28 October 2010

American food

When I first took my fiance to the US, I indulged in all the foods I was missing and that were classically- or perhaps classically associated as- 'American.' We went to almost every fast food restaurant, bought Krispy Kremes by the dozen (they did originate near to my mom's house) and generally ate food that we do not otherwise eat, not only because it is not available in London.

After the initial shock about the food in which I had to explain that I did not in fact grow up on a diet of Taco Bell and I was subjecting him to it only because we were on holiday, my fiance actually likes some of the fast food now and we both crave certain meals. For example, in the South there is a chicken place that makes the most amazing chicken sandwiches:

Chick-fil-A. I even craved these sandwiches when I was in Pennsylvania and too far north to have one in my local area.

Speaking of the north and Philly, we also went to a local restaurant and I was able to introduce my fiance to the cheesesteak.

A cheesesteak is basically very thinly sliced roast beef that is sauteed with onions and peppers on a griddle and served with melted provolone cheese in a submarine bun. This one was not quite like the original made in Philly, but it was good. And I love that I can still show him new things each time we go to the States.

I would have taken more pictures of food, but we always 1) ate it too quickly, 2) forgot the camera as we were only going around town, or 3) were in a car a lot and that made my brain mushy. I blame the forgetfulness on the beautiful fall scenery as we drove through the mountains, twice.


And we did eat lots of home-cooked meals that were very good, more of which I will write about after we go back for Thanksgiving this year.

11 October 2010

Beef stronganoff and home

It's funny what makes me think of home. Home, as in the US, not home, as in my residence in London- but that's another discussion. Of course my family makes me think of home, big holidays both in the UK and US, sometimes frustrations of a new city and culture, but most of all food. It's not always American food that can spur thoughts of the US for me, and as I have mentioned before, my family had an internationally influenced dish selection growing up, so the foods that remind me of home are really from all over. More often than not it is food that I grew up with, food that my mom made every week for dinner that brings the strongest thoughts of home.

Beef Stronganoff was always one of my favorite dishes and I remember specifically requesting it for birthday dinners. We had an every-other birthday rule: one year, you can have over a few friends for a sleepover, the next year, you can have one friend over for dinner or go out for dinner. When it was the year to have a home-cooked meal, mom would make anything you wanted that night. Pizza with hot dogs on it? Sure. Steak and baked potatoes? No problem. For me, it was a toss up between lasagne and beef stroganoff, and I think it was my love of sour cream that drove beef stroganoff into the running. Come to think of it, those dinners are still that ones that come to mind when planning my birthday meal. Maybe they will forever be 'birthday food' to me, though they could easily be called 'home food'.

It is not my birthday, unless you count half-birthdays (which I do, but it has never caught on), but I made beef stronganoff to use the beautiful mushrooms in season and because my fiance and I are going home this week. Home to see my family, to drive through wide open spaces, to see sunshine, to visit my grandparents, to plan a wedding, to eat fast food and drink lots of soda, to have a much needed break. Home for some home food!

Beef stronganoff is a fast, simple recipe that still packs a lot of punch of flavor in the dish.

Start with some red meat.

Moo. (sorry, vegetarians) I cut the meat into thin strips of about one inch across, coat them in flour and put them into a pot with a hunk of butter.

After they have cooked for a brief two minutes over a medium heat, it should all resemble a huge mess. That's good! Time for lots of mushrooms and onions.

Once these have had a chance to cook down for 5 or so minutes, add water to cover the bottom of the dish, but not enough to cover everything. The water and flour and juices will come together to form a thick sauce and will be reduced down over the course of 10 or so minutes, maybe less.

Once the sauce has thickened, add the sour cream. Lots of sour cream.

I like to cook the sauce with a touch of dill thrown in for a further few minutes to thicken the sauce an incorporate all the flavors together.

Serve over egg noodles if available, or rice if you are so inclined.

What's your home food?

5 October 2010

Mushroom pasties in the bag

Pasties- rhymes with 'nasty'; pronounced paa-stees
Pasties are such a (southern) British food. They are basically a British pie folded in half for easy transport and snacking. But don't let the rhyming fool you because these are wonderfully hearty, filling and full of good things.
I cannot remember the first time I had a pasty, though there are small shops selling them practically in every train station so it could have been one of these. The pasty is now associated with Cornwall though probably had a wider area of provenance pre-1800 and can be traced to the middle ages. (This fact makes the medievalist in me squeal with delight.)

