Tag: blogging (page 2 of 3)

My Eleven Favorite Recipes & Three Biggest Kitchen Fails from 2014

It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.

Just kidding.

Well, not just kidding about the truth that you added much joy to my year and continue to make blogging fun, but yes just kidding about utilizing this particular phrase Facebook users have now seen thousands of times. Our first, whole year living in North Iowa really has been great, though. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being a part of it.

I traveled a little and enjoyed a lot of dining experiences. I tried some new recipes, though I embarked on less elaborate home cooking projects than past years. With all of this year’s changes, comfort food was key. I tried writing about different topics like online dating and subscription boxes, but ultimately decided to refocus my blog and social media content on food and travel. I continue to meet some of the best people, both readers & writers, through my blogging adventures. These connections are one of the main reasons why I blog.

With each year’s new beginning, I enjoy summarizing my favorite dining experiences, recipes and most memorable kitchen fails. Here’s a summary of the eleven recipes we enjoyed the most this year and my top three home cooking fails:

Eleven Favorite Recipes from 2014:

Wini's Pork Meatballs text
I kept describing this recipe as “too good,” because Jake and I fought over every last meatball. These meatballs are unique because they contain no breadcrumb filler and a whole cup of fresh parsley which balances out the rich sauce. You can also find this recipe in Wini’s Braiser E-cookbook.

Miso Cod

I originally found this recipe searching for ways to use my jar of Korean gochujang. This glaze is the perfect balance between spicy, sweet, and savory. We liked it so much, I made it twice in one month. Plus, it’s easy to whip together on a week night.

Chickpeas

I participated in an online cooking club via Twitter for about one recipe. Although many of us got off-track, I made some new friends and prepared what became one of our favorite recipes this year. My attempts to cook Indian dishes had always resulted in just OK food, but this recipe was different. Freshly toasting and grinding my spices made all of the difference in the world and I like how Iyer writes his recipes. They’re easy to follow and approachable. Indian ingredients are not widely available in rural North Iowa so I had to make a couple of adaptations, and we were still wow’d by this dish.

DSC_0129

Amanda is another friends who’s written a cookbook. Call me biased, but I believe Smitten With Squash  is the best resource for cooking squash available in the Midwest. I’ve prepared many recipes from this book and this dip is possibly our favorite (so far). It’s bright and fresh.

Call Me A Party Pooper

I’ve prepared this dip many times since I first watched Nadia Comanceci prepare it on Trisha’s Food Network show. It’s easy to make and the hardest step is roasting the eggplant whole (which is super easy). I’ll eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so quickly, that Jake hardly gets to enjoy a bite.

Laurie's rhubarb pie

I baked many desserts this year and this was the best. Spring rhubarb from the Midwest is a magical thing and Laurie’s pie does it justice. Tart rhubarb is suspended in a creamy custard and topped with crunchy, buttery crumble. It’s best served in a homemade pie crust.

DSC_0047

Like the cod recipe above, this baked fish dish is easy to prepare. Can you tell we like creamy mustard sauces?

Runza watermarked

My cousin Chris gave me recipe cards when I graduated from college many moons ago. I found her family’s recipe for Runzas while unpacking a box soon after moving to Iowa. This recipe utilizes what I refer to as “bam” crescent rolls from a tube, but you could also use bread dough. There’s nothing fancy about the ground beef-cabbage filling, but it makes for an addicting combination. Jake and I fought over these meat pies, too.

Lebanese Meat Pies (Sfeeha) from A Taste of Beirut 

Meat Pies

So I really like meat pies. They’re a perfect, compact lunch to take to work. My Lebanese meat pies aren’t as pretty as Joumana’s, but it doesn’t matter because they tasted so good. Lebanese ingredients are also not widely available in North Iowa, so I made some adaptations such as subbing balsamic vinegar for pomegranate molasses and a red jalapeno for red pepper paste. Make sure to use lean ground lamb or beef.

Debbie's sandwiches

Debbie took North Iowa by storm with her Copycat Northwestern Steakhouse and loose meat sandwich recipes. I tried my first loose meat sandwich at Pro’s in Mason City and liked it so much I prepared a batch of Debbie’s Maid-Rites. We enjoy them with yellow mustard, pickle chips and chopped onion. I prefer these to Sloppy Joes.

Soda Bread Collage

Corned beef and cabbage is for any time, not just St. Patrick’s Day. One of my readers Stu shared his crock pot method which truly makes this meal painless to prepare anytime, as long as you get started in the morning so it can cook all day. Irish Soda Bread is also simple to bake since it doesn’t contain yeast. We love spreading slices of the crusty bread with butter and dipping it into the flavorful liquid.

