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Friday, May 21, 2010

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

International Dumpling Incident - Zwetschkenknödel

What I did on my holidays by Conor

Because I was so good I got to go to a far away place called Austria where the boys wear funny shorts and the girls have pretty hair. Mum says that there was a nice lady called Maria who used to live there but a dog bit her and she got stung by a bee so she doesn't live there any more. There is lots of nice food in Austria. I ate lots of tacos and corn and avocado and a nice green sauce called salsa verde (but you say it like verday). I liked the food so much I bought a cookbook to bring home with me but I think I got the wrong one cos it doesn't have any of that food in it.

When Penny announced the next International Incident Party (yes, it has been a month since the last one) was going to be dumplings, I saw this as an opportunity to try and right some of my culinary wrongs when I visited Vienna a few years ago. Sure, I spent every morning having at least a three course breakfast in the hotel, trying every possible combination of delicious local breads and cheeses and of course finishing off with a slice or two of torte, and my friend and I had two deliciously porky dinners at Siebensternbräu, but it seems like most other meals were eaten at a little authentic Mexican place we discovered and fell in love with. What's not to like about spicy, authentic Mexican food, cold beer and mariachi bands?

Well, what's not to like about it is that it's not terribly Austrian, and no amount of dancing around the Mexican hat can deny that I really dropped the ball with taking advantage of the local desserts. I ate no nockerln (soufflés). I missed out on Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor's Pancake). My first experience of eating the world famous Viennese Sachertorte was when I made it myself back in Perth using the cookbook that I brought back with me (though this had the bonus of me being able to pretend it was just like the real thing).

It was therefore an easy choice for me to decide upon which variation of the term "dumpling" I was going to run with. It wasn't going to be "a small ball of dough cooked and served with stew", "a Chinese dumpling filled with spiced minced pork; usually served in soup" or a "short, chubby creature". I was going to go with "a dessert consisting of a wrapping of dough enclosing sliced apples or other fruit, boiled or baked", and by Johann, I was going to make it from my Austrian cookbook!

Luckily for me, I had used this cookbook before and knew to read the recipe through thoroughly before getting started. I didn't want to have another Sachertorte incident, where I discovered that when they said "stir the chocolate into the cream" they actually meant "do NOT stir the chocolate into the cream listed in the ingredients - save this to serve with the finished torte and instead stir the chocolate into the creamed butter and sugar".

So, I will give to you the recipe as given in my cookbook, but will also give you my changes and suggestions as highlighted.

Burgenländer Marillenknödel (Apricot Dumplings) (I made Zwetschkenknödel (Plum Dumplings))
from Austrian Pastries and Desserts by Maria Wiesmüller

approx.1 lb potatoes, cooked / 450 g potatoes (I used Royal Blue, and didn't cook them before following step 1, which tells you to cook them)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup flour
2 Tb semolina
grated rind of 1/2 lemon (next time I'll use a whole lemon)
2 Tb butter, softened
2 egg yolks

approx. 1 lb fresh or canned apricots, pitted (I used 10 canned plums, which I removed from the juice and dried as well as I could using paper towel)
5-6 sugar cubes (I used 10 little "boondies" of brown sugar)
8 Tb butter mixed with sugar and just over 1/2 cup bread crumbs (8 Tb butter mixed with sugar? I ended up using about 75g butter and around 1 Tb brown sugar)

1. Boil, peel and rice the baking potatoes. I peeled them, cut into smaller chunks, boiled until soft, then drained well and put the saucepan back onto the (turned off) hotplate briefly to get rid of any excess moisture before ricing them with my trusty spoon & sieve method.

2. Combine potatoes with salt, flour, semolina, soft butter and egg yolks (and presumably the lemon rind too, which doesn't make an appearance in their methodology) and mix in a mixing bowl to form a smooth dough. Let stand approx. 30 minutes. (Another recipe I've since read says you must use this dough immediately, but I left mine for the 30 minutes while preparing the plums)

Mmmmm..plum piles

3. Wash apricots and press out pits. Replace pit with half a sugar cube. I was using canned plums, which were filled with juice, and I wasn't sure how strong the dough would be at holding up against super wet plums so I tried to dry them as much as I could using paper towel. Sadly the plums were also incredibly soft, and lost most of their shape as I did this, try as I might to be gentle. So, I just pressed my little boondies of brown sugar into the centre of the pile o' plum and wrapped the rest around. The end result did not resemble lovely little plums with sugary centres but rather masses of soft plum with some sugar jammed in the middle. The Austrian equivalent of Donna Hay (Dönna Häy?) would not be amused.

