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Three bean chilli nachos

This is a long time coming. A whole year has passed since I was here. So I’m unsure of which story to give a voice to first because there are simply so many, all in one way or another connected to food. Like the night I invited all the girls over to our new home and made a whole roast cauliflower with tahini, black olives and currants. I could’ve made four! Or the picture perfect wedding I catered at the Little Black Shack and my quest for the perfect pizza dough to bake in the wood fired oven there. Or the day we made a huge fire pit and cooked a Cinderella size pumpkin in the glowing coals, eaten with sharp Cheddar, sour cream and crunchy jalapeños. Yet the one tale that I feel more compelled to tell than any other, and the thing that has had the most profound effect on my life in the last 12 months, is about surfing. It’s not connected to any one dish in particular. Beyond that, it’s become an intrinsic part of the way I cook and who I am. To tell this story though, I need some starlight motivation in the form of a surfing mums bonfire story night, complete with a giant pan of three bean chilli nachos. And I need to start from the beginning.

Newquay is England’s surfing mecca and it’s where I repeatedly went on childhood holidays. If I close my eyes, the memories of the place and those days are sparkling clear. The alarm clock squarks of seagulls, fluorescent buckets and spades strung from shop doors, Mr. Whippy ice creams crowned with sticky chocolate sauce, bamboo handled fishing nets and hunting for crabs, newspaper parcels of hot chips spiked with malt vinegar, castles and moats dug in the sand. Most enduring though is my connection with the ocean. The salt, fresh and clean hanging in the air, the waves forever beating the land, the mineral rich taste in my mouth and the sandpaper feel of briny water dried on my skin. The sense of freedom and excitement jumping in the swell. Crashing, splashing, falling with abandon. Immersing my little body in the energy of the waves, reveling as they lifted me up and down. It was only when I was blue with cold that would return to my mum and dad and the comfort of a warm towel. That pull of the sea has remained with me. And it’s there now more than any other time in my life. I give you this snapshot into my early years because those times, playing with the rhythm of the ocean is where I now see that my desire to surf was born.

Fast forward to my thirty ninth year, and given the opportunity I will still remain in the ocean until I’m either too cold or too tired to continue. Now though instead of jumping waves, I’m trying to ride them. Arriving in Australia fourteen years ago I intended to make my childhood dream of learning to surf come true. However, it’s a hard sport to master, or even begin to master. There are so many constantly changing factors involved. I just thought I would get around to it one day. At least I was now in the right place and had a board. The rest would happen. But other ambitions ensued like owning a cafe, running a marathon and having children. In fact it took until Thea was born and I found out about Surfing Mums that I actually committed to surfing once a week. I’m confident in the water and was always happy to paddle out the back. On some days that was an achievement in itself. Yet actually catching waves eluded me. I was excited to be forming new friendships with inspirational and like minded people though, all of whom loved the ocean too, while at the same time making small steps towards my dream. Then a tree fell on our house.

That gum tree was blessing. For two and a half years we lived away from the ocean while our house was rebuilt. And what that did is make me realise what is vitally important to me. That I love the sea. I have always known this. During a French speaking class at school we were asked to tell everyone a sentence about ourselves. Mine was “je voudrais habiter toujours pres de la mer” ( I wish always to live close to the sea). Now though, I know with absoluteness. There is something within me that craves the ocean and feels better for being close to it. Time away from the beach also taught me not to take where I live for granted and to seize the opportunity that I have to make this want in my heart that is to learn to surf a reality. Because when you do lock on to a wave and take that drop, it’s an incredible one of a kind feeling. It’s grinning from ear to ear with elation pounding in your chest. It’s a radiant glow. A sparkle in your eye. It’s energising. Restorative. Calming. Uplifting. Life affirming. It’s an addiction that I’m very proud to have. And there is a fire burning so bright inside of me right now to give everything that I have to achieve my dream.

