Saturday, April 25, 2009

Domesticating the Anzacs

Today is Anzac Day in Australia - originally a commemoration of the WWI battle at Gallipoli in which thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops died (ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps). The day has become an important day of remembrance in Australia for the casualties of all wars.

What's the connection with food and cooking you may ask? Well aside from the obvious Anzac biscuits (or cookies to American readers - I've included a recipe for you below) there were also several cookbooks put out by returned soldiers and returned and disabled soldiers groups, particularly after World War I. While some of these cookbooks (like the Dinky-Die Cookbook above) appear simply to capitalise on the patriotic images of the Anzacs, others were published by soldiers themselves, or soldier's association .

These books were often amateurish and cheaply produced, by men with no apparent qualification in the domestic arts (possibly helped out by wives or mothers). They were often sold door-to-door. In some cases proceeds went to a central organisation, in others to individuals. The recipes are usually wide-ranging: the Coronation Year Cookery book, for example, includes several American recipes and a 'Mexican Tamale Pie'. Some are very simple (Pan-broiled-steak calls for Steak, 1 - 1 1/2 inches thick, butter, salt & pepper) but others quite complex like a recipe for Black Walnut Molasses Taffy. Some offer household hints: "The uses of salt"; "How to clean a velour hat", "Uses for old felt hats". What I find really fascinating about these little books however is not so much their contents as the juxtaposition between the traditional masculine image of a soldier and the domestic, and feminine, pursuits of cooking and household hints - one soldier even offers beauty hints (see photo below). Clearly there was a market for such books and they provided a way to legitimately earn some money. They generally include the author's rank and his regiment, so there was obviously no sense of shame in their production. Unlike their modern cousins, cookbooks like these provide insight into our past, their role in helping us understand our social history is possibly more important than their role in providing recipes.


125g butter
1 TBS golden syrup
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2TBS boiling water
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup coconut
1 cup plain flour
1 cup WHITE sugar

Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix bicarb soda with boiling water. Melt butter and golden syrup together (I do it in the microwave). Add bicarb mix to golden syrup/butter mix and add immediately to dry ingredients. Mix to a moist but firm consistency. Drop teaspoonfuls on a tray (they spread quite a lot so leave enough room). Bake until golden brown (around 12-15 mins). Cool for a few minutes before placing on a wire cooling tray.
I usually do a test bake of one biscuit when starting to check the consistency of the mix. The proportions above make a firm sl chewy biscuit. If you want a thinner crisper biscuit just add an extra tsp of boiling water and they’ll spread out more

Friday, April 17, 2009

Queen Victoria Market - Goat ragu and potato gnocchi

I love living in 'the hills' - we first arrived 25 years ago and our kids were born and raised here and went to the local primary school. The Dandenong Ranges are around 45 kms from Melbourne, still regarded as part of the city but remote enough to feel rural. Have a look on Google maps and you'll see what I mean: much of the area is National Park and most of the houses are well-established and treed. The air is clean, crime rates are low and traffic is light (except on Sundays on the Tourist Road). A series of small villages are dotted throughout the hills and in general people move up here because property is cheap and stay for good.

So it's a lovely place to live and raise a family. The disadvantage of this rural idyll for someone for whom food is an occupation/obsession is the dearth of a variety of good quality produce or 'exotic' ingredients. Yes, we have a couple of farmers' markets near by (usually on a Saturday when I am working) and we have a great biodynamic market in the village. We are also very lucky that Maxi, our local supermarket (not one of the big chains) has amazing fresh fish filleted on site as well as a good selection of Asian and European specialty goods. And since we put in our kitchen garden our vegetable needs are sorted.

However if I want to experiment with things like duck or goat or rabbit, buy authentic spices and trimmings for a Middle Eastern banquet, or even access artisan cheeses or smallgoods, I often have to travel to the inner suburbs. Whenever I visit Carly down in Highett, or go to my hairdresser in McKinnon, I always stop at Oasis Middle Eastern bakery and stock up on spices and staples and buy fresh pastries and flat breads. If I am going through Fitzroy or St Kilda, it's a stop at a bagel shop. And whenever we're in Melbourne proper, we always visit Queen Victoria Market.Established in 1878 (on the site of Melbourne's first cemetery!!) the Queen Vic sits on over 17 acres, and while stalls selling general tat have consumed a lot of the old fruit and veg stalls, there are still enough food stalls to provide a huge amount of variety at excellent prices. The deli hall is amazing with 4 specialist cheese stores, fantastic smallgoods - you can even buy the South African staple biltong there. There's also a great kitchenware shop stacked to the rafters with general and specialist equipment.

On the Easter weekend we had a 'stay-cation' in the city. We booked an apartment in the CBD and had a lovely couple of days wandering around our beautiful city. We went to galleries, explored some of the classic old buildings and laneways which are unique to Melbourne AND we went to the Queen Vic. My mission on this visit was to buy some goat. A recent article in the NY Times - How I learnt to love goat meat reminded me of a beautiful slow-braised goat ragu I had a few years back at that Melbourne restaurant institution Grossi Florentino.

