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Boiled Cider

18 Oct
boiled cider, drizzled on cheesecake

Boiled cider is a FANTASTIC cheesecake topping. FYI.

Confession: I love me some autumn. This is my favorite season… ever. It’s got cool sunshine and low humidity; sweaters, cute jackets and jeans; and oh, the food! Apples and pears, pot roast and soup, tomatoes and squash and pumpkin and cranberries. It’s pretty much the perfect season.

And, to celebrate the greatness of autumn, I just discovered a thing called Boiled Cider. This is actually a very old-fashioned syrup-type product that’s made from apple cider. It used to be super-popular, especially along the east coast, but has really fallen by the wayside. UNTIL NOW.

I’m telling you, I’d like to start a boiled cider renaissance. This stuff is like autumn, in edible form. Now that I know it exists, my life is forever changed, for the better.

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Fried Peaches to End State Fair Week

19 Aug
The fried peach

A fried peach!

It’s our last day of State Fair Week (tear!). And what better way to end than with dessert?

Now, I was going to do fried Twinkies. But at the last minute, I changed my mind. Why? Because 1) That required me to buy Twinkies, 2) It also required me to freeze Twinkies overnight. And I was absolutely prepared to do that, until an Anon (Hi!) posted the fried peach idea and I realized that I HAD fresh peaches on hand and could successfully avoid another trip to the grocery store PLUS have a fried peach right away. Laziness and Impatience for the win!

And, oh, what a win.

Challenge: Fried Peaches

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Homemade Corn Dogs, On a Stick

18 Aug
Pronto Pups!

Pronto Pups! Imperfect, yes. But still beautiful.

You ever notice how, from one state to another, there can be drastic vocabulary differences?

I’m originally from the awesome state of Minnesota, where, for whatever reason, there are a few things that are just said differently. For example, growing up, I played Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (rather than Duck, Duck, Goose). It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about the goose business. And it’s the same way with corn dogs: In Minnesota (and especially at the Minnesota State Fair), these babies are Pronto Pups. Not that you can’t find a corn dog in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but you’re more likely to encounter a pronto pup. It’s just the way it is.

But no matter what you call them, the hot-dog-wrapped-in-corn-batter-and-dipped-in-hot-oil is a quintessential fair food. It’s fried, it’s on a stick and it’s delicious. And so, of course, I had to make one for STATE FAIR WEEK. After the dual appetizers of fried pickles and mac and cheese on a stick, a pronto pup (a.k.a. corn dog) dinner is just about perfect. So, here we go!

Challenge: Homemade Corn Dogs 

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Fried Mac and Cheese on a Stick

17 Aug
fried mac and cheese

The finished product, fried and on a stick

Okay, friends. I’m posting my STATE FAIR WEEK celebration-makings in a meal-type order. You’ve probably already seen my DIY Fried Pickles, which of course were the appetizer. (Of course.)

So, after you try the pickles and walk around a lot and perhaps take a spin on the Ferris wheel and maybe brave the line to see the butter cow, which puts you in a dairy mood, you might find yourself kind of hungry again. So, what do you eat?

Macaroni and cheese on a stick. It’s the second course of our State Fair Extravaganza!

Challenge: DIY Mac and Cheese on a Stick

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DIY Fried Pickles

16 Aug
fried pickles

Huzzah for fried pickles!

It’s that time: IOWA STATE FAIR WEEK!

Whoot! And to celebrate (well, to celebrate in a way OTHER than actually going to the fair, which I sadly may not have a chance to do this year), I made a veritable litany of fried and on-a-stick foods, DIY versions of what’s sold at the fair. My waistline may never forgive me, but my taste buds  just sent me a dozen roses. Yay.

So really, to get the best feel for this, let’s pretend we’re at the state fair. You with me? You just got here, you’ve seen the super-huge bull and your favorite breed of horse (or chicken, if you’re Rob) and now you’re walking along, counting the number of fanny packs you see, and your nose detects the scent of something… tangy, yes, it’s tangy and also definitely fried. It smells delicious. You wander over to the vendor’s stand and find out that it’s fried pickles! Let the eating begin.

Challenge: DIY Fried Pickles

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State Fair Week is Nigh

9 Aug
crowd at the state fair

I'm evidently not the only one who loves the Iowa State Fair! (Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair)

Dear and Lovely Readers,

First, an apology. I have been somewhat remiss in my blogging duties of late, largely because my life has become consumed with real estate issues (buying a house and moving into it, and renting out our existing house). The bad news? I’m missing DIY or Buy analysis posts. (It’s hard to type when you’re covered in paint.) The good news? I have DOZENS of posts-in-the-making. So, please forgive me and bear with me.

And to reward your patience (and give myself a much-needed mental break), I’ve deemed next week STATE FAIR WEEK on this here blog! Yes, the Iowa State Fair begins on Thursday and runs through August 21st, and it is one of my favorite things about Iowa. There’s the world’s largest pig (which is a wonder, but also makes me a little sad, because they always look so hot and uncomfortable) and the horse stables, and the giant cow fashioned entirely out of butter, and the photography displays, and the cake-making competitions, and the concerts and the midway and, oh, the food.

corn dog stand

The Ultimate Fair Indulgence: Hot dogs, wrapped in corn batter and fried. (Photo courtesy of the Iowa State Fair)

THE FOOD. State Fair food. I love State Fair Food. So, we’re totally making it.

