Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Marc and I had big plans for Kentucky--specifically, Texas toast piled with cheesey, bacony turkey; otherwise known as the Kentucky Hot Brown. The children, however, had other plans and we experienced our first all out mutiny. They were determined to have fried chicken. They didn't care that we've already had fried chicken, there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken right down the road from us and clearly that's what you should eat for a Kentucky dinner. Period. They won.

We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that fried chicken with biscuits was the favorite dinner of Kentucky native and Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. While we hoped not to repeat any meals, I think we've done pretty well. This would be our 27th dinner, more than halfway done with no repeats so far!

For this meal, Marc managed the chicken and I handled the biscuits. He salted the chicken pieces and dredged them in white flour seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Marc even went so far as to go out and buy a reliable fry thermometer, so he didn't have to guess at the oil temperature! In a large, enameled cast iron pot, he heated 8 cups cups of peanut oil to a full 375 degrees before adding the chicken pieces. The temperature dropped sharply right as the meat went into the oil, but it quickly recovered to about 350, where it stayed for the duration. He removed the breast pieces after about 25 minutes and left the dark meat for 30.

For the biscuits, I decided to use the lard that was leftover from our Navajo Tacos a couple weeks back. Usually, I bake biscuits and pastries with butter, but using lard was a revelation. It blended right into the flour and immediately created the perfect crumbly texture. The dough was soft, tender and easy to work with. Here's the basic recipe:

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter or lard
3/4 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Blend the fat into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter. Slowly add buttermilk and mix briefly until a soft dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead once or twice. Pat (don't roll!) dough out into a circle 1-2 inches thick. Cut with biscuit cutter, reblending scraps only once. Bake for 10 minutes, until just barely done.

Coffee was apparently Bill Monroe's preferred beverage, so we made a pot for the grownups.

No one had any complaints about this meal. The chicken was perfectly done, with an even, crisp crust. The biscuits were remarkably tender--butter seems to give them a bit of a crunch, these were soft and delicate.


Next stop: Oklahoma

Thursday, September 22, 2011


I visited Seattle for the first time this past spring, and spent three days eating my way around the city. Not only is Seattle a great beer town, the variety and quality of the seafood is outstanding. We here in the Midwest have access to good catfish, walleye and other river dwellers but lack the overwhelming supply that you find on the coasts.

For our Washington dinner, we chose the state's official fish: the steelhead trout. Steelhead are a "migrating" variety of rainbow trout--meaning that they leave the ocean to spawn in fresh water. Unlike salmon, they don't die after spawning, but may return to salt water. The meat of the trout was a lot like salmon, fatty and a rich pink color.

Our substantial fillet got a simple olive oil, salt and pepper treatment before heading to the grill. The fish went on the hot grill, skin side down, and we didn't flip it; instead, we put the top on the grill and let it cook mostly through. This gave the skin a nice char and reduced the risk that the entire thing would fall apart if we tried to turn it over!

On the side, we used up some of our favorite CSA vegetables: dragon tongue beans and purple potatoes.

The dragon tongue beans are similar to a green bean in flavor, though a bit milder. When raw, they have these lovely purple stripes, which fade after a quick blanch.

We roasted the purple potatoes in a 425 degree oven for about 35 minutes. They cooked up nicely, crisp on the outside and tender inside. After they came out, I sprinkled them with chopped dill and lemon juice.

We also included our "impulse buy" of two salmon sausages from our local co-op. These were made with a blend of salmon varieties, with onion, bell pepper and lemon.

This dinner was a hit with everyone. Both kids like salmon sushi, and were happy to try a cooked version. It was also quick to prepare. This project has taught us a lot about food--but I think the best discovery so far has been that we all like fish!

Next stop: Kentucky

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


"What makes it a Chicago Style pizza, is it riddled with bullet holes?" This from my British friend, whose retro-Mafia view of the Windy City certainly makes for good pizza imagery. I don't know if the heavy crust and toppings that Pizzaria Uno made famous have any actual Mafia connections, but it might make a good story.

This Illinois dinner was a no-brainer for us; for life-long midwesterners, Chicago-Style pizza is legendary. Marc was on kitchen duty for this meal and he started with a good crust recipe, found here. He halved the recipe and this yielded two pizzas, one 10 inch and one 8 inch.

The cheese always goes on the bottom of a Chicago-Style pizza, and sliced (rather than shredded) mozzarella is preferred. The topping choices are endless--sausage is a classic, but any variety of vegetables works too. We stuck with plain cheese this time.

For the sauce, the ideal is simply crushed, high quality canned tomatoes. Marc squished these up using a pastry cutter.

