Saturday, 1 August 2020

Cooking American Style


I feel like I went on a holiday around the US with this book. I bought a new cookery book a few weeks ago, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. I think she's pretty well known in the US but I first heard of her when I stumbled across the American DIY/Home Improvemennt TV programme Fixer Upper one night, and was instantly hooked. In the programmes, she and her husband, Chip, renovate run down properties for clients - he is the builder while she does the interior design (which I really like by the way, she has a great eye) - and it's developed into the Magnolia business in Waco, Texas, with shops, restaurants, a bakery and cookery books too it appears.



The thing about this book that you have to know from the outset is it's all in American terms, so weights are in cups, ounces and sticks rather than the metric measurements we use in the UK, and the ingredients have not been translated for a British market, so your courgettes are zuccini, your coriander cilantro, and so on. Some people might find this off-putting, even annoying, as there is a bit of translating to do as you read each recipe, but I saw it as a challenge and kind of relished it. I think there is something about cooking and cookery books that brings out my inner geek (not a lot does) and so I had a very lovely time indeed cooking from this book, which is beautifully put together with lots of photos and very clear instructions, plus a bit of history or context for each recipe, like if it was passed down from a family member. The breakfast chapter was large (and included a lot of food I consider lunch, like quiche) but I was really keen to try The Best-Ever Fluffy Pancakes. They are fairly similar to my normal American pancake recipe but include buttermilk, which makes them lighter I think. I feel traitorous to Nigella to admit this, but yes these pancakes were amazing. So light and soft, and the maple syrup soaked in making them almost cakey. I made them again this morning and they were just as good.


Next we tried Becki's Mac and Cheese, which differed a lot from my normal cheese sauce method. I usually make a white sauce, starting with a roux of butter and flour and adding milk, then add the grated cheese. Here, you cook the macaroni in one pan, and mix together milk, cream, butter, something called "Velveeta" (I just used cream cheese), cheddar and some seasoning in another, then you mix the drained pasta and creamy sauce together, pour into an oven dish and bake with more cheese on top. The amount of cheese it contained was staggering but it was so good, more like the kind of macaroni cheese you'd eat in a restaurant than at home. Probably because a restaurant macaroni cheese contains a lot more cheese and cream than one you'd make at home, now I come to think of it, but I do still dream about this dish sometimes. 



We ate it with Meat Loaf and a lot of green vegetables. I was really excited to try the meat loaf because I think it's one of those dishes that always seemed to feature in the American TV and films I watched growing up as a kind of nostalgic, homemade comfort food, and I always wondered what it was as a child. Well, it's basically a giant burger. It's minced beef and fried onion, breadcrumbs, an egg, some cheese and seasoning, all squished together  formed into a long loaf shape, drizzled with ketchup and baked. It was quite nice but didn't go down as well with John and the kids as I'd hoped. 


The appearance of my meatloaf may have had something to do with it, I don't know...



A much more successful family meal was Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas. This was not how I make enchiladas (which is probably the wrong way, to be fair); here, you mix together a jar of enchilada sauce with a tin of condensed chicken soup and some sour cream. I couldn't find the exact kind of sauce specified so improvised with what they had on the shelf in Waitrose, and I have never used condensed soup in cooking before, although I know often people do in casseroles or slow cooker meals, so I was intrigued. You make up all your rolled tortilas containing chicken, peppers and a little cheese then, when they are all snug in their oven dish, pour all the sauce over the top and bake. The result is a creamier enchilada with a lot more flavour than the usual way I make it. 


Another good find was Bow Tie Pasta, a really quick and easy weeknight dinner. While the farfalle is cooking, you saute some garlic then add cream and cream cheese to the pan, creating the base for your sauce. Then you add parmesan, loads of spinach and some sun-dried tomatoes and let the spinach wilt in the sauce, before mixing it all together with the cooked pasta.



You were supposed to add artichoke hearts and garnish with walnuts but, knowing how those two ingredients would go down, I left those out, and it was well received by everyone, although Angus did pick out all his sun-dried tomatoes.


