Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Today we say Yah to da UP, eh! The quintessential Michigan food is the pasty (that's with a short "a" sound, in case you're wondering), meat and root vegetables wrapped in a pastry crust. The dish was brought to the area by Cornish miners, who, like West Virginia miners, needed a convenient lunch meal.

We used ground beef for ours, though they're often filled with game, chopped steak or just vegetables. I mixed the beef with minced onion and garlic and added salt, pepper and a little worchestershire sauce. For the pastry, I made a double batch of a basic pie crust. I added an egg to the crust dough and used a little less water; this seems to give it a bit more stretch and makes it easy to wrap the filling.

I cut the crust into circles about 4 inches in diameter. With 1 lb of beef and onions, this yielded 15 pasties. I also added diced potatoes to half of them. To put them together, I put a couple tablespoons of filling in the middle of the dough circle and folded it over, pinching the edges together. I brushed them all with egg wash and baked them for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

On the side, fresh cherries, of course!

These smelled fantastic while they were in the oven. The end result was, for me, a little disappointing. All of the recipes I read suggested that the meat went into the pastry raw. Cooking the meat in the pastry caused it to tighten up and it had the consistency of a rather dry meatball. My brother, who lives in northern Michigan says he always cooks the filling first; I'll try that next time. Everyone else was perfectly satisfied with the meal, Marc and Lucy especially. Maia thought the meat was too spicy.

The pasties have not seen the last of me--meat in pastry just has to be good!

This was our dinner to draw the next four (always an exciting evening)! Coming up next: Wyoming, Texas, New York and Kansas!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

South Dakota

We are back in Dakota territory. Our recent trip to South Dakota did not provide much in terms of inspiration for our meal, though we did eat well. South Dakota has two official state foods: kuchen is the state dessert, and fry bread is the state bread. The state is rich in both Native American and frontier traditions (often, of course, these two met with tragic results).

The Ingalls family might be South Dakota's most famous pioneers. One place we didn't get to visit during our vacation this summer was DeSmet, the home of the Ingalls family for many years and the site of Little Town on the Prairie and The Long Winter. For this dinner, we decided to honor Ma Ingalls and prepare one of the most commonly mentioned meals in the Little House series: Chicken Pie.

You might remember in Little Town on the Prairie, a plague of blackbirds descends upon the crops of corn and oats. Pa guards the fields with his shotgun, bringing down hoards of the birds. Ma, never one to waste anything, baked the blackbirds into a pie, which the family declared better than the chicken pie. I opted for chicken for our meal.

Chicken pie gets a lot of mention in pioneer cooking, but it was difficult to find an actual recipe. This seems to be a dish that every one just knows how to make, or each cook has her own way of doing it. As a kid, Swanson's frozen Chicken Pot Pies made the occasional appearance on our table, and they were always one of my favorites. We made a basic chicken pie filling, though with fewer vegetables than what you might find in the frozen varieties.

Marc was in charge of the filling. Since it is easier to get the meat off of the bone if it's cooked, he started by roasting two thigh/leg quarters. These came from one of our favorite local meat suppliers.

Season with salt and pepper and sear the meat in 1 T olive oil, skin-side down, over medium high heat, so that it gets brown and crispy. Then roast the pieces in the oven at 425 degrees until the meat is done (15-20 minutes). We threw some potatoes in to roast too, these will be eaten later as leftovers rather than in the chicken pie.

While the meat is cooking, dice one large onion, a few stalks of celery and a few carrots. When the meat is done, remove it from the pan and set aside. When it's cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Discard the skin and save the bones for stock later.

Now you can use the good pan drippings for the base of the sauce. Over medium heat, whisk about 1/3 cup of flour to the pan drippings and continue stirring until it forms a paste (congratulations, you've just made a roux!). If the chicken hasn't rendered enough fat naturally, feel free to add some butter or oil here. You want about equal parts fat and flour for a roux.

Add the vegetables to the roux and cook until they soften slightly, then add chopped garlic, thyme salt and pepper, followed by the chicken meat. Blend everything together well and slowly add about 2 cups of chicken stock. You want to make sure the roux is well incorporated into the stock. If you like a thinner consistency, add more stock.

