Monday, May 9, 2016

"A Taste of Australian Food and Wine" and "A Taste of the Past - Early Australian Cooking" - a soup and salad dinner for a late friend's birthday observation

Date I made these recipes:  April 24, 2016 for my late friend, Carol

A Taste of Australian Food and Wine by Sally Marden. Photos by Ian Baker
Published by:  Chanel Publishers LTD  Chanel Publishers LTD
ISBN: 0-958208-44-1; © 2001
Purchased at Arc's Value Village, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Warm King Prawn, Baby Beetroot, Roast Carrot and Rocket Salad (with Cardamom and Orange Dressing) – p. 134

A Taste of the Past – Early Australian Cooking by Joyce Allen & Valerie McKenzie
Published by: Reed
© 1977
Purchased at Arc's Value Village, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Meat Ball Soup – p. 80

Well, today, April 24, would have been my late friend, Carol's, 58th birthday and it's always a sad day for me as it's hard to believe she's gone.

And so every year, I try to make something to pay tribute to my fine friend, normally one the day she died – St. Patrick's Day – but this year came and went and so I was on the search for birthday food and/or a birthday dinner theme.

Then quite by happenstance, I was inspired by a trip that a mutual friend, Bonnie, took to Australia.

Carol was always a world traveler and often hit the trail with family and friends on a "course for adventure...(your mind for a new romance."  Theme from The Love Boat.)  She visited Russia twice, Hong Kong once, much of Europe including a trip to Scandinavia, and good chunks of the U.S.  She was inspired, in part, by the need to get out and explore, especially since her family trips growing up were only to Florida and back from her home state of Michigan

Toward the end of her life, she and another friend took a trip to Alaska (after cancelling once when she wasn't feeling well—she had cancer) and even after that successful trip, was practically planning her next one to Australia.  Alas, she never made it there but another mutual friend, Bonnie, did and no doubt thought about our friend while visiting Australian woolen mills; Carol and Bonnie shared a love of knitting.  I did not!

So Australia never happened but then lo and behold, all of a sudden Bonnie started posting marvelous photos from Australia on her Facebook page.  I missed the details of the how and the why she went except it looked like she was travelling with friends and enjoying every minute of it.  And I'm so glad she went even though she did so without our friend.

And so that is how I came to decide to make something from a couple of Australian cookbooks I had laying around.  Let's discuss!

Book number one, A Taste of  Australian Food and Wine is a beautiful book with lots of photos by Ian Barker.  This book provides a broad-brush view of Australian food that encompasses a lot more ethnic groups than just the Brits who founded the place (as a penal colony) and thank the lord for that!  As I wrote in my last blog for the Queen's birthday, British food is somewhat suspect to me and the rest of the non-British world.

But these recipes folks – these – are pretty awesome, making great use of all the lovely seafood that's available to all the coastal areas as well as fresh vegetables and of course, Australian wines.  Recipes are divided by region and so you will be treated to dishes from:  Tasmania; Victoria; New South Wales; Queensland; South Australia; Northern Territory and Western Australia.  The map in the front of the book shows the whole of Australia and it is one large continent such that when my parents visited it years ago, they decided to take a tour so as to experience as much of the terraine as possible.  My parents are not tour people but they loved their visit.

It is also important to note that there was a decided absence of "rude food," stuff that I wouldn't eat for any reason, even fear of impending loss of life!  I think you'll be quite pleased with this cookbook for the variety and modernity of the recipes.

And then there's book number two – A Taste of the Past – Early Australian Cooking – written in 1977 and let me just say that yes, this was a "taste" of the past and this past reflects more of Australia's British heritage than the newer A Taste of Australian Food and Wine which is to say we sort of revert back to rude food:  "Kangaroo Jugged."  I almost couldn't finish typing this as it just sounds so very, very, very awful.  Very.

Happily (?) the above recipe (I cannot type it again.  I cannot) appears to be the one and only awful-sounding thing before we revert back to British staples:  "Bubble and Squeak" (p. 90-91); "Scottish Oat Cakes" (p. 58) and "Welsh Rabbit" (p. 32) to name a few.

This is likely the only time I will ever be relieved to see British food in a cookbook (with apologies to the Queen.)

Since Carol loved salads and grew a small garden every year, I made Baby Beetroot, Roast Carrot and Rocket Salad (with Cardamom and Orange Dressing) to go with the Meat Ball Soup (courtesy of the  Australian Meat Board).  Both recipes were easy to make although I much preferred the salad over the meat ball soup; the salad had great flavor but the soup was somewhat bland and could have used more spices to offset the sherry (which I loved but was almost overpowering). 

