Thursday 24 April 2008

Australian Food?

I am often asked on other food forums "What is "typical" Australian food?".. and at first thought, I am always tempted to say meat pies, lamingtons and Vegemite. But the reality is that Australian food is so SO much broader than that. Historically, Australian food prior to the 50's was linked back to England. Australia was culinary, politically, spiritually, socially tied to King and Country. Our collective subconscious was Mother England all the way.

In the 50's, with the post-war immigration boom, and more importantly, the Snowy River Project,
The workers and their families

More than 100,000 people from over thirty countries came to the mountains to work on the project. Up to 7,300 workers would provide their labour at any one time.

Seventy per cent of all the workers were migrants. They came to Australia to work on the project, attracted by the relatively high wages. At that time, soon after the Second World War, work was hard to come by in Europe.

At first, most of the workers were men who had left their families at home in Europe. Their plan was to work hard, save money and bring their families out when they could afford to.

The work was hard and the conditions were tough. Because ninety-eight per cent of the project was underground, there was a lot of tunnelling, often through solid granite rock. Work in the tunnels was dirty, wet, noisy, smelly and sometimes dangerous. More than 120 workers died in the project's twenty-five year period.

Living conditions were also hard in the camps and towns built in the mountains to house the workers and their families. Often these dwellings were not suited to the freezing conditions. They were cold and the water would freeze in the pipes. When the workers' wives came to join them in the townships, these women had to work hard to overcome the hardships and establish communities in the strange, new, wilderness environment. When work in one area was completed, the dwellings were dismantled and moved to another area, so very little remains of these towns today.

The majority of the workers stayed on to live in Australia after the project was completed, making a valuable contribution to Australia's modern multicultural society


(from "Snowy Mountain Scheme: Australia's Cultural Portal")

From 1949 until 1974, Australia saw an influx of new cultures, new ideas and more importantly, new food.

The blonde, blue eyed migrants assimilated, but the Greeks, the Italians, the Turks all suffered at the hands of the White Australia Policy (itself a result of interracial tension between "Australian" and Chinese migrants in the 1850's. It was all well and good to have those "dirty wops" digging our power scheme, but to actually have them living here???

The White Australia policy is a term used to describe a collection of historical legislation and policies that intentionally restricted non-white immigration to Australia from 1901 to 1973.

The inauguration of White Australia as government policy is generally taken to be the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, one of the first Acts of the new national parliament upon federation. The policy was dismantled in stages by successive governments after the conclusion of World War II, with the encouragement of first non-British and later non-white immigration. From 1973 on, the White Australia policy was for all practical purposes defunct, and in 1975 the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which made racially-based selection criteria illegal.

(from Wiki)

It's a testament to the ingenuity and tenacity of non-white migrants, that they actually stayed, suvived and went on the thrive. And in doing so, sowed the seeds for the insanely multicultural food that is now available to us. Can you imagine Melbourne take-away without a souvki? The Manly Corso without a falafel bar?

Preceding this of course, was the indentured labour of the Chinsese migrants during the Victorian Gold Rush and the Kanak workers for sugar cane in Queensland. In Melbourne, the Chinese population survived in small, cloistered, insular ghettos in central Melbourne.

Arthur Caldwell, himself the son on Irish immigrants, uttered his infamous "Two Wongs Don't make a White" in 1947. (This quote, taken out of context, was to become the catch cry of the White Australia Policy WELL into my youth)

The arrival of Vietnamese "boat people" in the 70's and 80's saw yet another round of immigration and racism, which today translates as most Australians knowing what pho and banh mi are.

The history of Australian cuisine is the history of Australia's adolescence, the history of defining itself (ourselves?) as something separate from our "Mother" (Country). It's the history of racism. From exploitation to negation, to marginalisation to grudging acceptance and finally into mainstream society, ethnic groups in Australia have all held on to one thing. Their cuisine. And in doing so, have made "Aussie food" as varied as the iconic pie (thought to have been brought to Australia by *duh* MIGRANTS!) to Chili Crab, from the pav to Mongolian Beef.

