Sophie Hansen's earliest memories around the kitchen table are of a busy, yet warm and happy place where her mother Annie was a real "loaves and fishes cook", able to make a meal for many people without any fuss at all.
"Even when I come home now with my kids, everyone's always in the kitchen, around the table, it's the best place to be," says the cook, food writer and farmer, with best selling books, Basket by the Door and In Good Company.
Around the Kitchen Table is a collaboration with her mother Annie Herron, an exhibiting artist and sculptor who has taught art to all ages for close to 30 years.
Nestled among the recipes are art and craft projects, how to work with colour and composition, how to dry herbs or patch up an old jumper.
Both women believe there are many similarities between art and cooking.
"I think both cooks and artists are after an end result that is pleasing on the eye," says Herron.
"We both use colour, texture, composition to create an appealing product. to even hopefully achieve the wow factor."
Hansen says food became her creative outlet, "even the way you set the table, put flowers in a vase, that's creativity too. I think it's about finding your own outlet and whether it's cooking, drawing, flowers, whatever, there are so many ways to be creative in big and little ways, every day."
The pair loved working together on the project.
"I loved working with mum on this book," says Hansen. "Mostly it was just great to have a collaborator, to have her to bounce ideas off, to have so many excuses to drive to her place and hang out in the studio, taking photos, writing notes and piecing each chapter together."
Herron says doing things together as a family is what it's all about.
"I do understand that life is busy and it's not always easy to put time aside for art or creative projects," she says. "But even if it's grabbing 10 minutes a day to draw with your kids, grandkids or friends, to sit and just play and be creative is time so well spent."
Hansen agrees. "To be clear, I'm not saying that this happens every day in my house! I wish!!" she says. "Life definitely gets in the way, especially mid-week, but the doing of little good things together most days is my goal!"
- Around the Kitchen Table: Good things to cook, create and do - the whole year through, by Sophie Hansen and Annie Herron. Murdoch Books. $39.99.
This chocolate, hazelnut and nougat roll ticks every box for me when it comes to dessert - it's done well in advance and it's a hand-around situation, which means so much less fuss and washing up. I like to serve it with some fresh fruit and jellies.
200g roughly chopped dark chocolate
125g butter, softened
50g caster sugar
100g amaretti biscuits, roughly chopped
150g hard nougat, roughly chopped
150g hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed
1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof glass bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
2. Meanwhile, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about five minutes. Add the egg and whisk on low speed until well combined. Pour in the melted chocolate, whisking slowly as you go, until fully incorporated into the mixture. Fold in the biscuits, nougat and hazelnuts.
3. Divide the mixture in half and place each half on a sheet of baking paper. Using damp hands, form the mixture into two sausage shapes and wrap tightly in the paper, twisting the ends to seal. Place in the fridge to set for at least three hours before slicing and serving with coffee.
Unctuous, rich and aromatic, this simple chicken dish is one of my favourite things to have for Sunday lunch, especially when served with deliciously golden and cheesy semolina gnocchi.
1 whole chicken, jointed into 8 pieces (you can ask your butcher to do this for you)
35g plain flour
2 tbsp olive oil, approximately
2 tbsp butter
1 brown onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
3 unpeeled garlic cloves, bruised with the back of a knife
1 rosemary stalk
250ml white wine
400g tin cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
125ml chicken stock (see below)
roughly chopped parsley, to serve
1. Toss the chicken pieces with the flour and season well.
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large flameproof casserole dish over high heat until bubbling. Brown the chicken in batches, cooking for a few minutes on each side or until golden all over. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
3. Return the pan to medium-low heat. Add a little more oil, if needed, then add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and rosemary, and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 20 minutes or until the vegetables have reduced right down and have an almost jammy consistency.
4. Pour in the wine and tomatoes and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes or until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the tomato paste. Return the chicken pieces to the pan and pour in the stock. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Check the liquid halfway through cooking and add a splash of water if needed.
5. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chicken rest for a few minutes before sprinkling it with the parsley. Serve the chicken with a green salad, semolina gnocchi (see below) and some dinner rolls.
Dark chicken stock
1 large free-range chicken
2 brown onions, quartered
3 carrots, cut into chunks
2 celery stalks, cut into chunks
olive oil, for drizzling
1 handful rosemary and thyme sprigs (a mix is nice, but use whatever you have in the garden or fridge)
1 bay leaf
60ml boiling water
60g tomato paste
1. Preheat the oven to 220C. Cut the chicken in half right down the middle and lay it flat in a roasting tin. Surround the chicken with the onion, carrot and celery. Drizzle everything with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then pop it into the oven for 20 minutes or until the chicken and aromatics have browned nicely.
2. Transfer everything from the tin into a large stockpot or saucepan and pour in 3.5 litres water. Add the herbs and bay leaf and bring to the boil, skimming any foam or scum that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 11/2 hours.
3. Meanwhile, deglaze the roasting tin by placing it on the stove over medium heat (or scrape everything you can from the base of the tin into a saucepan) and adding the boiling water, scraping and stirring so you get all the colour and flavour from the bottom of the tin. Stir in the tomato paste, then pour the mixture into the stock.
4. Strain the stock and refrigerate or freeze it. Discard the vegetables. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. (Purists might argue that the chicken will be a touch overcooked, but actually I find it super tasty.)
Note: To make a reduction jus, pour 500ml of this rich, unctuous stock into a saucepan and cook it over medium heat until it reduces by half. This is beautiful as a gravy for roast chicken or even to use when making a gravy for roast lamb.
Makes 2 litres.
Baked semolina gnocchi
Very forgiving, very delicious and very soothing, this semolina gnocchi is a total winner and I'd happily have it for dinner on a cold, windy night, just on its own.
It's also a fantastic side dish for all kinds of mains.
Everything is done in advance and you can have it sitting in the fridge, ready to pop into the oven 40 minutes or so before it's time to eat.
We are jumping around a bit geographically with this dish - it's a Roman classic, while the chicken and the chocolate salami are Piedmontese staples, but as with most of my cooking, it's an amalgamation of flavours and memories.
2 eggs, lightly whisked
500ml full-cream milk
100g grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
60g butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing
80ml single cream
1. Combine the eggs and semolina in a saucepan and whisk well. Whisk in the milk, half the parmesan and the nutmeg. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about five minutes or until the mixture thickens to a porridge consistency and comes away from the side of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for about five minutes.
2. Turn the semolina mixture out onto a work surface and divide it in half. Using damp hands, roll each half into a long sausage shape. Wrap each log in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 220C. Butter a shallow ovenproof dish. Unwrap the semolina logs and slice them into 1cm thick rounds. Arrange the rounds in the buttered dish, overlapping them. Dot the butter over the gnocchi, drizzle with the cream and sprinkle with the remaining grated parmesan.
4. Bake for 20 minutes or until the gnocchi has puffed up a little and the cheese on top is golden and bubbling.