Category: blogging (Page 2 of 6)

10 Cool Things I Learned At Bloggy Conference

This past weekend I attended Bloggy Conference and participated in a panel at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Yes, it’s a blogging conference located at a huge amusement park on Lake Erie and it’s awesome.

When we weren’t riding rides or wandering through the haunted corn maze, we attended conference sessions covering different aspects of blogging from affiliate marketing to creating instructional videos to the North Iowa Bloggers panel about creating local connections in one’s community.

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Here are 10 of my favorite take-home points that I learned at Bloggy Conference: 

From Rachel Martin & Dan Morris’ (Blogging Concentrated) presentation “111 Things You Never Knew About Social Media, Tech & Blogging.”

1. Don’t be stagnant with how you post on social media; keep testing things. If your Facebook views are down, ask yourself how you are continually changing your posts. One reason Instagram has remained successful is because it keeps introducing new features. Rachel & Dan encouraged us to ask ourselves how fast we’re able to alter what we’re doing.

2. There is actualy an app called Ignorenomore that parents can install on their child’s phone. If you think your child is ignoring you calls, you can activate this app which will shut down your child’s phone so that he or she can only call the number(s) you’ve selected, like yours or 911. Supposedly, it’s nearly impossible to uninstall from the child’s end.

From Rachel Martin’s presentation about Facebook pages:

3. When you write your Facebook updates, approach them with the intention of making them so powerful that people will pause at your status when they scroll through their feed. Will your readers connect with your posts enough to want to share them with their friends?

4. The Facebook algorithm awards engagement. Building huge followings of people who only liked your page to enter a giveaway doesn’t necessarily build communities of people that engage with your posts and genuinely want to see what you create next.

5. Share things that you know your community will love. Martin recommends that if you read something and say, “I wish I would have written that,” it’s something worthy of sharing. If you join Facebook/Twitter sharing groups, you may feel obligated to share content that simply isn’t a good fit for your community.

6. Make status updates that are long enough to offer the option where you have to click to “read more.”

From Donna Hup’s presentation on Twitter:

7. Twitter analytics exist! Access your 28-day summary here.

8. Tweeting more than twice an hour results in a drop of your click-through rate per tweet.

From Sara Mock’s presentation “Instructional Videos – Connecting With Your Audience In A New Way”:

9. You can subscribe to Final Cut Pro for $10 a month!

10. Instead of winging a video, try mapping it out ahead of time with a story board. Include a call to action at the end encouraging people to leave a comment (only if you’ll answer them) or find you on other social media platforms.

Bloggycon

From left to right: Me, Sara, Donna & Beth.

Thanks again to Sara Broers for inviting me to speak on the Panel “Local Connections Matter.” 

That Time I Was On The Radio & A Recipe For Korean Tofu-Pork Patties

Cooking Korean food in North Iowa is often an adventure.

This weekend, Twin Cities food critic, James Beard award-winning writer and author Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl invited me to pop into her radio show/podcast Off the Menu to talk about food and community in North Iowa. She is one of the first food writers I ever followed and her writing inspired me to be curious about exploring our local dining scene. The invitation was very much an honor.

I felt like a North Iowan ambassador. We discussed ham balls, the low ceilings in the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel, Greek influence on our culinary scene, Casey’s gas station breakfast pizza, and North Iowa blogging community. You can actually download the podcast on iTunes later this week.

WCCO

Our conversation made me reflect upon the challenges that arise from having access to a smaller variety of multicultural grocery stores and food products.

On one hand, I can’t just make Pad Thai or vegetable korma on a whim. Obtaining the ingredients to make these dishes requires enough forethought to grow the ingredients (such as Thai basil) or purchase them online or while visiting a bigger city. Don’t try to find tamarind paste here, it’s basically impossible. On the plus side, I’ve learned how to be more creative and replicate certain flavors with the ingredients that I can find.

We may not have an Asian market or Indian restaurant in town, but friends continue to eagerly introduce me to their favorite food traditions and restaurants. Ham balls, pork burgers, pork tenderloins, loose meat sandwiches, old school supper clubs like Half Moon Inn in Clear Lake, Iowa, gas station breakfast pizza, it’s all been fun. As Deb Brown, the Executive Director of the Webster City Chamber of Commerce said, “We make magic out of small towns because we have to.”

Here’s a simple recipe for pork-tofu patties. I riffed on a recipe from The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning CalmI served the patties with a soy sauce dip, marinated zucchini strips, steamed rice, and kimchi.

Korean Pork-Tofu Patties
Adapted from the recipe for Gogi Chun (Bean Curd and Pork Patties) from The Korean Kitchen: Classic Recipes from the Land of the Morning Calm 

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Ingredients:
1 package of firm tofu. Crumble, squeeze out in towel
1/2 pound ground pork
1 egg
Handful of finely diced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced or grated
1/3 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Panko break crumbs. Enough to bind mixture, about 1/2 cup.

