Today I'd like to talk about food. Not just any food, but mostly the foods that I miss terribly, because as much as I love England and its people, the food just ain't the same! This week Gaby has challenged us with the topic of food, and I thought it was high time that I highlighted some of the things I wish I could get over here across the pond.
Texas "Southern" Staples
I cannot think of a better way to introduce the typical Texas meal than chicken-fried steak. Mr. Faff doesn't understand why it's called chicken-fried, but he's also kind of impossible and it's quite simple, really. It's a tenderized cube steak that you fry up using the same method you would use to make fried chicken. That is, dredged in flour, then an egg wash, then flour again, and deep fried. Think of it as the American version of a wiener schnitzel. Top that sucker with cream gravy (or what Brits might call "white sauce") and side it with mashed potatoes, green beans, and Texas toast (thick-sliced white toast, preferably toasted on a griddle with plenty of butter), and you've got a king's meal down south.
|Cheater picture - Mr. Faff's chicken-fried chicken breast with waffle fries. Not as good as chicken-fried steak served as described above.|
Moving on... let's talk about catfish. Southerners love us a good catfish fry. Essentially, we coat the fish cutlets in seasoned cornmeal and... wait for it... deep fry it. And it's delicious. Some of my fondest memories as a child go back to catching catfish and then watching my dad fry it up for a mess of people, because he loved to do that. Also, he made the best catfish ever.
|Fried catfish with fried gulf shrimp (prawns), pinto beans, cole slaw, fried okra, and french fries (chips).|
|Hushpuppies with two types of tartar sauce.|
Pinto beans and coleslaw are two staples of a good Texan diet. Personally, I like my coleslaw crunchy and not dripping wet, with a good vinegar bite and no stinkin carrots! As for pinto beans... well, I'll eat em, but they aren't my favorite. I'd prefer black beans, but don't tell the folks back home!
Let's talk about okra for a minute. Supposedly, you can find okra in the UK, but I've been looking and I can't find it. Also, it's kind of a pain to prepare. My two favorite ways are cornmeal-fried and pickled. Do not judge me.
Another true southern dish is hominy. A lot of people make fun of hominy because it's the main ingredient for grits, which is okay but not one of my favorite dishes. I prefer hominy served whole in a butter sauce. Don't know what hominy is? It comes from the Native Americans, who took field corn (or maize) and processed it with an alkali to make it corn swell up and get a... texture. Okay, no description is going to make it sound yummy, but I think it's delicious.
|Delicious, especially served up on the side of baked chicken and pan-fried potatoes.|
TexMex Mouth Fiestas
Nothing says you're eating at a Texas restaurant quite like seeing a bowl of warm tortilla chips and fresh made - if you're in a good place - salsa (made from cooked tomatoes, garlic, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro, which is the leaves of the coriander plant) or pico de gallo (literally, "beak of the rooster", a chopped, uncooked version of the same ingredients found in traditional salsas). Some places still put out bread, but frankly I can get bread on the table anywhere in the world. Chips 'n salsa let me know I'm home. As a bonus, my bestie will almost ALWAYS order a bowl of queso to go with.
A natural expansion from chips n salsa is a plate of nachos. Personally, I like them loaded up with ground beef (taco meat, see below), beans, cheese, and jalapenos, with a side of sour cream and salsa, and maybe guacamole if I'm feeling really PMS-y. As an aside, the stuff that Brits call guac is not guac. It's more like green gluepaste with some tomato flakes thrown in. Blech.
|This meal was low on PMS.|
Not comfortable eating a taco with your fingers? Fine, grab a fork and dig into a taco salad. This older, more shapely cousin of the taco is loaded up in a crispy tortilla bowl and filled with the same ingredients, usually with a lot more veg. Personally, I like it dressed with sour cream, guac, and ranch dressing (we'll come back to ranch dressing later, TRUST ME), but some people opt out of the ranch.
Another favorite quick-fix TexMex meal for me is the quesadilla, which was probably made most world-famous in Napoleon Dynamite - "Make yourself a dang quesadilla!" Essentially a flour tortilla filled with toppings and folded in half before grilling, my personal favorite is loaded up with cheese, pico de gallo, and grilled chicken breast, but I've been known to deviate for an interesting creation.
|This one had cajun blackened chicken - soooo good.|
|Soup is hard to make sexy in photos. Sorry.|
|There are two beef enchiladas under all that melty cheese.|
The "real" meaning of BBQing
Make no mistake about it, Texas is beef country. While we do have uses for the pig (uhm, hello, bacon??), when it comes to barbeque, we like our red meat to moo. A point of order here... what you Brits call BBQ is NOT barbeque. It's grilling. That big standing pit you put in the garden and drink beers around is a grill. That attachment at the top of your oven is called a broiler, and it's best saved for making cheese on toast, and browning the tops of your casseroles. Under no circumstances should you ever think that using these devices make your food barbequed. You don't BBQ burgers and hotdogs. That's GRILLING. It's totally different, even if you use an outdoor grill.
Sorry, got carried away there. But f'real. Texans take that shiz for serious.
