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Good golly, Miss Polly

27 September 2022
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Vibrant, mouthwatering yet accessible, the moreish home-cooked meals showcased on Polly Markus’ Instagram account @miss_pollys_kitchen have earned her a hit following (47.4k and counting).

This month she releases her first cookbook, Miss Polly’s Kitchen, and shares two delicious recipes with Style. Words Polly Markus

I have only a few rules when it comes to cooking:

  1. It has to be a good time. If you’re not having fun, it’s time to put down the pans.
  2. Always make enough to have leftovers.
  3. Flavour, flavour, flavour.

I started the Instagram account Miss Polly’s Kitchen in March of 2020 as a place to share recipes with those closest to me. For as long as I can remember, my love of cooking has generously overlapped with my social life. Following al fresco weekend lunches at friends’ houses, or Sunday dinners with my extended family, people would often ask how to recreate certain dishes.

In essence, Miss Polly’s Kitchen was a place to document some of the personal recipes I had developed over a lifetime of loving good food and a three-year stint working as a crew chef on a superyacht.

Then, in its unforeseen way, Covid-19 happened. So when my day job as a commercial real estate agent temporarily drew to a halt, I threw my energy into the place that felt most natural – the kitchen.

Away from life’s normal routine, I had more time to create and share recipes. It just so happened that everyone else had turned to cooking too; they were filling their time with it, including a few friends who were following my account. I don’t quite know what to attribute the uptake to, but I do like to think of the food I create as fairly vibrant and flavourful. It is also colourful, which I hope has a subliminally uplifting effect on people. During lockdown especially, I think everyone was looking for a departure from their everyday repertoire, but something that was still achievable.

Those who know me best know that one of my biggest fears is the prospect of going hungry. Outrageous, I know. Beyond that, I have a knack for homing in on the one thing I feel like eating at any given time. Generally, I start with a protein – fish, prawns, halloumi, chicken – before deciding on an ethnicity. From there I write down all the flavours and think of how I can magic that up into a dish.

I have a huge love for Asian cuisine; the flavours are so fresh and bold, and fortunately it’s a genre that most people love to eat. I’m also big on herbs and adore anything Middle Eastern. The variation of produce used in that style of cooking is inspiring and there is so much depth to the spices at play. If I have to think of what underpins a perfect dish (or combination of dishes), it is no doubt the social aspect that comes with eating or sharing a meal.

Ever since I can remember, my parents have hosted dinner parties and get-togethers at home where there was always an abundance of amazing food, often with a Mediterranean bent. My late father was extremely well travelled and just loved these flavours, and his approach to hospitality was second to none.

Today, my home very much operates with an open-door policy. My friends and family know that I’m never far away from preparing or eating a good meal.

Furthermore, I’m a people-pleaser and a very social person. The real pleasure for me is cooking for others – it’s the old cliché of bringing people together. To me, it’s the best feeling to be able to take the pressure off everyone in the room by preparing food while everyone else relaxes and, eventually, sitting down together to enjoy it.

Aside from the first few pointers above, I really don’t adhere to a rulebook when it comes to cooking, only that it should never be taken too seriously. The head chef who first employed me on the superyachts said that she had never met anyone whose eyes lit up so brightly when they were talking about food, and that is the premise I keep coming back to – pure joy.

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Miso chicken & rice bake

A great meal to serve when you have a few people coming for dinner, this one-pot dish tastes like heaven
yet is fuss-free to make. It is important to use white miso paste if you can, as it’s far less salty than its brown counterpart. Serve with pan-fried broccoli and bok choy on the side.

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh cutlets
• 1½ cups white rice
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1 cup water
• ½ white onion – finely diced
• A sprinkling of sesame seeds – toasted
• A handful of fresh coriander
• ½ red chilli – thinly sliced

Miso marinade

• ⅓ cup white miso paste
(or ¼ cup brown miso)
• 3 tablespoons honey
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons mirin
• 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
• 3 large garlic cloves – minced
• 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
• ¼ teaspoon white pepper

Sesame mayo

• ½ cup mayonnaise (I use Kewpie)
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) fan bake.

2. Mix the Miso Marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Trim any excess skin off the chicken. Add the chicken to the marinade, stirring to make sure it is well coated.

3. Pour the rice into a large baking dish. Mix in the stock, water and onion. Gently place the chicken pieces on top, pouring all the marinating juices on too. Cover with a lid or 2 layers of tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

4. While the chicken is cooking, make the Sesame Mayo by mixing the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

5. When the chicken has cooked for 30 minutes, take the baking dish out of the oven, working quickly to keep the heat in the oven. Carefully remove the lid or tin foil, then pop the dish back in the oven uncovered for a further 25 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked through.

6. Serve in the baking dish, drizzled with the Sesame Mayo and garnished with sesame seeds, coriander and chilli.

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Banoffee pie

Banoffee pie is one of my favourite desserts, on par with about 10 others, haha! In my eyes, the double layer of bananas is a very welcome addition. If you aren’t eating this straight away, you need to keep it in the fridge until serving.

Serves 10

Ingredients

• 400 g (14 oz) chocolate digestive biscuits
• 150 g (5½ oz) unsalted butter – melted
• 4 large bananas
• 395 g (14 oz) can ready-to-use caramel
• 300 ml (10½ fl oz) cream
• Dark chocolate – grated or flaked

Method

1. Using a food processor, blitz the biscuits into a crumb. Pour in the melted butter and whizz until very well combined.

2. Pour the crumb into a 25 cm (10 in) quiche tin with a removable base and press down firmly so it is evenly spread across the base and sides of the tin.

3. Put in the freezer to chill for half an hour (it needs to be nice and firm).

4. Slice 2 of the bananas into 5 mm (¼ in) rounds. Arrange over the base, overlapping, until the base is covered.

5. Spread the caramel evenly over the top of the bananas.

6. Slice the remaining 2 bananas into rounds and add a second layer on top of the caramel.

7. Whip the cream and spread it over the bananas.

8. Garnish with lots of grated or flaked chocolate. Carefully remove the sides of the tin and serve immediately while it’s cold!

Images and text from Miss Polly’s Kitchen by Polly Markus,
photography by Melanie Jenkins (Flash Studios), published by Allen & Unwin NZ, RRP$45.

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