February 8, 2011
Anyone who watched American television in the 1980s probably remembers the Australia tourism commercials with Paul Hogan (aka Crocodile Dundee) saying he’d “slip another shrimp on the barbie” for us. Never mind that Australians don’t use the word “shrimp”—they call them prawns—the catchphrase stuck, along with its concession to American nomenclature.
It is true, though, that Aussies love a barbecue. In the two weeks I was there over the holidays, I attended no fewer than four. Most featured sausages and marinated chicken, usually served with ketchup (or tomato sauce, as they call it) as the only condiment. But one barbecue was different.
The friends I stayed with in Melbourne are a bi-continental married couple—the Australian husband, Konrad, met his American wife, Nikki, while she was studying abroad in Queensland—who had returned to his homeland after about seven years in the States. During his time in America, including a year in Jacksonville, Florida, Konrad had developed a deep appreciation for Southern-style barbecue. Since returning home, with nowhere local to sate his cravings, he had bought a smoker and made it his project to learn how to replicate his favorite foods himself. During my visit he planned a backyard bash to introduce his Aussie friends to a barbecue with all the Dixie fixin’s—pulled pork, brisket and beer-can chicken with four kinds of homemade barbecue sauce on the side, plus potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and cornbread. Sweet tea and mint juleps were on the drink menu.
But first we had to go shopping. It turned out that the main ingredient in cornbread—cornmeal—was not stocked at local supermarkets. We tracked down a Spanish market in the artsy Fitzroy neighborhood (the Melbourne equivalent of New York’s Williamsburg or L.A.’s Los Feliz) where we found a package of P.A.N. brand, which had a drawing of a sassy-looking lady with her hair tied up in a polka-dotted scarf.
Since we were out for the rest of the afternoon and evening, this meant carrying around a sack of cornmeal everywhere we went. “Pan” became a kind of mascot, and we took a series of photos with “her” that became increasingly ridiculous as the night wore on.
Konrad and Nikki spent the better part of the next day preparing for the feast that afternoon. For the most part, the food seemed to be a hit with the Aussies. The biggest surprise was the baked beans—over there, as in England, baked beans are most commonly eaten at breakfast with eggs and toast. Their version comes out of the Heinz can in a relatively bland tomato sauce without the zip of BBQ baked beans, and some of the guests were downright excited about having them in this new context. The macaroni and cheese and the smoked meats and sauces also got raves.
As for the cornbread, I think Pan, which was pre-cooked, was the kind of cornmeal meant for arepas (delicious South American corn fritters) and not quite right for American cornbread. Although I didn’t get to try the resulting corn muffins before they disappeared at the party, they must have tasted alright anyway.
Maybe next time, they’ll introduce the Aussies to one of my favorite Southern dishes, shrimp and grits. But I’m sorry, y’all, “prawns and grits” just sounds wrong.
December 17, 2010
As Christmas draws closer, have you finished your shopping yet? If not, try turning to your local bookstore to find something for nearly everyone on your list:
The Aspiring Home Cook
Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease, by Rozanne Gold. All the recipes in this lovely cookbook are described in 140 words or less, and many have only 5 ingredients, making even sophisticated-sounding dishes like “sauteed chicken with roasted grapes and grape demi-glace” quite approachable.
How To Repair Food, by Tanya Zeryck, John Bear and Marina Bear. The third edition of a perennially helpful classic that offers tips on everything from makeshift ingredient substitutions to stale marshmallows.
Williams-Sonoma: The Art of Preserving, by Rick Field with Rebecca Courchesne. An essential reference guide for anyone interested in making and cooking with their own canned and pickled produce.
The Original King Arthur Flour Cookbook: 200th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, by Brinna B. Sands. A sturdy, ring-bound classic devoted to all things flour-based, from pancakes to pie, and of course, bread.
The Cosmopolitan Foodie
My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South, by Rosetta Costantino with Janet Fletcher. The first cookbook to focus on Calabria, the region at the tip of Italy’s “boot,” its recipes celebrate ingredients like olives, anchovies, hot peppers… and pasta made on knitting needles.
Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, With Recipes, by Mark Bitterman. A fascinating tribute to the history and nuances of the many types of “artisan salt” in the world, written by a self-described “selmelier.” Includes a field guide to dozens of specific salts found in the Mongolian steppes, the deserts of Timbuktu and more.
Around my French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. The warm, conversational tone of Greenspan’s writing, combined with gorgeous photographs and tips about serving and storing, welcomes readers into the exciting world of French home cooking.
Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, by David Lebovitz. From classics like creme brulee to unique concepts like Guinness-gingerbread cupcakes, the Paris-based pastry chef’s heavenly-sounding recipes are anchored in his funny, down-to-earth style. (“If you don’t have a pepper mill, shame on you. Go get one.”)
The Perfect Finish: Special Desserts for Every Occasion, by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark. A collection of 80 sure-to-impress recipes from the White House pastry chef, helpfully organized by occasion (birthdays, brunches, bring-to-a-party desserts, etc.).
Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Cooking and Sourcing Sustainable Meat, by Deborah Krasner. A satisfyingly thick tome, broken down into chapters on beef, lamb, pork, rabbit, poultry and eggs. Includes recipes for every part of the animals, and explains the terminology and practices involved in meat production and processing.
Planet Barbecue: An Electrifying Journey Around the World’s Barbecue Trail, by Steven Raichlen. More than 300 grill-centric recipes from 60 countries, ranging from South African braai to Korean pork belly.
The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores Will Devour, by Kim O’Donnel. As O’Donnel explains, the inspiration for this marvelous book was helping her mother come up with heart-healthy meals that would pass muster with the meat-loving man in her life, “Mister Sausage.” O’Donnel isn’t condemning carnivores, she’s simply asking them to take a day off: “Meatless Mondays.”
The Very Best of Recipes for Health, by Martha Rose Shulman. A collection of simple, healthy, largely vegetarian recipes from Shulman’s popular New York Times column, including nutritional analyses. Mediterranean chickpea salad, creamy cabbage soup, “rainbow tofu” and much more.
The Butcher and the Vegetarian: One Woman’s Romp Through a World of Men, Meat and Moral Crisis, by Tara Austen Weaver. This food writer’s memoir is both entertaining and thought-provoking, as she grapples with the relationship between her vegetarian upbringing and some serious health issues, and gets a crash course in the world of meat production and consumption.
The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, by Amanda Hesser. A hefty treasure chest, bursting with gems of culinary history culled from the newspaper’s archives by one of its best food writers.
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Joan Reardon. Fans of Julia Child will devour this collection of her personal correspondence with her friend and literary mentor Avis in the 1950s. Although the letters discuss much more than food, they offer a window into the process of recipe and testing and development for Child’s famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Memories of a Farm Kitchen, by Bob and Rob Artley. A charming and utterly unique memoir about growing up on a 200-acre farm in Iowa in the 1920s and 1930s, this homespun book recalls bygone days of icebox refrigerators, cellar larders, and ham hanging from the rafters.
The Pop-Culture Geek
Cooking With the Movies: Meals on Reels, by Anthony F. Chiffolo and Rayner W. Hesse, Jr. With recipes based on the foods featured in 14 different films, from 1985′s Tampopo through 2007′s Waitress, this could be the basis for some seriously fun dinner parties.
Culinary Ephemera: An Illustrated History, by William Woys Weaver. I’ve already told you how much I enjoyed this collection of vintage advertisements, food packaging, menus and tidbits of trivia from culinary history.
Or how about one of these cookbooks by non-culinary celebrities, like Dolly Parton or Coolio?
The Drinks Connoisseur
Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, by Jason Wilson. From the first chapter, titled “The Ombibulous Me,” this alcohol-soaked memoir from The Washington Post‘s Spirits columnist turns the esoteric into the entertaining. Includes dozens of cocktail recipes.
Whiskey: A Global History, by Kevin Kosar. This intriguing, stocking-stuffer-sized volume from the Alcohol Reviews blogger chases the history of whiskey around the world and through the ages, explains the differences between various types and includes several classic whiskey cocktail recipes.
The Great Domaines of Burgundy: A Guide to the Finest Wine Producers of the Cote D’Or, by Remington Norman and Charles Taylor (3rd edition). Serious oenophiles and/or Francophiles will savor this detailed reference book, which elucidates the methods and personalities at the heart of Burgundy’s best wines.
Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina, by Laura Catena. As described in a previous post, this is an excellent primer on the Argentine wine industry and its beloved malbecs.
August 2, 2010
For the third leg of this month’s Inviting Writing road trip, we’ll follow reader Kevin Weeks‘ nose to the best bratwurst in Munich. These days, Kevin is a personal chef and cooking instructor in Knoxville, Tennessee, but once upon a time he was just a very hungry hitchhiker…
(If you’re new to Inviting Writing, read this.)
Bratwurst & Fries
By Kevin D. Weeks
There’s nothing in the world that will wake you up quite the way a Gauloises will. The nicotine punch is pretty fierce and the inevitable coughing fit will finish the job. Frankly, it’s not my favorite breakfast. But it was sunup, I was in a tent somewhere between Salzburg and Munich, there was no coffee, I’d run out of the English cigarettes I’d been smoking, and the two guys I was with were French.
This was in 1970 and I was 17, hitchhiking across Europe. The Frenchmen, not much older themselves, drove a funky little Renault and had picked me up outside Salzburg after the worst night of my life.
As usual, I’d arrived in Salzburg to find the youth hostel was full: the hostels were always full. To get out of the rain, I ended up in a building under construction, hiding from the night watchman. I had huddled on a cold and damp concrete floor while the temperature dipped to near freezing. The next morning I just wanted to get out of town.
It took a few hours, but then my luck changed and I found a good ride. The two young Frenchmen were also on their way to Munich. That evening we camped. They shared their food and tent with me and, the next morning, their cigarettes. Then we drove on to Munich, where they dropped me off.
