September 18th – Cheeseburger Day

The good ol’ US of A loves its Cheeseburger, so much so that on September 18th, they celebrate National Cheeseburger Day! And why wouldn’t they? Americans consume around 50 billion hamburgers a year!

There have been several claims as to who was the original creator of the Cheeseburger. However, the oldest claim belongs to 16-year-old Lionel Sternberger. A young Lionel was said to have added a slice of cheese onto a cooking hamburger at his father’s sandwich shop, the “Rite Spot” in Pasadena, California, in 1924. Dad was so impressed, he added the burger to the menu and dubbed the creation the ‘Aristocratic Burger.’

According to the McDonald’s Hamburger University, the inventor of the Hamburger itself was an unknown vendor at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis. The town of Athens, Texas, claims that a local by the name of Fletcher Davis who ran a small cafe on the Henderson County courthouse square in the late 1880s’, was the inventor of the Hamburger. Davis did attend the St. Louis World Fair as a “pottery-turner” representing W. S. Ceramics Co. It is speculated that he used that pass to gain access to the fair to sell his hamburger sandwich on the midway.

Hamburgers started appearing in Australia in the 1930s, typically garnished with lettuce, tomato, and onions. The addition of beetroot and pineapple that defines the iconic Aussie Burger did not occur until the 1940s’ and attributed to the opening of the Edgell and Golden Circle canneries. It has also been suggested that the addition of beetroot and pineapple was a practical joke played on US troops ashore on R&R. If this is true, American’s disdain for beet’s on burgers may be more a matter of National pride than taste? Ironically, if it was a practical joke, it backfired, and now the ‘Aussie Burger’ is stuck with a definitive ingredient for which even Australians are somewhat divided.

The Hamburger holds a special place in my memories. My father raved about a burger he ate on a family holiday to Hawaii in the early 70s’. It was a simple burger; two beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun. He thought it would be popular back home and would great to open that restaurant here. Mum dismissed it as another of Dad’s stupid ideas. But I often wonder how life would look now had Dad been one of Melbourne’s first McDonalds franchisees? But my fondest memory is of my Grandfather’s burgers (or Grumps, as we liked to call him); he was a regular grill master. I can still see Grumps flipping burgers in his elaborate outdoor kitchen as we frolicked in the pool on those long Summer days. Good times!

In honour of the great American Cheeseburger, I present my Bacon Double Cheeseburger.

Hamburger Rolls

Ingredients
  • 7 g / 1 sachet dried yeast
  • 40 g caster sugar
  • 250 ml lukewarm water
  • 45 ml butter, melted
  • 500 g Type ‘00’ flour
  • 20 g salt
  • 1 large egg
  • Olive oil
Method

1. Add yeast, 70g flour and water to mixing bowl. Wisk to combine. Allow to stand 10 to 15 minutes until mixture is frothy.

2. Add caster sugar, egg and salt to mixture. Wisk to combine.

3. Sift remaining flour to mixture, one cup at a time. Mixing mixture with a dough hook as you go. Once all flour has been added, mix for 10 minutes.

4. Remove dough from bowl. Lightly coat dough with olive oil. Place dough back in bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place and let stand for about 2 hours until dough has doubled in size.

5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Gently pat down to remove bubbles. Divide into 6 equal portions and form into a ball.

6. Pat and stretch each portion into disc shapes, about 2.5cm thick. Place discs on to baking paper, cover loosely with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place and let stand until dough has doubled in size.

7. Preheat oven to 190 degrees (375 degrees F.)

8. To add sesame seeds, lightly brush each disc with a mixture of egg white from 1 egg and 2 tbls of water wisked together. Sprinkle sesame seeds over buns. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes, gently brush buns with melted butter.

9. Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes.

Hamburger Patties

Ingredients
  • 1 kg Beef mince
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 small granny smith apple
  • 1 medium size onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 120 g bread crumbs
  • 1 tbls paprika
  • 1 tbls garlic powder
  • 1 tbls mixed herbs
  • 1 tbls salt
  • 1 tbls tomato sauce
  • 2 tbls Worcestershire Sauce
Method

1. Add grated carrot, grated apple, roughly chopped onion, bread crumbs, herbs, spices and sauces to a food processor. Process until smooth.

2. Combine mixture with cold beef mince and eggs.

3. Form patties approx 2 cm thick. (Tip. Use an egg ring as a guide for consistent sized patties.)

4. Place on tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic film, and allow to rest in refrigerator for about 1 hour.

