Sunday, 4 October 2009

There's more to American food than corn dogs

It all started with corn dogs. C had been reading the Wimpy Kid books and wanted to know what corn dogs were. I described them and told him that they used to serve them sometimes at the cafeteria at the college I went to in America. He thought they sounded like his kind of food.

He went to look through my American cookbooks, and was very disappointed to find out that not one of them had a recipe for corn dogs. Not even the fabulous White Trash Cooking. Undeterred, he went onto Google and found me a wide selection of recipes for corn dogs. But all involved deep frying and ingredients hard to source in the East End of London.

"I SO want to go to America," he said plaintively. "I would LOVE American junk food."

No doubt he would.

"But there is so much more to American food than junk food!" I exclaimed.
He rolled his eyes.
"Yeah - I know. You tell us that ALL the time."

A small exaggeration.

But it made me think I should cook more American recipes. The year I spent at college there, and the business trips I took there, all have so many good food memories for me. And I know I bang on about it to the children all the time, but there is so much more to great American cooking than hamburgers - very good though they are. I've loved watching the new series of Jamie Oliver's cullinary adventures. The episode where he travelled through the southern states brought back so many good memories - recipes for buttermilk biscuits, collard greens, proper barbequed pork and grits all had me shouting excitedly at the tele. I remember those!

So Friday night's supper became an American supper.

  • Maple roast chicken from Nigella Express
  • Corn on the cob
  • Home fries
  • Freshly baked buttermilk biscuits to mop up all the good maple syrup gravy from the chicken.

Buttermilk biscuits are a plain, savoury scone, made with buttermilk, and served as an accompaniment to savoury dishes. They are the perfect match to a plateful of gravy! The recipe I use is from Sheila Lukin's USA Cookbook.

Sheila Lukin's Buttermilk Biscuits

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening (I use Trex)
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I usually use half a cup of plain yogurt mixed with half a cup of milk)

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces and add to the bowl. Rub the fat into the flour with your fingers until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Pour in the buttermilk and toss the ingredients together with your fingers until they can be gathered up into a ball.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead very briefly (not more than 12 strokes). Pat the dough out to about 2cm thick. Using a sharp, round biscuit cutter cut out rounds, gathering up the scraps and re-patting out as necessary. You should get between 8 and 12 biscuits, depending on the size of your cutter. Put on a baking sheet and bake at Gas 7 for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve hot, split open and slathered with good butter or dunked in some gravy.

And for some more inspiration, these are the American cookbooks I own. I recommend them all.

We also love to eat blueberry pancakes, sloppy joe, burritos and homemade burgers. What American dishes or cookbooks do you enjoy? I'd love to get some more ideas. But maybe not corn dogs.


  1. Oh, corn dogs. Not my favorite American food either. The American south has such a great food history! But, most of it is meaty, and there is never a time that I wish I ate meat than when someone in front of me is eating shrimp and grits, or a fresh crabcake. Yum.

    Now that I'm in Oklahoma, though, there is food life here too...The Pioneer Woman is an incredibly popular blog, and her recipes are very American midwest:

    Hopefully that will give you some new ideas for non-junk American food (although I usually halve the butter in most of her things - heart attack waiting to happen!).

  2. We have biscuits for many a breakfast, and pancakes with syrup, of course. I remember eating a lot of home fries and home delivery Chinese food - so bad but sooooo good. Where were you at college? I was at UNC, and then lived in upstate New York for a while.

    I have to admit though, it'll be a long time before I eat battered deep fried okra again ...

  3. Oh, what an inspiring feast-I had the most amazing King Crab Claws in Long Island when I was 18, dipped in melted butter and served with tasty coleslaw and fries. My mouth still waters when I think about it. Possibly not that easy to get hold of in Waitrose, but worth a try! I am going to check out the book list now- I have to have the one with my name in the title!!x

  4. new england clam chowder ! love it xx

  5. Oh my, just read your blog and now my mouth is watering for Buttermilk biscuits!! I too went to school in the south (Tennessee) and buttermilk biscuits became a way of life....not so great for the waistline though!! I'm going to have a go at making them them now, thanks for the inspiration.
    Jane. x

  6. My abiding memory of American food is having 'French toast' for breakfast. I was amazed when it was put before me - a sweet doughy slice of carbs, coated in icing sugar and served with maple syrup. Not my idea of French toast!

  7. I lived in America for a year but was in the Pacific Northwest so a lot of those southern foods you mention are unfamiliar to me.

    But we had pancakes (hotcakes?) every single morning for breakfast and I came home a lot larger at the end of the year.

  8. If you guys come to visit, I'll definitely hook C up with corn dogs! (I have to admit a fondness for them. :) )

    Here's one for you, from trusty Southern Living Magazine (actually, I'm going to make this today!), a lightened-up version of Kentucky Hot Browns.


  9. I just don't think corn dogs are designed for the home cook. There are things you can only eat at fairs -- funnel cakes would be another. Clam chowder is delicious (New England is best). Baked beans are good -- I'm sticking with the New England theme. Plain grilled salmon or swordfish. I think lasagna is a pretty standard American dish, and spaghetti, too. Soon it will be thanksgiving, and that means turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, peas, rolls with butter, celery sticks and sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Followed by pumpkin or pecan pie. At least at my house -- then for the holidays you can have latkes with brisket (yum) or turkey again. Now I am hungry.

  10. I checked out corn dogs on wikipedia and they look gruesome!
    I do love american food though and regularly have french toast, maple syrup and bacon as a Saturday brunch treat. Plus if you cook authentic American you can have justifiably large portions!

  11. I grew up on Charleston Receipts, but discovered White Trash Cooking when I met my husband in grad school at UNC (Dotty, when were you there?). WTC is definitely a fun read. Just ask me about the lady on the cover!

    For Southwest cuisine, we love The Feast of Santa Fe - its very doable and extremely flavorful recipes work even with ingredients we can find in Prague. My favorite encyclopedic cookbook of U.S. cooking is The New Basics; I'm a fan of the essays of John Thorne's Simple Cooking; and for lyrical, siren-to-the-sailors, Americana fast food writing at its best, no one can beat Jane and Michael Stern.

    And then there was Gourmet!


Even though I often do not have the time to reply to everybody, I really appreciate all your comments so much - thank you for taking the time to read my blog and share your thoughts on what I've written.