This is an easy pie, when you want pie, but want to remove the difficulty factor. I’ve put the pastry on top only, so it’s guaranteed to be crisp – no soggy bottoms here!
CHICKEN POT PIE
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 chicken thighs, cut into thin strips
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
1 leek, white part chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
6 silverbeet leaves, white removed, leaves chopped
250g mushrooms, sliced
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Juice of a lemon
Salt/pepper to taste
4-6 sheets pre-rolled puff pastry
Pre-heat the oven to 210ºC.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan over a moderate/high heat. Add the chicken in batches and fry until golden brown. Remove and set aside.
Reheat the pan over a moderate heat and add the bacon. Fry until golden brown and crisp.
Reduce the heat to low, add the leeks, garlic and thyme to the pan. Stir to combine and cook until the leeks are soft and translucent (this will take 10-15 minutes).
Sprinkle over the flour, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute.
Slowly pour over the milk, stirring continually to avoid lumps. Keep cooking until the sauce has thickened.
Add silverbeet, mushrooms and return the chicken to the pan. Stir to combine with the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
Stir through the parsley and season to taste.
Divide the chicken mixture among 4-6 deep individual oven proof dishes or ramekins (you could also make one large pie if you’d prefer). Brush the edge of the dish with olive oil, and lay the sheet of pastry over the top, with excess pastry hanging down the sides of the dish. Make a couple of small cuts in the pastry so any steam can escape.
Put the pies into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is puffed, golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve (with a plate underneath so no-one is burnt!)
I created this dish as yet another way to get vegetables into my children’s diets (yes, even as they head into their teenage years, they are still a challenge diet-wise). It’s a bit lighter than a traditional ragu, so is well suited to our emerging spring days.
You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. And I haven’t, it’s true.
The school holidays came along, I got distracted by spending time with the kids, and my motivation dropped. Then we went away on holiday for a week and my motivation dropped further. Then I had jury duty which was supposed to be a week long, but ended up being only two days, but I’d already written off that week, so no actual writing happened.
Then I got motivated, but not to write. A fresh week, a fresh opportunity to clean the house, get on top of the washing, call those tradesmen we’ve been meaning to book, measure my son’s room for a new desk, make some kombucha, do some baking, go for a walk…. anything but sit down and write.
Now here we are. More weeks gone by than I’m prepared to admit to, and I’m finally sitting down at my computer and writing. Hardly uninterrupted though! So far this morning I’ve taken my kids to school, been to the supermarket, had a chat to my mother and sister, eaten breakfast, read the paper, had a coffee, had the landscaper round to talk about my sadly neglected garden, answered some emails…. but I’ve written three paragraphs, which justifies another break, doesn’t it?
Motivation would have to be my biggest challenge. There’s always something else to do, a call to make, a coffee to drink, exercise to be done. While I enjoy writing so much, it needs a clear head, clear space, the dishes done. I need to feel free to write, without the rest of my world creeping in surreptitiously and whispering seductively in my ear about all the other fabulous things I could be doing.
When I stopped working in advertising I left behind many of the pressures of having to deliver to a deadline for others. Now I have to deliver to my own deadlines. But my own deadlines don’t feel as important. They can be put to one side without the world coming to an end. There’s always something else that feels more important.
I guess that’s the beauty of working for myself. I can choose to prioritise as I see fit, to be as flexible or not as I wish. I always felt so guilty when I was working full time, when the kids were unwell and needed me to pick them up from school. So torn between caring for my family and the demands of my clients.
Now I can choose to spend time with my family. To live completely in the moment, in the knowledge that if I don’t write for a few weeks, nothing really bad will happen, that my readers will understand. That it’s ok to choose home, children, myself over my work. That it’s ok to not be motivated all the time. That sometimes to do your best work, you need to be able to take a break.
That despite your best intentions, life gets in the way. But that’s ok.
On that note, I need to go. My mother’s just turned up for coffee.
The best paella I’ve ever eaten was created at a seaside bistro on the coast in Barcelona. I’m not sure whether it was the paella that was good, or the location, or that we had been living in London for the 6 months prior, and this was the first time we’d seen the sea in that long.
Either way, it was delicious. And memorable.
Paella always sounds far more difficult to make than it actually is. Ideally you would have a wood fire to cook over, a proper paella pan and a gorgeous Spanish man helping you out, but you can still produce passable version without any of the above.
