Category Archives: Cooking

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!

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.

Taking stock of making stock

Now that it’s a week past Thanksgiving the leftovers should be gone by now if for no other reason than in the interest of your health and safety.  I finished off the turkey leftovers by making green chile turkey enchiladas last Sunday, but yesterday I had one more leftover to contend with.  The turkey’s carcass was in the freezer waiting for me.

Saving the carcass of turkey or chicken is, in my mind, the ultimate in frugal cooking.  When I learned a few years ago that you could take the bones that most everyone throws away and make a rich and delicious homemade stock, it was a true revelation.  Not only could I save money that I would normally spend buying stock, I could completely control what went into it — especially sodium.

Making your own stock couldn’t be simpler.  Take the carcass of your chicken or turkey and put it in a big pot with a rib or two of celery (or better yet a handful of leaves that you probably wouldn’t eat anyhow), a large carrot cut into 3 or 4 big chunks, a medium onion cut into quarters (no need to peel it), half a dozen peppercorns, a bay leaf if you have them, and a few sprigs of parsley.  I add about 16 cups of water– basically enough to cover everything in the pot, pop the lid on and bring it to a boil then knock the heat back to low and let it simmer for a couple of hours with the lid slightly off center to let some steam escape.


After a couple of hours, take the pot off the heat, let it cool for a few minutes then pour the liquid in the pot through a strainer into a two liter/quart container.  Get the veggies in the strainer to and press on them with a wooden spoon to extract a little more liquid if you want.  Add whatever salt you want at this point.  I usually add about a teaspoon at a time and taste it as I go.  You can keep the container in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it for a few months.   Once you put it in the fridge the fat will come to the top and form a solid layer on top of the stock.  Don’t freak out.  Just skim it off and all is well.  Also, if your stock is particularly rich and reduced like mine is below, it could get somewhat gelatinous when it cools.  I had never seen this happen before until I made pork stock and I sort of flipped out and thought I’d done something wrong.  I hadn’t– it’s totally normal. The stock liquifies again when you heat it.

You might also want to divide the stock into several 16 oz (500 ml) containers to freeze that way it’s generally the same size as a can of stock.

I wound up with 6 cups of stock this time because I let it simmer and reduce longer. Its going to be really rich and delicious!

I wound up with 6 cups of stock this time because I let it simmer and reduce longer. It's going to be really rich and delicious!

Excuses about not having time don’t wash with me.  It takes all of four minutes to put everything in the pot and you can do laundry, pay bills, watch TV, whatever while the stock cooks.  When all is said and done you have the equivalent of about 4 cans of stock (or 2 large boxes for Australia), which would normally cost you $4-$5.  Not only that, I also like to think of it as responsible and ethical use of the bird since I’ve taken everything from it that I possibly can.

Swanson’s has nothing on me.

Nothing says summer like…

It’s getting warmer here in Adelaide and there are certain foods and drinks that embody warm weather and fish tacos are one of them.  It’s not just the fish, but the flavors that go with them.

The fish was an Australian salmon (not really a salmon at all) from our trip to Streaky Bay.  According to the entry on Wikipedia (use at your own risk), these fish aren’t supposed to be good eatin’, as folks in Missouri would say.  But pan-fried with little salt and pepper, then flaked off into homemade tortillas, topped with  creamy chipotle sauce and mango salsa: superb.

I think these will become a summertime staple around my house.

Here’s my recipe for the creamy chipotle sauce in case you want to make them, too.

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Juice of one lime (a tablespoon or so)

2 tsp. of the adobo sauce from chipotles in adobo (use more if you like it spicy)

A bit of sugar (a Tbsp. at most– you may not need it at all, especially if you use Miracle Whip instead of mayo)

Mix all ingredients together and drizzle over tacos.

The best ever pumpkin recipe

It’s almost Halloween which means within the next 36 hours, thousands, if not millions, of people are going to ask, “What can I make with pumpkin?”  Might I suggest the pretty little delicacy pictured above– the Pumpkin Whoopie Pie.  Whatever you do, don’t use the pumpkin guts from your Jack-o-Lantern.  It’s too stringy.  You want a nice, fleshy pumpkin for this.

I had never heard of Whoopie Pies, but was immediately intrigued by the recipe for them in Bob and Melinda Blanchard’s book Cook What You Love.  And I LOVE pumpkin, especially in desserts. 

