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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It took us a while to decide what to eat for Missouri. I grew up near the Lake of the Ozarks, far from Kansas City and St Louis, each of which get a fair amount of attention for their food. Barbecue reigns in Kansas City and St Louis gave us toasted ravioli and some pretty tasty frozen custard. In the rural part of the state where I grew up, many people (including my family) regularly hunted. Wild rabbit, fried squirrel, dove and frog legs were not uncommon at our table. Now that I'm a city girl, these things are harder to come by.

We're always up for smoking a hunk of meat, so Kansas City barbecue it was. We had a brisket in our freezer from our favorite local grass-fed beef producer that was about 4 lbs. Marc smoked it for about 6 hours on a Saturday morning on the charcoal grill, keeping the temperature at around 225. The night before, he coated it with a blend of 2 T brown sugar, 2 T paprika, 1 T black pepper, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder and 1/2 tsp celery seed.

It turned out beautifully--the outside "bark" was nicely charred, but the inside was tender and juicy.

On the side, we served our now standard rosemary potatoes and this outstanding cole slaw from Rick Bayless:

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

1/2 medium head of green cabbage
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Combine the first 6 ingredients along with 2 T water in a food processor and blend well. (Or, just chop the garlic very fine and blend well with a whisk). Thinly slice the cabbage. Blend cabbage, parsley and dressing in a large bowl. Refrigerate for about an hour before serving.

Lucy and I opted to construct sandwiches, Marc and Maia ate theirs on the plate with sauce.

I deviated from our state and built a "Carolina style" sandwich, with the coleslaw and sauce right on top.

Marc and I enjoyed this meal quite a bit. The girls, less so, but they powered through! Lucy said that the flavor wasn't too bad, but she didn't like the texture. We had quite a bit of leftovers, which were excellent both as thinly sliced, cold sandwiches and cubed and heated up with sauce.

Next stop: Ohio

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Virginia is for lovers, so they say. Certainly, lovers of rich, salty, delicious foods would be quite at home!

Ham seemed the most logical choice for Virginia, even though the traditional country (or salt-cured) hams are harder to find in the Midwest. I went with a Beeler Ham, a naturally cured ham produced in central Iowa. Interestingly, if you get a naturally cured meat--meaning it was cured without nitrites--it will say "uncured" on the label. This isn't exactly true, the meat is cured using salt and spices (celery seed in particular). Labeling requirements don't allow a "naturally cured" option, though, so the label will state uncured.

On the side, we served collard greens and cheddar biscuits. We had a nice fresh bunch of collard greens from our CSA and cooked them up Southern-style for this meal. In a large skillet, brown 4 strips of bacon until it's nice and crisp, then remove and crumble. Add chopped onion and garlic and cook in the bacon grease until the vegetables are soft and aromatic. Then, add the collard greens, salt and pepper, and about a cup of chicken stock. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the greens are nice and tender. Then uncover and continue cooking until the juices (pot likker) thicken and coat the greens. Finish with a splash of vinegar.

The cheddar biscuits are from Ina Garten and are one of our favorite recipes. These are great for a weekend breakfast or a dinner side. The leftovers, if there are any, make handy snacks or lunch additions. I don't use a mixer, but blend the butter in using a pastry cutter; and I don't roll out the dough, just pat it into a rough circle. Too much handling will make the biscuits tough.

The only new item for the kids was the collard greens. Lucy adamantly refused to taste them. Maia agreed only after I pleaded that I needed a reviewer for the blog so she agreed to taste a tiny bite. When we asked if she liked them, she said, "no....they're just...gross."

The rest of the meal was a hit. Lucy likes her ham with honey-mustard--which I make by mixing, shockingly, honey and mustard. Diced ham and a leftover biscuit will serve as a fine lunch-box addition tomorrow.

Next Stop: Missouri

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I'm going to start here:

because these are the only ingredients in our Iowa meal that did not come from within about an hour's drive of our house.

Iowa gets a lot of attention as the home of industrial agriculture. We have the dubious distinction of being the largest producer of corn, soy, laying hens and hogs. Michael Pollan, while visiting our fair city, called Iowa a "food desert." I take issue with that, because the seemingly endless rows of corn and beans exist alongside an ever expanding system of food production. Real food, that doesn't require processing and that people can eat as soon as it's harvested.

Our meal highlights only a small portion of that real food. This meal was remarkably easy to source and prepare. None of these are strange, specialty foods, they're available in abundance this time of year. It was a feast of grilled pork chops, tomato and mozzarella salad, rosemary roasted potatoes, fresh organic micro-greens, and sliced apples.