The latest migrants to be vilified are the Somali's, but I hold out hope of mufo and baasto gelling into the Australian food psyche

And it's only very recently that Bush Tucker (traditional aboriginal food) has become mainstream. (But that's a WHOLE 'nother post!)

So, with all of this in mind, we FINALLY come to last night's dinner.

Mongolian Beef.

dry fry 1/3 cup of sesame seed until golden. Place in a mortar and grind with garlic and ginger. Add 3 chopped spring onions, 2 tablespoons of both dark and light soy and a tablespoon of sesame oil. Mix to a paste.

Take 500g of beef strips and marinate in this mix for a couple of hours. Fry off in a wok and serve on rice.

EXCEPT... (and here's where all of this rambling post comes together, folks!), because of the culinary history of Australia, here's what Furry and I did:

Make the beef up as above, serve with Hokkien (Chinese) noodles, wok-fried with onion and yellow caps (Generic Asian). Serve sprinkled with bean sprouts (Vietnamese) and hand-torn basil and coriander (Thai)

And had Blue Ribbon Vanilla Ice cream with chocolate sauce from Daylesford for sweetie!!

Australian Fusion Food at its finest!!

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Nam Jim Chicken

My Furry, bless his hairy little toes, is a WHIZZ in the kitchen. After the Double Heart Attack of 2005, he bought hisself a couple of low-fat cook books, and went from making bachelor food (wraps, nachos, etc.) to experimenting with other cooking methods and flavour combos. His Furry Balls (Pork Gow Gees) are a staple in our house.

He's recently re-discovered his cooking jones, and is now producing some SERIOUSLY good and interesting food.

Furry is an interesting case study in food and food habits. When I met him he "hated" sushi, didn't eat Thai and thought "Chinese" food consisted of Sweet and Sour Pork or Lemon Chicken. It's less a testament to his love for me, and more his inherent inquisitiveness, that he now produces some wonderful dishes. It's even more interesting to watch him change and modify recipes as his palate and his skills grow.

He's still a bit scared of high heat, of strange ingredients and of buggering things up, but I tell him no TRUE cook doesn't have a story which goes "so I thought I'd swap the (A) for some (B) and cook it a bit less than the recipe said, and it turned out crap!"

So last night, I was presented with this.. Nam Jim Chicken.. Here's Furry's take on it....

Take a packet of Hokkien noodles, loosen in hot water, drain well and set aside.

Slice 2 chicken breasts into strips and coat with a mix of grated palm sugar, a pinch of cumin and some salt. . Allow to sit for 1/2 hour.

Make the Nam Jim Sauce.

2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large green chillies, chopped
2 coriander roots
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons grated palm sugar
3 shallots (75g), chopped
¼ cup (60ml) lime juice

Combine all above ingredients and set aside

(adapted from the Women's Weekly Low Fat Cook Book)

Fry off the coated chicken fillets in a heavy pan until cooked. Set aside. Add a splash of sesame oil to the pan, and fry off well-drained noodles for about a minute.

Plate up noodles, top with fresh bean sprouts, chicken and torn up Thai basil and coriander leaves. (Because we'd had a discussion about Thai food and flavours and textures being such an intrinsic part of what Thai food is!)

Spoon Nam Jim sauce over the whole shebang and scoff.

Friday 18 April 2008

Brudda from anudder Muddah?

I know women who work together can be "in sinc", but bloggers??
Twice this past week, I have been thinking about recipes, only to find that the delightful
g o b b l e r has been there before me.

Firstly with his treatise on the humble, yet amazing Quince (of which I dreamed about last night) and then again with his recipe for Gratin Dauphinoise. Even his suggestions of paring it with a rib eye steak was a little freaky.

I'd guess it is because both gobbler and I both proudly and loudly advocate eating fresh IN SEASON local produce, so the chances of us both blogging about the same ingredients are not too bad.

