Do you ever have one of those days; you know, the type where everything just goes perfectly and as it draws to a close you are surrounded by a feeling of pure joy and happiness that it has been so? Today has been one such day for me, thanks to spending some much needed time with lovely friends, the beautiful sunshine, and an unexpected walk culminating in a pub dinner with my dear in-laws. It has been a blessed day, as my MIL would say, and we all need a day like this once in a while, to be restored and reminded that there is peace in life, amongst the hustle and bustle.
The food preparations began early today. I had a hairdressers appointment at nine and our friends were coming over at midday. My meal plan was a light(ish) lunch, but "ish" enough to be a main meal (the pub dinner was not an expected event!) Sun-dried tomato braid; Winter Salad with Maple Candied Walnuts, a recipe I'd recently pinned and which looks simply stunning, from the equally stunning website, Half-Baked Harvest, and roasted, marinated chicken, followed by Chocolate Avocado Mousse from my old friend, River Cottage Light and Easy. Talking of Pinterest, I've been pinning quite a few recipes recently, and so as not to just end up with a folder full of deliciousness but no actual use of the recipes, which I imagine happens a lot with Pinterest, I'm challenging myself to make a recipe from one of my boards once a week. More on that in a later post.
So I got the sun dried tomato braid underway before rushing out at ten to nine to get to the hairdressers on time. Thankfully, Husb's parents had the boys last night, so, aside from the rush to get the bread prepared and in a bowl to prove in time, it was really rather enjoyable. This was a rather sticky dough, due to the addition of tablespoon of oil from the sun-dried tomato jar, and quite a lot of water, but it did knead nicely on a well floured surface, eventually.
I do have a Kitchenaid with a dough hook, which I used to use reasonably often to knead when I first got it. I find lately though, that I prefer to knead by hand. I love the motion of stretching out the dough and feeling the change from first mixed and slapped out, to a solid and stable mass which works with one's hands. The dough took a good two hours to double in size; plenty of time for a haircut and also to prepare the pudding.
This was the experimental piece of the day. I hadn't actually made any of the dishes I made today before, but the main course dishes were fairly uneventful in terms of unexpected ingredients, although not taste I might add! I thought though, how fantastic it would be to be able to make a dessert that tastes and resembles its unhealthy counterpart, yet in actual fact, has health benefits as well as tasting delicious. I must admit, even I was a little, teensy bit dubious about this one. I prepared this whilst Husb was mowing the lawn, so as to disguise the avocado as quickly as possible. He misses nothing though; more on this later...
Here is a tip. I know a few people have bought this book following my recommendations on the blog. If you make this recipe, make your life easier and chop up the avocado first. I think Hugh F-W has a special, super powerful blender which decimates anything in seconds. I do not, and my neglect to chop up these aptly named extra-large avocados, necessitated my trying to chop them a little whilst already in the food processor, which was a little awkward. It also took longer than expected for the whole mixture to break down into a texture with which I was happy. I tweaked the ingredients a little, using both honey and agave syrup in the mousse (the strawberries in the photo are for macerating in honey, to be served atop the mousse, not for the mousse mixture itself) and also added a drop of vanilla essence to slightly enhance the sweetness. Let me tell you now, if you taste this mixture as you go along, which I inevitably do, you may be underwhelmed. I can assure you that, once paired with the macerated strawberries, this dessert is lip-smackingly lovely.
Back to the bread. Now nicely risen, and pictured here in front of the recipe book Low-fat baking, from which it is taken, I could briefly knead it, and form it into a braid ready for a final proving. This is a really excellent book, I must add; well deserving of the five stars it has been awarded on Amazon, albeit from one reviewer!
The dough split very nicely into three, and rolling it out was not too challenging either. Dough will usually stretch back into its original shape and it can take a little stretching to get it to remain in a long length.
I mixed the strawberries for pudding with the honey and lime juice, to give them time to macerate (a favourite word of H F-W) in the fridge. This is really worth doing, as it gives the strawberries a pleasant, sweet softness and the juice mingles with the honey and lime deliciously.