Grandma Vi gave Rob and I a mini-fryer not too long ago. This little gadget hasn’t been excessively used, but that’s about to change. Because State Fair Week is all about the frying, baby. I’m going to attempt to make, at home:

  • Fried Pickles (not on a stick)
  • Corn Dogs (on a stick)
  • Fried Twinkies (maybe on a stick)
  • Mac & Cheese On a Stick (on a stick)

It will be fried. It will be a grand homage to our beloved State Fair. And it will not have any of my traditional analysis. Because, let’s be realistic: This stuff is terrible for you no matter where/when you get it, it’s always more expensive at the fair, and I won’t be able to do a straight side-by-side taste comparison. (Unless I can figure out a way to smuggle my own mac ’n’ cheese on a stick into the fair, which isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility.)

Anyway, the regular stuff will pick back up with the Aug. 23rd post – I promise. But I’m going to take a week to indulge in epic amounts of food experimentation and goofiness. Please join me! And, if you have any special I-want-to-see-it-made requests, let me know in the comments. I’m easily swayed.

(Super thanks to the Iowa State Fair for the lovely photos.)

Uses For Failed Peanut Butter

7 Jul

20110707-084727.jpg
Remember that peanut butter that I made, that was really more like a thick peanut paste? It didn’t go to waste! It works brilliantly well in scotcharoos! (I’m not into chocolate, so these are really just peanut butter Rice Krispie treats.) Just melt it a bit and toss it in. Yum!

Tuesday Challenge: Cider Vinegar

5 Jul
vinegar in a jar

MMmmmm... cider vinegar. Thanks to AlyssssyIA for the photo.

Vinegar, in general, tends to get a bad rap, at least as far as sayings go. Take “full of piss and vinegar,” to describe someone who’s crabby. Or “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar” for when you want to help a friend with a fly problem (or perhaps comment on their mood). Vinegar is the symbol for sour personalities and bitter emotions.

And that’s a shame, because this is pretty awesome stuff. Yes, vinegar hits the sour/tart/bitter notes – but those are USEFUL flavors.  There are dozens of delicious foods you could not make without vinegar: Salad dressing. Potato salad. Sauerbraten. Pickles. Various and sundry marinades.  Mustard, and therefore anything made with mustard. Balsamic-Strawberry ice cream.  Mmmm…

And cider vinegar, in particular, has some great health benefits.  Now, according to ye ol’ WebMD, cider vinegar can help control blood sugar levels (especially important if you have diabetes), and it can help you feel fuller if you take a tablespoon or two with a meal (important if, like me, you’re hungry A LOT). And it may also help control blood pressure and improve heart health.

I see nothing bad about that.

And, I recently discovered that cider vinegar is EASY to make. Especially if you already have some apfelwein around. (Which, if you can believe it, we do.) So, this week’s challenge is…

Challenge: Cider Vinegar

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Tuesday Challenge: Peanut Butter

28 Jun
both peanut butters

What, you don't eat spoonfuls of peanut butter? DIY on left, Buy on the right.

Sigh. I had high hopes for homemade peanut butter. Really, I did. And I blame the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market.

There’s this vendor there that sells fresh veggies and also, over to one side, peanut butter and other nut butters: Cashew butter. Almond butter. Plain peanut butter. Chocolate peanut butter. They’re delicious. Rob and I got sucked in a few years ago by the little old woman who was helping sell them. We were sampling the wares, and being picky shoppers and asking questions. She was answering us back with sass: Of course it’s good. They’re ALL my favorite. Store it on the counter top, not in the fridge. And then, on the cusp of buying, we asked how long it would last. She laughed at us. “Oh, it’ll keep a long time,” she said, “but I promise you, it won’t last.”

We were sold.

The obviously hand-crafted peanut butter is somewhere between creamy and chunky, smooth with small bites of peanuts in it, not overly oily, sweet but not too sweet and utterly delicious. Better than the store-bought stuff, even than the natural store-bought stuff. The ingredient list is simple, and all things we had on hand. I can make this, I thought.

And so I tried. And it turned out… not as expected.

Challenge: Peanut Butter 

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Tuesday Challenge: Pina Colada

7 Jun
beach in mexico

This is not a pina colada; this is a beach in Mexico. But I bet you want a pina colada right about now, don't you?

Summer is here, in all its sun-drenched, mid-90s-temperatures glory. (Proof: I got so distracted playing in the garden last night that I almost forgot to finish this post. Ooops.) Anyway, summer really means that my favorite winter drinks (rye and ginger ale, heavy brown beers) are put aside in favor of lighter things. Like vodka gimlets, gin ‘n’ tonics, and the biggest, goofiest tropical cocktails I can get my hands on.

First and foremost of those has to be the pina colada. A few recent heat-soaked trips (see above) made rum seem perfecto – and when we came home to equally hot days, it continued to seem perfecto. Rum is crisp, slightly sweet and fantastically cooling, all at once. Add the tangy sweet-sour notes of pineapple and the creaminess of coconut, and what do you get? Blissful relief in the middle of a sweltering, melty day.

But certain people (erm… me) sometimes feel ridiculous ordering giant fruity drinks in bars. So, the question became, how best to make the pineapple wonder at home? Buy a premade mix, or create one of our own with cream of coconut and pineapple juice?

Challenge: Pina Colada

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