But twice in a week??

I'd like to thing that the Universal Energy that binds (and sometimes blinds) all food bloggers has been working its majik through us.

Here's the recipe for the Gratin Dauphinoise. As for my steak, I took them out of their cryovac bags, and removed the weird little bone condoms (What the hell ARE those things, BTW?) and let them come to room temp.

My tips on the perfectly cooked steak can be found here.

I seared all sides in a cast iron pan, setting off the smoke alarms, and then because they were so incredibly thick, I whacked the in the oven next to the Gratin Dauphinoise. Furry's for 10 minutes, and mine for 5.

They were perfect!!

2008 is the Year Of The Potato (apparently), and this dish is unbelievably easy and fabulous for these cooooool Autumn nights.


Bah.. Just realised that I have left my camera uploady cord thingy at home. Pics later today.

Monday 14 April 2008

Quince and Bergamot Fool

My very first experience of the Quince was some 20 years ago, when my beloved Hobbit and Mater Beige took me on a day-trip to Gulf Station, an heritage listed farm on the outskirts of Eastern Melbourne.

As we were walking back across the old orchard, my father cried out "Oh, look!! Quinces!! My favorite fruit!"

In order to experience whatever it was that made my father cry out in such wonder, I picked a windfall quince and promptly bit into it. (Mater Beige remembers The Hobbit doing the same thing. I have no recollection of that, nor anything after I sunk my teeth into the raw quince)

It was as if every salivary gland in my mouth not only constricted, but actually inverted back upon itself, creating a million microscopic vacuums in my mouth.

My head nearly caved in on itself, my mouth was a veritable black hole of quince-flavoured anti-matter.

It was years before I tried one again.

Maggie Beer and her quince paste were my gate-way drug back into the aromatic, sensual world of the COOKED quince.

Over the years, the quince has been derided as the Fruit of Original Sin, honoured as The Fruit of Love. g o b b l e r has a wonderful scree here about this oft maligned fruit.

So it was with wonder, and no small sense of foreboding, I bought some quinces from my local organic shop on Saturday. Heng was unable to tell me EXACTLY what type of quince it was, but I suspect it was a Smyrna, as it lacked the discernable "tropical" smell of the Pineapple quince.

After much consultation, decided on George Biron's Quince and Jasmine Fool... but as is my want, I decided to do a little tweaking to his basic recipe.

I didn't peel the quinces (3, equaling 1.4kgs uncooked) , but did core them, and cut them into random bits. These I put into my crockpot with 1/2 a bottle of Muscat, 100mls of honey and 1/2 cup raw sugar.

I left these to cook on slow for 14 hours, at which stage they had developed that succulent, meaty, ruby red goodness and my house was permeated with that indescribable warm candy aroma that is a cooked quince.

I had no Jasmine tea at home, and didn't relish fighting the Mongol Hordes at the Glen, simply for a random handful of it.

Now, I've never claimed to be a "supertaster" but I do have an uncanny ability to be able to differentiate flavours and spices in complex stews/curried/casseroles, and I **ahem** taste in colour.

I don't actually know how to describe it, but if I read a recipe, or hear someone say "I cooked the onions in OO until golden", I can taste that. And then someone might add "And then I threw in some bacon", and as I read or hear that, I can physically taste the change in my mouth and the "colour" of the flavour changes.

So, with a mouthful of the stewed quinces, I stuck my nose into my collection of teas.

I rejected the ginger and lemon, the red currant, the Rooibos tea, but as I took a big nozzie of the Earl Grey tea, and the idea took place.

Over the still-simmering quinces, I placed a stainless steel bowl and in it poured 400ml of King Island Cream, into which I threw 3 Earl Grey (Twinings, I think!) tea bags. I covered the bowl with a lid and left it to sit and steep for about 2 hours.

On removing the teabags, I squeeze a disturbingly oily brown liquid into my (very expensive) cream.

