26 September 2023

A Wise Cook

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By Christine Salins.


Tasmanian cookbook author Sally Wise was taught to bake bread when she was young, and all these years later it’s like second nature to her. “That love of baking yeast goods has never left me,” she says. “I simply adore it.”

It’s not surprising then that Wise’s latest book, The Comfort Bake (Murdoch Books, $39.99) focuses on home baking. Wise is a prolific author with more than a dozen books to her credit, but until now none have focused specifically on baking, though home-baked delicacies have certainly featured prominently.

Cooking the old-fashioned way is a theme that runs throughout all of Wise’s books, this latest one no exception. There are no bells and whistles, just foolproof, no-nonsense recipes for food made from scratch the way your mother or grandmother might have made it. Her books on making preserves, old-fashioned comfort food and slow-cooked dishes have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

In 2014, I was privileged to spend some time with Wise on the 40-acre farm in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley, where she and her husband, Robert, grow their own fruit and vegetables, run chickens and conduct a cooking school. It’s a picturesque property and her passion for seasonal produce was obvious, along with her talent for good, healthy, simple home cooking where nothing goes to waste.

In The Comfort Bake, she adds her personal touch to old favourites like Ultimate Sausage Rolls, Peaches & Cream Butterfly Cakes, and Stout Cottage Pie. But it’s the Pistachio Orange Drizzle Cake that has me totally captivated, along with the Lemon Coconut Pudding and Lemon and Lavender Slice. The slice is “one of the most stunning sweet treats you can ever wish to make,” she says.

The flavours of the Middle East feature in the mouth-watering parcels here. Wise buys bottled roasted red capsicums to save time, but you could make your own.

Chicken, Halloumi And Roasted Capsicum Parcels

Serves 6

12 ready-rolled filo pastry sheets (from the refrigerated section of the supermarket)

125ml extra virgin olive oil

1 egg, lightly whisked

50 g sesame seeds

For the filling:

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom, plus a large pinch extra

¼ teaspoon sumac, plus a large pinch extra

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon white sugar

500 g skinless chicken breasts

30 ml extra virgin olive oil

160 g halloumi, cut into 6 mm wide strips

250 g roasted red capsicum (pepper) halves

200 g natural or Greek-style yoghurt

50 g cream cheese, softened

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 teaspoons cornflour

2 teaspoons sweet chilli sauce

2 teaspoons lemon juice

pinch of sea salt

To make the filling:

Prepare a spice mix by combining the paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, sumac, salt and sugar.

Cut the chicken breasts into 5 cm strips and place in a bowl. Sprinkle with the spice mixture and then mix well to coat evenly.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and sauté the chicken for 2 minutes each side. Remove to a plate.

Place the halloumi in the same pan and fry for 1 to 2 minutes on both sides, or until golden brown. Remove from the heat.

Pat the capsicum halves dry with paper towel and cut into 4 cm strips.

In a bowl, whisk the yoghurt, cream cheese, garlic, cornflour, chilli sauce, lemon juice, extra cardamom, extra sumac and salt until the mixture is smooth.

To assemble for baking:

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.

Place one sheet of filo on a lightly floured surface, then brush with some of the olive oil. Fold in half. Brush another sheet with oil, then fold in half and place on top of the first folded sheet.

Spoon a scant ¼ cup of the yoghurt mixture onto the filo, leaving an 8mm edge dry.

Top with one-sixth of the chicken strips, halloumi and, finally, the capsicum strips.

Brush the dry edge with the whisked egg to seal, then carefully roll up to enclose the filling. Place on the tray seam side down. Repeat to make six parcels in total.

Mix 2 teaspoons water into the remaining whisked egg and brush over each parcel to glaze. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the parcels are golden brown and crisp.

Recipe and image from The Comfort Bake by Sally Wise, photography by Samuel Shelley. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99.

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