After a good thick layer of crushed tomatoes is spread over the cheese, top with oregano and fresh grated Parmesan

Lucy oversees the application of oregano and parmesan.

These bake in a 475 degree oven for about 30 minutes. We lightly buttered the cast iron pans, so that the pizza easily lifted out and onto a cutting board. A filling Friday night meal, appropriately accompanied by a good Chicago brew:


Next stop: Washington

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Well, we considered heading down to the Wal-Mart and buying a big bag of Tyson chicken tenders for this meal. But, we figured that Arkansas must have some more interesting food traditions than big box stores and factory chicken!

My new favorite state cookbook suggested an Arkansas Barbecue Salad, which sounded like a pretty good idea to us. Basically, a chef's salad with lots of veggies, only instead of chicken or ham, you use slow, smoked pork barbecue for the meat. Conveniently, we had a boneless pork shoulder in the freezer that was just itching to be cooked.

We thought about using our slow cooker and some liquid smoke, which Marc's friend (and real-live chef) Tim said was perfectly acceptable. But, it was a lovely day out and we couldn't resist improving the crisp Fall air with the aroma of smoking hickory chips in our backyard.

Most recipes called for Iceberg lettuce, which I used along with some chopped Romaine. I also used up some of the stray vegetables in the fridge: radishes, blanched green beans, carrots, red pepper and tomatoes.

Our cookbook recommended using either barbecue sauce or your favorite dressing to top the salad. I put out our whole arsenal. Marc used bit of homemade vinaigrette (red wine vinegar, chopped garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and fresh thyme blended with olive oil). Maia used ranch, I chose bleu cheese and Lucy continued to work her way through the bottle of honey barbecue sauce that I bought for our chicken wings last week.

I made everyone a separate salad, putting on their favorite veggies (Lucy prefers green beans to carrots, Maia doesn't like tomatoes, etc). This was a hit with everyone, and is a really good way to use up leftover bits of fresh meat and produce. The salty, smoky barbecue was great with the crisp, fresh lettuce and veggies.

I think I might incorporate a "salad night" into our regular repertoire.

We drew our next four destinations tonight: Oklahoma, Illinois, Kentucky and Washington!

New Hampshire

We continue with the "News" today and, as an extra bonus, get to fulfill one of Marc's beefy fantasies: Shaker Cranberry Pot Roast. You will not be surprised to learn that we watch a lot of the Food Network around here, and some time ago Bobby Flay introduced the New Hampshire dish to his FoodNation audience. Marc has been talking about it ever since.

I have to confess, I don't have fond memories of pot roast, which, in my childhood, consisted of well-done, stringy meat with a side of smooshy vegetables. This is not something I am interested in adding to my regular menu planning.

We were supposed to have this meal on a Saturday, and Marc spent the morning getting it ready. He followed the recipe closely, though reduced it, using a 3 lb chuck roast and added beef stock rather than veal stock.

Saturday's plans changed, however, when both girls were invited to sleepovers. No parent in their right mind would pass up such a treat, so we decided to reheat it for a Sunday dinner. Sunday also brought unexpected commitments, and the meal was postponed until Monday. By Monday, we figured it might be easier to have a pot roast sandwich meal, rather than the original roast and potato extravaganza we had planned. Basically, our weekend supper meal turned into a fine weeknight-leftovers meal.

Marc shredded the meat in the sauce and we served it with rolls and shredded lettuce. I added mayo to mine (as I think that all things are improved with mayo).

On the side, we added raw carrots, fresh green beans and apples.

There was one more critical component to our meal: Old Portsmouth Orange Cake. This colonial era tea cake was easy to make and tasty.

For me, having pot roast as a sandwich was a big improvement over my childhood memories. Marc loved it and Maia agreed that it was pretty tasty. Lucy was less enthusiastic, but managed a few bites. Overall, a great use of what felt like leftovers!

Next stop: Arkansas

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Mexico

We continue through the "New" states today with New Mexico. Like so many of the places we've already covered, the state's history and ethnic diversity provide a wealth of choices. We went with the classic fusion food: Navajo Tacos.

Basically, you get all of the goodness of a taco with the added bonus of fry bread, one of life's rich treats. Marc made a basic dough with white flour, lard and water (remember, I said this is a treat, not everyday bread!). This was our first time working with lard, and I can see why it is a favorite of pie crust enthusiasts everywhere. The lard is soft and blends into the flour more easily than butter and it has a rich, savory flavor--unlike vegetable shortening which tends to result in a flavorless final product.

The dough rested for about 30 minutes before Marc rolled it into small circles, about 6 inches in diameter.

The circles were fried in canola oil until they were golden brown on both sides. The dough will puff up in the hot oil, it helps to press it gently into the oil so that it browns evenly.

