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).


CHANNELING ELVIS: ORANGE HAWAII

Dear Amelia,
It’s only two more sleeps until G Day and I won’t lie to you, I’m feeling nervous.
But that’s hardly surprising seeing as I’ll be lying on a table, half-naked and unconscious, and there’ll be a man standing over me with a knife.
On the upside, when I return home from hospital on Thursday I’ll be minus a body part that’s a bit like Krakatoa before the eruption.


Granted, if Nanna’s gall bladder ever does explode it’s unlikely to kill 36,417 people (unless maybe she’s standing in Albany Plaza at the time), but it just might kill her, so it’s best if it’s taken out.
This past week I’ve spent time cleaning the house in a more thorough than usual manner in case I cark it on the operating table (no one likes a dirty dead person).
I’ve also been cooking things that make me smile, including the Orange Hawaii pictured up the top there, although you can hardly call it cooking.
The idea for Orange Hawaii isn’t mine but the name is (I thought the original name of D.I.Y. Paradise was pretty good but not quite Elvis enough for me).
All you need is one mandarin – your favourite fruit – two sliced bananas and a kiwi fruit cut in half lengthwise, then each half cut into eight slices.
Arrange artfully on a plate as per the photo, then eat.
Or do this.


Who knew there were so many interesting things you could do with kiwi fruit? Not me, that’s for sure.
Your Great Grandma’s 80th birthday dinner went extremely well last Sunday.
Here she is blowing out the candles, with her brother, your Great Uncle Bill, looking on and waiting to get his choppers into that Chocolate Malteser Cake.


Yes, I know I said in an earlier post that this was a bland cake.
Well, Nigella, I eat my words. I must have done something to stuff it up the first time I baked it.
This time it was fab. Everyone loved it.
I urge you to bake it as soon as you’re old enough to operate an oven without endangering yourself.
It was a very jolly party, your Great Grandma’s 80th.
Lots of reminiscing and laughter, and an unexpected bonus in that if there’s ANYTHING AT ALL you need to know about macular degeneration, shadows on the brain, prostate glands, arthritis, dicky knees, hip replacements, seniors’ discounts or retirement villages, you can now ask me.
The night after your Great Grandma’s bash, Grandpa and I had dinner with your Uncle Paul at one of our favourite spots, the Queens Tavern.
Here’s a picture of your Uncle Paul looking handsome while eating Chicken Wellington.


I don’t have any photos of the Goodbye Gall Bladder dinner that our friends Trevor and Fiona put on but it was a corker; I haven’t laughed so much in ages.
Two more things that have made me smile this week:


And this, emailed to me by Liz in Bali, snapped yesterday by Liz’s friend Rachel in a supermarket in Coogee.


Another funny thing: My biggest gallstone is apparently 2.5cm in diameter.
Your Grandpa says if I bring it home with me from hospital it will have to come separately by taxi.


FLAT CHAT

Dear Amelia,
I’ve been making this banana cake for years now and, yes, it’s always looked like this.
It goes without saying that it’s not one of those cakes you could put in front of the Master Chef judges.
As in, it’s not one of those cakes that prompts people to say, “Wow, she’s really taken this to the next level.
It’s always looked vaguely like one of those foam rubber overlays you could buy back in the day if your mattress was lumpy and you couldn’t afford to get a new one.
But it tastes really good and it’s quick and simple to make.
It also uses up one the banes of Nanna’s life: The Almost Putrid Banana.
I hate to think of the number of almost putrid bananas that have been mashed into this cake batter over 39 years, but I think it’s safe to say that Queensland’s on-going buoyant economy is partly down to me.
The recipe is from the first cookbook I ever bought: 500 Recipes for Families by Marguerite Patten.
It cost me 29 cents at Boans department store in Perth in 1973.


I was 20 years old at the time and possibly the world’s worst cook, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that 500 Recipes for Families literally saved my bacon (see page 9: Cooking Fried Bacon, and page 12: To Make Good Toast. Nanna didn’t have a toaster back then and had to cook toast under the grill).
Here is a picture of the book’s cover, which as you can see has taken quite a battering over the years (see page 19: Fried Fish).


And here is a picture of the Banana Cake recipe, complete with four decades’ worth of dodgy-looking food stains.


Just in case you’re wondering, Nanna is perfectly capable of making cakes that elicit gasps of delight and wonderment.
Take for example this Chocolate Malteser Cake by Nigella Lawson, the recipe for which can be found by googling Chocolate Malteser Cake by Nigella Lawson (unless you have her book, Feast, in which case you’ll find it on page 283).


To be honest, I didn’t think Nigella’s  cake was that flash in the taste department.
The icing is out of this world but that’s only because you have to spend half a week’s wages on a 400g jar of Horlicks, of which you’ll use exactly four tablespoons.
Marguerite Patten’s Banana Cake is actually far tastier, so here, without further ado, is the recipe.

MARGUERITE PATTEN’S BANANA CAKE

Makes 1 flattish 20cm cake

1 large, very soft banana (the almost-putrid black-skinned kind you find up the back of the crisper drawer)
90g caster sugar
90g soft, room-temperature butter  
1 large egg
a big squeeze of lemon juice
125g self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease and flour a 20cm round cake tin.
Mash the banana with a fork.
Using a hand mixer, cream the banana, sugar and butter well.
Add the lemon juice, then beat in the egg.
Fold in the sieved flour.
Put the batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes.
Let it cool for five minutes before turning out.
If you like you can ice the cake when it’s cold, using this quintessentially Marguerite Patten icing recipe: mix six tablespoons of icing sugar with 10 drops of lemon juice (that’s the equivalent of a good squirt).