do is try run to your tables until you slip and the conveyor finallly spits you off the back and into the abyss.  The restaurant bad dream experience (RBDE), according to many of our local restaurant professionals willing to speak of this past week’s RW madness, manifested itself in real time on many a night (and day for those who served lunch).  I applaud all of you who effectively worked through the RBDE towards dining victory…the servers, cooks, restaurateurs, chefs, managers, and especially the dish washers (ensuring 3 courses for a larger percentage of patrons than usual exponentially expands the dish-dirtying, placing the dishwashers slightly farther back on that conveyor belt to heck) who were on the front lines, in the trenches making sure the Dining Public got their $25 worth of enjoyment (and then some).  Good Job.

Here is a statement (used without permission) from a local RW diner regarding Baru 66:

As we sipped a glass of champagne after dessert, my sister and I couldn’t believe the value of our meal. The amount of food, the quality, the service, all for $25, was unreal. I made reservations on my way out for next weekend again so I can try other things on the menu, and I can’t wait to go back! I’ve found my new favorite restaurant in Des Moines and love it.

That statement could be Restaurant Week’s thesis.  I hope that everyone had at least one experience such as this, not necessarily just at Baru.

The week was meteorogically (is that a valid word?) magnificent, almost-perfect temperatures, no rain (!), slight breeze, you really couldn’t ask for a better week for RW.  It was great patio weather, allowing those with outdoor tables to utilize all of their extra seating.  It was just cool enough to keep people out of that dreaded “Hot Weather Cranky Pants” zone.  Diners seemed to really be enjoying themselves.  I know that the restaurant which reluctantly allows me to still come in and ply my trade had near-record pace business, and most of the other top restaurants in town had the same great luck.  I hearby declare RW a success in the eyes of this here cook.  I believe that those who can’t normally afford to get out to certain spots were able to experience what they have unfortunately been missing, and may return for a special occasion or for some wine and appetizers (you don’t have to go all out at “fancy” places, it is perfectly fine to sit at the bar for a light snack and some drinks) OR maybe they perused the regular menu and found that in addition to a $30+ steak plate there are also affordable entrees and will be back to experience the ambiance of their new favorite spot.  Fine dining doesn’t have to mean spending hundreds of dollars just for walking in the door.  I mean, this isn’t NYC.

OK, so RW was a fair to middling success for some.  I haven’t gotten a chance to do the rounds to all of my RW Fave picks for their feedback.  Here is MINE though.

Ten-ish Things That Would (Maybe) Make RW An All-Around Better Experience

  1. Dining Education Classes. You think I’m joking?
  2. Interactive Cooking Demo’s – I see this done in other cities, and believe there are a few Chefs in town who could rip themselves away for an hour to show you how it’s done.
  3. The RW sponsors should work with the prospective restaurant participants next year to better set pricing and rules to make things fair for all parties.  Lots of feedback from restaurateurs regarding this point.
  4. Can we get a different “prize” trip.  Is Puerto Rico really an appropriate destination for a dining drawing?  Pick San Fran, NYC, Portland, Chicago, or another state-side dining destination with some pre-made dining reservations would do nicely.
  5. More prizes than just one trip to some destination.  Everyone who managed to get 4+ different dinners/lunches in deserves a chance to not only win a trip, but smaller prizes such as Gift Cards, Restaurant Shwag, and the like would make it even more fun.  I am only harping on this as the web site for our RW seems to promote this Puerto Rico trip more than dining in DSM.
  6. Hey Restaurants, if you happen to be listening to what is being crapped forth from your computer as you read this, why don’t you all try doing a little something more for the Veg-Heads out there?  Lots of feedback from disappointed vegetarians who were mostly excluded from the festivities.  Maybe DSM Mag could make this a part of the Rules Of Engagement?
  7. I would like to see the weekly print mags (Juice, Cityview, etc) invite a guest panel of writing diners (or dining writers) to serve up opinions and recommendations prior to/during RW helping to guide stomachs to food, and to get more people involved.  No, I don’t have to be on it. (Technically I am one year too old to be a part of Juice anyway.)
  8. A big kick-off or final night gala would be super cool.  Imagine the Sunday after a tough 9 days of getting beat down/enjoying local dining, depending on what side of this dining red rover you reside, diners and restaurant folk getting together in Nollen Plaza or some such place for some entertainment, apps (maybe RW leftovers? HA!) and libations.  Or maybe a kickoff the Thursday before.  Maybe an awesome “Meet the Chefs” q&a panel? Can’t this be a giant Food Celebration?
  9. For (insert preferred deity’s name)’s sake, can you make some t-shirts or merch for participants to buy from some web site (or for free)?  I am not saying you have to wear it during your dining adventure, in fact I strongly discourage this behavior, but it gets the word out on the street every time someone passes by sporting a “Des Moines Restaurant Week” shirt.  Then people say “when is the next restaurant week.”  Marketing 101 folks.
  10. I forgot what number ten was while writing number eight.

