Sunday, July 31, 2011

West Virginia

Hi! Maia here, on our West Virginia dinner. Since West Virginia is a mining state, we went with basic pepperoni rolls, something miners would take in their lunches. There's also a lot of gardens there, so we had fresh cucumbers, sweet corn, and tomatoes(we grew some of the tomatoes ourselves). they also eat ramps there, but the are unavailable here(ramps are wild onions). Oh, well, we would if we could.

We all pretty much enjoyed this meal, but I found the pepperoni a little spicy.

For the rolls, we used a dinner roll bread recipe because it's sweeter than normal bread.

Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 cups warm water
1/3 cup sugar
2 Tb oil
1 package yeast
1 tsp salt
2 cups white flour
2 cups whole wheat flour

Dissolve the sugar in warm water, add oil and yeast. When yeast is foamy, add flour and salt. Mix by hand or with a dough hook until dough comes together. Knead by hand for 5 min. cover and let rise until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, cut one large stick of pepperoni into thirds; cut each third, longways, into quarters.

When dough has risen, punch down and divide into 12 parts. Press each piece into a circle. roll pepperoni pieces into dough and tuck in sides. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Let rolls rise again for about 30 min.

Bake for 20 min, until nicely golden.

Next up: Georgia!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Real Roadtrip!

Oh the places we'll go...

Stradivari instruments in Vermillion, SD

The dudes on the mountain

Young dancers at Crazy Horse

Geology Museum (Edmontosarus Regalis...but I bet you knew that already)

Tomorrow, we wander home via The Corn Palace and Omaha...

Friday, July 22, 2011


"Here's to the United States of America, and to the founding fathers, who created this great nation, which we can now eat." So begins each of our state dinners--our "toast," now part of the ritual.

Tonight we went to Tennessee. We considered serving fried peanut-butter and banana sandwiches, ala Elvis--but decided to go with a classic Memphis barbeque instead. I've been looking forward to this meal all week! On the side, we served cornbread, fresh green beans and homemade refrigerator pickles, made with fresh ingredients from our CSA.

This is not a quick and easy meal, but the results are well worth the effort. We started this one at about 8:00 this morning by putting the dry rub on the ribs. Lucy mixed up the following ingredients:
1/8 cup paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper.

You have to remove the silver skin from the underside of the ribs, get a sharp knife under one end and work it loose, it should peel off easily.

Marc was in charge of the grill, he started with a few handfuls of hickory wood chips that he soaked in water. He heated the grill and used an oven thermometer to keep the temperature between 225-275 degrees.

He smoked the ribs for about 3 hours, then let them rest, wrapped in foil for another 30 minutes.

Almost ready....

When the ribs "bend" like this, they're done.

This method makes the meat tender, with a dark, crispy bark on the outside.

Cornbread is a semi-regular side for us, here's my easy recipe:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
1 c yellow corn meal
1 c whole wheat flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 c sugar
1 c milk
2 tbsp olive oil
1 egg

mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients (milk, oil, egg) separately. Add wet to dry just before you put it in the prepared pan (see below).

As the oven comes up to temperature, put about 1 tbsp of butter in a 10 inch cast iron frying pan and put it in the oven. When the butter has melted, remove the pan and swirl the butter around, then pour batter into pan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes

One of my favorite summer treats is refrigerator pickles, this dish seems to be a staple wherever there is a strong gardening tradition in the South and Midwest. Thinly slice one cucumber and one sweet onion (a fresh garden onion is best, storage onions will not taste as good here). Add about 3/4 cup of cider vinegar, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt and a good handful of fresh dill. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors blend. Enjoy!

This was pretty popular with everyone, except the refrigerator pickles which both kids found too sour. I remember hating these as a kid too, maybe someday they'll enjoy them. In true oppositional style, Maia preferred the tender meat of the ribs, Lucy liked the crispy outside. Like Jack Sprat and his wife, I suppose.

This meal ended our first week of the project, about which we all congratulated ourselves and declared it a success! We've been impatiently waiting for the opportunity to draw for next week's meal, so after we finished our ribs, we drew:
West Virginia, Montana, Georgia and Alabama.