Barbeque as a word comes from the Caribbean word barbacoa, which refers to a fire pit in which meat was cooked, slow and low. Anyone who has been to a Hawaiian bbq or attended a southern tradition known as the pig roast knows that it takes hours to cook meat in a pit. It is this method of slow and low roasting from which the word barbeque derives, which is why you cannot barbeque ANYTHING in 20 minutes. Sorry. I'm sure it's tasty, but it AIN'T BBQ! The only caveat here is if you use your outdoor grill as a slow smoker, or your put that meat on the lowest heat possible for many many hours. Then it could be barbeque.
|Chopped brisket sandwich|
When you think Texas BBQ, your first thought should be the pinnacle of roasted beef, the brisket. This is a cut of meat from the pectoral muscles of the cow, which has a lot of connective tissue and therefore has to be cooked slowly or heavily tenderized with a mallet to make it chewable. Successfully smoking a brisket basically melts all the connective tissue, so that you are left with a tender, juicy piece of meat that practically melts in your mouth.
|Clockwise from top left: creamed corn, wheat bread (my preference - usually it's white bread), dill pickle and white onion slices, smoked beef brisket, smoked turkey. Not shown: All the droolz.|
Alongside the brisket in a Texas smoker, you can usually also find sausage. Sausage is a HUGELY different affair in the States than in the UK - mostly because in the States we use the Polish and German style of sausages, and the kielbasa is king in Texas BBQ. UK sausages tend to be pure pork and typically uncooked. Our frontier-settling roots in Texas left us with a taste for smoked sausages that keep well without refrigeration (until cut open, of course - we're not savages!).
Also found on our fire pits are beef ribs - which are the bigger, nummier versions of pork ribs. Typically they'll be spare ribs rather than short ribs, and these are the only acceptable meats for basting during cooking. Sure, we do baby back pork ribs as well, but they're more common in steak houses than barbeque joints. Go figure.
|Baby back ribs with baked (jacket) sweet potato topped in cinnamon butter, and coconut-crusted gulf shrimp (prawns), served with a coconut chutney sauce. Yes, it was delicious.|
The subject of barbeque sauce in Texas can definitely lead to some heated debates about who makes the best, but what makes it a Texas sauce, as opposed to say, North Carolina, is the lack of two major flavors: vinegar and sugar. Of course, every pit master has his own special recipe and some may include both vinegar and sugar, but in Texas they'll almost always be background dancers, letting the tomato and chilies and seasonings take center stage. Also a good homemade sauce will probably contain meat drippings. I drool.
I would be greatly remiss if I didn't take this chance to talk about the differences between shopping in the US vs UK. Yes, in the UK you sometimes have to rent your shopping cart (or trolley, as they call em here) by inserting a pound coin into a slot that releases the chain lock which connects the row of carts together. You get your pound back when you return the cart and securely lock the chain back in place. That's odd enough, but it was only the least of my problems when it came to the differences in shopping between the two countries.
Let me start with a few of the things I can only get in Texas.
Because Texas was largely settled by Germans, Czechs, and other Slovak settlers, our food is greatly influenced by the meals they brought over. The kolache is a prime example of this, and it's rare to find them in many other states. Though the soft dough can be filled with any number of sweet jams and custards, my favorite by far is sausage filled. The closest I can get to this in the UK is a sausage roll, and while delicious in its own right, it just isn't the same.
|Breakfast? Yes please!|
|In this refrigerated case, American home bakers can find pre-made cookie dough, pie crusts, puff pastry, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, biscuits, pizza dough, and crescent rolls. I have found nothing similar in the UK.|
Also since giving up my big stand mixer in the move (along with all my corded appliances), I just haven't been motivated to make cookie dough. It's a shame too, because I can't get prepared dough here either.
Also suspiciously missing is the FROZEN section of bread doughs. I mean, seriously... how inconvenient to have to proof your own yeast dough? In the States, I can get frozen dough that is either ready-to-proof, pre-proofed, or par-baked. Either way, it eliminates a lot of time and mess in the kitchen and I CANNOT GET IT ANYMORE!
|That's FIVE cases of frozen bread dough products. Five.|
Aside from convenience foods, there are just some things that England doesn't do, like every good Texan's favorite ice cream, the best ice cream in the country, Blue Bell. You can ask any Texan and they'll tell you, Blue Bell just tastes better. It's creamier than most of the big brands, and the flavors call to our discerning taste buds.
|These are just the pint cartons. There's way more flavors, and what freak snuck that B&J in there???|
Now... I talked about ranch dressing earlier, but I'm sure most of my UK readers won't really have any idea what I'm talking about. It's basically the life blood of Texas. Originally conceived as a salad dressing, ranch or "house" dressing is a blend of buttermilk and sour cream or mayonnaise, and herbs and seasonings that can vary between kitchens. It's delicious, and it goes with everything. Brits... think of it as the brown sauce of Texas, only it's white and actually tastes nice. I put together my own jar of ranch seasonings, but I think maybe English buttermilk is different than what we get back home, so I've yet to perfect a British ranch dressing. You can buy pre-bottled stuff in the States, but I prefer making my own at home because the bottled stuff is maybe a bit too thick and gloopy for my tastes.
I'm going to close out this section with just an example of how even though sometimes we get the same brands in the UK, we definitely don't get the same product. British friends, take a look at what the Americans can get now:
Oh. My. Dot. Can this even be serious?? And those aren't the only flavors. There's also marshmallow crispy, peanut butter, lemon, and banana split flavored Oreos, and probably more. I can't even find a double-stuffed at Tesco, and that makes me sad panda.
In conclusion, food makes me homesick.
I apologize if any of this comes off sounding like eating in England is a horrible experience - it isn't. A lot of the food is very much the same. It's hard to find a new and different way to bake a chicken, or scramble an egg, or even cook a nice steak. Also, I've become a big fan of Yorkshire tea, sausage rolls, and crumpets (both the kind you eat and the infamous nail blogger). However, all those things not withstanding, sometimes a girl just gets a hankering for a taste of home. For me, "home" is a treasure trove of good eats, so my cravings can range all over the food spectrum, as you can clearly see from this post.
I hope you're all having a great week. If I've whet your appetite with anything I've talked about today, I'd love to hear about it!
Also if you'd like to see the other Food-based posts from the #2014BloggerChallenge, they're all linked up at the bottom of Gaby's post.