Category: Pork

My Quest To Understand Ham Balls

I’m on a ham ball quest.

Ham balls are a food I’d never heard of until I moved to North Iowa. Growing up in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we rarely ate pork. It never appeared on our school lunch menus, except in the form of Mr. Ribs, and we missed out on pork burgers at picnics. My friend Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids introduced me to my first ham ball at a blogger potluck.


After looking at some recipes, I created my own version with a spicy cranberry fruit glaze and called them “Iowan ham balls.” My friend Katie was like, “Oh no, those may be good ham balls, but those are not quite Iowan ham balls.” She even left her family’s recipe in case you want to try them.

Hamballs watermarked

If you think I’ve been talking about ham balls a lot, you’re right. When something piques my curiosity, I tend to pursue more information about the subject with tenacity. Remember my obsession with learning about the Lincoln family after visiting Springfield, Illinois last summer? My friend observed that I was dedicated to the subject of ham balls, to which my genuine answer was, “I must understand them.

Friends continue to suggest their favorite family recipes as well as local stores from which to purchase ready-made ham balls. I stopped by Louie’s Custom Meats and Fareway in Clear Lake, Iowa to try two popular versions. These balls are pre-cooked and available to purchase by the pound.


Fareway, $4.99/lb: I’ve received so many suggestions to try Fareway’s ham balls. Each ball is larger than a golf ball. The meat’s grind is finer and the sauce is sweeter with a maple note.

Louie’s, $3.99/lb: These ham balls are the size of typical meat balls with a courser grind. Their flavor is smokier and the sauce is slightly less sweet.

I’m not quite done investigating ham balls. Val has graciously accepted my plea to learn how to make real Iowan ham balls and invited me into her kitchen later this month. There will be a blog post and video to document our adventure. In the meantime, here’s a silly little video explaining my quest to understand ham balls.

JeniEats Investigates Ham Balls from JeniEats on Vimeo.

Oven-Baked Ribs For Frank Underwood [Possible HOC Seasons 1-3 Spoilers]

DISCLAIMER: Possible House of Cards: Seasons II & III spoilers. 

I don’t own a smoker and I’m not as experienced at cooking them as Freddy, but Frank would be damn proud of my ribs.


I’ve tried preparing pork ribs in the oven many times before without too much success. People have guided me to do all sorts of strange things to ribs, such as boiling them in water before baking or even boiling them in saran wrap. I’ve also ruined them by forgetting to remove the silverskin on the backs of the racks. Whatever you do, don’t buy the racks in the vaccum-sealed in plastic pouches; purchase them fresh from a local butcher. The plastic-pouch ribs I’ve bought are practically pickled in a slimy brine that I’m guessing extends their shelf life. I like my food to lean towards the saltier side, but find these almost inedible.

Fresh ribs taste so much better and usually cost less, too. To commemorate Netflix’s release of House of Cards’ third season, I bought racks of ribs from my favorite local butcher, Louie’s Custom Meats in Clear Lake, Iowa. Frank would want you to support your local butcher, too.


I like Frank Underwood because Frank Underwood gets things done. Of course, I don’t like that he’s mean and pushes people in front of trains, but he’s all like “I want to raid FEMA funds so America Works can be a thing” and then he does and makes AmWorks a thing.

Whenever I get strange emails from PR reps, I wonder what would Frank Underwood do? Most of the messages I receive regarding my blog are fantastic. I love hearing from readers, receiving dining and recipe suggestions, and invitations to food events. However, the PR requests can be a different story.

Frank Quote

The funniest email I ever received was from a company that sells shaving supplies. They suggested I write a free post around their theme of “Shaving money” and “Happy Shavings.” For the rest of the month when Jake and I would come and go from the house, we’d shout “Happy Shavings” at each other and laugh hysterically. Then, we’d jog together at night and smoke cigarettes by the window sill. Just kidding. We don’t run and we don’t smoke, but we did laugh and laugh and laugh.

Some people need a “Come to Frank.”

Frank Whale Quote

Anyway, I may never know what Frank Underwood would say regarding my day-to-day life conundrums, but I do know what Frank might eat: BBQ ribs! Frank would totally make these ribs if he didn’t have Freddy’s BBQ Joint, a smoker, grill, or White House chef to make them.

Oven-baked BBQ Ribs
Cooking time will vary depending on the tenderness and size of the racks. I like mine to be tender, but have enough of a bite that the meat doesn’t just fall off of the bone. After a few hours of cooking, most of the fat should render. 


2 racks of pork ribs, back silverskin removed
Your favorite spice rub or seasoning salt: I used Mis’ Rubins Black Magic. It’s a spice blend with charcoal.
BBQ sauce

For a Korean Twist on BBQ Sauce:
Combine one cup of BBQ sauce with 1-2 tablespoons of gochujang, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, and a splash of soy sauce. Heat gently over low heat until ready to use.


