one for the ladies

roast chicken w celeriac salad

One of the joys that has resulted from my decision to move back to Sydney has been the chance to rekindle some of my closest uni friendships.  Sure over the years we’ve kept in touch whenever we’ve found ourselves in the same country but a brief catchup every few years just isn’t the same…

Now we get together with much more regularity. Cherished time to share with dear friends who remember the dodgy boys you kissed in college and your latest not-so-stellar dalliance with the over 50’s set but still never judge. A chance to take time out from the pressures of being a modern girl: career, motherhood, finances and men. A chance to bring together good company, good champagne and hopefully good chow.

When putting together a menu for our girls nights I tend to opt for a light easy snacky starter that I can quickly pull together to share over drinks. Marinated olives and crostini are a perfect way to go. In this case my current favourite toast topping got a gurnsey along with a fresh batch of my marinated handpicked Barossa olives.

For main course I look for something that will leave room for dessert and won’t require me to be spending too much time in the kitchen at critical times in the conversation (I hate missing out on the goss….). Now that it’s cooler roasts are perfect for this. There’s nothing like the smell of a roasting chook to greet your guests and get their appetites going. A salad like the French bistrot classic celeriac remoulade has the double benefit of being able to prepare it in advance and being tasty enough to provide a vegetable accompaniment and sauce in one. The only other thing needed is some green leaves and lemon cheeks for some contrasting colour .and vitamins.

Dessert tends to be the most decadent section of our girls’ dinners. So to keep in the roast chicken vibe of simple bistrot classics, what better than meltingly luscious warm chocolate and pecan puddings topped with a chocaholic’s delight: rich dark oozy Lindt chocolate sauce and for contrast homemade vanilla icecream….all good things….

thursday night dinner with the girls
marinated wild barossa olives
crostini with persian feta white anchovies & spiced almonds
roast little chickens with watercress & lemon
celeriac salad
warm chocolate & pecan puds with hot chocolate sauce & homemade vanilla icecream

marinated wild barossa olives
makes about 1 1/2 cups

l like to marinate my olives to give them a more complex flavour but also  because the roadside wild olives that I picked and pickled during my barossa days still have a touch too much bitterness. You can go all out with herbs and flavourings but this time I decided to keep it simple with rosemary, chilli and garlic.

1 1/2C olives preferably wild
4 sprigs rosemary
2 cloves garlic, peeled & squashed with the flat of a knife
4 small dried red chillis
black pepper
olive oil

Combine ingredients in a sterilised jar and add olive oil to cover. Allow to stand at room temp for 24hrs for flavours to develop then refrigerate until ready to use. Allow to come to room temp before serving with drinks.

roast little chickens with watercress & lemon
serves 8 ladies

I love little chickens for roasting and BBQing. They are quicker to cook than your larger bird and less likely to dry out. Plus they are easy to carve: just quarter with a sharp knife or poultry shears.

The marinade used here was adapted from an old Alex Herbert recipe published in Australian Gourmet Traveller when her fabulous restaurant Bird Cow Fish was still in Balmain. Chicken and tarragon are a classic combo but you could substitute thyme.

3 lge cloves garlic, peeled
3 sprigs tarragon, leaves picked
2 small dried red chillis, crumbled
6T olive oil
1t sea salt
2 x 1kg chickens
1 lemon, halved
watercress sprigs picked to serve
8 lemon cheeks to serve

Wash chickens and dry with paper towel. Remove excess fat from chicken cavity and place in a glass or ceramic dish. Pound garlic, tarragon, chilli, pepper & salt in a mortar and pestle until a rough paste is formed. Stir in olive oil and rub marinade over chickens inside & out. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Remove chickens from fridge an hour before you are ready to cook and allow to come to room temp. Preheat oven to 200oC. Place a lemon half in the cavity of each bird. I dont worry about tying the legs. Place chickens on a roasting rack in a roasting dish breast down and cook for 20mins.

Turn chickens breast side up and roast for an additional 25 to 35 mins or until chicken is deep golden, the legs move freely when wiggled and the juices run clear not pink when the breast is pierced. Leave chicken to rest breast side down covered in a warm place for at least 10mins.

