Yesterday was the Boyfriend’s birthday so I decided to throw a small surprise birthday dinner – just us, three of his sisters, one sister’s boyfriend and our two Scottish Housemates. The plotting and planning for this has been going on for a couple of weeks but, after pondering various options, I only decided on what we were going to eat fairly late in the day. My first idea was for a kind of Chinese banquet, heavily influenced by the fact that I’m reading a cookbook by Chinese Australian chef Kylie Kwong at the moment. That, and the fact that it contains a recipe for Sung Choi Bao of Pork. We loved this when we had it for the first time – and the second – at Indochine restaurant and it looks like a good dish to try out at home. I think I’ll still end up cooking it at some stage but it looked like a difficult dish to make for eight. So, eventually, I decided on another of the Boyfriend’s favourites – the good old Kiwi meat pie.
Pies are big business over here. You can get them at any local corner store or garage shop and they, rather than the plastic Irish sandwich in a plastic box, seem to be the food of choice for anyone travelling a long distance. Why I don’t know. The only way they seem to differ from that typical ‘hang’ (otherwise known as ham) sandwich is that they’re usually served hot. Other than that, the pies that I’ve had seem to be a matter of indifferent pastry enclosing mysterious meat filling and dried up gravy. Not necessarily a culinary classic – but, when well made, pies can be delicious. Never being one to cook a single dish when two will be too much, I decided to make a Beef and Chorizo Pie, adapted from Julie Le Clerc‘s Simple Café Food, as well as a Chicken and Mushroom Pie, inspired by Nigel Slater.
Simple Café Food and its successor, More Simple Café Food, were the origins of my accompanying salads for the meal. Fed up with my usual tabbouleh and couscous salads, I branched out with slight adaptations of Julie Le Clerc’s Orzo with Spice-Roasted Carrots, Currants and Pine Nuts, Cracked Wheat with Lemon, Spinach, Herbs and Seeds and Roasted Purple Onions with Dried Sour Cherries. Although not a very extensive menu, I would have been lost without the help of one of the Boyfriend’s sisters, on the salad-making side of things, and one of our Scottish Housemates who got stuck into the washing-up with a will and a way so that we were finished – just! – before the Boyfriend and the other Scottish Housemate (deputised to distract Boyfriend from preparations) returned from the local pub.
For desert we had a dense Chocolate Birthday Cake with cinnamon and chilli. I had just purchased this fabulous Kashmiri Chilli Powder from Aji in Christchurch and, being a fan of chocolate/chilli combinations, couldn’t resist using it. Although both the cinnamon and chilli did add a depth to the flavour of the cake, it was not enough to satisfy me. More chilli the next time, methinks, and I might even pop back to Aji for some of their ‘Triple A grade’ cinnamon to give it an extra richness.
Beef and Chorizo Pie
Butter – 50g
Plain flour – 2 cups
Baking powder – 3 teaspoons
Salt – 1 teaspoon
Milk – 1 cup
Stewing steak – 1 kg
Chorizo sausages – 3, sliced
Onions – 2, peeled and sliced
Garlic – 2 cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Flour – 5 tablespoons
Red wine – 1 cup
Water – 3 cups
tomato paste – 3 tablespoons
Thyme – 1 tablespoon, chopped
Green beans – 300g, chopped into 2cm pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Egg – 1, beaten, for glazing
Start by making the pastry. Rub the butter into the flour until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add milk and bring together to make a smooth dough. Wrap and refrigerate for half an hour before using.
Heat some oil in a heavy based saucepan and brown the meat and chorizo in batches. Leave to one side while you cook the onions and garlic over a medium heat until beginning to brown. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute. Remove from the heat and add the red wine and water, stirring until smoothly combined. Return to the heat and boil until mixture thickens. Stir in tomato paste, thyme, meat and chorizo. Simmer slowly for 45 minutes and season well. Transfer to a large ovenproof dish and leave to cool then add the green beans.
Preheat oven to 180°C. Dust work surface with flour and carefully roll out pastry to 3mm thick. Place on top of pie and glaze with beaten egg. Bake for 35-40 minutes until pastry is golden brown and the gravy is bubbling.
Adapted from Simple Café Food by Julie Le Clerc.