The result was crisp, golden-brown and delicious!

For the filling, we made a basic ground beef taco mix with sauteed onions and garlic, chili powder and beef stock. We also served shredded lettuce, cheese, refried beans and cilantro on the side. Marc also made a quick pickle with thinly sliced red onion and jalapeno marinated in lime juice, salt and cilantro.

Everyone liked these, though no one could eat too much they're so rich and filling! We had lots of leftovers for the week. The work involved in making the fry bread was enough that this will probably not be a regular meal for us, but it was a fun Friday night, late-summer meal.

Next stop: New Hampshire

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Jersey

New Jersey's meal fulfilled one of the girls' recent requests: that we have a vegetarian meal for a state dinner. You might have noticed that our meals have been pretty meat-centric. But, I've yet to find a state with a vegetarian entree as a central part of its cuisine. This meal not only filled the vegetarian bill, it allowed us to use up a lot of our CSA vegetables that were starting to pile up as the season became more abundant. Given New Jersey's large Italian population and it's designation as The Garden State, eggplant parmesan seemed like the perfect choice!

Marc and Lucy took charge of this one, photos and all.

First, Marc salted the eggplant slices and left them to rest in a colander for about 30 minutes. This pulls the water out of the slices so they don't completely disintegrate when you bake them.

Next, Lucy pressed the slices into breadcrumbs seasoned with basil and romano cheese.

Next, the slices were fried lightly in olive oil:

We used our individual ramekins again, making nice little stacks of fried eggplant layered with fresh marinara sauce, mozzarella, and fresh parmesan.

About 20 minutes in a 375 degree oven and they became savory, melty and delicious!

On the side, we had a simple fennel salad: chopped fresh fennel lightly dressed with olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper.

Unfortunately, despite their requests for a meatless meal--this one was not a hit. Both girls managed to consume about two bites, declaring it "squishy" and "disgusting." Marc and I polished off the wine and ate their leftovers.

Next stop: New Mexico

Thursday, September 8, 2011


This meal generated some discussion in our house about the nature of our project. Knowing that Kansas is a big beef producer (60% of the agricultural business is generated by beef in the state), I suggested burgers. Easy and familiar. Maia felt that was a little boring, noting that burgers wouldn't be anything new for us. She's right, burgers are a pretty standard meal around here. But, as much as this project has been about encouraging us all to try new things, I didn't see anything wrong with adding some familiar items to the mix as well.

So, on Labor Day afternoon, burgers were just fine. We thought about grilling, but Marc and I really prefer a burger cooked on flat skillet. The salt and pepper crust is delicious and the heat is easier to control. On the side, we added our favorite rosemary potatoes.

Lucy strips fresh rosemary stems for the potatoes

This was a perfect end of summer meal--no one could complain!

We got to draw our next four this week (and we got all the rest of the "news"): New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Arkansas!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New York

Today we deviated a bit from our usual state-dinner routine. We drew New York last week, which opened so many possibilities: pizza, bagels, all varieties of ethnic cuisine, etc. In the end, we decided to leave the city all together and head Upstate.

As luck would have it, I have been reserving all the wings from the local chickens I've purchased this summer. I always prefer to buy whole chickens (why pay someone else to cut it up when you can do it so easily yourself?). I usually buy five to ten at a time and cut at least half of them into pieces to freeze. In past years, I've always tossed the wings in with the backbones to use for stock. Then it occurred to me that I might want to save them and make a batch of Buffalo Wings. Then, we drew New York in the same week that college football got rolling and, well...it was just too easy.

So, New York's "dinner" consisted of homemade Buffalo Wings, in front of the Iowa/Tennessee Tech game. A fine Saturday afternoon!

I had never prepared wings before, but Marc declared that they must be crispy, not chewy or rubbery. This eliminated baking or steaming. Obviously, deep frying was the only way to proceed. I had frozen all the wings whole, so first I had to trim them. You cut off the tip, then cut through the middle of the other joint so that you have two meaty pieces. I seasoned 1/2 cup of white flour with salt, pepper and garlic powder dredged the wings and let them sit while the oil heated.

The dredged wings prepare for their deep-fried future

I ended up with 36 wing pieces (from 9 chickens), so I fried them in three batches of 12. I used peanut oil and heated it over medium heat to about 375 degrees. Each batch fried for 15-20 minutes, until the skin was nice and brown on all sides. I put the finished wings on a paper towel-lined sheet pan into a 175 degree oven to wait for the others.

To satisfy everyone, I did three flavors: spicy, honey barbecue and plain. For the traditional, spicy wings I melted 1/4 cup of butter with 1/4 cup of Frank's Red Hot Sauce with pepper and garlic powder. When all the wings were cooked, I poured the hot sauce into the bottom of a large bowl and added 12 of the wings to toss it all together. In a separate bowl, the next 12 got the same treatment with a prepared honey barbecue sauce.

