Living in the ’70s or the theory of ‘eternal recurrence’

In Recipes on March 16, 2011 at 7:47 am

Everything old is new again, recycling clothing, growing vegetables in your back yard, cooking your own food.  Along with this trend has come a nostalgia for foods we ate in our childhood.  As a kid in the ’70s I remember a friend’s mother would make up a big pot of ‘Chow Mein’ on Friday night.  The ingredients were beef mince, cabbage and a couple of packets of dried Chicken Noodle soup mix.  This was the ‘rib sticking’ food that would feed her three kids for the weekend.  It was cheap and tasted awful but, according to her mother, starving kids around the world would have been very pleased to have it!  Other favourites were French Onion dip, a mixture of cream cheese and (you guessed it) a packet of dried French Onion soup mix.  There were vol-au-vents made with chicken and a can of Cream of Mushroom soup, heated and spooned into little pastry cases.  Chocolate Ripple cake was Chocolate Ripple biscuits sandwiched together with whipped cream, then covered in cream and refrigerated.  Devils on horseback were  prunes wrapped in bacon on toothpicks.  In the ’70s anything could, in fact, be put on a toothpick – coloured cocktail onions, kabana, cheese, even tiny Swedish meatballs.  All these dishes blur the line between cooking and assembling food.

The other day I was reading some old ’70s cookbooks when it occurred to me that maybe some of the dishes are not beyond rescue.  Vol-au-vents for instance, if you give the can of soup a miss and make the mixture yourself using free range chicken, real mushrooms, a bechamel style sauce and chopped fresh herbs.  Devils on horseback could be a piece of ripe fig and a baby bocconcini, skewered, wrapped in a strip of prosciutto and warmed on a tray in the oven.  I would finish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

'Devils on horseback'



2 free range chicken breasts (chopped into small pieces)

250 g button mushrooms (thinly sliced)

1 brown onion (finely diced)

30 g butter

2 tbs olive oil

3 tbs chopped fresh herbs

2tbs plain flour

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

8 sheets puff pastry

egg wash (1 beaten egg with a dash of milk)


Heat butter and olive oil in a heavy based pan.  Add mushrooms, cook on high heat for a couple of minutes.  Reduce heat a little and add onions.  Cook for a further 2 mins.  Add diced chicken and toss around with a spoon until chicken has changed colour.  Reduce heat to low, sprinkle flour over the mixture and toss through for a minute or two until you have cooked out the ‘floury’ taste.  Add a small amount of milk, keep stirring.  Add the rest of the milk a bit at a time, stirring it through to avoid lumps.  Add chicken stock and mix through.  Cook on a low simmer for 10 mins. until sauce has thickened and chicken is cooked.  Remove from heat, add Parmesan and chopped herbs.  Season to taste.

For the cases

Cut your pastry square into quarters.  Cut each quarter into quarters again.  Place your squares on a tray lined with baking paper.  Take two more pastry sheets.  Cut in the same way.  With a small knife cut squares out of the middle of each piece of pastry leaving a a border of  about 1 cm.  Paint the edges of the squares with egg wash.  Carefully place the ‘frames’ on the pastry squares.  Repeat until you have three layers of border.  I used some of the middle bits, cut into strips, to bolster up the second layer as it becomes too wasteful for my liking.  Just make sure you have a good frame on the top layer.  Brush with egg wash and prick  the base so it doesn’t rise too much.  Cook on the top shelf  in a pre-heated 220 c oven for 15 mins. turning once.  Reduce heat to 200 c and cook for a further 10-15 mins. until lightly browned.  Cool.

To assemble

Carefully cut out the center of each square with a sharp knife.  Remove and set aside.  Fill each case with the warm mixture.  Place the little ‘hat’ you removed back on top.  Warm in 180 c oven for 10-15 mins.  Serve.


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