The filling can be made ahead. You want it to be at least room temperature before you introduce the crust.

I'm the official pie-crust maker in our family am generally of the point of view that any food is improved when enclosed in pastry. I used my standard method for one pie crust--1 cup of flour, 1/3 cup butter and a pinch of salt. Cut the cold butter into the flour and salt with a pastry blender and add just enough ice water for the dough to come together. This is usually about 1/4 cup for me. I divided the dough into fourths and made each into a flat circle. These were individually wrapped in saran wrap and refrigerated while the oven came up to temperature.

Rather than make one large pie, I used little ramekins that I found at a thrift store for $.50 a piece. These are perfect for individual macaroni and cheese or desserts. When the dough had cooled (cold dough is easier to work with and results in a flakier crust), Lucy helped me roll it out.

I divided the filling evenly between four ramekins--about 3/4 cup of filling each, and topped with a crust. These baked at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes.

So, after all that work, how did it go? Both kids were horrified at the appearance of the filling. They are averse to any mixed, mushy or soupy foods, so I wasn't sure how this would go over. Maia tried hers right away and deemed it "OK" (interpreted here). Lucy spent a lot of time talking about it and poking at it before she would take a bite. When she did try it, it was only to pick off some crust. One can't try the crust without the filling, however, and she found the flavor of the sauce to her liking. This resulted in much more conversation about what "savory" means and how interesting it is that everything in the sauce tastes like the sauce, even if it's something you don't normally like (like a cooked carrot) etc, etc... In the end, she was completely won over and declared that chicken pie would be a fine addition to the fall and winter dinner rotation.


Next: back east (a little) to Michigan

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Did you wonder what we might do for Hawaii....? All the delicious possibilities--fish, pork, tropical fruit, Asian cuisine....

We went with a classic:


I was the only member of our little family who had ever eaten SPAM. It was actually not terribly uncommon in our house when I was a kid. My mom, who lived in Hawaii when she was very young, liked it with eggs. Interestingly, Hawaiians consume more SPAM than residents of any other state. It was sent with the troops during WWII and became an instant hit among the locals. It was a good culinary addition to the tropical climate--convenient calories that don't require refrigeration. Plus, the salty, spicy meat was quickly integrated into the Asian and Pacific dishes that were already popular.

This was definitely a quick and easy meal to prepare. I sliced one can of SPAM and fried the pieces lightly in peanut oil.

On the side, we served fresh green beans and pineapple. I've only recently come to appreciate how much better a pineapple is when you cut it up yourself--the canned variety just can't compete.

Unfortunately, our pineapple was shipped from Cost Rica, rather than Hawaii--but we did the best we could!

I put hot dog buns on the table, thinking most of us would prefer these in sandwich form. I added a little mustard and relish:

The meal got generally positive reviews, though not overwhelmingly so. Maia thought that it tasted a lot like a hot dog; Lucy said it was "too spicy" to be a hot dog. My memory of SPAM was that it was very salty, and this was spicier than I remember. It does stand for "spiced ham," so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

I don't see this becoming a regular part of our repertoire, but it seems appropriate that our little project includes this all-American meat (or, meat-like-product, if you prefer)!

Next stop: South Dakota!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I'm going to start here:

because that's what our plates looked like at the end of this meal. All of them. I never thought I would say this, kids like fish. You might wonder why this is such a big deal. In the past, we have struggled to get them to eat the most basic things, particularly protein. I nearly wept for joy when Lucy finally ate a hot dog. A hot dog, for crying out loud! Not something I want to feed my kids everyday, but some basic "everybody-likes-this" food so that I could stop being the parent who had to bring peanut butter sandwiches to every picnic.

So, now, when my kids eat Walleye and wild rice pilaf and say "can we have this again?" I'm kind of bowled over.

