How to Make Fruit Salad – An Easy Fruit Salad Recipe

Easy Fruit SaladThis is such an easy recipe I almost feel bad posting it here… but don’t worry, I’ll get over it. This is my favorite fruit salad recipe. Anyone can chop up fruit and put it together in a bowl, but it takes someone special to add a 1/4 cup of honey! Or perhaps it doesn’t, who am I to judge. Either way, this is a great twist on the traditional fruit salad and it adds an extra dimension of flavor.

You can use whatever fruit you like.  There are no hard or fast rules other than to use fruit that is in season for best taste. I like to mix up sizes and textures to create more variety.

8 cups mixed fruit, cubed (watermelon, grapes, mango, berries, ect…)
¼ cup honey
3 tbsp lime juice (2 limes)

Cube all fruit and place in a bowl.

Warm the lime in the microwave to allow juice to easily squeeze out, then warm the honey in the microwave to thin it and combine with lime juice. Combine this mixture with the fruit salad. Chill and serve.

Oh, and adding a dollop of whipped cream never hurt anyone (Except for Phil, but we don’t talk about him).

If you don’t eat the whole salad the first day juices will start seeping out of the fruit. This is not a bad thing. Collect the juices into a cup and add rum to taste. Enjoy!

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Stone Cellar Review – Keeping it Local

Finding a restaurant around the Fox Valley that focuses on incorporating as many local ingredients as possible is no easy task. As many of you are already well aware of my opinion, the Fox Valley is frustratingly lagging when it comes to restaurants dishing up quality local foods made from scratch. However my faith in the Fox Valley’s culinary scene received a much needed boost the other day when I went to the Stone Cellar for dinner.

A quick review of the Stone Cellar’s menu makes it clear that they are serious about serving great food that is sourced locally. By my count the word “Local” appears on their menu eight times.  That doesn’t even count the menu options that specifically list the name of the farm/ranch where the food originated. It’s hard to make a better first impression.

I thought I would put the server to the test.  I saw deep fried cheese curds on the menu.  I am kind of a sucker for those, even though it is damn near impossible to find any good ones at a restaurant (you need to go to a fair to get great curds!).  I asked my server if they bread their own curds in house. To my initial disappointment he responded that they did not, but then clarified that they have them made specifically for the restaurant with their own beer. Bam! That sure beats being served the same crusty cheese curds the Sysco truck drops off at every other restaurant.

Stone Cellar Cheese CurdsAnd how were the fried curds you may wonder?  Best I have had in the Fox Valley, period. The breading was light, crisp and flavorful, full of salty goodness.  My only complaint was that the portion size was rather small (11 nuggets).  I probably shouldn’t complain because I know the artisan curds cost the restaurant more to serve than if they had just schlepped off the typical run of the mill curds, but I still wanted more.

Friday Perch FryIt was a Friday night so I decided to try the fish fry as my entrée and my fiancée tried the Brewer’s Schnitzel.  Both were exceptional.  The hand breaded perch fish fry was one of the best I’ve had in the Fox Valley. It was served with the traditional fare, rye bread, fries and cole slaw. Of course the fries didn’t look like they were homemade, but at least they were beer battered.  If I’m going to eat pre-made frozen fries, those are my favorite. They even offer a same day catch offering for those who really want to eat fresh. I was tempted to try it, but I was feeling cheap and wanted to save the couple of bucks.

Oh, and did I mention they brew their own beer? The first time I tried their Vanilla Stout a few years ago I fell in love.  It was dessert in a glass. They have a wide array of offerings that I have yet to try and luckily I’ve recently started to see their beer pop up at liquor stores. I will be sure to sample as many as I am able to find.

With their incessant focus on quality local ingredients, you know they care about what is on your plate. Can you really say that about the restaurant that is serving you whatever food they are able to get into their kitchen the cheapest? Do you really think a restaurant that is minimally concerned about the food quality coming into their kitchen is going to be discriminating about the quality of the food leaving their kitchen?  Of course not! That is why I rate Stone Cellar as one of the premier restaurants in the Fox Valley.

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Sambrulos Review – Appleton WI


  1. Made or done in the traditional or original way: “authentic Italian meals”.

SambrulosDriving by the Sambrulos restaurant the other night my fiancee commented on their sign: “Authentic Mexican American and Italian Cuisine.” This quickly made me roll my eyes as I whipped the car around to capture this absurdity on camera. After I posted the photo on the FVF Facebook page the photo took off in popularity generating dozens of comments from skeptical foodies and a few Sambrulos supporters. A few people chastised me not to disparage a restaurant I haven’t tried, which prompted me to stop for lunch the next day.

