Monday, November 26, 2012


When we drew our last four states, and one of them was Massachusetts, it seemed too perfect that Thanksgiving was only a few weeks away.  Despite the questionable history behind the holiday, Thanksgiving has always been my favorite.  No buying, no ads, no decorating--just food and community. 

We enjoyed the company of both friends and family for dinner, followed by a full evening of puzzles, pie and music.  I won't bore you with every recipe, but will share a couple favorites. 

Roast Turkey
Grilled Salmon
Wild and Brown Rice
Beet and Carrot slaw
Green Beans with Almonds
Corn Pudding

Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Sweet Potato Pie
Pecan Pie
Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
Apple Cranberry Cake

Our bird, the central feature, came from a local farmer and weighed in at nearly 13lbs.  Rather than filling the cavity with traditional stuffing, which tends to dry out the meat, I stuffed it with a green apple, one onion, one head of garlic, one lemon and fresh sage and thyme.  The skin got a massage with butter salt and pepper and 3 hours in a 350 degree oven (followed by a 20 minute rest) resulted in perfectly cooked meat.

Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of the cooked bird.  But, he looked pretty good even before he went into the oven:

The dressing (or stuffing, but since it didn't go in the bird I guess it's technically dressing) is also a key component for us.  My recipe comes straight from my mother in law and never fails.

9 cups dried bread cubes. (I hoard crusts from my homemade bread all year and use these.  Cube and dry them out  a couple days in advance)
1 1/2 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1-2 Tb each chopped fresh sage and thyme
salt and pepper
1-3 cups of homemade chicken stock

Sautee the celery and onions in the butter until they soften.  Add salt, pepper and herbs at the end.

 Then, add the vegetables to the bread cubes and blend.  Add the stock, one cup at a time, until it reaches the consistency you like.  Keep stirring, that will help the bread cubes soak up the stock.

Transfer to a baking dish and cook, uncovered, at 375 until the top is nicely browned.  You can do this alongside the turkey in the oven, though we did ours in advance.  Our oven is too small to fit both the turkey and the dressing pan.  No worries, though, the dressing heats right up in the oven while the turkey rests.

The Beet and Carrot Slaw comes straight from the Food Network and is quick, easy and colorful.

Beet and Carrot Slaw
2 T Dijon mustard
4 T red wine vinegar
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
4 T olive oil
1 lb beets, peeled and shredded
1/2 lb carrots, peeled and shredded

First, make the dressing.  Combine the mustard, vinegar, celery seed, sugar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Whisk in the olive oil.  You may add more or less olive oil, it depends on how you like the consistency of your dressing.

In a food processor (or a using a hand grater), shred the beets and carrots.

Then add them to the bowl with the dressing and blend thoroughly

The rolls were also a big hit.  This recipe for these also came from my mother-in-law and often I can't keep my make-it-healthy hands off of them.  They're good even with less oil and sugar and with whole-wheat flour, but the recipe that follows is fantastic.  Addictive, even.

Grandma Janssen's Dinner Rolls
2 cups hot water plus 1 cup milk
2 packages yeast
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
About 6 cups white flour
1 T salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer, blend the hot water with the milk, oil and sugar. Add the yeast and whisk until it dissolves.  Allow the mixture to sit until the yeast foams.  Add 4 cups of flour and the salt. Using the dough hook, blend the ingredients on a low setting until they're well combined.  Add more flour as necessary.  (Here's where some practice helps).  The dough is ready when it is very elastic and you can see the little glutinous threads stringing to the side of the bowl.  It should still be quite sticky.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead briefly, until the dough is a soft, smooth ball.  Let rise until doubled (about 2 hours), punch down and let rise again (about 1 hour).  Form into 2 inch balls--pinch chunks of dough off, maintaining a smooth top.  Place on oiled sheet pan and let rise again for about 25 minutes.  Bake at 375 until nicely browned--about 15 minutes.  Let cool on the pans, then hoard them all for yourself.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 16, 2012


So, did you guys hear that there was an election?  I thought so.  Here in Iowa, that's about all we hear about for a good 15 months before the event.