Dipping sauce:
Soy sauce
Grated ginger
Crushed garlic clove
Brown sugar
Vinegar

Instructions:

  1. Remove tofu from package. Crumble with your hands. Wrap tofu crumble in a clean towel and squeeze out excess water.
  2. In a large bowl, combine crumbled and drained tofu with ground pork, one egg, handful of minced onion, minced garlic, salt and pepper.
  3. Add enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes before adding more breadcrumbs. It will tighten up as the breadcrumbs absorb the moisture.
  4. Form into small patties.
  5. Fry on each side in a thin layer of hot vegetable oil (I used peanut) until the pork is cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in the oven on a cooling rack set on a sheet pan until you are ready to serve.
  6. To prepare the dipping sauce, season soy sauce with grated ginger, crushed garlic, brown sugar and vinegar. I did not have rice wine vinegar, so I used a splash of plain vinegar.

The Ten Best Things I Ate During 2014 (Plus Some Very Honorable Mentions)

At Jeni Eats, I proceed into 2015 without a list of New Years Resolutions, except for these three goals: To spend 2015 “doing strange things with weird people,” to keep food blogging fun, and remain delightfully imperfect. From our household to yours, we wish you good things in 2015 and thank you for joining us here.

family photo

We tried to take a family photo

I had a difficult time summarizing my eleven favorite recipes from 2014, but found choosing my favorite foods was even more challenging. Here’s my best attempt at selecting just ten, plus a handful of very honorable mentions.

Top 10 Favorite Foods:

Dining at a table set for 2,000 was truly a once in a lifetime experience. Chef James Baker’s menu of honey-ginger-soy chicken, beans and rice, and spicy Ethiopian vegetables was one of the freshest and most flavorful meals I ate all year. You can try recreating the chicken and vegetables yourself with these recipes published in the Star Tribune. I did, but Bakers’ was still better.

Meal Serving Collage

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When I work in Mitchell County, I like to check out the daily hot lunch specials served at the Mennonite-owned and operated Kountry Kupboard. Half of the store sells groceries like baking supplies, homemade nut butters, cheeses and other bulk-food items while the other half functions as a cafe. I was most excited about a Friday fried fish special. The coating was flavorful and super crispy while the fish was moist and flaky. Fried fish is one of my favorite treats and this was the best (or eat least tied with Ward 6).

Each meal comes with the softest and fluffiest butterhorn rolls. The meatloaf is also fantastic. It’s better than my meatloaf and I make really good meatloaf.

Peppermint Ice Cream Bar

Cristen chose the Bauder Pharmacy Peppermint Ice Cream Bar as her favorite Iowan food in Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Hometown Restaurants. We finally got to try the peppermint bar and meet Cristen at our first visit to the Iowa State Fair. The bar is layered with the creamiest ice cream imaginable and somehow, the combination of ice cream, peppermint, and Oreos didn’t strike us as too sweet.

  • Pastry Chef Diane Yang’s Lemon Curd Mousse Dessert at Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lemon Dessert wm

You may recognize this dessert because I just wrote about visiting Spoon and Stable over Christmas week. We liked the tart lemon flavor and fresh pineapple. Each bite brought a different texture and temperature. Basically, it was like magic.

Shrimp

My cousin Brian and his family live near Calumet Fisheries, a small seafood smokehouse at the edge of the 95th Street Bridge. The bridge was featured in The Blues Brothers movie, while the restaurant was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We tried two varieties of smoked fish and smoked shrimp, enjoying everything immensely. However, the shrimp stood out. They weren’t overly smoked and had a firm texture like lobster. They tasted especially good dunked in the mild hot sauce.

More Chicago posts: Part I (includes Calumet) and Part II

  • Whole Fried Fish With Three-Flavors Sauce from Bangkok Thai Deli, Saint Paul, Minnesota 

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Thai restaurants have come and gone in the Twin Cities since we moved to Fargo in 2010, but our favorite is still Bangkok Thai Deli. We visited them when they were located in the back of that small grocery store with a shiny, mosaic chimney and we continue to stop by now that they’ve relocated to the old Burger King. On Valentine’s Day, we shared this whole, fried fish served in three-flavor sauce.

The fish skin is crispy and the sauce tastes sweet, sour, savory, and spicy. Bangkok Thai Deli also makes Jake’s favorite version of Pad Thai.

pork signatures supper club

Signatures Supper Club catered a work event where they served grilled butterfly pork chops. They tasted so much more moist and flavorful than this phone picture depicts. Of all of the pork tenderloins I tried during 2014, this was my favorite.

Fried Pickles WM

As part of the Webster City Bloggers Tour, we ate lunch at Grid Iron Grill. Owner Burk Risetter treated us to fried pickle chips with [good] ranch, of course:) I kept going back for more. Risetter takes pride in the care his cooks take in hand-breading most of their appetizers instead of purchasing frozen, pre-made products. We tried a variety of appetizers and dishes and could tell the difference.

