Chicken and chorizo empanadas

Happy that I was organized for an upcoming  job, I was sitting comfortably on the lounge sipping peppermint tea after dinner. Tomorrow I would make the chicken and chorizo empanadas, part of the Mexican street food spread that I was preparing for a party at the weekend. But right now I was in front of a beautifully warm open fire browsing restaurants in Bali for our upcoming holiday. I could hear that outside, the powerful wind had amped up again and that rain was still lashing angrily at the windows. It was an aggressive storm that had caused mass flooding and uprooted trees on every single street over the last two days. From our deck, Thea and I had been watching arborists in fluorescent rain coats all day, brave the elements to remove a fallen gum tree that had ploughed straight through one of our neighbours homes. Nonchalantly believing that we were lucky to have escaped the same fate, I was about to be proved very wrong.

There was no loud crack to fore warn that a tree was about to fall. It just happened. All of a sudden the power went out and in the darkness the only sound that could be heard was crashing. Usually when something falls on our tin roof, it’s noisy and can make your heart pound, fallen debris sounding bigger and more damaging than it really it is. There was no doubt this time though. Whatever had fallen was huge and very destructive. The clattering noise was relentless, and Mark and I held each other bracing for impact from overhead.

It felt like as soon as it had started, the noise stopped. I jumped up, ever so slightly hysterical. THEA. My baby girl was in bed and if I hadn’t been hit by whatever had fallen, did that mean that she had? Mark pulled me close and told me to calm down. That she was fine. It was our chimney stack that had collapsed and that if I went in and got her in the state I was in, I would scare her. I took on board his wise words, breathed deeply and using the light on my phone went to her room. She was sitting up waiting for me. I packed a bag while Mark put out the fire, a hazard that had completely gone over my head as I stuffed nappies, toothbrushes and underwear into a bag. Our neighbours were yelling up at us. Were we ok? I yanked at the front door to let them know we were. It wouldn’t open. I went to the window and pulled back the curtain. All that I could see in front of me through broken glass was a mass of branches and leaves, fractured floorboards and crumpled sheets of roofing. Our whole deck had splintered away from the house.

When firemen arrived to check that our fire was out and to escort us around our home to collect any valuables and emergency items, I pleaded with them to save my Mexican beef stew. A strange last minute grab from a house just rendered unsafe by a falling tree, but that pot of food was not going to go to waste. Onions, carrots, capsicums, celery and garlic had been whizzed up in a food processor first thing that morning and then sweated slowly over a low heat. Tomatoes, bay leaves, cumin, coriander and chilli were added, along with a five kilo hunk of beef, and the pot had simmered undisturbed all day, only occasionally interrupted to be stirred. My neighbours kindly let me store the hefty stainless steel pot in their fridge, as I explained it was for a job at the weekend and despite a tree just having fallen on my house, I was not going to pull out of the work and let anyone down.

Safely installed at Ma and Pa’s a few days later, I resumed preparations for the party. Referring to my list, 100 chicken and chorizo empanadas needed to be made. Unfamiliar with how to go about setting up a production line in Ma’s kitchen, I started by investigating what was in all the cupboards and drawers. Ma looks after things with such care that the majority of her utensils and appliances are older than me. And I love that. Well looked after kitchen equipment with soul. Great grandma, who happened to be visiting at the same time we became homeless, was shocked with the number of pastry pockets that I had to make, but intrigued as to how I would actually go about the process. With Thea being blissfully entertained in the garden by Ma, I began the empanadas. In between sneaking glances through the window of Thea on the swing and chatting about TV detective series with G g Ma, the task was completed in no time. Somehow, despite the odds, I was back on track.

 Chicken and chorizo empanadas

Adapted from a recipe by Paul Hollywood


For the pastry

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Make the pastry first and allow it to rest in the fridge while you make the filling.

Whizz the butter and flour in a food processor until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.

Add the egg and salt and pulse until the mixture comes together. If it is still and little dry, add water drip by drip.

Tip the pastry out onto a piece of cling wrap, cover and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest before rolling out for the chicken and chorizo empanadas.

For the filling

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 chorizo
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 50g rasins
  • salt and black pepper

Roast the chicken in the oven for approximately 1.5 hours until cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough so that you can handle it.

In the meantime, in a food processor, whizz up the onion, garlic and chorizo. Transfer the mixture to a wide pot and cook over a low heat until the onion is translucent and the chorizo is starting to release its red perfumed oil.