Top Three Home Cooking Fails:
Cooking fails are inevitable realities for anyone who cooks. They can lead to surprising discoveries and inedible messes and will happen despite your best efforts, but don’t let them stop you from trying.

Fail Collage

From left to right: Peppermint cookies, coconut shrimp & Grandma’s crabby snacks.

  • Peppermint Meltaway Cookies: I really wanted to enter Des Moines Register Food Writer Jennifer Miller’s Christmas cookie contest. I tried to improvise on my lemon meltaway cookie recipe by baking ones dotted with candy cane and filled with chocolate. Sounds good, right? I learned how horrible chocolate, peppermint, and butter taste could taste, which I didn’t even imagine could be possible. Two sticks of butter died for these cookies. I’m still grumpy.
  • Coconut Shrimp: I tried to prepare Bobby Dean’s Baked Coconut Shrimp recipe. While the actual baking method was spot-on, the shrimp I used were horribly fishy and the dipping sauce tasted horribly bitter. Too bad, because the meal looks beautiful.
  • Grandma Dorothy’s Hot Crab Meat Sandwiches (Crabby Snacks): This recipe derailed my quest to cook all of my grandmothers’ retro recipes I found in church cookbooks. I’d be willing to try someone else’s version of crabby snacks, but this particular canned crab had a particularly strong flavor and smell and I was left with a giant brick of Velveeta. We did not go back for seconds.

Coming Up Next: Top Ten Favorite Foods from 2014, plus some honorable mentions & my recipe for weeknight Chicken Parmesan. 

What were some of your favorite recipes and cooking fails from 2014? 

Webster City (Part I): Kringla, Mug Cake & Creating Magic Out Of Small Towns

Disclaimer: Deb Brown, the Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce invited me to spend the day in Webster City as part of the “Seven Bloggers on a Saturday” tour. All opinions are my own

There is no road trip too near or too far to thrill me. This weekend, I joined six North Iowa Bloggers on a road trip on hour south to Webster City. Deb Brown Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce was instrumental in coordinating Hampton, Iowa’s first Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour which I participated in this past fall. As a blogger, she is no stranger to participating in bloggers tours, either.

Like Franklin County, I was humbled by the hospitality we received from everyone who hosted us during the tour. Deb coordinated visits with owners of ten unique businesses, lunch at the Grid Iron Grill, tours of the historic Jane Young House, Kendall Young Library, and a drive through the holiday light display at Briggs Woods Campground, all within the span of seven hours.

Strangers entrusted us with their stories. They hoped we would share with our readers and I feel honored to do so. Near the end of our tour, Deb stated something that’s echoed in my mind ever since:

“We create magic out of small towns because we have to.”

I realize no community is perfect, but it’s evident Webster City is home to people creating magic. The individuals we spoke to repeated time and time again that they invest their resources in their hometown because they want to create the type of community in which they want to live. No matter if you live in a large or small community, within or outside of Iowa, I hope you enjoy my three-part series about Webster City. This city girl has a lot to learn from those who create magic in their small towns.

Here’s Part I:  

main street panoramic wm

Webster City, a town of 8,000, has an attractive main street with few vacant storefronts. Living in Mason City, I’m finding myself without a Mexican, Hispanic, or Asian grocery store for the first time in my life. I gleefully shouted out loud when I  noticed a Mexican and Asian grocery store along the main street. When I expressed enthusiasm about finding an Asian grocery, Deb mentioned Webster City has a large Laotian community and added that a Laotian family is preparing to open an egg roll and spring roll shop soon.

We began our tour by gathering at SOS Vintage, a new shop that offers refurbished and vintage items. The only antique stores I’ve visited felt chaotic and dingy, but SOS feels elegant, just as owner Denise Smith stated she wanted it to in a newspaper article published before the store opened in April.

SOS Vintage Exterior

Denise kindly welcomed us to SOS with freshly baked scones and kringla. I was mesmerized by her front counter that was decorated with keys and coins.

Kringla wm

Mayor Doug Getter took the time to personally welcome us to town. He described some of the city’s latest economic development efforts, including an indoor barramundi operation, and recommended Webster City Meat Locker’s which sells some of his favorite bacon.

Of course, we broke kringla, because that’s the cordial thing to do when you meet someone new and there’s kringla.

