I decided to go for it.

Girl in the world…but mostly Illinois


Guest Blogger: Derek shows us how to cure salmon

Today’s Guest Blogger is the multitalented Derek Nurkowski! He could have talked about quite a few different topics today but the public demanded his recipe for cured salmon. In case you feel like curing meat is out of your league, he’s here to walk you through the process with step-by-step pictures and expert instruction. See for yourself…

Cool kids cure their own fish.

Today we are going to be curing some salmon which serves as an excellent platter for a party and appetizer. Curing is an ancient process of preserving food that people have used to keep meat safe to eat much longer. It may seem intimidating, especially since most people have very little experience with curing, but it is actually a very easy process. Believe me, I had never cured anything before attempting this recipe and I executed it just fine. It is nowhere near as dangerous as home canning or mushroom hunting, so let’s give it a shot.

To start let’s gather the necessary ingredients:

  • 1 whole salmon fillet pin bones removed, as far a quality is concerned I have found that Jewel   has plenty good enough cuts, no need to stake out a farmers market
  • ½ cup sugar. The recipe calls for white but I only keep brown sugar and haven’t noticed an issue
  • ¼ cup salt.
  • 1.5 tbsp. pepper.
  • 1 cup fresh chopped dill
  • Olive oil- just enough to coat the fillet

Potential Sides (these aren’t needed until you intend to serve the dish but if you can save a trip…)

  • 2-3 chopped/crumbled hard boiled eggs
  • 1-1.5 cup chopped red onion.
  • 1 jar capers (leave them in the jar unless presentation is an issue)
  • 1-2 sleeves saltine crackers (feel free to experiment with other crackers, I feel the mild flavor of saltines won’t overwhelm the flavor)
Here are the dry ingredients we will use to cure the salmon

Here are the dry ingredients we will use to cure the salmon

To kick things off we will mix our salt, sugar, and pepper in a big bowl. Be sure to mix all the powders evenly. For the fillet, you will need a flat dish with a lip that can sustain the liquid that will be drawn from the meat. With the skin side down evenly press the mixture over the fillet. Be sure to cover all the flesh. Then apply half of the chopped dill to the powder-coated fillet.


Carefully flip the fillets so they are now skin side up. Some of the powder mix will fall off- pack it around the edges of the fillet.

Flipped fish

Now find yourself a flat board and at least two pounds of weights. Depending on what you use it may be prudent to wrap it in cling wrap. Be sure to check that when pressing the fillets your board doesn’t rest on the lip of the dish and take weight off the fillet.

This compression is key to the curing. Note how the metal tray I used rests on the fillet and not on the lip of my plate, which has a significant lip to catch runoff.

This compression is key to the curing. Note how the metal tray I used rests on the fillet and not on the lip of my plate, which has a significant lip to catch runoff.

Make some room and slide it into the fridge now uncovered. This will be the actual curing process and will take at least 24 hours, feel free to leave it in there longer if your schedule is tight.


With the fillet now cured it is time to wash off our curing agent. Wash your fillet in the sink under cold water. Do this briskly and don’t soak it!

You don’t need to scrub and remove all the spices, just give it a few swipes under the faucet

You don’t need to scrub and remove all the spices, just give it a few swipes under the faucet

Once you are done pat dry and rub with olive oil. I prefer to keep the coat light. With the filets cured and coated in olive oil you can leave it in your fridge for a very long time. Keep it covered in saran wrap and it can last for weeks (I personally don’t know how long it will last, but it’s at least 2-1/2 weeks.)

When it comes time to prepare your fillet to be served you will need a sharp, thin blade, a cutting board, and any of the side dish ingredients discussed earlier. Your first step is to remove the skin.

My preferred method is to slide the knife between the skin and the meat on a cutting board

My preferred method is to slide the knife between the skin and the meat on a cutting board

After the skin has been removed flip the fillet over and remove any traces of the skin, which has a very ‘fishy’ taste most people aren’t accustomed to. It will appear grey. You can go also go back and remove any extra meat you left on the skin.