Tomatoes from Friendly Farm, Iowa City IA

Our usual procedure with this project has been to think of foods that are culturally relevant to each particular state. Meals introduced by immigrants, for example, or those traditional to the native people of the area. This meal is based on geography, but it also reflects some of Iowa's heritage and incorporates some of the products for which the state is known.

The pork chops came from our favorite local pork producer, Dennis Rehberg from Walker Iowa. His Hampshire hogs are an heirloom breed valued for their tender, marbled meat. In addition, his genetics (the line of hogs that he has bred for nearly 30 years) are some of the last available. No one in the state, possibly in the country, has this particular line of hogs. We like bone-in chops, which we rubbed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before grilling. Marc used a new brand of charcoal, which was hotter than he expected, giving them a nice, dark char.

The rosemary potatoes have become a standard dish around here. Simply cut potatoes into wedges, toss in olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh rosemary and roast at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes, tossing once half way through. They are consistently crisp outside and tender inside.

Lucy took charge of the tomato salad, one of her favorite dishes. She sliced the tomatoes, picked and sliced the basil and added fresh mozzarella cheese curds, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.

We didn't have to drink water, either (believe me!). Iowa now boasts many excellent local beverage options!

We were all happy to eat this meal, in part because we would get to brag about our state to all of you! Here are the producers:

Pork: Dennis Rehberg; Walker, IA
Tomatoes: Friendly Farm; Iowa City, IA
Mozzarella curds: Acoustic Farms; Springville, IA
Basil: Our garden
Potatoes: Oak Hill Acres; Atalissa, IA
Rosemary: Grinnell Heritage Farm; Grinnell, IA
Micro-Greens: Organic Greens; Kalona, IA
Apples and Cider: Wilson's Apple Orchard; Iowa City, IA
Pale Ale: Peace Tree Brewing Company; Knoxville, IA
White Wine: Cedar Ridge Winery; Cedar Rapids, IA
Rye Whiskey: Templeton Rye; Templeton, IA

Iowa, You Make Me Smile!

Next Stop: Virginia

Saturday, October 1, 2011


If it seems like our pace is slowing down--it is! The realities of school schedules, along with soccer, cello, fiddle and two separate orchestra practices per week have caught up with us. Our enthusiasm has not waned, however, we're just short on time!

Oklahoma is the only state kind enough to provide us with an official State Meal. Not for the dainty, it includes fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie and black-eyed peas. Whew!

We did not attempt everything on this list--far from it. We went with chicken fried steak and corn, with an additional side of greens which seemed appropriate despite their absence from the official menu.

My mother often made chicken fried steak when I was growing up. I hated it. I mean, I really loathed it--I complained and moaned bitterly every time she fixed it. Not surprisingly, I hadn't had it for years. As we got ready for this meal, my adult self wondered what could be so bad about fried meat?

We used round steak, which the butcher butterflied for us. Marc then further tenderized it with a fork, poking little holes and slightly stretching the pieces until they were even. The pieces were seasoned with salt and pepper, then dunked in egg wash and seasoned flour (more salt and pepper and some granulated garlic).

The pieces were fried lightly in peanut oil, until golden brown on either side.

When the meat was done, it was time to make gravy. (Gravy! How could I not like something that included gravy?!). Using the oil left in the pan, add about an equal amount of flour to make a roux. To that add about 2 cups of chicken stock, salt and pepper and about a tablespoon of thyme. When the mixture thickens, add milk (about a cup) and continue stirring until it is thick and smooth.

The greens we served on the side were a blend of turnip greens and swiss chard (which is what happened to be in our vegetable drawer!). We first cooked a few strips of bacon until they were nice and crisp, then removed them from the pan. In the leftover oil, sautee an onion until it has softened, then add chopped garlic and the cleaned, chopped greens. The tougher the green, the longer they should cook, although how tender they are is really a personal taste. Add some water or stock and cover. Cook over medium heat until you like the consistency. Top with crumbled bacon. (You could also chop the bacon first and leave it in to cook with the greens, I like that it stays crispy if you take it out while the greens cook).

This meal was a hit with everyone--including me! Marc, in fact, was reduced to a Homer Simpson-like stupor over it. Lucy also enjoyed it quite a bit. It got the "ok" rating from Maia. So, yes, I admit it, chicken fried steak is good. Please don't tell my mother!

We drew our next four: Iowa, Missouri, Virginia and Ohio