This meal was easy to plan, we knew long before we drew Minnesota out of the box that Walleye and wild rice would be the dish. Walleye is a big deal in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. I have a good vegetarian friend from Minnesota who will only touch animal flesh if it is Walleye (and it was the only non-vegetarian option at her wedding). Recipes from fish and game sites in the upper midwest are saturated with grilled, broiled, baked, seared and fried versions of the fish. Wild rice (which is not related to the more common Asian rice at all, but is an entirely different grass seed) has been harvested by indigenous people in what is now the northern U.S. for thousands of years.

The fillets had the skin intact, which I removed with a sharp knife. They were large, and getting the skin off cleanly was more difficult the little blue gills and bass that I caught on our farm when I was a kid. The trick is to keep the knife flat, and cut yourself a little slit on one side to brace your finger and hold the fillet steady.

(Now you see the full extent of the mess in which I normally cook!)

I had never prepared Walleye before, but figured that like any light freshwater fish, it would be fine baked with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon. The fillets went into a baking dish and into the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

The rice pilaf was quite simple as well. I cooked one cup of brown rice and one cup of wild rice, separately, in chicken stock before mixing them together. The wild rice takes longer to cook (about an hour) and requires more liquid. I used 2 C stock to 1 cup brown rice and 3 C stock for the 1 cup of wild rice. I toasted a handful of slivered almonds in a cast iron skillet and added them to the rice mixture along with salt, pepper and thyme. Fresh parsley would have been nice, but I didn't have any.

This turned out to be very tasty. Maia, who normally hates rice of any kind, asked me to pack leftovers in her lunch tomorrow.

We rounded out the meal with some fresh cantaloupe and watermelon and a tomato "salad" (cut tomato with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar) all from our CSA.

Good stuff, you betcha!

Next stop: Hawaii!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

North Dakota

I have to say, this one had us stumped for a while. We knew that North Dakota is a big producer of semolina wheat, but it seemed like cheating to just eat pasta and call it a North Dakota meal. There are large populations of people from both German and Scandinavian descent in North Dakota, and of course Native American influences. The Dakotas were named after the Dakota Sioux and and there are several bands of Sioux, as well as Chippewa and other tribes living in the Dakotas now.

One dish that came up on several google searches (you see how scientific we are here) was knoephla soup--a cream based chicken stew with dumplings. After our recent experience with Rhode Island Clam Chowder, however, no one was really up for another rich soup. The Norwegians in the area also contributed Lutefisk, but we live close enough to Minnesota to know to stay far away from such a thing.

Eventually, I found some information from North Dakota State University that had several German dishes, including Spaetzle. Strangely, the only time I've ever eaten spaetzle was in my college's dining hall. But, it seemed like a good place to start.

The focus on the German influence led us, eventually, to Schnitzel. Basically, fried meat--this is usually a good choice for us! I think, though, that Schnitzel is probably not the most authentic of North Dakota cuisine as it's actually a dish from Austria and most of the German immigrants in North Dakota were of Russian descent. So, apologies to all the German Americans out there for indiscriminately blending all of the regional variations into one large category!

For the Spaetzle, I found a recipe written by Arlene Isaak and submitted to the Bismark Tribune:

4 eggs
1/2 cup milk
3 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Beat eggs until foamy and combine with milk. Mix flour, nutmeg and salt and add to egg mixture a little at a time. Makes a soft dough. While the soup is boiling, drizzle the dough into the soup or use a spaetzle maker. The tiny dumplings will rise to the surface when cooked.

Maia mixes the spaetzle dough

This was a completely new thing to prepare for me, and I think I kind of made a mess of it--the dumplings were not "tiny" as Arlene suggests, but rather spiky, messy blobs of dough. But, they were soft and satisfying so I hope Arlene will forgive me. I drizzled a little olive oil and sprinkled them with salt before serving. Lucy liked these a lot and requested them in her lunch tomorrow.

For the Schnitzel, I used pork tenderloins from our favorite local pork producer. These were seasoned with salt and pepper, then dredged in flour, egg, and bread crumbs before frying in peanut oil. Basically, you get a fried pork tenderloin--but you don't serve it as a sandwich!

