Chicken pies: Only ugly on the outside

A couple of weeks ago I was gifted a fantastic cook book (Step-by-Step Cook’s Encyclopedia) by my now ex work mates as a leaving present and there was a recipe in it for individual chicken pies that immediately caught my eye, mostly because I thoroughly – albeit a little guiltily – enjoy a good hearty meat pie.

Before I get into the recipe, I have to admit that this was probably one of the least attractive things I have cooked so far due to my haphazard hacking away of the extra pastry. It’s definitely something I’ll be looking more into for the future, not to mention how to make a better puff pastry (more on that shortly!).

I ended up making 4 double crust pies in mini pie moulds and two single crust (pastry on top) pies in 12cm ramekins with:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 brown onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery sticks, sliced
  • 800ml cold chicken stock
  • 65g butter
  • 55g plain flour
  • 700g skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into cubes of about 1.5-2cm
  • 2 cups frozen soy beans (original recipe called for frozen peas, which I didn’t have but felt could be adequately substituted with soy beans)
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

And of course, rough puff pastry. I followed a recipe in the 40th edition of a Be-Ro Flour Home Recipes cookbook, which simply used:

  • 225g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 150g lard & margarine mix (I just used unsalted butter)
  • Cold water to mix

You can find pastry recipes everywhere on the internet in much more detail than here so I won’t go into it this time but my pastry dough was very sticky, which I wasn’t quite sure about…

The original recipe in the book also used button mushrooms, which I didn’t feel any desire to consume so I left it out.

The process of making these pies actually took me almost the entire day because I’m essentially as slow as a sloth when it comes to cooking something I have never made before; slow and steady wins the race?

Anyway, here’s how I made the filling:

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  1. Heat oil in large saucepan, add onions and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until soft and golden
  2. Add carrots, celery and half the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low until the vegetables are almost soft – there should still be a bit of crunch
  3. In another saucepan melt the butter on a medium heat and whisk in the flour, stirring for a little bit.
    NB: In the book, the picture of this step showed a very dry mixture, resembling that of crumble but when I did it, it looked more like gravy. Not sure if I got the proportions wrong or not but it turned out fine in the end.
  4. Pour in the remaining stock to the flour mix and whisk until thick on a medium-low heat. This should result in a smooth, thick mixture
  5. Add this to the vegetables and stir in the chicken, thyme and beans
  6. Simmer and stir while seasoning with salt and pepper.

After that I lined the pie tins and divided the mixture between them (or put the mixture straight in for the ramekins), covered with second piece of pastry, cut a X in the middle of each, brushed with egg and baked in a preheated oven (about 200°C/400°F) until the tops were golden in colour and the mixture was bubbling underneath. I think this took around 40 minutes, although I pay more attention to how the actual food is cooking through observing its texture, smelling and when possible tasting, rather than the time…

The pie mixture came out really nice, with everything tender and seasoned well, but the pastry was just a bit dry and boring. I think it’s so important to have a good pastry since that’s the thing you see and eat first. I thought my attempt failed on this aspect but I’m looking forward to educating myself more about pastry techniques.

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Caramelised Onion Tart

Onions are something I’ve never really appreciated fully until I started cooking with them and even though I’ve come to enjoy them a lot more nowadays, I would have never thought to try my hand at an onion tart had it not been for the melt-in-your-mouth sweet onion tart entree that I had earlier this month at a wedding. Remembering how indifferent I felt upon reading it on the menu and how pleasantly surprised I was with it when it landed in front of me, I wanted to make an attempt at my own onion tart.

I roughly followed a recipe I found online: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/claire-robinson/french-onion-tart-recipe/index.html. I made a few variations, including:

  • I made 4 mini tarts instead of one big one
  • Subsequently, I didn’t follow the way the pastry was lined in the recipe
  • I also added a bit of sugar when caramelising the onions
  • I added cheese in first and then topped it with onions before I popped the tarts into the oven

Overall my attempt came out alright; some onions were more caramelised than others but the taste wasn’t bad at all. I had wilted spinach seasoned with salt, pepper and sesame oil to go with it.