First things first. Some people will like Sambrulos. These will be the same people who frequent Olive Garden for a nice night out, or Applebees for a special date. Not foodies.

2013-07-23 12.14.22The food isn’t bad, it is just the same boring fare I can get at any other similar jack-of-all-trades restaurant. After spending 15 minutes traversing the needlessly extensive menu I decided I was hungry for their “authentic” American cuisine. I settled on a burger which turns out to just be another shipped in frozen patty served alongside the same frozen fries I can get from any number of forgettable eateries. What makes that authentic? Are we really to believe the mark of a great restaurant is their ability to SELECT the best pre-made entrees from the food distributor? Call me old fashion but I believe the best restaurants MAKE the best food.

In their defense they do have a smattering of scratch made offerings. They boast a number of dips, sauces, salsas, and fillings that are made in house. For that I give them credit and put them a step higher than Chilis or TGIFridays. However, overall there is nothing special about the restaurant or my meal to make the place remarkable in any manner. The restaurant appears to just be a repackaged version of the corporate chain restaurants the Fox Valley is riddled with.

Mac and CheeseMy favorite example of their empty repackaging: The $5 mac and cheese on the kids menu enticingly describes a dish comprised of elbow pasta tossed with plenty of cheese. Doesn’t that sound delightful? Conjuring images of perhaps a roux-based cheese sauce made in-house and lovingly tossed with al dente elbow macaroni for the children!… When in reality my waitress confirmed my suspicion that it is just nothing more than a small helping of American’s favorite powdered cheese product, Kraft mac and cheese. Now, I don’t expect a kids menu to be featuring the latest in haute cuisine but it just seems to fit the restaurant’s overall aim to sell the same repackaged food in an over-hyped manner.

In the end, if you frequent Bennigan’s when you want authentic Irish fare, or swear you can taste grandma’s love in Olive Garden’s alfredo sauce, then you will likely enjoy Sambrulos just as much. As for me, authenticity is more than a buzzword, it is a hands-on creation of quality and freshness.

Sambrulos on Urbanspoon

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How to Choose a Cut of Steak

It’s July in Wisconsin!  Take a walk around the neighborhood any given Saturday or Sunday, and there’s a good chance you’ll smell a grill burning – and no meat screams for a grill like steak.

Here’s a quick primer on the meat that we know as “steak:”

First, let’s look at the relatively affordable “fringe” (my word) steaks: skirt, flank, and hanger.

Skirt steak comes from the “plate” section of the animal, south of the ribs.  Like its companions, it’s a working portion of the muscular system, so it can be tough.

A flank steak comes from roughly the same area of the animal (bottom side of the abdomen), but more towards the rear.  It is leaner than the skirt steak, and will need a bit of work to make it tender.  You may see it labeled as a “London broil.”

Hanger steak “hangs” between the rib and belly of the beast.  It’s known for its great flavor, but it is still a bit tough.  The cut is also called the “butcher’s steak,” as it used to be the butcher’s secret that he took home with him at the end of the day.  But the secret is out now, and the hanger steak is gaining popularity.  Give it a try.

Each of these steaks will be best with a marinade.  Marinades work the trifecta of keeping a leaner steak moist when cooking, while tenderizing and adding a desired flavor.  Cook one of these steaks quickly over a hot grill (medium rare or it could get tough), let it rest, and then slice it.  Think of these steaks for meals like fajitas, tacos, carne asada, or an Asian preparation like bulgogi.

Next, let’s look at the “steakhouse” steaks:

The ribeye comes from the rib portion of the animal.  It is the contemporary granddaddy (oxymoron?) of steaks.  Nowadays both boneless and bone-in are called “ribeye,” though that wasn’t always the case.  A well-marbled bone-in ribeye is a slice of heaven on earth.  And, like these other cuts, you’ll pay for it.

The tenderloin starts near the rib, and works its way back through the short loin and into the sirloin, expanding as it goes.  Filet mignon is the small, forward tip of the tenderloin.  As its name implies, it is an extremely tender piece of beef, but lean and (in my opinion) somewhat lacking in flavor.

