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!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


We went way north for this meal, and our recent Iowa snow and frigid weather only improved the experience!

This dinner blended several typical Alaskan foods. Of course, we had to have some fish or seafood. Berries and hearty vegetables are also common. Finally, we gave a nod to the state's gold rush history with a loaf of sour dough bread.

We were lucky enough to have some salmon in our freezer. Though our King salmon can't claim Alaskan heritage, as it was caught by my brother in downstate Michigan, it fit the bill. After seasoning with salt, pepper and garlic powder, the two fillets went into a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes (I checked them at 10 and they needed a bit more time).

We did have some real Alaskan product as well: snow crabs. Neither the kids or Marc had ever had these big crab legs. Lucy, after taking her first look at them, declared "I am not eating that." These came already cooked, I only had to heat them up. Most references recommend a quick steam. I didn't have a steamer basket large enough to contain the cluster of legs, so I made my own with some strips of foil over a large pot.

The berries went into a quick cobbler, I found this recipe at one of my most used references for this project.

Blueberry cobbler
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon melted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup boiling water

Mix flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, salt. Stir in milk, vanilla, butter. Spread batter in buttered 8 X 8 pan. Scatter blueberries over batter. Sprinkle sugar over berries. Pour boiling water over all. Bake at 375 degree oven for 45 min. or unitl brown and done in center. Berries sink to bottom and form juice. Serve hot with light cream; or cold, topped with ice cream."
---Juneau Centennial Cookbook, Jane Stewart, Phyllice F. Bradner, Betty Harris (p. 43)

I only used about 1/3 cup of sugar for the topping and reduced the boiling water by about half. This came together quickly and only took about 30 minutes in the oven. When it was done, I increased the oven temperature for the fish.

Despite Lucy's initial resistance to the crab, it was the first thing she went for at the table. She couldn't wait to crack those suckers open. And, happily, she thoroughly enjoyed what was inside. She said, "they taste just like shrimp, only not quite like shrimp." Well said. Maia dug into her salmon first, one of her favorites. Both adults were happy as well. Despite feeling like a rather decadent meal, it was surprisingly quick and easy. The cobbler was very simple and the fish and crab legs cooked quickly. Easy sides of shredded cabbage and bread rounded out a fun Friday night meal.

Next stop: Delaware

Sunday, December 4, 2011


"Show him the spiced plums, mother. Americans don't have those," said one of the older boys. "Mother uses them to make kolaches," he added.
Leo, in a low voice, tossed off some scornful remark in Bohemian.
I turned to him. "You don't think I know what kolaches are, eh? You're mistaken, young man. I've eaten your mother's kolaches long before that Easter day when you were born."
--Willa Cather, My Antonia--

Not long ago, I got to share one of my favorite Midwestern novels with my book club. My Antonia, by Willa Cather, describes the childhood of Bohemian immigrant Antonia Shimerda on the newly settled Nebraska prairie. Its a beautiful book, simultaneously depicting the vastness of the raw prairie and the intimate, detailed knowledge of the land held by those who lived there.

This meal is a nod to the rich Bohemian (Czech) heritage in Nebraska.

We started the kolaches first thing this morning. I used a dough recipe, found here. Other than using my mixer to bring the dough together, and letting it rise for about an hour and a half, I followed the recipe exactly.

Lucy blends the dough

Filling the kolaches was a team effort.

Ready to bake.

We used three separate fillings: traditional poppyseed, cream cheese and cherry. I bought canned poppyseed filling, though you can make your own. For the cherry, I used the last of some leftover cherry pie filling from Thanksgiving. For the cream cheese filling, I blended 4oz cream cheese, 1/8 cup sugar, 1 small egg yolk, lemon zest and 1/4 tsp vanilla. Other common fillings include peach, apricot and pineapple.

We did have an actual meal, too! I looked at the online menus of several Nebraska Czech restaurants, and they all included Polish sausage. Apparently, Polish sausage, or Kielbasa, is a fairly generic term for sausage in Eastern Europe. Since I spent all morning making kolaches, I didn't feel too bad about such a convenient main dish.

