World Chefs: New cookbook celebrates food from Sydney diaspora

NEW YORK, Oct. 29 Tue Oct 29, 2013 5:00am EDT

NEW YORK, Oct. 29 (Reuters) - There's no such thing as too many home cooks for the six Jewish women from Sydney, Australia, who met weekly to chop, stir, bake, eat and debate the merits of more than 450 family recipes harvested from their diverse community.

"The Monday Morning Cooking Club" contains the 115 recipes tested and agreed upon by the self-described feisty sisterhood, which began meeting in 2006.

"Some recipes we knew we wanted in and we made them work; others we debated for hours and hours," said Lisa Goldberg, 49, who wrote the book along with Merelyn Frank Chalmers, Jaqui Israel, Lisa Goldberg, Lauren Fink, Natanya Eskin, and Paula Horwitz.

On a visit to the United States, Goldberg and Chalmers, 51, spoke about the Sydney diaspora, why practice makes perfect, and how they thought of calling their book "Start with an Onion."

Q: Why did you write this book?

Goldberg: We wanted to raise money for WIZO, the International Women's Zionist Organization that raises money for women and children in Israel. Our idea was to create a cookbook for charity. It's grown since.

Q: How did the Monday Morning Cooking Club (MMCC) come about?

Chalmers: We needed a theme and a structure for the book. We're all Jewish so we decided to find the very best cooks in the Sydney Jewish community. So we each called and emailed the best cooks each of us knew. Then we asked them for names. Eventually we had about 450 recipes that the six of us stood in the kitchen and tested. And the MMCC was born.

Q: Were you six always friends?

Goldberg: We were all acquainted through the community. But in the seven years since we've been cooking together every Monday morning, as you can imagine, we've become a group of friends, a sisterhood, if you like.

Q: Are any of you professional chefs?

Chalmers: We're all home cooks. None of us has worked in a professional kitchen. But we're all nurturers. We're all mothers. We all enjoy having a table groaning with food and friends and family around that table.

Q: How would you describe the cuisine?

Goldberg: We don't call it a book of Jewish cooking. We call it a book of recipes from Jewish homes because the recipes really come from all over the world.

Chalmers: The Jewish community in Australia is much smaller than in America but a very high proportion of post-World War Two immigration makes the texture of our community a bit different, as reflected in the biographies in the book, which are not only of holocaust survivors but people who've come from Burma, Iraq, Egypt. We also have a very strong South African Jewish community, which is obviously far more recent.

Q: What is always in the pantry of the MMCC?

Chalmers: Onions. We used to joke that we would call this book "Start with an Onion." And we also have quite a lot of sour cream pastries. We've become absolute aficionados and supporters of sour cream pastries.

Q: Any advice for the home cook?

Goldberg: Practice really does make perfect. The first time you make a recipe, it might not work. But if you really want it to, give it two or three times. The more you make it, the easier it becomes.

Chalmers: Really get to know your oven. If a recipe says 350 degrees and your oven runs hot, that is too hot. So if something burns the first time, particularly in baking, make it again with the oven turned down 10 degrees, maybe 20.

Cinnamon and Apple Pie - Serves 10

6-8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced

1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon sugar

3 eggs

345g (1½ cups) caster sugar

375ml (1½ cups) light olive oil or vegetable oil

3 teaspoons vanilla extract

225g (1 ½ cups) plain flour

Extra cinnamon sugar (optional) for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line the base and sides of a 26 cm springform cake tin.

Layer the apple slices in the prepared tin so they come about two-thirds of the way up the sides. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the apples.

Make a batter by beating the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well, then stir in the flour. Spoon the batter on top of the cinnamon-covered apples and sprinkle with extra cinnamon sugar if desired. Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the tin. Serve warm with cream or ice cream. (Editing by Patricia Reaney and Jan Paschal)