It was then time to concentrate on preparing the main course. As I said, I first came upon Half-Baked Harvest on Pinterest, but it's not hard to be drawn in by the stunning photography and utter inventiveness of the recipes, as well as the very humourous manner in which the blog is written; something I realy appreciate. I knew I wanted to make the Winter Salad (I know it's spring, okay?), but I wanted to make it a little more substantial, whilst not detracting from the salad as a main dish. I checked through the recipe and came to the dressing ingredients (balsamic vinegar, fig jam, olive oil and seasoning) and thought it would also do very well as a marinade for some chicken breasts, so decided upon this to go with the salad and bread.
Before baking the chicken though, I prepared and roasted the walnut halves. They are mixed together with maple syrup, ground cinnamon and seasoning, before being placed on a baking tray and roasted. Oh how delicious!
Immediately after the nuts came out of the oven, I put the bread and chicken in. This would give time for the walnuts to cool completely before being mixed into the salad, and for the bread to cool a little, as it would be ready before the chicken. I didn't want to serve cooled chicken because it has a tendancy to lose its moisture if not served immediately.
I also had the opportunity with this dish to use an ingredient which was new to me; pomegranate. Obviously I've eaten pomegranate before, but not often, to be honest, and I've never had occasion to prepare one. It was certainly an interesting experience! And for your information, the seeds are called arils, apparently.
Now it all started to come together. The timings for the preparation of this meal needed to be quite precise, but all the facets were reasonably simple so it was not really challenging. Maybe that's because I just love organisation!
Usually, I serve people myself and carry the plates, fully loaded, to the dining table, but I decided to let our friends help themselves today, mostly for a change, but also because I've been so inspired by photos of food presentation since beginning this blog (yes I know, I have an awful lot to learn regarding photography!) and I felt like getting my serving dishes out of the depths of the cupboard to see how they looked with some food on them for a change! Now, it is only possible to make a table at which small people will also be sitting, look so nice. One has to bow to practicality, a plastic tablecloth and plastic placemats. So when trying to take a photo of the lovingly prepared food, it is a little difficult to create the type of scene which I have in my head. But, as I said when I began this blog, it's about the reality of cooking in a family kitchen, and that necessitates a little plastic protection for the sake of the dining table and my sanity!
I have to say, this meal went down really well. The salad was a refreshing change with the candied walnuts, which even my friend who detests nuts enjoyed, and the pomegranate arils, as well as a sprinkling of goats' cheese. The bread turned out very nicely, and the chicken worked well, marinated in the dressing. All the components seemed to work nicely together and it was a pleasant amount of food for lunch on a beautiful, sunny day.
As I was making final preparations for the dessert, following lunch, Husb brought up the subject of the avocados, puzzled as to how they were to be included in the meal, as he'd seen the skins earlier on, on the chopping board, but they had not manifested themselves thus far in the meal. I tried to fob him off with, "Oh, they're for something later," but he wasn't buying it, knowing well my cunning. He asked if they were in the pudding and I couldn't convince him otherwise so succumbed to the pressure to confess. The idea didn't go down as badly as I'd anticipated however, and everyone was open to the idea of at least sampling the dessert.
The fantastic thing about this pudding is that it looks like a heavy chocolate ganache, yet when one tastes it, it is much lighter and much less rich. Due to the heaviness of the avocado I would recommend erring on the side of slightly smaller portions; everyone struggled with a perfectly avarage portion size. The strawberry juice, lime juice and honey mixture was the absolute best combination to have with the mousse, and I wouldn't really suggest you make the mousse without it. It really enhances the chocolate whilst lightening the heaviness of the texture. We all concurred that it was a pleasant success.
It was really enjoyable to be able to sit in the garden in the sunshine following our lunch, whilst all our children
hit each other with tennis racquets played together nicely. Haha, there was only actually one instance of tennis racquet abuse, coming from the little Tonju, and they all had a fantastic time, disregarding that minor incident.
I hope you enjoyed a beautiful day in the sunshine and some tasty food. Thanks, as always, for reading.