When I googled "traditional Czech side dishes," I found this site, where the first three listed were: boiled potatoes, roasted potatoes, mashed potatoes. How convenient! As you might know, we like potatoes around here.

For the grown-ups, our favorite Nebraska brew.

Everyone finished their meal in record time. We had kolaches to eat.

Thumbs up!

Next stop: Alaska!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


While the week after Thanksgiving is usually devoted to austerity, our Colorado meal only continued the holiday binge!

We opted to recognize some of Colorado's major agricultural products: beef, beets and potatoes. I can't say that we support the current system of meat production, in Colorado or anywhere really. It's an unhealthy system that promotes quantity over quality. Cattle are fed subsidized grains that are grown only with high inputs of fossil fuels and synthetic nitrogen. At the grocery store, we pay remarkably low prices for our meat, largely because the real environmental and social costs are externalized--water quality is degraded, soil is eroded, and animal health suffers. There are alternatives, however. We could all probably stand to decrease our meat consumption, to the benefit of our health and the environment. In our home, when we eat meat, we primarily consume products that are local and sustainably produced. Hopefully, by supporting an alternative system, we make it more viable and broadly affordable in the long run.

This meal aims to celebrate Colorado's cowboy past and the early systems of grass-fed meat in the west.

We grilled steaks, two ribeyes for the grown-ups and a New York strip, split between the younger two. On the side, we served roasted yellow beets and purple potatoes--a colorful way to start the month of December! All of these products came from our favorite local farm.

I diced all the vegetables and roasted them separately. The beets went into a 425 degree oven for about 30 minutes. The potatoes were done in a cast iron pan on the stove, then finished in the oven. In both cases, the goal is to get a nice crust on the outside, and maintain a tender interior.

Colorado also boasts several excellent breweries! We especially like New Belgium, but also recommend Left Hand, Tommyknocker and Avery. (note, I did not include Coors!). We've recently been enjoying New Belgium's Ranger.

Everyone was pretty happy with this meal, though the girls avoided the beets. Lucy likes her steak with a little Heinz 57 sauce, but Maia saws into it plain. We had a long conversation about the "right" way to eat your steak. You could choose "rare" (juicy and edible) or the strangely named "well done" (dry like shoe leather). You can see which our household prefers!

Next stop: Nebraska

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

North Carolina

We've been looking forward to this meal for a while. Years ago, Marc and I lived in Maryland and several of his colleagues were transplants from North Carolina. Two gentlemen in particular--Willie Smith and Linwood Williams--knew where to find all the best food in the area. One day for lunch they went out for Carolina barbecue and promised Marc they would bring some back for him. Mr. Smith described the shredded pork and vinegar sauce and informed Marc that the sandwich would include cole slaw. Marc was not pleased--cole slaw, in the Midwest, is a side, not a sandwich topping. Not to mention, he doesn't even like mayonnaise.

But, Mr. Smith ignored his protests and told him to sit down and eat the sandwich. Marc talked of nothing else for days. In fact, I think that specific event may have been a turning point in his foodie career.

This is most certainly not a quick meal. It's an all day event for man and grill alike. The goal is to get a hunk of meat up to a temperature of 185 degrees as slowly as possible. As it cooks, it develops a deep smoky flavor and a crisp charred bark on the outside. Good stuff.

Start with a bone-in pork shoulder (this one was about 8 1/2 lbs), with a good, thick fat "cap" on one side. Generously season with salt and pepper. Heat charcoal and soaked hickory chips and try to maintain a temperature of about 225 degrees. Smoke the meat for 8 to 9 hours, replenishing the charcoal and chips every hour or so. Remove the meat from the grill and wrap well in foil to rest for about 45 minutes.

The shoulder blade should slide easily out of the roast:

Remove any excess fat, and finely chop the meat.

Finish with cider vinegar, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Use enough vinegar to thoroughly coat and moisten the meat.