To serve, remove lemons from the cavity and carve into quarters. Place a quarter on each plate with a mound of watercress to the side and a lemon cheek. Drizzle chicken with pan juices and top with a fresh grind of pepper. Serve with celeriac salad (recipe follows)  passed separately.

celeriac salad
serves 6-8 as an accompaniment

Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s ribbon celeriac salad which is itself an adaptation of the French classic celeriac remoulade. It was Jamie’s idea to shave the celeriac to give ribbons rather than the classic french matchsticks and also his idea to use creme fraiche in stead of mayo.

This creamy yet crunchy nature of this salad works really well with roast chicken but would also be great with smoked fish or even pork.

200mL creme fraiche (sour cream)
1T extra virgin olive oil
2T dijon mustard
1t wholegrain mustard
2T white wine vinegar
1T tarragon vinegar (or use all white wine vinegar)
2T lemon juice
3T tiny salted capers, rinsed
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1 small red onion finely diced
1 medium celeriac, peeled
handful toasted almonds, chopped

Combine all ingredients except celeriac  and almonds and mix until smooth. Using a sharp potato peeler make ribbon shavings of the celeriac and add to the dressing.  Stop shaving when you reach the softer heart of the celeriac and discard the heart. Toss celeriac through dressing and season with s&p and possibly additional lemon juice to taste.  Allow to stand for at least 10mins for the flavours to combine before serving sprinkled with almonds.

warm chocolate & pecan puds with hot chocolate sauce & homemade vanilla icecream
serves 8

The pudding recipe is adapted from Jane Strode’s hazelnut pudding. I made this quantity for 6 servings and ended up with gigantic puddings. I’d recommend dividing the pudding mixture between 8 ramekins.  These are great because you can have them all ready to bake and then just pop them in the oven while you eat your main course.

The idea for chocolate sauce using just water and chocolate, rather than the traditional cream and chocolate came from Matthew Evans in the Good Weekend. It works really well as you keep all the bitter intensity of the chocolate which then contrasts with the creaminess of the icecream and the nutty gooey sweetness of the puddings.

This is my favourite vanilla icecream recipe. I had to use Queens Vanilla Bean paste instead of real vanilla beans due to a sourcing problem but it seemed to work well all the same.  The secret of a good vanilla icecream is to keep the sweetness level to a minimum so you get the full intensity of the creamy vanilla flavour.

for the puddings:
6 egg yolks
100g sugar
40g plain flour
500mL whole milk
300g sugar, extra
60g flour, extra
60g cocoa powder, sifted
300g pecan meal
3 egg whites
3t baking powder
for the sauce:
200mL water
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
for the icecream:
600mL thickened cream
1/2 C (125mL) milk
3t vanilla bean paste (or 2 vanilla beans split in half and seeds scaped)
1/2t vanilla extract (optional)
75g (1/4C) sugar
4 egg yolks

For the puddings make a custard by combining the yolks, 100g sugar and 40g flour and whisking until smooth. Warm milk until almost boiling then pour it into the yolk mix and combine.  Return to the saucepan and cook over a low to med heat whisking frequently until the sauce has thickened to a very thick custard.  Allow to cool (you could refrigerate for up to 3 days until ready to use).

Combine remaining pudding dry materials then make a well in the centre of the bowl and add egg white.  Stir through and then add 1 1/2 cups (375mL) of the custard and mix until all combined. Divide mixture between 8 very well greased 150mL ramekins. Bake for 20 – 25mins at 160oC or until puffed and springy. You can either serve straight away of allow to cool in ramekins and reheat later.

For the sauce, break chocolate into chunks and place in a heat proof bowl. Pour over boiling water and mix energetically until smooth.

For the icecream combine vanilla beans (if using), milk and cream in a saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Whisk yolks and sugar until light and pale then add hot cream and combine. Return to the saucepan and cook stirring constantly over a low to med heat until custard is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla bean paste (if using) taste and add additional vanilla extract if you think it needs a flavour boost. Cool in the refrigerator until well chilled (ideally overnight). If you used the vanilla bean remove the beans then freeze in an icecream machine as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve puddings warm drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with a scoop of vanilla icecream.