The thing with me is that I’m fiercely determined. I also expect a lot from myself. And I love a challenge. This combination has seen many tears and much frustration this past year in my surfing crusade. Board breaks that have seen me sobbing in the sand and left me in deep, black holes. The emotional levels I’ve had to work through each time I’ve taken a knock have staggered me. Events from my past that I thought I had dealt with reared, but they’re now tamed and my time in the water is so much lighter. That yarn is for another time though! Then come the highs, so skyscraper tall that that the bad times fade away. I finally feel that I’m making progress. I can see that I am. I’ve gone from being unable to stand up to now being able to pop up with ease and surf directionally on a wave. I can even turn. And on a shorter board. My little girl’s wish is becoming my adult reality. What has surprised is the domino effect that surfing is having on my life in general. It’s making me more confident and assertive as I push myself to paddle for waves alongside others, calmer and patient as I learn to quieten the disruptive little voice in my head. And not even a powder day during my ski seasons, made me hop out of bed quite like I now do for a dawn surf!

The friendships that I have formed through Avalon Surfing Mums are the cherry and rainbow sprinkles on top. Wonderful people who are open and welcoming, who encourage, support, nurture and look out for each other. People who are just as stoked when you catch a wave as when they do and are always there to offer advice, or a shoulder should you need it. I’ve needed a few. A network to whom this post is dedicated. You are all rockstars who make the world a better pace. May we share many more waves, post surf beers, glasses of wine, skinny dips, road trips, bear hugs and belly laughs. And of course paella picnics, birthday bacon and egg rolls, girls trip Indian feasts and fireside three bean chilli nachos! Thank you for inspiring me. For eating my food and for looking after my kids. I feel overwhelmingly lucky to not only be living my dream, but to be able to do so surrounded by so many incredible souls.


Three bean chilli nachos

An original recipe

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 stick celery
1 red capsicum
1 yellow capsicum
1 sweet potato
1 bunch parsley
1 zucchini
2 400g cans mixed beans (I used these)
2 400g cans chopped tomatoes
2 generous tbsp tomato paste
2-4 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tsp chilli (or more to your liking)

Add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, capsicums and sweet potato and parsley stalks and all to the bowl of a food processor and whizz until everything is finely chopped. The reason for this is I wanted the chilli to be somewhat smooth so it is easy to scoop up with corn chips. You could always chop everything by hand too. The chilli will just be a bit more chunky.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the processed ingredients. Cover the pot with a lid (or foil) and cook over a low heat until everything is soft, 20-30 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and cook uncovered for an hour or so until the mixture is slightly reduced. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary; add more salt or chilli.

Enjoy with rice/quinoa/corn chips/tacos, pico de gallo, guacamole (I love the Pioneer Woman’s recipes for these), sour cream and cheese.

If you liked this three bean chilli nachos recipe than you may also like classic spaghetti and meatballs

Baked lime chicken burritos

Thursday dinners always seem to be Mexican in our house and this week it was something a little bit different from the normal tacos and quesadillas. I made baked lime chicken burritos. The inspiration for them came from a third birthday party a few weeks ago. This Mr. Three’s parents certainly set the bar high for the rest of us mums and dads in terms of how to throw a kid’s party. Upon walking through the front door we were greeted by dozens of little black felt capes, red stars emblazoned with everyone’s initials on the back, hung ready for their new owners to wear. The centrepiece of the celebration was a spectacular bright red fire engine cake, complete with Oreo cookie wheels, liquorice hose reel and chocolate wafer racks. That was for the littles though. For the grown ups there was delicious shredded chicken burritos.

Before heading to the party I donned my trainers and earphones and headed out for an hours run. I’m still clocking up the miles in preparation for the Sydney marathon, now only a couple of weeks away. Hopefully I’m getting fitter. Some days my legs feel like jelly from the get go. One thing all the exercise does do though is give me an appetite, so despite having breakfast I was still hungry when I arrived at the party and very excited to hear that chicken burritos were going to be served. What fascinated me was the texture of the chicken, like angel hair, apparently shredded in a food processor. Genius. It packs into the tortilla so much better than pieces of chicken because it can be squashed down with the other obligatory burrito ingredients: Sour cream, guacamole, lettuce and grated cheese.


