Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Modern Jewish Table: A Cookbook Review

"So no excuses, get out your Kitchenaid, plug in your vibrator, we mean your blender, and sharpen your tools, because we are Zumba-ing into your life with wonderful foods plus a pinch of chutzpah!"
Tracey Fine and Georgie Tarn, The Jewish Princesses.
Cover design by Jenny Zemanek.
Cover photo credit by Rupa Photography London.

I wanted to title this article "Lessons on cooking and life from a Jewish Princess to an Atheist Overeater" but for obvious reasons I decided that might be too divisive. I didn't want to bring religion or my lack thereof into what is essentially a tale of two fabulously outrageous women and their food. This book is completely unlike any other cookbook I own, and I own a lot of them. It is especially different from any other Jewish cookbook I own, I don't own many Jewish cookbooks but I am pretty sure this is different to all of them on the market.

Just think of it, close your eyes and conjure up an image of Jewish food, who cooks it and who eats it. Now scrap that image because I am certain you are way off track. Now think of The Nanny (Fran Fine in case you weren't a child of the 90's), drop the nasal New York accent, add a British accent, lower the hairdo 5 inches and pretend you have ever seen the nanny in a kitchen actually cooking and you are part way there. Tracey Fine (no relation to Fran I am sure) and Georgie Tarn are two self proclaimed Jewish Princesses whose personalities come screaming out of this book. Full of jokes, innuendo and puns this is Jewish cooking with a side serving of Princess flair and a big glass of pink lemonade. They are the sort of women you wish you knew and more importantly you wish would cook for you. But as that is never going to happen at least they divulge all of their cooking secrets and best recipes in book form for the whole world to enjoy.

The first thing you will notice about this book is the cover...and I am going to tell you now that you can't judge the book by it. Whilst a lovely bowl of salad, great food styling and beautiful crockery might be enough for any ordinary book on Jewish cooking, the type you want to appeal to Jewish housewives who like to cook the tried and true traditional recipes, this is no ordinary Jewish cookbook. The cover mutes the voices of these ladies and that is a crime.

The second thing you will notice is that this is not a book of traditional Jewish recipes. It is 100 recipes from around the world that happen to be kosher and this is genius. This is where the lines between religious practices and plain old good cooking is blurred. This is a book for everyone. If you practice kosher eating then you are safe in the hands of Tracey and Georgie or if you just want recipes that are designed with the home cook in mind, are easy to follow and high on the taste-o-meter then this book is also for you. Of course it appealed to me as it is not only Jewish recipes and I love cooking other cultures but it is also recipes from around the world, a tick in all my boxes.

Apart from the cookability of this book I have also learnt all of the secrets to becoming a Jewish Princess, or maybe an honorary one if they will have me (minus the aspect of actually being Jewish I think I can embody all other traits of a Jewish Princess). Here is what I have gleaned on the topic:

  • Anything Princess Pink= GOOD. Think Taramasalata, yum.
  • Feel Princess proud when you present beautiful food to friends and family. Good food = LOVE.
  • Never shy away from a good pun. Easy Hors d' oeuvres = HORS D' EASY of course.
  • Make the old new again with some Princess magic. Think Gefilte fish done street food style. So good.
  • A Jewish Princess knows how to set the scene. Theming is the perfect way to bring a whole new level to your dinner parties. Princess Tea Parlor or Rustic Fantastic. These ladies know how to bring a touch of hollywood to a meal.
  • Any kitchen gizmo that can lighten the load of the Jewish Princess is a welcome addition. Blenders, Coffee machines, pre-boiled water tap. All the modern luxuries a princess deserves.
  • A makeover of any kind is befitting the Jewish Princess. These gals want you to forget 70's canned peaches, 80's mango chutneys or 90's coca cola marinade. They want you to get with the 21st century and try their Za'atar chicken with couscous stuffing.
  • You can never over-use the word Princess. Own it.

The first recipe I tried from this book was the Sephardi Saffron Chicken Soup With Fragrant Matzo Balls. For me Matzo Balls only existed on American television and always in the context of who's mother made the best ones. The soup itself is a rich chicken and vegetable broth made even better with the addition of Saffron. The balls were not like I expected, I thought they would be more doughy like dumplings but the matzo meal made them more bready and hearty. The perfect match to a broth.

I then had to try the modern take on Gefilte fish. To be totally honest I had heard the term Gefilte fish but had no idea what it actually was. I am delighted to find out it is a fish paste type mixture much like the one used in Thai fish cakes and I am a big fan of fish cakes. Fried up into battered street food style bites and accompanied with a yoghurt dressing to cut through the heaviness of the fried batter the balls were crunchy and delicious.

For a super easy weeknight whip up I would recommend the Steak Shawarma, it is amazing what a quick blend of the right spices can do for a piece of meat. We just finished up a large serve of it for dinner wrapped up in tortillas and smeared with sour cream and chives. This recipe had dinner on the table in 10 minutes, I think we can all celebrate that.

All of the recipes are written in an easy to ready fashion for the home cook by home cooks. You don't need fancy equipment but you might need to hunt down the odd Jewish ingredient if you want to stay kosher e.g. matzo meal. But hey that is what the internet is for isn't it? With a diverse range of recipes covering all courses I am looking forward to cooking more recipes from these Jewish Princesses.

I can't finish this review without mention of the sex toy in the room. There is a first time for everything and firsts are memorable. Your first kiss, your first car, your first job and this my friends is the first time I have ever seen a reference to a vibrator in a cookbook. I'll leave you with that thought and the following picture, is there anything more stunning than the colour of Saffron.