In this version I’ve used L’Authentique’s chicken confit and fresh chorizo. So this paella has a slightly French spin. The absence of seafood gives it a heartier feel, perfect for these chilly winter nights.
CHICKEN AND CHORIZO PAELLA
2 whole legs chicken confit
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 fresh chorizo sausages
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 whole green capsicum, deseeded and sliced
1 whole red capsicum, deseeded and sliced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups casparella or abrorio rice (or other short grain)
6 cups chicken stock (1.5 litres)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Pinch saffron threads
Zest and juice of a lemon
salt/pepper to taste
Fresh chopped parsley to serve
Scrape the excess fat off the chicken confit. Remove skin and discard. Shred chicken and set aside.
Heat a paella pan or a large heavy fry pan over a moderate/high heat. Add olive oil and fry sausages until brown and cooked through. Set aside.
Reheat fry pan over low heat and add onion, capsicum and garlic. Cook, stirring, until vegetables have softened.
Sprinkle over rice and stir to combine. Pour over chicken stock and add paprika and saffron.
Slice chorizo and arrange with shredded chicken over the paella. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and cook, slowly, until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.
When the rice is cooked, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over parsley.
Only the French could make something as pedestrian as chicken decadently delicious.
Confit is a traditional way of preserving meats, primarily, by slow cooking in fat, then packing cooked meats and fat in a sealed container to the meats keeps for months instead of days.
So far, so pragmatic.
The thing is, they don’t just use any old fat. They use duck fat. And holy hell is it delicious! The flavour of the duck goes deep into the chicken, making it a country mile from your common or garden slow cooked chook.
My lovely friends at L’Authentique have developed their own confit range, which includes a truly delectable chicken. I’ve given you two ways to use the confit below: the first, a traditional confit leg with duck fat roast potatoes; the second, a confit risotto.
CONFIT CHICKEN WITH DUCK FAT ROAST POTATOES
4 confit chicken legs
4 large agria potatoes
Green salad to serve
Remove chicken from the packet, keeping aside duck fat and chicken stock
Heat the oven to 210°C
Peel potatoes and chop into either chips or 4cm chunks, whichever you prefer
Place potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water and salt liberally. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and allow to dry slightly.
Take 4 tablespoons of duck fat and heat in a roasting dish. When the fat is melted and hot, toss the partially cooked potatoes in the fat and then put into the oven for 30 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and crisp, turning occasionally during cooking.
Heat another tablespoon of duck fat in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the chicken legs and cook until skin is browned and crisp (about 10 minutes). Turn over and repeat on the other side.
Serve one chicken leg per person with roast potatoes and salad on the side.
CONFIT CHICKEN AND MUSHROOM RISOTTO Serves 4
2 tablespoons oil or duck fat
4 rashers bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
350g abrorio rice
¼ cup white wine
1.5 litre chicken stock
200g mushrooms, sliced
2 confit chicken legs, bones removed and meat shredded
A knob of butter
Salt/pepper to taste
1 cup grated parmesan
Bunch parsley, leaves chopped
Bring stock to a simmer in a large pan over a medium heat
Meanwhile, heat oil or fat in another large heavy based casserole dish
Add bacon and cook until crisp and well browned
Add onion, celery, garlic and thyme and cook until onion is soft and translucent
Sprinkle over rice and stir to combine, until rice grains are coated in oil and glistening.
Pour over wine and bring to the boil, stirring constantly.
When wine is almost absorbed, begin adding stock, one ladle at a time until rice is creamy and al dente (the final risotto should be fairly liquid). Stir throughout the process.
Halfway through cooking the risotto, add the mushrooms and stir to combine.
Once the rice is cooked to your liking, turn off the heat, add the chicken and butter and stir.
Season to taste, and stir through parsley just prior to serving.
I have to fess up here: the highly talented Bunny Eats Design was the inspiration for this recipe and deserves credit.
This is a great recipe that Genie has developed, and I have messed with, as I do. It features L’Authentique Chorizo sausage, but if they don’t sell these where you live, any other good quality fresh chorizo would work equally well.
This is a super simple dinner to pull together, perfect for a week night family meal.