Add the raisins and cumin, salt and pepper, cook for a few more minutes to allow all the flavours to mingle and then remove the pot from the heat.

Now pull apart the roast chicken, finely shredding the meat and add it to the chorizo mixture. Save the chicken carcass to make stock.

To assemble the chicken and chorizo empanadas

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm.

Using a round pastry cutter, cut circles in the pastry. In the top half of these circles,place teaspoonfuls of the chicken and chorizo filling.

Take another lightly beaten egg, and with a pastry brush, paint egg wash on the top half of the circle where the filing has been placed. Now fold over the empty half of the pastry circle and press the edges together. Seal using the prongs of a fork by pressing them into the pastry all the way around the open edges.

To bake, place the chicken and chorizo empanadas on a baking tray, brush the tops with more egg wash and place in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy the chicken and chorizo empanadas while still hot from the oven, with a cold beer!

Anzac biscuits for Thea

Making food for Thea is an interesting task. Somedays she enjoys the things that I put in front of her, other days she blows raspberries at them, turning her head away in disgust, communicating her disdain for my lack of insight into what she would like to eat. Anzac biscuits though are always well received. I break one in half and give her the pieces to hold, one in each hand. She clenches her little fists tightly around the halves and scoffs alternately from left and right. The Anzac biscuits that I make for her are a slightly modified version of the original, a ‘healthy’ interpretation if you will, but as Anzac Day is approaching I thought that to commemorate the day of remembrance, I would make Thea some ‘proper’ Anzac biscuits.

The funny thing is that when I was at school, I was good friends with Charlotte. Every Friday we would catch the bus back to her house and before we even changed out of our school uniforms, make Anzac biscuits. Charlotte’s mum was from New Zealand and the recipe that we used was handwritten with black pen on a well referenced piece of paper. In her narrow kitchen, with Crowded House and REM playing in the background, we would carefully measure out the oats, and probably not so carefully the golden syrup, to make our afternoon snack. Warm for the oven we would take the biscuits and cold glasses of milk up to Charlotte’s bedroom and read fashion magazines, whilst munching hungrily on the crunchy oat discs.

Oats are always a staple in the kitchen and are so much more than the main ingredient in a steaming bowl of porridge to comfort the soul on a cool winter’s morning. They make a great summer breakfast too, soaked overnight with freshly squeezed orange juice, and eaten the next day with a handful of chopped nuts and some plain yoghurt. Oats are beautifully suited to mixing with almonds, sultanas and some cinnamon and brown sugar to stuff into cored apples before they are baked and subsequently eaten with lots of double cream. They are also a nice addition to fruit crumble toppings, bringing with them a further textural dimension. Their flavour is excellent paired with fish, used in the exterior coating of smoked fish cakes for example or scattered liberally on to the mashed potato that crowns a fish pie. And of course, they are fantastic for baking biscuits.

It is very safe to say that Thea enjoyed the more traditional Anzac biscuits that I made for her. The tartan tin in which they were stored was quickly remembered by association. When ever she caught sight of it in the kitchen cupboard, she made it very clear with a pointed outstretched arm and a persistant ‘mmm’ that she wanted what was inside. In fact the contents of the tin emptied very quickly indeed, Thea’s dad, grandma and grandpa all enjoying an Anzac biscuit. I enjoyed one too. With a cold glass of milk and a magazine.

 Anzac biscuits

Recipe adapted from one by the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales circa 1933

  • 1 cup each of rolled oats, raw sugar and shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup

Begin by preheating the oven to 150C and melting the butter.

Next, add the golden syrup to the bicarbonate of soda dissolved in the 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then add the melted butter.

Mix the oats, sugar, coconut and flour together in a bowl and then stir in the wet ingredients.

Using your hands, form small balls of the mixture and press down on to a paper lined baking tray. If the mixture does not easily form into balls, add water little by little until it does.

Bake for about 15 minutes until the biscuits are deep golden brow. Cool completely before biting in.

Thea’s Anzac biscuits

Adapted from a recipe by Teresa Cutter

  • 175 g rolled oats
  • 40 g shredded coconut
  • 60 g flaked almonds
  • 2  1/2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
  • 1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 150C.

Simply add all the ingredients, except the water to the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse for about 30 seconds until the mix is well combined.

Now add the water and process again. This will help the mixture stick together.

Using your hands, form the mixture into balls and press onto a paper lined baking sheet

Bake for 20 -30 minutes, checking regularly, until golden brown.

Cool completely before eating, but if you’re Thea this never happens, bite in and enjoy.

