Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Des Moines, Iowa

The Location: Des Moines, Iowa

2013 population: 207,510 people. 67.9% white, 13.3% Hispanic. Per capita income: $23,723

Des Moines was incorporated on September 22, 1851 as Fort Des Moines. It was named for the Des Moines River which translates to River of the Monks in French. Prior to and after the European invasion, there were numerous Native American tribes who lived in Iowa. As with the whole of the Midwest and American expansion, the region was a crossroads for many different tribes as they were pushed further west over the decades as more Americans and Europeans took over their land, displacing them. Fort Des Moines was built to try and control the Meskwaki and Sauk tribes. They had already been forced to move from the eastern half of the state, their homeland. They did not fare well in their new land.

By 1857, the city's name was shortened to Des Moines. In 1864, coal mining became an important industry with the opening of the Des Moines Coal Company. It was very active until the early 1900's when the coal was used up.

The city has undergone several transformations and beautification projects over the years, changing the shape and look of the city. Today, Des Moines is home to several large financial and insurance giants such as Wells Fargo and Allied Insurance.

Through my research of the city, I was unable to find a lot of outstanding events or points in time of interest. Des Moines appears to be a city that has largely kept its head down and gotten its work done. It doesn't make waves, it just moves ever on with the changing times. It has always been a politically active city, though, and the state of Iowa is one of the shapers of past and current American politics.

Iowa is also the setting to one of my favorite musicals: The Music Man. If you've never seen it, you really should. It's a lot of fun. The movie takes place in a fictitious town, but one of the songs I think perfectly embodies the state, and therefore, the city of Des Moines:

So, why are we in Des Moines today? Well, we are here for the world-famous, or at least nationally-famous, Iowa State Fair! The Iowa State Fair began in 1854 in the city of Fairfield. It was moved to Des Moines permanently in 1878. With a few exceptions, it has been held every year since then. It is known for attractions like the Butter Cow sculpture which was introduced in 1911. They also have a double ferris wheel. They are also well-known for their loved of deep-fried foods and foods on sticks. Deep-fried butter and the deep-fried Snickers bar are some of the more outlandish items they have fried up over the years. In honor of that, I decided to partake in my own deep-fried feast.

The Food: Deep-Fried Everything

Deep-frying is something I never really do. I have done it when I worked in the restaurant industry, but never really do it at home. I eat deep-fried foods, but I never really make it for myself. I decided that if I was going to deep-fry a meal, I was going to do it right. I borrowed my parents' table-top small deep-fryer and some oil from them and picked out several recipes to try. I had more recipes planned but didn't do all of them because I hit my deep-fried threshold before dessert.

Did you know that you can eat too much deep-fried food? I didn't, but I learned that last night. I don't really know why, I made corndogs, onion rings, deep-fried pickles, sweet potato chips, and corn fritters. That really shouldn't have been too much...OMG that was so much deep-fried deliciousness! No wonder I had no stomach for dessert. I was going to make a dessert batter and try deep-frying apple and nectarine slices, but it was a no-go.

I found a recipe for Iowa State Fair corndogs online and they worked brilliantly. I will share the link because I didn't alter the recipe except to use chicken dogs instead of beef hotdogs. I think it turned out really well. There's something thrilling about making your own corndogs. They're easy to buy at the grocery store at the deli or in the freezer section, but there's something cool about making your own. You control the ingredients more and the quality is better. I used chopsticks for the sticks. The cheapo kind you get with teriyaki and you keep them in your silverware drawer and never use, but you don't want to throw them out either. This is the perfect use for them.

I also used the extra batter from the corndogs to dip dill pickle wedges in and deep-fried those. If you have never tried the amazing treat that is a deep-fried pickle, do yourself a favor and try one. They are so good!

The sweet potato chips really don't need a recipe. I had half a sweet potato left over from last week's chili recipe and thought this would be a good use of it. All you do is peel it, slice it as thinly as possible and throw it in the fryer. Sprinkle a little salt on them when they're done and you have sweet potato chips! I had originally thought to do them in french fry form, but the shape of the potato was such that chips were a better option. They weren't overly sweet and were really good!

The last two recipes I used my own recipes for so I'll write them out here.

Sweet Onion Rings: (I made a half batch but will write out the original recipe)
3 cups buttermilk
2 sweet onions, thinly sliced into rounds, then separated into rings
3 cups flour
3 Tbsp. onion powder
3 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. pepper
4 cups canola oil

Pour buttermilk into large bowl. Add onion rings; toss to coat. Let stand 1 hour, tossing occasionally. Mix flour, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper in another large bowl.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to reach depth of 3". Heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working with a few onion rings at a time, shake off excess buttermilk, then turn onion rings in flour mixture to coat. Fry onion rings until golden brown, adjusting heat as necessary for each batch to maintain temperature to 350 degrees, about 2 minutes. Transfer onion rings to paper towels to drain, then place on baking sheet and keep warm in oven while frying remaining rings.
Makes 6 servings

The only things I did differently was to leave out the onion powder because we were out. I added a dash of cayenne pepper instead. I also added a bit of Tabasco sauce to the buttermilk to flavor the onions more. I breaded all the onions before starting to fry them and used a deep-fryer instead of the pan. These were amazing! They were really crispy and the onions were so thin that they basically melted when you ate them. I probably ate too many of these.

The other recipe is for the corn fritters.  This is apparently a family recipe but I've never had the occasion to try it. It's not an Iowa recipe, but it is corn, and corn and Iowa go hand-in-hand, so I thought it was a good time to try it. I changed it to deep-fry the fritters, but I'll write out the recipe as it is stated, which calls for pan-frying. The batter is essentially a pancake batter, so pan-frying would result in a pancake-type finished product, but when you deep-fry them, they are more like a savory doughnut. I chose this recipe because I also had leftover creamed corn from last week's blog recipes and wanted to use it up. I think this was a great way to use it because there were delicious!

Seabeck Corn Fritters:
1 1/3 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar(I cut it down to 1 Tbsp and they were quite sweet from the corn. I don't think you need 2, personally.)
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup cream-style corn
1/3 drained canned whole kernel corn(I used frozen because that's what we had on hand. It was just fine.)
1 qt. corn oil

1.) In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar.
2.) In a small mixing bowl, beat the egg and milk to blend, stir in cream-style corn and whole corn.
3.) Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; add corn mixture and stir until dry ingredients are moistened.
4.) Pour oil into a large iron skillet, filling 1/3 full. Over medium heat, heat oil to 375 degrees.
5.) Drop mixture by Tbsp. into oil, no more than 3-4 at a time. Fry until brown. Turn once. Drain on absorbent paper.
6.) Serve at once with syrup.(I did not do this.)
Makes about 18 fritters; can be doubled.

I made so much food that I called my parents to come up and eat the rest of it. They came up at about 8pm and devoured the rest of the food, with the exception of the plate they took down to my grandparents to try. There was only a tiny bit leftover in the end, but I had reached my limit and could eat no more. Deep-fried foods are delicious, but they really are best in moderation. I can't imagine eating like that every day, but there are some people who do. I don't know how they manage it, but they do! I would highly recommend any of these recipes, but maybe don't make every one of them all at once. It's a bit overwhelming. Amazing, but overwhelming!

City Stats

City Map

City Pic

Iowa Native American Tribes History

Iowa State Fair Corn Dog Recipe

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