L’AUTHENTIQUE CHORIZO AND PRAWNS WITH SPICY TOMATO SAUCE
4 x L’Authentique Chorizo Sausages or 1 pack of French Grind, formed into approx. 25 small meatballs
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 red capsicum, deseeded, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or crushed
2 Teaspoons hot smoked paprika
440g can crushed tomatoes
20 cooked and peeled prawns
Bunch coriander or parsley, chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
Heat oil in a frying pan. Cook sausages or meatballs until just cooked. Remove from pan and set aside. Slice sausages into 1cm pieces if using.
Reheat pan over medium heat. Add onions and capsicum and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until onions are soft.
Add garlic and paprika and cook for another minute.
Pour over tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly.
Return sausages to the pan with prawns, and cook until heated through.
Stir through coriander or parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with rice or warmed crusty bread.
Pizza is one of those fantastic meals that everyone likes, and let’s be honest, when you’ve got kids, that can be a rare occasion. It’s a great way of using up any leftovers you have in the fridge – scraps of ham, salami or bacon, fridge dried mushrooms, those few sprigs of thyme. Even pizza bases are relatively simple to make. Some flour, water and yeast does an amazing job of turning out enviable bases.
I also make my own pizza sauce. In summer, I’d be a puritan and use fresh tomatoes, but at this time of the year canned works well. There’s also the added benefits of the skins already removed, so a little less fiddly.
The toppings are really up to you. I try to avoid any 80’s style “gourmet” concoctions. I avidly reject a chicken, cranberry and brie (WTF??) or any others of that ilk. I prefer to go for fairly simple. The most outrageous pizza topping in my house is the prawn and lemon below.
Give yourself some time to make the sauce and bases. The sauce needs time to cook down (you could double the recipe and freeze some for later), and the base dough needs time to prove, so realistically this recipe is better suited to weekend production. Alternatively, if you want something faster, make your own sauce (it’s worth it) and buy preservative free pre-made bases, like these ones from Turkish Bread.
Anyway, onto the recipe.
This recipe is from Al Brown’s fabulous book Stoked. It’s quite a wet dough, but I’ve found that if you use strong (high-grade) flour and give it time to develop, you can handle it without too much trouble. This makes a thick crust pizza base.
500ml warm water
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
4 1/2 cups strong (high grade) flour
2 tsp salt
Put the warm water in a bowl and add yeast and sugar. Stir then leave for 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to bubble
Using the dough hook attachment on a stand cake mixer, mix together the water/yeast mixture with the flour and salt on low speed for 8-10 minutes until smooth.
Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with cling film and sit in a warm place to prove. Knock back a couple of times with oiled hands
Break off pieces of dough to size required. Place on oiled tray and stretch until relatively thin (this takes a bit of effort)
This bit is mine…
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
2 x 400g tins crushed tomatoes
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
Heat olive oil over a low heat. Add red onion, garlic, oregano and chilli flakes (if using) and cook until onion is soft.
Add tins of tomatoes, bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced and thick
Add red wine vinegar and cook until acidity has simmered off.
Season to taste.
Mushroom & Bacon
Mushrooms of your choice, sliced
Red onion, finely sliced
Bacon, roughly chopped (I used streaky bacon)
Small sprigs of thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 225ºC
Spread pizza sauce liberally over pizza base
Top with grated mozzarella, then sliced mushrooms, red onion, bacon, thyme.
Season and drizzle lightly with olive oil
Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until base is puffed and toppings golden
The food in Queenstown can be very, very good. It can also be very, very bad.
The last time we visited (in 2014), we made the mistake of not asking for some advice on the best places to eat. At this point I wasn’t doing the kind of pre-trip research I would do now, so we ate some pretty bad food at some places that looked like they’d be nice, but weren’t. Luckily, my brother in law lives just out of Arrowtown, so he came to the rescue with some outstanding dinner options.
I guess this is the challenge with any town in any country that has tourism as a primary source of income. I could say the same thing about Venice, Crete or Fiji. Rich and I have a theory that you should always eat one block from the best view. Thankfully, in Queenstown, this doesn’t have to be the case (although when your view is all encompassing mountain ranges, they’re pretty hard to avoid).
These are some of the places we ate at while we were there. Things change pretty quickly though, so I can’t guarantee there won’t be better newcomers in the next few months.
