MIDDLE AMERICAN (USA) - Cuisine of the Quarter, Summer 2018 (Jul-Sept)

The votes are in and MIDDLE AMERICAN (USA) is our Cuisine of the Quarter! This is the cuisine I grew up with, as a native of Michigan and child of Ohioans on both sides. It feels very apropos to be posting this on the 4th of July, the most American of holidays, and I look forward to discussing the food of my childhood (and how it has changed and developed) over the next couple of months.

We celebrated the 4th at a friend’s lake house with the most classic of American meals - burgers and dogs on the grill. I made one of my favorite side dishes to go along with it, a totally middle American concoction despite its name - German potato salad. One of my best friends from college was from Pennsylvania and introduced me to this recipe, which I have been making ever since. Presumably the name came from the recipe’s roots in the Pennsylvania Dutch community, but I can’t say for certain. It’s not a salad that I have ever seen on a menu in Germany, though! I quartered red potatoes (skins on) and steamed them until tender. While they steamed, I cooked chopped bacon until crispy, removed it from the fat and dumped a pile of sliced red onions into the fat. I let those cook until they were soft and brown, then tossed in a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar and lots of vinegar (normally I use cider vinegar, but I only had white wine this time so into the pot it went). I dumped the hot dressing onto the hot potatoes, stirred in the bacon, seasoned heavily with salt, pepper and chives, and that was that. Serve hot or at room temp (hot is better IMO). This salad is always a huge hit and gets devoured long before the more typical mayo-based potato salads at potlucks.


Absolutely fabulous.

Another quick report from the weekend and a cookbook recommendation for those looking for an updated take on Midwestern cuisine. Amy Thielen’s book, The New Midwestern Table, is a really great read and packed with delicious recipes that are steeped in Midwestern tradition without being stodgy. http://www.amythielen.com/book/

My favorite recipe from this book is also by far the simplest recipe - the moment I read it I was both kicking myself for not having thought of it myself and salivating at the thought of eating it! She calls it “Maple Bread,” and that’s basically all it is. You melt butter in a pan, add maple syrup, and cook sliced bread (I always use a nice chewy sourdough) in the mixture until the maple syrup candies into a toasty caramel. Here’s the official recipe, but I always just eyeball it. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/amy-thielen/maple-bread-with-soft-cheese-2224757

I made it this weekend to enjoy as a starter course before a grilled meal of beer butt chicken and grilled broccoli. I served Port Salut and a lovely creamy blue cheese from Vermont for spreading on the bread, and both were delicious. The caramelized maple syrup takes on a lightly bitter edge and stands up to strong, tangy cheeses very well. Couldn’t be easier and your guests will truly think you are a genius.


Should be interesting. I’m just going to be a spectator (and learn from you).

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No brown mustard?

My friend’s version didn’t call for it and since my husband hates mustard, I have never added it. I would enjoy it myself, though, especially a nice grainy one!

Page not found, said the browser.

The link works for me - could it be an IP address problem since you’re not in the US?

Copy and paste the URL, I can see the page. But clicking the link, I got redirect automatically to the UK site. Very wierd.

I made gringo taco meat for dinner last night, which is about as middle America as it gets (although I did not use Old El Paso taco mix, which is really the most authentically middle American way!). For our non-US participants who may not have experienced this particular delight, “taco meat” in middle America is ground beef, browned and seasoned with a blend of spices or a packet of premixed seasoning, then typically served in crunchy corn shells with shredded lettuce and cheddar cheese. I grew up on it and still love it, even if there is nothing authentically Mexican about it. My seasoning blend includes paprika, ancho chile powder, cumin, garlic, onion, cayenne or another hotter chile powder and salt. I add some liquid at the end to help hydrate the spices - often it’s just water, but I sometimes use beer, and typically I pour in some brine from a jar of pickled jalapenos as well. Squeeze of fresh lime to finish.

Anyway, as I was digging through my spice cupboard, I noticed my bottle of dried dill sitting in the corner looking a bit forlorn, and realized that I haven’t used it in months. I tried to think of any American dishes I grew up with that call for dill, and couldn’t come up with one. Anyone have any uses for dill in American cuisine?


I make these a couple of times a year using Penzey’s taco seasoning. Might not be authentic but they taste so good!

I had a “duh” moment a few years ago. It occurred to me to mix the lettuce and tomatoes with the sour cream or salsa prior to filling the taco shell. The accouterments stay in the shell better and each bite is a little less fraught with stain producing danger!


I use dill lots. My favorite is to whisk some into Greek yogurt or sour cream plus mayo and add a little sugar, splash of white/cider vinegar, and celery salt and use it to marinate sliced cucumbers. Plenty of freshly ground black pepper, too.


Potato salad, cucumber salad, pickles and sauce for fish were the only dishes I recall from childhood using dill. Pickles were common, the rest less so.


Yes, dill pickles were probably my ONLY exposure to dill growing up! My mother doesn’t eat fish or seafood so I didn’t really get exposed to salmon until adulthood - and I do love it with a dill sauce! Is dill a common ingredient in potato or cucumber salad in America? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it in “traditional” recipes.

BTW, great idea on the lettuce/tomato/sour cream mix. That is genius and I’m trying it next time I make tacos in the shell! I remember always being annoyed as a kid that my canned black olive slices would go everywhere the minute I bit into the taco.

(blush) Thank you! That idea has made me ridiculously proud while simultaneously perplexed that it took over 50 years to think to do it! I was also that little kid who was frustrated that I couldn’t obtain the perfect bite.

The folks I’ve known who made potato or cucumber salad with dill generally seemed to be from the mid-west (Wisconsin and Iowa) and a few from Pennsylvania. Which led me to think that perhaps the roots were Scandinavian or Germanic.


Scandinavian, most likely, although I know Germans use dill quite a bit in their cooking. My parents are Ohioans of German descent and none of the family recipes for standard American potato salad (potatoes, celery, onions, sometimes hard boiled eggs, mayo based dressing with a shot of mustard) use dill to my knowledge, although I know some people who put pickle relish in it!

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What are the parameters here? Pittsburgh to Denver; Minneapolis to Houston? People in flyover country can’t even decide what that means,
and it isn’t any clearer now that I’ve been a West Coaster for 1/2 my life.


LOL, it’s true - the “Midwest” encompasses a BIG part of the country and is used to describe different things by different people. My husband (from southern Missouri) and I (from Michigan) both identify as Midwesterners but the foods we grew up with are very different, and neither bears much similarity to the food you would find in Minnesota (or Texas).


Boiled new potatoes with butter and dill would probably be one of the first ways I encountered dill. I think my mother might have sprinkled some on her mayo/egg potato salad on occasion and also on deviled eggs.

My use of dill in my own ‘cooking’ would probably have been on cottage cheese!

Texans in the northern part of the state might identify as Midwesterners, I don’t know. I would place the southern boundary of the midwest perhaps at the Kansas/Oklahoma line. I think most Texas think of themselves as Southwesterners firstly, secondly, perhaps as Southerners. But it’s a big state. El Pasoans are closer to the Pacific than the Gulf and may identify as Westerners.


Dried dill is one of the main ingredients in ranch dressing. That’s about as American as it gets.