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!