Bugs Bunny: [to a little fawn] Hey, scram. Go on, beat it. the Tasmanian Devil’s liable to get you. He’s a mean, vicious, nasty, no-good, baggy-eyed, marble-headed ignoramorus. He’s a stupid…
Tasmanian Devil: Flattery will get you nowhere.
Buenos Aires – I’d barely posted the theme of “Australia Day” for this weekend’s Casa S dinner before the calls started coming in. Okay, two of them, and they were e-mails. But the first was to reserve an entire evening (on Thursday) for a party of folks from Cangurolandia, as it’s called here, and the second was a party of three, at least one of whom had lived there for some time. Now, I’ve at least had the pleasure and fun of spending some of my life in Australia – a month back in 1993, and three weeks in 2002, and I did a whole lot of eating out, chatting with chefs, collecting recipes, etc. – so at least I was a step up on things like my attempts at dinners from places like Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. On the other hand, did these folks coming have some idea about the food of Oz that I was going to have to worry about? “No drama mate…” There wasn’t really a whole lot I could do about it, other than start the evening with a clear explanation that the food was inspired by my trips and readings, and wasn’t likely to be anything they’d encountered back home.
One of the plusses, at least in my view, of Australian cuisine is that other than the indigenous dishes, which I wasn’t likely to attempt, most of all since none of the ingredients are available here, the country really doesn’t have a specific one. Not that there aren’t dishes known nationally, but, like the U.S., Australia is (once again, other than the indigenous folk), a nation completely of immigrants. And from all over the place – one of the largest Greek populations in the world, every Asian country you could think of, most of Europe, Africa, North and South America… and all those cuisines can be found in any decent sized city in the country. I started off with a somewhat classic Southeast Asian inspired salad of mango and cucumber. But I turned it into a chilled soup – let’s face it, that’s all gazpacho is, a liquid salad. This was pretty simple – into the blender: the pulp of four mangoes, four peeled cucumbers, the juice of eight limes, about a 3/4″ piece of peeled ginger, a handful of cilantro and mint leaves, ¼ teaspoon of habanero powder (or other hot pepper), 3-4 teaspoons of sugar, and salt to taste. Blend until pureed, chill. If it’s too thick, which just comes down to how much water is in the mangoes and cukes, thin with a little water. Serve with a light aromatic white, or a little sparkling wine – we used the Nieto Senetiner Extra Brut, which is our current house “champagne”.
From Wikipedia: A pie floater is a meal served at pie carts in Adelaide and elsewhere in South Australia. It was once more widely available in other parts of Australia but its popularity waned. It consists of the traditional Australian meat pie covered with tomato sauce (similar to ketchup), sitting, usually inverted, in a plate of thick green pea soup. Though the dish does not look particularly appetizing, some proponents report that it is flavoursome and quite filling. In 2003, the pie floater was recognised as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of Australia. Mmmm, doesn’t that sound, well, never mind. Okay, so it’s a ketchup covered empanada floating in soup, kind of, though an Aussie meat pie is a different form than an empanada. Still, enough for inspiration. How about some smoked lamb and potato empanadas (filling of chopped smoked lamb, finely diced potato, hard-boiled egg, green onions, and green olives, seasoned with smoked salt and paprika) but separate that pea soup off to the side. Leave the ketchup alone (I suppose I could have put some tomato in the filling…). Wait, let’s turn that pea soup into a sorbet – a nice temperature and texture contrast, no? Another simple one – into the blender, two bags of frozen peas, a solid handful of mint, half a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, and gradually add enough water to give it a thick, creamy consistency. Process in the ice cream maker. The first two nights I served it as a solid sorbet – but it didn’t work quite right, and folks wanted it more as a dipping sauce than a sort of separate dish, so the third night, I just left it in the refrigerator, and about half an hour before serving, put it in the freezer just to chill it extra but not solidify it. It worked much better that way. We tried a couple of different wines on different nights with this dish, I think the best match was the Infinitus Chardonnay Semillon from Patagonia, though we also tried the Familia Gascon Chardonnay and the Alfredo Roca Tocai Friulano.
