10 Regional Foods You Should Try

Something called a Garbage Plate may not sound like the most appetizing thing to the uninitiated, but namedrop the delicacy in front of someone who’s spent time in Western New York and you’ll likely make their mouth water. That’s how it works with the most niche offerings of American cuisine. Region-by-region, state-by-state, and city-by-city, every local has his or her favorite, and every specialty menu item says something particular about those serving it up and scarfing it down. So we rounded up ten of the wildest, wondrous, only-in-[insert town here] food dishes in these great United States. If they don’t make your stomach growl, well, you just might not be from around here.

1. Reindeer Hotdog // Alaska

Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of resources: What does Alaska have that the rest of the United States doesn’t? A sizeable population of caribou, of course. And thus, the reindeer hot dog—like your normal frankfurter, but instead of beef or pork, it’s made of the creatures pulling Santa’s sleigh and topped with glazed onions. Locals and national foodies in the know point to M.A.’s Gourmet Dogs in Anchorage as the quintessential reindeer dog stand, and two Alaskan companies provide the niche meat. The specialty dog is slowly making its way to the lower 48 states, but if you want to avoid a folly, you’ll have to trek up north for this wholly Alaskan treat. So Alaskan, in fact, these dogs even get served at the Iditarod.

2. Frybread Tacos // Western U.S.

jeffreyw, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Perhaps known better by the less politically correct moniker "Indian tacos," these southwestern favorites are steeped in Native American history. The usual taco ingredients are the same—beef, cheese, lettuce, etc.—but the shell is what sets this dish apart. The traditional frybread is said to come from what’s known as The Long Walk, the forced relocation of Native Americans in the western U.S. to New Mexico in the mid-19th century, when the only rations available, including flour, sugar, and lard, became the makings for frybread. As such, it remains a hallmark of Native American culture today—and a delicious, if unhealthy, taco shell.

3. Food Drunk // New Orleans

The frosted, prize-bearing king cake itself is not a New Orleans original, even if it is a Mardi Gras staple. But you know what is? The king cake burger, courtesy of one ingenious food truck that had a stroke of entrepreneurial spirit in the lead-up to Mardi Gras 2014. In the true tradition of Mardi Gras, the individuals behind Food Drunk NOLA didn’t settle for selling boring old cheeseburgers—they sold cheeseburgers on a king cake bun. The idea for this sweet-meets-savory masterpiece allegedly came to the Food Drunk staff after a couple of drinks, and what’s more Mardi Gras than parading around New Orleans selling an idea you came up with while a few drinks deep?

4. Heady Topper Beer // Vermont

How about a beer so rare—and tasty—it inspires pilgrimages and black markets? Meet Heady Topper, a double India Pale Ale from Vermont family-run brewery The Alchemist. One of the state’s many breweries (Vermont’s 6.2 breweries per 100,000 adults was second in the U.S. in 2013), The Alchemist is perhaps the best of the bunch, but only produces a certain amount of Heady Topper each year, and limits customers to one case per purchase. And yet, with inspired hop flavors like grapefruit and pine, it’s considered by many in the know to be the best beer in the world. No wonder it’s developed a cult-like following, and contributes to the nearly $200 million craft beer industry that pumps barrels of cash into Vermont’s economy each year.

5. Rocky Mountain Oysters // Western U.S.

jankgo, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Farmers of the western U.S. are resourceful down to the very last bit. Some are so frugal, even, they can’t even bear to throw out the leftover testicles after bull castration, a common practice on cattle farms. What doesn’t get fed to the dogs on the farm is sliced up and deep-fried, becoming a favorite regional snack. According to a 2013 Modern Farmer profile of the “tasty testes,” some even believe the “Montana Tendergroins” (one of the dish’s many colorful names) give men a Viagra-like boost.

6. Hot Beef Sundae // Iowa

With millions of cattle generating billions of dollars for the state’s economy, beef in Iowa is serious business. Not so serious is this dessert imposter and state fair favorite. The hot beef sundae consists of a dollop (or two) of mashed potatoes drowned in beef tips and gravy, sprinkled with shredded cheese, all with a cherry tomato on top, in imitation of a hot fudge sundae. The hot beef sundae is a Midwest far-from-frozen delight—so much so that the Iowa Beef Industry Council offers a recommended recipe on its website.

7. Garbage Plate // Western New York

If you’re unfamiliar with the crown jewel of Rochester, NY cuisine, just ask anyone who went to college in Western New York. The dish that made original purveyor Nick Tahou a household name in the region is a late-night, post-bar staple. The Garbage Plate consists of your choice of meat (traditionally: cheeseburgers, Texas hot dogs, or the region’s own pork white hots) piled on top of a pair of sides (pick two: home fries, French fries, baked beans, macaroni salad), all smothered with mustard, onions, and enough hot sauce to melt even the heaviest lake effect snow.

