Friday, June 7, 2013

Weeknight Entertaining

This week, as well as preparing for our Tasmania trip (more on that later) we caught up with our friends Dan and Louise, who are back in town after months of travelling around Australia on a mega road trip. We decided we would entertain at home and give them a home cooked meal instead of heading out to a restaurant. I thought they would appreciate it after living out of a four wheel drive for such a long time! I wanted to serve something rustic and easy to put together - who has time for fussy courses and lengthy preparation when you have just got in from a day at work? Entertaining mid week when you work full time can be a bit of a challenge, and given how bats-crazy-busy the last few weeks have been, I went for something low maintenance, but with lots of flavour. I also wanted to use what I had on hand, to help clear out the fridge before we leave for our holidays.

I pretty much did a variation on a family roast, but played around with the flavours a little. I baked a free range chicken, stuffed with a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, spring onion, garlic, fresh lemon thyme, parsley and oregano from our garden, a couple of teaspoons of finely chopped preserved lemon (the skin only), seasoned it well with salt and pepper and bound it all together with a fresh free range egg.

I added some thickly sliced onion, fennel and fresh lemon to the roasting pan, with a splash of olive oil, salt and some extra lemon thyme and baked the chicken for about an hour and fifteen minutes. For a bit of richness to contrast with the lemon flavours, I basted it a few times with a little melted unsalted butter.

 Ready for the oven - Free range chicken with lemon and pine nut stuffing
Baked with fresh lemons, fennel, thyme and red onion
I served the chicken with the vegetables we happened to have on hand - some French beans, fresh sweet corn on the cob and a batch of crispy golden roasted potatoes. I used the delicious Dutch Cream potato - a variety I really love. Grocers are starting to stock them now and they are worth grabbing if you see them. They have a wonderful texture and a beautiful yellow tint to the flesh.

For the sauce, I made a basic gravy, but enhanced the flavour with a little wholegrain mustard, a touch of honey, fresh parsley and a small amount of balsamic vinegar. I used a mixture of chicken stock and a little milk to achieve a slightly creamy sauce. The result was a dish that was easy to put together, but that was perfect to share with guests.

Ready to serve - Golden Stuffed Roasted Chicken
Served with Dutch Cream potatoes, corn and French beans.
Sauce - herb and mustard gravy.

I hadn't thought about an entree or a dessert, but my resourceful husband headed off to the fabulous Bourke Street Bakery during the day and picked up some of their delicious bite sized tarts - ginger crème brulee and chocolate and raspberry. They were a lovely sweet finish to the meal. He also arrived home with a nice selection of cheese, olives and Italian style bread - suddenly, we had a starter, just right to have with a glass of wine while we waited for the chicken to cook and caught up with Dan and Louise's adventures. So, the lesson for today is that mid week entertaining doesn't have to be hard. Choosing something rustic you can pretty much whack in the oven and forget about certainly helps!

Our household is now in pre Tasmanian holiday preparation mode, with lists made and the dining table currently covered in clothes and assorted stuff as we start to pack. It is going to be cold where we are going, so thermals are at the top of the pile, along with wool scarves, gloves and fluffy socks. We fly into Hobart on Saturday morning and I couldn't be happier about that. Tasmania is one of the real treasures of this country, with it's magnificent natural landscape, wildlife, incredible art (if you are ever in Hobart a visit to MONA is a must - the most exciting and engaging gallery you will ever see) and the magnificent Tasmanian produce. Think artisan cheese, seafood from the cold, pristine waters, bakers and producers who put love and artistry into their hand made creations and a real pride in local produce. I am in the midst of a complete love affair with the place - a place we will make home one day, complete with our own land where we can grow our own food. Yes, the whole deal - vegetable garden, fruit trees, chooks, beehives, a few pigs and cows.

That is a few years off however, so in the meantime - it's holidays and exploring Tasmania whenever we get the chance. I am hoping to do some updates during our trip - there is plenty of great food to report back on - so watch this space!


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