Does anyone remember the 60s? Probably not so well… that’s what the 60s were all about. And party food in that era? I’m convinced it was some sort of plot with the assistance of Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady, in cahoots with the Jello company. Everything was made with jello. It wasn’t just in the U.S. either. Down there at the cocktail parties of the Sydneysiders, someone, apparently, came up with something called Salmon St. Laurant. It was more or less a jello mold filled with canned salmon, capers, sour cream, and lemon. Oh yum. But, hey, let’s take some fresh salmon, add a little crabmeat to it (use those surimi sticks if you have someone allergic to shellfish…), chopped capers, lemon rind, and parsley… and hey, make a risotto out of it. The risotto rice is made with a green onion stock and chopped red onions. The other ingredients are added a few minutes before finishing, in order to cook the salmon, and it’s finished with a bit of rice wine vinegar, tabasco, and sour cream. Salt and white pepper to taste…and we have Salmon Risotto St. Laurant. This worked very well with the Jean Rivier Malbec Rosado.
We head to the Outback (not the steakhouse) and a bit of cowboy sort of food – or as someone put it last night, Australian Gauchos… This is kind of an Australian take on what in the States we call red-eye gravy and serve over a ham steak. This version, I pan-roasted slices of pork loin (the first night, I made it with pork chops, but they weren’t as tender as I wanted, so I switched to a nice carre, loin of pork). I’d also roasted some beets with olive oil and salt, wrapped in foil, and sliced them as an accompaniment. The sauce is fairly simple, though if you’re not here in Argentina you might have to substitute for one of the ingredients I used (which wouldn’t be found in Australia most likely either, though I could be wrong). I melted some butter in a saucepan and added 3 tablespoons of dulce de mosqueta, a sort of thick sweet jam made from rosehips (so you know what you’re looking for…), when it started to caramelize, I added a mixture of a cup of strong coffee and a cup of port in which I’d already dissolved about ¼ cup of cornstarch. Cook until it thickens, add salt and black pepper to taste. If it’s a little bitter, which is dependent on your coffee, add another tablespoon of the jam. Spoon over the pork. One of our new house favorite wines, the NQN Picada 15, a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon from Patagonia, was a great match with this.
I don’t know whether to describe this or just salivate looking at it. Okay, it started out with the idea of a classic Aussie treat, a Lamington. These are cubes of sponge cake that are rolled in chocolate and then dipped in coconut, and popped in the mouth… tasty little things. I sort of turned it inside out and added a couple of twists. It’s essentially a white cake cupcake surrounding a macaroon, covered in dulce de leche, and swimming in a little bit of chocolate soup… so, umm, sort of a coma inducing sugar bomb. And, of course, because you don’t have enough sugar in your system, a bottle of Finca El Retiro Tardío to accompany – though, in retrospect, I think I might want to try something, well, denser, to go with it – maybe a Tokay, or an Australian “sticky”, like one of the Muscats.
2 cups + 2 tablespoons of cake flour
1½ cups sugar
3½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup of melted butter
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 whole egg plus four egg yolks
Sift together the dry ingredients, then add the others and whisk until smooth. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour muffin tins or ramekins – depending on the size, this recipe will make 12-18 of them.
2-2/3 cups flaked coconut (it was 4 – 50 gram packages for me…)
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cake flour
¼ teaspoon salt
4 egg whites (hey, convenient for the cake batter above)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Spoon about two tablespoons of batter into each muffin cup, then put a scoop (I used a medium sized melon-ball scoop) of the macaroon filling in the center. Top with another two tablespoons of batter to coat the top of the filling. Don’t worry, the cake will puff up around the filling. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown on the outside. Cool on racks.
Make dulce de leche – two cans worth. When cool, spoon over the top of the cupcakes in a bowl.
Mix two cups of water with 50 grams of bitter cocoa, 1/3 cup of black sugar and 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Whisk until smooth. Pour a little around each of the cupcakes in their bowls. Try to resist eating before serving to your guests.