On the side I served celery stalks and bleu cheese dressing.

Marc declared these the "best wings ever." This is exactly what you should say if your spouse spends the entire first half of the football game making the wings while you watch the game and drink beer. Just so you know. Both kids liked them too--Maia preferred the plain, which she said was just like fried chicken, Lucy liked the honey barbecue. We all agreed that the messiness was a key component:

This was a bit of work, and when I was done the kitchen was a disaster area. It was worth it, though--these were really good!

(oh, and in case you were wondering, the Hawks walloped Tennessee Tech)

Next stop: Kansas

Thursday, September 1, 2011


A while back, out of the blue, Lucy expressed interest in trying lamb. I did a little research and discovered that Wyoming is one of the country's largest producers of lamb and mutton. Our Wyoming meal was decided!

Marc and I like lamb a lot--more tender than beef and such a rich flavor! It is a bit more expensive and a "special treat" meal for us, but always worth it!

Iowa vegetables are in full swing now, so roasted potatoes and fresh green beans from our CSA rounded out this meal.

The meat was rubbed with olive oil and seasoned generously with salt and pepper. Today the temperature approached 100 degrees (In Iowa on September 1st!), so we opted to enjoy our air conditioning and use an indoor cast-iron grill pan. I bought this pan several years ago--it covers two burners, has a griddle on one side and a grill on the other. It might be the best $20 I've ever spent; simple and functional. Marc heated only one end of the pan over a medium high burner until it was nice and hot before putting down the chops: 4 minutes on the first side and 3 minutes on the second side for a nice close-to-rare chop. If you like them a little more "done," go for it.

The potatoes got a dressing of olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh chopped rosemary and went into a 425 degree oven for about 35 minutes, then were tossed every 10 minutes until nice and brown. Marc declared that the trick is to toss the potatoes in oil before putting them on the sheet pan, so they get good coverage and don't stick to the pan.

The green beans were simply blanched for a couple minutes in rapidly boiling water--the leftovers will provide lunch vegetables for the rest of the week.

This meal was a hit with everyone. Maia requested less pepper on the meat next time, but other than that, there were no complaints! Our kids often declare that they don't like potatoes--but this version, sliced thinly and well seasoned, got positive reviews. Again, as a parent, I found myself ashamed at my attempts to start my kids with bland, boring foods (like the plain, pan fried chicken breasts that I prepared over and over, to much grumbling).

Another success (I love this project)!

Next up: New York


We had a lot of possibilities to choose from for our Texas dinner. Chili immediately came to mind, but with the unseasonally hot weather we're having up here in Iowa, we looked for something a little lighter. (I know, it's always hot in Texas--why am I complaining!?). We decided to go Tex-Mex and prepare fajitas--something the kids hadn't tried and that might be a good addition to our regular, non-blogging dinner repertoire.

This turned out to be a pretty quick meal to cook, though the marinating the meat required us to plan ahead a bit. We were able to get it accomplished in the short window between school and soccer practice, putting it in the category of "easy weeknight meal" for me.

We did both chicken and steak, though one or the other would have been fine. For the steak Marc originally planned to make up his own marinade recipe, but this one just looked so good he went with that (though he decreased the amount of chipotle peppers). We used flank steak, and marinated it for about 4 hours before grilling.

For the chicken, Marc blended the juice of 1 lime, a few minced garlic cloves, salt, pepper, oregano and ground cumin and poured that over two chicken breasts. This only marinated about an hour--the acid in the lime juice will start to cook the chicken if you leave it in too long.

The meat was grilled over very hot coals. Marc put the chicken on first, then the beef, which we prefer on the rare side.

While he was grilling, I sliced one red bell pepper and a red onion, seasoned them with salt and pepper and quickly sauteed them over high heat in a cast iron skillet. You could also put them on the grill in larger pieces, then slice them small before serving. These should stay crisp, so they don't need to go too long.

The meat was sliced thin and the onions and peppers were served on the side. I warmed flour tortillas in a 225 degree oven, wrapped in foil, and we sliced a lime to add at the table.

Everyone was pretty happy with this meal--though Maia (per usual) said the meat was a little on the spicy side for her. Lucy preferred the beef to the chicken, in both flavor and texture and even enjoyed the onions. Both girls have always declared a strong hatred for onions, but they are beginning to realize that most tasty things contain onions. Another benefit of this meal was that we will have good leftovers for the rest of the week!

The grown-ups rounded out the meal with a Shiner, Texas brew

Next: Wyoming