Now for the slaw. Traditional Carolina slaw is not mayonnaise based (much to Marc's surprise years ago!). In the past, I've used this recipe, and it's very good. I've recently been converted to Rick Bayless's version, which is quicker to prepare:

Hickory House Sour Slaw
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 T dry sherry
1 T sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt

1/2 medium head green cabbage, shredded.

Blend the dressing ingredients with 2 T water and pour over shredded cabbage. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

You'll noticed there are no "plate" pictures--I was in too much of a hurry to eat!

Lucy was initially skeptical, as she was not a big fan of the brisket we prepared for the Missouri meal. We assured her that this was nothing like brisket. She liked the slaw well enough to agree that this meal is pretty good. Maia also liked it, and was looking forward to concocting another Arkansas barbecue salad with the leftovers.

We (finally) got to draw our next four states: Alaska, Delaware, Nebraska and Colorado!

Friday, November 11, 2011


Yes, we're here! We haven't completely fallen off the wagon! Somehow, these past few weeks have been busy, but we're finally coming up for air.

Nevada had us a little stumped. I suggested we set up our meal buffet-style and charge the kids a buck each to eat, but all I got were a few eye-rolls in response. Instead, we opted to highlight a little of Nevada's ethnic diversity. Nevada, California and Idaho all have sizable populations of Basque-Americans. Many of these people immigrated, via South America, to the American West where their shepherding skills provided meat for mining camps in the late 1800s. With origins in Spain and France, you can imagine that the community has a strong culinary tradition!

Lamb and mutton dishes are popular, but we also managed to find a good pork recipe (we do like pork in this house!). Our recipe came from a restaurant in Carson City, Nevada. After the pork loin went into the marinade, the rest of the meal was quick and easy to prepare. We grilled outside over charcoal, even though the weather is quickly approaching official-winter here in Iowa.

We purchased a jar of roasted peppers, rather than roasting our own, which made our Thursday night meal even easier.

On the side, I put together a salad, found here.

The dressing for this was exceptionally good--and so simple! Olive oil, garlic, cider vinegar, salt and mayonnaise. It was rich and satisfying, and the boiled egg balanced the intense garlic flavor.

Everyone liked this meal. Maia was initially suspicious of the salad, but consumed it at a rate that indicated she liked it. Lucy liked the pork and dipped hers in bottled barbecue sauce. Marc, who does not generally like mayonnaise, (how we've been married nearly 12 years I'll never know) really liked the dressing.

I was initially a little intimidated by cooking an official "Basque meal." Hopefully, we've done it justice. Even if we haven't, we'll eat this meal again in our house.

Next stop: North Carolina

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


California's diverse population and agricultural legacy make it difficult to create just one meal that is representative. "California Cuisine" blends Mexican and Asian flavors with abundant seafood. And, don't forget that the first McDonald's restaurant was also in California! We ultimately decided on sushi. Wikipedia (I know, I know) claims that the progressive food culture in Los Angeles was instrumental in introducing sushi to American audiences.

Both kids like sushi already, but we had not "rolled our own" since long before they were born. On the side we made miso soup, which Lucy had specifically requested, and strawberries, which Lucy suggested after learning from Fruit Ninja (I wish I was kidding, but I'm not) that California produces a lot of strawberries.

Most of our sushi rolls were vegetarian, but we did pick up about 6 ounces of fresh salmon as well.

For the sushi rice, I used a recipe from Tyler Florence:
4 cups white sushi rice
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 T sugar
2 tsp salt

Combine the rice and water in a rice cooker and let it do its thing. Combine the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
When the rice is done, spread it onto a sheet pan and drizzle with the vinegar mixture. Gently blend the vinegar into the rice. Cover with a clean, damp towel and leave at room temperature until you're ready to use it.

Aside from the salmon, I cut thin strips of carrot, cucumber, sweet red pepper, avocado and scallion to use in the rolls. Rolling was an all-hands-on-deck event:

The miso soup recipe comes from Diana Shaw's Essential Vegetarian Cookbook:

3 cups water
6 scallions, including greens, chopped
6 dried shitake mushrooms
6 thin slices fresh ginger
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced thin
2 T yellow or red miso
1/2 cup cubed firm tofu

Put the water in a saucepan and add 3/4 of the scallions, reserving the rest. Add the mushrooms, ginger and carrot. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.
Strain the broth. If desired, slice and reserve the mushrooms. Heat broth over medium low heat and add the miso, tofu, and (if you like) the sliced mushrooms. Heat the soup, but do not allow it to boil.