The Janssen clan is embarking on a real roadtrip next week to South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore. None of us has ever been there before, and we hope to catch all the good stuff along the way, too, including the Corn Palace and the musical instrument museum at the University of South Dakota. Hopefully, we'll get some good ideas for our South Dakota meal while we're there. We'll pick up on our dinners when we return.


Years ago, B.C. (Before Children), Marc and I lived in South Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia. Here, the cheese steak reigns supreme. For our Pennsylvania dinner, we've only approximated a true Philly Cheese Steak, but this makes a quick, easy weeknight sandwich dinner.

Traditionally, a cheese steak is made with thinly sliced ribeye, but our easy version simply uses shaved beef from the deli. We also opted for Provolone cheese, rather than the usual day-glo orange Cheese Whiz sauce. We opened a bag of Lay's potato chips to have on the side (hey, this is a "fast food" meal, after all!). Unfortunately, you can't get Utz products in Iowa, so we had to go with the national standard. We also couldn't resist the first sweet corn of the season this week at our farmer's market, and since Jersey sweet corn is everywhere in Pennsylvania and New Jersey this time of year, it seemed like a good fit. Best beer choice: Yuengling, naturally!

Maia and Lucy shuck the first sweet corn of the season.

To make the sandwiches:

Saute peppers and onions for an optional topping:

Line hoagie rolls (sub rolls, if you're in the Midwest) with provolone cheese. Broil until cheese is melted--this won't take long, so pay attention!

When the onions and peppers are nicely softened and browned, use the same skillet for the meat. We used rare, shaved deli beef. Before cooking, chop the meat finely and add a good dose of salt and pepper

Fill the rolls with the meat and top with onions and peppers if you like. In Philly, if you're an onion lover, you have your cheese steak "wit." Marc and I had ours "wit," the girls did not.

This meal got so-so reviews from our team. Everyone enjoyed the chips and fresh corn, of course! The girls each ate healthy portions of their big sandwiches and agreed that they would eat it again, but not every day, please! For the grown-ups, this meal is fast and easy to make, but probably not a weekly standard.

And for dessert....what else?

Next up: Tennessee

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Today's lesson is: if you let the children lead, the journey is easy. As we sat down to our Wisconsin meal a couple of days ago, we discussed what our next state should be. Florida was quickly decided as the best choice--but what to eat? There are so many possibilities--endless varieties of seafood, Latin and Cuban food, citrus, avocados, tomatoes, and so on. Lucy quickly ended the confusion when she declared: "shrimp." Of course.

Neither of our children had ever eaten shrimp, it would be a completely new experience. As the meal grew closer, the voice in the back of my head was suggesting that this would not go well. I expected them to take one look at the leggy, squishy crustaceans and beat a quick retreat. I, not for the first time, completely underestimated my children.

This morning, Lucy and I went shopping for our meal. Citrus seemed a natural for this dish, so we were planning a lime/orange/garlic marinade for the shrimp before they were to be grilled. We are lucky to have an excellent member-owned cooperative grocery store in town and I bought 1 pound of 21-24 shrimp. (The numbers refer to how many shrimp you can expect per pound--our choices were 16 or 21-24; I asked for a "good pound" of the 21-24 and we came home with 30 shrimp.)

Without the slightest sign of squeamishness, the girls helped me clean the shrimp. Lucy peeled and Maia de-veined. We had a rather long conversation about what exactly the "vein" consists of--Lucy was the first to catch it. When I said, "well, it's not a vein, but some other stuff in a tube." "Poo," was her knowing response.

Lucy peels

Maia shows off her knife skills and expertly removes the "poo-vein."

On the side, we served a cucumber orange salad, from a recipe posted on the website for a Florida orange and produce grower:

Orange juice plus a little mint makes a refreshing, low-fat dressing for this salad or other favorite salad combos.
1 large head Boston or bibb lettuce
3 medium Florida Oranges, peeled, halved, thinly sliced, and seeded
1 large cucumber, thinly sliced
1/4 cup frozen Florida Orange Juice Concentrate, thawed
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 or 2 tablespoons salad oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon snipped fresh mint or 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, crushed
Line 6 salad plates with lettuce. Arrange orange and cucumber slices in circles atop lettuce.
For dressing, in a screw-top jar combine thawed concentrate, vinegar, salad oil, honey, mint, and dash pepper. Cover and shake well. Drizzle over salads.
Makes 6 side-dish servings.

