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Chicken Bones

It seems that every few years, I’ll write the same post about chicken bones.

I can’t help it. I’m always just so blown away by the frugality of them.

If you live in Sydney’s Inner West, let me give you a tip. The chicken shop in Marrickville Metro – the one opposite Service NSW – will sell you a bag of chicken carcasses for $2. Three bags for $5. When Pete was getting his licence renewed recently, I picked some up. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised that each of the bags I’d bought had three carcasses in it, meaning I had nine to play with.

We immediately froze four of them, and then washed the remaining five. I carefully trimmed off all the fat, which went into a small saucepan with a little water to render down. We ended up with nearly a jar of schmaltz (chicken fat)…

The carcasses went into a 180C fan oven until golden brown, then into our giant stock pot with four litres of water, a tablespoon of salt, a chopped onion and a thumb of peeled ginger. The pot was brought to a boil, then covered and reduced to a simmer for 30 minutes. I turned it off after that and let it sit, covered for a further 30 minutes. Surprisingly, that was enough to infuse the stock with oodles of flavour (I think the roasting really helps).

I pulled out the carcasses and carefully stripped any remaining meat off the bones…

We strained the stock and stashed three boxes full in the freezer…

…then Pete turned the remaining stock and all the picked meat into the most delicious chicken noodle soup ever. It fed three of us for dinner, with enough leftover for lunch the following day…

. . . . .

So for about $3 (we used five of the nine carcasses), we ended up with chicken soup for dinner, three boxes of homemade stock and a jar of schmaltz.

I’ve always said that when times are hard, we could thrive on soup bones. Times aren’t hard now, but they have been in the past. And I think it’s wise to practise and hone our frugal life skills so that we’re ready for whatever the universe throws at us! ♥

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Cheat’s Chicken Curry

I used to make Malaysian chicken curries the way my mother did – starting with a good curry powder, adding extra spices, minced onion, garlic, lemongrass and curry leaves, frying the resultant paste in oil first…you get the idea. It wasn’t exactly from scratch – very few Malaysian curries are – but it was still a process.

Then one night a few years ago, Will and Bethany were over for Friday night dinner, and we started drinking champagne. I can’t remember why now, but we’d knocked off a bottle on empty stomachs before I realised that I’d forgotten to cook dinner. I’d had chicken prepped for a curry, but it was all going to take too long. Then I remembered a packet of curry paste that my cousins had insisted I try…

Even to my tipsy brain, the instructions were simple enough to follow…

I threw the paste into a wok with boiling water from the kettle (we were getting hungry), then bunged in the chicken pieces and peeled potatoes. Once the meat was cooked through and the potatoes tender, I added a carton of coconut cream and let it simmer a bit longer. Then we ate it, and it was the best curry ever. And since then, I’ve never made Malaysian curry the old way again.

I went searching for A1 sauces here, and found them at the Asian grocers in Flemington for $3 each, so I keep a good supply on hand these days. The only downside is the packaging – sadly, I haven’t found a way to recycle or repurpose it yet. One tip – be sure to get the right “A1” paste – there are a few brands using that name.

Then two years ago, just when I thought this curry couldn’t get any easier, I discovered that I can use my Römertopf to cook it for me while I’m out!

Last week, Pete and I visited Cockatoo Island to view the recently reopened Biennale of Sydney (there’s a post coming on that soon) and before we left I rubbed chicken pieces with the curry paste and sat them in my pre-soaked Romy pot with potatoes, coconut cream and a little water. As you can see, I literally just threw them all in…

I put the covered pot into a cold oven, set it to 200C with fan for two hours, then went out. Our oven has a timer to turn itself off after the designated time. This is what we came home to…

I marginally prefer the dish cooked in the wok, but using the Romy makes it even easier. Best of all, the dirty clay pot goes straight into the dishwasher and comes out almost perfectly clean. Definitely a simple solution for days when we’re out and about! ♥

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We have a very prolific lemon tree, and at the moment, it’s completely laden with fruit…

So I adapted a tried and tested recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Simple to work as a tray bake. It made a large batch to share for our weekend neighbourhood bake!

  • 300g unsalted butter, softened
  • 380g castor sugar
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 60ml lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used homemade)
  • 6 large eggs, beaten
  • 180g self-raising flour
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 220g ground almonds
  • 400g frozen mixed berries, defrosted on a plate
  • 140g icing sugar, SIFTED (it’s important to sift it!)