There was lots of confusion in our house--which was the schnitzel and which was the spaetzle!? I'm pleased to say, that we all liked both of them, whatever they're called! (Well, except Marc, who was not fond of the rather bland spaetzle). We also served a kale salad, which has become a favorite in our house. The feta and pine nuts are far from traditional German fare, but it was a nice crisp and acidic complement to the rest of the meal.

This was our meal to draw the next four, coming up next: Minnesota, Hawaii, South Dakota and Michigan!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


This is Maia again. We did Louisiana yesterday. I wanted to do this post because in fourth grade, (last year) all the third and fourth graders did state reports, and I did Louisiana. One interesting fact: Louisiana is the only known place in the world that is home to the rare white alligator.

We had shrimp and andouille (pronounced an-do-eee) sausage jambalaya and cornbread for this meal. Lucy and I only liked the shrimp in the jambalaya and the cornbread, but Mom and Dad loved it all. We also listened to our favorite Louisiana band, the Red Stick Ramblers.

This is Marc. Maia asked me to provide my recipe for jambalaya, so here goes:

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Fry one pound of andouille sausage (1/4" slices) for about 5 minutes until the sausage is nicely browned.

While the sausage browns, chop one large onion, one large bell pepper, and 2-3 large stalks of celery. Add to the the pan when the sausage is brown and stir regularly for about 5 minutes to soften the vegetables.

While the vegetables cook, finely chop 4-5 cloves of garlic and coarsely chop 2 large tomatoes. Add the garlic, some salt and pepper, 2-3 bay leaves, and 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme (and some cayenne if you like heat). Stir and fry for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes. Stir and cook the tomatoes for another 3-4 minutes.

The Brandywine tomatoes from our garden were delicious!

Rinse and drain 2 cups of long-grain white rice. Add to the pot and stir well to coat the rice with the sausage fat and vegetable oil. Add 4-5 cups chicken stock (homemade is best) and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat, add one pound peeled and de-veined shrimp, and stir well. Put the cover on the pot and let it sit for 15 minutes to steam the shrimp.

Remove the bay leaves and thyme stems and enjoy!

And for the grown-ups...a little of this:

Next, we head way north to North Dakota!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rhode Island

This meal, for the smallest state in the Union, required a bit of research. We were surprised to learn that there are so many unique foods in Rhode Island. I guess when you're the "little guy," you work hard to set yourself apart. Not only do the contrary folk there insist on calling a milkshake a "cabinet," their favorite flavor is coffee. "Coffee Milk" is the state's official beverage and hot dogs are served like nowhere else in the country: a veal/pork weiner, topped with a hearty meat sauce.

Another Rhode Island standard is clam cakes and chowder. The chowder, however, is "clear chowder," no milk or tomatoes, just seafood and vegetables. We had originally planned to prepare clam cakes and chowder, but after last night's fried catfish binge, a clam fritter sounded less than appetizing. Instead, we opted for another Rhode Island classic--spinach pies. Lucy was disappointed that we wouldn't be trying the chowder (I found this surprising, since she usually deems soup only a step above dirt and grass in terms of it's edibility). So, I made the chowder too.

The spinach pie is basically a calzone, but without sauce. Some recipes included cheese (mozzerella and/or ricotta), some didn't. We like cheese, so in it went! For the filling I sauteed a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of minced onion and 2 minced garlic cloves in olive oil. I thawed one 10 oz box of spinach and squeezed out the excess water, then added it to the onion and garlic. I finished it with a bit of salt, pepper and fresh nutmeg. After the mixture cooled a little bit, I added a couple of spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and 1/2-3/4 cup of grated mozzerella cheese.

Marc made a basic, white dough pizza crust. You could easily buy prepared crust if you prefer. He cut it four portions and rolled it out thinly before filling and folding it all together.

The folded pies were brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. We pre-heated a pizza stone in a 475 degree oven and baked these for about 20 minutes. Golden-brown-and-delicious, indeed!

These were big--next time we will probably cut the dough into 8 portions and make smaller, hand-held pies.

