How to make pies: Beef & guinness pie

Beef & guinness pie

It's tough writing a food blog when you're in a different hemisphere to 90% of your readers. While you guys drip with sweat I'm roasting chickens, and in a couple of months when you're covered in snow I'll be posting pictures of watermelon and lime smoothies photographed in the stark 7pm sunlight. But like a brave little steam engine, I push on nobly.

With winter in full swing here, I was feeling a distinct lack of pies. You know that feeling you get when you haven't had a pie in a while? The sweating, the nausea, the irritability and vague sense of paranoia? Classic pie withdrawal. The only cure: a good pie. Pot pies are great, but to achieve a state of true nirvana a hearty stew encased on all sides in buttery pasty — that is, a proper pie — tastes as good as it sounds. Can you tell I like pies?

While the recipe is for a beef & guinness pie, this entry is about pies in general. If you do everything from scratch it might take you an afternoon, but with pastry and stew in the freezer you can easily knock out a pie on a weeknight. There are 3 basic steps that you can read about after the jump: The pastry, the filling, and then bringing it all together.

Barossa Valley weekend, part one.


It was early Spring, back in those carefree days of 2008, when five young lads set out on a weekend trip to the Barossa Valley. They thought they were having a few days of wine tasting and nice food- who could have known it would go so horribly wrong?*

*It didn't go horribly wrong. This was just a cheap hook to draw you in.

There was Simon, economist and trip planner; there was young Hen, of the Red Hair, a stalwart companion on many a wine trip; there was Ronan, lawyer in training and son of The Man With The Giant Cellar; there was Medical Tim, famous throughout the land for his Tasty Tasty Food; and there was Rowan, the lowly scribe. By the end of the weekend one of them would be pregnant, one would be dead, and one would bear a terrible burden.**

**Yes, this is another outright lie.

Although nothing much happened that would make for a bad thriller novel, there was certainly wine enough for a post or two. A post like, say, this one. So, with only a minimum of further ado, let's get on with it.

10 ways that puttanesca got its name

Spaghetti puttanesca

Everyone knows that puttanesca means essentially 'whore's pasta'. However, the specifics of how it got this name are disputed to this very day. I've done a little research to collect some of the most likely origins of the name, and in case you're wondering, no I didn't just make some up to get ten.

  1. It's fiery and spicy, just like prostitutes.
  2. It was offered cheaply to customers to entice them into the brothels.
  3. It's quick to make so it could be cooked easily in between customers.
  4. It could be made from ingredients that keep well, as prostitutes often didn't have the opportunity to visit the markets every day.
  5. The intense aroma of the garlic, anchovies, and capers drew men by their noses to the brothels.
  6. The intense aroma was also advantageous to the women, who found that it deterred customers from breaking the 'no kissing' rule.
  7. Being red, it camouflaged well under the tawdry red lights. How this is of any advantage, I'm not sure.
  8. Because your mum makes it. Burn!
  9. Olives are considered by some cultures to have contraceptive effects. Particularly cultures with high birth rates.
  10. An early incarnation of the dish actually contained chlamydia.

Which one of these ten equally legitimate suggestions is the true origin of pasta puttanesca we may never know, but thankfully the recipe has remained intact throughout the ages. And here it is.

Spaghetti puttanesca

Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 100g spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1 small chili, sliced thinly (or substitute red pepper flakes to taste)
  • 1/3 cup of canned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, torn roughly
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained (salt-packed are preferable)
  • 2 tbsp kalamata olives, pitted and halved

1. Boil a pot of salted water and add the spaghetti. You can make the sauce before the pasta finishes cooking.
2. Sauté the garlic with the olive oil on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and chilies and cook for a further 30 seconds.
3. Add the tomatoes and parsley, and cook over a high heat until the tomatoes break down and thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives1 and capers. The sauce can then be held until the pasta is cooked.
4. Once the pasta is almost al dente, drain it and toss with the sauce over a high heat. Add a little pasta water if it's looking too dry. Serve with grated parmesan.

(1) I find the olives can get bitter if you add them earlier and cook them with the sauce.

The accidental calzone

Accidental calzone

Let this be a warning to all of you food bloggers out there: while you're taking photographs, your food is getting cold, getting warm, overcooking, drying out, wilting, melting, or setting. If you spend too much time fucking around, your uncooked pizza will stick to the board, tear when you transfer it to the oven, and turn into an accidental calzone. Perhaps not you, personally.