Kringla Collage

I liked how SOS sells a combination of old and new products. This print caught my eye and I bought it with a gift certificate Denise generously gave to each blogger. Anyone that’s attended a Lutheran college is familiar with the word “vocation”. This screamed vocation and so I bought it because it makes me feel exceedingly happy.

Picture wm
Denise Mendenhall who owns Relax the Bath sells handmade bath products at SOS. I was over the moon when I saw she included soap and kumquat body butter in our goody bags. Jake and I like stocking our bathrooms with locally-made soaps which don’t irritate our skin.

SOS Vintage shares their shop with Timothy and Denise Morgan who craft handcrafted leather goods at Ti-De Creations. They caught me admiring the two purses on the top left shelf and brought them to the counter. Timothy described how he creates the intricate etching by hand. The tubular bag decorated the pink roses is designed for motorcycles. These bags are popular among motorcyclists because they craft them in many colors and sizes larger than the typical motorcycle bags

The Morgans gave us with our choice of key chain. I’m sure no one’s surprised I chose a paw print.

Leather Collage A second local business that features handmade artwork is Produce Station PotteryProduce Station functions as a store, classroom and founder and artist-in-gallery Maureen Saunder’s pottery studio. She founded the studio in 1990 out of the community’s need for a space where people could create and purchase local art.

Intro wm

Maureen reminded me of a mentor I had in the Twin Cities and I felt very much at home.

Pottery Collage One wm

The station’s first artist-in-residence Man Ho “Billy” Cho creates much of the beautiful pottery and raku. Cho originally traveled to Iowa from Hong Kong to attend college. He is currently completing his Masters in Fine Arts degree on a full-ride scholarship at the University of Iowa.

Maureen described how she can identify one of Cho’s pieces because his lids always fit perfectly, which is no small feat in the pottery world. Learn more about Cho at Billy Cho Ceramics.

Pottery on Shelf wm

We followed Maureen on a tour of her studio. I was enthralled with the shelves of paints and dyes.

Pottery Paint

I was also smitten with this painting.

Saw Painting wm

Even though the weather was cloudy, the sun shone just enough to illuminate the stained glass window.

Judith the potter wm

An art garden in the back of the studio features a bonfire pit and, if I remember correctly, a raku kiln.

Deck wm

After our tour, Maureen treated us to our choice of a chocolate or red velvet mug cake served in their beautiful pottery. She described becoming inspired to build a bonfire pit in the pottery garden after attending a bonfire at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis where she enjoyed a similar mug treat.

Mug cake Collage wm

We had to leave for our next stop along the tour soon after we enjoyed our mug cakes. The only downside to the tour was that weren’t able to leisurely browse each store, but Deb wanted to collaborate with as many business owners as possible during our short visit. We all left Webster City wanting to return soon for more in-depth exploration. Sometimes, building curiosity is an underrated accomplishment in itself.

Coming up next: Part II (Small business visits & lunch at Grid Iron Grill), Part II (Jane Young House & Library)

Participating bloggers: Sara of All in an Iowan Mom’s Day, Beth Ann of It’s Just Life, Donna of Donnahup.com, and Amy of Modern Rural Living & Alicia of Fit & Farm

Thanks again to Deb Brown of the Area Chamber, Denise at SOS Vintage, Mayor Getter,Timothy & Denise of Ti-De Creations & Maureen of Produce Station Pottery.

I Met Cooper The Chicken & Ate Broasted Chicken At A Drive-In: Let’s Save The Barrel

There’s a giant chicken in Clear Lake, Iowa.

His name is Cooper and if you drive along U.S. 18 from Mason City to Clear Lake, you won’t miss him. He likes it when people take his photo.

Cooper Collage

Cooper stands outside the Barrel Drive-In, a historic restaurant that’s served ice cream and broasted chicken since 1958. The Barrel started as the small shack pictured below on a gravel lot and expanded into a covered drive-in with two dining rooms.

Menu

A 1/2 chicken dinner is no longer $1.25, but it’s still darn affordable. It’ll cost less than $10 and still come with a roll, side salad, choice of crinkle fries, thick slices of broasted potato, or coleslaw and twist of soft serve ice cream.

Barrel food Collage

Back in the day, the Barrel used to be a hot spot. A DJ played music from the booth on the rooftop and people would come out to dance. These days, the Barrel is in need of many updates.