Marinated hanger steak

We were lucky enough to spend the weekend in the city. In a hotel. Crisp, white sheets, a king bed, blackout blinds and the ultimate lie in. No Thea to serve as our early morning alarm clock. Thanks to Ma and Pa she was very well taken care of, trike riding under blue skies, feeding ducks by the lake, exploring cubbies with her cousin and apparently sleeping through the night for them. We on the other hand were indulging in good food, delicious wine and some parental freedom. Inspired by the savoury morsels sampled throughout the day and into the night on Saturday, on Sunday morning after a beautiful breakfast at Kitchen by Mike (I’m a huge fan), we headed to Victor Churchill to continue the feasting at home. The impromptu visit turned into a memorable dinner of marinated hanger steak. A first, but not a last.

Victor Churchill is a pretty darn amazing butcher. The origin of the animal and what it’s been fed are clearly labeled by the way of white handwritten signs studded into the various cuts of meat, which are displayed behind tall glass fridge doors that line one side of the shop. Passionate staff who weave among the customers skillfully assist with purchases, while butchers, behind more glass that lines the opposite side of the store, prepare meat on glorious, oversized, wooden chopping blocks. One such member of staff was on hand to help with our enquiry as to whether there was any hanger steak. We were in luck. There was.

We came to know hanger steak long before Thea. Back in the days when we could drive, on impulse, to a restaurant that I had a hankering to go to. One of those spur of the moment, let’s go out and have dinner journeys, led us to Bird Cow Fish, an amazing restaurant then run by Alex Herbert. We both ordered the hanger steak. I’m not sure why because normally we order different things so that we can try the maximum amount of things on the menu between the two of us. But this night we ordered the same. And I’m glad we did. The standout steak, which was followed by a ridiculously good chocolate tart with light as air pastry and an unctuously rich filling, kept company with a little pot of thick cream, has stuck fast in our minds ever since. So we seized the opportunity to buy hanger steak to see if we could make it taste as good as we remembered.

With strict instructions from the butcher that this was a cut of beef that we really had to cook right and not to undercook the steak or it would be bloody and chewy and not to overcook it, or it would be tough and tasteless, I decided a digital thermometer would result in the best outcome we could hope for. Google, in the car back from the city, told me that the magic number that I should look for was between 51-54 C. I also found out that hanger steak takes well to bathing in some citrus before cooking. With this knowledge, when we got home I laid the steak in a marinade of lemon and lime juice, garlic, oregano and olive oil. It luxuriated there while we caught up with Ma and Pa on Thea’s adventures and shared our own from the previous night.

Our mission for our night in the city had been to have no plan. To simply find a few  bars, have a drink and a plate of food in each before moving on to the next. Among our ramble through Sydney, we found 10 William Street, a seriously cool little wine bar. Loud and dimly lit, with bentwood chairs, round, little marble tables and informative staff, a great selection of drops by the glass and some moorish nibbles to go with them. We stayed in the bustling narrow establishment for two glasses, Iggy’s bread (you have to try it to understand how good this sourdough bread really is), simple but excellent calamari, home made biltong and olives. We also found ourselves back at The Baxter Inn, perched on bar stools, sipping single malt from old fashioned brandy glasses, listening to the likes of Bobby Darin. The whisk(e)ys, it’s predominantly a whisky bar, on offer at Baxters is staggering and with there being so many, I always falter when making my selection, wanting to get the perfect drink. In my mind that’s a smoky, smooth, slightly sweet wee dram.

Weekend stories exchanged, the hanger steak went onto the barbecue. All eyes were on the thermometer, watching the digits steadily rise, as garlic smoked trailed into the night. At 53C, the steaks came off the heat and sat on the kitchen bench while the beans were cooked and the duck fat ‘chips’ (roast potatoes cut into batons, boiled until soft and then roasted in the oven with duck fat) finished crisping. When all the elements were ready for the table, the steak was sliced on the diagonal and heaped onto a communal platter. It’s interior was a surprisingly dark, ruby red colour. It sliced easily and once in the mouth was tender, with a small amount of chew and a deep, zingy flavour. The butcher who served us would be proud.

Marinated hanger steak

Serves 4

Approximately 1kg trimmed hanger steak

For the marinade

  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 lime, juice and zest
  • 4 garlic cloves, thickly sliced
  • handful oregano
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and black pepper

Simply mix all the marinade ingredients together and then bathe the meat in the mixture for about two hours.

