Just imagine my elation when I learned I would be visiting the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchens…
Yes, just a couple weeks ago, I flew to Des Moines to meet up with a small group of bloggers from across the country to experience some Iowa agriculture. While we all pretty much knew the itinerary before arriving, it wasn’t until we were on Iowa
soil dirt that we were told there would be a tour of the BHG Test Kitchens. I don’t think it should come as any surprise that this was a major highlight of my trip across the border.
On my short flight back home to Minnesota, I read the 2011 “Holiday Recipes” special publication magazine from BHG, from cover to cover. A copy was given to each of us during our tour, full of dishes begging to be made. With just a few too many recipes deserving a clipping, this whole magazine will eventually get slipped in amongst my cookbook collection for safe keeping.
And when I was wanting a new side dish for our favorite No-Fail Barbecued Pork Ribs (from my friend Stephanie of fresh tart) last weekend, I knew just my inspiration, a recipe from that very magazine.
Cheesy Skillet Scalloped Corn, oh yes!
A one-skillet meal, easy and delicious. I did deviate from the recipe a bit (you do know me, right?!) by making my own creamy Swiss cheese sauce and adding a little Frank’s RedHot sauce kick. And it was received with much applause. This one’s a keeper, oh yes!
Want to see some photos and learn more about my trip to the Iowa Corn Belt?
Just scroll down past the recipe!
- 4 T. butter
- 2/3 c. crushed buttery round crackers, such as Ritz
- 2 T. butter
- 2 T. all-purpose flour
- 1-3/4 c. half and half
- 1 c. shredded Swiss cheese
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 2 tsp. Frank’s RedHot Original hot sauce, optional
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 15-oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
- 2 11-oz. cans corn with red and green bell peppers, drained
- 1 11-oz. can white shoepeg corn, drained
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter to melt, then add the crushed crackers. Cook and stir about 3 minutes, or until light brown. Remove crumbs to a plate to cool.
In the same skillet, prepare the Swiss cheese sauce. Turn the heat down to low, then melt the 2 tablespoons butter. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the half and half. Turn heat back up to medium and whisk fairly constantly until mixture is thickened and bubbly hot. Add shredded cheese, onion powder, optional Frank’s hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Stir until cheese is melted throughout.
Add all the corn to the Swiss cheese yum, stirring to combine. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times, to warm thoroughly. Stir half of the crumb topping into the cheesy corn and then transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle the remaining half of the crumb topping on top of the corn, followed by the sliced scallions. Serve hot.
2011 Iowa Cornucopia Tour
Participating in the 2011 Iowa Cornucopia Tour was a great way for me to take in my first blogging trip out of the state of Minnesota. Located in the familiarity of the Midwest and with farming at its core, the tour made me feel right at home from the get-go.
Our hosts – some great individuals from the Iowa Corn Growers Association/Iowa Corn Promotion Board, in partnership with the Center for Food Integrity – packed our 2-day visit full of interesting places and faces. Which was good, because that’s sort of how I travel anyway, taking in as much as I can of a new place. Just ask my husband about some of our trip itineraries over the years.
We met for breakfast the first morning at the Machine Shed Restaurant, where we feasted on frosted cinnamon rolls “the size of your head” (truly), and were introduced to Vatchel White, a fifth generation farmer. He entertained us with his running-on-Red-Bull personality and shared about his very full life in agriculture. This guy surely can’t get much sleep. And I’m positive it’s not because of his new baby girl keeping him up. He has his fingers in a bit of everything ag related, with responsibilities and interests reaching far and wide.
Next we stopped at Living History Farms, a place where visitors can walk through authentic models of historical and modern farming. We shucked corn the old fashioned way and very soon realized the labor it took all those years ago, to shuck just one cob of corn. When my mom saw that photo of Kristy (The Wicked Noodle) in the upper left corner, she immediately recognized the corn shucking machine, remembering her own dad having one just like it.
We were then zoomed to the current farming world, where corn shucking machines have been replaced by powerful pieces of mega equipment capable of shucking a whole corn field clean in just a matter of hours. Bill Couser, corn and soy bean farmer and owner of Couser Cattle Company, was our host for a few hours as we toured the Lincolnway Energy ethanol plant and took a ride in his lovely John Deere green combine. Always open to the latest in technology, Bill shared with us how his business – farming 5,000 acres and feeding out 5,000 head of cattle – works, and how he strives to be kind to the environment in return. In 2010 Couser Cattle Company was named the national recipient of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award. No small achievement, I’m quite certain.
