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Category Archives: American

Well, I’m Going To Texas

The trouble with being so in awe of such an enormous country is that you know you’ll never have the time, money nor inclination to get to grips with the entire place. I don’t think there’s one single state in the US that I wouldn’t deem worthy of a trip to, but with 50 states spread over thousands of miles and some states being worthy of multiple visits, it’s not going to happen without a pretty big lottery win. I’d like to believe that one day I really will win the lottery, but considering I always forget to buy a ticket each week the odds are pretty slim. This fascination with America then and my lack of millions goes some way to explaining the many cookbooks focusing on the country that adorn my bookshelf. To make the most of these books and get more mileage out of them, the theme running through my blogs for the next few weeks will be focusing on the Deep South of the States and the food originating from the region. Or until I get bored and move on, don’t be too shocked if the next blog is all about pasta. I’m fickle like that.

The Deep South apparently consists of the states Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. I thought it also included Texas and did so up until writing that last sentence, so for the purpose of this blog and to save my blushes, Texas is now part of the Deep South. In my defence it is right next to Louisiana. I’m not one to let facts get in the way of a good recipe. Today I cooked from The Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain and is a collection of the foods she grew up with in Texas before moving to New York. The book is filled with classic photos depicting the Lone Star state – think cowboy boots, vast stretches of road and no mans land, cattle and great big slabs of meat- as well as recipes a true Texan would know and love. You’ll be unsurprised to hear that Texas is up there as one of the states I’d really, really like to visit compared to just really wanting to visit (it still has to contend with California, Maine, Louisiana, Georgia and the Carolina’s – stiff competition). I can’t even tell you why I want to visit it, it’s just so iconic and I think of it as the essence of America, if that makes any sense. When I think of America, two images come immediately to mind, one of which is the New York skyline and the other the cattle horns and cowboy boots of Texas. Get me on that plane to Dallas, please.

Fancy-pants king ranch chicken casserole is the dish I cooked, and yes, that is the title given to it in the book. Most magnificent a name. It’s certainly unique. Lisa tells me that this casserole is one of the most popular ones that Texans make but does not go into the provenance of the name. Even though there are a lot of ingredients for this, if you have a well stocked spice cupboard and vegetable drawer you’ll probably have no problem throwing this together. The chicken breasts are fried in a marinade of ancho chilli powder, lime juice and salt, then shredded and added into a homemade enchilada sauce which is then layered in a baking dish with corn tortillas and lots of cheese. To call it a casserole is pretty misleading as after cooking I would describe it more as an enchilada lasagna (lasagna like in structure alone, with the tortillas replacing lasagna sheets) and a really delicious one at that. It’s subtly spicy, creamy and very cheesy and the perfect antidote to the cold weather, the return to work and the endless diet adverts. Despite all the peppers and tomatoes in the casserole it’s not particularly healthy with all the butter and cheese but mentally it’s the equivalent of sitting in front of the fire with a cosy blanket and a good book – pure comfort. It got the thumbs up from The Fiancé too, which is a rarity when it comes to me experimenting with lesser used cookbooks. If you want to give this recipe a try have a gander at her website The Homesick Texan where you’ll find this very recipe.

It’s safe to say that this recipe has done nothing to dissuade me from wanting to check out Texas, in fact it’s just made me keener to visit. Better start buying those lottery tickets.

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Warning: This Post Is Bad For Your Health

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Now I like a sugar high as much as the next person, but this past weekend there’s a good chance I took it too far. Brownie cookies. Jam doughnut muffins. I don’t even need to write anything more for you to understand the levels of butter and sugar needed for such baked goods. Much like Road Dahl characters, everything you need to know is all in the name. Miss Honey was always going to be an absolute darling and Augustus Gloop only ever a greedy bastard. And so brownie cookies and jam doughnut muffins are inevitably naughty. In my defence (although it would never stand up in court) I did have friends over for coffee, visited family and took part in a recruitment day at work so the goodies were shared. Spreading not only the love, but also the calories.

Brownie cookies then come from Smitten Kitchen, one of the newest additions to the collection. I’ve not yet ventured into the savoury section of the book, despite the fact that every time I dive in to pick a recipe I go in with the best of intentions. But the significantly sized sweet section of the book always draws me in and I conveniently forget the existence of the salad section. There is nothing sweet in the book that I don’t instantly want to cook. These cookies are an absolute doddle to make, although not owning an electric mixer puts you at an advantage if you want to build those biceps up whilst also working on your domestic goddess skills. One day I will have one of those beautifully glossy KitchenAid mixers (pistachio green is my current favourite) and so until then nothing else will do. If I were to compromise on a lesser model I would then be stuck with it for life, so I’m more than happy to save and continue to bake the hard way. I’m such a martyr.

