Category Archives: Australia

Mince Memories

When I first moved to Australia I was amazed at how mince tarts were everywhere at Christmas.  When I was a kid, mince pies were something my mom made at Thanksgiving or Christmas to accomodate the old people in my family.  I don’t know that I ever tried my mom’s pie because I was turned off by the word “mincemeat”.

So, imagine my surprise when I tried a mince tart my first Christmas in Australia and found out that- Hey!- I actually liked them. 

Last year, my last Christmas in Australia before moving back to the U.S., I had the privilege of participating in Mince Pie Making Day at Brendan’s house.  He and I worked on a radio show together and every year he invites friends and co-workers to his house to assemble hundreds and hundreds of mince tarts.  Everyone gets to take some of their handiwork home.

Brendan's kids helped show us the way to the "factory".

A lot of butter and a big bowl of mince were there to greet us. Brendan and Nicki's mince recipe is a tightly guarded secret.

Brendan's wife, Nicki, was the pastry roller extraordinaire.

Everyone takes a turn at the table filling their trays with mince tarts.

A tray of tarts ready for the oven.

We kept the oven quite busy. We made almost 60 dozen tarts.

Bruce and Brendan, my buddies from Gastronaut on Radio Adelaide.

The table for the finished tarts. For some reason the kids really enjoyed playing in here!

For the 4th: Hotdogs, Aussie style

Last month’s Bon Appetit feature, “Around the World in 80 Hot Dogs”, really irked me.  The editorial staff’s major “brainstorm” for a hotdog topping that screamed “Australia” was mushy peas.  MUSHY PEAS? Now, I understand this article was all in fun and wasn’t an anthropological study of hot dog toppings around the globe, but come on! Couldn’t they come up with anything better than mushy peas?

Apparently, these folks haven’t spent much time eating in Australia.  The best I can figure, they’ve been to Sydney ‘s W hotel and gone to a pretty popular food cart near there called Harry’s Cafe de Wheels which does sell a hot dog with mushy peas, chili, cheese and some other kitchen sink ingredients.  The only other Australian dish that I can think of that features mushy peas, or in this case pea soup, is South Australia’s pie floater. Regardless, these two anecdotes of mushy peas hardly merit making peas a quintessentially Australian hot dog topping. 

This being my Aussie husband’s first 4th of July in the States, I decided to come up with my own hot dog toppings based on popular Australian tastes, and personally, I think they’re much better than Bon Appetit’s suggestion.

The evidence:

Hot dog with tomato-ginger-chilli jam & coriander (aka cilantro)

Hot dog with tomato-ginger-chilli jam & coriander (aka cilantro)

Hot dog with beetroot-pineapple relish, pineapple and bacon

Hot dog with beetroot-pineapple relish, pineapple and bacon

The tomato ginger chilli jam topping is my take on Modern Australian cuisine’s incorporation of Asian flavors and ingredients into every day dishes.  This topping is basically a chunky ketchup, but has a spicy kick from dried chiles and the freshness of the coriander (what Aussies call cilantro).  To make the jam, I used rice vinegar and a coconut palm sugar with ginger that I got at the Willunga Farmer’s market from the spice purveyor.  I also added onion and dried, crushed red chiles and I was good to go.   The jam was a killer topping and I loved the cilantro, although if you’re not a fan, you can certainly leave it off.
For the other hot dog topping, I incorporated ingredients used to top an Aussie Burger with the Lot (minus cheese, egg and salad).  I made a beetroot-pineapple relish by grating fresh beets and combining them with a few pineapple chunks, chopped red onion, some pineapple juice, liquid from some pickled beets I made earlier this week, a tablespoon of Kangaroo Island Tea Tree honey and a pinch of mustard powder.  I cooked it until the liquids evaporated and the beet had softened some but still had a pleasing crunch.  I topped the relish with some more pineapple chunks and crumbled bacon.  This was my husband’s favorite of the two toppings.
The other reason this was so much better than BA’s suggestion of using tinned mushy peas (which honestly, I’ve never seen any Australian eating unless they were super drunk eating a pie floater), is that these toppings were so much fun to create and play around with.  I can’t wait until next year when I try making a hot dog-meat pie combo!

Not the same

Girl Guide Biscuits in Australia

Girl Guide Biscuits in Australia

We’re in the thick of Girl Scout cookie season in the U.S. In fact, my article about them ran in today’s San Jose Mercury News food section along with the orginal Girl Scout cookie recipe.
I spent six months of my life researching Girl Scout cookies for my Masters of Gastronomy dissertation, and during that time I never got to eat a Girl Scout cookie for inspiration since I was in Australia and no one, not even my own mother, was kind enough to send a box to me. 
My husband did bring home two packages of  Girl Guide biscuits which just aren’t the same.  They’re good, they’re just not Girl Scout cookies.  There are only two kinds, shortbread and shortbread with a chocolate coated bottom and Australians aren’t barking mad for them like we Americans are for Girl Scout cookies.  In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of them anywhere in newspapers, on TV, or in general conversation.  I was as shocked as anyone to see this display– with nary a Girl Guide in sight–outside of a store in Glenelg last winter.
So America, don’t get complacent about your cookies.  Don’t let them become just another lame fundraiser kids have to do so that they wind up on the sidewalk outside of a tourist trap store next to a bin of koala and kangaroo socks.  Girl Scout cookies deserve better than that.