Cleaning up the filet and getting extra meat off the skin

Cleaning up the fillet and getting extra meat off the skin

Slice the fillet as thinly as practical. Some may prefer thicker slices, so feel free to play around and find your own tastes.

Slice the fillet as thinly as practical. Some may prefer thicker slices, so feel free to play around and find your own tastes

Mix in the remaining dill. Looking at this image I think I should have chopped up the dill a bit more.

This is just one filet- that's a lot of fish!

This is just one filet- that’s a lot of fish!

 Your fish in now ready to be served. Now all that’s left is your presentation.

If you have guests, you may want to provide a fork or spoon for each of the ingredients. Take the capers out of the jar you bought them in as it is difficult to fish out of and the juice presents a spill hazard (sudden thought, try the juice in a martini). As your guests top their crackers some will spill off and fall- it may be a good idea to place all your ingredients on a platter. Also, move this ensemble closer to the edge of the table so guests don’t have to lean over other dishes to make their crackers.

Who would have thought such a classy hors d'oeuvres could be so easy to make?

Who would have thought such classy hors d’oeuvres could be so easy to make?


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Guest Blogger: Laura brings us home to New England

My second Guest Blogger is the lovely Laura Hanna! From the moment I met this classy lady, I knew we were going to be good friends. Anyone who approaches exploring central Illinois with the same enthusiasm she would for a major city is an extremely valuable friend, in my book. She’s a world traveler but in this post she’s taking us home with her for the holidays and telling us a little about what’s good on the East Coast…

Awesome Laura

Oh Laura, flashing us with those pearly whites.

You often don’t appreciate the places that are close to home.  Here are a few ‘must see’ places from where I call home- New England.

NYC is a city of mind blowing oddities that easily become your norm. There are ample coffee shops, restaurants, retail, commercial, and museums to visit.  Museums – every time I head to NYC, I visit one of the many.  This time it was the Guggenheim in the upper east side of Manhattan.  The Guggenheim is almost as well known for its unique architecture as the artists that rotate through it. This winter, a black and white exhibit of Picasso’s work was on display along with a medley of other world renown artists like Velazquez, van Gogh, and Kandinsky. Pictures are not allowed inside but the view from lobby is not bad, displaying the distinct spiraling staircase that transcends the museum.  Coffee shops and subway rides always make for good people watching too.


Out and about in NYC

Side note- most cities have a plethora of museums to offer, potentially very random, but from my experience, there is always a story you can tell about it after.  For example, the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont which exhibits anything and everything.  Seriously – name the most random thing you can think of and they have it on display. Another good museum is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Jaw dropping. You don’t expect an old brownstone to host the contemporary art collection, indoor garden or historical architectural preservation work that is found here under one roof.

One of my all-time favorite places is New Hampshire.  Almost anywhere in NH is high on my list. You have the ocean, mountains, and city all very close together in Portsmouth, NH.  The downtown is a quaint, historical New England distinct built around industry and the port.  Off the beaten path is Newmarket, NH, which has been revived in the past five years.  It stands as a small town on the Lamprey River where the old mills have been recently renovated and now boast shops and apartments.  The Big Bean restaurant which has great veggie options for breakfast and the Stone Church bar/music venue are worth the trip inland.


The mills, a bit of downtown Portsmouth, and the Lamprey River

You have probably heard of Lexington and Concord, think back to 7th grade history class.  This is where the fight for American’s freedom began on April 19, 1775 along the Battle Road at the North Bridge. And so begun the Revolutionary War.  The battlefields are now a mix of wetlands and forests of stonewalls. The Minuteman National Historical Park is a walking trail paying tribute to the soldiers and people that fought against the British. Fun tidbit: you can run/bike the trail that Paul Revere rode from Boston to Concord to warn the colonists that the British were coming.

NH beauty

Overgrown battlefields, a home that was amidst the fighting of the Revolutionary War, and some of the natural beauty New England as to offer.