Step 1: line a 23cm x 33cm baking pan with parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 175C with fan.

Step 2: beat together the butter, sugar, zest,  30ml of lemon juice and vanilla extract until smooth, then gradually beat in the eggs. The batter might split, don’t panic. Scrape down the sides.

Step 3: combine the flour, almonds and salt in a bowl and whisk together until combined. Add this to the batter in three batches, beating well after each one.

Step 4: spread half the batter over the base of the prepared pan and scatter over half the defrosted berries. Dollop on the remaining batter and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes.

Step 5: remove the tray from the oven and scatter over the remaining berries and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

Step 6: remove the tray from the oven again and cover it loosely with foil. Return the tray to the oven to bake for a further 20 minutes. Test by inserting a skewer into the centre (not through a berry) – if it comes out cleanly, then it’s ready. Allow to cool briefly in the pan, then remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack…

Step 7: make icing by mixing the SIFTED icing sugar (yes, I know I go on about it, but if you don’t sift you’ll get lumpy icing that can’t be fixed) with the remaining lemon juice to form a smooth icing. Spread it evenly over the top of the cooled cake and allow to set.

This recipe is basically a double batch of Ottolenghi’s Blueberry, Almond and Lemon loaf cake, slightly adapted for sharing. The original recipe has the blueberries folded into the batter, but my defrosted berries were too soft for that to work well, so I added them in between two layers of cake batter instead.

We particularly love this recipe because it doesn’t have extra added dairy – so many berry cake recipes include yoghurt, sour cream or buttermilk – and because it uses lots of lemons. Having said that, we had enough juice from one lemon for the whole cake (the original recipe would have had us using four). Do try this one, it’s delicious! ♥

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Having two freezers and three pantries takes the concept of a “thrown together” dinner to a whole new level. Add in a reasonably productive veg patch full of leafy greens, and we’re good to go!

Last week, I went excavating in the freezer and found half a kilo of pork mince, some homegrown basil pesto that we’d made in 2018, frozen Parmesan, and a box of fresh rye bread crumbs (not dried). Rather than feeding leftover bread to the chickens and worms, I’ve started blitzing them up in the food processor and stashing the crumbs in the freezer.

The fridge turned up a week-old fennel bulb, in pretty near perfect condition thanks to its beeswax wrap, a carton of Jane’s eggs, a bottle of Lou’s home-made passata, and a jar of Graeme’s dark chilli paste (seriously, my neighbours are the best). In the pantry, we had a tin of Italian tomatoes and a packet of spaghetti. Dinner was sorted!

I made meatballs using the pork mince, breadcrumbs, grated onion and an egg, then bake them in a covered dish on a bed of sliced fennel and onion, topped with the passata, a little chilli paste, and the tinned tomatoes. It was baked with the lid on for 25 minutes, then with the lid off for a further 10 minutes. Pete thickened the sauce a little before serving it on spaghetti. We’ll often cook dinner together, each preparing a different stage of the meal, and it really is the best thing.

The pasta was topped with some parsley from the garden and a spoonful of the pesto. It was seriously so good. And it was wonderful to be able to eat such a simple meal that brought with it such a sense of connection and economy and community. I realised after we’d stuffed ourselves that dishes like this really are the taste of home. ♥

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Being in lockdown has been a difficult time for everybody, but it’s also given us an opportunity to reconnect at a deeper level with our wonderful neighbours.

Over the past few months, I’ve been doing a weekend neighbourhood bake and I’m keen to keep it up, even though we’re all starting to get busy again. Each family only gets a small portion, as there are so many people to share with, but it’s a lovely excuse to check in with my neighbours on a Saturday morning to see how everyone is travelling.

Last weekend I baked chocolate chip cookies in a slab. These are the lazy version of Pete’s favourite and boast a wicked 3:2 chocolate to flour ratio. I wrap each cookie square individually, as the oozy chocolate makes quite a mess. It helps to have a mountain of rescued-from-landfill food safe paper from Reverse Garbage

Each packet contained just four cookies, but I’ve learnt that a token of affection doesn’t need to be huge. On the contrary, I’m always happier to give something small – that way no-one feels like they need to reciprocate. There was enough to share with eight households, plus extra for Pete and Small Man. Happy days! ❤️

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