We realized, as we finally started planning our most recent four meals, that Connecticut has a rather famous tradition on election day:  Election Cake!  Even before the Revolution, cakes were baked by colonial women to celebrate election days, which were major holidays. With this information, we decided to do our Connecticut meal on election day, it seemed a perfect fit.

Election Cakes were yeast leavened, and closely resembled English fruitcakes of the time.  There are many recipes online, which include various combinations of currants, orange rinds, nutmeg, brandy and/or raisins.  I  combined the elements of several recipes I found, but relied heavily on an interpretation of one that comes from an 1833 edition of The Frugal American Housewife.  I used only raisins and put the cake together as small rolls in a 9x14 pan, when it rises, the rolls come together to form a pull-apart cake.

Here's my version:

1/4 c warm water
1 package dry yeast
3/4 c warm whole milk
3 c flour
6 T butter, melted
1 egg
1/2 c sugar
1 t fresh nutmeg (Connecticut is also The Nutmeg State)
1 t cinnamon
1 t salt
1 c raisins

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Blend the warm milk, butter, egg, salt spices and sugar in a large bowl then add the yeast and water mixture. 

Add the flour mix well, it will be a stiff dough.

When the dough comes together, turn out onto a counter and knead until smooth.  Gradually add the raisins as you knead.  Add flour as necessary.

Form dough into 24 small rolls and arrange in a 9x14 cake pan.  Let them rise in a warm place (it was chilly, so I put them on a heating pad set to warm).  When the rolls have fully doubled, and are touching, they're ready to bake.

Bake at 375 until rolls are golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool briefly on a rack, then gently invert and remove from pan.  You can serve them warm or room temperature.

Along with our Election Cake we roasted a pork tenderloin on a bed of vegetables.  This was pretty straightforward and seemed appropriate for a New England meal.

Since I spent the day making Election Cake, Marc took charge of this part.  He roughly chopped onions, potatoes, carrots and celery and gave them a coating of salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh thyme.  Then, he seared a pork tenderloin (about 2 lbs) on all sides over high heat.

After that, add the vegetables to the pan and put into a 375 degree oven for about a half hour to finish.  While the pork rested after cooking, Marc made a simple pan sauce out of the drippings.  Add a couple tablespoons of flour to the fat in the pan and cook over medium high heat.  Add a shot of whiskey or brandy to deglaze the pan and then stir in 2 cups chicken stock until thickened.  Season with mustard, salt, pepper and fresh thyme.

This meal was enjoyed by everyone.  The kids avoided the sauce, but liked the pork.  The vegetables were a bit too squishy for them, but it gave us an opportunity to explain that it is bad manners to declare food "disgusting" when someone has taken the time to prepare it.  ahem.

The Election Cake was quite good--tender and reminiscent of cinnamon raisin bread, with the addition of nutmeg.  The leftovers were good additions to breakfast and in the kids' lunches.

So, here's to democracy!

We got to draw our next four states:  Massachusetts, Maine, Utah and Oregon!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


OK, so, "disaster" is probably a strong word, but I wouldn't call this meal a success either. 

Arizona doesn't yet have an official state food, but many suggest that the chimichanga is really the only choice.  With origins in Tucson, chimichangas are apparently a basic staple for most Arizona residents.

I confess, I've only had chimichangas at chain Mexican restaurants; but, how can you go wrong with meat and cheese fried in a flour tortilla? The kids were totally game for this meal, just so they could repeatedly say "Chimichangaaahhhh!"  Who could blame them?

The problem with this meal was that I was overly ambitious in terms of time.  It was the night before Halloween.  Both kids had orchestra and it was critical that we carve pumkins.  In addition, Marc had two fiddle lessons to give and we HAD to watch It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  I figured if I made the meat filling while the kids were at orchestra and got all the other ingredients ready, I could quickly fry them after we carved pumpkins and be all done by the time Marc's fiddle students arrived. Sure.