Current owner Seth Thackery shared his story and vision with us at our last North Iowa Social Media Breakfast. He began working at the Barrel at age 14 and bought the restaurant in 2007. He’s already put a lot of his own money into fixing what’s worn. Unfortunately, he’s finding much of the worn can’t be fixed, but must be replaced. He considered selling the drive-in when Casey’s General Store expressed interest in purchasing the property. When he learned that Casey’s wanted to tear the building down, he sought help for his business.

After learning about the Barrel’s possible fate, the community has rallied behind Thackery. Julie Wright, owner of Executive Financial Architects and Michael Fiala, owner of Northern Iowa Internet & Creative Services awarded him a $75,000 grant along with business and marketing coaching. Other volunteers are offering assistance with repairs and social media management. Plus, the Barrel recently applied for a Restaurant Impossible make-over.

Thackery especially needs a new kitchen and hopes to add a soda fountain bar.

The Meal
The broasted chicken was as memorable as everyone implied with its crackly-crispy skin and juicy meat. I chose a side of french fries. They were fried well without being greasy and nicely salted, though I envied my companions who nibbled thick, broasted potato wedges. Side salads came with a sweet, homemade French dressing and I think I tasted celery seed.

Chicken Dinner

Sara used the booth’s speaker to call-in our order.

Sara Ordering

Thackery’s passion for his business shone through. After hearing him speak and spending time with him at the Barrel, we all want this hardworking restauranteur to succeed.

Barrel with Seth

Grantor Julie Wright said, “Be appreciative of what seems old-fashioned,” and her words rang through my head all day.

There’s still a place for an old-fashioned drive-in where families order from speakers in their cars or booths and eat broasted chicken with their fingers. Hopefully the Barrel will get the renovation it deserves and you’ll see people dancing by moonlight to music spun by a rooftop DJ next to a spinning barrel and a chicken named Cooper.

Volunteers can offer their time and talents here to save the Barrel.

My Lunch Dates:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life: Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Donna, Donnahup.com
Katy, Learning As I Go: Learning About Being A Wife, Step-mom & An Adult
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara

Liebster Award Tag!

leibsterawardThis is a long overdue thank you to Cristen of Food & Swine for nominating me for the Liebster Award, a virtual way for bloggers to recognize other bloggers. According to the official rules, any blog with under 1,000 followers or subscribers is eligible for the Liebster.

Nominating blogs for the Liebster Award is essentially like playing tag. Bloggers can choose to pass it on if they wish, but they are certainly not obligated to participate.

I’ve connected with Cristen more recently through Iowa blogging networks (she wrote about the Bauder’s Pharmacy Peppermint Bar at the Iowa State Fair in my post compiling Iowa bloggers favorite hometown foods). As a new Iowan, I’ve appreciated her warmth and friendliness and enjoy following her blog in which she shares about her family, raising hogs, and cooking adventures. This week, I was thrilled to learn she is an award winning bread baker, having won multiple blue ribbons at the Iowa State Fair.

Like Minnesota and North Dakota, I’ve thankful to have found a hospitable group of local bloggers, many of whom I consider friends and enjoy collaborating with.

Cristen’s Questions For Me:

  • What drove you to start your blog and when did you start it?

I had always read food blogs but was too afraid to start my own. After I made arrangements to travel to Puebla and Queretaro, Mexico with two friends, I vowed to start a blog and begin by writing about our trip. I was inspired by Twin Cities food writers and bloggers and realized I also wanted to contribute to the discussion.

  • Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?

A childhood watching Julia Child and Two Fat Ladies and reading cookbooks like novels. Now, I love exploring these food fascinations in my own kitchen. I am also inspired by recipes and techniques I see on food television, magazines, books, and blogs. My husband and I live in a smaller city and can’t just run out for Korean and Indian food so I’m inspired to learn how to make more foods.

  • How much time do you spend on your blog per day?

It depends on the day. Typically, I’ll spend about two hours a day chipping away on posts and commenting on other blogs. If I have the time and hit a writing groove, I’ll spend more hours.

  • Who convinced you to finally start your blog?

My family and friends have been very supportive of my blogging, but I think I had to convince myself.

  • What are your three top favorite personal recipes you’ve ever featured?

How I baked a cheap ham, (more for the commentary than the recipe), Korean Chap Chae and Lefse. As an honorable fourth, Stu’s recipe for a crock pot corned beef & cabbage meal.

Liebster Collage.jpg

  • What topics would you like to cover more in your blog posts?

Local travel and exploration. I embarked on a lot of road trips and detours when I lived in North Dakota and would like to continue to explore oddities, small town cafes, dive bars in Iowa and Southern Minnesota.

  • What is one skill you wish you had?

Gardening.  