Bella and Angus don't like risotto, so one night when they were having something different - probably chicken nuggets - we tried the Fresh Spinach and Leek Risotto. It's a fairly standard risotto recipe, but uses leeks instead of onion, then at the final stage where you stir in the parmesan and butter, add lemon zest too. I loved it, John less so, although he did take the leftovers to work the next day for lunch so it can't have been that bad. 


Now on to desserts and cake, always the best bit! I made Mina's Lemon Bars, which were a bit of a revelation. It's a simple biscuit base which is blind baked, then you top with sugar, eggs and lemon juice, and bake again. 



It's like all the best bits of shortbread, lemon curd and lemon drizzle cake all put together in a bar, and they were so good. However, I didn't grease my pan well enough and so the edges of the bars burnt and stuck on in a very unattractive fashion.


Hmmm, I thought, this doesn't look like the photo in the book. However I was able to chisel them out, cut off the burnt edges and they were ok, proving once again that dredging icing sugar over your baked goods always covers a multitude of sins. If I ever write a baking book it will definitely include lots of opportunities to cover your burnt cake in icing sugar, I feel it's my signature style.



Finally we have Bevie's Chocolate Roll, which is a like a chocolate log or Swiss roll. You're supposed to fill the cake with "Cool Whip" before rolling but I have no idea what that is so used whipped cream. Once the cake is rolled, you put it in the fridge for a few hours so that it's really cold and firm. I didn't get this - cake straight from the fridge generally isn't very nice as it loses all it's soft airiness - until I realised that the cake is served cold with a jug of hot fudge sauce, which you pour over the chocolate cake.



It is every bit as good as you imagine, and the kids said it had made it into their top three favourite puddings, which is quite some accolade. 

So all in all a very good book. I liked the Americanisms, I like that it all felt a bit different to my usual cooking and made me try some new things. I've found some very good recipes here and had a lot of fun cooking from it, although I might lay off the cream for a while.


*

Thank you so much for all your good wishes for my career change. It was so heartening to hear so many of you had made similar changes and that you enjoy the job so much. I know it's going to be a very demanding year, and that's partly why I waited until both Bella and Angus were older, but I feel it will be worth it. I definitely plan to continue blogging, and cooking, crafting and everything else that I love to do, although it might be fortnightly rather than weekly. 

So far we are having a lovely start to the school holidays and have been much busier than I'd planned, which has been unexpected but also wonderful. We've spent time with friends and family, enjoyed the weather, eaten out, explored our local area, gone to the beach....I will do a proper post soon. 

22 comments:

  1. You have been very busy in the kitchen . American style has never had much appeal to me. They often use soup and other shortcuts instead of PROPER cooking.I just dont get the meatloaf thing at all,the lemon squares sound yummy.Enjoy the rest if the holidays and stay safe.

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  2. I do love your blog and take on things ... Cool Whip is really a non-dairy whipped topping. It comes in a plastic tub and is found in the freezer case. I think it came out in the ‘60’s. I have a dairy allergy, so use a store brand version that has minuscule amounts of dairy, which I can tolerate. It’s more stable in refrigerated recipes than regular whipped cream and has less calories. Mostly, I think it was simply easier when it came out. If I didn’t have a dairy allergy, I’d prefer whipped cream. I’ve often substituted whipped cream in recipes calling for cool whip. As for the meatloaf ... there are several different meatloaf camps. Some free form it and others put it in a loaf pan. I’m in the loaf pan camp. You can use one specific “ground” meat, or a mixture of ground meats (e.g., pork and beef). The key to a good meatloaf texture is not to over mix the ingredients. This is a slight adaptation from my mother’s recipe. 1 lb. ground beef, 1/4 c. chopped onion, 1/4 c. ketchup, 1/4 - 1/2 c. milk, 1/4 c. oats (I used oat bran or Scottish oat cereal), 1 t. mustard, 1 egg, salt & pepper. Mix and press into loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour. I always line the loaf pan with foil. We love using cold meatloaf slices in a sandwich. Classic.