So with this dish in mind I tracked down a stall selling goat meat and bought two large leg pieces (at $10.99 per kg an absolute bargain). Despite having around 4000 cookbooks in stock, when it came to finding a recipe I was stumped. None of what I regarded as the obvious international cookbooks had recipes (Middle Eastern, African, Italian, Greek), specialty cookbooks on meat were silent. Even 'the bible' - Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion, to which I can always turn for imspiration when I have an ingredient and no idea what to do with it - didn't consider goat an ingredient worth mention.
So I cobbled together a recipe using Maggie Beer's excellent advice in Maggie's Farm and my recipe for veal ragu (see earlier post). After browning the legs I fried together a sofrito of onion carrot, celery and garlic. I then returned the meat to the dutch oven with a couple of cups of red wine and beef stock, chucked in a bay leaf, covered the pot with alfoil and a tight-fitting lid and put it in the oven for 3 hours, adding water a couple of times during cooking. The next day I broke up the meat and stirred it into the beautiful sauce which the juices had made. - simple and delicious. I didn't find the meat particularly unusual - apart from maybe a slightly stronger aftertaste on the palate. I served it with homemade potato gnocchi using Marcella Hazan's advice - no eggs! I haven't posted any photos because making the gnocchi became a much longer exercise than I allowed for: by the time it was done I was not in the mood for plating and styling and cleaning up the enormous amount of mess which had materialised around me. All we wanted to do was dish up and eat!! I have decided to put gnocchi in the 'can I really be bothered basket'.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mucho Gusto: An old Argentinian Food Mag

My eldest daughter is currently making her way around South America. She has been gone now for 2 months and recently sent a goodies box back with presents for all. My present was a 1949 food/cookery magazine she picked up in an antique/flea market in Buenos Aires, where they stayed for 5 weeks taking Spanish lessons. What struck me about the magazine and its contents was how much it resembles similar magazines I have in the collection from Australia, the USA and England. My understanding of Spanish is very limited, but it appears to me from the recipe titles that the dishes are decidedly 'Anglo' or 'Gringo' - cheese scones, chocolate cake, chantilly cake, canapes, with very little in the way of regional recipes. Not sure what it says about the later development of a distinctive regional cuisine that we now understand as Argentinian, but thought you'd find it interesting.

Friday, April 10, 2009

One a Penny, Two a Penny: making Hot Cross Buns

I'm not a religious person, but I am a traditionalist and grew up eating Hot Cross Buns on Good Friday. So a brief blog today just to share a great recipe for Hot Cross Buns from Margaret Costa's Four Seasons cookbook.

It's not a difficult process - there's just a lot of time spent waiting for dough to prove and buns to rise. This morning I hastened several of these processes by placing bowls in a larger bowl of very hot tap water (ie not boiling water). It worked a treat, cutting times by half. You'll see I took the lazy way out with the crosses and took a small leftover piece of dough, rolled it flat and cut thin strips - I really like the effect. I also just used a scone cutter to cut out the rounds rather than forming each into an individual bun - that also worked a treat. Recipe is below the photos: I left out peel because I have a pathological aversion to it and most dried fruits products using it. I added cranberries with the currants just because I love cranberries. (Note: Starring role in today's blog for my cat Fred, whose interest lay in the butter, not the buns! Fred is 15 and much loved - but he does sometime think he's human and should sit at the table with us.)

Spicy Hot Cross Buns (from Margaret Costa's Four Seasons Cookbook, 1970)

1lb plain flour, 2 oz caster sugar
1 oz fresh yeast, 3 oz currants
Pinch of sugar, 1-2 oz chopped candied peel
½ pint milk-and-water, 2 oz melted butter
1 tsp each cinnamon & nutmeg, 1 egg, beaten
1 tsp salt

Sift half the flour into a bowl. Blend the yeast with a pinch of sugar and a little of the lukewarm milk-and-water; when it is frothy add the rest of the liquid. Pour it into a well in the sifted flour and mix well. Cover with a folded cloth and leave in a warm place for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile sift the rest of the flour with the spices and salt, and stir in the caster sugar, fruit and peel. When the first mixture has proved (nearly doubled in size), add this to it, then pour in the butter and egg. Mix really well with your hand, knead until smooth and leave to prove again, this time for about an hour.
Now turn the dough on to a floured board, roll or pat it out and divide it into about 16 pieces. Shape them into rounds and place, not too close together, on a greased and floured baking tray. Mark each round firmly with a cross, using a sharp knife, or criss-cross the buns with narrow strips of pastry or marzipan. (Bakers’ crosses are made with rice paper; one couple in South London makes them, by hand, all year round and supplies almost the whole industry.) Leave in a warm place for 15 minutes or so until the buns are well-risen, and bake in the centre of a hot oven, Mark 7, 425F, for about 15 minutes.
As soon as you take them out of the oven, brush them with a sugar and water glaze – 2 TBS sugar dissolved in 2 TBS water. Bake these on Good Friday to have them a their best. You can do all the mixing and proving the day before – cover the tray with polythene (glad wrap) and leave it overnight in the refrigerator. (BR NOTE: If you do this, leave the buns to reach room temperature before baking, last year I made my dough the night as Costa describes and baked them the next morning and the buns were much smaller and not as light as this year's batch which I made fresh in the morning)