Tag: List

Let Me Tell You About The Four Best Burgers I Ate This Year 2015

Burgers are one of my endearing passions. As I look back over the past year, these four burgers stand out above the rest:

FAVORITE BURGERS

1. The Galley Boy at Swensons Drive In, Cuyahoga Falls, OH

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This is the burger I waited over 10 years for. Lebron James totally likes this burger, too, and mentioned Swensons is the first place he stops when we returns to Akron. He took his Trainwreck co-stars Amy Schumar, Judd Apatow and Bill Hader to the drive-in for Galley Boys and shakes when the film premiered in his hometown.

Akron isn’t my hometown, but almost feels like it. We visited often to see our grandparents and always stopped at Swensons. This fall I road tripped to Cedar Point for a conference and made a burger pilgramage. I’m happy to report that the car hops still sprint to your car and the Galley Boy tastes like it always has. The bun’s buttered and toasted and the two burger patties taste like they’re seasoned with a hint of brown sugar.

What really makes the Galley Boy unique is the combination of sauces. One tastes like BBQ and the other like tartar, which may sound strange, but totally works. And then there’s the cheese. Finally, it’s garnished with a big, green olive so that sort of makes it like a burger martini.

2. Blue Cheese Burger, Jimmy’s Pro Billiards, Minneapolis, MN

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I was invited to join Heavy Table on this leg of their Central Avenue Food Crawl. Our last stop landed at Jimmy’s Pro Billiards. The interior opened into expansive pool tables. We perched at high tops near the grill window. I think it’s safe to say that we were all surprised by how much we liked the burgers. Soon after, HT Writer Amy even returned to Jimmy’s wrote this piece focusing on the burgers.

The young woman who took our order also cooked our meal. She was friendly and hospitable. We didn’t specify burger doneness and they did arrive cooked-through. Still, they were tasty and prepared with care. This blue cheese burger sandwiched between a toasted bun and homemade blue cheese dressing was my favorite.

The hand-cut fries were sprinkled with a seasoning salt with a intriguing hint of sweetness that made me want to return for more even though I was really full. One member of our party ordered a side of ranch dip that was less like salad dressing and more like a sour cream dip. With french fries, it made a delightful combination.

3. Cheeseburger at R.J. Grunts, Chicago, IL

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This cheeseburger just barely snuck onto this year’s “best of” list last week. While staying at the Hotel Lincoln, we walked down the street to R.J. Grunts for pre-Star Wars burgers. Inside the tables and booths were arranged closely together and every inch was packed with customers like the other restaurants we visited that weekend.

I was surprised to learn that R.J. Grunts is the oldest restaurant in the Lettuce Entertain You empire that also includes chains like Big Bowl and Maggiano’s Little Italy, plus non-chains like Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba and Tucci Benucch in the Mall of America. RJ Grunts has a very non-chainy vibe that reminds me more of Cheers than a soulless, over-produced concept. We loved our server, a woman who’s worked here for 34-years. She’s featured in this Eater article highlighting restaurant industry “lifers.” The menu is charmingly illustrated and to-the-point. Ordering is a breeze and diners don’t have to listen to scripted up-sells or promotions.

I ordered a simple cheeseburger with American cheese and it was a stand-out. In fact, everybody’s burgers were. This juicy burger arrived perfectly medium-rare as ordered. I understand the risks of rare beef and take them anyway. Heck, I’d even sign a waiver. I figure if R.J. Grunts has been serving burgers since 1970, it’s a pretty safe place to order medium-rare beef. Everyone in our party of eight ordered burgers with different toppings and stated how each might be the best burger he or she has ever eaten.

Also notable is the salad bar. It’s really, really big and a meal in itself. I found nearly every type of raw veggie and crispy-crunchy topping, homemade salad dressings, roasted beets, tuna pasta salad, and a non-throwaway creamy tomato soup that also tasted scratch-made.

4. Cheeseburger, O’Connell’s Pub, St. Louis, MO

O’Connell’s chargrilled burger was so satisfying, it inspired my post Everything I’ve Ever Wanted To Say About Burgers. We visited in the evening when the lighting was too dim to take a pretty photo. Like R.J. Grunts, O’Connell’s has existed at least since the 70’s. We admired the wall taxidermy and found seats at the big, wooden bar. Service is refreshingly hospitable in a no-nonsense manner.

The cheeseburgers we ordered arrived on paper plates and tasted like our mom and dad grilled the perfect backyard burger but just didn’t screw it up.

Did you enjoy any memorable burgers this year? Where did you find them and what made them worth a shout-out? 

Best Smells Ever

  1. Raw beef hitting a hot, oiled pan.
  2. Popcorn. Microwave popcorn, movie theater popcorn, popcorn maker popcorn. Any popcorn.
  3. Cinnamon.
  4. Charcoal grilling.
  5. Bakeries that bake with real butter.
  6. Coffee brewed in an old house with wood floors.
  7. Christmas tree.
  8. An Italian deli.
  9. Ripe peaches.
  10. Freshly baking bread. 
  11. Sauteing onions.

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 

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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? 

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