PULITZER PIES: SALMON PUFFS

Dear Amelia,
Seeing as you’re only 17 months old, you won’t be aware that Ella the Wonderdog has an inverted vulva.
You also won’t know what a vulva is and I have no intention of explaining it here except to say that when a dog’s vulva is inverted it sometimes involves ointment (or Vulvalene, as one of your Mum’s exes once put it).
We’re going through an ointment stage at the moment and for the first time EVER, I’m not the one pulling on the rubber gloves twice a day.
Yes. Your Grandpa is applying ointment to the dog’s bum.
As rarities go, this is on a par with unicorn sightings.
Sometimes I have to lie down just so I can grasp the enormity of it all.
Anyway, here’s another picture of Ella looking at some Salmon Puffs.
It was taken ages ago when we lived in North Perth.

I’ve been making Salmon Puffs since your Mum and Uncle Paul were little kids.
They love them and so does your Grandpa.
I love them too but they give me crippling heartburn, so I had to take a break until a nice Swiss drug baron invented Somac and changed my life.
I also make these pies with chopped-up leftover chicken and – for me at least – they are heartburn free.
The original Salmon Puff recipe was copied from a magazine (I can’t remember which one) about 25 years ago.
It contained two tablespoons of canned green peppercorns. So 1980s.
Feel free to add them back in if you like living on the edge.

SALMON PUFFS

Makes 6 pies

30g butter
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp flour
¾ cup milk
¼ cup salmon liquid from the can
a few grinds of black pepper
415g can John West red salmon
3 sheets frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Melt the butter over low heat, add the onion and cook until it’s soft but not coloured.
Stir in the flour and let it cook for a couple of minutes.
Stir in the milk and salmon liquid, grind in some pepper and cook, stirring, until it boils and thickens.
Leave until cold then fold in the drained, flaked salmon and mash it in well with a fork.
Defrost the puff pastry sheets for 5 minutes then cut each into quarters so you have 12 equal squares.
If you want, flute the top of six of the squares with a blunt knife, making sure you don’t cut all the way through the pastry. Poke a hole in the middle.


Divide the salmon mixture evenly between the six remaining squares, brush the edges with beaten egg, top with the fluted squares and press down well to seal.
Place a Chinese bowl (about 12cm diameter) over the top of each pie and cut around it.


Put the pies on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with beaten egg.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown.
You can put all sorts of fillings in these pies, so long as they’re not sloppy.
Because there’s only your Grandpa and me and we’re leg and thigh people, the chicken breast is always left over when I roast a chook.
So I make this same white sauce, using one cup of milk and leaving out the salmon liquid.
Then I take the skin off the breast, chop the meat into small cubes and stir it through the white sauce with some seeded mustard and chopped parsley or with just a bit of chopped thyme.
It’s very nice indeed.

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ISN’T SHE LOVELY?

Dear Amelia,

This post has got nothing to do with food except that in this picture you are eating (a Johnson’s baby wipe, but no matter – it’s hypo-allergenic).

And in this picture you are standing on Nanna and Grandpa’s table in your new shoes.

I just wanted to show you how beautiful you were when you were one year, four months and 19 days old.


MOROCCAN GLUT WITH COUSCOUS

Dear Amelia,
Here is another eggplant recipe.
The buggers won’t stop growing.
It’s called Moroccan Eggplant with Couscous and it’s from Leanne Kitchen’s book, Grower’s Market: Cooking with Seasonal Produce.
Leanne Kitchen isn’t a celebrity chef but she should be because (a) look at her surname!!! and (b) look at her surname!!!

See all those bits of pink post-it notes sticking out the top?
They mark all the things I want to make.
So far I’ve only cooked one, even though I’ve had the book since 2006.
That’s not Leanne’s fault, it’s because my middle name is Procrastination.
Moroccan Eggplant with Couscous is really nice with lamb chops that have been grilled or barbecued.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely you’ll eat lamb chops until you’ve moved out of home because the thought of cooking baby sheep makes your mother hysterical.
When she was seven and realised what she was putting in her mouth, she became a vegetarian for almost a year.
It was a difficult period in our lives because she didn’t like vegetables.
You can imagine my relief when she was lured back to the dark side by a bacon sandwich and a Rainbow Brite doll.
Here is a picture of Rainbow Brite in case she’s extinct by the time you grow up.