In related news, I think I've hit upon a great pizza dough — stay tuned.

Singapore noodles

Singapore noodles

One of the things I enjoy most about eating at restaurants is thinking, "How did they do this and how can I do this?" The French Laundry Cookbook has taught me that even the most complex food can ultimately be reduced to a recipe, and the more I cook the easier it is to recognise patterns in the way food is made and ingredients are combined.

Inspired by a great meal the other night at East Taste, I set out to make Singapore noodles at home. When trying to reverse engineer a dish, a descriptive menu and some dominant flavours are the best starting point. But unfortunately, the name "Singapore noodles" is unhelpful, and the taste is just, well, Singapore noodles. What mixture of spices and sauces do they use to get that unmistakable flavor?

Reading recipe after recipe revealed a common ingredient: plain old British "curried egg sandwiches" curry powder. It's that simple. I didn't have any curry powder in the house, so I made some up by adjusting this recipe ever so slightly — if it tastes rubbish with store-bought curry powder, try making it with homemade curry powder before you throw the recipe out the window. Singapore noodles vary from restaurant to restaurant (and aren't even from Singapore, by the way), and my version here is closer to the dry, savory style I prefer. Try adding some dark soy and a tiny amount of hoisin sauce if you prefer a sweeter style.

Singapore noodles

Ingredients (makes 2 main course servings1):

  • 180g vermicelli rice noodles
  • Peanut oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 a red capsicum (red pepper), sliced thinly
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced thinly
  • 70g raw prawn meat
  • 90g char siu pork, sliced
  • 1.5 tsp curry powder (recipe after the jump)
  • 7 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 spring onion, sliced
  • 1 handful of bean sprouts
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 small handful of fresh coriander (cilantro)

1. Soak the dried rice noodles in very warm water for about 20 minutes until pliable but still unpalatably tough2. Make sure you've got your mise en place, uh, en place. Briefly whisk the eggs together with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Heat a wok with 1 teaspoon of oil to a medium-high heat, then add the egg mixture and cook like you would an omelette, removing it to a bowl when still a little runny.
2. Turn the heat up as high as it will go, add 2 tbsp of peanut oil and heat until smoking. Add the onion and capsicum and stir fry for 1 minute. Add the pork and prawns and stir fry for 30 seconds or until the prawns are just cooked on the outside3.
3. Add the noodles, curry powder, about half of the soy sauce, and cook tossing regularly. Test the noodles, adding 1-2 tbsp of water at a time if they're still not cooked through and are drying out.
4. When the noodles are cooked, remove from the heat and toss through the sesame oil, spring onions, bean sprouts, fresh coriander, and omelette, roughly breaking up the omelette. Test for seasoning and add as much of the remaining soy sauce as necessary. Serve right away.

(1) I wouldn't suggest making more than about 3 servings at a time unless you have an exceptionally fierce heat. If you don't, you'll have trouble maintaining the high heat in your wok necessary to get the smoky flavour of a good wok dish.
(2) Err on the side of undersoaking your noodles: you can always add more water to the wok and cook them for longer, but once they're mush there's no turning back.
(3) They will be underdone in the middle at this stage, but this is necessary to prevent overcooking them.

Spice advice: Coriander seeds

Coriander seeds

For most Western cooks, European herbs and spices are manageable: if you don't like parsley you can leave it out, and pepper fans will add it to taste without batting an eyelid. The more 'exotic' spices, however, are another story. When a recipe calls for a mixture of these spices many will follow it unquestioningly, amassing a catalogue of recipes with very little understanding for what they're actually doing.

This might not be you, and perhaps I'm addressing it to the wrong crowd. However I know heaps of people who "love cooking Indian food" yet couldn't pick fenugreek out of a spice lineup. This is okay; we're not all obsessive about food, and with so many good recipes out there it's easy to make tasty meals from obscure spices. But that said, nothing's more freeing than having the confidence and experience to improvise.

With that in mind, I had a crazy idea: to profile all of my favourite spices over a series of posts. For each I'll try to describe how they taste, and give a recipe that showcases that ingredient's best qualities. It's ambitious and I make no promises about how far into this journey I'll get, but hopefully I can inspire you to experiment with spices and learn a thing or two myself. Here goes nothing.