I’ve adapted their recipe to use fresh pumpkin or butternut squash (which is in the same genus as pumpkins) instead of canned pumpkin.  I also found a different recipe for the filling than the one in their book.  It was in a review of the chocolate whoopie pie recipe on Epicurious, and I picked it because everyone who knew whoopie pies said THAT was the filling they remembered from when they were kids.

So, without further ado, a recipe for pumpkin whoopie pies, quite possibly the most perfect treat for autumn there ever was.

1 small butternut squash (about 2 lbs or so)

3 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Pre-heat oven to 425.  Cut the butternut squash in half and place each half cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at 425 for 30-40 minutes  until it is very tender and easy to mash.  Take squash out of the oven and turn heat down to 350.

Scoop flesh out of the squash and puree it until it’s smooth.  You should have about 2 cups or 1 pound of puree, which is the same as a can of pumpkin.  Set this aside.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the pureed squash or pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla and beat on medium speed until blended.  Add dry ingredients, a little at a time, and mix just until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.

Place heaping tablespoons of the batter about 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets.  You may want to take a spatula to “smooth” the cakes so the tops flatten a bit when they bake so the whoopie pies will sit evenly when you assemble them.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops spring back when you touch them with your finger.  Cool on wire racks.

For the filling:

1 cup milk

5 Tbsp. flour

1 stick butter

1/2 cup shortening

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla

In a small saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk.  Cook on medium heat until it thickens.  Remove from heat and let mixture cool a bit.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and shortening together, then beat in salt, powdered sugar and vanilla.  Add the cooled milk and flour mixture about 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is fluffy and creamy.  You may not need to add all the milk and flour mixture.

Spread a heaping tablespoon of the filling on the flat side of half the cakes and top with the other halves. 

Makes about 24.


How to make tortillas (a.k.a. You’re not in Arizona anymore)

Spoiled.  That’s what I was.  Living in Arizona, I was surrounded by great Mexican food (I’m not talking about authenticity here, if you want to argue about that, go find another blog).  Fresh tortillas were a dollar a dozen.

And then I moved to Adelaide– about as far away from Mexico as one can get, which essentially makes it a gaping black hole of tortilla making.  For a while, I made do with Old El Paso corn tortillas that smelled sort of like Play-doh and had the consistency of fake plastic puke.

Luckily, I found a shop here called Chile Mojo which is run by an American who was probably about as homesick for Mexican food as I was.  Lo and behold, Chile Mojo carries masa harina.  My next problem was a tortilla press.  Chile mojo had metal ones, but since they’re imports they’re expensive.  I shopped for tortilla presses in Arizona, but was underwhelmed by the selection and the price as well.  So my very handy hubby made me a tortilla press that works like a dream.

Until you get the hang of it, making tortillas is a tad time consuming, but when my options are fake plastic puke tortillas or the real deal, I’m happy to give up half an hour of my time.  And there is nothing like the smell and taste of fresh tortillas.  The aroma is amazing– they really smell like fresh ground corn, which is something you’ll never find in store-bought bag.

Making the dough is simple.  In fact, you don’t really even need exact measurements. 

Pour the masa harina in a mixing bowl– just eyeball it– a cup and a half to two cups will make plenty of tortillas.  Add a pinch of salt and just a dab (a teaspoon or so) of cooking oil.  Fill a measuring cup with hot tap water.  Pour in about half a cup, maybe more, and stir it into the masa harina with your hands. Keep adding water bit by bit until the mixture is just moist.  You want it just past the crumbly stage but not sticky.  Form the dough into a ball, cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, and then go do something else for about an hour.

When the dough is ready (it’s not going to rise or anything, it just needs to rest for an hour), heat a non-stick skillet over high heat (don’t use oil, you don’t want to fry them).  I use my Calphalon griddle, which I adore.  While the griddle is heating, roll the tortilla dough into just-smaller-than golf ball-sized pieces.

Line the tortilla press with plastic wrap on each side, place one of the dough balls on the base…

put the lid down and press. 

Lift the lid, then carefully peel the tortilla from the plastic wrap and place it on the hot skillet. 

 Be prepared to tear your first few tortillas, but don’t cry, pobrecita, just roll it back into a ball and do it again.  Let it cook on one side for about 30 seconds and flip it.  The first side should have brown speckles.

