PULITZER PIES: CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Dear Amelia,
I know.
Another Chocolate Malteser Cake.
But in my defence:
1. You LOVED it.
2. It seemed fitting that your second birthday should be celebrated with the same cake I baked for your Great Grandma’s 80th.
3 (and more to the point). I paid $10 for the Horlicks malted milk powder that was listed in the recipe and, according to the stamp on the bottom of the Horlicks tin, I’ve only got until August 2013 to use up the absolute shitload that’s left.
Luckily for you, every cloud has a silver lining.
As in, whatever is left in the tin by the time your third birthday rolls around will have already gone to Horlicks Heaven.
So Nanna will be forced to make something different.
Something like this maybe (we’d have to change your name to Jayden but I think it would be worth it).

Picture source here

It was a lovely birthday weekend – lots of kisses, lots of cuddles and lots of games (my favourite being the running-in-circles one called “round and round and round and round and round and round and JUMP” – if only all of life was that simple).
And even though it says in “Advice After Abdominal Surgery” that you shouldn’t pick up anything heavier than a kettle of water, Nanna decided to live on the edge and managed to pick you up a dozen times without anything nasty exploding out of her belly button.
Speaking of which, after you’d gone to bed and we’d eaten our body weight in cake, your Mum, Dad, Grandpa and I settled down to watch TV and it was at this point that your Mum started to shout, “Ooh, ooh, ooh.”
At first we thought her vital signs were shutting down due to Malteser overload but it turned out she’d come across one of her favourite programmes and was very excited.


This programme is called Embarrassing Bodies and it is truly wonderful.
Three minutes in and I was like iron filings to a magnet.
I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before – in the OMG stakes it knocks Bethenny and the Real Housewives (except maybe for crazy-eyes Ramona) into a cocked hat.
Here’s what happens: a bunch of doctors get in a van and drive around England looking for people who have things wrong with them that are so embarrassing, they can’t discuss them with anybody else.
For example, there was this lady who wouldn’t take her clothes off in front of a bloke on account her unfortunate hoo hoo (as they say in the classics).
So she took all her clothes off IN FRONT OF THE TV CAMERA and sure enough her labia were practically grazing her knees and now every bloke in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia and, for all I know, Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of Congo, knows about it.
When I say “every bloke” I actually mean every bloke except for your Dad, who suddenly became engrossed in his iPhone, and your Grandpa, who said, “I’m not watching this crap,” and went to bed.
Not that your mother and I noticed for a while because by then we were captivated by an anal skin tag on another lady’s bottom.
Anyway, long story short, I had to make it up to your Grandpa with one of his favourite pies.
This pie is based on a recipe by my friend Margaret Johnson (restaurant consultant, food writer for The West Australian newspaper and all-round good sort) and it’s pretty yummy.

CHICKEN, BACON AND MUSHROOM PIE

Serves 4

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, defrosted for 5-10 minutes
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 500g), diced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 rashers bacon, cut into small pieces
12 button mushrooms, sliced
½ tsp dried thyme
½ cup white wine
small carton chicken stock OR 3 tsps Gravox gravy mix dissolved in a mug of boiling water (don’t tell anyone about the Gravox or all your cooking credibility will go down the gurgler)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a big frying pan over med-high heat, brown the diced chicken, then remove it to a casserole dish or saucepan.
Cook the onion, bacon and mushrooms in the frying pan until the onion and mushrooms have softened.
Put with the chicken in the casserole.
Pour over the wine and enough stock to just cover.
Add the thyme, season with salt and pepper and partly cover with a lid.
Bring to a simmer on a medium heat.
Turn the heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes.
Let the mixture cool then pour into a pie dish.
Cover with puff pastry, brush with beaten egg and poke a couple of holes in the top to let the steam escape.
Bake in a preheated 200C oven until puffed and golden brown (about 30 minutes).

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY GORGEOUS GIRL

Dear Amelia,
It’s your second birthday today and, as I write, your Grandpa is cleaning the bathroom.
This is because I’m not allowed to do any housework for another couple of weeks.
It’s the seventh time your Grandpa has cleaned the bathroom in 38 years.
It’s put him in a really vile mood.
In a minute I’m going to pour bleach in his mouth and sit on his head because even though I’ve shut the two doors that are between him and me, I can still hear him carrying on like a pork chop.

Here’s a picture of him using the vacuum cleaner hose as a weapon. The green thing in his hand is Ella’s squeaky beer bottle. You’ll notice I still haven’t painted the door jambs.