The meat filling was the easy part.  I used our typical taco filling:  1 lb ground beef and half an onion sauteed.  Add 2T chili powder, 1T ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 1/2 tsp salt,  and 2 tsp corn starch.  Stir in 2T tomato paste mixed with 3/4 cup water and simmer until thick.

After I cooked the meat, I shredded some cheddar cheese and heated four large flour tortillas so that they would be soft and pliable.  Then, I heated several cups of peanut oil in a heavy pot.  I had forgotten to buy toothpicks at the store earlier, but Marc figured they would stay together if you put them in the oil seam-side down first.

I waited (and waited) until the oil thermometer read 350 degrees.  The first tortilla wasn't warm enough and wanted to tear when I tried to wrap it around the filling.  Marc said I had too much meat, so I took some out and started over.  Eventually, I had something that resembled a small burrito, and so I gingerly put it in the oil.  It immediately turned black.  I said several bad words about the quality of the oil thermometer and Marc (kindly) agreed to eat that one.

After turning down the heat, the second one came out a bit less dark and, as predicted, it did hold together even without a toothpick.  By now, I was feeling pretty confident, so I assembled the third chimichanga and put it in the oil.  Marc stood by with tongs, ready to turn it.  Suddenly, there was a gush of violently boiling oil.  Marc picked the exploded chimichanga out of the pot declaring, "there was too much filling!" over the roaring oil.  Nearly all of the meat burst out of the tortilla and promptly burned to a crisp in the hot oil.  I said more bad words.

A deflated chimichanga

But, we went with it.  One burnt, one passable, and one exploded chimichanga.  The fourth became a potential taco. For toppings, we served shredded lettuce, a couple types of salsa and sour cream. I made a basic salad for a side. 

The kids split the most normal looking chimichanga, and enjoyed it.  Despite the unconventional appearance, they did taste like chimichangas.  The cheese inside was nicely melted with the meat and you can't really go wrong with a fried tortilla, even a burnt one.  This was an interesting experiment, but will likely not make it into our regular rotation.  I might stick to the chain restaurants to get a chimi-fix.

Next up:  Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

South Carolina

We headed south tonight, and on a muggy Iowa day shrimp and grits with sweet potato pie hit the spot.  Our CSA had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes this year, and over the past two weekends I baked, mashed and froze 10 cups.  No one in our house is a huge fan, though Marc and I like an occasional sweet potato hash.  The frozen, mashed potatoes will go well in quick breads and, of course, sweet potato pie.

I had never made (or eaten) sweet potato pie before.  The internet, not surprisingly, abounds with recipes.  I settled mostly on this one.  I also added orange zest, which several other sites recommended.  The filling would be easy to whip up by hand, but I used my mixer to ensure a nice, smooth texture.

After beating all the filling ingredients together, I stirred in the last three tablespoons of flour by hand.

The crust is a basic recipe:  cut 1/3 cup butter into 1 cup flour and a pinch of salt.  Use enough ice water to bring the dough together and press into a disk.  Refrigerate while you make the filling, then roll out and press into pan.

The texture was lighter and more even than I usually get with pumpkin. 

Now...on to the dinner!  I'm sorry to say that I had to use quick grits (apologies to all our southern friends) but they just don't sell "real" grits in Iowa City.

 Marc made chicken stock in the morning, and I used that for both the shrimp and the grits.  For the shrimp, I mostly followed Tyler Florence's recipe, though I used bacon rather than sausage.

Mince 1/2 large onion and 2 cloves garlic and saute in olive oil.  Add 4 slices chopped bacon and fry until crisp.

Add 2 tablespoons flour, stirring constantly to make a roux and then slowly add 2 cups of chicken stock. Keep stirring until it comes to a simmer and begins to thicken.  Then, add a bay leaf, salt, pepper and the shrimp.

Simmer until the shrimp are cooked through (about five minutes).

It was a pleasure to sit down to a new "blog meal"! Everyone found something to like. Both kids enjoyed the shrimp, Lucy "loved!" the grits but did not enjoy the gravy.  Maia declared the gravy "ok" but did not like the grits at all.