From the short loin portion of the animal, you get strip steaks.  You are now in the Mecca of the steak-world.  The strip steak (think New York Strip) is boneless, tender, and flavorful.  A T-bone consists of a small strip and small tenderloin (which runs through the short loin), separated by a bone.  The porterhouse is a big, uber T-bone, containing a large strip and a larger portion of tenderloin.  These are all great cuts.

Finally, there’s the sirloin.  Sirloin can be a bit of a crap-shoot.  If you’re buying sirloin, look for or request “top sirloin.”  This is a good cut.  But if you buy what is labeled as a “sirloin” steak, it is most likely the more inferior “bottom sirloin” cut. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (in a Jerry Seinfeld voice), but you just don’t want to pay for a top sirloin and get the lowly bottom.  The bottom sirloin is a tougher piece of meat, and eventually turns in to the sirloin tip roast.

All of these cuts (with the exception of the tenderloins) should be seasoned (salt, pepper, Canadian steak seasoning, some other kind of rub, etc.) and then tossed on a hot grill.  Ideally you’d like to create a flavorful crust around a succulent piece of “mid-rare” meat.  The tenderloin is usually roasted or pan fried.

Other tips:

  • Let your steak rise to room temperature before throwing it on the grill.
  • Grading: “Prime,” “Choice,” “Select,” and “Don’t even think about going any lower than Select.”

Feel free to share your favorite cut and how you prepare it.

- Guest Submission by Fox Valley Native

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How to Make Cheesecake and Get Engaged

It is said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Well, that may be true but women LOVE cheesecake.  There isn’t a single girl I’ve ever met that wouldn’t rather spend an evening alone with a pan of cheesecake rather than sharing my company. Well, maybe that says something more about myself than the cheesecake. We may never know.

Luckily for me my girlfriend loves me and cheesecake! We’ve been dating for just shy of 9 months now and knew early on where this was headed. It was just a matter of time until we were to get engaged.

I always joked with her that I bought a ring and hid it in the dirt in my garden along with the seed of a weed. That way she would have to pull every weed that sprouts in the garden all summer to see if there was a ring attached to it.  She wasn’t impressed by this plan, so it was back to the drawing board.

Instead I decided to throw a picnic on the river.

I had off for the day, and it looked like the weather was cooperating, so while she was working I grilled up some pesto chicken kebobs, made a cheesecake, stopped at Manderfield’s Bakery for some fresh baked ciabatta bread and then at the Olive Cellar for some nice extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in.

I had the picnic all packed up in a bag by the time she got home from work and it took everything in me not to stupidly grin from ear to ear each time I looked at her because I knew what was about to happen and she didn’t.

1016846_519552964764867_886662107_nWe drove down to Lutz park and set up our blanket right near the river. What my girlfriend didn’t know was that I had a photographer hiding in the distance behind us poised to snap pictures as soon as the time came.

As we ate our way through the kabobs, bread, oil and vinegar, we came to dessert. I had special ordered an antique silver plated cake server that I had engraved with a short poem I had written.  After cutting the cheesecake with the server I handed it to her to lick off, at that point she turned it over and read the inscription:

You and I forever
This I’ll swear it true
For better or for worse
If you’ll say I do

At that point I asked her to stand up, pulled out a ring, got on my knee, and heard the pictures being snapped in the distance. I then slipped the ring onto the rest of my life.

Shameless plug: My fiancée and I are largely paying for the wedding ourselves. If you would like to make a gift donation towards helping us cover the cost of our wedding please follow the Donate link below.

Engagement Picnic

The cheesecake recipe is the creation of my friend Shelli’s.  She has quite possibly the best cheesecake out there, so I figured there was no better recipe for my big day than her own.  She has been kind enough to share it with anyone who asks.

Ingredients -

Crust -
2 pkgs of graham crackers
1.5 sticks of butter melted
5 Tbs sugar

Filling -
4 – 8oz pkgs of Cream Cheese
1 1/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbs cornstarch
1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt one and a half sticks of salted not unsalted butter.

Break up the 2 packages of graham crackers in the bag (Shelli finds Honey Maid is the best) and then place them in the food processor to grind them further and add the sugar to incorporate.

Pouring the butter into the food processor tends to over process the crust so it is best to place the crumb mixture in a bowl and manually mix in the butter with a fork.

