Monday, March 02, 2009

80 Plates: G'Day Mate!

So I was doing some research this past week. It is a challenge to try and figure out what to cook from various smaller countries and when I get a request that someone wants us to try, it can be a challenge to find a recipe from a small country and try making it. For instance, I am looking for recipes from Trinidad and Tobago. So I did a Google search and I came upon a site and found a few recipes, one of which had the key ingredient of 1 1/2 cups of lard and the other of which required a bucket of blood and a pile of intestines. Now I've gotten slightly more culinarily adventurous since this project took off (ie I ate a piece of cheese that had not been melted or otherwise modified first), but locating buckets of blood is not something I'm especially excited about. Sorry!

So I decided that what I needed to do was to looked up T & T's national dish. And I came upon a Wikipedia entry that listed the national dishes of every country on earth as near as I can tell. And I have a feeling that this list is going to be immensely useful. So we had some fun--the General would list a country and I would find the listing and tell him what the plate was.

If the General could pick one place in the world to go, it would be Australia, so when he said it and we read that the national dish is meat pie (as declared in 2003 by New South Wales Premier Bob Carr), we knew we had our next country. To be honest, I've had a little bit of experience with Australian meat pie. A couple of years ago, we went to Sunset Beach, NC with our friends Brian and Lara and Brian cut Lara and I a deal: he'd cook dinner if we did the dishes. He had just gotten Rachel Ray's 365 No Repeats cookbook and found a recipe for Australian Meat Pies in there. The recipe was so good that I actually went out and bought a copy of the cookbook myself and a couple of times a year, I make it. But how authentic is it? It was time to take on the task of doing it myself from an Australian recipe.

I did a little research on line and found a few recipes, and finally settled on one from an Australian cook. The many variations I found seem to all be pretty similar, except for the ones on the Food Network site, which I discounted as they were pooh-poohed by actual Australians. I selected a recipe from Cybersoup, and you too can find it here if you care to give this one a try.

Yesterday we did our regular grocery shopping. This was a mistake due to the fact that the storm of the century was upon Fredericksburg and everyone and their uncle was shopping. People were so freakin' rude, even yelling at the General to get out of the way, and I was getting pissed. Because we've been trying to 'eat down' our excess reserves of foods we've had left over from our various culinary adventures (a couple of pork chops here, a few chicken breasts there, various sausages over yonder), we haven't done a whole lot of shopping. Yesterday was a bad, bad day to do the first shopping in 2 weeks.

Fortunately, this meat pie recipe didn't call for anything nutty or even normal but sometimes a challenge to find, like fresh herbs. It is your basic comfort food and we were all over that.

So today with a day off, I decided to make it. I was initially going to make a pavlova to go alongside it, a pavlova being a dessert which is from New Zealand although apparently Australia and New Zealand have some turf wars over who the pavlova actually belongs to. I am very well familiar that Australia and New Zealand are two different countries, but wanted to knock off two birds in one dish and we've been falling behind lately, so I need to catch up! Unfortunately, I forgot to purchase heavy cream to make whipped cream, so we did not get to make the pavlova today. I have emailed my friend Tom in New Zealand and asked him for any pointers on it, so I hope to concoct it on Wednesday or Thursday and it will be even more authentic due to advice from a real live Kiwi!

So back to the meat pie and Australia... First of all, I must apologize to the people at Heinz. My brain was apparently taking a snow day and when I was assembling the ingredients and putting them together for a picture, I neglected to include the ketchup and Worcestershire sauce that the recipe called for. All other ingredients are included. According to everything I read in preparing to cook this dish, I was NOT to buy extra lean ground beef--only lean would do, which according to my local grocery store was 85% lean with 15% fat. And if you read the recipe, it suggests using a pre-made pie crust and puff pastry, so I am not cheating in doing so!

Ok, so the first task is that I needed to finely chop up some onions to cook with the ground beef. This was of utmost importance as earlier, the General had demanded to know if there were onions in this dish and when I replied honestly that there were, he said quite firmly, "No onions, Susan!" So if anything, I minced them. Those suckers were thin and tiny. I browned everything together and then I got into a debate with myself. You see, the recipes were explicit about using beef with a higher fat content. So was I supposed to leave all that in there? Or was I supposed to drain it off? I couldn't really find much about draining, certainly not in the recipe I was using. I finally decided that I just really didn't want to have all that grease and fat in the dish, so I went ahead and drained it off.

I returned the beef to the pan and then went ahead and added water, beef stock cubes which I had crumbled, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, nutmeg, and pepper. Then I made a paste from the remaining water and flour, whisking it together. I tell you, that mini whisk I got for Christmas with some hot cocoa mix has turned out to be the most handy little item for these little pastes that I've been putting together. It's small but mighty!

After it was all mixed smooth, I added it to the beef, which began to thicken beautifully and the most amazing smell filled the kitchen. It was rich and warm and YUM! I let it boil a few minutes and then put it aside as it was supposed to cool before I put it in the pie shell, which I had unrolled and lined my stoneware pie plate with.

After a while, I came back--I had decided to spend my afternoon productively watching the Food Network. Everything was cool, so I preheated the oven to 450 and poured the meat pie filling into the crust. Then came the good stuff: covering it with PUFF PASTRY! Yum, yum! We love puff pastry in our house! After I got it covered, I tucked it in lovingly, cut off the excess, and brushed it with a beaten egg.

Now, here is where I quibble with the recipe, sorry Australian Chef Knockdonagh. The directions said to bake at 450 for 15 minutes, reduce the heat to moderate (I did 350) and bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is golden. I did the first 15 minutes fine, turned the heat down, but after about 10 minutes, I started smelling what could only be construed as the beginnings of the end of a normal bake cycle--any longer and it was going to burn.

I dashed upstairs, and lo and behold I was right! But what I pulled from the oven was magnificent.

Cutting into it was almost a sin. Seriously. I just wanted to stare at it in wonder. But it smelled so good, it would have been a sin not to cut into it. The filling was nice and rich and thick, not runny at all. The pastry held together on the bottom and the top, which I think is quite impressive--usually the bottom crust gets kind of soggy if you don't blind bake it first, but that was not the case at all with this particular dish.

There aren't words. I never thought cooking with nutmeg would be so exquisitely delicious, but two dishes in a row now we have used it (this and the fondue) and it's been fantastic. It really lends a warmth to the dish and while it tastes nutmeg-esque, it's also understated. It's just a wonderful flavor.

The General wanted his smothered in ketchup and I ate mine just plain. I had mine with a side of broccoli and carrots and the General did not. We were just in absolute heaven, seriously. It was so good! Subtley different from the kind I've had before (RR uses tomato paste instead of ketchup, flour, and water for instance), and I would say I preferred this way, but RR was very close to this recipe. We have both agreed that we would add this recipe into our regular rotation!

The General has devised a play list in honor of our meal tonight, so if you want to eat meat pie and listen to some Australian tunes, we suggest:

  • Men at Work – Overkill
  • Air Supply – Don’t Turn Me Away
  • Kylie Minogue – I Should Be So Lucky
  • Olivia Newton John – Hopelessly Devoted (to You)
  • Robert John – Sad Eyes

Also, as you know, Australia has had some devastating brushfires and many lives and tons of property have been lost. If you would like to donate to help those affected by the wildfires, please visit The Australian Red Cross's Bushfires Appeal and donate today.

We'll be back with you in a couple days with our pavolva! Till then, happy eating!

1 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Shib said...

The pie sounds and looks yummy! If you'd like to come up and cook in my kitchen, feel free anyday :-)