They say you should never meet your heroes as they will only disappoint. But when I met Maggie Beer at an event at Australia House last week she was everything I imagined her to be; passionate, inspiring, warm, and extremely down to earth. The Agent General for South Australia, Bill Muirhead, introduced her as a national treasure, and a treasure she is.
She was so approachable that I didn’t mind elbowing a few journalists and publishers out of my way to monopolise her in conversation as much as I could. There were many questions I wanted to ask her, (what does she really think of Simon her co-presenter on the ABC’s Cook and the Chef series?, was she offended when he snubbed her singing group's Christmas carol sing-a-long?) but most importantly, how had her career in food developed? She told me about the restaurant she and her husband had run for 15 years- an experience she said nearly killed her because it was so exhausting but, in true Maggie half-glass-full style, said she didn’t regret for a second as it has given her a launching pad for the rest of her career.
I took great comfort in Maggie’s words and in the food I cooked from her book. It doesn’t get much more comforting than chicken pie and baked apples.
By the way, she loves Simon.
Chicken, grape and champagne pie
40g unsalted butter
3-4 chicken thigh fillets (770g)
2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 cup champagne
¼ cup plain flour
11/2 cups chicken stock
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped tarragon
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped thyme
½ preserved lemon, flesh removed, rind rinsed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons verjuice
1 cup seedless green grapes
Heat butter in large frying pan until nut brown then add a splash of olive oil. Season chicken with salt then sauté in batches until lightly coloured. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add leeks and garlic to pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes until soft. Increase heat to high, then deglaze pan with champagne and cook over medium heat until wine has reduced by half. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine then add stock and bring to simmer. Add chicken, herbs and preserved lemon and combine, then cook 4-5 minutes. Add verjuice and simmer another 2-3 minutes. Remove chicken from heat, then add grapes and leave mixture to cool completely.
Sour cream pastry
250g plain flour
200g chilled unsalted butter
120ml sour cream
Process flour and butter in food processor until it resembles fine bread crumbs. Gradually add two thirds of the sour cream then enough of the remaining sour cream to help pastry come together to form a ball. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes.
Cut in 2 and roll each piece to 3mm thickness. Line pie tin with one piece. Spoon cooled chicken mixture into pie and top with remaining rolled pastry. Brush with lightly beaten egg. Place pie in fridge to chill before baking for 30 minutes in preheated 220 degree oven.
(Recipe below is for 4)
50g unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
4 clusters dried muscatels
4 granny smith apples
2-4 tablespoons verjuice
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Process butter, sugar, almonds, cinnamon, lemon zest and half muscatels in a food processor until well blended. Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining muscatels.
Use an apple corer to remove apple cores and create a cavity but don’t push through to base of apples. Use a teaspoon to scoop out any remaining cores and to create a good sized cavity for stuffing. Divide butter mixture between apples then place in baking dish. Pour verjuice over apples then bake 1 hour or until apples are soft. Serve with cream.