More Webster City posts: Part I & Part II. Part III coming soon. 

I stayed at Country Heritage as part of the Franklin County Harvest Bloggers Tour in the fall. Our hosts prepared a lovely soup supper complete with three different choices. Jake and I loved Lacey’s scratch-made beef and vegetable soup with garden green beans and tender beef. We were surprised to learn this was the first time she ever prepared it. We also enjoyed a memorably good beef soup at City Limits Eatery in St. Ansgar. Beef soups often bore me or taste like tinned stock, but City Limit’s one was also scratch-made and perfectly balanced. Their salad bar was also my favorite of the year.

Papa's

This sandwich surprised me by being so compelling. Normally I hate boneless skinless chicken breast, but my friend Amy was right-on with her recommendation. I liked the flavor of the Greek seasoning blend that coating the chicken and the Greek salad topping. The fries are crispy and the ranch is good, too. what can I say? Ranch like North Iowa’s second ketchup.

  • Jake’s Pick: Poc-Chuc Taco from the Taco Joint, Lincoln Park, Chicago, Illinois

Amazing Taco

When we visited Chicago in April 2014, the Poc-Chuc taco was the Taco Joint’s special Monday taco. The griddled, marinated pork loin, habanero salsa and crunchy radish made for an addicting combination. Jake liked it so much, he returned for more during a business trip. I no longer see the Poc-Chuc tacos listed on the Taco Shop’s current menu, so you’ll have to ask if it’s still available.

Honorable Mentions
Let’s be real. It’s impossible to stick with only ten favorite tastes. Plus, I already cheated by giving Jake a pick. Here are seven more very honorable mentions.

Red Pepper Hummus

The 1910 Grille is a restaurant we visit for special occasions or bring our families. It’s unique to dine in the only operating Frank Lloyd Wright hotel. When Jake’s family spent the day in Mason City, ordered their red pepper hummus as an appetizer. I was expecting it to taste like the typical versions I’ve eaten before, but their hummus was so much better. We liked the fried pita triangles and the dip’s garlicky and slightly spicy punch.

Hashbrowns, LD’s Filling Station, Mason City, Iowa 

LD's Collage.jpg

LD’s is the first Mason City restaurant where I found hashbrowns listed as side potato option. I’ve since found that hashbrowns are a common side in North Iowa. They’re served with any meal of the day and I’ve yet to find ones that aren’t served crispy. LD’s makes my favorite, crispiest version.

More reasons why I like LD’s.

Beth Snack mix

I’m going to make the bold claim that Beth’s snack mix is the best snack mix ever. Travel With Sara and I nibbled on it all the way to Springfield, Illinois, and, when she gave me a tin for Christmas, I squirreled it away so I could enjoy it without Jake’s interference. This occurred during the week he wanted to eliminate gluten from his diet, so I feel less bad about not offering him a taste. This snack mix is so addicting because it’s seasoned with dill and contains a big variety of snacks.

Butchers

Jake and I enjoyed our first pork tenderloin sandwiches at Butcher’s Steakhouse. What I enjoyed the most were their thin, hand-battered onion rings. These types of onion rings are all too rare and so very special. Of course, they were served with ranch.

  • Pasta Salad from Cafe Moxo, Springfield, Illinois

Cafe Moxo

Sara and I enjoyed a lot of memorable food in Springfield, Illinois, but one of our favorites was this pasta salad from Cafe Moxo. I ordered too many fried foods on this road trip, so this vegetarian sandwich tasted especially refreshing. This pasta salad was tossed in a light dressing and contained fresh slivers of cucumber and feta.

More Springfield posts: Springfield Ghost Walk, Road Food, Attractions

bbq

Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids is one of the first Iowa bloggers I met. She’s also a talented cook who introduced me to my first ham ball. Her baked potato dip is silly good and her baked beans are the best I’ve ever tasted. I don’t state this lightly, as they really, truly are. We enjoyed them during the Harvest Bloggers Tour and hear they’re legendary in Franklin County. You can find the recipe on her blog. They contain a secret and surprising ingredient.

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I returned to The Burnsville Center, my childhood mall, for this taste of nostalgia. While I’m unsure if the ownership has changed since our last visit with my mom, the Philly Bomb tasted exactly the same. I had more fun writing this post reminiscing about the 90’s mall experience than any other. Sometimes the most satisfying posts are the ones we write for ourselves.

My Most Read Posts Written During 2014

1. Thoughts On Our First Naturebox Snacks

2. My Knoephla Soup Recipe: A Taste of North Dakota In Iowa

3. Ipsy Glam Bag Review, April 2014 (followed by March, February & January)

4. My First Membox: A Korean Tries Korean Beauty Products

5. Introducing The Every Bar In Mason City Quest

6. How To Make The Perfect Frozen Pizza

7. Iowa Bloggers Speak: Favorite Hometown Restaurants

What was one of the best things you ate during 2014? 

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.

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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.

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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? 

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

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