New England is well worth the visit if you have the chance!


Guest Blogger: Shawn on The Blues

Welcome to the first Guest Blogger post! This series dedicated sharing the knowledge and experiences of my friends and family who know a thing or two about a thing or two. Getting it started with a BANG is a friend I call Brother, Mr. Shawn Loga. He’s crafted us a killer blues mix, complete with song-by-song descriptions and lesson in what it means to have the blues. Without further ado, I give you The Blues Mix.

Yes. He threatens jellyfish with his teeth and beer bastes salmon from the inside out. This is a person you should listen to.

The Blues is the music of America.  I got into the Blues, like most people these days, through Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash- these all drove me closer and closer to their shared ancestor.

You will notice that most of these songs are a cover of this or that, or originally done by some other band.  This is prevalent and common within the Blues genre, and a good cover is almost tantamount to inclusion: for example, if you never play a cover of Robert Johnson, you are NOT a bluesman.  If you cannot play John Lee Hooker on command, you are NOT a bluesman.

The Blues are about sex, booze, violence, and misery.  It is also about confidence, happiness, and love.  The Blues are the most human of music, and emotion and passion are the root of every song.  Without love and anger, without alcohol and guns and cocaine, without heartbreak and passion, there would be no Blues.

John Lee Hooker has a song titled ‘Whiskey and Wimmen.’  The opening lyrics are, “whiskey and wimmen almost wrecked my life.”  “Almost” is the operative word.  The Blues are founded on scratching the bottom of experience, taking the booze-soaked, tear-stained letters of last night and putting a good beat to it.

If you think this list is too long and you don’t have the time, you work too much.  Sit back with a nice glass of bourbon (The Official Drink of The Blues!) and just jive.  Enjoy!  Below you will hear the voice of America.

*You can listen to the songs track-by-track or click here to listen to them straight through as a playlist. Track #8 is so old school its not even on youtube so if you playlist the mix you’ll have to click on that one seperately.


1. Boogie Chillen’ – John Lee Hooker: The Blues incarnate, John Lee Hooker is raw and rough and drunk and sexual.  His basic approach is instantly recognizable: just a guitar, and a stomping foot for bass.  If I could point to any single person as the definitive bluesman, I would point squarely at Mr. Hooker.

2. Moanin’At Midnight – Howlin’ Wolf: Another giant of the Blues, Howlin’ Wolf has a very distinct style and growl.

3. Cross Road Blues – Robert Johnson: King of the Blues, Robert Johnson gave Blues the mystic is has today.  He is the apocryphal guitarist at the crossroads, ready to sell his soul to the Devil.  He disappeared for years during his youth and reappeared, playing guitar like no one had ever seen before (thus giving rise to the Devil legend).  Robert was given a poisoned bottle of whiskey by a jealous husband (it seems RJ was giving a certain young lady too much attention).  Robert died young (27), only recording a handful of songs.  Even given the scant recordings by this pioneer of Blues, he is regarded as the Father and classic originator of the Blues style.

4. Still a Fool – Muddy Waters: Along with John Lee Hooker and Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters helped shaped the Blues as it is today.  His distinct voice and guitar have inspired countless covers.  Besides Robert Johnson, probably no other bluesman has been covered so many times.  This is one of my all time favorites.

5. Numb– Gary Clark Jr.: This is the future of the Blues.  The repetition in this song is reminiscent of the Mississippi Blues as made famous by Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside.  Heavy bass, monster guitar riffs, and repetitive vocals make this a worthy successor.

6. Can’t Be Satisfied – Scott H. Biram: A cover of the classic Muddy Waters song, this has feeling and emotion and shows what a simple backcountry blues tune can turn into over the years.  Biram is a perfect example why bluesmen cannot be pigeonholed.  A redneck who bleeds the muddy Delta blues.