 

Experimenting with Pad Thai

Earlier in the year, Andrew and I went to a social cooking class where we learned how to make Pad Thai, that popular, tasty street food that many think of when thinking about Thai cuisine. After learning just how simple it actually is to make, I was keen to try it at home myself and after a brief search on the internet, found this recipe: http://www.thaitable.com/thai/recipe/pad-thai and modified it based on the ingredients I had available.

For 4-6 servings, I used:

1 pack rice noodles
3 cups bean sprouts
1 spring onion
2 eggs
Approx. 6 teaspoons fish sauce
6 cloves minced garlic (I just mashed them up in a mortar and pestle)
1/2 brown onion (no shallots; crushed them with the garlic)
A pinch of ground white pepper
3 tablespoons peanuts – I toasted these in a frying pan first
About 12 prawns, shelled and deveined
1 disc of palm sugar – I was lazy and just broke it up into pieces with my hands but I would suggest taking the time to grate it if you’re just putting it straight into the wok with the noodles, as instructed in the recipe
4 tablespoons white rice vinegar (in place of the tamarind paste)
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot chilli sauce
Cooking oil
Water

I followed the instructions as detailed in the recipe linked, using a wok.

The seasoning measurements (fish sauce, vinegar, chilli sauce, sugar, white pepper) were all just guesstimates in my case; I put in however much I needed to make it taste good for me. I think overall I held back on the flavours a bit because I didn’t want any to be overpowering. Consequently when it came down to eating the noodles, I ended up adding quite a bit more chilli sauce to bring out more spice and tanginess, but I preferred this to the overly tangy and salty result we got at the cooking class.

One major thing I would change for next time would be to get all of the seasoning sorted before I start cooking the noodles. We did this in the cooking class – heated fish sauce, tamarind paste, garlic paste, chilli paste and palm sugar together in a saucepan until the sugar dissolved and then added this to the noodles when cooking. I completely forgot we did this but to me, it’s way more logical and heaps easier, especially for dissolving the palm sugar. Naturally, you may have to adjust the taste some more once it is mixed in with the noodles.

I also had trouble keeping the noodles from sticking together in the wok but managed this somewhat by adding in little bits of water at a time when I needed to in order to separate things a little. As the author of the recipe states, this dish is meant to be dry so you just need to watch how much liquid you add in.

Served with roasted peanuts and fresh bean sprouts.

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Teriyaki chicken norimaki

There is perhaps nothing more synonymous with Japanese food than sushi and today, with the help of some online recipes and my Australian Women’s Weekly Cooking School cookbook, I managed to pull off, in a relatively painless fashion, teriyaki chicken norimaki, or sushi rolls.

My previous post covered the sushi rice aspect of this recipe and I found a very easy and tasty teriyaki sauce recipe here. The one thing I did different to the recipe was that I omitted the ginger but it still tasted fantastic.

Once the chicken was done and I had the rice covered with a wet cloth ready to be used, I went on to carve up some cucumber and avocado before starting on the sushi rolls.

Now, this was the first time that I had made sushi rolls and I ended up really over-filling the first one:

Sushi 1

Sushi 2

Being the stubborn person that I am though, I managed to squeeze it all together!

I followed the method from my cookbook which instructs, as follows:

Add rice vinegar to medium bowl of cold water. Place one nori sheet, shiny-side down, lengthways across bamboo mat about 2cm from edge of mat closest to you. Dip fingers of one hand into bowl of vinegared water, shake off excess; pick up a third of the rice, place across centre of nori sheet…

…working from left to right, gently rake rice evenly over nori, leaving 2cm strip on far side of nori uncovered. Build up rice in front of uncovered strip to form a mound to keep filling in place.

Next step was placing ingredients into the centre of the rice and then the instructions for rolling:

Starting with edge closest to you, pick up mat using thumb and forefingers of both hands; use remaining fingers to hold filling in place as you roll mat away from you. Roll forward, pressing gently but tightly, wrapping nori around rice and filling.

At times I found it really fiddly trying to hold in all the filling and sometimes the end of the nori didn’t stick but somehow I managed to get it all together! Once all the rolling was done, I cut them up as thick, or as thin, as I wanted and served with light soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger.

Sushi 4

Itadakimasu!