Using an 8″ or 9″ spring form pan, flip it upsidedown so the lip side is facing down.  This will allow the cheesecake to slide off easiest. Fill the bottom with a layer of crumbs and press evenly throughout with the back of your hand.

Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool on the stove top while making the filling.

While the crust is baking, take the 4 packages of cream cheese and place in a bowl. Fill the bowl with hot tap water and let stand for 10 minutes. This will ensure a smooth filling with no lumps and easy incorporation of the other ingredients.

Cutting each package open with a kitchen shears squeeze the cream cheese into the bowl of your stand mixer and add 1 1/4 cups of sugar. Mix until smooth.

Add two eggs, one at a time and let incorporate, then add the cornstarch. Place mixer on the lowest setting slowly add the heavy whipping cream.

Pour the mixture over each of the crusts and bake for 1 hour.

The cheesecake will still be wobbly when done baking and have an internal temperature of at least 150 so don’t over bake.

Shelli says: This has to be made the day before serving.

Over the years I have made many changes to this recipe. Feel free to add any thing to boost the flavor – fresh fruit, chocolate chips, chpped up Andes Mints. Use your imagination.

Also I will add 1/4 a cup of pecans to the crust to change it up a bit.

Allow the cheesecake to chill in the fridge or freezer over night. I slice into 16 pieces. To ensure clean slices run your knife under hot tap water after every slice.


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Crispy Smoked Chicken Legs Recipe

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em folks!  Chicken legs that is.  Woodman’s has 3 lb packs of chicken legs on sale for only $3.19! The only thing crazier than that price is why I didn’t buy myself more than 2 packs. Oh well, many years from now when I am lying on my death bed I’ll at least have a riveting tale of regret to regale my loved ones with before I pass on.

When I bought them I didn’t really have a plan for chicken legs.  I am just cheap and can’t turn down fresh meat for a buck a pound. They probably could have sold me squirrel for that price and I would have jumped on it. Heck, the little three year old hardly likes my cooking as it is. What difference does it make if he doesn’t eat the brined pork loin I painstakingly roasted to perfection, or just a hunk of pan fried squirrel I schlepped on the plate?

I ended up improvising a recipe that turned out fantastic.  I love the deep flavor of smoked meats, particularly the juicy delectableness of a chicken thigh, but I don’t particularly care for the rubbery sogginess of the low temp baked chicken skin that ends up sliding off the leg after the first bite like a tarp coated in Crisco. So I came up with a plan.  This was going to be a two part cooking operation. I would smoke the chicken legs to temperature and then finish them under the broiler.

If that chicken could only still be alive to see how magnificently she turned out, I’m sure she would have shed a tear. It was magical. If only everyone’s death could have such meaning. Deep smokey flavor penetrated the meat; all wrapped up in a tight crispy crust that hung fast and flaked away with each bite.  I can’t wait to make these again!

Smoked Chicken Thigh and Drumstick

Pardon the imprecise recipe:

3 lbs Chicken Legs (I separated the drumsticks from the thighs, but this is optional)
~3 tbsp Olive Oil
~1 tbsp Favorite Poultry Seasoning (Yes, I know I am passing the buck by not telling you exactly what to use… get over it. Any of the chicken spice rubs found in the supermarket will turn out great.)

Prepare the chicken by separating the drumsticks if desired and place all pieces in a clean plastic storage bag.

In separate dish combine olive oil with a liberal amount of seasoning (seriously, don’t be shy).  Combine together and then pour in the bag with chicken.  Ensure there is adequate dressing to thoroughly coat each chicken piece. Add more oil and seasoning as needed. Let sit for at least an hour.

Preheat smoker to 225 degrees.

Smoke chicken for 1+ hours, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. (If broiling right away you can take them out slightly earlier and let them finish coming to temp under the broiler)

*At this point the recipe can be paused if you wish to prep these to eat another day. Just store in the fridge until you wish to continue with the next step.*

Preheat your broiler to high and place chicken in the center of the oven, skin side up (placing the chicken too close to the broiler will prevent some skin from getting crispy before the top blackens). In a few minutes you will hear the crackling of the fat on the skin and baking sheet, at this point the chicken is just about done. Take it out just before it starts to burn.

Note: If you paused the recipe by storing the chicken in the refrigerator prior to broiling you may want to bring the chicken back up to temperature in the oven before you broil or the meat may still be cold after the broiling has finished.