The best part about making these cookies is rolling them out and getting the cookie cutters out of the drawer. I just don’t feel like I use cookie cutters enough, it’s immensely satisfying to feel the soft dough yield to the cookie cutter and to see the devastation you’ve inflicted upon that poor, innocent cookie dough. It’s like being a war lord, only without the dodgy morality and inability to sleep at night. These brownie cookies deliver exactly what you expect: they have the exterior crispness of a biscuit, the softness of a brownie within and taste purely of chocolate. They’re at their best on the day they’re baked, but are still all too edible 24 hours on. I should *warn* you that this recipe makes a lot of bite-sized biscuits (approx 70 using a 4cm cookie cutter) and also *warn* that the raw dough is even more edible than the end product. I *definitely* didn’t eat spoonfuls of the stuff while it was cooling in the fridge. No siree.

As well as this I made jam doughnut muffins. All the taste of a fried doughnut without the hassle of deep frying, right? Well, almost. These are in essence a plain vanilla muffin with a dollop of jam in the middle, then rolled in melted butter and sugar once cooked. They come from the wonderful mind of Nigella Lawson and can be found in HTBADG, in the kids section. Move over kids, these treats are wasted on you. I served these to a friend and her two year old daughter while they were still a little warm from the oven, which is probably the best way to eat them if you want to emulate the deliciousness of a freshly fried doughnut from a van at the fair. I thought they were nice, nothing amazing but certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up if offered them. These went down pretty well with everyone who had them though out the day and I think if they were smaller they might be better. After the bite size brownie cookies I think there’s something to be said for mini versions of sweet treats. Although why I’m trying to perfect doughnuts I’ll never know, what with fairground doughnuts and Krispy Kreme already firm favourites on our fair isle, and Dunking’ Donuts on its way (The Boyfriend cannot get enough of DD coffee on holiday, so he is sure to be making regular trips once over here) making doughnuts at home seems completely pointless. Sure is fun trying though.

 

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Chocolate, Citrusy Goodness

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You can always tell when The Boyfriend’s gone on his travels again by the sugar content of whatever food I happen to be cooking and blogging about. If it isn’t putting you at risk of diabetes, I don’t want to know. Step forward brown butter, chocolate, orange and rosemary cookies from Gizzi Erskine’s Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts (no prizes which side this treat falls on). If chocolate cookies can’t lift the spirits, nothing can.

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t in love with cookies. Whether it was going through the biscuit tin after getting in from school or buying giant, fresh, gooey cookies from the canteen to get me though GCSE Maths lessons, cookies have been there. As an adult, Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream has soothed after disastrous job interviews (during a maths test for an interview with a bank I panicked, writing out completely non-sensical sums and getting the answers totally wrong, wishing I was allowed to use a calculator. Upon finishing the interviewer gently reminded me of the calculator I’d been told I could use, which had been placed right next to the paper covered in maths gibberish. No, I didn’t get the job. Don’t even ask about the role play element of the interview), soul destroying hangovers and terrible days at work. Cookies are the best. The frustration with cookies is that it’s so difficult to bake a batch that aren’t dry and crumbly, dry being the enemy of a cookie lover. You want gooey cookies when fresh out of the oven which turn chewy once out of the oven for a few hours. I don’t think it’s possible to get a homemade cookie that stays gooey for longer than a couple of hours, although if anyone knows of a recipe for one please send me it!

These cookies totally deliver. Taken out of the oven while still pale in the middle, they cool to a perfect consistency and taste wonderful. Orange and rosemary go really well together, you can’t pick out the taste of the rosemary but get a subtle savoury hint on the tip of your tastebuds to complement the sweet chocolate and orange. At risk of sounding like I’m on the payroll of Rosemary PR, rosemary is super good in sweet foods and you should definitely try it. I brought these into work today without mentioning the rosemary and everyone loved them. Rosemary aside, the chunks of milk chocolate are divine and the texture of these cookies can only be described as fudgey. These cookies are practically good for you, after all, rosemary is believed to help improve memory, is antibacterial, can lift your mood and help detox your liver, whilst orange boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure and can protect the skin. I haven’t researched the nutritional benefits of sugar and melted butter, but how bad can they be? Oh, turns out very. Never mind.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in American, Baking, Books, Chocolate, Cooking, Food

 

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Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

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The countdown to New York has well and truly begun. Not content with obsessively combing through my brand new yet already dog eared Lonely Planet guidebook, googling where to eat and watching any film that is set in the city (last night was the Woody Allen classic Annie Hall, most enjoyable), I’m also using it as an excuse to cook some classic American foods. Well, you might call it an excuse, I call it Very Important Research. Amongst iconic foods hailing from the US such as burgers, hot dogs and apple pie, buffalo chicken wings fit right in and absolutely deserve their place in this esteemed line up. So this is what I made, using a recipe from the February 2013 Delicious magazine issue, alongside Cajun spiced wedges and blue cheese dip, all from the same magazine.