The result was a heady Bergamot aroma that married amazingly well with the quinces.

I beat the cream to stiff peaks., folded in 400 mls of custard (sans vanilla pods)

The result was an headyingly aromatic (perfumatic?) marriage.

I delicately folded the now-cooled and slightly mashed quinces through the custard mix and then drizzled the top with thick, ruby-port, life-blood deep red juice.


Friday 11 April 2008

Canadian Wild Smoked Salmon

We are lucky enough to have, by virtue of the Internet, made friends around the world. So last week marked our second visit from Canadian friends, Lil and Marc. And knowing Furry and I as they do, they presented us with a HUGE box of Canadian Wild Smoked Salmon. I was verily aquiver with anticipation at eating this delux delight!! (We had previously scoffed their offering of Elk and Whiskey Pate.... le swooooooon!)

I had originally planned to go with some sourdough bread, the salmon and a perfectly poached egg, but after Agnes's wonderful offering of home-made bagels, lox and cream cheese, I had a hankering for something different.

So I asked my wise and worldly friends at Chowhound, who came up with the idea of doing ti Japanese-style. Thinly sliced at room temp, on hot steamed rice, with dipping sauces of terryaki, fresh ginger and lime juice. I also added a dipping sauce of light soy and wasabi.

There we were. Furry and I, ready to chow down.....

and then we opened the salmon....

Rather than being the light, orange, SLICE-ABLE fillet we expected, we were faced with a deep, dense meaty slab more reminiscent of a smoked mackerel. There was absolutely no way we could slice it. It was flaky and dense, redolent with the alder smoke.

It was absolutely divine, but NOT suited to the purpose of slicing and not really suited to the light Japanese flavours I had to accompany it.

Think double-smoked trout, or those lovely oily/dry meaty fish you can get in Greek deli's.

It probably went better with the ginger and lime dipping sauce than it did with the darker soy and wasabi. Eventually, I poured the dipping sauce over my rice, ate that separately and then tucked into the salmon as a finger lickin' snack of its own.

I had entertained ideas of blinis with creme fraiche and caviar, but I think this meat is even to heavy for that.

This salmon is not fit for dainty morsels and subtle flavours, this is a salmon to chow down on in the middle of the Canadian winter before you jump on your trusty steed, all Dudley Do-Right and wade thru 20ft snow drifts to save Miss Nell from Darstadly Dan!

Luckily, there is about 1/2 left, so next time, I am going to go with a more Scandinavian idea... or maybe back to the original of sourdough and poached eggs.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Bloggers Banquet.. the recipes

Fig, Blue Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart.

Take 3 large red onions, slice very fine on a V slicer. Sautee until very golden in unsalted butter. While they're bubbling away, use some of the melted butter to grease a large baking tray. Divide a packet of good quality phylo pasty into 1/4's. On this tray, lay a 1/4 of a packet of phylo pastry. Brush with melted butter. Roll the 3 remaining 1/4's into sausages (for the sides of the tart. 2 rolls will be exactly long enough and one will need to be cut in 1/2)

**NOTE** In all the excitement, I forgot to brush the rolls as I went, as I was rolling them up... This meant when I served it, the sides of the tart were dry and a bit nasty. Note to self.. brush butter as you roll!!

Place sides on base to form tart case. Brush with melted butter.

When onions are done, taste test for sweetness. Mine weren't as sweet as I had hoped, so I added a little home made Balsamic reduction. Spread the onions evenly over the tart case. Sprinkle with fresh thyme (from my own garden). Top with crumbled blue cheese (in this case Red Hill Cheese's "Granny's Blue" ), 8 figs, (also from my garden) quartered and a further drizzle of Balsamic reduction.

Bake at 180C for 20 minutes until pastry is golden. Allow to cool to room temp and serve.

Now THIS recipe was the funniest event of BB II! I had defrosted a rolled roast of lamb from Rutherglen Lamb, just incases we didn't have enough food (like, riiiiight, as my 16 year old daughter would say!) My theory was, that if I didn't use it for BB, we had gorgeous friends out from Canada, so I'd use it sometime over the weekend.