Heat a pan or the barbecue, whatever your preference, until really hot and then cook the steak until it reaches between 51-54C. Ok. That’s the simple version.

With meat, it doesn’t need to be constantly agitated. Once you put it on the heat, leave it. Leave it until a nice crust forms. A beautiful, brown caramelised outside that will impart texture and flavour into the meat. When you feel that the piece of meat that you are cooking has formed said crust on one side, turn it. And once again leave it. If there is another side that still hasn’t seen the heat, if you are cooking a round piece of meat like a fillet for example, turn it once again to sear the final side.

Searing meat is really important and it’s actually really easy. The biggest factor is patience. And a scorchingly hot pan to start with. Anothter pointer. Oil the meat, not the pan. I sometimes use melted butter to add another flavour dimension and because it forms such a beautiful crust. But good old oil will do just fine. Next salt and pepper the meat. By salt, and always when I refer to salt here, I mean sea salt. Large, transluscent flakes, which can be liberally sprinkled all over the cut about to be cooked. Salt is another factor that helps form a crust and again, imparts flavour. I add pepper too. Some say that it’s not necessary at this stage. I disagree. I grind the hell out of my pepper grinder until  my steak is covered in little black flecks of peppery heat.

So. The hanger steak has reached 53C. Whisk it from the heat, place it on a deep plate so that the juices can be contained and leave it to rest. To relax. To metaphorically sit back in a comfortable chair, yawn, stretch and unwind. It will feel so much better in your mouth if this rule is adhered to, the resting rule of thumb being, rest meat for at least half the time it took to  cook. As I’ve written before about roast lamb, meat stays hot. Don’t fret about it getting cold, and if you are worried that is will happen, simply cover the patter with foil and some tea towels.

So, to recap. Patience to sear. Patience to rest. And now time to enjoy. Open a bottle of red. Pour a glass. Slice the hanger steak on the diagonal, which is much more visually pleasing. And eat.


Making matzo ball soup

Easter came and went in a bit of a blur this year. There were late nights and early mornings, and not too much sleep in-between due to a small someone getting two new teeth. The whole house was a constant hive of activity. There was me in the kitchen preparing food for clients, as well as the family. Ma was the most amazing helper, taking on the responsibility of chief washer-uper. Mark and Pa worked in the back yard, excitingly undertaking preparations for a swimming pool, completion date Summer 2015. There were also cousins running excitedly around, searching for eggs, Thea hot on their tails, not quite yet knowing what all the commotion was about. Thank goodness! So this recipe for matzo ball soup is rather timely, not only for its nourishing and restorative properties after a hectic few days, indeed it is dubbed ‘Jewish penicillin by many, but also because it is a traditional dish consumed during passover (the last day of which, as I write, is today).

A number of years ago I can recall lying on my bed, atop clean, pale grey sheets, the curtains to my right dancing in the breeze, reading Ruth Reichl‘s ‘Garlic and Sapphires’. The scene is still so vivid. The light was bright and the air slightly cool. It was my day off and all alone in the house I was doing one of my favourite things. Reading a book. A simple but escapist activity. As I turned the pages, I absorbed Reichl’s rendition of matzo ball soup and the dish has been firmly imprinted on my mind ever since. It’s something that I have always wanted to make, intrigued to know what it would taste like, but haven’t for fear that it would be too complicated. Fast forward to a week ago when Alice in frames posted a picture on Instagram for Matzo ball soup. I was once again reminded of the day just described, reading about the peculiar Jewish chicken soup. Now though, I was determined to make it, spurred on by the fact there was a big tub of home made chicken stock lurking in the depths of the chest freezer for just this kind of moment.

After figuring out what Matzo crackers are and the substitute, being in Australia, that I could use in their place to make Matzo balls, all additional ingredients are pantry staples; eggs, salt, black pepper and sparkling water. The only other tricky ingredient that is traditionally used to make them is schmaltz or chicken fat. It’s entirely possible to skim the top of chicken stock to gain some, or collect it from the bottom of a tray that a chicken has been roasted in. Being impatient though and determined to make the soup the next day after seeing Alice’s post, I decided to go with her mum’s version and use duck fat. Duck fat is always in the fridge and is great to have on hand. It withstands being used at high heat and imparts something special into the things that it’s cooked with. Roast potatoes are more glamorous, both in name and flavour, seared, plump scallops are made a little bit more wonderful and egg fried rice, extra tasty.

