Saturday Dreams of Sunday – Day 4 NaBloPoMo 2017

Self care takes many forms and Sundays in spring are pretty wonderful things. The one I’m writing about turned out to be pretty exceptional.

A few weeks ago, when Daylight Saving had just started and I’d had some fairly intense bouts of hay fever, I still felt quite discombobulated by the whole affair and my sleep cycle was utterly out of sync. With the added pressure of work and study, I felt I’d been neglecting two important things that matter to me – being fully engaged in getting the yard prepared for summer crops and making interesting food with top quality local ingredients (those I’ve grown myself or can clearly identify where they’ve come from).

So, after wandering around the yard trying to focus on pulling weeds and preparing beds, I decided to make that night’s Sunday roast a memorable one. It wasn’t a particularly special occasion, no birthday or anniversary of anything but in my household I like to think every day is a day to celebrate good food.

Around the corner from my workplace is Ziggy’s, the smallgoods manufacturer, which I’ve written about before. I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of small local free range chickens a few weeks ago when I was buying sausage and liverwurst. They disappeared into the freezer for a day just like today. Also in there were chestnuts from my yard, cooked, shelled and frozen in small batches back in late autumn. And finally, there was part of a gloriously unctuous, earthy truffle I bought from Perigord Truffles in winter. The last piece was lovingly wrapped, sealed and frozen for a day like this.

Roast Chicken with Chestnut & Truffle Stuffing (Serves 2-4)

A small whole roasting chicken

200g chestnuts, cooked, shelled and chopped fine

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

2 tabs fresh herbs, chopped fine (chose from Italian parsley, thyme, sage, French tarragon, rosemary or any combination that takes your fancy)

1 tab shaved black truffle (fresh if you can get it)

2 teas butter

A grate of nutmeg

Salt & pepper as required

1 egg, beaten

Method:

Wash and clean the chicken out thoroughly, pat dry and put to one side. Put the finely chopped chestnuts into a large bowl with the onion, garlic and fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper, grate in a little nutmeg and mix thoroughly. Add the beaten egg and mix to combine. Finely shave the truffle and reserve two pieces. Fold the rest of the truffle gently into the mixture and carefully stuff the chicken.

Take a teaspoon of butter and place a reserved truffle shaving on top. Carefully place this under the skin on one side the breast. Do the same for the other side.

Butter and truffle slices inserted under the skin

Cook in a roasting pan as per usual, serve with roast or steamed vegetables. If like me, you have a slow cooker, make a trivet of a carrot cut length ways and halved, some celery leaves, a bay leaf, an onion halved and some more of the fresh herbs used in the stuffing. Place the chicken gently on top, pour over a half cup of dry white wine. Cook for about three hours on low and finish off for about 20 minutes in a hot oven.

The finished bird, complete with truffle “eyes”

It’s a little more work, but the results are stunning, and the stock that remains at the bottom of the slow cooker makes a wonderful base for a truffle-infused sauce. I served this as an intimate dinner for two, with roast potatoes, carrots and parsnip, all covered in that amazing sauce. With steamed vegetables, this could easily stretch to feed four – we were being piggies! The chestnut stuffing is surprisingly light but intensely flavoursome and a wonderful texture with the succulent meat.

 

You’re all very welcome and please let me know if any of you make this one!

As I write on Saturday night here in Tasmania, I’m also really looking forward to a special Sunday lunch I’m attending tomorrow at MONA – but more about that tomorrow 🙂

Take care lovelies ❤

Rainy Day Self Care – Day 13 NaBloPoMo

I’ve been really struggling today, feeling physically unwell but also quite inexplicably sad since I woke this morning.

Perhaps it’s the weather. It’s been very wet and bleak almost all day, so I didn’t have much chance to be in the yard. I’ve become very aware of how sensitive I am to such things. So I decided to remain as positive as possible, do things that made me feel better and generally engage in some self-care.

I got out my uber-fabulous rain jacket, found a beanie and went to splash around, feeding the hungry hordes and finding little things to photograph – something that always makes me feel good.

First stop after feeding was to check the greenhouse. Usually by November I need to water fairly thoroughly in there but today it was so damp it wasn’t necessary. I did find breakfast though 😀

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I only picked the one on the right and while it was lovely, we really haven’t had enough sunny days to encourage fructose production. I’m concerned the raspberries will be the same too but it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before they start producing significantly. And surely the sunshine will be back by then!

Of course, the best way to cheer me up is to see new things happening and I was very pleased to discover several flowers on the Cayenne chillies this morning. I really love these long, thin skinned chillies. They are great fresh but dry easily and they have a light and bright flavour, that lifts all manner of dishes.