I was going to give you a comprehensive history of what’s happened in the world in the two years since you’ve been here, but because of the bathroom scenario (I’ve had to show him how to open the packet of Windex wipes THREE times), I’m going to run with a brief overview.
First up, it’s strange to think that on the day you entered the world, 33 miners in Chile were wondering if they’d ever see it again.
They were into their 27th day of being trapped 700 metres underground and it was going to be another 42 days before they were rescued.
In later awfulness, a tsunami off the coast of Sumatra killed hundreds of people and North Korea started to play serious silly buggers.
Queensland suffered its worst floods in history and Perth had its longest ever heatwave – more than 30C for 26 days in a row.
Mary McKillop was made Australia’s first saint and Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse went to join her in the great beyond after over-indulging for the last time.
Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip all dropped in to see us in 2011 and, just last week, Prince William and a large chunk of the rest of the world got their knickers in a twist because Wills’ wife was photographed topless.
(Princess Kate was in Brisbane a couple of days ago and was on the TV news. When your Grandpa saw her he shouted, “Show us your tits.” In the olden days your Grandpa would’ve had his head chopped off and put on a spike. He thinks the Royal Family is on a par with the Real Housewives of New York City.)
The most important part of the history of the world, of course, is the two years you’ve spent in it.
So here’s a brief history of you in pictures.


Your Mum and Dad are taking you to Perth Zoo for your birthday today and then tomorrow you’re all coming down to Albany to spend the weekend with Nanna and Grandpa.
We’re going out for dinner tonight, your Grandpa and I, but if we were staying home and watching the footy I think I’d cook Spicy Steak Kebabs because they’re really good footy food.
I have to go now because your Grandpa wants me to show him how much water to put in the bucket (I’m not making that up). Happy birthday, sweetheart.

SPICY STEAK KEBABS

Serves 2

2 pieces of steak, cut into 2.5cm cubes
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp paprika
½ – 1 tsp chilli powder (depending on how spicy you like it)
1½ tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp ground cumin

Mix all the sugar and spices in a small bowl.
Make sure they’re well combined.
Spoon half the spice mix onto a plate and roll the cubes of steak in it until they’re well coated.
Thread the steak onto satay sticks and sprinkle the remaining spice mix over the top.
Put in the fridge to marinate for an hour.
Pour a little bit of oil into a non-stick frying pan and cook the kebabs over high heat for a couple of minutes each side, or until done to your liking.
The brown sugar makes a hell of a mess of your frying pan if you let them cook for too long.
If you like your meat well done it would be better to cook the kebabs under the grill.


WHERE’S SALLY FIELD WHEN YOU REALLY NEED HER?

Dear Amelia,
Sometimes, when you’re bored and reduced to watching repeats of America’s Next Top Model (Cycle 12), things that you normally wouldn’t do seem like a really good idea.
This was one of them.

CHICKEN AND PANCETTA-FILLED TORTELLONI/RAVIOLI

Makes about 35

LOTS AND LOTS OF WINE: POSSIBLY MORE THAN YOU HAVE EVER DRUNK BEFORE
200g chicken mince
2 slices pancetta, chopped
1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
3 tbsp light ricotta cheese
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
freshly ground sea salt and pepper
35 wonton wrappers for tortelloni
OR
70 wonton wrappers for ravioli

Pour yourself a glass of wine, put the chicken mince, pancetta and parsley into a mini food processor and whiz until finely chopped.
Put the mixture into a bowl and stir in the ricotta and parmesan cheeses, sea salt to taste and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
Make sure everything is well combined.
Refill your glass, put a teaspoon of mixture in the middle of a wonton wrapper, dip your finger in a small bowl of water and wet around all four edges.
If you’re making ravioli, put another wonton wrapper on top and press all the edges together to make a tight seal, expelling any air as you go.
To make tortelloni, fold the wonton wrapper in half and press the edges together.
Fold the long edge up towards you and bring the two bottom corners together to make a cushiony semi-circle.
Dab one of these corners with water and press to seal. Do this 35 times.


If you decided to go down the tortelloni-making road, you’ll have had 85 glasses of wine by this stage.
Because, basically, the procedure is fucking endless.
You’ll also have a plateful of shapes that look nothing like the headgear worn by the Flying Nun but if you’re a person of a certain age and you’re drunk they will remind you of her anyway.


Seeing as you’re not allowed to lift anything heavy for another four weeks, get the person who is refilling your wine glass to fill a really big pasta pot with water and bring it to the boil on top of the stove.
Chuck in half the tortelloni/ravioli and simmer for about 4 minutes.
Fish them out with a Chinese strainer or slotted spoon.

