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Tag Archives: deep south

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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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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Cajun Chicken and Cherry Cheesecake

I love the Internet. Properly, well and truly in love with it; til death us do part, in sickness and in health kind of love. As much as I cherish my cookbooks, they’re not cut out for ‘renovation cooking’, whereby the basic means to bake, roast, boil and pull a delicious joint of pork out of the oven are cruelly denied. Please, put your violins away, I’m fine, really. Google, Pinterest and many food blogs have stepped in to replace the books and given me some much needed inspiration for my slow cooker and George Foreman limitations. The Internet, what would we do without it eh? Going with my love of American food, and Cajun food in particular, I plucked from the infinite depths of the Internet a recipe for slow cooker Jambalaya. I say depths, what I really mean is the All Recipes UK website, and you can find the link to the recipe here: http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/9410/jambalaya-in-a-slow-cooker.aspx . Being the total rebel that I am, I made a few changes while cooking it to suit what I had in the kitchen. Smoked pork sausage was out, pork and red onion sausages from the local farmers market in. Not authentically Cajun but they are delicious sausages and went really well alongside the flavours of the Deep South. I also chucked in some garlic and red chilli because let’s face it, nothing can go wrong when chilli and garlic gatecrash a party. You know it makes sense. Don’t feel you have to follow a recipe slavishly, throw stuff in if you think it will work and go with your tastes and instincts, cookbooks should be a guide and nothing more. I also halved the amount so that I’m not overwhelmed with frozen leftovers for weeks on end. If you’ve never had Jambalaya before, it’s a tomato stew cooked with chicken, sausage (traditionally this would be andouille sausage but it can be tricky to find on this side of the pond), prawns, herbs and rice and is really tasty. The word stew doesn’t really inspire but Jambalaya does and hints at the spicy treat awaiting the diner. I’ve made jambalaya before, from Jamie’s America, which was lovely but knowing I can cook it in the slow cooker makes it so much easier and for me is the better option – much less mess to clean up. Give it a go, its simple but tasty and a great one pot dinner as the rice cooks in the stew.

Waking up this morning hungover after a great night out, it felt like it was finally time to attempt making dessert in our makeshift kitchen, although with no oven Baking Sunday is clearly out of my reach. So Baking Sunday today became Cheesecake Sunday! I’ve tried my hand in the past at baked cheesecakes and have never been able to really do them justice, which is a huge shame as baked cheesecakes are far superior to chilled and hark back to Jewish tradition and give me that New York feeling. I’d eat baked cheesecake off the floor a la Rachel and Chandler if I had to, they really are so good. Still, a chilled cheesecake is not to be sniffed at and while lacking in fluffiness, it delivers in density. Not needing heat of any kind, I made cherry cheesecake from Nigella Express although in the end I was sorely lacking in cherries. A chilled cheesecake is really quick and easy to make, the only time consuming part is waiting for it to set in the fridge. I could not be bothered to get my electric whisk out and needed to vent some minor irritations and aside from kneading bread which is currently out of the question, whisking cream by hand is one of the best ways to vent. I’m not a confrontational person and its by no means a big issue but being made to feel like I’m putting up with a thoughtless, selfish boyfriend and hearing sarcastic comments from friends when The Boyfriend could not be more lovely and awesome is extremely frustrating. But being a classic girl means having a difficult conversation with someone about practically anything will lead to me crying despite the fact I am neither upset not angry, but just want to clear the air. I’ll go the cowards way out and vent on my blog then: The Boyfriend is not a selfish, thoughtless pig and I’m not a pushover girlfriend who has very low expectations. That may not have been how it was meant to come across but that was the implication and it was quite hurtful. And let that be the end of the matter!
Back to the cheesecake – it was supposed to be topped with a cherry conserve but I mistakenly bought jam, which may not seem like a big difference but conserve is chunky with fruit while jam is a smooth paste which while great on toast would not be so great spread on a cheesecake. It ended up being a plain vanilla cheesecake and while there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it really needed the cherry flavouring to crank things up a notch. It just tasted a bit plain and ‘meh’, nothing special. And there’s still 7 slices of it left, gah! I know everyone’s on a diet at work so I will apologise in advance for bringing in inferior but fattening cheesecake and hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me!

 

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Shrimp Creole – Putting on the Grits

Time to take  a trip to the Deep South. The cookbook this recipe came from I found in a secondhand book shop in Orlando, and with a title like ‘Putting On The Grits’, how could I not snap it up? The thing I love about this book is it was put together by The Junior League of Columbia, South Carolina and was printed wayyy back in 1985 so you know this won’t be a book you’ll see everyday. If you like southern food, then I’d wager you’d love this book. It’s stuffed with authentic recipes and the nerdy cookbook fanatic in me adores the fact that housewives (I’m not just presuming that women made this book, the back pages have a list of contributors and it’s safe to say 99% of them were women) in the year I was born put together this recipe and now all these years later I’m cooking from it in a town thousands of miles away from Columbia. You read it and you know only Americans could have made this book – there’s a few menu suggestions, ranging from occasions such as ‘Carolina Cup Steeplechase Picnic’, ‘Football Tailgate’, ‘Debutante Brunch’ and ‘Get-to-know-your-neighbours party’. I kid you not. This is just not something that the English really do, and thats part of the reason I love America so much. Generally, in the UK you don’t talk to your neighbours and you don’t say ‘have a nice day’ to everyone you see. If Desperate Housewives has taught me anything, it’s that when someone new moves onto your street you bake them some cookies or a peach cobbler, even if the neighbour turns out to be a serial killer or psychopath.  (But I probably shouldn’t judge all Americans by the actions of Bree Van de Kamp). And that’s what this cookbook embodies, Southern hospitality and some delicious cooking.

When I saw that this book included the recipe Shrimp Creole, I knew I’d have to cook it. Recently, the boyfriend and I went to Florida, and while there we took a trip with some friends to St Augustine, a beautiful coastal town which is also the oldest in the States. This town is crammed with great restaurants, but the one we fell in love with was Harrys Seafood restaurant. I cannot recommend this place enough, the food was amazing, cocktails boozy and atmosphere was one of a kind. We sat in the garden, fairy lights twinkling around the palm trees and a musician playing in the background. For starters the four of us shared fried green tomatoes (way better than I expected) and voodoo shrimp. This shrimp recipe I have been trying to replicate ever since getting back, but it has been impossible, which is a shame as they were the best thing I ate all holiday. The rest of the meal was still stunning (stuffed shrimp, scallops and crab encrusted fish with grit cakes), but nothing topped those shrimp. I was really hoping that this recipe would come close, but sadly no luck. It was a really nice meal though, which I would definitely make again. For a start, any recipe that says to cook the diced veg in bacon drippings is going to be good, surely? The sauce was sweet but spicy, with the occasional salty smoky crunch from the crumbled bacon. I could only get hold of little prawns this week, I think next time I make it I’ll use king prawns so it adds more substance to the meal as the little prawns disappeared amongst the sauce.

 

Food from the Deep South of America has only recently become a favourite of mine, but if you get a chance to taste real authentic southern food then do it. It’s ridiculously tasty, homely and unpretentioius and definitely up there with some of the great food cultures of the world.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Books, Cooking

 

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