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Meanwhile, I decided to make a really hearty slow-roasted organic chicken for tonight’s dinner so I headed for the French Tarragon patch, which is booming at the moment.

This is my take on Tarragon Roast Chicken.

I had some chestnuts left in the freezer that I dry roasted and shelled back in autumn. They were chopped up finely with a couple of the small garlic heads and the Tarragon and thrown in a bowl. I beat in an egg and a little olive oil, and mixed in about half a cup of fine sourdough breadcrumbs to help bind it all together.

In the slow cooker I made a trivet of a halved onion, some small carrots, a few celery sticks from the garden that were too big for using in salads, a few more little garlic heads and the rest of the Tarragon. I put the stuffed chicken carefully on top of the vegetable trivet, seasoned it and poured over about a cup of white wine. Then I put it on low and forgot about it for a few hours.

After some quiet time reading, watching trashy Sunday afternoon television and a long luxurious shower, we prepared potatoes, parsnips and carrots for roasting. Now, this is totally decadent but it was a household decision to add some home made garlic butter to the roasting pan – because fresh garlic!

After the veggies were starting to brown, the chicken was carefully lifted and finished off in the oven with all those lovely vegetables. I decanted off about 3 cups of rich liquid from the slow cooker as a sauce base and made a cornflour roux. A tablespoon of homemade mushroom ketchup and a dash of cream finished off the sauce.

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This was utterly fabulous. The Tarragon and garlic shone through without overwhelming, the chicken was succulent but cooked through, vegetables crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, and the stuffing was nutty and rich but not stodgy.

I’m now going into a food coma – but feeling much better than I was earlier in the day 😀

And to finish, here’s Bernard Black Bunny, telling me to “go away woman, can’t you see I’m eating?”

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Take care friends, and don’t be shy about looking after yourselves ❤

Surviving the Storm – A Sunday Night Recap

Well, it’s been quite a week! I’m not sure where it disappeared to, but I’m rugged up on the couch and it’s Sunday night here in Hobart.

At the moment, Tasmania is in the path of a series of westerly fronts, bringing much needed rain but some very damaging winds. There was some respite yesterday so I took the opportunity to spend some time in the garden, rearranging mulch, repairing torn bird netting and salvaging what I could of the broccoli crop.

And of course, I got to spend some quality time with the chickens and the now month old rabbits ❤

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Earlier this week I processed the rest of the chestnut crop, which was pretty poor this year due to very little rain in summer and no water to spare for the trees. But I find them so delicious and useful that every little piece has become precious to me and my family. I’d never really paid much attention to chestnuts until I moved here, with a mature tree in the backyard that provides several kilos of nuts every autumn with minimal care.

For any of you interested in how I process them, I did a post here a couple of years ago.

On Friday, I got a parcel in the post from a woman I met through Facebook, who lives in northern Tasmania. In it was a self addressed post bag for some chilli seeds – and two beautiful, handmade beanies.

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The photo doesn’t really do them justice, they are really a very dark black and a luscious purple – my favourite colour 🙂  Fran is also a blogger and you can find her here. I finished packaging her seeds during the week, I’ve been drying them slowly on paper.

IMG_20160513_210229Like most repetitive tasks, I think there’s something incredible meditative about sorting seeds. For me it’s akin to weeding or planting but a little more demanding, particularly when you’re trying to keep track of numbers and sort out obvious broken or dud seeds – much easier with peas and beans!

Nevertheless, it’s one of those jobs that I really enjoy doing on a cold night with some good music or a favourite movie on.

One thing I should’ve done though is wear gloves. Despite using broad head tweezers, I still got enough capanoids on my fingers to sting!

Once sorted, I put the seeds into paper packets I make from old (preferably heavy weight) paper. The recent batch for all my seeds this autumn came from some old (and quite dreadful) music books I found in the local tip shop. Although I revere books, I’ve recycled these so that no innocent child is ever forced to play those songs again – they are truly dreadful!

 

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I think the finished product looks rather nice and I hope Fran and her family enjoy the produce. One day we’ll meet in person I’m sure 🙂

The rain and wind came back with a vengeance today, so I took the opportunity to catch up with my current studies at Griffith University. I’m doing an online degree and this unit is Television Studies. My head is still full of textual analysis and particularly David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. For something most of us take for granted, television is really quite a complex and surprisingly demanding area of study – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning some of the history and depth of the medium. This week I have to finish drafting my major essay on the enduring appeal of Doctor Who which has meant I’ve had to watch quite a lot of it (mostly David Tennant) in recent weeks.