It occurred to me after my 85th glass of wine that a big one of these would be perfect for catching a flying nun

Put the cooked tortelloni straight into a big shallow pot of barely simmering tomato passata (bought or homemade).
Weep because you decided to make your own passata but didn’t factor in that by this stage YOU WOULD HAVE LOST THE WILL TO LIVE.
Put the remaining uncooked tortelloni into the pan of boiling water and repeat the whole procedure.
Serve with grated parmesan cheese.
Seeing as I was as smashed as a rat and starving to death by the time I finished making these, I didn’t take a picture.
This is probably a good thing because they looked like the heads of flying nuns nestled in a sea of blood.
Extremely tasty though.
And seeing as this was an original recipe thought up by me, your Grandpa actually gave me a round of applause.
But I suspect this had as much to do with the fact that I was still upright as it did with the taste.


LIFE ON MARS

Dear Amelia,
Here at party central I’ve been watching the bruises on my stomach turn yellow and prodding the stitched-up bits to see how much they still hurt.
The answer is, “Not much,” which is great seeing as I had the gall-bladder operation late in the afternoon when most hard-working people need a sugar fix to keep them going.
My worry is that the pain will come back and when I’m taken to hospital and ripped open again they’ll find a Mars Bar wrapper in there.
The surgeon will say, “So that’s where it went,” and get his insurance cover increased before I regain consciousness.
Speaking of guts, have a look at this takeaway menu.
I found it on this blog written by a British woman whose husband was transferred to Shanghai.
Nothing says enviable lifestyle like a bowl of frog’s fallopian tubes, does it?


Seeing as it didn’t involve lifting anything heavier than a kettle of water and seeing as I’m bored shitless, I googled “frog’s fallopian tubes” today and found this picture of them.


They’re apparently a very popular dessert in China – the Chinese version of Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies by the sound of it.


I made Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies yesterday because we went to Richard and Lynda’s place last night to have dinner and watch the footy and I offered to take dessert.
Lynda has coeliac disease, which means she can’t eat gluten, so this dessert is perfect for her.
It’s so perfect that despite having several trillion cookbooks, I never make anything else when Lynda and dessert are involved.
One of these days she’s going to hit me over the head with the baking tin.
Nigella’s Flourless Chocolate Brownies are extremely easy to make: all you do is melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan, chuck in some sugar, eggs and nuts and mix everything together.
Bung it in the oven and 30 minutes later you have 16 very delicious brownies.
You’ll find the recipe in Nige’s book, Nigella Express, or on her website (click here).
These brownies are quite gooey in the middle, or squidgy-bellied as she calls them (I know – gag).
If you like them firmer, put them in the fridge for a few hours before you eat them.
They’re so rich it’s hard to eat more than one.
That said, your Grandpa ate three last night.
He said it was to help him get over the disappointment of West Coast losing the game.

 


SO??

Dear Amelia,
Your Mum just told me that the ladies at day care found a sultana up each of your nostrils this week.
You seem to be on a bit of a roll, don’t you? From sequins to dried fruit in less than 48 hours.
Here’s a tip: Sultanas are actually better in scones.
As luck would have it, I made some last week so I’ll give you a recipe in a minute.
I can see where you’re coming from though.
Nanna still can’t walk past a bag of marbles without wanting to put them in her mouth.
I can still hear my Mum (your Great Grandma) shouting, “Michele! Have you got marbles in your mouth?” and me saying, “Blb,” which is what the word “No” sounds like with a mouth full of marbles.
If it’s any consolation, our family seems to have a history of this sort of thing.
A story that’s now passed into family folklore is of your Great Grandma’s cousin who went to bed and put a bead in his ear.
When the doctor asked him why he’d put a bead in his ear he said it was because he didn’t have any pockets in his pyjamas.
Maybe the solution to your own little problem is to wear clothes with pockets in them for a while.
I’ll ring your Mum tonight and suggest it.
In the meantime, here’s that scone recipe, which I got off the back of the Sunbeam Sultanas box and which is also featured on their website here.
I eat Sunbeam Sultanas like there’s no tomorrow and have done for years.
I don’t think you can beat them for quality, plus they use fruit grown here in Australia, which is as rare as unicorn sightings these days.
Actually, it’s just occurred to me that if you must stick sultanas up your nose, you should try to make sure they’re Sunbeam.
At least you’d be supporting local industry.

SULTANA SCONES

Makes about 8

½ cup Sunbeam Sultanas
2 cups self-raising flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp butter or margarine
½ – ¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 200C.
Place flour and sugar in a bowl.
Rub in the butter or margarine with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Stir in sultanas.
Pour ½ cup milk into the mixture and mix to a soft dough with the back of a knife, adding remaining milk if necessary.
Knead dough on a floured surface until it’s smooth, adding flour as necessary.
Pat out the dough to a thickness of 2cm and cut out scones with a 5-6cm cutter.
Arrange the scones close together on a lined baking tray and brush the tops lightly with milk.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until golden on top.
They’re cooked if they sound hollow when you tap them with your fingertip.
Serve warm, with butter.