And, for the soup. This recipe came from the book Real American Food by Jane and Michael Stern. This "clear" chowder is a Rhode Island classic:

"Dovecrest Quahog Chowder"
1/4 lb salt pork, diced (I used bacon)
1 large onion, diced
2 large potatoes, diced (2 heaping cups)
2 cups water
2 cups very finely diced shucked quahog clams (uh, yeah, you can't get that in Iowa. I used canned)
2 cups clam juice
2 T butter

In a stockpot, fry salt pork until fat is rendered. Add diced onion and cook until light brown. Add diced potatoes and just enough of the water to cover. Cook until potatoes are pierced easily with a fork. Add quahogs, clam juice, butter, and remaining water. Simmer 15-20 minutes.

The authors note that the soup is better the second day--after being refrigerated and reheated.

So, how did it go, you ask? The spinach pie was a big hit with the adults and Maia and Lucy agreed that it was "OK." ("OK" seems to be code for, "I'll eat it, I kind of like it but won't admit it, but don't make me eat it every day.") The soup was less popular, to say the least. Both Marc and I agreed that it needed more flavor--more salt for one, and it would have improved had I added some herbs. Lucy took a tiny bite and said it was awful (remember that she was the one who insisted I make it?). Maia was the most positive, she said it was fine, though she didn't like the potatoes. This was something that put us all out of our culinary comfort zones a bit--not a bad thing.

Next up: Louisiana!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


We are moving full-speed-ahead around here. We returned from a fine weekend in northern Minnesota, full of good music and beautiful weather. There were no funnel-cakes to be had at the festival, but we did consume several tacos, an order of fried cheese curds, a milkshake or two, and at least one foot-long hot dog. We spent the next couple days scurrying around to get ready for school, which starts tomorrow!

We learned that there is no better way to slow down than to partake of a traditional Mississippi catfish fry. Seriously. It's not the weather that makes people move slow in the south, its the catfish and hush puppies. Guaranteed, full-blown food coma here.

This dinner is an excellent, once-in-a-while treat.

Marc was in charge of this dinner from the start. In fact, had we suggested any other meal besides fried catfish and hush puppies, I fear he would have deserted this project all together.

Seasoned and ready to go

I wasn't able to get fresh catfish fillets, but frozen worked just fine. They were seasoned with salt and pepper, dunked in buttermilk, then dredged in a combination of flour and cornmeal. Marc heated peanut oil to the "hot but not smoking point" and fried the fillets until they were golden on either side. This was quick, about 8 minutes.

While the last fillet was frying, the hush puppies got their turn. These are decadent treats--like savory doughnuts. Crispy on the outside, but tender and fluffy inside. I always think I could eat them all day, until I get started and feel immediately stuffed.

Marc used a variation on the following recipe, which came from my new favorite state-dinner resource.

Hush Puppies:

2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 T flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
6 T onion, finely chopped
Oil for deep frying

Sift dry ingredients together. Mix egg with milk, buttermilk and onion. Stir dry and liquid ingredients together. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls into hot oil along with (or immediately after) frying catfish. Drain on paper towels.

On the side, we served refrigerator pickles, a summer favorite here, and fresh melon from our CSA farm. Neither kid was too excited about this meal, I was surprised that neither of them liked the hush puppies. (how can you not like hush puppies??). Lucy was put off by the onion in the batter and Maia was generally unimpressed with them. Maia preferred the fish and ate most of hers. Lucy found it tasteless, despite experimenting with lemon juice and malt vinegar. Marc and I ate enough for several people (hence that food coma I mentioned earlier), so it was a hit for at least two of us.

Next stop: Rhode Island!

Monday, August 8, 2011


*All photos in this post taken by Maia, Lucy and Marc!

Our big Iowa Sky

Tonight we headed to Big Sky Country. When we drew Montana, we were a little stumped as to what to prepare, but a quick google search brought up this handy website. I've referred to it before, especially for the list of Georgia state foods. For Montana, it recommends buffalo burgers. That seemed manageable! I know that huckleberries are also a Montana favorite, but unfortunately we can't get those here in Iowa.