Marc and I enjoyed every bite.  Those southerners know how to cook.

Oh, the pie?

One of the best I've ever made, if I do say so myself!

Next stop:  Arizona.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Well, Hi!  Yes, we're still here, believe it or not!  A busy semester for both grown-ups and kids put our little project on hold for a bit, but now it's summer and we're back in business!

We jumped back into our states with a pretty easy choice--an Idaho baked potato bar seemed like a no-brainer for the Gem State, which produces about 1/3 of the potatoes consumed in the US.

This meal is a handy way to use up leftovers, since just about anything tastes good on a baked potato.  I put out caramelized onions, bacon crumbles, salsa, black beans, cheddar, barbecue sauce, butter, sour cream and chives.  We chose large potatoes--nearly 7 inches long, which baked for about an hour at 400 degrees.  I poked them thoroughly with a fork and coated them with olive oil before baking them directly on the oven rack.  While the potatoes were in the oven, the onions got the "low and slow" treatment in a cast iron pan:

I also diced a few slices of bacon cooked them nice and crispy:

Pretty much anything that you like on a burger also tastes quite good on a potato!  I went with butter, sour cream, onions, cheddar, bacon, chives and barbecue sauce with black beans on the side.

Lucy chose cheddar, bacon and Parmesan cheese:

And Marc went all out with black beans, onions, salsa, cheddar, bacon and chives:

Maia kept it simple, just butter, sour cream and cheddar.  Surprisingly, she was also the least enthusiastic about the meal. Everyone else was pretty happy with it. 

This was a nice way to ease ourselves back into our state project.  And, I think that a baked potato bar could easily be part of our regular repertoire.

Next stop:  South Carolina!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Holiday Scenes

We gazed, we ate, we opened, we ate some more, we created, and we (eventually) got back to daily life. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Our Delaware meal turned out to be a perfect fit for a Sunday mid-winter night (even though it's been in the 40s here in Iowa!). Delaware, like much of the mid-Atlantic, South and Midwest, has become a major chicken producer. The results of this industry, however, have been environmentally detrimental in the fragile Chesapeake Bay ecosystem of the Del-Mar-Va peninsula. Interestingly, Delaware has a long relationship with the noble chicken, going much farther back than the current factory model, and the Blue Hen Chicken is the state bird.

A quick google search turned up this recipe for Authentic Delaware Chicken and Slicks. Although our kids generally dislike soup, this meal very much resembled the more successful chicken pie recipe from South Dakota.

You could certainly do this recipe in one day, but I stretched it over two. On Saturday, I made the stock and cooked the chicken. I briefly sauteed roughly cut onions, carrots, celery, garlic and parsnips in a little olive oil.

Then, I put a whole chicken on top of the veggies and covered with water. I added salt, pepper and thyme and simmered for about 2 hours. I removed the chicken and let it cool for a while before removing the meat from the bones. At this point, the stock was nice and rich. If you want to concentrate more flavor, you could put the bones back in the liquid to simmer longer.

On Sunday, I sauteed diced onions, carrots, celery in garlic with more thyme, salt and pepper. I added 8 cups of stock and brought it to a simmer. Meanwhile, I prepared the dough for the "slicks." I followed the recipe exactly here, and was rewarded with a nice soft, stretchy dough to work with.

I used a pizza cutter to cut the squares

I added the slicks to the stock to cook, then the reserved chicken to heat through. This made a nice, warming one-pot meal.

The dish turned out more soup-like than I was expecting, next time I will start with a bit less stock. The flavors, however were excellent! The "dumplings" were more like a hearty noodle. Both girls ate well. Lucy thought the slicks were a little slippery, but ate them happily after setting a couple on the side of the plate to dry out for a minute. Maia really liked them and asked for extra slicks in her dish after she ate the first ones.

After the holidays, we'll take on our next four: Idaho, Connecticut, South Carolina and Arizona.

Whatever holiday you celebrate, we wish you a season full of peace and light!