5. Cook in frying pan or on flat grill until the patties are browned and caramelised.

TIP: To avoid sticking in pan, line pan with a small sheet of baking paper

To Construct Bacon Double Cheeseburger

1. Cook bacon until crispy. Sit aside on paper towel.

2. Half buns and lightly toast the cut side under grill.

3. Cook hamburger pattie and top with a 2 slices of Gruyere cheese, cook until melted.

4. Add tomato sauce and American mustard to top and bottom halves of toasted roll.

5. On the bottom roll, place 2 hamburger patties, top with crispy bacon, pickled cucumber, and thinly sliced onion. Place other half of roll on top… enjoy!

The Spaghetti Bolognese Controversy

Who doesn’t love a ‘spag bol’? Some garlic bread and green salad on the side. It’s just great comfort food, and the kids love it!

As a kid, we regularly ate ‘spag bol.’ As I mentioned previously, growing up, we didn’t eat a lot of ‘foreign’ food, so I thought spaghetti sauce came in a can for a long time. Overcook some spaghetti, heat a tin of “Campbells Spaghetti Sauce,” add some tomato sauce, sprinkle on some “Kraft Parmesan,” and there you have it!

Then one day, it all changed. Sitting down to lunch with family friends, we had Spaghetti Bolognese. It was a food revelation! It changed my life forever, and we never ate spaghetti sauce from a tin again!

You may not know that what we think to be one of Italy’s most iconic dishes is not! Indeed, you are not likely to find Spaghetti alla Bolognese on the menu of any restaurant in Italy other than a tourist trap. And yet, the dish has been the subject of passionate and heated debate over the years.

Pellegrino Artusi, an Italian business man and writer, may have been the first to coin the term ‘Bolognese’ in his cookbook published in 1891, ‘La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene’ titled ‘Maccheroni alla Bolognese.’ However, Alberto Alvisi was a cook in the late 1700s’ for the bishop of Imola, who became Pope Pio VII, who made ‘Ragù per li maccheroni appasiciati,’ a meat sauce recipe for pasta.

Interestingly, despite neither of those early recipes using tomatoes, the so-called “classic” Bolognese recipe filed with Accademia Italiana Della Cucina in1982 does. When the New York Times published a recipe for a ‘White Bolognese,’ Italian purists went wild, blasting the newspaper for the blasphemy of suggesting a Bolognese didn’t need tomato. Furthermore, meat-based ragu’s have been eaten since ancient Roman times, with tomatoes only arriving in Italy in 1548 from the New World. Even then, tomatoes did not gain popularity for over a century later. 

Perhaps the more controversial issue is the use of spaghetti. Spaghetti is too thin to hold an ‘authentic’ Ragu Alla Bolognese. Ragu in ancient times was typically eaten on polenta or bread, while today, it is generally served with Tagliatelle. While Bologna is reputably the home of Spaghetti Bolognese, its Mayor, Virginio Merola, appears to be on a pasta crusade to set the record straight, tweeting images of Spaghetti Bolognese as being “fake news!” 

So while this is not a traditional bolognese sauce, it’s rich and flavoursome. More so, it’s a thicker sauce, so it will sit on spaghetti rather than pooling at the bottom of the dish. It also works great in a lasagne bolognese and doesn’t leave you with a sloppy mess that doesn’t hold together.

Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 2 800g tins diced Italian tomatoes
  • 200g Tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp Italian herb mix
  • Sugar and season to taste
Method

1. Cut onions into large dice, place in a large frying pan, add olive oil, and sweat until onions are translucent but not starting to brown. Add minced garlic and cook off for a couple more minutes.

2. Combine beef mince with onion and garlic mixture. Brown mince.

3. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and combine

4. Add dried herbs and stir through.

5. Simmer for at least 1 hour.

Note

I prefer to cook my sauce in a large frying pan. Using a frying pan tends to give better caramelisation to the ground beef, rather than cooking it in a pot where it tends to boil in its juices.

Pumpkin Soup; Australia’s favourite!

Taste Magazine” crowned Pumpkin Soup, Australia’s number 1 favourite soup!

It’s hard not to love the warm, velvety delight of classic Pumpkin Soup, especially with a slice of warm crusty bread fresh from the bakery. There are so many variations on this traditional dish; how do you know which is the “best”? Some recipes say to roast the pumpkin, others to boil it. Do you add cream or not?

Ultimately, what makes the “best” Pumpkin Soup will be a matter of personal taste. You might consider looking for recipes that include some of the following ingredients that make for classic pairings with pumpkin; butter; cinnamon; cream; ginger; nutmeg; and, sage.

But to who do we owe gratitude for the creation of Pumpkin Soup?

Pumpkin is native to Central America. Archaeologists found evidence of pumpkin cultivation in the Oazaca Highlands of Mexico from 7500 years ago.