4. Form a 2 1/2-inch-thick roll and cut into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Flatten each slice somewhat and place apricot in centre. Fold dough over fruit and roll to form a ball. I just grabbed little chunks of the dough, rolled them in my hands to smooth the outside then flattened them out, placing the plums in the centre, folding the dough over and then rolling to form a ball.

5. Gently drop the dumplings into 2 qt lightly salted water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes. I did not bother converting 2 qt water to something my metric brain understands but instead filled a large saucepan with enough lightly salted water to cover the dumplings. I then brought the water to the boil before gently adding the dumplings to the pan, cooking them for around 10 minutes. They were floating when I removed them.

6. Meanwhile brown the breadcrumbs in the melted butter. Remove dumplings with a slotted spoon and roll in bread crumbs. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Don't you love it when recipes say "Meanwhile...". It's like they're testing to see if you bothered reading ahead before getting started. I browned the butter and breadcrumbs (and mysterious sugar) in a frying pan, then removed the dumplings using a slotted spoon and place them in the frying pan, moving them around to coat them in the buttery crumbs. I then removed to a plate, dusted with icing sugar, and served.

Awaiting a dumpling craving, the little babies lie dormant

Given that it was 10:30pm by the time I finished these, and there were only two tired girls in the house, I cooked enough to photograph and then froze the rest uncooked. I'm not sure how well they'll go being cooked after freezing but I guess I'll find out when a dumpling craving hits. The leftover cooked ones I put in the fridge, and they were great reheated the next day.

My housemate and I were both happy with the late night result. The potato gives quite a firm yet spongy texture to the dough, the innards had a nice balance between sweetness and tartness, and the crunchy buttery crumbs added a real, hmmm, crunchy butteryness. The overall taste of the dough was really similar to pancakes cooked in butter. Delicious. My only regret is that the plums didn't exactly look the prettiest, so it is probably a good idea to use fresh plums or apricots if you can.

Please go and have a look at all the other dumplings, linked from Penny's round up, and finally may I wish a very big happy birthday to all the International Incident May babies - Divina Pe of Sense & Serendipity, Shirley of Enriching your kid, Pam of My Man’s Belly, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz and a super big happy birthday to Mardi of eat, live, travel, write who is celebrating her big 4-0 today and who I am meeting up with in Toronto in a few weeks! Happy birthday ladies!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Subha Aluth Avuruddhak Wewa

Did you make any new year's resolutions this year? Planned to reduce your macaron intake? Wean yourself off Gossip Girl? Combat the Tight Pants Fairy's evil work? And did your good plans disappear as quickly as that box of macarons and the sight of your toes?

Well fear not, because the new year has only just begun! The Sri Lankan New Year begins on either 13th or 14th of April each year, with the exact time and date dependent on the time when the sun moves from Meena (Pisces) into Mesha (Aries). The recent new year began on the 14th of April (at 6:58am to be precise), and I was lucky enough to join in the Sri Lankan Cultural Society of Western Australia new year celebrations on Sunday the 18th of April.

It was held at Centenary Park in Wilson on a beautiful sunny Autumn day. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun in a singlet (and shorts, I might add) which turned out to be a clever idea as friends were able to find our group by spotting my blindingly white skin amongst the more melanin blessed crowd.

I was barely there for two seconds before food was being thrust upon me. I got the feeling I was going to enjoy celebrating the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year.

We decided to load up on foods and find some grass to relax on so there would be no injuries should we go into simultaneous food comas. The foods on sale were written up on a whiteboard, and I was glad to have my own personal translator, my friend Lil deVious, to explain the dishes. Fish Roti and Buriyani were fairly obvious to someone who is familiar with Indian food, but I was a little confused by the Cutlets, Chinese Rolls and Wadai under the Shorties part of the menu (though not quite as confused as I was by the chips, fish & chips and hot dogs on offer).

While we were lining up, I was a little alarmed by the apparent popularity of the chips and hot dogs, but I guess if you make your own yellow rice and curries at home every day, it might be nice to treat yourself with a bucket of chips on a Sunday. 

Chinese Roll (2 for $3.50) and Cutlet (3 for $2.50) - thanks to lovely hand model Lil deVious for giving some added authenticity to my photos

The Chinese Roll and Cutlet are somewhat similar, both containing a spicy fishy filling which tasted like a spicy, aromatic version of my Mum's tuna patties. I love my Mum's tuna patties and I loved these. The Cutlets are round crumb-coated balls of the fish mixture, while the Chinese Rolls are like a spring roll that has been crumbed before frying.

Wadai (3 for $2.50)

The next tasty fried shorties were wadai, spicy fried lentil patties. The outer layer was perfectly crispy and I loved the amount of heat contained within each naughty morsel. These would be perfect with a cold beer.

