Archive for September, 2012

Tater tot hotdish

Monday, September 24th, 2012

This is a follow up to my fried green potatoes post.

Morrison’s potato crunchies took some effort to get — the first trip to the store, they were sold out.

First Morrison’s trip: no potato crunchies

However my second attempt succeeded. I am pleased to report they are indeed very close to American tater tots, and not at all like croquettes, which are made of fine mash.

Tonight I gave them the real tater tot test; I made a version of tater tot hotdish. You can make it too. The recipe was the award-winning “Sen. Klobuchar’s (Winning) Taconite Tater Tot Hot Dish”, from the tater tot cook-off hosted by Sen. Al Franken last year for prominent Minnesota politicians.

I varied it a bit to make it more UK friendly and made it half the size to feed four people (while keeping the garlic the same because I am a garlic fiend):

- Lean ground beef (250g)
- Heinz cream of chicken & mushroom soup (1 can)
- Onions (1 very small)
- Garlic (couple cloves)
- Salt
- Pepper
- Mexican cheese, chopped coarsely (200g)
- Morrison’s potato crunchies (1 package)


Step 1: browning the beef while I chop things

1. Brown ground beef, drain off fat. Sautee onions and garlic.

Step 2: mix it all together

Step 2 continued: layering the cheese

2. Mix beef, onions, garlic, soup, salt and pepper and spread into a 6×9″ baking dish. Cover with half of the shredded cheese.

Step 3: arrange the potato crunchies

3. Place tater tots in one layer over the entire pan.


4. Bake at 220 for 30 minutes, or until tater tots are crisp. Cover with remaining cheese and bake until cheese melts (about 5 min).


This went down a treat, perfect for a chilly autumn day. Most importantly, potato crunchies are authentic tater tots.

And best of all, there were two of us eating, so there are leftovers tomorrow!

New theme

Monday, September 10th, 2012

Brick approves.

This is a quick shout out to my other half, Rory. Thanks for making my new theme more like Arkanoid.

The Most Hipster State

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

To round up my posts on the Midwest/MN, something bizarre happened last year. Minnesota got voted the most hipster state in the US. Given that the stereotypical Minnesotan dresses in sweatshirts and jeans two sizes too big for them, this made no sense.

There is a flu-like phenomenon, in which US fashion gets “caught” from Europe or Asia, develops on the coasts, and drifts in towards the Midwest. I’ve noticed this for years, when I went to Europe and came back, I was months ahead on some trends.

Example: royal blue was the bridesmaid dress colour for the Minnesotan wedding I was in this summer. There were royal blue dresses in all the shops there. I hunted up and down Regent Street and Oxford Street to no avail, only to have a Selfridges shop assistant confirm royal blue was last year’s colour.

So you can imagine my surprise to hear Minnesota was a nexus of hipsterdom, which implies being semi-fashionable. I came across the words “lumberjack-chic” in one article on the phenomenon.

The hipster state phenomenon was however confirmed by St. Paul friends, who never go to Uptown anymore. Full of independent coffee shops in big old houses with living room furniture, posh eclectic fusion restaurants, indie cinemas, and brunch spots, it is overrun with hipsters now and rammed at the weekends. Parking is an out and out war.

Given I used to hang out in Uptown as a teenager when I could only afford a cup of coffee to go out, that could imply hipster roots of which to be embarrassed. That or living in Camden and starting up a food blog.

Oh yes, food blog. Apologies for the detour, kind reader. Let’s talk about corn.

Baby corn FTW

Sweet corn is something to look forward to every late summer in Minnesota. People sell it on the roadside and at farmers’ markets, much like white asparagus in spring in Germany. Minnesota is the US’s largest producer of sweet corn.

There is nothing quite like corn on the cob, slathered in butter, on a hot summer day at a barbecue. This would be accompanied by some form of meat, or veggie burgers/veggie shish kebabs (I was vegetarian for half my life, will blog on that some other day), potato salad or coleslaw, and dessert.

In Europe, corn is more likely to be considered animal feed. Sometimes, people put it on pizza. Baby corn is used in stir fries. Corn fritters have got popular in the UK as a brunch treat, sandwiched between avocado and chutney-like substances and sometimes bacon, introduced by the Aussie/Kiwi brunch restauranteurs. Popcorn is ubiquitous but corn syrup is hard to find. Corn in its own right is just not that popular.

Apparently this is because European temperatures and terrain are not conducive to producing good quality corn. I bought some ears of corn at the supermarket (Sainsbury’s) this week in order to test whether the hypothesis that European corn is lower quality is true, so I will try them out and report back.

100 Years of Nut Goodie

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Back to the theme of the Midwest, another foodstuff which I often crave but is hyper-expensive in Europe (like liquid gold) is maple syrup. True, the majority of it is produced in Canada, but a good business still goes on in Minnesota/Wisconsin with local maple syrup producers.

Maple flavour goes incredibly well with bacon. This is a common brunch item in London – maple syrup, bacon, and American-style fluffy pancakes. I was recently in San Francisco on the waterfront at Pier 39 and found maple and bacon flavoured saltwater taffy. It was remarkably good.

