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My Great American Road Trip – North Dakota, Ohio

September 12, 2020

I keep thinking I know things about North Dakota and they keep being about South Dakota. Like Mount Rushmore and the Corn Palace and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Even the thing I thought I was going to make for North Dakota is really more common in South Dakota. I really want to get to South Dakota one of these days! (I REALLY want to go to the Corn Palace!).

But North Dakota. Here’s what I know about it. The delightful Coen Brothers movie Fargo (and the tv series of the same name, but I’ve never seen that. I might watch the movie again today, cause I loved it so much). But before there was Fargo, there was Fargo North, Decoder, my most favorite character from The Electric Company, followed closely by Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader ( and in case you missed it, that’s Rita Moreno in both clips).

So what do we cook for North Dakota. There is something called cheese buttons, that were for sure a contender, and seem to be sort of like cottage cheese raviolis. Mostly the food choices reflect the German and Norwegian immigrants who settled in the area. Lots of meat filled pastry, which I’ve made enough of in this quest, and some good old fashioned hot dish, which, though one can never get enough of tater tots, I wasn’t revisiting. I settled on lefse, sort of a potato crepe.

Step one for lefse is to make mashed potatoes. This is a thing at which I am extremely accomplished. Peel some russets, chop them into chunks, and boil in water until they are soft. Drain them, mash them, add in some butter and cream until they are smooth. I used a hand mixer, because I don’t have a potato ricer (hint for those of you with whom I spend Christmas).

The potatoes should be very smooth. When they are you chill them for an hour to a day. I chilled all but a bowl full of the fully potato perfection I had created, which, with some pepper and horseradish (trust me), became lunch.

When you’re ready, you add a cup and a half or so of flour to mix, roll it into a log and cut that into twelve equal pieces. (Equal is relative for me). Then you flatten each piece into a very thin disk.

Each disk is fried in a hot, dry pan, I used a cast iron one, til you have a stack of delicious lefse. For serving, you take a piece, add your topping of choice, and roll it like a cigar. I used butter and cinnamon sugar, and, even better, rubbed it with a clove of garlic and butter.

They were a lot of work, and you know what, a flour crepe would have been better. I think if you’re a Norwegian house wife, whose many kids have come inside from a day of playing in the snow, this is a perfect, healthy-ish filling snack you can make on a budget. If you’re a single career girl on Miami Beach, I’d rather just go for a bowl of mash.

And on to Ohio we go. Some states make it really easy to choose what to cook. Ohio is one of those states. On my one trip to the state, to Cincinnati for an Orchestra conference, I became aware of what seemed like the most bizarre chain of fast food restaurants ever, Skyline Chili, which served, if you can believe it (I couldn’t) spaghetti topped with chili. I have a vague memory of ordering some at an airport kiosk and not hating it.

Cincinnati chili is a thing. It was developed by Greek immigrant brothers who used Middle Eastern spices in the mix and served it in a variety of ways including on spaghetti (two way), on spaghetti, with cheese (three way), on spaghetti, with cheese, and onions (four way), on spaghetti, with cheese, onions, and beans (five way). It’s also well loved on top of a hot dog.

It is super easy to make. You just throw all the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer. Each recipe on line had the same basic ingredients, with slight adjustments in the amount. I just sort of winged it (a little more of this a little less of that) based on how much I liked each.
So here we go – six ounces of tomato paste, eight ounces of tomato sauce, four cups water, a large minced onion, 6 cloves of garlic chopped up, a pound or two of ground beef, 3 tablespoons chili powder, 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, and then one half to 1 teaspoon of cumin, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Simmer for at least one hour, but up to three or so – the longer the better. When you’re getting close to time to serve it crumble in an ounce of unsweetened chocolate and a tablespoon of cider vinegar.

The first serving I made for myself was just the chili topped with raw onion and shredded cheddar cheese. It was so good. So good. The spices added an interesting complexity and while the Middle Eastern influence was clear, it also was a little molé like. I can’t believe I’ve been eating the wrong kind of chili all this time. And I say this like I’ve ever made chili before, but I’ll never eat it any other way again.

For my next meal, I went all out, and piled it up on pasta. It seemed so illogical as I did it, but in fact its basically the same as bolognese, but so much more interesting.

Three days of chili and pasta means that I need to spend a couple on a juice fast before I venture to Oklahoma. (Oklahoooooma, OK!)

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