8. Hoagie Dip // Philadelphia

What you call it—hoagie, grinder, sub, hero—depends on where you call home, but while the sandwich is ubiquitous, Philadelphia has figured out a way to take the hoagie back: turning it into a dip. The city that birthed America isn’t constrained by simple-minded white bread notions of what a sandwich should be. All the ingredients of the perfect hoagie are there (ham, turkey, the saltiest of cold cuts, provolone cheese, peppers, onions) chopped up and drenched in mayonnaise and olive oil, served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. That, my fellow freedom lovers, is how Independence Hall does a hoagie.

9. Hemp Milk Latte // Washington

As one of four states with legal recreational marijuana use and home to the national-headline-making Hempfest, it’s no secret that Washington loves the cannabis plant. But not all of that has to do with pot, as the kids call it. The state eyes all sorts of uses for hemp—a potential cash crop—and the plant’s seeds produce a fine dairy milk substitute. Perfect for, say, another Washington staple: your morning latte, from Starbucks or not. Yep, coffee and hemp milk—toss in some rain and you have Washington in a nutshell.

10. Hawaii Regional Cuisine // Hawaii

The 50th state isn’t concerned with just one of its dishes—it takes pride in all of its unique island offerings, from ahi and mahi-mahi to macadamia nut spreads that are slathered on everything. Which is why more than two decades ago, a group of Hawaiian chefs formed Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a “culinary movement” dedicated to preserving the state’s particular style of food culture, ensuring every dish has that Hawaiian spirit you can’t get anywhere else.

This Macaroni and Cheese Meatball Recipe Is Easy Enough to Make in a Dorm Room

iStock.com/LauriPatterson
iStock.com/LauriPatterson

It's hard to make creative meals when you're working out of a dorm "kitchen," but Daniel Holzman, the chef/co-owner of The Meatball Shop in New York City, proves that college students don't need to limit themselves to energy drinks and instant ramen noodles. Using just a coffee maker and a toaster oven, he's found a way to prepare an easy recipe for macaroni and cheese meatballs.

The video below is the fourth episode of "The College Try," a new series from Food & Wine and Spoon University that challenges chefs to create meals using dorm equipment and ingredients. Holzman starts by "brewing" his macaroni in a coffee maker. Once the pasta is cooked, he stirs in one tablespoon of butter and transfers it to a plate. To start making the cheese sauce, he adds two cups of milk and two tablespoons of butter to the coffee pot before retuning it to the warm burner.

Holzman prepares the meatballs by mixing ground beef, breadcrumbs, cheddar cheese, salt, and the cooked macaroni in a bowl. After he shapes the meat mixture into 2-inch balls, he bakes them in a toaster oven preheated to 450°F for 12 minutes.

The last step is the sauce. The chef whisks a packet of cheese powder from a box of macaroni and cheese into the milk and uses that as the base for his plate of meatballs. In about half an hour, he makes a meal that looks a lot better than what you can find in most college dining halls.

From microwaved omelets to mug cakes, here are some more cooking hacks for dorm life.

[h/t Spoon University]

Eliza Leslie: The Most Influential Cookbook Writer of the 19th Century

American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
American cookbook author Eliza Leslie
Wikimedia // Public Domain

If it wasn't for Eliza Leslie, American recipes might look very different. Leslie wrote the most popular cookbook of the 19th century, published a recipe widely credited as being the first for chocolate cake in the United States, and authored fiction for both adults and children. Her nine cookbooks—as well as her domestic management and etiquette guides—made a significant mark in American history and society, despite the fact that she never ran a kitchen of her own.

Early Dreams

Born in Philadelphia on November 15, 1787, to Robert and Lydia Leslie, Eliza was an intelligent child and a voracious reader. Her dream of becoming a writer was nurtured by her father, a prosperous watchmaker, inventor, and intellectual who was friends with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She once wrote that "the dream of my childhood [was] one day seeing my name in print."

Sadly, her father’s business failed around the turn of the 19th century and he died in 1803. The family took in boarders to make ends meet, and as the oldest of five, Leslie helped her mother in the kitchen. To gain culinary experience, she attended Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School in Philadelphia, the first school of its kind in the United States. Urged by her brother Thomas—and after fielding numerous requests for recipes from friends and family—she compiled her first book, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, in 1828. Notably, the book included the term cup cake, referring to Leslie's employment of a teacup as a measuring tool ("two large tea-cups full of molasses")—possibly the first-ever mention of a cup cake in print.