I've had buffalo sausage, but never a burger made only from bison meat. During our recent trip to South Dakota, we learned that "buffalo" isn't really the proper term for the American Bison, which is only very, very distantly related to the more common African and Asian Water Buffalo. We are lucky to have a local source for bison meat here in eastern Iowa, and so we picked up a pound of ground meat this weekend at our farmers market. The bison we ate grazed on native, cool-season prairie grasses in a way that mimics the natural, wild behavior of the animal as closely as possible.

On to the food! The bison meat was deep red, and very lean. Marc formed loose patties, noting that the proteins would "bind" and become tough if they were packed too tightly. He seasoned them with salt and pepper and cooked over a good hot grill so that the outside got a nice, crisp sear, holding the juices inside. We tend to eat our meat pretty rare in this house, these burgers were about medium. The corn also got the grill treatment, after a quick salt and olive-oil drizzle.

The corn was actually grilled first, then waited patiently, covered in foil, for dinner time.

We dressed our burgers just as we would a beef burger--some of us with cheese, one of us with ketchup, most of us with pickles, etc.

We all tasted carefully, wanting to be able to describe how these burgers differ from our regular local ground beef. These had a richer, more steak-like flavor and Lucy declared them superior to beef burgers. I'm learning that our kids actually prefer more flavorful meats--Maia likes dark meat chicken better, for example and pork is always preferred over white-meat chicken. Marc's grilling was nicely done--the burgers were juicy and tender. He could tell while cooking them that there was much less fat than a typical burger.

The corn on the grill, by the way, was delicious! A perfect combination of sweet, salty and "grill" flavor!

Today was the day to draw our next four states, and they are: Rhode Island, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota!

We are off on another roadtrip this week--this time to the Minnesota Bluegrass and Oldtime Festival. I see funnel cake in our future!

Friday, August 5, 2011


We're Alabamy bound, boys, Alabamy bound!

Two hearty Southern meals in one week--I could get used to this. We went with a southern classic: fried chicken and okra with a side of watermelon!

Frying chicken is an art--one that I haven't quite mastered. My mother's fried chicken was always very good--perfectly crisp outside, moist inside and not at all greasy. She simply dredged the chicken pieces in seasoned flour and fried, first uncovered at a high heat (about 375) then covered at a lower heat (about 325-350) then uncovered it again and turned the heat back up for a final crisp. However, she also only ever cooked dark meat and, for me, it's the breast pieces that are tricky.

I cut up a whole chicken, purchased from a local farm the day it was butchered. If you've never had fresh, farm raised chicken, you won't believe the difference in flavor from a grocery store bird. It actually tastes like chicken.

I soaked the pieces in buttermilk for about 4 hours before frying. I used peanut oil and heated it in a large cast iron dutch oven over a medium flame until it was good and hot (I can never get the oil thermometer to work, so when a small piece of bread browns quickly, I figure it's ready.)
Brown both sides of the pieces well, frying steadily for about 25 minutes. Here is where cooking the breasts becomes a little tricky--they dry out much more quickly than the dark meat. This time, I waited and put the breasts in about 10 minutes after everything else. The white meat cooked well, but the skin wasn't as crispy as it should have been. Next time, I think I'll put it all in together, but take the white meat out first.

This was the first time I had prepared okra, a good friend from Alabama recommended that we have it fried. My father used to enjoy okra boiled, which is rather a disgusting thing to watch, as the thick juice creates a "slime" that trails behind each spoonful. Following our Alabama friend's directions, Lucy sliced the okra into small pieces. After the juice started to come out, we salted it and tossed it lightly in corn meal. We pan fried it in a cast iron skillet.

Interestingly, okra tastes very different cooked than raw. Raw, it's crisp and fresh like a green bean. After it was cooked, the flavor changed and Lucy decided that it tasted like a french fry. Both girls liked this dish--though Lucy preferred the okra raw and Maia enjoyed it cooked.

