“The kitchen is the heart of the home”, so the saying goes. When you moved overseas, you quickly learned that you needed to make some adjustments in not only language and culture,
but also in the kitchen. The size of your fridge and stove, the centigrade thermostat on the oven, the transformer for your mixer and the scale to weigh the butter to add to a recipe—these are just some of the things uniquely different when it comes to cooking in a foreign country. Many of us have learned that even though getting used to the differences does require significant adjustment, in time they will all seem quite natural.
It’s fun to try new foods. Shopping at an outdoor market can be exciting at first, but after a while, we find that there is something so comforting about eating familiar foods. We miss pancakes with syrup, marshmallows, peanut butter, taco seasoning, cake mixes, sour cream and on and on. Gradually, we find local foods that we like and we learn new recipes that work. Now that my husband and I have lived in Europe for nine years, I’m finding my “import list” (from the States) is getting shorter and shorter, not only because more foods are available around the world but because I’ve adjusted to life here. If you are new on the field, give yourself time to adjust, even in this area of life.
Isn’t it amazing that the same recipe you’ve made for years and years in the States doesn’t turn out the same on this side of the Atlantic—or Pacific. Why? Here are a couple of general tips I’ve found helpful in cooking overseas.
The flour is different.
There are complicated scientific reasons regarding the gluten content that I don’t have time or expertise to explain but I can tell you that almost every American recipe will turn out better overseas (at least in Africa and Europe) if you increase your flour a bit. My rule of thumb is an extra ¼ cup for every 2 cups of flour. (For other amounts, increase proportionally.) Muffins and cakes rise better and cookies aren’t so thin. Try it next time you bake.
Weigh margarine and butter for accurate measuring when baking.
Since margarine and butter are not sold overseas in those nice, evenly wrapped and marked sticks, it can be frustrating to measure the shortening for baking when precision is important.
If you don’t have a reliable kitchen scale, consider getting one. Mine weighs both grams and ounces—digitally—and I love it! Less expensive rotary scales are also available. Remember, a kilogram is roughly 2 pounds, so a 250 gram cube of butter is about a half of a pound, or one cup. Weighing is far more accurate than just guessing at how much to cut off.
Another option is to soften the butter and “squish” it into a measuring cup. Or, you might find it easier to use the displacement method: fill a liquid measuring cup with cold water to the amount you don’t want and then add enough butter to raise the water to the top. For example, if you want 1/3 cup of butter, fill a one-cup measuring cup with water to the 2/3 cup mark, then add butter until the water reaches the 1 cup mark; after draining it well, you will have 1/3 cup of butter.
You can make it without Campbell’s soup!
Granted, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup is now considered a staple in almost every American kitchen. But you don’t need it! Whenever a recipe calls for “Cream of Whatever” soup, I substitute it with 1 cup of medium thick white sauce:
Melt 3 T. butter. Add 3 T. flour. Stir until smooth. Add 1 T. bouillon powder or equivalent (for flavor and salt) and 1 C. milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Voila! It’s that easy!
Use this in place of one can of creamed soup. If you want, you may sauté some mushrooms, celery, etc. in the butter before adding the flour but I usually find it doesn’t affect the overall taste enough to bother. (Editor’s note: Two of Debbie’s delicious recipes using “Cream of Whatever” soup awaits you in the Globally Good Recipessection.)
Share your ideas on the field. Those of us who have lived overseas awhile can forget how difficult it is to transition to life overseas. So if you’re new to the field, ask your seasoned co-workers for recipes that work using ingredients available where you live. Mentoring in this way will strengthen all of us to live in joy, to make our homes a place of comfort as well as a place of hospitality.
Get some resources that help!
Several cookbooks have recipes especially for cooking outside of North America. O Taste & See Some More, compiled by me, has four pages of “Tips for Cooking Overseas.” Each of the 300 recipes gives metric as well as U.S. measurements—a great help when shopping for your ingredients. Check out my website www.CiaoFromDebbie.com for ordering information.
Are you struggling with cooking overseas? Got cooking questions? I don’t have all the answers but I’m here to help! Write to me, [email protected] and one way or another, we’ll figure it out!