Rainbow’s best friend was called Twink and she had a white horse called Starlite who had a rainbow mane.
It was round about this time your Mum decided she didn’t want to be called Kate any more; she wanted to be called Allora.
So we called her Allora.
“Allora! Dinner’s ready!”
“Allora! Time for bed!”
When you’re making Moroccan Eggplant with Couscous, it turns into bowl city but it’s well worth it because it tastes so good.
The original recipe contains cloves, which I hate because they always make me think of that scene in Marathon Man where Laurence Olivier is drilling into the roots of Dustin Hoffman’s teeth.
Feel free to add a pinch of powdered cloves if such things don’t bother you.

MOROCCAN EGGPLANT WITH COUSCOUS

Serves 4

1 cup instant couscous
1½ cups boiling water
olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 big eggplant or the equivalent in mini skinny ones
3 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
big knob of butter
small bunch parsley, chopped

Put the couscous into a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Let it stand for 10 minutes then fluff it up with a fork and put to one side.
Grab a frying pan that’s big enough to eventually hold all the couscous and veggies.
Put it over medium-low heat, add a little olive oil and cook the onion for about 10 minutes until it’s golden brown.
A couple of minutes before the end of cooking time, add the garlic and cook, stirring, just until the garlic is fragrant.
Scrape the onion and garlic into a bowl and put to one side.
While the onion’s cooking, cut the eggplant into 2cm chunks, leaving the skin on, and put into a big bowl.
In a small bowl (what did I tell you?), mix together the cumin, cinnamon, paprika and salt.
Shake this over the eggplant and mix everything thoroughly so the eggplant chunks are coated with the spice mixture.
Cover the bottom of the frying pan with olive oil – about half a centimetre deep – and cook the spiced eggplant over medium heat, turning it occasionally, for 25 minutes.
Scrape the eggplant into the bowl that’s holding the fried onion and garlic.
Melt the knob of butter in the frying pan over medium heat and tip in the couscous.
Cook it for a couple of minutes, stirring, then tip in the eggplant, onions and garlic and stir everything around for a few more minutes until hot.
Serve with chopped parsley scattered over the top.


BAD NANNA

Dear Amelia,
Here’s a thing you’ll never do if Nanna’s got anything to do with it.
You’ll never spell “divine” like this: DEVINE.
There’s a design blogger who’s written the word devine at least 12 times in every one of her posts since she started blogging in 2009.
It drives me insane and I finally cracked last night and told her via her comments section that devine is where de grapes grow.
I mean, if you must overuse a word, you should at least learn how to spell it properly.
Surprisingly, my comment hasn’t been published.
But that could be because I also pointed out that “definately” is definitely not right and that people get bored WITH things, not bored OF them.
I made the mistake of mentioning my actions to Grandpa and he’s now threatening to put a star chart on the fridge to monitor my behaviour.
Apparently, I’ll get one gold star every time I’m nice to a cretin, two gold stars when I say “sugar” instead of “shit”, and three gold stars when I put the toilet seat back in the “up” position (he believes equality should cut both ways).
To be honest, Grandpa has been pushing his luck lately.
When I came home from work for lunch today, he said, “Here’s a treat!”

Yes! My lunch was on your special baby plate that doesn’t contain Bisphenol A!
If you ask me, Grandpa is very lucky it’s not lodged in his prostate gland.
I was writing about words because there’s a word you said on the weekend that had me jumping in the air and shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
You said, “Nanny!” as you hurtled into my outstretched arms (at the very same moment I thought I also heard violins and a choir of angels singing “Hallelujah” but that could’ve been my imagination).
The next picture is what your Mum and Dad and Grandpa and I had for dinner after you were fast asleep in what your Grandpa calls “that stupid fucking thing” but is actually your very-difficult-to-assemble portable cot.
I can’t remember where I got the recipe for the chicken (I suspect it may have been from the Baltimore Sun online) but the couscous was invented by me, your loving Nanna.

SPICED ROAST CHICKEN WITH COUSCOUS

Serves 4

1 whole chicken
50g unsalted butter, softened
¾ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 cup instant couscous
1 sweet potato
a few handfuls of green beans
small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix the cumin, paprika, turmeric and coriander into the butter.
Carefully slip your fingers under the skin of the chicken breast and loosen the skin away from the flesh all the way down to the legs.
Using a teaspoon, stuff the butter mixture under the skin, pushing it evenly all over the chook as far as it will go.
Be careful not to tear the skin.
Rub a little olive oil into the skin and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Put the chicken in a roasting tin and roast for about an hour and a half, or until the juices run clear, basting two or three times.
Half an hour before the chicken’s done, peel and cut the sweet potato into small cubes and add them to the roasting tin.
Ten minutes before the chicken is done, add the sliced green beans to the roasting tin and turn all the veggies to coat them in the juices.
Put the couscous in a big bowl, pour over one and a half cups of boiling water and let it stand for ten minutes. Fluff it up with a fork.
Carve the chook and put it on a serving platter.
Add the roast veggies to the couscous, pour over some of the pan juices and mix everything together.
Put the couscous on the platter, sprinkled with chopped parsley.
Serve with green salad leaves.