  Let  it cook on the other side for about the same amount of time, maybe less, then flip it one more time and finish it off on that side for about 10 seconds.  The tortillas are supposed to puff up when they cook. Sometimes mine puff a lot, sometimes they don’t  but they still turn out fine.  Take the tortilla off the skillet and place between the folds of a clean dish towel.  Eventually, you’ll find a rhythm and be able to press a tortilla while one is cooking to speed the process along.

The last time I made corn tortillas, I used them to make cheese enchiladas.

Ready for the sauce and cheese…

Time to go in the oven…

Hot and bubbly, topped with green onion.

Plated with some refried black beans, which, I must admit, look pretty unattractive, and a green salad with a creamy chipotle dressing.  Delish.

Now, even if I do ever wind up living in tortilla central (Phoenix) again, I’ll probably make my own from time to time, just because nothing tastes better than homemade.

Blog Action Day 2008: A chicken in every pot

The title of this post was one half of a Herbert Hoover campaign slogan in 1928 and we all know how well his dreams of prosperity turned out.  Perhaps part of the problem with that slogan is that Americans didn’t actually have a pot to cook the chicken in.

Today is Blog Action Day and I’ve taken up the challenge to address the issue of poverty as it relates to food.

Obesity is a huge problem in America and Australia, and there’s a lot of research that points to a possible link between poverty and obesity.  Part of the reason for this is that people who live in poverty often live in what are known as “food deserts” and don’t have easy access to good food or just can’t afford fresh, healthy food. 

Los Angeles is trying to combat the “food desert” problem in a South L.A. community by putting a moratorium on new fast food restaurants and encouraging businesses that sell healthier food.  There are other ways people are trying to get better food into the bellies of those who need it most: community gardens are springing up in lower-income neighborhoods, farmer’s markets are linked to the WIC program, and programs like Second Harvest.  These are all great– but does just providing healthy food go far enough to solve the problem?  I don’t think it does.

The poverty that leads to obesity goes beyond the inability to afford decent food.  It’s also a poverty of the kitchen tools needed to cook healthy food and a poverty of kitchen skills.  Sure, you can give everyone a chicken, but if they don’t have a pot to put it in or don’t know how to cook it, how are they going to eat?

Jamie Oliver finally figured this out when he filmed Jamie’s Ministry of Food.  He spent time in a lower income community where people eat like crap and found out they eat that way because they don’t know how to cook.  And how would they?  If they grew up eating convenience foods and fast food, where would they learn?

While food banks and other food programs do help get healthy food to people to some degree (and I’m aware of some of the inadequecies of the food stamp program), we need to go further if we want to help battle the obesity born of poverty.

This is why I want to start a foundation to work in conjunction with food banks and other food programs that will provide basic kitchen equipment and cooking classes to people on low incomes.  This idea has been brewing in the back of my mind for at least a year now, but I think Blog Action Day has made me think more seriously about actually doing something about it.   Watch this space….

Useless Kitchen Gadgets

Pizza scissors???  Really?  I mean, come on.  REALLY???

If you need one of these things to “effortlessly” cut your pizza, you probably shouldn’t get near a hot oven in the first place.  When you find cutting pizza with a knife or a pizza wheel too taxing, perhaps you should have just called Dominos.

This thing looks like a PITA to clean and store.  I would assume it would quickly be relegated to the back of the kitchen gadget drawer to take its rightful place with the avocado slicer, creme brulee torch, and melon baller. 

I want to know what you think are the most useless gadgets you’ve ever seen, or –‘fess up now– owned.  I’ll own up to the melon baller.  But as God as my witness, I will never own a pair of pizza scissors.

Check out my guest blog!

When the call came out for guest bloggers on Benjamin Christie’s site, I put up my hand since I’m new to blogging and figured I could use some exposure anywhere I could get it.  I wrote about the beauty of blemished fruit.  You can see it here.   And here’s a photo of one of the many treats I made with that fruit: an apple walnut cake.

Apple Walnut Cake

This cake is moist and delicious — a perfect taste of autumn.  I found the recipe on Epicurious and have only altered it by reducing the amount of sugar.  I usually only use half as much (or maybe just a tad more than half) as the recipe calls for.  I also will use whatever apples I have on hand– I don’t get fussy about the variety.  I hope you like it as much as I do and that you can also find the beauty in the fruit and veg that so many people ignore.