Apricot jam with a twist (of lime)

After an extra-long, Telstra internet ‘service’-induced absence which included a house move over Christmas (something I swear I will never do again during the holidays),  I’m going to jump back into blogging, at least until I make my international move back to the U.S. next week, which will probably necessitate a few more days free of blogging.

Since I’m leaving Australia at the peak of summer (sad) for winter in the Midwest (really sad), I’m celebrating Apricots which are EVERYWHERE right now.  I’m not normally a huge apricot fan, but I found a recipe for apricot-lime jam last year that now has me eagerly anticipating apricot season every year.

It’s a Donna Hay recipe that ran in a supplement in the Sunday paper.  I’m not sure why I tore it out because my mother-in-law makes apricot jam every year and could keep a small country supplied with it for about a decade.  But I did tear it out and made the apricot lime jam.  Let me tell you, I would have eaten my own hand if it was slathered with that jam.  Normally, I find plain apricot jam a bit too cloying and one-dimensional.  Apricots have less acidity than my favorite jam fruits (namely plums and blackberries), so the lime and lime zest really gives this jam some zing and makes fruit in the jam taste more like fresh fruit instead of cooked. 

Apricot Lime Jam

1 lb. apricots
1 1/2 cups sugar
Zest and juice of one lime

Cut apricots in half, and remove the pits, but hang onto them because you’ll cook them with the apricots since they contain pectin and will help your jam set. Put the apricots, sugar, lime juice and zest and the reserved apricot pits into a saucepan and cook over medium heat. Bring the ingredients to a slow boil and cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the jam thickens. To test if the jam is done, put a small plate in the freezer when you start cooking the jam. Put a small amount of the jam onto the cold plate and run your finger through it. If the line remains, the jam is ready.
Take the pits out of the jam and then pour it into sterilized jars and store in the fridge.
Don’t worry about sealing and boiling the jars unless you plan to make lots and keep it on the shelf. This recipe only makes 1 1/2 cups of jam, and trust me, it will be gone in less than a week!

Apricot lime jam bubbling away on the stove

Apricot lime jam bubbling away on the stove

 The best part about making this jam, is that I’ll get to take some back to the U.S. with me which will allow me to have a little taste of the Australian summer in the depth of Missouri winter.

Of Camels and Quandongs

Some Australian scientists are freaking out about camels and say we’ve got to start eating them.  Apparently, there are about a million feral camels living in the middle of this sunburnt country and they’re wreaking environmental and all other kinds of havock.

I’ve done my part to help the cause this year, if purely for selfish reasons since I get perverse pleasure in trying new and somewhat shocking foods.  At the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna, South Australia (a full review is coming one of these days) I sampled camel mettwurst on a pizza, and a camel sausage from the so-called Feral Mixed Grill Platter.

Let’s just say that both the camel mettwurst and camel sausage had an interesting texture– not quite as toothsome as I’d like.  I asked the woman serving us about the camel and she told me it’s a very lean meat (i.e. tends to be tough and somewhat lacking in flavor), which is probably why it ends up ground into mince and stuffed into a sausage casing with some added fat and seasoning.   From what I’ve had so far, I wouldn’t line up for more. 

But here’s the rub.  These feral camels could cause quandongs to become extinct!  They’re out there in the desert eating this beautiful, tart red fruit and I’ll be damned if they’re going to deprive me of the pleasure of a this quandong pie from the Stone Hut Bakery when I want one:

Oh. That. Pie. 

The quandong filling is really tart on its own, but with a bite of that shortcrust pastry and the cream– it’s a taste trifecta. 

So feral camels take notice.*  Quandong-loving Aussies have put a bounty on your head.  We’re going to find a way to cook you so you’re palatable, and then we’ll chase that camel steak or roast or sausage or whatever we turn you into with a quandong pie.  Now that would be a just dessert.


* Note: I realize that this issue is not the camels’ fault. The shortsighted people who brought them to Australia back in the 1800s without realizing the environmental impact they could have are the ones to blame.  I blame the camels merely as a literary device, so please, no one accuse me of not understanding the issue or hating animals.  I’m fully aware of the nuances of this problem.  Thanks.

I’m a happy little Vegemite

Although we’re both former British colonies, the U.S. and Australia have a LOT of cultural differences.  We both allegedly speak English, but I still frequently don’t understand what people are saying to me and I sometimes have to ask my husband to spell out what he says.  Americans wear religion on their sleeves, but you’ll never hear an Australian candidate for political office be forced to say how much he loves Jesus.  In Australia, I can be watching regular TV at 8pm and hear the f-bomb and see full frontal nudity.  Americans are prude by comparison.  Americans only love a winner. Australia idolizes its losers (Ned Kelly, Burke & Wills).

But perhaps the biggest cultural divide between Americans and Australians is a culinary one:  Australians love it.  Americans don’t.  Today, I officially crossed that great divide for the second time in a month by eating  Vegemite without making a face and falling into spasmodic convulsions.  I think this makes me a Vegemite eater, and probably a little bit more Australian.

Granted, my toast is spread with butter first, then just the thinnest veil of Vegemite and topped with a slice of cheese, but still…  I’m eating Vegemite.

I’m curious to know what culinary hurdles other expats have cleared in their new countries of residence.  Is there a food that once gave you the heebie jeebies that you now like?