After all of this was assembled, a nice California Sauvignon Blanc was a welcome treat!

Both girls liked the sushi, though they avoided the rolls with avocado. Neither had tried the soup before. Lucy was adamant that we prepare it, but (as in the past) she did not like the final product. Maia liked the soup, particularly the bites with either tofu or onion. When she got down to just broth, she said it was a bit bland. Marc and I enjoyed this meal and felt so virtuously healthy that we experienced not the least bit of guilt as we finished off that bottle of California wine.

Next stop: Nevada

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Even though Vermont has designated only apple pie as an "official" state food, several key ingredients came to mind when we started thinking about this meal. In particular, cheddar cheese and maple syrup.

These items seemed to lend themselves especially well to breakfast. A perfect opportunity for a breakfast-for-dinner state meal!

Marc is the official pancake maker in our house, his recipe is:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
3 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 small eggs
1 3/4 cups milk
3 T vegetable oil

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk together wet ingredients separately, then add them to the dry ingredients. Drop by tablespoons onto a hot, greased griddle.

That extra space in the middle of the griddle is perfect for sausage! We like Aidell's, these were the maple and smoked bacon breakfast links. I fried up some bacon and mixed up some eggs to scramble. When the bacon came out of the pan, the eggs went in and absorbed some fine bacon-y flavors. I topped the eggs with the shredded Vermont cheddar.

We brewed some fresh coffee for the grown-ups and the kids had cider. No one could complain too much about this meal. Maia, who had always declared a strong dislike for maple syrup, finally admitted that it was pretty good. Lucy was the only one of us who had not yet had the sausage. As good as it is, it did not replace bacon's privileged position as her favorite meat. Neither of them are big egg eaters, but were happy to eat these.

All in all, a good Sunday night, post-soccer game meal.

Next stop: California

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I officially declare this meal "most surprising." We went with the Food Network version of "official Ohio food" and prepared Skyline Chili. Chili on spaghetti is unusual enough, but this chili recipe, which includes grated unsweetened chocolate, allspice, cinnamon and cloves really pushes the envelope.

I halved the recipe and used fresh garlic, but otherwise followed it exactly. This was an easy Tuesday night meal--I put the chili together, took one kid to orchestra practice and let it simmer. By the time we returned, it was time to prepare the pasta and put it on the table. When I got back, Marc looked concerned. "That chili is weird," he declared. I mentally went through the contents of our refrigerator, wondering what we would eat if this turned out to be a complete disaster. I tasted the simmering chili and, he was right, it was weird. The cinnamon and chocolate were stronger than I expected, and it lacked the thick, rich consistency I expected of chili. It seemed unbalanced.

Despite our concerns, we powered through and served the chili and spaghetti with the traditional accompaniments: grated cheddar cheese and diced onions. Kidney beans are also traditional, but I didn't happen to have those in the pantry.

To assemble this dish, top your spaghetti with chili and shredded cheese. Chopped onions and beans are extra options. The kids both stopped with cheese, Marc and I included onions. Now comes the "surprising" part--this was incredibly good. Somehow, that unbalanced (weird) chili, blended with the bland pasta and sharp cheddar turned into a well rounded flavor combination. The cheddar offset the sweet cinnamon, cloves and allspice and the pasta provided that satisfying breadiness that you get when you add saltines to traditional chili. I don't know exactly why it worked, but it did.

Lucy was the least enthusiastic, but managed to eat her portion. Maia mumbled "mmmm, this is good" through a mouthful of spaghetti and Marc and I each had seconds. I've never been to Cincinnati, but if I ever get there, I'll definitely try the original.

We drew our next four: Nevada, Vermont, North Carolina and California