Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Dinner with Friends

I have a super house for entertaining. My kitchen is really big, and there is a comfy sofa as well as a table and chairs so you can settle in and chat with me while I'm cooking. That's where you would have found me last night, with Guy, Alex and our super friends Mike and Jayne. Everyone was sipping Kir Royale and eating salted mixed nuts (a huge weakness of mine!) while I cooked dinner.

Kir Royale is one of my favourite apertifs. You just put a small amount of Creme de Cassis in the bottom of a champagne flute and top up with champagne. It's about a four to one (ie. four parts champagne to one part Cassis) mixture. It's also a great apertif if you are on a budget, because although the Creme de Cassis can be a bit expensive, it goes a long way, and you don't actually have to use champagne. You can use a good sparkling wine like Prosecco or something similar. You need to choose a dry sparkling wine though as the Cassis is quite sweet. I use champagne almost all the time though as it does taste the best. Last night we had a lovely bottle by Canard Duchene.

As it is the time of year when produce and fresh herbs are abundant, I have been thinking a lot about tarragon recently. So I decided to make a new recipe for a sauce using cream, wine, mustard and tarragon. I really did make it up as I went along, but it turned out very well indeed. The recipe is at the bottom of this blog entry. I cooked chicken breasts in the sauce, and served it all with lovely little red skinned salad potatoes tossed in butter and mint, along with broccoli and carrots. We had a choice of Torres Vina Sol for the white wine drinkers and Louis Jadot Bourgogne Pinot Noir for those who preferred red. Actually, I had the Pinot Noir with my cheese later on in the meal instead of Port. I'm not a huge Port fan as I find it very sweet.

I decided to keep dessert nice and easy so I turned once again to Nigella Lawson. I found a recipe for Orange Scented Brioche Pudding in her book "Feast". The recipe is very similar to her Ginger-Jam Bread and Butter Pudding in "Nigella Bites" which I have made to great acclaim in the past. Hell, I don't even like bread and butter pudding and I like it! So I decided the Brioche Pudding was a very good idea indeed. I'm glad I did. It was so easy to make and absolutely delicious. If you have not got the books mentioned above in your cookbook library yet, you really must go and buy them. Frankly, any of Nigella Lawson's books are brilliant. They are an entertaining read in addition to being a source of wonderful recipes, many of which are very easy to make.

As I often do, I served cheese and Warre's Otima Port to follow the dessert. I made up a cheese plate with Brie, Cashel Blue, Le Roule and Appenzeller. I had not tried Appenzeller before, and I have to say it tasted nicer cold than as it came to room temperature. Of course, it is usually recommended you serve cheese close to room temperature, but I really did find with Appenzeller that this did nothing for it!

It was a fabulous evening, with lots of fun and laughter. I hope you have as much fun when you cook the recipe below for your dinner with friends!

The 21st Century Housewife's Mustard and Tarragon Chicken
Serves 4

4 chicken breasts
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons butter
3 shallots, finely chopped
125 ml good white wine (preferably the one you are serving with dinner - I used Vina Sol)
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, washed and chopped with scissors
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
350 ml double cream (you may not need it all)

Melt the first two tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a frying pan with a lid. Add the shallots and cook, stirring constantly until they just begin to turn golden in colour. Now add the next two tablespoons of butter and the chicken breasts. Grind some salt and pepper over the chicken as it cooks. Add the wine and cover the pan with the lid. Turn the chicken after about three to five minutes and then cook for another three to five minutes on the second side. Turn them again if they are still not done. You want the chicken breasts to be cooked through, with no pink inside. I always use a removable meat thermometer to be absolutely sure they are cooked.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and place it in a casserole dish tightly covered in foil. Set aside.

Turn the heat down a bit and add about 250 ml of cream to the buttery shallots still in the pan. Stir together. Now add the lemon juice, mustard and tarragon. Stir the sauce until heated through. If it appears too thick or you simply want more sauce, add the rest of the cream. Taste the sauce to be sure it is flavourful and add salt and pepper if necessary. If you want to add a bit more mustard, lemon or tarragon to taste, do feel free!

Return the chicken breasts to the pan and turn to coat in the sauce. Serve each one with a bit of sauce spooned over. Any remaining sauce can be served in a gravy boat so people can add more at the table if they like.

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