Some argue that the origins of Pumpkin Soup derive from Haiti, with a dish called “Soup Joumou,” which translates to “pumpkin soup.” Soup Joumou is said to have been created by Haitians to celebrate Haiti’s Independence from French Colonists in 1804. The soup is made with pumpkin, beef, and an assortment of other vegetables. It is still eaten today in celebrating Haiti’s fight for freedom.

Although Soup Joumou has an important place in food history, it does not denote the origin of Pumpkin Soup, with recipes appearing in European cookbooks decades earlier. ‘The Professed Cook’ published in England 1776, offered a recipe for “Pompkin Soup,” which identified it as a French dish and is more akin to what we associate Pumpkin Soup with today.

Nonetheless, pumpkin soup may still have found its origins in Haiti. The Spanish began transporting African slaves to their colonies in Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1517. Squash has long held a place in traditional African cuisine. Perhaps African slaves recognised pumpkins’ similarities with squash and used it as an alternative in their traditional recipes, such as Squash Soup?

On the other hand, Squash Soup is no stranger to French cuisine. A recipe for “Congordes,” or gourds in pottage, appears in ‘Le Viandier de Taillevent,’ written around 1300. France only colonised Haiti in 1664 and was not likely aware of any Pumpkin Soup that may have been created by the African slaves there until that time. Pumpkin made its way across the Atlantic after the European colonisation of Central America. Pumpkin had arrived in France by the early 16th Century; a prayer book made around 1508 for the duchess of Brittany, Anne de Bretangne, describes pumpkins. So it may be that the French also adapted pumpkin to their version of Squash Soup?

For all we know, Pumpkin Soup may have evolved in the two cultures independently around the same time. Or perhaps its creation has been lost in the mists of time with the passing of Central American indigenous cultures who had cultivated pumpkins for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. We may never know!

Not all pumpkins are the same, and some lend themselves better for roasting than boiling. Pumpkins typically available at Australian supermarkets include Kent (Jap), Jarradale, and Butternut. 

Kent (Jap) pumpkins are sweet and have a firm texture, and are better for roasting.

Jarradale pumpkins are versatile, mild in flavour, and can be boiled or roasted.

Butternut pumpkins are not pumpkins at all but are a type of squash. They are sweet and nutty in flavour and are excellent roasted. 

To achieve a greater depth of flavour, cook the pumpkin between 140 to 165°C (285-330°F). If cooking in a pot rather than roasting, it’s important not to add stock to a pot until the pumpkin has developed its flavour. Cooking at temperatures greater than 165°C (330°F) begins to caramelise natural sugars in the pumpkin that add new flavours.  

One of my favourite memories of pumpkin soup was a Pumpkin and Duck Soup I had on a visit to Clover Cottage in Melbourne’s outer south-east. Clover Cottage was synonymous with fine dining, offering a four-course banquet in an opulent Victorian-style dining room, complete with a grand pianist. Dinner would begin with a selection of hors d’oeuvres, followed by soup. For the main course, guests made their way to the buffet where the maître d’ would describe each dish on offer. It was such a feast that diners were encouraged to stroll in the gardens after the main course to make room for the dessert buffet. Sadly the closing of Clover Cottage in 2016 after 40 years signified the end of an era in Melbourne dining. 

Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients
  • 2 kg Butternut pumpkin
  • 2 Brown onions
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 100g Butter
  • 1tbls Curry powder
  • 2 cups Chicken stock
  • 300ml Full Cream
Method

1. Melt butter in a stockpot over low heat. Add sliced onions and minced garlic, and sweat until translucent. Add curry powder and combine.

2. Peel and de-seed Butternut pumpkin. Cut into chunks and add to stockpot. Combine with onion mixture. Cover pot and allow to cook until soft. Stir regularly to ensure no sticking on the bottom of the stockpot. Maintain temperature at 140 to 165°C (285-330°F) (Can be tested with thermometer).

3. Gently mash pumpkin in the stockpot. Add chicken stock. Simmer for 30 minutes.

4. Blend pumpkin mixture in batches. For a smoother texture, use an upright blender rather than a stick blender. Add cream while blending to get the desired thickness for the soup

5. Return blended soup to a pot, and simmer over low heat. Season to taste.

I have added slices of succulent duck breast to my soup in tribute to my visit to Clover Cottage all those years ago.

Pizza; The world’s favorite takeaway!

With 5 billion pizza’s sold worldwide each year and 350 slices of pizza eaten every second. Pizza ranked as the world’s favourite takeaway!