After we cleaned the shrimp, Marc was in charge of the marinade and grill. He first coated the shrimp in olive oil, chopped garlic and fresh thyme. Immediately before grilling he added salt and pepper. The shrimp were put on skewers and grilled on a good hot grill for about 2 minutes on each side. After they came off, he sprinkled lime and orange zest over them. We considered marinating the shrimp in fresh lime and orange juice, but decided that process might actually cook the shrimp (like ceviche) before we grilled it. These turned out perfectly, the slight char flavor from the grill with the garlic and citrus is delicious!

So, you're wondering: what did the kids say? Crazy things like: "mmmmm" and "delicious!" Could have knocked me over with a feather.

Next stop: Pennsylvania!

Sunday, July 17, 2011


We decided to start with Wisconsin--land of hearty Midwestern food, German influences, cheese and beer! All good things, as far as we're concerned. We decided to go with brats and potato salad. If you're not a Midwesterner, you might wonder why we would decide to eat a poorly-behaved child. It's pronounced "brahts" and is short for bratwurst, a German sausage commonly part of a summer cook-out in the upper Midwest. Since Wisconsin has a large German-American population, this seemed an easy choice. We had your basic potato salad on the side, along with a bottle of Schlitz (the beer that made Milwaukee famous) for the grown-ups. All we lacked was the polka band in our dining room to make a true Wisconsin experience. (OK, to be fair, most Wisconsin-ites probably don't hire polka bands for Sunday dinner, but wouldn't that be fun?!)

Now, for the reviews. In truth, part of the goal of this project is to encourage the more picky eaters in the family to try new items. Marc and I are fully within our culinary comfort zones--sausage, onions, potato salad and beer. The younger set required a little more convincing. Maia (10) chose to take on her brat, sans bun or dipping sauce. She sawed into it like a champ and declared it "good." (ta-dah!). Lucy (8), took a bit more convincing. She opted for her brat on a bun with ketchup and initially resisted trying it. Eventually, she took the tiniest of nibbles, screwed up her face and declared it "disgusting." We gently (ahem) encouraged her to have another couple of bites. Soon, she said "actually, it's ok."

The potato salad, on the other hand, was less successful. Maia could tolerate the radishes and celery, but found the potatoes unacceptably "squishy." Lucy was horrified by the very idea of the potato salad, even after diligently cutting all the celery. Marc and I, however, thoroughly enjoyed the mayo-potato-celery-mustardy goodness.

This isn't a meal that I use a typical recipe for. My favorite way to prepare brats is to first simmer them in beer (I used good, cheap Milwaukee's Best today) then sear them briefly in a cast iron skillet to brown them. A critical component for us is the slowly browned onions. These get the "low and slow" treatment in a cast iron pan. I start simmering the brats in the beer at the same time I start the onions, by the time the onions are a deep reddish-brown the brats are cooked. I take the onions out of the pan, and put the brats in to sear until they're nicely brown on each side. Alternatively, you could sear them on a hot grill.

The onions slowly brown in a cast iron pan.

When the onions are done, the brats go in and sear.

The potato salad is also a non-recipe dish in our house. I started with red potatoes from our CSA and included eggs from a friend up the road who has a delightful variety of laying hens. Marc and I did each have differing views as to the necessary crunch deliverers in the dish. His mother always used celery, my mother always used radishes. In the end, I compromised and used both. Include some spring onions, mayo, mustard, dill relish, celery seed and salt. A summer classic.

Next up, Florida! Fish, citrus, Cuban? So many possibilities!

Saturday, July 16, 2011


In the spirit of the all-American road trip, our family is embarking on a culinary journey across the USA. We'll "visit" all 50 states by preparing a meal that represents each one. No particular order, we'll randomly draw four states to eat each week. We might focus on a particular agricultural product or an ethnic group that has contributed to the state's food culture. With two grown-ups and two kids (10 and 8) we have to try to satisfy everyone's palate--no easy task!

Throughout, we'll share our recipes, photos and reviews from each meal.

We hope you'll join us, and send suggestions our way.

Coming up this week: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Tennessee