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  3. Okay, I am so hungry now! Everything you've made looks so delicious. I could so go for one or maybe two of those lemon squares right now! Happy weekend!

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  4. Everything looks so delicious! Your kitchen was a very busy place this week. Like Casey, I like to cook my meatloaf in a loaf pan and it's one of our favorite meals.

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  5. Looks like you had fun. If you find even one recipe you like and will repeat its a win, right? :)

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  6. I'm a Brit living in the USA and I must admit I like measuring a recipe in cups, so much easier. But for a really airy cake or something like that then best to weigh. Still most my cooking is in cups. Can I please come to your house, you have been cooking up a storm and it all looks sooo good. Take care, keep safe.

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  7. Being an American and Anglophile and loving your blog, this post made me laugh and read it to my husband even! Velveeta is the brandname of "soft processed cheese food", sold mostly in blocks but also in a glass jar. Not at all like cream cheese, but I'm glad the substitution worked out. Another reader already explained Cool Whip. Over here, it's almost unfathomable that kids wouldn't like meatloaf. It's a quintessential child-pleaser in the US. I'm at the other end of the spectrum: I love to cook out of British cookbooks (hello, Nigel Slater!) and puzzle how to put together "mixed dried fruit", substitute for Golden Syrup (which we can get, but it's expensive), and how to make a steamed pudding without real suet, plus many other similar conundrums. It's fun. Thanks for brightening my Sunday morning!

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  8. I always enjoy your posts, but this one hit home (almost literally, lol). I live in central Texas about an hour from Waco, so I am very familiar with Chip and Joanna and their various enterprises. I haven't bought this cookbook yet, but after your post, I think I'd really like to. Another commenter explained 'Cool Whip' so I thought I'd comment on the Velveeta - it's a processed cheese product that melts beautifully in sandwiches or recipes. It's something of a divisive product - foodies tend to hate it because it's processed, while many of us cheater cooks enjoy it now and then. Your substitution in the mac and cheese sounds like a very tasty variation. As for the meatloaf - my mom made the best meatloaf I've ever tasted. Stores used to sell meatloaf mixes in the meat department: 2/3 ground beef and 1/3 ground pork (I think they stopped selling the mixtures due to sanitary considerations). I can't remember all of the seasonings my mom used, but it did include lots of chopped onion and Worcestershire sauce. Thank you for the lovely photos and inspiration to try a new cook book, and for the little trip down memory lane. By the way, my nephew married a wonderful woman from Leicester and moved there with her a few years ago. We have an ongoing family discussion about whether mac and cheese is a side dish or main dish :-)

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  9. As an American I loved your descriptions of ingredients common to us. It's how I feel when I cook "English" :) Next time you make mac and cheese, use grated Swiss cheese in place of velveeta (I'm on the con side of this processed "cheese"). And make the meatloaf in a loaf pan or 8x8 glass dish- it should be able to be sliced to make wedges. I don't used any canned soup in my cooking- for a chicken based sauce, heat 3/4 cup milk, adding 1/4 cup chicken stock, as it slowly comes to a boil, make a roux with flour and a little of the liquid (I use cornstarch as I am gluten free). stir and continue to thicken as desired.

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  10. Oh the American kitchen! Love it though it's a bit rich on the calories. I loved to go to a drive through shop with my kids in the camper,and pick up freezer food from the department with intolerance and allergies. It's a wonderful country for that. I could drive a distance to a national park, pop it in the oven and eat with them. A salad next to it and healhty it is. It's such fun you explore all those cooking books. Looks good, better buy yourself a non sticking pan, you deserve it.

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  11. Sounds like you had fun! Weighing in as one of your American readers (from the Southeast): My mom always baked meat loaf in a loaf pan; traditional macaroni and cheese (from the back of the Meuller's macaroni box) is made with a roux like you use and with no cream and only cheddar cheese. I think canned soup stuff was popular in the sixties but I don't know anyone who uses it now except for mushroom soup in green bean casserole.