Pizza has its roots in antiquity, with records of various ancient civilisations know to have eaten flatbread with different toppings. Persian soldiers serving Darius the Great in the 6th Century BC baked flatbread on their shields, topped with cheese and dates. The ancient Greeks made a cake called ‘plakous’, which translates to ‘cheese pie’ made with layers of flatbread with goat’s cheese and honey.

Naples, the birthplace of modern pizza, was settled by the Greeks in the first millennium BC. Consistent with Hellenic tradition, pizza from Naples was traditionally sweet, not savoury, until the late 19th Century. It was a street food, widespread among the masses of lazzaroni, the working poor, as an inexpensive food that they could eat quickly.

But it was not until 1889, during a royal visit to Naples, that Queen Margherita approved a pizza topped with tomato, mozzarella, and basil (the colours of the Italian flag). Pizza was no longer a poor man’s dish. Nonetheless, pizza mainly remained unknown outside Naples until the early 20th Century as Neapolitans began to migrate in search of a better life.

The popularity of pizza in Australia began to rise after the second world war, with Italian immigrants. After failed attempts to start pizzerias in Canberra and Sydney, Naples-born Salvatore Della Bruna, in partnership with Franco Fera, opened Melbourne’s first pizzeria, Toto’s, in Lygon Street, Carlton, in 1961.

Sadly, Toto’s Pizza Restaurant closed its doors in 2020, falling victim to Melbourne’s COVID lockdowns. While Toto’s claimed to be the first pizzeria in Australia, that title possibly belongs to Lucia’s Pizza & Spaghetti Bar in Adelaide Central Market. Lucia’s opened in 1957 and can still be visited today.

But you don’t have to order out anymore. It’s easy to make your pizza at home, and it makes a fun activity for the kids in adding their favourite pizza toppings. The dough itself is best made ahead of time and takes about 15 minutes to prepare.

When it comes to your pizza sauce, please don’t put all the effort you went to in making the dough go to waste by slavering it with tomato paste. Authentic pizza sauce is light and fresh and does not require cooking. Just mix the ingredients; it is as simple as that! You don’t want to drown your dough in sauce and be sure not to take it right to the edge.

In a recent survey, Australian’s identified their favourite pizza toppings. The top five toppings included mozzarella, salami or pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and yes, you guessed it, pineapple! Of course, you can add whatever you like. Today, I pay homage to the first modern pizza, the Margherita, simply topped with mozzarella and fresh sweet basil.

The best temperature to cook pizza at is between 250 to 260 degrees Celsius. But conventional home ovens don’t get that hot, so get it as hot as you possibly can. I cook mine in my Matador Titan BBQ that can easily maintain the heat of a pizza oven.

Recipe

Pizza Dough

Ingredients

7g / 1 sachet dried yeast
pinch of caster sugar
375 ml lukewarm water
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
600 g Type ‘00’ flour
1 tsp salt

Method

1. Place yeast and sugar in a jug, combine with water. Set aside for 5 minutes until foamy. Stir olive oil into the mixture.

2. Sieve flour and salt in a large bowl. Make well in the centre and slowly add yeast mixture combining it with the dry ingredients. Combining the ingredients can be done in a mixer with a dough hook, or use a round-bladed knife to mix using a cutting motion. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

3. Bring together dough mix with your hands and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for approximately 5 minutes.

4. Place dough in a large bowl. Seal the bowl with cling wrap and allow to double in size, then refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.

NB. While the rising process can be hasted (30 minutes to 3 hours) by leaving the dough in a warm place for fermentation, carbon dioxide produces faster. Potentially this can create undesirable flavours similar to sour milk. For this reason, a slow cold fermentation produces more rich, complex flavours. If you wish to use the quick method, you must also knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic to suitably activate the gluten.

5. Divide dough into thirds. Stretch out dough to form a disc. Unused dough can be placed in a zip-lock bag and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 3 months.

Pizza Sauce

Ingredients

400g Tin of peeled diced Italian tomatoes
½ tsp Sea salt
30ml extra virgin olive oil (I like to use a garlic-infused oil)
3-4 leaves of fresh sweet basil
a couple of pinches of dried oregano

Method

1. Add tomatoes, salt, oil, oregano, and torn basil leaves to a bowl. Stir to combine.

Use a stick blender to puree the sauce if you prefer a smoother texture.

The pizza sauce will refrigerate for about a week or freeze for up to a month.

Welcome to Fanks Kitchen

Hi, I’m Matthew, welcome to Fanks Kitchen!

With so many COVID lockdowns, what else is there left to do other than to start a food blog?

