Just in time for the quintessential American holiday comes a quintessential American cookbook.
“The American Cookbook: A fresh take on classic recipes” (DK Publishing, $25) is by Elena Rosemond-Hoerr and Caroline Bretherton.
Bretherton is a British cookbook author who recently moved to Durham. Rosemond-Hoerr is a food blogger at www.biscuitsandsuch.com who grew up in Durham and now lives in Wilmington.
Bretherton came up with the idea for the book, and DK Publishing suggested she find an American coauthor.
“I’m not sure how they found me, except my blog recently had gotten a lot of press,” said Rosemond-Hoerr, who had not written a cookbook before.
Biscuitsandsuch.com focuses on Southern food. Rosemond-Hoerr, 27, started it in 2008 right after college when she was living in Maryland and feeling homesick. “I thought I would feel better if I cooked by grandmother’s country-style steak, and that’s how it started,” she said.
“I was looking online and there weren’t really any Southern food blogs then. I saw a gap that needed to be filled.”
Since then she has filled the website with countless Southern recipes, most of which are her own.
That repertoire came in handy when writing “The American Cookbook.”
The book’s 150 recipes are like a cross-country tour but Southern food figures prominently.”Well, it is my favorite,” Rosemond-Hoerr said with a laugh. “And it is a very large part of the country.”
All in all, the book is fairly balanced in representing the different regions. But a lot of Southern foods and Midwestern foods overlap, Rosemond-Hoerr said. “And many Southern foods have a long reach — things like casseroles, or holiday foods. The sweet-potato casserole, I think of as Southern, but it has a lot of reach.”
The book is divided into five main sections, from appetizers to desserts. Most of the recipes include color photographs. Many also feature cooking tips.
The book also has five brief profiles of regional cuisines.
The profile of the Northeast focuses on New England’s fishing heritage, and its love of clams, oysters and lobsters.
The one on the Southeast talks about barbecue, biscuits, grits and other Southern favorites.
Chilis and beans dominate in the Southwest, and the Midwest is the land of wheat, corn and potatoes.
Finally, the profile of the Pacific Northwest talks about plentitude of salmon and berries.
Many of these regional dishes are covered in the recipes, mixed in with those dishes that are enjoyed all over the country.
Appetizers include tropical Texas caviar and warm artichoke and spinach dip. Soups include tortilla chicken soup and New England clam chowder.
Among the salads are fried chicken Cobb salad and a Waldorf salad. “We made the Cobb said for a boat picnic last year,” Rosemond-Hoerr said.
Breakfast dishes include huevos rancheros and biscuits and creamy sausage gravy. Sandwiches include the Reuben, grilled banana PBJ, fried shrimp po’ boys, and BLT with fried green tomatoes. “The Reuben is fantastic,” Rosemon-Hoerr said. It has this quick (homemade) sauerkraut that’s delicious.”
Entrees include bourbon and brown sugar BBQ chicken, Southern fried chicken, country fried steak with pepper gravy, three bean chili, sweet and spicy meatloaf and cornmeal-crusted catfish nuggets.
Among the side dishes are hushpuppies, edamame succotash, refried beans, green bean casserole and fried okra. Preserved foods include hot pepper jelly and refrigerator pickles.
Sweets include pecan and orange bananas Foster, chocolate bread pudding, Key lime pie, Boston cream trifle, cherry pie and peach cobbler, s’mores bars, and apple and cinnamon snickerdoodles.
Rosemond-Hoerr enjoyed updating a few of the recipes. Tuna casserole is re-envisioned as seared tuna with lima beans and pasta in a homemade cream sauce. “It has all the elements of tuna casserole, but it’s fresher, lighter,” she said.
Several recipes feature the classic method, but also include variations. The recipe for apple pie includes such variations as salted caramel sauce, streusel topping, or a substitution or pear and Gruyure cheese in place of the apples. A variation of mac and cheese adds tomatoes, basil, ricotta and Parmesan. The gumbo recipe includes a vegetarian variation with sweet potatoes and eggplants, and the Reuben recipe suggests topping it with a fried egg. A vegan variation of Boston baked beans replaces the bacon with almonds.
Rosemond-Hoerr said that the book was quite a learning experience, but she’s happy with the way it turned out. One of the biggest compliments she received was from a couple in which the husband is an accomplished cook and the wife is a novice. “He found it engaging, but she also could tackle any of the recipes in the book,” she said.
“The American Cookbook” not only amounts to a survey of American cooking, but also gives people a chance to learn something new.
Just as a Southerner might try cioppino — an Italian-American seafood stew from San Francisco that was new to Rosemond-Hoerr — a Californian might be inspired to make grits.
“I think it would be nice if it got people to experiment out of their culinary cooking zones or their regional cooking zones,” she said. “If it introduced them to new foods, that would be great.”