So there you have it, tens of readers.  This is your Restaurant Week Recap from Locally Grown.

And on to the Monday news:

Did anyone else notice that the same food articles were in the Datebook, Juice, and the Iowa Life section of Saturday’s Register?  I didn’t, but a reader (of this blog) did.  What kind of crap is Gannett trying to pull on it’s shrinking reader base now?  There weren’t enough food subjects to write about to warrant fresh articles for every publication?  WEAK.

I regularly read dining “user review” sites like Yelp and Chowhound for a giggle, as most of the reviews are laughable and slanted, written by disgruntled a-holes or the like.  I would like to give a shout out to Chowhound.com user Jhojoti (@Jhojoti on Twitter) for being one of my favorite user-reviewers, a true dining adventurer who knows that food is the next most important thing in life next to air, and has evidently been lucky enough to have mostly good service (doesn’t seem to complain much).  Thank you, J, for being an objective diner and for being able to construct sentences!  I love it.  Now if you could direct me to the worst…

So many other things to write about…but I should probably start prepping for Taco Tuesday.

Hope to see you there,

The Cook

The Final Countdown…of Restaurant Week
2010/08/28, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Today is the day!  If you have been sitting on your hands the last something amount of days wondering where to go for Restaurant week and haven’t gotten out to try a potentially new regular dining spot, then it’s time to person-up and do it.  Might I suggest a trip to Alba, Azalea, Cafe Di Scala, Mojo’s, or the Francophile’s Favorite, Baru 66?  It may be hard to get a reservation at any of these places, as the non-procrastinators have more than likely filled the reservation books, but there is hope.  Call ahead and see if you can get a table.  From what I have been hearing from the staff and patrons of all five places, you owe it to yourself to get down with their “offerings.” Tip: you don’t have to get the Restaurant Week special, you can order off the regular menu if you would like.

Some observations from this week:

As if Gastrodomus himself were writing for this here mildly popular blog, almost every prediction of customer behavior, spending habits, and phone-call-question have been realized over the last week.  Yes, the cheapo, weirdo, whacko, over-questioning, demanding, rude, and otherwise out-of-their element folks came out to cause a little havoc, but you know what?  They actually came out and participated, and that was (I think) the goal.  A few of those difficult diners may have been lifted from the darkness that is Chain Dining by the helpful hands of one of our local eating establishments.  It’s as though a few culinary lives have been saved.  Those Big Box Dining Centers have tons of backing and do their best to fight local restaurants for market share.  Our stomachs all hang in the balance in this war for the almighty dining dollar.  Dining local is a vote for victory.

That’s it for today, this kid has to ride to work and prepare for the onslaught of the final day of…you know what week I am talking about.

Tha Cook

Taco Twednesday!!!!
2010/08/25, 5:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

For those of you unlucky enough to follow me on Twitter (@VegChefDSM) you know that I have become wildly obsessed with tacos and taco related interweb nonsense.

Is man doomed to stand in the shadow of a taco?