Most people may not be excited about a two part cooking operation, but the results are worth it.  Combining the flavors of a smoker with the perfectly crispy skin that can only be obtained in the presence of real high heat creates an end product that is worth every bit of hassle.

Let me know what you think!

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How to Make Chicken Parmesan

During my years spent traveling the countryside of Italy I studied under the tutorship of an old Italian grandma who required me to make her chicken parmesan every morning for breakfast.  The carbohydrates she consumed from the spaghetti gave her endurance to traverse dangerous mountaintops in search of the ripest tomatoes, and the protein from the chicken gave her the strength to throw things at me from long distances whenever I screwed up. Such fond memories.

Of course, I have never actually been to Italy, nor have I studied any authentic chicken parmesan recipes.  But nonetheless, I do make a damn good chicken parmesan. It is fairly easy to make and it is a simple way to impress the family at dinner.

This recipe can easily be scaled up to accommodate any dinner size.

1 Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast, (Bonus points if it is brined for 1-2 hours) Brine Flavorings: 3 tbsp Honey, 3 Bay leaves, 2 smashed Garlic clove, Peppercorns, 1 tbsp Italian Seasoning

~1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
~1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 tbsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/2 tsp Onion Powder
~2 tbsp Olive Oil

~1/2 Cup Tomato Sauce
~1/2 Cup shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/8 lb spaghetti noodles

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, boil a pot of water, and heat pan with oil coating the bottom.

Pound the chicken breast with mallet till the breast is a uniformed thickness, roughly ½” thick. (Best to cover in plastic wrap to prevent splattering).

Set up a dredging station with a dish of flour, paprika, salt, and pepper. A dish of beaten egg, and a dish of breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, parmesan, garlic and onion powder.

Dredge the chicken in flour shaking off the excess then in the egg, letting excess drip off and finally in the breadcrumb mixture, ensuring it is thoroughly coated.

Place chicken breast in heated oiled pan, cooking each side for 1-2 minutes or until nicely browned. When both sides are nicely browned place chicken on a baking sheet; topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Finish cooking in the oven till the internal temperature exceeds 165 degrees, about 10 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on thickness, I always recommend using a temperature probe.

While chicken begins cooking place noodles in boiling water and cook until al dente (About 9 minutes).

Serve chicken on top of a bed of spaghetti or alongside spaghetti with additional tomato sauce and remember to wave arms excessively while speaking.

Chicken Parmesan

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Improve Upon a Basic French Toast Recipe

Do you ever wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “What I really need to get this day started right is some highly refined carbs coated in sugar and fat!” If so, look no further, I have the perfect French toast recipe for you!

Making French toast is a pretty simple process that we’ve likely been enjoying for years. However, this meal can quickly be elevated from your mom’s basic fare with a few simple tips.

First, bread matters. Using sweeter bread such as Challah bread is the easiest way to improve upon your French toast recipe. Most people use a simple white bread for French toast; this creates a largely flavorless palette that lends nothing to the enjoyment of the meal other than serving as the delivery agent for its syrupy sweet coating. If you live in the Fox Valley, Challah bread appears to be nearly impossible to come by. However, Manderfield’s Bakery sells a “Buttercrust” which is a great substitute. I also highly recommend the cinnamon raisin bread from Panera.

I recommend having your baker slice the bread thick if possible (NOTE TO MANDERFIELD’s: Let me get your Buttercrust bread thick sliced!!!). Texas toast style cuts are ideal for French toast as they provide a fluffier pillow of sweetness entering your mouth rather than a saturated mush of syrup.

Finally, the simplest trick: Use stale bread. Stale bread is a bit hardier so it will absorb more custard (flavor!). Fresh bread will be softer and more easily fall apart. If you are making French toast, let it sit out overnight before you make it in the morning.

Here is my recipe for French Toast. You can make the custard in advance and let it refrigerate if you want to save time in the morning.

3 Eggs
1 cup Milk
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
2 tbsp Brown Sugar (up to 2 tbsp of warmed Honey can be substituted)
Pinch of Salt
Buttercrust Bread, from Manderfield’s Bakery
Maple Syrup
Powdered Sugar (optional)

Mix the first six ingredients to form the liquid custard. (I like to reserve a little cinnamon and brown sugar to sprinkle on the toast slices just prior to grilling as well.)

Dip the stale bread slices in the custard to ensure each piece is evenly coated, allowing the excess liquid to drip off. Place each slice on a buttered and heated griddle set to medium heat. Flip once to ensure both sides nicely brown.