Amazing sushi rice recipe

After so many years of eating countless rolls of sushi, I think that one of the most important components is the rice and how it tastes. I’ve just spent a good part of my afternoon making sushi (more on that experience later!) and I made a point of getting the rice right. Luckily, I came across an awesome sushi rice recipe: http://low-cholesterol.food.com/recipe/minados-perfect-sushi-rice-119373.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any short grain rice or sushi rice so I mixed together jasmine rice and glutinous rice (approximately 1.5 cups of jasmine with half a cup of glutinous – I kind of just guessed). That might sound horrific and laughable but after following the cooking instructions exactly, it turned out surprisingly good.

The taste of the vinegar mix was fantastic and spot on with some of the better sushi I’ve had and I finally got to put the hand fan I bought from China to good use!

Sushi rice 2

Dead easy fried rice

The past couple of weeks have been sorely lacking in inspiration for me in terms of cooking – I’ve been experimenting with sponge cakes when I can but have yet to get it just right, hence the lack of posts – but now that I’ve left my job (going into postgrad study in 2 weeks, scary!), I’ve (theoretically) got more than enough time to cook.

With some left over rice from last night’s dinner, I decided to make fried rice for lunch. I’ve been making this for years so trust me when I say it is one of THE easiest and quickest meals you could ever make and it actually involves very little cooking. Once you get it to how you like it, there is no excuse to pay for fried rice at the Chinese takeaway shop ever again.

Apart from cooked rice, fried rice can have a variety of other ingredients in it. Today, I kept it simple and used:

  • About 3 cups of left over, day-old cooked rice – most people probably know this already but you must use cooked, left over rice that’s not freshly steamed. Unless, of course, you want gloopy fried rice…
  • 2 eggs
  • Half a brown onion, diced
  • Frozen soy beans or frozen peas
  • Soy sauce
  • Vegetable/sunflower oil – only use as much as you need! I used about 3 teaspoons to oil the pan and then another 3-4 teaspoons just to keep the rice and eggs from sticking.

I didn’t use any meat but you can add in shreds of left over roast chicken, sliced up sausages, prawns or cut up some pieces of tender beef or pork.

Note the above ingredients made enough for about 4 servings.

And here is one of the easiest recipes you will ever see:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions until brown and tender. Move to outer areas of the pan, away from the centre. 
  2. Scramble the eggs in the pan and move to outer areas. Just scramble lightly as they will continue to cook. If you want to add in meat, do this before you crack in the eggs and remember it will continue cooking so don’t overdo it. 
  3. Add in rice and move it around in the pan with the other ingredients until it’s heated through and there are no clumpy bits. Add in a bit of oil if needed.
  4. Add in beans or peas and cook until heated through, continuing to move everything around in the pan.
  5. Season with soy sauce to taste, making sure to mix this in nicely with everything else

If you want to, you can serve this with hot chilli sauce.

Homemade chicken stock

Yesterday I underwent some mild surgery to remove two wisdom teeth. Having decided that mashed potatoes, yoghurt and  ice cream were getting a bit boring, even though it’s only been one day, I started making my own chicken stock so I could add a little variety to my post-teeth extraction diet in the form of chicken soup.

I didn’t have any herbs handy at home so I just added in about 1kg of chicken bones, 1 medium carrot chopped, 1 stalk of celery de-leaved and chopped, one brown onion chopped, a bit of salt, about 5 slices of ginger and some peppercorns (2 teaspoons). Oh and heaps (about 10 cups) of water. Simmered that for 2-3 hours and then drained it through a sieve into a heatproof bowl/container.

Now, I’m not going to go into details about the soup because it didn’t turn out how I wanted it to. The recipe I used from my Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook said to add two tablespoons of lemon juice, which I did, and it consequently made the soup too tangy. I’m not sure if that’s how the author meant it to taste but I wasn’t a fan.

Also, I’ve never been able to make soup with cream or milk or any dairy products and actually have it taste any good. I always inevitably get put off it from just tasting it, which I don’t know whether to attribute to my considerable lack of skill with making soups or whether I’m just not used to having dairy products in my soups (Chinese soups are actually broths – stock, water and whatever else we want to add in – usually a lot of vegetables, tastes very light when done well).

I think it’s back to broth for me!