For way longer than I would care for, I have compensated for not being able to enjoy dining out by making more of an effort with my home cooking. Through sharing my passion for food online, I have maintained meaningful connections with friends and family during this challenging time. Cooking has provided me with some respite from the chaos and allowed me to be present and enjoy some simple pleasure. In following my food journey, some have discovered an appreciation for fine dining and a desire to learn. Others have honed their skills and have been more adventurous in what they make. People ask what I have been up to in the kitchen, teach, or offer recipes and tips. And now, I would like to share my passion with new friends. Welcome to Fanks Kitchen!

Many have asked why I never pursued a career as a chef, and my answer is always the same; I love food too much, and I fear I would end up hating it! But nothing gives me more pleasure than sharing my passion with friends and family, and in this, I am content. My love affair with food is nothing new; it has been an interest of mine from an early age.

I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs. We ate a very English style of cooking consisting of a staple diet of meat and three vegs! The meat was cooked well-done, the vegetables generally boiled to death, often with the secret ingredient of a pinch of bi-carb. Think dinner time for Darryl Kerrigan and the family in “The Castle,” and you get the idea (Yes, complete with my uncle and grandfather discussing the Trading Post). Take-away was a treat for us, and we would only ever go to a restaurant on special occasions. The only foreign cuisine we were familiar with was Chinese and fine dining was smorgasbord’s at “The Swagman” in Ferntree Gully, or “Cuckoo Restaurant” up in the Dandenong’s.

One might wonder how my childhood experience could provide a foundation to build a love of food; call it traumatic growth if you like! That’s not to say mum is a lousy cook; actually, she’s pretty good when she puts her mind to it. It was a reflection of the time, and I expect many my age might share similar experiences. There are no romantic stories here of cooking recipes from the old world, passed down from generation to generation with a Nona! But yet the stories are not so different in that they establish an emotional connection with food.

I have a large extended family, so for me, my emotional connection was the coming together of family and friends at the table to break bread. My Gran was an excellent cook. She was famous for her Trifle (I swear there must have been a whole bottle of sherry in that!) And her renowned “Raspberry Cake”; a Raspberry and Meringue torte that she would often quietly make an extra one of just for me on my birthday…because for the record…I was the favourite grandchild! Even now, my mother will give me one of my favourite pies for my birthday. We can connect with others through food and achieve a sense of belonging; we can show our affection by sharing with those we love. Food is sustenance for the soul as well as the body.

We did not have the fanciest meals growing up, and for the most part, we made do. But that inadvertently provided me with lessons in food sustainability. Dad grew up on the land. It was in his blood, born into a family who had been orchardists in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs for over a century. We’d grow our fruit and vegetables; have chickens in the coop; prepared preserves; used cheaper cuts of meat; very little of anything ever was wasted. I continue to adopt this approach in my cooking today, which produces a much better quality dish.

Home cooking has evolved a lot since back then. Thanks to Melbourne’s wonderful multi-cultural community, we’ve embraced greater diversity with the different cuisines we enjoy. A greater variety of produce is available. We no longer only get two types of potato (washed and unwashed), and carrots are no longer just orange. But maybe, in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction? For some, good food has started to feel unapproachable and pretentious. We are prone to comparing our cooking ability to intimidating “home cooks” on reality television who could give most professional chefs a run for their money. Or we compare our dishes to the foodporn that swamps social media. Food must not only taste good; it requires layers of textures, stimulates all the senses, is prepared in a science lab, and presents as a work of art. Is it any wonder that it just seems all a bit too hard? I want to challenge that belief and show people that they can create good food in their home kitchens.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on our lives. Lockdowns and reduced seating capacity have decimated the hospitality industry. Sadly, it has been the final nail in the coffin for many restaurants and cafes, with many closing their doors permanently. Now, we race to secure reservations as restrictions end. We are limited to an hour or two to scoff down our meal, with waiters breathing down our neck, hurrying us along to make room for the next booking.

All in all, it’s a not so enjoyable dining experience, and one might wonder why bother? As businesses attempt to recoup their losses and offset additional expenses, I fear we might expect to see hikes in menu prices. It promotes a “charge them more and give them less” attitude, making these establishments less affordable to many experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. The outlook is grim for the hospitality industry and those who enjoy dining out!

But with adversity comes opportunity! We have more time to cook, learn and hone our skills. And sharing a meal at the dinner table is a chance to bond with loved ones. It offers a way to save some money and relieve some financial stress. Cooking provides a means to achieve mindfulness and connect with others to promote our mental well-being. Now is a time to redefine the role of food in our lives. Fanks Kitchen is here to help you transition into this new world. I hope you will join me, stay awhile, and find your food passion!