No wait, here goes coriander seeds.

Thomas Keller's roast chicken

Thomas Keller's roast chicken

There was a question on Ask Metafilter last year calling for good recipes with the fewest possible ingredients. There's some great stuff there, but where's the roast chicken? Roast chicken is the ultimate basic meal. It's filling enough to be dinner, and served with some mustard and potatoes or crusty bread you've got a complete meal with only four ingredients.

As is always the case with such basic recipes, you simply can't get away with using low quality ingredients. I understand the budget-conscious mindset and will buy cheaper chicken if it's going into a heavily-flavoured curry, but for roasting you have to buy the best. Free range is a sign of quality, but if you can, ask a trusted butcher to help you choose.

There are loads of techniques out there from compound butters to multi-temperature roasts, but who'd have thought the most straightforward recipe would come from Thomas Keller? Not surprisingly, it's also the best. I'm sure that at Per Se and The French Laundry he roasts his chickens suspended mid-air in a pressure-controlled bunker exactly 154 meters below sea level, but for home cooks the Bouchon method is very accessible. It will smoke out a kitchen that isn't well-ventilated, but some carbon monoxide poisoning is worth it for the crispy golden skin and juicy flesh.

Thomas Keller's roast chicken


  • One small/medium (900g-1.35kg) chicken
  • 1 tbsp coarse salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 2 tsp minced thyme

1. Preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF. Rinse the chicken inside and out, and dry well with paper towels. Sprinkle all over with the salt and black pepper.
2. Truss the chicken and roast in the oven for 50-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. Test by piercing the thigh with a sharp knife — when cooked through, the juices will run clear.
3. Mix the thyme with the juices that have collected in the roasting pan, and baste the outside of the chicken with this. Rest for 15 minutes, then carve and serve.

Why wine?

Red wine (Murray Street Vineyards, Barossa Valley)

I just returned from a weekend with friends in the glorious Barossa Valley. We had delicious lunches, we sat down and tried incredible wines, we laughed with cellar hands, we met one winemaker who invited us out the back and opened hundreds of dollars worth of wine and vintage tokay (aka muscadelle) for us to drink as he imparted his (slightly inebriated) life lessons.

At one point, Tim said (and I paraphrase) "I like wine, but I can only see it as something to accompany food. I can't get excited about it on its own". This is a fair point. With cooking, we can taste meals and be inspired to try it ourselves, we can experiment with different ingredients and combinations, we are free to make all manner of mistakes and enjoy each one, we can feel the thrill of creating something that makes people happy. With wine, however, we're limited. We can only taste what others have made, and (most of us) will never be able to make it ourselves. With wine, we can only be observers*.

So why wine?

Chana masala

Chana masala

I'm a little pressed for time, but I want to post this recipe for you to try because it's so damn good. To that end, I'll be brief and keep the paragraphs of bullshitting to a minimum. Chana masala is a North Indian chickpea curry that may be one of the best value dishes around. It's inexpensive, simple, quick (with canned chickpeas), and of course, really tasty — this dish is much more than the sum of its parts.

The flavours should be hearty, spicy, and a little sour. Serve it with basmati rice or even more tradtionally, battura.

Chana masala


  • 3 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp peanut/canola/vegetable oil
  • 1/2 an onion, diced finely
  • 1/4 tsp asafeotida (hing)
  • 1.5 tbsp ginger & garlic paste
  • 2 green chillies, chopped finely
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes
  • 400g can of chickpeas, drained (or dried chickpeas, soaked overnight)
  • 2 tsp amchur (mango powder)
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 handful of coriander (cilantro), roughly torn up

1. If using dried chickpeas, boil for 1-1.5 hours until soft, then drain and set aside. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds and grind to a powder.
2. Cook the onion and asafoetida in the oil over a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the ginger & garlic paste, green chilies, and ground spices from before and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric and canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer.
3. Simmer the mixture until the tomatoes break down and reduce. Salt to taste, then add the chickpeas, mango powder, garam masala, and 1/2 cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes, until the texture is not too watery. Add the coriander/cilantro, salt to taste, and serve.

Simple food

Potatoes with butter & salt

This was by far one of the most satisfying lunches I've had in a while. Boiled miniature desiree potatoes, butter, and sea salt. The best food doesn't have to be complicated.

What's your idea of perfect simple food?