So there is was, sitting forlornly in the fridge.

And as I watched each new blogger come in, each seemingly carrying ANOTHER SWEET TREAT, I got more and more aprehensive! Thanh and his lemon/white chocolate/coconut cake (although he did bring poor man's potato's as well!), Vida with her Oblatna, Michael with his Chocolate & cream cheese Brownies (Thank goodness for Cindy's tofu balls!), Jon with his chocolate ganache tarts, Duncan with his macarons, Claire's Layered freeform cheescake with stewed cherries, rhubarb and hazelnut brittle..

Agnes was my only hope, and she bought smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and carmelised onion tarts!

Hurriedly, I grabbed some random ingredients, a couple of anchovies, some sundried tomatoes, a woj of fetta, some black olives and stuffed the roll with said ingredients, I grabbed some fresh oregano from the garden and mashed it with some olive oil and smeared the whole shebang with it.

Popped it into the wood fired oven for about 2 hours and voila!!

Let's do it again some time, yes??

Photos courtesy of Jon from Melbourne Foodie.

Bloggers Banquet, The Sequel.

Cindy and Michael - Where's the beef

Thanh's - I Eat Therefore I am

Agnes - Off the Spork

Vida - Vida at Penthouse 2

Claire - Melbourne Gastronome

Duncan - Syrup & Tang

Jon - Melbourne Foodie

All the above attended Bloggers Banquet II, this Saturday past at Chez Fur.

What a hoot, guys!!

I hope I haven't upset too many of you with my childhood culinary tales, and Duncan.. I checked the freezer. They were indeed Marathon dimmies.

I hung my head in shame.

I can't tell you how chuffed we were with all the left overs, guys!! Claire's free-form cheesecake didn't look as nice the next day, but MAN, did it taste good.

Jon's chocolate ganache tarts were lovely for breakfast, along with Thanh's white chocolate, lemon and coconut cake.

Agnes gets my vote for "I would NEVER have attempted that, and I am utterly impressed!" award with her bagels, the honey note being more pronounced the next day.

Let's do it again soon.

And just waiting for permission to nick some photos from other people, before I post my recipes, as guess which idiot forgot to get out the camera?? (**insert embarrassed shuffling**)

Menu for Hope. Winners Feedback.

Dear Ella and Ray,

Thanks so much for the use of Chez Fur du Mer this past weekend. We
really enjoyed having the base in Dromana for exploring the
Peninsula. You'll be pleased to know we spent most of our time
eating, or so it seemed. But we didn't get to the Tasting Station or
Darling Park Winery, so we'll have to go back for those another time.
We did have great coffee/meals in Dromana (including dinner at Two
Buoys), and got to Sorrento for breakfast. We also went to
Queenscliffe by ferry, and had another great meal there.

Your home is the perfect place to relax. We especially enjoyed
sitting in the garden (glass of wine in hand of course) reading the
newspapers and watching the birds. It was good to have the tutorial
on the light switches, I don't think we'd have found the one over the
doorway on our own.

Thanks again, it was a treat!


Friday 4 April 2008

SOLE sistas (and bruffers)

FANTASTIC tasting platter from Darling Park winery

lamb cutlets from Rutherglen lamb

What I have discovered is that SOLE/localvore is easy. Easy as asking questions. What I have also discovered is that, apart from Google, there is no easy way to find a list of suppliers or products that come under the SOLE umbrella. So here's the deal. Rather that have a list of recipes here on the blog, I am going to list all the food purveyors I know of. either having tried myself, or recommended by YOU!!

So, in my comments here, list your fave SOLE/localvore supplier, and we'll get a list going that other people can used.

Share your knowledge, guys, and spread the word.

I want names, addresses, telephone numbers, HOW it fits into SOLE and why you recommend it.

Hit me with your best shots!!