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Monday, 9 May 2011

(Not so) Perfect 10

Special Occasions.

What I love about them is that they can be impromptu and everyday – “Hey! A new TV show is starting!” “I’m getting a bonus at work!” “Two random friends have dropped in just around dinner time! Break out the wine!”

 Or they can be the traditional calendar events – birthdays, family events, wedding anniversaries…

 All an occasion needs to be “special” is special people and a sense of occasion. You can have 2 or 20 guests; it could be a 5 course extravaganza taking days to prepare or a heap of take-away from your favourite local.

 But as much as I love an impromptu gathering (which is why I always have a sparkling wine and some sort of bikkies and dip on hand), the long standing events do give you a chance to plan and prepare and research and organize (… these are a few of my favourite things).

 Like our wedding anniversary

 This year it was 10 years – a nice round-number milestone, so a good excuse to celebrate. We had organized a weekend away, but still had dinner on the actual day to plan. It seemed a bit rich to get a baby sitter to go out to dinner when we were probably going out for breakfast, lunch AND dinner the next few days. So it seemed like a great opportunity to cook something glamourous at home. Of course in this busy modern life that we (especially me) live in, it wasn’t a matter of picking a few cute recipes and off I went. It had to be something that I could organise in between a ‘normal’ day – that is, school pick up/drop off, swimming lessons, feeding and bathing of children etc etc
 Working the two days prior also meant that it needed to not involve a lot of preparation, or require running around and sourcing exotic ingredients. Flicking through my recipe books with the Royal wedding on in the background, I settled on “Pot Roasted Free range Chicken with lemon and sage roasted kipfler potatoes” from the Tarra Warra Estate Winery in Yarra Glen (Vineyard Cookbook). It had basic ingredients and a few preparation steps but nothing too dramatic.

 Dessert with my hubby is always a bit tricky as he is not a ‘dessert” person (yes, they are not an urban myth). He would rather take the French route and have an after dinner course of several cheeses. Also with only 2, a lot of the usual pies/cakes/tarts were out as there would be too much left over that I would then have to eat (on a dit at present!). I decided on Gelato Baci from the “Lygon St – Stories and Recipes from Melbournes’ Melting Pot” recipe book, as he does love ice cream.  For such an exotic name, it ended up being a nutella ice cream. I personally had never tried nutella before. My only experience of it was the small single-serve packets that were sold at my primary school canteen, complete with the weird blade-esque spoon that would cut your tongue if you licked it the wrong way. But I diligently bought it, and now having tasted it, I have no idea how they can call it in any way “healthy”! At least peanut butter doesn’t try to hide its true form.

 Anniversary Day and Son 2 helped me buy all of the ingredients. The chicken recipe called for “chicken kievs”, which made me think of those uber-garlic crumbed dishes from the 80’s. But it turns out a Kiev is a cut of chicken (like a Maryland), with the breast with a wing bone attached (I had to order them un-garlic-ed from my chicken shop!). That all sorted, I marinated the chicken, churned the ice cream and par boiled the potatoes during nap time. Come dinner time, I had the boys in bed and was ready to start cooking, ably assisted by a glass of chilled Veuve.

All systems are go - chicken browning, stock boiling, potatoes frying, spinach waiting
 I was a bit worried about the chicken being boring flavour wise, as there was only lemon and oregano to marinate it. But whether simple is best or  it was the frying /poaching cooking method, it was delicious, with lots of licking of fingers from Hubby. I can also report that thrice cooked potatoes (par-boiled, fried then roasted), especially those cooked in duck fat are three times as good.
 Or maybe it’s just that all my previous attempts at roast potatoes have been so woeful, these were amazing by comparison!

 Dessert was not such a triumph.

 Having made quite a few batches of ice cream over the past few months, I was confident that this would be a simple but superb dessert. The first hint that it might not be so, was when the egg custard didn’t thicken up, even after 40 mins on the stove. The second was that it didn’t really thicken up and freeze after 30 mins of churning. This had both happened previously on different batches but the ice cream had always turned out brilliant. But when, after 7 hours in the freezer, it was still liquid, I knew I had a Fail. It still tasted delicious (as evidenced by me going back for seconds), it just lost points on the presentation! So whether there weren’t enough eggs in the custard (I halved the recipe and so put in 2 instead of 5) or something else, who knows, but I don’t think that recipe will get a second outing! I may use the nutella/chocolate/roast hazelnut combination again, just with a base that I know will freeze.

Luckily the amazing-ness of my main course made up for it, and by the time we got to eating it (which was after the rest of the bottle of Veuve), it all seemed pretty funny.

 And it made for another important component of any special occasion – special memories.

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