1. Pre-heat oven to 300℉.

2. Cover a large sheet pan with foil. Place a cooking rack on top of the foil.

3. Remove the silverskin lining the back of the ribs. Sometimes it’s easier to loosen the membrane with knife, before peeling. If you leave this on, the ribs will be tough

Ribs silver skin

4. Place racks of ribs on the pan and season both sides with spice mix.

5. Cover with more foil. Place on the middle oven rack and bake 2 1/2-3 hours or until ribs are tender. One of my batches took 2 1/2 hours while a second took at least three.

6. Carefully remove the pan from the oven so the liquid fat doesn’t spill. Drain off the fat.

7. Uncover the ribs and brush with barbecue sauce.

8. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, brushing again with sauce halfway through.

Wini Moranville’s Pork Meatballs With Dijon Cream Sauce Are Too Good

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Wini Moranville & was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wini’s Pork Meatballs With Dijon Cream Sauce are too good, it’s true.

Jake and I know we’ve hit the dinner jackpot when we battle over leftovers. In this case, Jake won.

Wini is a writer, Des Moines Register columnist, and blogger who wrote French Cookbook La Chez Bonne Femme and The Braiser Cookbook. Last fall, I had the pleasure of meeting her at the Iowa Food & Lifestyle Blogger gathering in Iowa City. When she generously offered to let us enjoy her newest cookbook and choose a recipe to share, I jumped at the opportunity.

Braiser Cookbook Cover

The Braiser Cookbook is an e-book available on Amazon and it’s a steal at $2.99 (as of 10/18/14). I appreciate how all of the recipes are both elegant and approachable for the home cook. There really isn’t a recipe in this book that I’m too intimidated to try in my own kitchen. And guess what? I don’t even own a braiser. All of these recipes can be prepared at home without a braiser, and Wini provides advice for adapting them accordingly.

Jake and I have experienced a busier than any other in recent memory. We’re out-of-town more weekends than we’re home and crave warm, homecooked food after work. I gravitated towards Wini’s meat balls recipe because they were simple to prepare on a weeknight. The Baked Cabbage With Bacon and Apples she suggested as a side dish was also a breeze to prepare, but you’ll have to get her book for that recipe. I can’t be giving away all of Wini’s secrets.

The meatballs are actually made without any breading or filler. I was surprised by how moist and tender they tasted, since I’ve never prepared a ground meat dish without bread crumbs or oatmeal. They are delicate so Wini recommends flipping them gently with a large tablespoon. The sauce is rich with cream, but not overly so, as it is reduced with white wine and tangy mustard. Plus, the full cup of parsley adds a bright note. I bought ground pork at my favorite butcher shop Louie’s Custom Meats in Clear Lake, Iowa. It’s worth the drive from Mason City.

I only took one photo of these meatballs after we had filled our plates. We enjoyed our dinner so much that there was just no time to pause for photos. “I’ll take more tomorrow, when the lighting’s better,” I swore. But alas, when I came home from work they were gone. I could hardly blame Jake, though, because if I had beaten him home from work, I would have eaten them too. The lesson we learned from this dish is that if you really love something don’t ever let it go.

For more photos, check out In The Kitchen With Jenny’s post.

Pork Meat Balls With Dijon Cream Sauce
This recipe is a collaboration between Wini Moranville & Chef David Baruthio of Baru 66 in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Wini's Pork Meatballs text

1-1/2 pounds ground pork
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 cups heavy cream


  1. In a bowl, mix together the pork, parsley, egg, garlic, salt & pepper. Go easy on the salt because the mustard is salty and tangy. I added about 1/2 teaspoon. Shape into about 12 meatballs.
  2. Heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a 3 1/2 quart braiser until the oil shimmers. I used a large saucepan with deep sides and a lid.
  3. Add the meatballs to the hot oil and cook until lightly browned. Flip and cook the other side of the meatballs until they are also lightly browned. This should take about six minutes total.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook the meatballs, turning occasionally until they are browned on each side.
  5. Remove meatballs from pan and drain off all of the oil except for a sheen.
  6. Increase temperature to medium
  7. Cook onions until tender but not brown.
  8. Add the wine and cook, stirring up the loose bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce wine to about 1/4 cup which should take about three minutes.
  9. Whisk in the mustard. Add heavy cream and cook, stirring until the sauce is reduced to about one cup.
  10. Return meatballs to pan and simmer until they are cooked through (160℉).
  11. Per Wini’s recommendation, I served the meatballs with her Baked Cabbage With Bacon & Apples. It’s also easy to whip together. Let the cabbage bake while you cook the meatballs. I like to add splashes of red wine vinegar for some tang.