You can put practically anything in a pasty, which makes them incredibly versatile. For these particular pasties, I included chestnut mushrooms, onions, peas, walnuts and dill in a cream sauce, almost like a stronganoff. I also made these pasties to make use of some great seasonal ingredients, as highlighted by the 'In the Bag' event, hosted by Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie and Scott of the Real Epicurean, two veteran British bloggers.

For the filling, I sauteed a lot of sliced chestnut mushrooms and a whole diced onion with butter until browned.

Fearing that the mushrooms weren't enough for the pasty, I added frozen peas into the mixture with the dill, salt and pepper. I actually added way too much pepper, but with the rich pastry crust it merely turned into a warming sensation and was ok. (whew)

You could easily just fill the pasties now, but I wanted more of a cream sauce so I added water and a touch of flour to thicken everything. After simmering until the water reduced, the filling mixture was about the consistency of thick gravy.

I then added about 3 tablespoons of sour cream/creme fraiche and kept stirring everything together over a low heat to thicken everything a tad more. You don't want watery or runny filling when it comes to pastry products.

For the crust, I made my trusty old pie crust recipe, rolled the dough out pretty thinly and cut two largish vaguely circular pieces.

I then spooned the filling into the center of the pastry circle and sprinkled chopped walnuts on mine. My fiancee does not like nuts, so his was sans walnuts, but I found that the subtle flavor and crunch was a nice contrast to the rest of the pasty. I don't usually add nuts into my cooking and I think it is an area that I have not explored enough.

Carefully, I folded the pastry into a half-moon shape over the filling and sealed with an egg yolk I happened to have (extraneous, but it does help) and pinched the edges to seal everything in.

The pasties baked for about 30 minutes in a moderately hot oven until the crust was done and lightly browned on the bottom.

Technically I suppose making a sandwich for lunch each day is easier, though pasties would freeze well I imagine and so when you are feeling industrious, you could easily make lots and lots of pasties for future lunches. Mushrooms tend to keep their flavor even when cold and for a lunch snack the next day, these pasties were wonderful. I will definitely be making these again!

28 September 2010

Great mashed potatoes

This was going to be an entry about bangers and mash. But then I thought that bangers and mash, that staple of British pub and comfort food, is plain, simple and easy (part of the reason it is a comfort food) and nothing special to talk about.

But not these. These are great mashed potatoes/mash that have flavor! Life! Pizazz!

Mashed potatoes and wonderful and warm my soul almost more than any other food, which I inherited honestly from my mother and other Midwestern relatives. We do come from the red meat and potatoes part of the US, so a love of a good potato dish is in the blood. When Thanksgiving came each year, we would make something like 20 pounds of mashed potatoes. Yes, it was for over 20 people, but that is still a pound of potatoes per person. And there were never any leftovers.

With all the love for potatoes I have, I am a little ashamed to say that I ate mostly the dehydrated potato flakes for much of my life due to convenience. Now that I eat the real thing, I could never go back. So now I look for ways to make my mash exciting to keep my tastebuds interested, which includes throwing various spices and vegetables with the potatoes.

In these great mashed potatoes, I went for the classic British flavors version, but you can easily add bacon and chives, sweet potato and cinnamon, bits of apple and fennel, rosemary- anything you want really that will compliment your dish.

I boiled some potatoes with the skins on, but you could easily peel them if you prefer. Apparently, lots of vitamins and good things live in the skins, so I am trying to eat them more often.

Then sautee some leeks and thinly-sliced cabbage for 5-10 minutes to cook briefly over a high heat.

After mashing the potatoes when done, add a splash of milk and lots of butter. If it is unsalted, make sure you add some salt too. If you find that the potatoes are too sticky, add a splash more milk and some butter to loosen them.

Grate some cheddar into the potatoes, then add the sauteed veggies to the mix.

If you have some, I would also add some sour cream to really make these lush.

You can serve these great mashed potatoes as a side to almost any main dish, or top with bangers.

Mmmm, I'm hungry already. And my soul is feeling warm and fuzzy from all this comfort food in the fall.

24 September 2010

Greek barbecue

As summer fades into fall and I look forward to harvest food, I would like to leave the season with a Greek barbecue.

We attended the last barbecue of the year when the weather was already turning a bit stormy and breezy in the UK, but we persevered through to hang on to the tendrils for a Greek and Cypriot summer barbecue.