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  12. I'm Canadian, so we usually use American measurements, but in the last few years, I've enjoyed using British recipes, particularly for jam and chutney making. Believe me, you are missing NOTHING by not having Cool Whip and Velveeta. Both are highly processed and your substitutions would improve the recipe . My opinion anyway :) I find that lemon squares are always very easy to burn, so I usually bake them a little less time than called for. Love your blog!

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  13. all looks delicious - especially the bow tie pasta and risotto. thanks for sharing :)

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  14. American cuisine is not something I have thought about much but I am tempted to look through this book once book browsing is an option. Oh your cooking looks delicious, I'd eat everything with pleasure. I have read your last post but didn't have a chance to comment. Good luck with teacher training, I am sure you'll love it! Wonderful busy times ahead x

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  15. Velveeta is a gross "cheese" flavored fake food in my mind. Same with cool whip, which is a synthetic fake substitue for whipped cream. Neither of them can darken the door of my house! Cake rolls are sure tricky. Do you ever watch British Bake Off? It's always the most challenging thing!!

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  16. Wow, all that cheese and cream certainly makes the dishes sound very, VERY rich - and utterly delicious! I like it how you turned that into a cooking adventure, making it almost feel like a holiday. Having to do a bit of translation work along the way only adds to the holiday feel, doesn't it.

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  17. Looks like lots of lovely cooking has been happening in your family this week, your pictures are tempting me to buy this cookery book. It was interesting to hear what others have to say about the recipes and ingredients too. Thanks for sharing x

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  18. This all looks so delicious, I think that cooking from a book that is from different country is fun(sometimes), because you get to find out the different methods and measuring that they use. I'm in Canada and sometimes use recipes from UK and find them really interesting.

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  19. Reading your take on "my" American classics, made me realize how disgusting most of the classics really are. Or maybe it's just the ingredients. I don't like cream soups. I won't touch Velveeta or margarine. Cool Whip doesn't sit well in my stomach. I dislike most fast food/restaurant food. I like simple, straight-forward foods. And I'm totally intrigued with British foods/recipes.

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  20. Some definite keepers there. Cold choc roll with hot fudge sauce would be on my hit list too. Jo xx

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  21. As soon as I saw the name Joanna Gaines, I thought I recognise that name ... I too have recently discovered the Fixer Upper series on my Freeview box here at the Van, and I love it. It seems they are building a Jamie Oliver style empire over in Texas, with family at the very heart of it and I think it's wonderful.

    Your food looks delicious, and agree about dredging things with icing sugar it's a life saver.

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  22. I bought Joanna's book for both my daughter and myself but neither of us has used it yet, but we've both read it cover to cover. We love Chip and Joanna and their show so my daughter bought us tickets for Xmas to visit Waco and their empire there (we live in Southern Cal.) and it was really quite fabulous, especial her new resturant Magnola Table where they make and serve her incredible biscuits and fresh strawberry jam. Yummy! I grew up on Velveta but won't touch it now (nasty) as well as Cool Whip (yuck). I have one more idea for your next meat loaf, my mother's recipe. Pretty much the same as Casey's recipe above but with seasoned breadcrumbs or fresh bread ripped into small pieces instead of oats, a bit of fresh minced garlic, 1 ts Worcestershire sauce and fresh chopped parsley. This was the exact same recipe she'd use for her Italian meatballs that she'd put in her homemade tomato sauce. After the sauce would cook for a couple of hours she's roll the raw meatballs up and let them cook in her sauce. The most moist amazing meatballs I've ever eaten. And in America some even lay raw bacon stripes over top of the loaf as it bakes. Sinful! But for extra moisture and softness, my mom would use a lidded casserole dish to bake her loaf in and underneath it she's put a layer of carrots and potato wedges that she had tossed and seasoned in salt, pepper and olive oil. This way your entire dinner cooks in one pan and the moisture from carrots and potatoes keeps the loaf moist. 350 for one hour with lid on, then 1/2 hour with lid off. Delicious! When my children were younger instead of the potatoes in the pan I'd boil them and make mashed potatoes, a family favorite. Love your blog BTW!

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