So with my new insight of how to shred chicken fantastically fine, I set about cooking some to shred for dinner. Poaching is a great way of cooking poultry it as it helps to keep it moist, so that’s the road I decided to head down. Poaching chicken in milk along with some loosely Mexican inspired flavourings. When it was done (and had cooled), I will admit that I was more excited than I should have been to whizz it in the processor. The resulting chicken resembled fairy floss and was zingy with lime. It would be perfect wrapped up in lettuce leaves along with some strips of carrot and avocado, maybe some red cabbage for extra colour and a dousing of chilli sauce. Or served a top corn chips with some finely diced tomato (seeds removed) and red onion as little tostada appetisers. The chicken could even be poached in coconut milk and then served, strained poaching broth and all, with glass noodles, baby corn and coriander.

This citrus spiked shredded chicken was folded into tortillas along with charred capsicum and onion, which were then packed into dish and baked. Enough for lunch and dinner, to keep my growling tummy tamed. Thea was quite content while all this was happeneing in the kitchen, wearing her super T cape and flying round the lounge. I hope I can come up with such lovely ideas, both to feed and entertain, when Miss 2 turns 3. For now though, I’m just happy with fairy floss chicken. And Thea is happy with her cape.

Baked lime chicken burritos

Enough for 6 burritos

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 2 limes, zest and juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 200 ml milk
  • 1/2 red capsicum
  • 1/2 green capsicum
  • 1 red onion
  • 1-2 cups grated cheese like Cheddar or parmesan
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • pinch chilli flakes, optional
  • tortillas, I used flour ones
  • guacamole to serve, optional

Place the chicken, lime zest and juice, milk, garlic, pepper, salt and milk in an oven proof dish and bake for 30 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

While the chicken is cooling, fry the capsicum and onion in some oil over a medium heat until the edges are nicely browned.

When the chicken is cool, cut it into 4 pieces and pulse it in a food processor until its finely shredded. Be careful not to over do this stage and make chicken puree.

To assemble the burritos, place a spoonful of chicken, some strips of capsicum and onion and a handful of grated cheese in a tortilla and roll. Place the filled tortilla roll in a baking dish and repeat with the remaining ingredients.

When all the tortillas are in the baking dish, pour over the chopped tomatoes, sprinkle over a few chilli flakes and top with as much extra grated cheese as you like.

Bake for 20-30 minutes at 180C until the cheese has melted and is golden and the tortillas are crisp.

Like the idea of poaching chicken in milk? Then you’ll love this recipe

Salmon tacos with cabbage slaw

At the start of the year, buzzing with good intentions and goals for 2015, I set up several reminders on my phone. Eat breakfast. Yes, I need a cue for this extremely important daily task, to nag me, otherwise the window closes and I’m left hungry. Cod liver oil. To prompt me to take this age old supplement that I wholeheartedly believe in. Salmon. A memo to encourage me to eat oily fish more often. Most of the time these words that flash across the screen of my phone are hastily dismissed. Yet a subliminal message must trickle through to my consciousness, because today I had the urge to make salmon tacos with cabbage slaw.

Fish tacos are the best. Light. Fresh. Tasty. Colourful. Zingy. Zesty. Crunchy. Soft. Fun. This list of adjectives alone makes me want to prepare and scoff some right now. Plus they make great informal finger food and create a little bit of theatre when they are presented on a long plank, all neatly standing in a row, strands of pink cabbage and leafy coriander rustically on show, protruding from the sides.

Salmon tacos with cabbage slaw

For two.

For the salmon

  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Mix the spices on a plate and then coat the salmon in them by pressing the fish onto the plate.

Cook the salmon on all sides in a fairly hot pan or on the barbecue, only turning when each side has a lovely crust.

For the cabbage slaw

  • red cabbage
  • juice of a lime
  • pinch of sea salt

Slice the cabbage as finely as you can, pour over the lime juice and add the pinch of salt then massage the slaw with you hands. This step will soften the cabbage slightly and make it juicy and flavoursome. Add some chopped avocado to the mix if you wish.

To serve

  • warm soft flour tortillas
  • mayonaise
  • coriander, washed and coarsely chopped
  • lime wedges

To assemble

Take a warm tortilla and spread a dessert spoon of mayonnaise across the middle section. Flake some salmon and place it on top of the mayo. Top the fish with some slaw, a few sprigs of coriander, a squeeze of lime. Now simply roll up and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like this quick Cajun salmon recipe

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

Ingredients

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!