There was meat roasted on a coal fire.

Fresh salads and lemon with bursts of flavour to top it all off.

Handmade desserts, with lashings of honey everywhere.

Greek dancing with exuberance!

I enjoy having foods that are still seasonal in our world of having everything we want whenever we want it. It makes the seasonal food more enjoyable as it harbors excitement and anticipation, pleasure in the taste, fond memories, and finally desire. As I say goodbye to summer for another year, I shall savor the memories of the barbecue and wait, somewhat anxiously, for next year's first barbecue.
* * * * *

There's nothing quite like a summer barbecue, eating the grilled meat with crisp salads outside. But I do start to crave the warm comfort food and flavours of harvest time, and I look forward to cooking and baking in the fall most of all. Some of my most favorite recipes are coming up soon!

5 September 2010

Fried green tomatoes

For the past three years, I have planted tomatoes in my garden in London. I raise them from seeds inside and then gingerly place them outside, supporting them with stakes and hoping for warm weather to help them grow. When I finally see some tomatoes on the vine, the calendar turns to August and nights feel chilly. The lovely late summer heat and sun that tomatoes need to ripen is nowhere to be found and in three years, I have only had a handful of tomatoes turn red. After woefully staring at green tomatoes, I remembered a classic summer Southern dish of fried green tomatoes. Ah, perfect! Uses my tomatoes and they don't have to be ripe.

I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but my family is not actually Southern, nor are we from the Southern US. I grew up there and was influenced by many of the traditions and culture and know about Southern food, but most of the time when I make a classic Southern dish, I have never tried to make it before or seen someone make it. So when I say I remembered a classic Southern dish, I usually have only remembered that this dish and recipes exists, not the taste and fond memories of making said dish. Still, Southern cooking reminds me of home in so many ways, because you would never find some of these foods outside of the US, making them unique and have a particularly strong association with the US to me.

Back to the fried green tomatoes. This, like many good Southern dishes, is fried. Examples = chicken fried steak, fried chicken, deep-fried okra, deep-fried twinkies (don't ask). If you are keeping score, fried = good = Southern.

After picking and slicing my green tomatoes, I prepared a beaten egg and a plate of flour, cornmeal and breadcrumbs for the coating.
Dip each slice in the egg and cover all sides with the breading mixture.

Place the slices in a heated pan with vegetable oil.

The tomatoes will brown pretty quickly, so be sure to turn them regularly. I left them on the heat for 10 minutes or so. That was enough to make sure the breading was browned and the tomatoes cooked, but not mushy.

The green tomatoes hold their shape really well and have a slightly tangy taste. I don't know if this is protocol, but we ate them with leftover creme fraiche, which complimented the taste and texture nicely.

I highly recommend this recipe if you have any green tomatoes on the vine.

23 August 2010

Toad in a hole

For some reason, the British weather this year has been running like clockwork. When the calendar said winter, we got snow. Now that it is turning towards fall, the days are gradually getting cooler (well, like they are supposed to but have been skipping around for the past few years). There is a certain feeling and smell in the air of fresh nights, cool breezes, a turn in the weather. Over the years, I love fall more and more and the thought of getting out all my sweaters and coats and gloves and scarves, eating warm, comfort food every night and all the delicious bounty of fall foods makes me urge the seasons on, to get to fall more quickly.

This summer has been great with lots of nice sunny days and some warm ones at the beginning too. But I'm not a summer person and I long for cooler days and the first morning you can see your breath, the crunch of leaves under your shoes and as much tea as you can drink. Naturally, when the weather hinted at a slight drop in temperature, I tried out a favorite British comfort food- toad in a hole.

I have no idea where the name comes from or if it is toad in a hole or the hole- there's no consensus on the matter. It is basically sausages in a Yorkshire pudding batter, served with veggies and gravy. I even turned to Delia for the recipe for the batter, which makes this a thoroughly British dish.

The batter is a simple combination of egg, milk and flour.

You will need to cook some sausages, either under the broiler/grill or in a pan, and if you would like to have individual portions, cut the sausages in half to fit in a muffin pan.

That's right, I said muffin pan. Place half a sausage in each muffin cup with a little oil and pour the batter over it until about halfway full.

When they cook, the batter will puff up and become golden and crunchy on the outside.

Pop two or three onto a plate with some vegetables.

Oh, and pour on the gravy!

I'm so excited fall is coming back around.