Rice and curry ($7.50); yellow rice ($8)

The "rice and curry" came with "fish, potato, beans, dhal", while the yellow rice came with "chicken, potato, eggplant", and both had a dollop of spicy spicy chilli. Both were aromatic, well spiced, filling meals. I would have liked a bit more of a kick to it, but was able to achieve this easily by adding the chilli to my forkfuls. I can understand that they couldn't exactly have every component knocking your socks off with the heat, as they were cooking for a large crowd and even with a mostly Sri Lankan crowd you sadly cannot assume everyone is a chilli fiend. 

Hot chips ($3)

One of the other non-Sri Lankans in our group got these chips. He's a Kiwi. I like to think he got them purely to entertain us with his pronunciation of "chips". They looked nice and crunchy but I was not willing to spare a single chip worth of stomach space.

The Hopper Man, working his magic

This was my first Sri Lankan hopper experience and it will not be my last. Oh no, as the magical Hopper Man is my witness, I will never go hopper hungry again! Hoppers are basically thin pancakes made in quite concave pans. There are many varieties of hoppers, but on this day we had a stack of plain hoppers finished off with an egg hopper on top. The egg was perfectly cooked such that there was no "snot" on the white (thanks Dad for giving me such a classy vocabulary) but the yolk was gooey and begging to be dipped into with pieces of hopper. The accompanying chicken drumstick was tender and spicy and the coconut sambol was heaven in a hopper scoop.

A plate of hopper joy

Goopy goopy googy egg

In addition to the good eating, there were a number of games being played throughout the day. I'm not sure what they are called in Sinhalese or Tamil, but I would call them hitting a claypot piñata, pillow fighting, and of course a good old game of cricket.

Watching a talented piñata smasher bust open the clay pot was amazing. All of the children that had been impatiently waiting around the sidelines rushed in faster than I could capture with my camera, eagerly grabbing at the freed treats while the triumphant stick-wielder pumped his fists in the air. I felt a little sorry for him - to pause for your success to be captured on film, or to make sure some of those liberated lollies make it into your pockets? A tough choice.

The pillow fighting went on for hours, with many heats leading up to the finals. Watching the men's finals was something else, these guys really meant business. I think they had been training in their backyards. The ultimately triumphant pillowman had a winning technique of absorbing all the force of his opponent's whacks in the side of his head before making his move with one or two hits to throw his opponent off balance and send him tumbling off the log.

I didn't watch much of the cricket, but I did manage to capture a little mini Muttiah Muralitharan deliver a killer doosra all of about 2 metres, forcing the batsman to run forward more than half the length of the pitch to reach the ball.

I didn't want the celebrations to end, and luckily they continued the following night when Lil deVious invited me around to her place for dinner. The place smelled so good when I arrived I could have just walked around chomping the air and almost have been satisfied. Almost. Fortunately for my bundy (stomach) we got to eat the source of the smells, and the kiribath (milk rice), chicken curry and seeni sambol were right on the rupee. Bohoma sthuthi, Lil deVious, your cooking is truly rasai. I'm worried my bundy is going it pack its bags and migrate to Sri Lanka without me.  

Seeni sambol, chicken curry and kiribath (milk rice)

Rasai dins, round 1

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gently rapping at the pantry door

 Can you spot the teddies discussing which one of them is going to make a dash for the almond croissants?

Playing host to the annual Vincent Cappucino Festival since 2008, Angove Street has turned into quite the bustling cafe strip over the past few years. Its still has a lot to offer if your house is overrun with giant pests, your Swedish car has broken down or you're in need of a cold beer and some local music, but it now also offers quite a few good food choices should the giant pest fighting have stirred your appetite. It was a friend's birthday last week and so we battled the bustle, considering milkd or Il Circolo before deciding to visit The Pantry Door for the first time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Master Farter turns 1 (and so does something else)

Just over one year ago we had a new addition to our grizzled old family - my little nephew Alby was born. Alby is the first grandchild for my parents and my sister-in-law's parents, and his arrival was quite exciting for everyone - particularly as it was a somewhat difficult pregnancy and he came out to say hello to us all a little bit before he was fully cooked.

Luckily for him, a healthy appetite seems to run in our family and he's been growing like a champion since that day. He also managed to figure out the whole walking thing before his first birthday, probably in order to get himself to food more easily.

One of the highlights of my trip up to Geraldton over the Easter weekend was Alby's first birthday party. I was beaten to volunteering to make the birthday cake by my sister-in-law's mother, and a first birthday party is perhaps not the ideal environment for a baking showdown so I agreed to bring along some cupcakes. I soon got planning.

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My love of cooking is surpassed only by my love of eating, though I never quite recovered from the beef I was served at college. I'll try almost anything once, but it takes a very special piece of offal or beef to get me to try it again.

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