My version of the Sephardi Saffron Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls. A dish that popped my Matzo Ball Cherry

A review copy of this book was generously supplied by Skyhorse Publishing. It now has a treasured place in my cookbook collection.

Originally posted on Thursday, 24 August 2017 by

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Harvesting And Cooking With The Locals In Vanuatu

Anyone who knows my husband and myself will know we love to travel but we are not resort people. I deign the thought of visiting a foreign country and sitting around by the pool or on the beach sheltered by the confines of a resort. It just isn't us.

In our recent trip to Vanuatu we hired a car and were out and about everyday. We swam in waterfalls, snorkeled with the local fish, visited villages, drove around waving to all the friendly locals, ate at restaurants and shacks all over the island of Efate. We were so busy in fact that we didn't even get in our hotel pool until the very last day of our trip. I will write a detailed blog post about travelling in Vanuatu and tips on driving but for now I wanted to touch on a day tour we did that was one of the highlights of our stay on Efate.

Now let me tell you it wasn't all peaches and cream. I'll set the scene for you. We are halfway up the side of a mountain. It is humid, my legs from toes to knees are caked in mud and with each step my feet slip and slide across the muddy ground threatening to hurtle me on the my sizable arse. Jean Pierre and his sister, our local guides are up ahead, walking in thongs no less, as if they are out for a Sunday stroll on the promenade. I wonder what the hell I am doing and then I think back to the time that my husband coerced me into riding a bike down a volcano in Bali and despite it being one of the most terrifying 20 kms of my life it was memorable beyond description. So I forged on.

As we passed by a little tin sided shack some tiny puppies ran out to greet us. The shack turned out to be home of our guide, the word basic doesn't begin to describe the house. It's something as a westerner you can't really even fathom living in, it bought me out of my self absorbed haze and back to the realities for the people living in Vanuatu. Jean Pierre enthused that the benefits of this type of housing is that when it blows away in a cyclone you can just collect it up and knock it back together, now that's a glass half full point of view if I have ever heard one.  After a brief stop at the house we continued up the mountain until we came upon another shack, this time with a group of people waiting for us. There were two children, their father and their grandfather, all relatives of our guides and happy to see us. We were shown around their plot of land, harvested some garlic chives and talked about the livestock and produce they cultivate to sustain the extended family who all have their own separate houses and plots scattered around the family land. The family were not well off by any stretch of the imagination but they sustained themselves on home grown spinach, plantains, coconuts, taro, tapioca, tropical fruits and locally caught fish. The meat situation was minimal and we didn't see their livestock except the chickens but the family had pigs and cows which they slaughtered themselves. It was apparent though that they were primarily eating rice and spinach and told us that they eat spinach like we eat meat.

We were each set tasks, I harvested the spinach, a green leafy vegetable very different to what we know as spinach. The men went off and uprooted the tapioca and were was shown how to cut down the banana tree and the locals collected tropical fruits. Loaded up with the harvest we headed back down the slippery slopes, stopping briefly for Jean Pierre to knock down some coconuts from high up in the trees, a feat he nailed first shot.

Once safely down the mountain we were set up around the campfire and were shown how to skin the plantains which were then roasted in the flames and tasted much like potatoes once ready. The local ladies set about turning our harvest into what I can only describe as an above ground hungi (a tradition in the south pacific where food is cooked in a pit dug in the ground). Large banana leaves were laid out on a flat surface and topped with all of the vegetables we had bought back with us from the family plots. They then garnished this with a little chicken and beef and poured over some coconut milk. They took the hot rocks that had been heated amongst the coals of the fire and buried them in the food. Once all the rocks were situated the banana leaves were wrapped back up over the food and rocks to encase the feast completely. This was insulated with coconut husks and a large rug was then placed over the top to help retain the heat and in no more than five minutes it was ready to eat.

As the bundle was unwrapped the steam was released and you could see the hot rocks had created a very hot and steamy environment which cooked the food quickly. They had effectively cooked a feast that could feed half a dozen people only using a pair of tongs, no other kitchen equipment touched the food.

The stew was accompanied with fresh caught fish that had been cooked in foil amongst the coals and the roasted plantains. We sat with the family and shared the feast together. The food itself was simple but the variety of vegetables steamed in the coconut milk made a tasty dish.

The feast was an impressive use of the limited resources they have on Efate and made me reflect on what a luxury the vast array on produce and ingredients we have access to in Australia is. It is easy to forget that large parts of the world can't just wonder in their local Coles or Woolworths and access food imported from all over the world. Efate does have small supermarkets but the reality for many of the village dwelling locals is that the imported food is not affordable or accessible.

We finished the day with a paddle in the stunning bay we set up on and on the drive home Jean Pierre took us on a detour to his house where some baby goats had just been born moments before, their little bodies still covered in blood struggling to stand on their newly found legs.

It is these types of experiences that I hope all travellers get to experience, they imprint on you and expand you view of the world. This particular tour is sold here is Australia by Urban Adventures, an offshoot of the Intrepid Group who specialise in small group adventure travel. It is called the Hunters and Gatherers Tour and I'm so glad we did it. I now have such a strong appreciation of the way the Ni-Vanuatu people live and what a resilient people they are.

Much of this story is better told in photo form so please enjoy:

Jean Pierre, our local guide

Originally posted on Sunday, 13 August 2017 by