MARMALADE, MARTHA AND ME

Dear Amelia,
It’s twenty past eight on a quiet Albany night and I’ve just finished talking to your Mum on the phone.
When she rang I was passed out in front of Location, Location, Location and, no, I hadn’t had a drink.
Basically I’d slipped into a coma while watching a couple in their 20s try to decide which house they’d like to spend their $1.25 million on.
They were really irritating plus I’d had a full-on day at work and I was knackered.
The pace was absolutely furious today plus five times I’d answered the phone with, “ABC Radio, Michele speaking” and five different people on the other end of the line had said, “This is the number for Fletcher’s Abattoir.”
And I’d said, “No it isn’t” and they’d said, “Yes it is”.
By the fifth call I was crossing myself and wondering if I’d moved into a parallel universe.
Your Grandpa is in Perth at the moment hoping the periodontist he’s seeing tomorrow can save his back tooth for a reasonable amount of money (ha!).
According to Google, the average periodontist salary in San Antonio, Texas (I couldn’t find one for Perth) is $77,000pa, which isn’t exactly mega-bucks, is it? Maybe that’s why they have to charge so much – so they can put the occasional vat of caviar on the table.
Anyway, because your Grandpa is in Perth staying with your Uncle Paul, I had two pieces of toast and marmalade for dinner.
Here is a picture of it in case marmalade is extinct by the time you grow up.

Your Grandpa and Uncle Paul had dinner tonight at the Queens and they ate slow-roasted belly of pork, the bastards.
I know this because before they ordered off the menu, they rang to ask me what tat soi is.
Here is a picture of tat soi for future reference, and also one of the Queens, which is in Highgate, and may also be extinct by the time you grow up.

Luckily, while I’ve been writing this, I’ve received an email from Martha Stewart telling me how to make gilded bookends out of two house bricks, so my night is salvaged.

If you’d like to try this yourself, you’ll find the instructions here.
Once I’ve finished gilding my bricks, I’ll go to bed and pass out again.
I’ll be seeing you again in four sleep’s time. Needless to say, I am very excited.


NANNA PICKED A PECK OF PRICY PEPPER

Dear Amelia,
The last time we were together we were dancing around your Mum and Dad’s kitchen to Skip To My Lou and I must say you’re a pretty spectacular dancer considering you only started to walk three months ago.
I know it’s hard to imagine at the moment, but one day you’ll be coordinated enough to handle a wok full of boiling oil.
When that day arrives, I hope you’ll try this recipe for Chinese-spiced Salt and Pepper Pork, which is my version of a recipe by WA chef Sophie Zalokar.
The original recipe had two tablespoons of sea salt plus half a teaspoon of table salt, and it was so salty we couldn’t eat it (to be honest, it was disturbingly like that stuff you have to drink to clear out your bowels before a colonoscopy).
The next time I cooked the pork I drastically reduced the amount of salt and added some chilli powder.
It was delicious and not blindingly hot but this could have been because my Szechuan peppercorns expired in 2008.
I still used them because fortunately I remembered the words of the late, great Erma Bombeck, who said, “Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.”
Despite Erma’s wise words, I chucked the expired peppercorns in the bin the next day and went out to hunt for some more.
None of the four supermarkets had them, of course, because that would have been too easy.
And when I eventually found some (two hours later in a deli), I discovered that while you can buy 5 kilos of Szechuan peppercorns for 50 cents at the Chinese supermarkets in Perth, they’re about five hundred bucks per tablespoon down here.
So I handed over my life savings and took them home and realised I’d forgotten to buy the limes.
So I smiled a little smile and said, “Silly me.”
No I didn’t. I said, “Shit, shit, shit.”
Then I went all the way back to the shops.
I did this because the limes make this dish taste sensational.
Don’t ever leave them out.
PS: I exaggerated slightly about the cost of Szechuan peppercorns here in Albany. They’re $4.95 for 15g, which equates to $330 per kilo.
Yes, THREE HUNDRED AND THIRTY DOLLARS PER KILO.