Buffalo chicken wings hold a special place in my heart as it is, because they remind me of our last holiday in America, where after a long day out at the theme parks, we’d go back to our friends house far away from the Disney-fied Orlando and we’d all share a bucket of wings at the sports bar across the road. You don’t need fancy food to make happy foodie memories, sometimes all you need are chicken wings. Buffalo wings originate from Buffalo in New York state which made them even more perfect to cook in the build up. There are many different ways to make these wings apparently; for this version they were coated in oil, flour and cayenne, baked for 15 minutes then covered in a marinade and baked for another half hour. I burnt the 1st marinade horrendously after taking my eye off the ball (you cook it over the hob before covering the wings in it) so had to make it again from scratch, but apart from this oversight the recipe went without a hitch. The wedges are coated in a spicy, sweet mix and tumbled into a tray of hot oil, whilst the blue cheese dip is simply sour cream, Stilton, garlic and lemon juice mashed together.

The resulting dinner following this recipe was complete heaven. Delicious magazine totally nailed it yet again, reminding me why it is I have a big pile of them stacked in my bookcase. Their recipes deliver, time after time. The wedges were crispy with a crunch from the spicy coating, the skin on the wings had no trace of floppy sogginess to them and were crispy like the chips, and tasted marvellous. The blue cheese dip delivered with its intense cheesiness to counteract the spice in the wings, and the corn on the cob did a wonderful job of assuaging the guilt associated with eating wings covered in a marinade which consists largely of melted butter. Sticking with the American theme, I served this with glasses of cream soda and finished the meal off with slices of New York cheesecake (which I couldn’t be bothered to make myself). A real American experience and perfect wings to keep us going until we get the real deal. After all, ain’t no thing like a chicken wing.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in American, Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food

 

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Eat Your Strawberry Cheesecake, Fool

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Cheesecake. It’s bloody great isn’t it? As sweet foods go, it’s up there with chocolate, ice cream and brownies. The best of the best. I’ve made it my mission to eat cheesecake as frequently as possible, trying new flavours and textures, selflessly sacrificing those size 10 jeans in order to find the perfect one, one that could go head to head with the – so far- triumphant banana cream cheesecake currently residing at The Cheesecake Factory. Kate Moss once said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Clearly she’s never had cheesecake. What a sorry existence.

Loving cheesecake as I do, my excitement levels for our trip to New York is at fever pitch. Sure, sure, New York has super high skyscrapers, a fascinating history, amazing museums, excellent nightlife and the best shopping in the world. Blah blah blah. But it also created the perfection that is the New York Cheesecake. I’m not saying that the biggest draw for this trip is the food I’ll be eating, but lets face it, there’s surely nowhere else in the world where you can eat as well as in New York. Chinatown, salt beef and brisket sandwiches, bagels, Michelin starred restaurants, street food carts, BBQ joints, Italian-American food, endless food cultures, coffee obsessions, innovative bakeries, cupcakes galore and of course, cheesecake. I’m going to get fat and I’m going to freaking love it.

Knowing this about me, you can imagine my delight upon finding a recipe in Smitten Kitchen for Strawberry Cheesecake Fool. A new interpretation on two classics – the New York Cheesecake and the English Fool – with a hint of Eton Mess about it, how could I not give it a whirl? As a fellow cheesecake lover this also got the seal of approval from The Boyfriend, never one to turn down a dessert containing strawberries, cream cheese and a buttery biscuit base. It’s a fairly uncomplicated recipe to follow but has a few stages, one involves cooking the strawberries which appalled me until I got a taste of the super juicy strawberries that emerged from the saucepan. The point of cooking them is that you are left with sticky strawberries and a luscious sauce which you then swirl through half the sweetened vanilla cream cheese mixture so you have a beautiful pink mousse which tastes just like a strawberry cheesecake. A very, very good cheesecake. Layer all the different elements (strawberries, vanilla cream cheese, sugary biscuit crumbs and strawberry cream cheese) in whatever glasses you have lying around, top with a fresh strawberry and voila, you have a stunning dessert which tastes amazing. Like all the best cheesecakes, the cheese was light, fluffy and super smooth and actually tasting of the fruit rather than some synthetic version of a strawberry. The sugary biscuit crumbs gave the dessert some texture and crunch, and the strawberries just tasted delicious. A total success on a variation of cheesecake and a great way to use up all those strawberries on the supermarket shelves. And for an English fool heading to New York to eat cheesecake, it was pretty apt.

