This past weekend we had the privilege of attending the Des Moines Winefest Meredith Saturday Sessions. It is the kickoff event of the weeklong wine celebration, one of the hottest events of the summer here in Iowa. We had attended other Winefest events in the past, but this one was different – in a good way. Unlike the staple events, Sips in the City or the Grand Tasting, where let’s be honest most attendees are there to be seen and are drinking as much wine as they can get their hands on while making their way through the crowd, the focus of the Meredith Saturday Session was education.
The afternoon consisted of two sessions, the first featuring the June issue of Better Homes and Garden with Greg and Gabi Denton, the owners of OX Restaurant in Portland, Oregan. My first thought was who knew BH&G had great articles covering some of the hottest chefs in the country? Although the magazine holds a special place in my heart (both my parents worked at Meredith for years, it is where they met and then you know had me, so it is kind of a big part of my story), I admittedly viewed the magazine as a little behind the times – something my mother-in-law would read… Not that that is bad thing, just not my thing! But I was proven wrong, the story and the chefs were fabulous.
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To say Greg and Gabi Denton from OX Restaurant were awesome is an understatement. Their demonstration consisted of the recipes from their feature in the magazine paired with a light rose (1) Fire-roasted Ricotta with Corn and Peppers (2) Grilled Bone-in Beef Ribeye Steak with Liquid Gold (3) Grilled Parmesan Cake (4) Ox Blood Cocktail. Our favorites were the Grilled Parmesan Cake, which I am totally making at the next grill out we host or go to, and the Ox Blood Cocktail. Although all the dishes were divine, what really made the demonstration fantastic were the tips they shared on how to elevate simple foods and how down to earth Greg and Gabi were throughout it. If ever we find ourselves in Portland, I would love to spend an evening with them sharing a few cocktails – but a girl can dream! The top tips we took away from their demonstration were:
- The favorite salt of most chefs is Kosher salt. It is the perfect graininess and all purpose seasoning.
- Get over the grill marks on meat. They aren’t important to the flavor, and they are only used in restaurants to indicate to servers the temp of the meat.
- In order to cook great grilled fish, lightly oil the fish, make sure you have a very clean grill, oil the grill, use high heat and cook 80% on one side (skin side if available) and then finish on the other side.
- When baking, only mix the flour enough to be incorporated. If mixed too much, it will bring out the gluten and make your cake/cookie/whatever gluey. This however does not apply when baking bread and pasta.
- The most important ingredient in baking is SALT! Having a hit of savory is what makes you keep coming back for another bite.
We ended the session buying a copy of their new book, Around the Fire, and taking a short stroll in the Meredith Test Gardens.
The second and final session of the afternoon featured Kathy and Herb Eckhouse, owners of La Quercia, CJ Bienert, owner of The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, and Ben Nelsen, the Sommelier at Splash. It was a lively and fun panel filled with lots of Iowa pride!
Kathy and Herb told their story of living in Italy, inspiration for choosing prosciutto and why Iowa is a great place for their business. CJ shared his LOVE for cheese and chose the pairings for the day (1) Berkshire prosciutto with Cow Girl Mt. Tam (2) Tamworth prosciutto with Uplands Dairy, Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged “Fall Selection (3) Acorn VII prosciutto with Milton Creamery, Flory’s Truckle. And of course all complimented by great wines – J Rivers NV Cuvee 20 Russian River Valley and 2015 Pinot Gris.
We walked away wanting to move to Italy, craving more prosciutto and ready for another glass of wine, but we had to settle for two out of the three – Italy will have to wait!
One of our favorite ways to eat prosciutto, besides topped on good bread paired with creamy cheese, is wrapped around asparagus and cooked till it is lightly crisp. It is a great side dish for a simple meal on a weekday, but also fancy enough to serve when hosting a dinner. Recently we made it using the grill, but it can also be done in the oven. Just roast the asparagus for about 15 minutes at 425, take out of the oven to cool a bit, wrap multiple bunches with a slice a prosciutto and return to the oven for a few minutes until the prosciutto is crispy. The dish is great on its own, but sometimes I like to top it with a little goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. So feel free to try something new!
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 3oz package of La Quercia Proscuitto
- Pre-heat grill to about 400 degrees (medium-high heat). Clean asparagus, toss in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Grill asparagus for 2-4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalk. You may want to use a grill basket for this part, but it isn’t necessary (just don’t be mad if a few fall through the grates). Rotate asparagus, and grill for another 2-4 minutes.
- Remove asparagus from the grill and let cool until you’re able to hand it. Bunch 3-6 asparagus pieces together and wrap with one slice of prosciutto. Continue the same process with the rest of the asparagus and prosciutto.
- Return the asparagus bunches to the grill. Grill for another 3-5 minutes, rotating every minute or so, until the prosciutto is slightly crispy but not burnt.
- Enjoy the bunches by themselves or top with your favorite cheese and dressing!