Seventy-Five Receipts was a hit, and was reprinted numerous times. Encouraged by this success—and by her publisher, Munroe & Francis—Leslie moved on to her true desire: writing fiction. She penned short stories and storybooks for young readers as well as adult fiction and won several awards for her efforts. One of her prize-winning short stories, the humorous "Mrs. Washington Potts," appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book, the popular 19th century magazine for which she also served as assistant editor. Leslie also contributed to Graham’s Magazine, the Saturday Gazette, and The Saturday Evening Post. At least one critic called her tales "perfect daguerreotypes of real life."

As much as Leslie loved writing fiction, however, it didn't always pay the bills. She wrote a second cookbook, Domestic French Cookery, in 1832, and achieved the pinnacle of her success in 1837 with Directions for Cookery. That work became the most beloved cookbook of the 1800s; it sold at least 150,000 copies and was republished 60 times by 1870. She offered pointers on procuring the best ingredients ("catfish that have been caught near the middle of the river are much nicer than those that are taken near the shore where they have access to impure food") and infused the book with wit. In a section discouraging the use of cold meat in soups, she wrote, "It is not true that French cooks have the art of producing excellent soups from cold scraps. There is much bad soup to be found in France, at inferior houses; but good French cooks are not, as is generally supposed, really in the practice of concocting any dishes out of the refuse of the table."

In The Taste of America, noted modern food historians John and Karen Hess called Directions for Cookery “one of the two best American cookbooks ever written," citing the book's precise directions, engaging tips, straightforward commentary, and diverse recipes—such as catfish soup and election cake—as the keys to its excellence.

Leslie is also credited with publishing America’s first printed recipe for chocolate cake, in her 1846 Lady’s Receipt Book. While chocolate had been used in baking in Europe as far back as the 1600s, Leslie’s recipe was probably obtained from a professional chef or pastry cook in Philadelphia. The recipe, which featured grated chocolate and a whole grated nutmeg, is quite different from most of today's chocolate cakes, with its strong overtones of spice and earthy, rather than sweet, flavors. (You can find the full recipe below.)

Later in life, while continuing to write cookbooks, Leslie edited The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present, which included early publications by Edgar Allan Poe. She also edited her own magazine of literature and fashion, Miss Leslie’s Magazine. She wrote only one novel, 1848's Amelia; Or a Young Lady’s Vicissitudes, but once said that if she was to start her literary career over, she would have only written novels.

A Uniquely American Voice

Historians have argued that Leslie was successful because she crafted recipes to appeal to the young country’s desire for upward mobility as well as a uniquely American identity. At the time she began writing, women primarily used British cookbooks; Leslie appealed to them with a distinctly American work. (She noted in the preface to Seventy-Five Receipts, "There is frequently much difficulty in following directions in English and French Cookery Books, not only from their want of explicitness, but from the difference in the fuel, fire-places, and cooking utensils. ... The receipts in this little book are, in every sense of the word, American.")

Leslie included regional American dishes in her books, promoted the use of quality ingredients, and was the first to (sometimes) organize recipes by including ingredients at the beginning of each recipe instead of using a narrative form, setting the tone for modern recipe writing. Her books were considered a treasure trove of knowledge for young pioneer women who, frequently separated from their families for the first time, often relied on Leslie's works for guidance.

Unmarried herself, Leslie never managed her own kitchen, and often had others testing recipes for her. She maintained strong ties with her erudite, sophisticated family, and lived for a time with her brother Thomas while he was attending West Point. Another brother, Charles Leslie, was a well-regarded painter in England; her sister Anna was also an artist, and sister Patty was married to a publisher who produced some of Leslie’s work. As she got older, Leslie lived for years in the United States Hotel in Philadelphia, where she was something of a celebrity for her wit and strong opinions.

Leslie died on January 1, 1858. Many of her recipes are still used today, but it's likely she’d be most pleased to know that many of her short stories are available online. Modern readers can appreciate the totality of her work: the fiction writing that was her passion, though for which she was lesser known, and her culinary writing, which guided generations.

Eliza Leslie's Recipe for Chocolate Cake

From The Lady's Receipt Book:

CHOCOLATE CAKE.—Scrape down three ounces of the best and purest chocolate, or prepared cocoa. Cut up, into a deep pan, three-quarters of a pound of fresh butter; add to it a pound of powdered loaf-sugar; and stir the butter and sugar together till very light and white. Have ready 14 ounces (two ounces less than a pound) of sifted flour; a powdered nutmeg; and a tea-spoonful of powdered cinnamon—mixed together. Beat the whites of ten eggs till they stand alone; then the yolks till they are very thick and smooth. Then mix the yolks and whites gradually together, beating very hard when they are all mixed. Add the eggs, by degrees, to the beaten butter and sugar, in turn with the flour and the scraped chocolate,—a little at a time of each; also the spice. Stir the whole very hard. Put the mixture into a buttered tin pan with straight sides, and bake it at least four hours. If nothing is to be baked afterwards, let it remain in till the oven becomes cool. When cold, ice it.

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