This Taco Obsession (or as the professional taco community calls it, Tac.O.) has grown beyond the thinking/dreaming state, into the realization of actual physically manifested tacos.  What does this all mean?  It means that I have been making tacos for consumption of the general taco eating public, YOU.  Every Tuesday (Taco Tuesday, get it?) I serve hand-crafted (oh, the pretension!) tacos at the Cumming Tap (117 N 44th St, Cumming, IA 50061) from 5 until 10 or 11 or whenever they sell out/I get tired of making tacos.  You have a choice of either Braised Pork Shoulder or my own recipe Vegan Chorizo served on hand-pressed corn tortillas (yes, MY hands) and topped with Cortida, a Salvadorean cabbage and pepper slaw.  Once in a while I will be throwing in some special tacos, such as next week’s planned Seitan Asada.  Here is the info from the awesome Bike Iowa web site (www.bikeiowa.com).  Every Thursday I run a “Free Taco Tuesday Thursday” contest on twitter, where there is a chance to win two tacos of your choice.  Follow me at @VegChefDSM for a chance to win…TACOS!

Here is what the people are saying so far:

“The tacos are amazing. I say it’s the tortilla.” – JM

“You made my night! Meat AND Vegan tacos!” – JL

“Holy Yum!” – JN

“what’s in Vegan Chorizo?” “I don’t know, but it blew my mind” – BT

“You could serve dog crap on this tortilla and it would be good” – PS (I really love that one)

“This is the best taco I have ever had!” – BS, JT, GB, and that lady with the yellow shirt.

All real testimonials, all real people, all good taco eaters.

Just a short Taco Update today, hope to see you next Taco Tuesday getting down like this:



Taco-ly Yours,

The Cook

ps: Keep those Fair Food Favorites rolling in, the list is growing

Manic Monday Meltdown!!!
2010/08/23, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Good morning, readers of the most dangerous sort-of-food-related blog on the planet (or at least in Central Iowa)!  It’s Monday, and you know what time it is…

Locally Grown Monday Morning Meltdown!

Let’s assume all of you made it through the Iowa State Food Fair alive and with minimal damage to your arteries, stomachs, figure, complexion, and pride.  Let’s also assume that you were able to eat all of the ridiculous food items you fancied while maintaining your fat intake/health & safety ratio. But regardless of whether you stayed safe or not, it’s going to take some dedication to burn off those extra 70,000 calories, you might even need to do something extreme like ride the “Treadmill Bike” to work every day this week.

What a great way to burn off that Fair Fat!

What were your favorites fair foods?  I would love to have you share with the other 9 people who might read this, so drop a comment or email and I may get around to compiling a list.  What’s my favorite?  OH, thought you would never ask!  Cajun Fried Cheese, which is essentially cheese fried in a spicy corndog batter.  In fact, I would like one right now…but all of our Fair Fare Faves are something like 352 days from being re-realized.  Yes, I am counting.

We will also assume that all 39 of the restaurants participating in Restaurant Week are still standing, and reaped the benefits of this Dining Promotional Event (which I think is to convert new culinary followers).  I have gotten a crap-load (yes, that is an official measurement…it may even be in the new Webster’s Dictionary) of feedback so far, and it is ALMOST ALL GOOD!  Haven’t heard one horror story yet…I will be checking out a few places this week, hope to see you out there expanding your dining horizons.

This Restaurant Week thing is working out pretty well for you humble cook, as this week contains the anniversary day of the life-bonding of myself and Mrs. The Cook.  We will be able to go out to dinner a few more times than usual for our Anniversary.

A few must-visits include Baru66, Azalea, Alba, Cafe Di Scala, Bistro Montage, Cosi Cucina, Mojo’s on 86th, Trostel’s Dish, Sbrocco, and Mandarin Grill (who gets the award for most elaborate menu, even including a graph of the meal plans).  Most of these places are requisite dining experiences if you are to consider yourself a DSM “Foodie” (I strongly dislike that term) and now is your chance to get your “Foodie Cred.”

Not much of a meltdown.  Hmmm…still in a good mood from the New Belgium Urban Assault Ride.

the cook

Arrrg, It’s Restaurant Week!