This meal was a hit with everyone--fried chicken isn't new to our dinner table. We often call it "barbarian chicken" because the drumsticks provide many opportunities for uncivilized eating. The watermelon came from our CSA box. The variety was Sugar Baby, it was bright red, very sweet and loaded with perfectly spittable seeds. Even Maia, who generally doesn't prefer watermelon admitted that this one was good! Since we ate in the dining room, seed spitting was not an option. Maybe we'll include this in our next picnic!

Next stop: Heading West to Montana!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Today we learned how to take vegetables and douse them with enough sugar, bacon and butter so as to render any health benefits obsolete! Ah, southern cooking!

With Alabama coming later this week and providing yet another opportunity for a huge Southern meal, we decided on a dinner of sides for Georgia. Conveniently, Georgia has declared several official state foods, so we made good use of those. Grits is the state's "prepared food," peanuts are the state crop and, not surprisingly, peaches are the official state fruit. In addition, it was so hot in Iowa today that we might as well have been in Georgia anyway!

Both girls had determined that peaches should be a part of the meal, preferably in dessert form, so we finished our meal with a fresh peach crumble, which is quicker to make than a pie or a cobbler. Crisp and crumble are the same thing--fruit desserts topped with an oatmeal, butter, sugar topping. Cobblers have biscuit toppings.

I was not inclined to peel the peaches, so I just sliced them up right into the pan. Right now in Iowa, perfectly ripe Missouri peaches are easy to find.

For the topping:
1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c oats
1 Tb cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt.

Melt the butter and blend with the rest of the ingredients for the topping. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of white sugar over the peaches. Then evenly sprinkle the topping over that. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.

In retrospect, I might also add about 1/8 cup of flour to the peaches, the juice was very runny and a little flour would have thickened it up a bit.

Oh, right--we ate a meal too: cheddar grits, butter beans and green beans with peanuts. This turned out to be the richest and most filling set of side-dishes I've ever eaten.

Here in the north, butter beans are lima beans and they can be found dry, canned or frozen. I used frozen and used the following recipe, which was slightly adapted from Southern Cooking:

5 bacon slices, diced
1 small onion, minced
1/2 c packed brown sugar
3 T butter
1 package frozen butter beans (recipe called for 16oz, I could only get 10oz)
2 tsp salt
pepper to taste

In a large dutch oven, cook the bacon and onions until the bacon is brown and crisp. Add the sugar and butter and stir until the sugar has dissolved. As this point you might also want to add a few tablespoons of water to deglaze the pan. Add the butter beans and water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered until most of the water has cooked out and the beans are glazed.

The original recipe called for an astonishing 12 cups of water and 2 hours of boiling--I like my beans to have some tooth to them, 20 minutes was more than sufficient!

For the grits, I used basic quick cooking grits (the only variety I could get at the store!). Stir 1 cup of grits to 4 cups boiling water with about a teaspoon of salt. Cover and reduce heat for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, the grits should thicken to a smooth consistency. I added about 2 tablespoons of butter and about 1 1/2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

The green beans were quickly steamed in a small amount of water, then uncovered them and added a couple handfuls of peanuts--Viola!

This meal contained a lot of new textures and flavor combinations for the kids. Both started with the green beans, the most familiar item on the plate. The grits were carefully tasted by the tiniest spoonful and eventually declared "ok." Both agreed that there was a surprising resemblance to macaroni and cheese. The butter beans were a bit more challenging. Lucy dramatically spit her first one out, declaring it "disgusting!" Maia was slightly more subtle, saying "no, these are not good." Both were able to manage two beans after much grumbling. Marc and I cheerfully pointed out that neither of them keeled over dead from the experience. The peach crisp also got mixed reviews. Both enjoyed the topping (of course), but found the peaches unpleasantly "squishy." In all, I call this a success--had I put that dish of butter beans in front of either of them before starting this project of shared experimentation, there would have been mutiny. Eating two whole disgusting beans is, in my book, a victory.

As for me, this meal satisfied every one of my cravings for rich, salty and sweet food. I'm still full hours later and I'm quite glad that this project isn't about trying to cook low calorie state meals.

Next stop: Alabama