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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in American, Cooking, Food, Puddings

 

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Spice, Spice Baby

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Sometimes I think to myself what a world without chillies and spice would be like, and a cold shiver goes through me. Much like The Sixth Sense, Stephen King novels and Will.I.Am rapping, the idea terrifies me. So many foods would simply be at best adequate, at worst bland and dull without a little kick, and the worlds best cuisines would be nothing. A Thai green curry would be like dishwater, chilli con carne would just be minced beef and tomatoes. Don’t take chillies away from me, I depend on them far too much! Just a quick look in my kitchen cupboards tells you all you need to know about my spice addiction, I’ve literally got more spices than I know what to do with. Space consuming it may be, but the smell that greets me every time I open my spice cupboard and the fact I’m never too far away from a spicy meal or two makes it totally worthwhile. It smells amazing too, if only this blog had smell-o-vision.
Loving spice as I do, it was inevitable that a book titled The Spicy Food Lover’s Bible (by Dave DeWitt and Nancy Gerlach) would find its way into my life. I found it in the Notting Hill shop Books For Cooks, bought it and then realised it was only 10am and we still had a whole day of shopping in London to go. Fortunately, The Boyfriend has much better upper body strength than I do so he valiantly carried the book around all day to spare my poor, puny, non existent biceps. Isn’t he great? I love this book yet barely use it. Much as I like cooking, I want everything to be on one page and to only have to follow one recipe. This book often requires the cook to make up a spice rub or curry paste and then follow another recipe to include your homemade rub/paste. Admittedly, I can be quite lazy at times in the kitchen yet if you want authentic, boldly flavoured, spicy food you have to put the effort in and mix up something that would be exceptionally hard to find in your local Asda, and if you were to find it, would taste massively inferior compared to a homemade version. Good home cooked food isn’t always going to be easy.
One of the best things about this book is how hugely varied and geographically spread the recipes are. Of course you’ve got the obvious recipes such as massamann curry (Thai), Kung pao chicken (Chinese), tandoori murg (Indian) and fish tacos (Mexican), but its also filled with unusual, rare recipes from world cuisines you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see. So there’s stuffed Maghreb chicken from Libya, groundnut stew from West Africa, cucumber salad with mustard dressing from Germany and spicy garlic mushrooms from Spain. You’ve got the world at your fingertips. There’s also a fantastic section at the back with suggested feast menus using recipes from the book. Want a Deep South styled Independence Day, Hindi wedding feast, Brazilian barbecue or Trinidad carnival feast? Then this is the book for you. Not needing a feast myself I chose just the one dish and that was Louisiana Barbeque Shrimp. I made a creole spice mix which just involved me measuring out spices then grinding them up in my granite pestle and mortar for a couple of minutes until it became a fine powder. If you want to make your own spice mixes then you’ll need either a heavy duty pestle and mortar (I had a lightweight one from Tesco once and it couldn’t turn anything into mush so was totally useless. Go for granite) or a spice grinder. I marinated the prawns in the spice then went about making the sauce. Despite the name of the recipe, the prawns are not cooked on a barbeque and the sauce itself isn’t barbeque so why it’s named as such I’m not sure. The sauce is made using beer (Budweiser seemed the right choice what with this being an American recipe) that’s reduced down with some more spices, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice etc. Once down, throw in some butter to bind the sauce and give it a rich, glossy look and stir in your cooked prawns. Easy! The book compels me to serve this with white rice and buttery bread, and who am I to ignore such carb heavy instructions? It was Friday after all. This tastes ridiculously good. Not too spicy but with complex flavours from the spice mix (did I mention it was homemade? No? It was homemade) and coated in sticky, spicy sauce which was just fabulous for dunking bread in. One of our favourite prawn dishes ever came from Bubba Gump and was Cajun prawns with garlic bread. Every now and then one of us will just say out of the blue ‘remember those Cajun prawns?’ and a satisfied yet mournful silence will descend upon us, regretful of the fact that the nearest Bubba Gump to us is in New York. We’re 60 miles north of London, England. I’ve tried on so many occasions to replicate the sauce from this dish but have never managed to quite get it right. This recipe comes fairly close although is less spicy and more sticky than Bubba Gumps’ version. I would never have thought to use beer as the base for the sauce but it gives the sauce a sweetness once the alcohol has been cooked out.
Looking through this cookbook there are so many recipes that I want to cook, not just to give a neglected cookbook a much needed airing but because I’m curious as to what a groundnut stew would be like or Libyan chicken. Travel broadens the mind but as its unlikely I’ll be popping over to Libya anytime soon, I’ll have to travel vicariously through this fantastic cookbook.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in American, Books, Cooking, Fish, Food

