a moonlight picnic

As  much as I love my magnificent harbour city, there are times when the Sydney weather can be very perplexing if not downright inexplicable. Take last week for example, Thursday was a gorgeous 30C balmy and summery as one would expect for December. But come Friday, the clouds had drawn in and you could be forgiven for thinking that you had somehow been transported to misty Ireland. Which is about as far from a summer vibe as you can get.

I guess the good thing about this climatic uncertainty is that Sydneysiders tend to make the most of the long sultry summer days when they come about. Whether it be lolling around on a boat on the harbour, hanging out at the beach, checking out a local cricket match at the nearest park, or strolling along the coastal cliff walk between Bondi and Bronte, there are many ways to capitalise on a sunny day. For me, picnics are a summer essential as is a trip to an outdoor cinema. But combine the two and you have the perfect way to pass a starry summer evening.

When it comes to picnicing and outdoor cinema, it’s hard to go past the gorgeous parkland setting of the Moonlight Cinema. And when it comes to picnic food it’s hard to go past a decent roast chook. I used to be a big fan of the roast chicken and mayo roll as picnic fare but then I discovered the use of the lettuce leaf to wrap your chook. With some stuffing and roast corn and a drizzle of lemon juice we’re talking a crispy refreshing parcel of goodness. A new non Asian take on san choi bao as it were.

For my first visit to Moonlight this year, we were blessed with a beautiful mild Sunday evening. I decided to embrace the chook and lettuce leaf combo. A great eat-with-your-fingers picnic meal. With some marinated olives to start and grown up tiny chocolate crackles to end with a thermos of lemon tea…not a bad precursor to a bit of Cary Grant at his foxy finest in The Philadelphia Story….all good things…

a moonlight picnic
marinated barossa olives
roast chook with chicken liver & rosemary stuffing wrapped in baby cos lettuce
roast sweet corn & garlic sauce
grownup chocolate crackles

roast chook with chicken liver & rosemary stuffing wrapped in baby cos lettuce
serves 4
Adapted from Karen Martini’s Where the Heart is.

Roast chook is one of life’s simple pleasures and makes for great picnic fare. If you don’t have the time or inclination to roast your own you could buy a BBQ chicken with stuffing and get youself some lemon and lettuce and be ready to picnic in a flash.

This is a great stuffing recipe: rich and moist. Karen also included a few dried porcini mushrooms in hers but I prefer to keep it simple. I was tossing up using this to stuff our Christmas turkey this year but am still erring on the side of a more traditional cranberry & macadamia version.

1.2kg organic chicken
4T oil
1 brown onion, chopped
4 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
3 cloves garlic, chopped
200g chicken livers, soaked in milk for 10-20 mins
2 sprigs thyme
1/2C macadamias, roasted
100g unsalted butter
5 slices ciabatta, toasted and rubbed with 1/2 clove garlic, torn
1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, leaves picked
large handful rosemary sprigs, optional
baby cos lettuce, washed to serve
lemon wedges to serve

Preheat oven to 230C. For the stuffing, heat 2T oil in a frying pan and cook onion over a medium low heat stirring occasionally until onion has softened. Add garlic and rosemary leaves and cook for another few minutes. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.

Heat remaining 2T oil and 50g butter in the frying pan over medium heat. Drain chicken livers from milk and pan fry for approx 2mins each side or until golden brown. Transfer livers and cooking juices to a plate to cool. Season with s&p and roughly chop.

Add livers and their juices to the onion mixture along with the thyme, macadamias, torn ciabatta and parsley. Mix until well combined.

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Fill chicken cavity with stuffing. Carefully separate the breast skin from the meat and slip remaining butter in between the skin and breast meat. Season well with s&p.

Place extra rosemary sprigs in a baking pan if using and place chicken on top breast side up. Pop in the oven and turn the temp down to 200C. Roast for 50-60mins or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer. Remove from the heat and turn breast side down. Cover with foil and rest for at least 15mins.

To serve, take a lettuce leaf and fill with some chicken, stuffing, and roast corn sauce. Drizzle with lemon juice and enjoy with a crisp glass of riesling.

roast sweet corn & garlic sauce
serves 4
Inspired by Jared Ingersoll from his book Danks Street Depot

Chicken and sweet corn are such a great combo. But as much as I adore chomping on a corn cob (it was the first thing I ate when I got my braces off), when you are having a romantic picnic it’s nicer to have your corn in a more easy-to-eat form.

Jared uses this corn in his restaurant for his fabulous chicken and sweet corn sandwiches. I’ve made it a bit more saucy with the addition of the cream and the nutty roast garlic.

4 cobs sweetcorn
4T butter
4T olive oil
1/2t ground cumin
4T cream
1 head garlic, wrapped in foil and roasted at 180C for 25mins
4 sprigs lemon thyme, leaves picked

With a sharp knife remove corn kernels from the cob. Heat butter and oil in a medium frying pan and cook corn over medium heat stirring periodically for a few minutes. Stir in cumin and continue to cook for approx 15 minutes or until corn is starting to become golden brown.

Peel garlic and mash flesh and add to the corn along with the cream. Continue to cook for a few minutes or until well combined and heated through. Season with s&p and sprinkle with thyme leaves. Serve warm or at room temperature as an accompaniment to roast chicken.

grownup chocolate crackles
makes 20 tiny crackles

Chocolate crackles are one of those things that when you are growing up taste amazing but feel a little wrong when you go back to them as an adult. They are traditionally based on copha, rice bubbles, cocoa powder, coconut and sugar. I decided to have a go at making them a little more adult by adding some nuts and booze and replacing the copha and cocoa powder with some delicious dark chocolate.

150g dark chocolate
50g roasted hazelnuts, chopped
1/2C rice bubbles
2T frangelico, optional
2T cold milk, optional

Melt chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water making sure that the water level is low enough that it doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir in Frangelico if using. The mixture may ‘split’ and become all dry and grainy. If this happens just stir through the cold milk for a magic transformation back to glossy chocolatey goodness (thanks Jamie O for the tip).

Stir through hazelnuts and rice bubbles and place teaspoonfuls of the mix into tiny 1.5cm diameter patty papers. Allow to set in the refrigerator.


  • What a lovely menu! The roast sweet corn and garlic sauce sounds wonderful. Everything looks and sounds wonderful!

  • cin
    yeah I know melb has the reputation but sydney seems to be trying to copy..

    a chocolae crackle is the australian version of rice krispies treats only instead of being all buttery & marshmallowy it’s chocolatey coconutty and crunchy and very rich

    don’t you just love the moonlight cinema..they’ve got a great membership deal this year. if you join up you can buy tickets for $10 instead of the usual 13 or 14.

    thanks for dropping by

  • nothing beats the weather here in Singapore! Its days and days of downpour here.. good thing the floodings here not so bad.. heard that in Malaysia its really bad in the rural areas. Anyways, I’m still looking forward to the new year and sunny weather!

  • This is beauitful Jules. I just love Sydney in summer.

    Moonlight Cinema is great, although the hast time I went, I got peed on by those Centennial Park bats. I would still go again though, bats and all.

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