Seriously, I love my life 😀

Stay well and be happy wherever you are ❤

Autumn – Part 1 – Chestnuts

April 23 2014 Chestnuts

There are few times of the year that give me as much satisfaction as autumn. It’s a time of frantic activity, harvesting the bounty of summer while getting winter veg planted before the cold weather hits. Indeed, in the last week I’ve been making Basil Ravioli and picking late tomatoes, beans and even eggplant while planting winter peas, broccoli and endives. And as I type this, my household’s been plagued with change-of-season bugs, and I’m doing my best to recover from tonsillitis. But this week I had a sharp reminder that autumn means chestnuts!

My pet rabbits live in the shade and protection of a mature sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sp.), and a day of strong wind brought nuts tumbling on top of their hutches. While I was feeding them, one landed on my head and although it was pretty painful, fortunately no damage was done. So, I pulled out my strongest pair of winter gardening gloves and got down to the business of shucking.

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestunuts Straight off the Tree

Chestnuts are fiddly things to process. There’s no shortcuts that I know (but any you want to share would be gratefully accepted and acknowledged!), which probably accounts for their high price! They’re not a common nut in Australia, with most tinned or vacuum packed produce coming from overseas. After liberating my nuts from the painfully spiky husks, I scored a couple of dozen at a time with a sharp paring knife and set them to roast in moderate oven (about 180 degrees C) for approximately 20 minutes. The scoring is important, as chestnuts can explode in the oven, making not only a huge mess but a potentially very dangerous kitchen!

Scorching Hot - Fresh From the Oven

Scorching Hot – Fresh From the Oven

It is also impossible – well, I think it is – to shell chestnuts cold. The outer shell is tough and there’s an inner membrane that comes away easily when it’s hot. So, I recommend taking a few out of the oven at a time, wrapping them in a thick tea towel and peeling as fast as possible.

It was very tempting to scoff them all as I was peeling them – there is something so enticing about fresh, hot chestnuts. I can totally understand the northern hemisphere custom of roasting chestnuts over an open fire at christmas time. Fortunately, I remained strong, and sereval scorched fingers and broken nails later, I had quite a nice bowl to show for my efforts.

The Final Product Sans Shell

The Final Product Sans Shell

So, the next and all-important question – what to do with them? Some people use them for baking gluten-free cakes and sweets, but I find them very heavy for that kind of thing and quite unappetising. Chestnuts have a slightly sweet flavour and are starchy in texture, but unlike most nuts, have little fat or protein and lots of carbohydrate. They absorb other flavours well – both sweet and savoury – and are equally lovely tossed hot in butter, ground cinnamon and sugar or coarse ground sea salt, butter and a little fresh chopped sage, rosemary and thyme.

But I decided on a complex flavoured sauce for a simple chicken main course, very easy to prepare and well complimented with boiled potates with garlic butter and steamed seasonal vegetables. Here’s the recipe:

April 24 2014 Chestnut Sauce

Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Chicken:

  • 2 chicken breast or 6 thigh fillets
  • 1 tab olive oil &/or 1/2 tab butter

Sauce:

  • 1 rasher bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 large red onion (or one small) sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8-10 roasted chestnuts, chopped
  • dried chilli to taste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ½ tab stock powder
  • 1 tab fresh lemon thyme
  • ½ teas fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup water

Method:

Heat oven to 180° C and heat the oil and butter in a deep frypan. Sauté chicken over a high heat for a minute each side, then put in an ovenproof dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the deep frypan, turn the heat down and add sliced red onion, bacon, garlic, chilli, smoked paprika and finely chopped lemon thyme. Stirring, add the chopped chestnuts, stock powder and cup of water.

Simmer gently, mashing the chestnuts with the back of a spoon and add the chopped fresh rosemary. When the chicken is cooked, the sauce should be quite reduced. Plate up the chicken and vegetables, spoon the sauce over carefully.

On reflection, one addition I’d make to the sauce that’s in keeping with autumn produce is a few very finely chopped mushrooms.

April 24 2014 Chicken with Chestnut Sauce

Bon appetit!

Besides my mandatory butter-tossed chestnuts, I’m planning to experiment with the rest of this year’s crop. I want to do a soup (my favourite comfort food) and a dessert with some of the apples and quinces I’ve recently been given. I’ll let you all know how it goes but please feel free to comment and share, especially if you have more experience than my few seasons struggling with chestnut shucking – I’m keen to learn!

Debra 🙂