I hadn’t set foot in an ethanol plant before, so that was very educational for me. At Lincolnway Energy, we learned about the processing of corn into ethanol, a clean-burning renewable fuel, and of its co-products. Did you know that through the corn fermentation process at the ethanol plant, carbon dioxide gas is captured and converted to liquid carbon dioxide? Yes, processing corn provides the means to carbonate that soft drink you just popped the top on!
Corn is present in more things than I ever realized. From glues, batteries, chalk, and aspirin – to charcoal briquettes, shampoos, sports wear, and shoe polish…the list is an extremely long one. It’s pretty amazing how our everyday lives are built around corn-based products.
At Iowa State University, we were the guests of Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. She had us feeling like students again as we extracted the DNA from strawberries, while we talked about food and nutrition. Answering our group’s questions pointedly, based on facts and chemical equations, Dr. MacDonald earned both my respect and appreciation.
Then we headed back to Des Moines, to Meredith Corporation, home of the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchens I spoke of earlier. It was interesting to learn that Meredith’s first publication was of Successful Farming, a magazine found in the rack as I was growing up, and still being delivered to my parent’s mailbox to this day. Meredith has grown tremendously over the years and now features 21 subscription magazines – including Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal, MORE, Fitness, and Midwest Living.
Lynn Blanchard, Test Kitchen Director, was our friendly and informative hostess for a tour that was all too short for the rest of us girls. We were given access to the Test Kitchen’s 10 galley kitchens, 2 dining-room style tasting rooms, and an outdoor area with an amazing number of grills of all makes and sizes. There were 9 kitchen photo studio bays, a warehouse of a room filled with floor to ceiling shelves of food props, and layers upon layers of interesting sights and tidbits of info at every turn. It was an amazing experience.
Day #1 ended with dinner and a beautiful glass of Iowa wine at Jasper Winery. Here we met a few more farmers who took time out of their busy harvesting schedule to sit down and enjoy a meal with us. Sara Ross (Sara’s House HD), who was with our group the entire trip, and her husband, Kevin, President of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, also joined us that evening. They are the 6th generation to farm the land they live on. I just love those kinds of numbers, deeply invested in family and tradition.
The next morning, after breakfast at the beautiful Renaissance Savery Hotel where we stayed, we headed for the race track.
Racing a few laps around the Iowa Speedway track, designed by one of my favorite racers, Rusty Wallace, proved to be an especially fun time. That’s Chuck Spicer, Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the speedway, in the top left photo, ready to burn a little rubber for Heather (Farmgirl Gourmet) in the passenger seat. I think it’s pretty darn cool that Chuck has worked with racing greats Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Wow!
After leaving Chuck behind on the speedway track, two things were obvious to me. One – that he is very proud of the fact that the cars running in the Iowa IndyCar Series are powered by 100% corn-based ethanol. And two – that he loves what he does, as his energy just made you smile.
Then it was time to eat once again. But this time, we were preparing the food! At Ador Kitchens, Chef Terrie Kohl guided us through the making of a delicious meal, our final meal together:
- Cider Sauced Apple, Walnut, and Bacon Stuffed Iowa Pork Chops
- 3 Bean with Sweet Potato Chili
- Leek, Cremini Mushroom, and Roasted Corn Risotto
- Warm Spiced Apple Dumplings with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Having grown up on a farm myself, I’ve always known of the hard work, dedication, and ever increasing technology involved to manage a farm that is successful. So it was awesome to watch some of the others who were unfamiliar with the territory, be amazed by the business of farming and its contribution to feeding our world. Completely awesome.
I had a great time on the Iowa Cornucopia Tour and am thankful for the opportunity to learn so much with this amazing group of people.
Other bloggers on the Tour:
Kelly of Once a Month Mom
Heather of Farmgirl Gourmet
Emily of Busy Mommy
Leslie of The Hungry Housewife
Kristy of The Wicked Noodle
Christina of Mele Cotte
Jyl of The Post-It Place