Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Journey to the Land Down Under

You could call Australia the "Land Down Under", but one look at an Australian map of the world would change your view on things very quickly (both literally and figuratively). Located in Oceania and historically inhabited by Aboriginals who spoke over 250 distinct languages for thousands of years, Australia was later found by the Dutch and taken over by the English. Prisoners were sent to the island-continent to serve for crimes like debt, forgery, theft, and other petty crimes. Over 20% of modern-day Australians descended from these convicts. After WW2, Australia saw another surge in its population when about 5.9 million immigrants began moving to the nation. Today about 25% of Australians were born abroad. The major countries of emigration are the UK, New Zealand, India, China, and Vietnam. Australia's culture reflects a lot of Western influence as well as factors brought by Asian immigrants and inherited from their Aboriginal predecessors.

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The cuisine of Australia is a mixture of western and native cuisines. Recently, there has been a push towards going back to Aboriginal roots and embracing historic foods like kangaroo, emu, crocodile, quandong, kutjera, muntries, riberry, Davidson's plum, and finger lime along with other bush tucker. British elements like meat pies, roasts, and fish and chips are also common mainstays. Australia has also made a cuisine of its own with the infamous barbeque and Vegemite. Back when I cooked Australia for breakfast, bush bread and damper were two delicious breads that I cooked. They were pretty economical, but Australian main meals can be expensive here in the US. (Even the wannabe Australian restaurant Outback has high prices.) I looked up Kangaroo meat and was met by a $75 price tag that did not include shipping. Shrimp is not cheap here in landlocked Ohio, and lamb is not within my price range either. Thankfully I found some authentic Australian recipes that did not break the bank but still stayed true to representing the "Land Down Under". (Or "Up Above" according to an Australian.)

https://flic.kr/p/tmobAV | d6b9bf0b600593584998a04007c41b5b

The iconic Aussie meat pie is a classic football and rugby-watching meal. The Australian brand Four'N'Twenty produces 50,000 of the handheld pies an hour. Similar to the British steak pie, Aussie meat pies are made up of a pie crust topped with a puff pastry and filled with ground beef, onion, and seasonings.

Meat Pies
makes 8-9
For the filling:
1 ¼ pounds lean ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup water
2 tbsp flour

For the crust:
1 puff pastry shell
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
4 tbsp cold butter, cut into little cubes
5 ounces cold water
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. water

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and oil 8-9 holes of a muffin pan. To make the filling, heat a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onions, meat, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, and tomato paste. Cook until the meat is browned, breaking it up into tiny pieces. Add 3/4 cup of the water to the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 25 minutes. Mix the flour with the remaining 1/4 cup water. Stir this mixture into the beef once it is done simmering. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to sit for five minutes to allow it to thicken.

Meanwhile, make the pie crust. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter and mix until little pebbles form. (Do not over mix!) Add the 5 ounces of cold water and mix until just combined. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

To assemble, roll the pie crust out to be 1/4" thick. Press it into the prepared muffin tin. Scoop in the filling until it reaches the top of the pie crust. Cut out the puff pastry into circles that fit on top of the muffin holes. (I used a biscuit cutter.) Wet the edges of the pie crust and press on the puff pastry. Brush the tops with a mixture of the egg yolk and 2 tbsp. of water. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve with mushy peas and ketchup.

j
 
Mushy peas are another British import to Australia. They are the perfect meat pie accompaniment and add a little color to a bland plate.
 
Mushy Peas
1 pound frozen green peas
3 tbsp water
salt and pepper, to taste
butter, to serve

Bring the peas and water to a boil in a pot. Cook for 5 minutes. Puree the peas in a blender, season to taste, and add butter as desired.

jik

Rissoles are traditionally a French dish of a fried or baked croquette. The Australian version is more like a hamburger and is cooked in a pan on top of the stove.
 
Rissoles
makes 8-9
1 ¼ pounds lean ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
½ cup bread crumbs
flour, as needed
oil, as needed

Mix together the first six ingredients with your hands. Form the mixture into patties. Toss them with flour until they are finely coated. Heat a fine layer of oil in a pan over medium high heat. Cook each patty for about 3 minutes per side, adjusting the heat of the pan and adding more oil as needed.

ji
 
According to Wikipedia, "dark brown Australian food paste made from leftover brewers' yeast extract with various vegetable and spice additives developed by Cyril P. Callister in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1922". This definition does not really make Vegemite appeal to me, but I guess some people around the world would be horrified by my beloved peanut butter. Kraft Foods currently owns the spread.

Vegemite Toast
toasted bread
butter
Vegemite

Butter the slices of toast and spread a very (very) thin layer of Vegemite over the top. Trust me, a little goes a long way.

 h

I wanted to cook Australia while I was home because the meat pies contain tomato paste (which I cannot eat), my dad sent me Vegemite so I wanted him to have to try it with me, and it seemed like a menu that everyone in my family would enjoy. Two minutes into our meal Carson’s declaration of “I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I DON’T LIKE IT!” pretty much summed up everyone’s thoughts about Aussie food. I should have chopped the onion up finer in the rissoles. That’s why no one liked them. Dad called them welfare burgers. Sydney compared them to poorly made Krystal burgers. The mushy peas were not very appealing to my super picky family. Harper thought they were edible, but declined seconds. Vegemite is awful, y’all. We all tried it at once and spit it out in unison. It tastes like salty fermented yeast which is basically what it is. Surprisingly my dad actually liked it. He is so weird. The meat pies were the only thing that had decent reviews. Dad ate all the filling out of them and agreed to take the leftovers to work tomorrow. Syd ate all of hers and said it tasted like Manwich. (I have no idea where she tried Manwich. My mom would never allow something so processed in her kitchen.) Harper and my mom said they were ok. I, unlike my family, really enjoyed the Australian meal. I could not eat the meat pies because of the tomatoes. I probably wouldn’t like them because I always seem to have the opposite taste buds from the rest of my family. The rissoles were amazing. I ate 5 of them. (Yes, skinny little me ate 5 burgers. Don’t judge.) The mushy peas were good too. Vegemite doesn’t count because no one in their right mind could like something so horrendous unless they had been raised eating it like the Australians. The fact that my dad liked it reflects a lot about his mental health. Overall, we decided that you cannot expect Australian food to taste like Outback. After all my work, my mom had to grill hotdogs for everyone so they didn’t have to go to bed hungry. Oh well, at least they tried it.

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