CHINESE-SPICED SALT AND PEPPER PORK

Serves 4

2 pork fillets
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
½ tsp chilli powder
1½ cups peanut or vegetable oil
½ cup cornflour
half a dozen grinds of black pepper
2 limes, quartered
a bag of supermarket salad greens or equivalent home-grown

Cover a platter with salad greens and put to one side.
Remove the silvery sinew from the pork and slice the meat thinly across the fillet.
Put the cornflour in a small bowl, add half a dozen grinds of black pepper and mix thoroughly. Wear an apron because the cornflour goes everywhere (as in down your legs and over the dog).
Put the sea salt and the Szechuan peppercorns into a wok and dry-roast them over medium heat until they’re fragrant – about 5 minutes.
Let them cool then grind them finely in a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder.
Mix in the five-spice powder and chilli and put to one side.
Crumple up some kitchen paper and put it on top of a dinner plate.
Put your wok on a high heat, add the oil and heat until it’s very hot. It will start to shimmer on top when it’s ready.
Coat the pork fillet slices lightly in the cornflour and cook them in the oil for a couple of minutes each side (you’ll need to do this in two or three batches so the oil stays hot).
When the pork slices are a pale gold colour, fish them out with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them on the crumpled kitchen paper to drain.
If you’re worried they’ll go cold, stick them in a really low oven.
When all the pork is cooked, tip the slices into a big bowl, shake over the five-spice mixture and mix everything together quickly.
Tip it all on to your salad greens and get everyone to squeeze over some lime juice before they eat it, straight off the platter, just with a fork.


CURRIED GLUT

Dear Amelia,
Your stole your Mum’s mobile phone yesterday afternoon and rang my number quite by accident.
Then you said “hello”.
Actually, it was more like “hewoohhh” but it was good enough for me.
Your Mum told me it’s the first time you’ve said the word “hello”. EVER.
I suspect she says that to all the nannas but, whatever, I’m still sitting here thinking ‘be still my beating heart’.
I realise now that instead of talking to you for three minutes about what a beautiful, clever girl you are, I should have passed on some timely tips about vegetable gardening.
I’m not a hugely successful vegetable gardener but I’m pleased to say your Grandpa and I are actually self-sufficient at the moment if all we eat are tomatoes and eggplants.
Last summer we were self-sufficient in zucchinis.
I planted them because I had visions of stuffing the flowers with ricotta while I sang along to Dean Martin songs.
I never did and ended up instead with several thousand zucchinis the size of cruise missiles.
On the subject of gluts, this past spring we had roughly 7 million broad beans, which your Grandpa loves but I don’t because it takes forever to peel them and you end up being able to fart for Australia.
When we first came to Albany, before the garden was established, I used to buy all my veggies at the Saturday morning farmers’ market in town.
It’s expensive but the fruit and vegetables are fantastic and it’s THE place to go if you’re looking for lamb that’s had a university education.
These days I’m lucky enough to have a prolific vegetable grower living next door.
The picture at the top of this post is of the home-grown veggies our friend Richard passed over the fence last weekend.
It gets better: Richard’s wife, Lynda, is a farmer’s daughter and is kind enough to throw excess produce our way occasionally.
Lynda could really do with the help of Nigella, Rick and Elvis at the moment because the menopause is upon her and she spends a lot of her free time standing in front of the air conditioner in the crucifixion position.
But back to veggies: this year I planted mini Lebanese eggplants instead of the normal variety and they are quite bitter (maybe things are worse than usual in Beirut).
So I needed a recipe that was strong enough to mask any bitterness that was left after they’d been salted.
This is it and it’s really delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe by Dixie Elliott.

EGGPLANT AND POTATO CURRY

Serves 2 (or 4 as part of a curry meal)

1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp Madras curry paste (use Korma paste if you like a milder taste)
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
1 large eggplant (or the equivalent in mini skinny ones), cut into 2cm cubes
5 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
1 cup frozen peas
bunch coriander, chopped roughly

Heat oil over medium heat in a non-stick wok or big frying pan.
Add onion and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until it’s soft.
Add the garlic and curry paste and cook for a minute or two, stirring, until it’s aromatic.
Add the potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes and water, cover and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and check for seasoning – add salt if necessary.
Simmer for about 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
Chuck in the frozen peas five minutes before it’s finished cooking and let them cook through.
Just before you serve it up, stir in the coriander.
Serve with rice.