The first thing I noticed was that something smelled delicious, and I was starving. I followed my nose to a kiosk selling bratwurst. I bought one, which came with a hard roll and a large dollop of mustard.
I don’t know if that was my first bratwurst ever, but it is certainly the first one I remember. I had never had such an extraordinarily good sausage in my life. I sat down on the curb dipping one end in the mustard and alternating with bites of the roll, juice rolling down my chin while I watched the traffic.
Then I wandered on, rubbernecking, until I came upon another kiosk. This one was selling French fries, so I bought an order of them. Again, it was an epiphany! I had never before eaten such delicious fries—golden and perfectly crisp on the outside, soft and tender inside.The fries I’d had in American joints couldn’t compare to these perfectly fresh, twice-fried potatoes.
I had many other such meals during my overseas adventure, but that bratwurst and those fries were my introduction to the wonders of European street food.
July 23, 2010
The bowl was proudly passed around the living room like candy, obviously intended as a treat for the visiting Americans. My new South African relatives each picked up a bite-sized flake of something reddish-brown, savoring it on their tongue with a sigh.
Chocolate? Dried fruit? I ruled out those options as I got a closer look. No, more like bacon, or…
“Is this jerky?” I asked. Eyebrows shot up as if I’d said something a bit rude.
“No, no. Much better. It’s biltong. It’s a special kind of dried meat,” someone offered. “You must try it.”
Tom-ay-to, tom-ah-to, I thought to myself. Sounds like jerky to me. (Biltong, I learned later, is made from strips of rump meat and literally translates from Dutch to English as to “butt tongue.” Kinda glad I didn’t know that.)
I hadn’t eaten anything resembling jerky since stumbling into a decade of vegetarianism in my late teen years, perhaps to atone for the disturbing number of Slim Jims I consumed in junior high. (Now, those chewy, cylindrical snacks strike me as eerily similar to certain treats in the pet-food aisle.)
But these dear people had invited us into their homes—and their lives—in Cape Town, because of my brother’s marriage. The least I could do is be grateful for whatever they fed us. And the braai they greeted us with had been delicious!
The texture was tough, but not as shoe-leather-like as I expected—I could tear it with my fingers. It tasted salty and rich with umami flavor. Maybe they were right; this wasn’t the stuff of American gas-station gastronomy and vending machines. More like charcuterie than jerky, in fact.
I wished I could say that to the family member who had brought the homemade biltong, but he is deaf and lip-reads only Afrikaans, which I don’t speak. So I simply gave a thumbs-up and reached for seconds. He grinned and rubbed his belly, nodding.
For more about different types of jerky—pardon me, dried meat—around the world, such as Chinese bakkwa, read this interesting piece by Oyster Food and Culture blogger LouAnn.
July 20, 2010
I spent last week in and around Cape Town, South Africa, traveling with my mom to attend my brother’s wedding. All we knew ahead of time about South African cuisine was that they love a good cookout, and sure enough, our first meal there turned out to be a braai (Afrikaans for “roasted meat,” though like “barbecue,” the word is used to describe the event as well as the food itself) at the home of my brother’s new in-laws.
They seemed surprised that I was so impressed by the wood-fired brick oven built into their outdoor patio—apparently those are about as ubiquitous in South Africa as backyard gas grills are in America. There, as here, the grill tends to be literally manned, while the kitchen is women’s turf (at least in the homes I visited). On that particular Sunday afternoon, a guy named Willem was the chef d’jour.
See the boxy metal container inside the grill in this photo? That’s where Willem stoked a wood fire for at least an hour while the meat marinated. From time to time, he shook the container so that hot embers fell out and could be raked into a layer under the rest of the grill, creating a low, even source of heat.
“A good braai can take all day. It’s not just a meal, it’s an occasion, a time to get together and talk and relax outside,” he explained as my stomach rumbled. Finally, he brought out the meat, starting with a long rope of boerewors (sausage) which he coiled inside a clamshell-style metal grilling basket.
When I asked what was in it, he shrugged.
“I don’t know, just minced meat. Boer means farmers, and wors means sausage,” he explained.
“So….it’s made of minced farmers?” I responded, generating a round of startled laughter.
Next up were chicken sosaties, or what I would call kebabs, one batch marinated in mustard and yogurt and the next in a sticky-sweet barbecue glaze. Then came lamb chops, and finally, some three hours after it all started, the food was ready to eat.
I don’t usually eat much meat, but when traveling, my mantra is “be open,” which extends to both mind and mouth. Besides, I was ravenous! So I dug in, following the lead of others. We ate the meat with our hands, dipping pieces of wors in a sweet curry sauce, picking up the lamb chops like sandwiches, and plucking bites of wonderfully tender chicken off the skewers. For side dishes, there was also mealie pap, a kind of corn porridge served with tomato and onion sauce, and a salad replete with chunks of avocado (or just avo, as they call it).
Pretty tasty, but if I were braai-ing, I’d love to try some vegetables and fish, or even a pizza…