A notable omission on my part is Fergburger and their associated stores, Mrs Ferg and Fergbaker. Sadly the ever present queues outside Fergburger meant we were unable to eat here, but this is a Queenstown institution and really should not be missed. The word from insiders is that you’re best to place your order online beforehand to avoid what can be a sizable wait. We poked our heads into Fergbaker and Mrs Ferg (which sells house made gelato) and these are pretty impressive establishments. Everything was fresh and smelled amazing. Don’t make the same mistake I did, make the time to eat there at least once.
Madam Woo – Madam Woo is one of two local restaurants owned by celebrity chef Josh Emmett and restaurateur Fleur Caulton (the other is Rata – see below). This is their Malaysian Hawker food inspired offering, right in the middle of the Queenstown shopping area. They only take bookings for eight or more, so we made sure we arrived just after 6pm to get a table (they’re also open for lunch). The food is relaxed and designed to share, the room is energetic and brightly decorated. This time it was only me and the kids (Rich had gone back to work), so sadly we didn’t get to try as much of the menu as I would have liked. We had a mix of steamed dumplings and a hawker roll (pulled pork with herbs wrapped in roti) to start, then Char Sui BBQ pork spare ribs (to keep the 11 year old happy), honey and soy squid and Asian vegetables for a main. The desserts looked amazing, but sadly we were too full to try them. The kids loved it, and I noticed a number of other families in the room, so they welcome children.
Rata – This is Emmett and Caulton’s more grown up option. We had a fantastic dinner here, aided by the fact that my brother in law seemed to know everyone in the room, so we were spoiled rotten. Rata is a fine dining restaurant, focused on local produce. The menu is limited to four options for starters, five for main courses, but the options available are fantastic, so this really wasn’t a problem. The service is impeccable, the room beautiful, but I wouldn’t be bringing the kids here!
Bespoke – This cafe, situated just below the gondola, won New Zealand cafe of the year in 2015. The owners also own Vudu cafe on the Wakatipu lakefront, which has been excellent through the years. I was blown away by Bespoke. It was crazily busy, but we managed to find a perch by the window and had a delicious breakfast. Their menu appears to be very health focused on first look, but a closer look reveals the eggy, bacony, breakfast standards we all love. I had black rice baked with coconut milk and served with caramelised bananas, Amelia had a beautiful, flower bedecked chai pudding. The coffee was delicious, they do some lovely smoothies, and there is an awe inspiring range of cakes, sandwiches and other sweet but healthy treats adorning the counter and cabinet.
Taco Medic – This is the kind of little local find that I love. We we coming down from Coronet Peak and found Taco Medic’s food truck situated on the side of the road back to Queenstown. They’ve set up camp with a doughnut guy (which the kids had instead) and a guy selling beer. The tacos are fresh and delicious, with hand made corn tortillas. I had the pulled brisket, but there’s also pork, fish and a vegetarian taco. There’s even a breakfast taco, which I was told was amazing (maybe next time). This is really inexpensive, but delicious food. Perfect after a day’s skiing. They also have a location in central Queenstown.
Ivy & Lola’s– After being so rude about good food and views being mutually exclusive, I stumbled on Ivy & Lola’s whilst on a late afternoon hunt for mulled wine and hot chips. The brief was simple – I needed to be able see the water and the mountains while I drank my wine. This place ticked all the boxes. It’s tucked next to Mac’s Ale House on the lakefront, and to be honest it looks like the same establishment. The view of the mountains is sensational, the heaters were going and there were blankets for those of us placing scenery above warmth. Although I didn’t have dinner here, the menu was enticing, and if the wine and chips were anything to go by (I know, that’s a fragile premise to base a good review on!), the food is good. When we ventured inside to pay the bill, we found the dining room to be eclectic, with framed vintage cutlery, old radios and china teapots and cups adorning the walls. Really lovely.
The Cookie Bar – this part of my restaurant wrap up is for kids only. Cookie Time have opened a themed cookie bar, that serves milk and cookies, cookie dough icecream, s’mores and warm cookies, fresh from the oven. It’s a cute concept, which my kids loved. The milk is served in old fashioned glass milkbottles, which they’ll clean out and send home with you. The cookies are an insane sugar hit, so maybe don’t look too closely at the list of ingredients, but this is all about the children (and sub-25 year old tourists).