(witty caption)

Here we are as the true culinary event of the year, the Iowa State Fair, is drawing nearer to a close, poised at the starting line of the “dining treasure hunt” called Restaurant Week.  When the starting pistol fires today at about 11 a.m. diners, ‘foodies’, bargain hunters, and pleasure seekers of the foodular kind will ‘get down on it.’ with it being…food finding.  Hmmm…. Yes, you hungry thrill seekers will have the opportunity to search out new and exciting places to get yo food-freak on, and with special menus and special fixed prices.  I will spare you all of the details as you can probably find them on the  DSM Register web site or just look here.  The event is put on by DSM Magazine, the Business Record (Hi Todd), and 39 local restaurants who would love to see some new happy faces walking through their doors (coming or going, they want you smiling).

What we here at Locally Grown have for you today are a few special dining tips for those of you venturing forth into this taste bud adventure with reckless abandon.  As you may know, I have on occasion vented the customer complaints (about the customer)  heard while hanging out with local Restaurant Professionals.  Here are some tips to keep you from being the target of an A-hole rant  or worse, cause some hurt feelings on both sides.

Locally Grown’s Special Guide to Prefered Restaurant Week Behavior

  • Obey The Menu – This is a fixed price, fixed menu event designed to give you an affordable means to experience a multi-course meal.  Order from the Restaurant Week menu and enjoy the choices that have been specially selected.  These are items that the owners and chefs want you to try.  DO NOT pull some crap like “if I don’t want desert can I get the steak for my main entree?” If the steak is not an option you should  automatically assume that you can’t order the steak in conjunction with RW.  If you would like to order from the regular menu, then do just that.  Restaurant Week doesn’t give you license to order anything in your restaurant of choice for the RW price.  Seriously.
  • Be Understanding – in many restaurants, a sudden spike in business can cause either the kitchen to get a little behind or the speed of service to lag a little (especially if your server is running to the kitchen asking about the possibility of substitutions because guests aren’t following Rule #1).  Yes, that is one reason for the streamlined menu…to keep the flow going, but sometimes stuff happens.
  • Don’t be a F!@king Drama Queen – This isn’t only for our special week together, abide by it always.  Don’t tell your server that they ruined your night (unless they slashed your tires or stole your man) because of some small dining mishap.  Don’t start freaking out because you aren’t being allowed to make your own menu.  Come in to your restaurant of choice with a smile, and enjoy yourself.  If you have really just had the worst dining experience of your life, talk to someone in charge about it, and do it discreetly.
  • Compliments – If you are impressed with your experience, tell them.  We like positive feedback.  A few kind words go a long way.
  • Don’t Forget To Tip – according to legend, there are some people who come out for RW who may not normally dine out in a “sit down” environment.  For those of you who aren’t sure of what or how to tip, use this rule:  Tip your server at least 20% during RW. Don’t be a “Mr. Pink.”

"I don't tip just because society says I have to!" Then do it because I say you have to! t

  • Enjoy Yourselves – Restaurant Week (I hear) was designed to be enjoyed, so do just that.

So there you have it, a few easy tips to follow that should help make the next week more enjoyable for diners and restaurant staff alike.

See you on the road to Prix Fixe glory…

The Cook

Iowa State Fare
2010/08/17, 4:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Hello, friends.  Wow, so much going on this past week, almost forgot that my hands are not only for gripping stick-pierced food stuffs, but are also useful for tap tap tapping out words on my little keyboard for your reading meh-njoyment.  I am currently typing with fried pineapple on a stick clenched in my fist, making for a very greasy blog entry and putting the Geek Squad on 24 hour emergency stand-by for keyboard replacement.  They will have to pry the Fair Food from my cold, dead hands!!!

Speaking of the Iowa State Fair, it is going on this week.  BUT, as all “good” things it will be coming to an end and all that will be left will be the memories, acne, increased waistlines, and country concert t-shirts…or is there more?  Myself and Mrs. The Cook have come up with a game to keep the Iowa State Fair spirit alive year ’round.  I like to call it the “Iowa State Fair Fare Game.”  The rules are simple, as are the rules of the real fair.  Here’s how you play:

  1. Go to your bank (if you have one) and withdraw some cash, say $150.00 or more.
  2. Stop by a convenience store, preferably someplace like the QT on East 14th and Grand.
  3. Buy a few hot dogs, sausages, corn dogs, one 32oz fountain soda, and six beers.
  4. Devour all food items in the parking lot.
  5. Throw the rest of the cash in a dumpster.