Place finished French toast on a plate, topping with butter and generous pouring of Maple syrup. Dusting lightly with powdered sugar is optional.

French Toast

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Keema – Make Something Different with Ground Beef

A while back, my wife and I purchased a quarter of a steer, and as part of the deal, we got about 60-70 lbs. of ground beef.  It’s just the two of us (now 2.25 with the birth of our daughter!), so we’ve gone through it slowly.  And I’ve found that there are only so many things you can make with ground beef – meatloaf, burgers, tacos, etc.  It was time to broaden my horizons.

First, I made picadillo, which turned out good, but I was still looking for something different.  Then I found a recipe for keema.  Keema is a super-versatile South Asian dish that works with basically any kind of meat – poultry, lamb, goat, pork (though you wouldn’t find that ingredient in an Islamic country like Pakistan), and beef.  I’ve had keema many times, and it is great.

Here is the recipe that I used:

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger (I buy mine pre-minced.  I think it’s a better value.)
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup frozen peas

1.         In a large deep frying pan, brown the ground beef and then drain off almost all of the fat.  Add the onion and cook until starting to soften. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute longer.

2.         Add the coriander, cumin, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, and salt to the pan. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

3.         Stir in the potatoes, yogurt, and milk. Bring just to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until potatoes are soft.  (I found that boiling the potatoes took longer than I expected.  Maybe I cut them too big.  Another way to speed it up a bit would be to partially boil them in another pot while you brown your meat, then add them at this step.)

4.         Uncover the pan, add the peas, and simmer for 5-10 minutes longer.

5.         Done.  Stick a fork in it.  Serve over basmati (or any kind of) rice.


While keema may necessitate purchasing a few ingredients that you wouldn’t normally have on hand (for me it was coriander), you can see that it really couldn’t be easier to make.  Aside from the rice, it’s a one-pot meal.

Any other ideas for something different with ground beef?

- Submitted by Fox Valley Native

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What the heck has Fox Valley Foodie been doing?!

I know there must have been many sleepless nights for you all in the past two months since I last posted on this blog. Wondering… where is he? When is he going to post again? Can I go on?! Well, put the Unisom away because I am back!

Despite the notions you may have of me, for the past two months I’ve been living on a steady diet of Ramen noodles and delivered pizza. The closest I got to making real food was occasional egg sandwiches. I assure you my girlfriend was not thrilled with my cooking sabbatical. Was I burnt out from food, sick of cooking?

No! I was singularly focused on this:

Garden Plans

What the heck is that? That is the constructions plans for my new raised garden beds.

This past winter I purchased my first home. One of my biggest excitements of owning a home is the ability to have my own garden. I spent the cold months dreaming about where my garden will be placed and what it will look like. I had a lot of different ideas, but in the end my inability to tackle any of my passions half-assed won the day and I drew up plans for 300 sq ft of raised garden beds.

I am not known for being particularly handy, but I was eager to tackle this project myself. Borrowing my dad’s old pickup truck and some tools, I headed to Menards for lumber as soon as the snow started melting.

With my meticulous planning, picking up the lumber was easy. It was just as easy the second time when I had to stop back to pick up 50% more lumber for one section of the wall I had miscalculated, and just as easy the third time I stopped to pick up the remaining lumber for that same section after I again only bought half of what I needed. Good times.

Whenever the weather would cooperate I would be outside piecing the beds together. With the late spring we’ve had I was really concerned I would not get this done in time. Calling in sick to work once, and pretty much disappearing from family and friends, I spent all of my free time getting this constructed.

Once the beds were in place I felt the big work was done, but I was wrong. Filling 300 sq feet of raised beds is much easier said than done. You are quickly alerted to this fact when you see this in your front yard:

Topsoil Load

That is the load of topsoil I ordered. I still needed an equal amount of compost to mix it with. And since the city of Appleton was dreadfully behind getting their compost ready and available to residents, I may or may not have gotten two heaping truckloads of compost from another nearby city in which I may or may not actually be a resident.

Finally, after loading and unloading each truckload myself and then pushing ~400 wheelbarrow loads to the backyard, I got everything moved, mixed, and put in place. Last week I got to actually plant the garden I spent the past three months obsessed with, and –back pain and all- it felt great.

Raised Garden Beds
Can you tell where I laid the tarp to pile dirt?

Let the good times grow!

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