Connect With Wini:
Facebook for DSM Food Lovers: All Things Food DSM – Wini Moranville
Facebook for France Lovers: Chez Bonne Femme
Twitter: @winimoranville

Fargo Beer Festival 2012: Pacifico & Roasted Pork

This weekend, a few of us attended the Fargo Beer Festival held in the Civic Center.  The event’s website boasted samples of “over 120 premium craft beers from around the world,” as well as food options including a pig roast for $23/ticket.

I’m more of a wine girl that a beer girl, but thought the event would be a fun opportunity to try new beers and check out the food.

We arrived at the beginning and waited in a relatively short line for the doors to open.  Wrist banded and tickets in hand, we stopped to review the Fargo Beer Festival Program.  I was very surprised to see that a large percentage of the beers were not those I would have considered “premium craft beers.”  They were varieties I commonly see but wouldn’t go to an event just to taste.  Some examples included seven varieties of Leinenkugel’s, Summit, Crispin Cider, Boulevard, Becks, Blue Moon, Dos Equis, Heineken, Sam Adams, Killian’s, Red Stripe, Corona & Corona Light, Amstel Light, and Pacifico.

The first room we explored contained the craft beers we were unfamiliar with.  Vendors sat at tables that lined the rooms’ perimeters and poured samples from bottles into tasting cups.  The lines for beer samples were never very long, except for about two tables sampling the most unique craft beers.  Although there were a couple of police offers stationed in each room, the crowd seemed to remain laid back and well-behaved, even though attendees could return to tables for multiple samples.

After I consumed about five samples, I felt a little bit drunk and quite full.  I warily eyed the enormous, foodless room and refrained from eating a young woman’s homemade pretzel necklace.  Three more samples later, we called it quits and searched for food.  The roasted pig wasn’t available yet, so I settled for Civic Center nachos with goopy cheese sauce, $2.50.  Maybe it was the beer food goggles, but the nacho cheese sauce hit the spot.  Ideally, I wold have loved to see snacks provided in the beer halls as well as additional food vendors, but props to the convention center for not inflating their food prices.

We indulged in a few more samples until the roasted pig was served.

The roasted pig was provided by One on One Professional Catering, connected with the Garden Pavilion Restaurant and Banquet Facility.  
We thoroughly enjoyed these roasted pork sandwiches, $6, and beer cheese soup, $4.  

The pork was tender and succulent (who got the crispy skin?) and we heaped the sandwiches with barbecue sauce and grated horseradish.  The beer cheese soup was also tasty.  Slightly spicy and sweet with beer, although it had that viscous Cheez Whiz texture.  Bertrosa’s, located in Downtown Fargo, makes my favorite beer cheese soup ever.  It’s the spiciest version I’ve ever tasted and the only one that doesn’t have a shiny Cheez Whiz texture.  That being said, One to One’s was one of the better versions I’ve tasted.

Besides One To One and the Civic Center food stand, the only other food option was a local company at a table selling beef sticks.  You could buy 2 for $2 or a box for $25.  Jake bought a couple, though I passed since I thought they were too dry.

After dinner, I felt more than beered out.  The boys indulged in a few more samples while I sobered up and people-watched.  I was impressed with Night Owl Driving, who was stationed outside the Civic Center to offer attendees free rides home.

Closing thoughts. . . 
I’ve come to the conclusion that I just might not like beer.  Cheap beer or craft beer, I’m just not that into it.  Just give me a light Mexican beer with lime or Sapporo.

The event was generally fun and I didn’t see one person getting sick or rowdy.

The lines were short, except for those sampling legitimate craft beers like abbey ales and other brews not available in every liquor store (event organizers should take this hint).

We enjoyed trying some of the newer or more unusual craft beer varieties, however, I wasn’t that impressed with much of the beer selection.  Especially considering that the event advertised, “over 120 premium craft beers.”  I should have probably taken a look at event website’s beer list beforehand.  Jake adds that if you can easily buy certain beers in Midwestern grocery stores or gas stations, they probably shouldn’t be advertised as premium craft beers.  I actually like Corona Light, but the fact that it was sampled at this event made me giggle.  Scratch some of the series of beers ordered by the pitchers at Midwestern bars everywhere, and replace them with craft brews that we’re not all entirely familiar with.

My favorite part of the event was the roasted pork and beer cheese soup.  I know the focus of the event is beer, but beer really needs food.  A few more vendors or conveniently located snacks might have made it easier to sample beers, sober, and also attracted a greater number of people who may like beer and love food.

Would we go again?  Probably not.

Once was fun.  Once was enough.

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