The Meat Ball Soup recipe is accompanied by a little story as are all the recipes in the book.  If I had more time, I'd love to read through it as I'm sure I would learn a lot more about Australia the "right" way.  Right now,  my limited knowledge has been gained from watching cooking shows featuring Australian, Curtis Stone and House Hunters International!  Okay, slight exaggeration:  I actually know more about Australia than just the information provided by TV shows. That said, one of my favorite Australian movies is A Town Like Alice that takes place in Australia during WWII.  Fabulous movie, that, and I need to go on a hunt for the DVD to replace my VHS.  You can also read the book by Nevil Shute if you fancy a reading rather than viewing.  And if you want to read a humorous read about Australia (A Town Like Alice is decidedly not humorous), check out Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country where he points out that practically everything in that country is venomous and therefore deadly.  That said, he survived his trip and lived to write a book about it and for this we thank him.

At any rate, turning our attention to the recipes and these cookbooks, you'll need to carve out a bit of time to roast the veggies, but otherwise these dishes are quick to make and in the case of the salad, healthy to eat.  Carol would have liked that.

Warm King Prawn (shrimp), Baby Beetroot, Roast Carrot and Rocket Salad With Cardamom and Orange Dressing – serves 4 – from A Taste of Australian Food and Wine
20 baby beetroot
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
100g (1/2 pound) rocket [lettuce] Ann's Note:  you can substitute arugula for rocket but I don't recommend it as it is tough to chew and too peppery.  Just use mixed greens and you'll be fine.
12 cherry tomatoes
3 oranges
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon caster sugar (a/k/a "Baker's sugar;" "Superfine sugar" or Quick-Dissolve/Fast-melting" sugar)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
300ml 10 ounces) olive oil
Salt and pepper
20 green prawns (shrimp), peeled and de-veined
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and paprika
1 ¼ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking
Ann's Note:  This seasoning was great and I think you could use it on all kinds of fish and seafood (like scallops).

For the vegetables:  Roast baby beetroot in their skins with the olive oil until tender.  Peel the carrots and cut into four.  Dust carrots with brown sugar and roast at 400F until just tender. (Ann's Note:  about 20-30 minutes) Deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar.

To make the dressing:  Combine zest of 1 orange and the juice of 3 oranges with cardamom, sugar and vinegar.  Bring to the boil then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Strain and while warm whisk in the oil and season.

To make the prawns/shrimp:  Mix dry ingredients and lightly dust over prawns.  In a heavy-based pan, heat vegetable oil until nearly smoking.  Add prawns and cook until just firm.  Remove from the pan.

To assemble:  lightly dress the rocket and arrange on plates with beetroot, cherry tomatoes and carrots on top.  Then add prawns and drizzle the dressing around the outside of the stack.

Ann's Note:  my attempt at stacking the salad ingredients was abysmal and not at all like the photo – wonder why?!

Meat Ball Soup – serves 4 to 6 – from A Taste of the Past – Early Australian Cooking
Soup Stock
3 T butter or margarine
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 C chopped carrots
3 T flour
5 C water
3 beef stock cubes
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1 C cooked peas
2 T dry sherry (Ann's Note:  I would call this an optional ingredient)
Meat Balls
500 g finely minced beef (Ann's Note:  I used a pound of ground beef)
3 T finely chopped parsley
2 tsp seasoned salt
Large pinch pepper
¼ C dried breadcrumbs
1 egg beaten
1 T sherry

Melt 2 tablespoons (out of 3) butter or margarine in a saucepan.  Saut√© onion and carrot until golden.  Cook 1 minute.  Add beef stock, stirring constantly until thick.  (Ann's Note:  it does not say anywhere to add the beef stock cubes to the water but that is what you apparently must do to achieve beef stock! You've been warned.)  Add salt and cayenne and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Mix meatball ingredients.  Shape in walnut size balls.  In pan, fry meat balls in the remaining 1 T butter until brown, adding more oil if necessary.  Drain and add meat balls to soup with peas and sherry.  (Ann's Note:  I decided to poach the meatballs in the simmering broth, just like I do for the meatballs for my Italian wedding soup.) 

Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.  Garnish with chopped parsley.

Ann's Note:  I think you can play with the spice profile in these meatballs as the "seasoned salt" just didn't do much for me and my palate.  And know too, that seasoned salt + beef bouillon and salt to taste = a lot of salt so for those of you who have to watch the salt intake, try to use reduced salt broth and skip the seasoned salt in favor of something else.  

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