America’s Family Recipes is a reminder that there are steps in cooking you just shouldn’t skip.
By Rebecca Orchant
We all reach a point where we think we know best. I would wager that every single one of us occasionally skims a recipe and thinks “I already know how to do that.” Usually, when I get here, I use the recipe for inspiration and go on my merry way, cooking as I would normally cook. This is both good and bad. Cooking with your own brain is one of the most important skills a cook can possess. You decide how much salt seems right. You decide how much oil you want to fry in. This makes us confident, makes us take risks and leads to delicious discoveries. But sometimes, you guys, you need to strain your damned tomato soup whether you want to or not. And sometimes, following recipe steps that seem finicky or unnecessary give you smooth, creamy tomato soup that makes you really happy.
This brings us to the recipe in question, from the America’s Family Recipes iPad app. I have to confess to you all, I approached this set of recipes with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. This interactive cookbook contains recipes for classics that we all know and love: tomato soup, chicken and dumplings, creamed spinach. These are recipes that each family mythologizes. Someone always has the best one. When I decided to test this book, I wanted to be as true to it as possible. I did no editorializing, no extra garlic or butter (please take this time to note how hard that is for me), I completed these recipes to the letter. When it came time to strain the tomato soup above, I will admit that I rolled my eyes. I will admit that I almost did not do it. In the end, I did, and my cream of tomato soup was velvety and clean-tasting because of it.
To be fair, this book is marketed to a person and a cook who is decidedly different from me. The homey motifs, scalloped edges and other details that scream LOOK HOW FOLKSY WE ARE almost made me close this app without cooking anything from it. Initially, I thought this would probably be a great app for someone looking to really work on their basics. If you like to cook, and want to cook things that everyone knows and loves, but need some direction, this is a really great tool.
It also brought me back to my basics, however. Reminding me that sometimes I should just follow directions. It was careful direction-following that allowed me to make the most successful chicken and dumplings of my life from a recipe in this book. The dumplings (which are pretty much like baking, so made me characteristically nervous) came out fluffy and tender in the middle, not like solid rocks. I have no idea how baking powder and baking soda work, but DAMN, put them in your dumplings!
The layout is simple enough. A page for introduction, a page for ingredients, a page of instructions. I do wish there was a way to show the ingredients list and the steps of the recipe concurrently, as switching back and forth when your hands are covered in food is a bit irritating. But the steps are easy to follow, the recipe proportions all seem to be correct. In future updates, I do hope they’ll give you an estimated time for the full recipe from the get-go. Initially, I thought the list of recipes was a bit limited, but did notice that there are further recipe packs you can add on with an additional purchase. The bottom line: this is a $0.99 cookbook. You’d be hard-pressed to find that anywhere else.
This book also happens to do something that I love: it takes those gloopy, terrible casseroles that some of us have special feelings for from long ago and tells you how to make them with real food. Not condensed soups. Not flavor packets. That’s something that home cooks of America could probably really benefit from.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium sweet onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, halved
- 1 (28oz) can whole, peeled, Italian plum tomatoes
- 2 cups chicken broth
- ½ cup water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ cup heavy cream, divided
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon freshly sliced chives
- Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 to 12 minutes until the onion is soft and golden. Add tomatoes (do not drain) to the saucepan and use a wooden spoon, or potato masher to break into large chunks. Add the garlic, sugar, bay leaf, chicken broth, and water; bring up to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat, and take out the bay leaf. Carefully puree the soup in small batches in a blender until very smooth. Strain the soup back into the saucepan; place over medium-low heat, and bring back to a simmer. Add the cream, reserving 2 to 3 tablespoons for the garnish, and stir to combine. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Place the remaining heavy cream in a small mixing bowl and whisk vigorously for 1 minute or until slightly thickened and frothy. Ladle the hot soup into bowls, and drizzle over some of the whipped cream.
- Garnish with chives and serve immediately.
You can download the app here.
Rebecca Orchant is a New Mexican ex-pat living in Brooklyn. She likes onions and pickles more than most people, stops in every diner that crosses her path and has been known to indulge in a cocktail or two. You can find more vinegar, whiskey and butter-soaked tales on her blog, Chronicles of a Stomach Grumble.