7. Meet Me In The City – The Black Keys: This song is a cover of a Junior Kimbrough tune.  It has become my favorite song of all time.  It is slow and sexy, it hits hard, the passion is felt, and the listener is carried on an electric pulsing wave.  Strap on your best stereophones and turn this baby up.  Close your eyes and imagine the sexy lady of your dreams undressing slowly on a hot Mississippi night.

8. Travelin’Riverside Blues – Dion: This is a cover of the classic Robert Johnson song (maybe the most influential song in the history of the Blues).  Dion has released three very awesome blues albums, and his simple approach is perfect.  You don’t see too many old white men playing the Blues, but this guy warrants attention.  This song is on Grooveshark so just follow the link and press “play”.

9. I’d Rather Go Blind – Etta James: Why? Because there are not enough women singing the Blues.  Etta James is the most classic female Blues singer of all time (along with Koko Taylor – check out her version of Wang Dang Doodle).  This song aches with heartbreak.

10. Baby Please Don’t Leave Me – Buddy Guy: Yet another cover of Junior Kimbrough, this song just rumbles with madness and sex.  The drum-line repetition and backbone give this song its apocalyptic vibe, and then Buddy steps in to shred on the guitar.  You better have a subwoofer, because this song is best listened to at a high volume while laying on the floor playing air guitar feeling the bass shake your whole body.

11. The Hunter – Albert King: A nice upbeat Blues number, often quoted by Led Zeppelin.

12. Feels So Good #1 – Junior Kimbrough: This is included as a prime example of what the Mississippi Hills Blues are, as contrasted to the Blues of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson, which are all the original Delta Blues.  The gritty dirty sweaty repetitive style of the Mississippi Hills is, in my mind, much better suited for dancing and fucking and drinking.

13. Yer Blues – The Beatles: I included this for a few reasons.  One, it shows how varied the Blues can be, and by a band so popular as The Beatles.  Two, it is a damn good song.  Go on, turn up the volume.  Three, I know how much Maddie likes this song, which makes me like it even more.

14. You Shook Me – Willie Dixon: Besides Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon is probably responsible for more Blues hits than any other artist.  Led Zeppelin’s first album alone had two Dixon covers on it.  Dixon will be remembered for his song-writing skills more than his bass playing or singing.

15. I Believe to My Soul – Ray Charles: Better known as a Soul and R&B singer, Ray nonetheless sang the Blues better than anyone.  His voice, the best in the business, was made for crying and shouting and telling women to fuck off.  This is a classic example of Ray singing the Blues (listen to the backup vocals closely- they too are sung by Ray).

16. I Don’t Want To Be With Nobody But You – Joss Stone: Again, not enough women singing the Blues.  This woman can sing, that’s for sure.  Another modern example (along with The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr.) of what contemporary Blues sounds like.  Please ignore the awful video. 

17. What Kind of Woman Is This – Buddy Guy: I included this because it sounds sufficiently different from the other Buddy song on this list, and it is a great representative of the “Chicago style” of Blues.  One of my favorites.

18. Bird Without A Feather – R.L. Burnside: This is a classic song, even though it is relatively ‘new’ in the Blues genre.  It hits all of the bases.  Love, heartbreak, cheating, guns, murder-it’s all here.

19. Next Door Neighbor Blues – Gary Clark Jr.: You know when a song has the lyric ‘came home last night, with a pistol pointed at my head,’ it’s gonna be good.  Gary Clark Jr. is keeping the Blues alive in the 21st century.  Just a good foot-stomper.

20. I’m Broke – Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears: The Blues expresses whatever you’re feeling at the moment.  And at the moment, I’m broke.  At least I have this song to dance to.

21. Back Door Man – The Doors: A cover of a Willie Dixon song, I included this just to show the wide variety of Blues.

22. I’m Gonna Kill That Woman – John Lee Hooker: Open with Hooker, close with Hooker.  This is a less-known song that, again, is a great representation of the Blues.  Enjoy.


Clockwise from the top left corner: R.L. Burnside, Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters

Clockwise from the top left corner:

Clockwise from the top left corner: Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker, Junior Kimbrough, Ray Charles