TWINKLE, TWINKLE

Dear Amelia,
Do you look like the sort of girl who’d stick a “sparkle” up her nose?
The doctor at the hospital’s Emergency Department didn’t seem to think so.
After the obligatory 3½-hour wait, he got your mum to hold one of your nostrils at a time and blow really hard into your mouth to clear out everything in your nasal passages.
Sadly, it was all snot and no sparkle and most of it ended up on your Mum’s face.
When you and Mum and Dad got home and you were still screaming, “Mummy sparkle ouch”, your Mum stuck her little finger up your nose and slid out a sequin.


As she said when her ordeal was over: Imagine if you’d stuck something up your bum.

 


CHANNELING ELVIS: LIKE, FOR REAL

Dear Amelia,
The good news is that I’m not on the drug that killed River Phoenix.
The other news is that I’m on the drug that killed Heath Ledger.
Well, one of the drugs.
And I’m not taking it anymore because I was so freaked out when I read about it on the Internet, I flushed what was left down the toilet.
But things could be worse.
I woke up this morning feeling 100 times better than I did when I got home from hospital on Thursday morning.
Thanks to our not-so-marvellous modern medical system, Nanna hobbled through her front door exactly 16 hours after she was wheeled out of the operating theatre, one hand clutching a prescription for heavy-duty painkillers, the other holding thirteen (yes, THIRTEEN) A4 pages of instructions on how she should care for herself after abdominal surgery.


Here’s something that’s funny in a very non-ha-ha way: Albany Hospital now has signs next to the beds telling people they have to check out by 10am, just like in a hotel.
Who would’ve thought? Not me, that’s for sure.
But what’s important is that the operation was a success, just more difficult and longer than usual because my gall bladder was stuck to something.
I can’t remember what it was stuck to because I was still off my face when the surgeon did his rounds.
I’m good now though – hardly any pain at all, I just have to be careful what I do.
For the next six weeks I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a full kettle of water and I can’t drive for four.
I can’t begin to tell you how boring it is.
What I CAN tell you is that I was always a big fan of Heath Ledger.
Back in the mists of time, when I was editor of The West Australian’s colour magazine and Heath had just made it big in Hollywood, we managed to get an interview with him for the mag, him being a Perth boy and all.
I nearly wet myself when it was confirmed.
(I actually did wet myself when I got an interview with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. Then my bowels almost liquefied when he agreed to autograph the magazine cover for me. I hadn’t realised up until then what a celebrity whore I was.)
The picture of Heath at the top of this blog post was on the magazine cover too.
It was taken by photographer Frances Andrijich and she kindly gave me a print, which I had framed.
It now hangs in Nanna’s kitchen.
Here’s a close-up.


I had to phone the hospital on Friday to find out when I should take the dressings off the four incisions in my stomach, this point not being covered in the 13 pages of instructions.
The first two people I spoke to said, “Didn’t the nurse tell you?”
What was I supposed to say?
“Well, yes, she did tell me. I’m just ringing up to give you the shits.”?
The nurses were wonderful by the way.
And your Grandpa has been an absolute star. His blood should be bottled.
I made this Banana Tart for him before I went into hospital and will make it again as soon as I’m up to it.
It’s very simple and very delicious.

BANANA TART

This is from the June 1991 edition of Gourmet mag, via Epicurious.com. You’ll find the original recipe here.

Serves 2

1 ready-rolled sheet Pampas puff pastry
1 big banana, cut diagonally into half-centimeter slices
2 tsp sugar
2 big pinches cinnamon
10g butter, cut into small bits
1 heaped tbsp marmalade to glaze OR Orange Caramel Sauce

Preheat oven to 200C.
Let the pastry defrost on the bench for 5 minutes then cut out a round using a 19cm-diameter side-plate as a template.
Put the pastry round on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
Arrange the banana slices on the pastry in circles, overlapping them slightly.
Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle it over the bananas.
Dot the bananas evenly with butter and bake for 25-30 minutes.
Glaze the bananas by melting the marmalade in small saucepan, straining it through a sieve and brushing it on the tart.
Serve as is or don’t bother with the glaze and serve with Orange Caramel Sauce and vanilla ice cream.

ORANGE CARAMEL SAUCE

Makes about ¾ cup

50g butter
35g soft brown sugar
juice of ½ a lemon
juice of 1 orange
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp water
1-2 tbsp Grand Marnier or Cointreau (optional)

Mix the cornflour and water together. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low-ish heat, add the brown sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.
Pour in the lemon and orange juice and bring to the boil.
Stir in the cornflour mixture and continue stirring until the mixture boils and thickens.
Turn off the heat and stir in the Grand Marnier or Cointreau.