There you have it.  Simple and fun.  Just like the real fair.  Sure, you probably didn’t get to see any sheep or pigs, and there are no rides, but no home version of any game is ever perfect (and it didn’t cost ten bucks to enter the store).  There ARE some optional additions to the game to heighten your post-fair experience:

  1. Play the game during lunch hour or on a Friday or Saturday night, it will give a better feeling of fair crowds
  2. Convince everyone in the parking lot to select a different radio station and turn their car stereos to full volume with all windows down.
  3. Carry your own Bamboo Skewers, and affix any food items to said skewers for your eating pleasure.
  4. Constantly talk about having “Non-Stop Fun.”
  5. Take it further, and carry around a picket sign stating “Non Stop Fun” protesting all of the not-fun everyone else is having.

You get the idea

There you have it, the “Iowa State Fair Fare Game.”  I hope to see you all playing August 23rd…

Maybe your parking lot will have one of these:

Can you say "Midway Simulator?"

More Iowa State Fair News:

There is an almost endless array of food vendors at the fair, but a very small number of them cater to our Vegetarian friends, and Vegans are totally excluded from the food festivities (well, ribbon fries are Vegan, but I can tell you from experience that being relegated to only fries and beer is not much of a State Fair Experience). Here are some Vegetarian State Fair Highlights:

  • The Veggie Table (across from the Grandstand) has veggie corn dogs, fried vegetables, and jalapeno poppers.  I highly recommend a visit to the fair’s only all-vegetarian food vendor.
  • Cajun Fried Cheese (across from the Budweiser Beer Garden) serves my favorite “fat guy” food at the fair, Cajun Fried Cheese.  You choose from Mozzarella or Pepperjack cheese, then it is hand dipped in a Cajun spiced Corn Dog batter and fried.  Yes, they use a separate fryer and batter for meat and cheese.  I asked, then watched to make sure they weren’t bull-honkeying me.  They passed the test.
  • Blue Ribbon Fries (just south of the Fried Cheese joint) is a great place to get side dish to complement your Cajun Fried Cheese, a giant basket of ribbon-cut fried potatoes.
  • Cheese Pizza, at your various pizza suppliers. Classic lazy-vegetarian fare at its best and most expensive.

I also heard something about Baked Potatoes, but didn’t investigate…and of course you can get the deserts, Fried Twinkies, Oreos, Fried Pineapple (my favorite), and the new Twinkie Roll, which I did not have the pleasure of devouring.  I DID get to eat one Fried Oreo.  It was good. Too good.  Pretty much spelled out the reason I don’t eat sweets that often.  These places are safe for vegetarians as most don’t sell meat items, therefore cannot futz up the fryer oil.

[a comprehensive listing of food and food vendors can be found at the Iowa State Fair Official Food Directory]

For those of you who are beer drinkers, you understand that there is a premium to be paid for your libations.  Here are some tips:

Small Beers are 12 oz, Large beers are 22 oz.

  • Budweiser Beer Garden smalls are $5 and large $10.
  • Budweiser/ABC5 Stage prices are $5/$7
  • Jacobsen Center (the new place) is also $5/$7 and is indoors with Air Conditioning and server local Newton-made beer from Madhouse Brewing for one dollar more.
  • AE Stage $5/$9

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are the places I have been, and you see where the deals lie.  The Jacobsen Center is a pretty sweet deal, with air conditioning and brand new clean bathrooms. The beer counter is also a concession stand, serving a variety of foods, including cheese pizza.  Makes for a good college-life simulator.

Hey,to be fair, I hope you all don’t think I am anti-State Fair.  I love the fair, I went nine times last year and have been three so far this year.

Anyhoo, I really do hope those of you who are out there doing your Fair business are enjoying the bejeezus out of the Iowa State Fair.  I have been and plan on enjoying it many more times this week.  Maybe we will see each other out there…

The Cook