If you like maple flavour, it’s quite good in baking, similar to substituting honey for sugar in a recipe but stronger flavoured. They make these maple-flavoured sandwich cookies in the Midwest that are shaped like little maple leaves, which are to die for. Maple extract is easier to use (and cheaper) than maple syrup and you can find it on Amazon.

Which brings us to Pearson’s Candy company and the Minnesotan Nut Goodie.  This is a disc of maple nougat, covered in salted peanuts, covered in chocolate.

Not quite as popular as the Pearson’s Nut Roll, which is simply a log of plain nougat entirely covered in salted peanuts — a restorative mix of salty and sweet and nicely portable for a sunny hike (nothing to melt) as long as it doesn’t get squished.

The Nut Goodie has a cousin, the Maple Bun, which you can try at Cybercandy in the UK. They also make vanilla and caramel variants. I recently saw the Maple Bun for the first time at Cybercandy and wondered if the Nut Goodie had been rebranded, as they are the same size and composition, but apparently with a slightly different recipe. It was sufficiently Nut Goodie-like.

Minnesotans are quite proud of the Nut Goodie and it is currently celebrating its centenary. Not only is the St. Paul ice cream shop which has made top ten lists of best ice cream in the US, Izzi, competing with other local ice cream shops this summer to create the best Nut Goodie-inspired ice cream in its honour, Pearson’s have also pioneered a new caramel sea salt flavour Nut Goodie this year. Can’t wait to try it.

Happy birthday, Nut Goodie!

Fried Green Potatoes

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

I come from a land between the US coasts – the Onion did a great piece about it a few years back.  I’m not sure if most Americans realise that Europeans usually only know the location of about four states: New York, California, Florida and Texas. I usually explain Minnesota as “in the middle, next to Canada”.

So as The Onion says, “these simple people were rather friendly, offering us quaint native fare such as ‘hotdish’ and ‘casserole.’” Minnesotan food tends to be bland and cooked to death. Hotdish is actually a type of casserole that incorporates soup (Campbell’s cream soups are the standard).

The most famous hotdish is the tater tot hotdish, tater tots being those tiny oily cylindrical hashbrowns also served in Midwestern school lunches. I’ve had croquettes and these are crispier, oilier, more textured inside, and more squat than croquettes. According to Wikipedia,  you can get them in the UK at Morrison’s under the name “potato crunchies” — I plan to try this in the near future and will report back as to their authenticity.

Food of the godsAnother comfort food from the Midwest is fried cheese curds. This is basically deep fried cheese. It is not good for you. I love it, in all its deep fried goodness, but I know people who don’t like the squeakiness of the cheese as you eat it (like halloumi).

If anyone knows where to get cheese curds in the UK, let me know — it seems like here you would need to make them yourself, which is complicated.  In the US you can get them in some high end grocery stores, except in the Midwest where they’re available at regular supermarkets.

With all this greasy food, I feel inspired to link to this is why you’re fat.


Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

A safe generalisation: every place and culture in the world has food (some more than others). People need to eat. Some similarities exist between most food cultures, like having a main carbohydrate source such as bread or rice, or having set mealtimes in the day.

There are particular quirks however, which stand out in the food of one group versus others. I’m talking about so-called “typical” foods, which are perfectly normal to the people who eat them regularly, but which can be a bit strange and wonderful, or off-putting to those who didn’t grow up with them.

An example of this is root beer. To me, this tastes like delicious, but I grew up with it in the US, drinking it as a soda during long summers and sometimes with ice cream as a float (and the bubbles in the resulting foam wouldn’t break, which was curious).

Root beer is made with imitation sassafras as well as other herbal ingredients (since regular sassafras contains carcinogenic compounds). To my European friends, who grew up with this flavour which is used in medicine and toothpaste in Europe instead of fizzy drinks, it tastes awful (and somewhat of wintergreen). Apparently this is also true of Quark in DS9.

As I’ve explored the world, and the culinary world, I’ve noticed some typical foods that I enjoy and I think are worth sharing. So I’m relaunching my blog with a focus on food.

Expect a bit on travel, lots about the food that I think is cool and why, and some on how to make or where to find my strange and exotic discoveries in cities like London (I live there now) and NYC (lived there four years ago).

When looking for root beer, you can find it in most Asian supermarkets in London (due to root beer being popular in Malaysia), and you can find multiple varieties at Cybercandy, which also has more obscure American sodas like Dublin Dr. Pepper (from Dublin, TX and made with cane sugar). Cybercandy has bricks-and-mortar shops in Angel and Covent Garden.

If I’m going to a film at Leicester Square (probably at the excellent Prince Charles Cinema to a double bill of something like Aliens and Predator, instead of the poorly maintained, overpriced Odeon cinemas there), I tend to pop into Nippon & Korea Centre on Wardour Street just north of the entrance to Leicester Square from Piccadilly, and get my A&W root beer there.

A fresh start

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

After two years of letting my blog lay fallow, I have wiped the slate clean and am starting afresh.

Crème fraîche!

Via GeeJo on Wikipedia

Via GeeJo on Wikipedia