 

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Meat Free Monday

So the quest to use my neglected cookbooks to prove The Boyfriend wrong, wrong, so very wrong continues. If I can show him that actually I do very much use and value every single one of my lovely cookbooks, then the better chance I have at receiving more cookbooks from him when Christmas rolls around. Forward planning at its very best, I’m in this for the long haul. Using these cookbooks also means that I’ll be trying new and interesting foods that I might not have cooked otherwise, which seems more in the spirit of things than wishing for presents, I guess. But you know why I’m really doing it.

Feeling in the mood for something spicy but fairly healthy, I called upon Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers and her book Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home. Her first cookbook – Mexican Food Made Simple – is a favourite of mine and has seen plenty of kitchen action but the sequel has not been so lucky. I made the banana, chocolate and nut bread last year from it and then that was that. Considering how much I love Mexican food, its surprising that I’ve managed to neglect it so well. I’d like to stress that if you’re tempted to buy this book, don’t expect to find cheesy burritos, fajitas or chilli con carne because a Tex-Mex book this ain’t. Tex -Mex food is delicious without doubt and I’d never turn my nose up at it, but it definitely falls more into Tex cuisine than Mex. I’d imagine most Mexicans wouldn’t recognise a Taco Bell style burrito and certainly wouldn’t classify it as authentic Mexican food. Mexican food is considerably lighter than its Tex counterparts and makes the best use of the fresh ingredients that Mexico is rolling in. They use tortilla wraps, yes, but the fillings are fresh rather than greasy and are often filled without a scrap of meat. I’ve never been to Mexico but Thomasina paints such a fantastic picture with her books and TV series of the country that I feel like I have.

From this book I made spinach and feta tacos and a homemade roast tomato salsa. You know you’re getting old when you look forward to coming home and eating spinach and feta, no sane child or teenager that I know would see this as an acceptable meal. Up until a couple of years ago I would have completely agreed, but judging by this dinner and how much I was looking forward to it, I have now matured, much like a blue cheese or a fine wine. It’s official, I’m old. The roast tomato salsa is made by chucking tomatoes, onions, chilli and garlic in a hot, dry saucepan and cooking until soft and ‘charred’. Basically, you need to burn your food. I was hesitant about this but Thomasina won Masterchef so clearly she knows better than me. I obediently burnt the ingredients and then blitzed then in my mini food processor (best £16 spent, by the way. I’ve made countless curry pastes, dips, hummus and now a salsa and wouldn’t be without it in the kitchen). Despite my reservations it tasted amazing, smoky from all that burning but still spicy, sweet and with a strong taste of roasted garlic. Thomasina recommends pairing the tacos with this salsa and she certainly knows what she’s talking about. The tacos themselves were more like sweetcorn and feta than spinach as after wilting in a hot pan then adding to the sweetcorn mixture the spinach had practically disappeared. I love spinach but its tendency to drastically reduce in size once cooked really ticks me off. I want more of the food I love, not less of it. Still, when served in corn tortillas and topped off with smoky salsa and crumbly feta you barely notice the spinach as there’s so much more going on. I’m not sure just how healthy they are, but with all the vegetables contained within the tortillas, no meat and only cooked in a small amount of oil, they surely can’t be bad for you. While I could never be a vegetarian for any longer than a day before I caved in to a bacon sandwich over here, I imagine living meat free wouldn’t be so much of a chore in Mexico. With chillies, corn, tomatoes, mangoes, pineapples, bananas and citrus fruits growing in abundance over there, as well as being a huge producer of cocoa beans, sugar cane and coffee, I think somehow I’d survive on a meat free diet. Although they do appreciate the humble pig in much the same way us Brits do, so perhaps bacon sandwiches or pulled pork tacos would get the better of me at some point anyway. Ah well, there are some things in life that are just too good to give up.

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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in American, Books, Cooking, Food, Mexican

 

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