  • Where do you see your blog in 5 years?

I would like to have grown my readership and continued to connect with my readers and other writers. I also hope to remain true to my mission to write the blog I want to read. It would be a dream come true if blogging led to travel opportunities.

  • What is one dish or baked good that you’d love to master?

I would like to make better Indian food.

  • If you could cook one meal for anyone (alive or passed) who would it be for and what would it be?

My mom passed away from cancer in 2008 and never really got to try my cooking. I would love to make her knoephla soup and strawberry pie with a homemade crust.

  • What is your advice for someone thinking about starting a blog of their own?

First and foremost, be authentic.

If you see yourself blogging long-term, invest in a self-hosted WordPress site. I spent my first three years on Blogger before transferring everything to my own website. I am grateful for those who assisted me with this process (most especially Mike at Tela) and wish I had moved sooner.

Choose your blog name wisely so you don’t have to rebrand later, but don’t let this stop you from getting started.

Connect with local blogging networks, always consider bloggers as friends instead of competition, and don’t be afraid to use social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Google +. Once you publish, you’re out there, so go for it.

Eleven Random Facts:

  1. I have an irrational fear of bugs and insects.
  2. My favorite color is pink.
  3. I didn’t watch The Goonies until the end of my senior year of college.
  4. I finally visited the iconic Spoonbridge & Cherry sculpture in Minneapolis when I was 26.
  5. I don’t like frosting.
  6. The best concert I ever attended was Colin Hay playing The Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, MN in 2006.
  7. Most everything I cook at home is spicy.
  8. If I could travel anywhere tomorrow, I would like to see the redwood trees in northern California.
  9. One of the most interesting and impactful experiences of my life was living at a homeless mission in San Bernardino, CA during a May term.
  10. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time in Laguna Hills, CA and Cuyahoga Falls, OH visiting relatives. My grandparents have since passed away and my aunts and uncles moved.
  11. I like washing dishes by hand. And, just like my grandma, I find it relaxing. If I’m invited to your house, I’ll probably wash your dishes, too.

Liebster Award Tag!
I’d like to recognize the following blogs. Whether or not these bloggers have more than 1,000 followers, I don’t know but I look forward to reading whatever they write.

  • Feisty Eats: I’ve followed Sarah since I lived in North Dakota. She also shares a variety of recipes and her inspiring health journey. I feel like we’re kindred spirits in that we get joy from pet ownership.
  • Katey911: Katey is also a North Dakota blogger. I had the pleasure of meeting her briefly before moving to Iowa. She shares her thoughts on life frankly and authentically.

My Questions for My Nominees:

  1. What’s your blogging mission?
  2. What drove you to start your blog?
  3. What would you like to write about more often?
  4. What always makes you laugh?
  5. What are your top three personal favorite blog posts (not necessarily the ones that get the most views)?
  6. If you could see any musician perform live, who would that be and why?
  7. What’s your favorite hometown food or restaurant?
  8. How do you fight writer’s block?
  9. What advice do you have for new bloggers?
  10. What are three essentials you always stock in your fridge?
  11. Who’s one of your childhood heroes?

Liebster Award nominees can participate by doing the following :

  • Thank the blogger who presented you with the Liebster Award and provide a link back to his or her blog.
  • Answer the questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself, and create 11 questions for your nominees.
  • Present the Liebster Award to several other bloggers who have blogs whom you feel deserve to be noticed.
  • Leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been nominated or email them.
  • Upload the Liebster Award image to your blog.

I Love Mail & Hate This Winter So I Signed-Up For The Mug O’ Comfort Swap

I’ve been relatively quiet about my opinions regarding this winter’s weather simply because I would only be adding to the noise.

This week we started running our sink to prevent our pipes from freezing, I tried to walk my dog today and we both went numb halfway down the cul-de-sac, I drove home in a blizzard on a rural two-lane highway on Thursday night, and I just can’t hold it in any longer. . .

I hate this winter!

Fortunately, I learned about this month’s Mug O’ Comfort swap from my Iowan blogger friends Beth at It’s Just Life and Sincerely Jenni. Participants are matched up with another blogger and they both exchange mugs and supplies to make other person’s favorite hot beverage like tea, coffee, or cider.

I found myself yelling terrible things at winter and joined the swap as a proactive effort in participating in something cheerful.

This is our first time participating and we’ll look forward to sharing what kinds of mugs and treats we give and receive. The sign-ups for March close at the end of today, so if you are interested in joining, visit The Chaotic Goddesses sign-up page quickly.

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