At this point I feel it’s worthwhile mentioning the chicken stock hibernating in the freezer, which makes up the rejuvenating element of the dish. Whenever roast chicken is eaten for dinner, the carcass is never thrown away. Instead it goes into a pot along with cold water and some lemon juice, which helps to extract all the lovely minerals from the bones, and simmers on the stove for most of the next day. And that’s chicken stock, at its most basic at least. Sometimes peppercorns, bay leaves, celery, carrots and onions are added. Even chicken’s feet for their gelatinous qualities. Sometimes not. Making this practice part of a kitchen routine will result in beautiful, nutritious, home cooking. Use the resulting stock to make risotto, cook quinoa, braise vegetables, create delicious gravies, master velouté sauces and add to smoothies, yes REALLY-it’s fantastic for gut and joint health and along with a banana, no-one would ever know. Thea and I pinkie promise x

Matzo ball soup

Adapted from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen

For the Matzo Balls

  • 1/2 cup Salada crumbs
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp duck fat
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp sparkling water (renowned to make the balls extra light)

For the soup

  • 2 litres chicken stock, preferably home made, but a a good quality store bought one would be fine
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely sliced
  • a few chopped herbs like parsley or dill, or a handful of frozen peas, or all of the above

To make Salada crumbs, simply whizz the crackers in a food processor until they resemble sand, then mix them with all the other matzo ball ingredients. Cover the mixture and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. From this point on, the matzo balls will be referred to as simply balls, owing to the fact that in this recipe they contain no Matzo crackers.

When you are ready to make the soup, bring 1.5 litres of well-salted water to a rolling boil in a medium sized pot. Reduce the heat so that the water is just simmering. With wet hands, form ping pong size balls from the Salada mixture and one by drop them into the simmering water. Cover the pot and leave the balls to cook for 30 to 40 minutes.

!0 minutes before the balls are ready, bring the chicken stock, with the discs of sliced carrot, to simmering point. When both the stock is hot and the balls are ready, if they are floating this is a good indication that they are, ladle a few spoonfuls of the stock into a bowl and add two, three or four balls depending on your appetite. Sprinkle with a few herbs and enjoy x

Traditional Easter biscuits

I’m smiling to myself right now as I remember the table in my grandma and grandpa’s lounge where as a child, on Easter Sunday, my chocolate eggs were placed. A ridiculous amount of them. Some with my name on, some with smaller chocolates inside. All eaten far too quickly. I can also recall hot cross buns though, toasted under my grandma’s gas grill, slightly charred at the edges and dripping with melted butter. And big, golden, round, scalloped edged, crumbly biscuits, with a fine cap of caster sugar that used to get stuck on my top lip, eaten straight from the white paper bag. Easter biscuits, bought from the bakery once a year.

Easter might just top Christmas as a treat laden holiday, full of specially dedicated morsels. The weekend seems full of family feasts and over indulgence. Maybe it’s because of the preplanning involved in what’s going to fill the table, shops being closed for a portion of the time, or perhaps it’s due to there being four consecutive holiday days in a row, enough time to start to unwind, relax over long meals and enjoy respite from the everyday.

Punctuating holidays of the year with recipes, might be why certain foods are remembered so fondly, because they are only enjoyed for a brief moment on the calendar. Memories are made more vivid as anticipation builds around special dishes and the days that they are paired with. My life in Sydney is now highlighted by a Good Friday dawn trip to the fish markets to procure an assortment of seafood. Bright orange, rainbow scaled and filigree fringed creatures from the sea are prepared without haste for a long, lazy family lunch. A far cry from the roast beef and Yorkshire puddings that was served throughout my childhood. But the biscuits. Well somehow, they still taste the same.

Traditional Easter biscuits

  • 200g butter at room temperature
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 400g plain flour
  • 1 level tsp vanilla powder
  • 1 level tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2-4 tbsp milk
  • 100g currants
  • A little caster sugar for sprinkling

Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. With the mixer still running, add the yolks. When they are incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, spices and milk. Turn the mixer back on to a low speed and mix until the flour is just incorporated. If it looks too dry, add a little more milk. The mixture shouldn’t look crumbly. It shouldn’t look too sticky either. Tip in the currants, let the paddle turn a few more times and then remove the dough to a well floured surface.

Using a sprinkling of flour here and there so that the dough is easy to handle, roll it out to a thickness of about 2-4cm. Use a cookie cutter to cut out circles of dough and place the discs on a paper lined baking tray. Before baking, sprinkle the biscuits with caster sugar.

Bake at160C for 12-15 minutes until the biscuits are golden, remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little more caster sugar. Enjoy.