By late winter the garden has really slowed and most of the food out there is really what you would call "in cold storage". We are still eating like kings though and last night we had a long overdue dinner party with good friends pulling most of the ingredients from the garden.
Setting a glamorous table need not set you back a small fortune either. My silver cutlery is a crazy set of mis-matched patterns but is shines prettily on a second hand lace cloth. Piece by piece it can be bought for just a couple of dollars from second hand shops. Good white napery always looks elegant and these too I picked up at a second hand shop and a good soak in Napi-san works wonders.
So for starters, how about a good old crowd pleaser, Potato and Leek soup. Anybody can make this and it is cheap as chips and leeks are in the garden now. To serve drop small dots of single cream from a teaspoon and then run the spoon through it lightly to create swirls. This soup used two medium potatoes and a couple of leeks from the garden and home made vegetable stock so the cost was probably something ridiculous like .70 cents. Even if you bought your veg it would still only cost a couple of dollars.
For main course I made Chicken Pot Pies.
I gently simmered two chicken breasts in a pan of water with some celery tops, one small onion and the carrot ends from three carrots. I removed the chicken and discarded the celery tops and carrot ends and added the sliced carrot and cooked till they were softened but still bright and not falling apart. I strained the stock and kept aside in a jug and added the veg to the shredded chicken breast in the fridge.
Next I caramelised some thickly sliced mushrooms in butter then added about a quarter of a cup of vermouth and a heaped tablespoon of the seeded mustard that I had made at the fermentation class last month and simmered till all the liquid was gone.
The next step is to make a basic white sauce using the reduced stock from before for added flavour and then mixing in all the chicken, veg, mushrooms. You could use asparagus, corn, whatever, so many combinations. Spoon the mixture into individual pie dishes or like I do, use these versatile 1 cup ramekins. Leave about 1-2cm headspace. Find a bowl or saucer to trace around on a sheet of puff pastry so that it gives you a circle a couple of cm larger than your pie pot. Brush the top rim and and edge of your ramekin and place the puff pastry on top securing the overhang down the sides, the egg will "stick" it. Snip six small slits in the top.
These are baked for about 25-30mins in a mod-hot oven and when cooked they will be golden and you'll see a bit of the sauce bubbling at the slitted vents. I can't give you an exact costing but definitely under $12.
Simply serve your pot pie on a dinner plate with a salad accompaniment.
Our salad was purely foraged from the backyard and I have Lee from Killiecrankie Farm Nursery to thank for it. She has taught me so much about perennial edibles. The salad comprises of leaf from Perpetual Spinach, the gorgeously veined Bloody Dock, young Asian green leaf, celery flavoured lovage leaf , tiny cucumbery tasting Salad Burnett, tiny micro leaves from the mint just starting to make a comeback because of a lovely sunny week here. I've sliced half a pear thinly and added tangy sweet Cape Gooseberries and then strewn it with Calendula petals.
Cost - next to nothing. It's amazing what you can find in a garden in the hungry gap. The Cape Gooseberries are frost tender but they have been cleverly planted in a sheltered corner near the house brickwork and the close boughs of the lemon tree also afford some protection. They make a welcome addition at this time of year when other fruits seem so far away in next season.
And now for dessert!
Junket infused with Bay Leaf and topped with Baked Rhubarb.
Our rhubarb is on the return again and I was able to pick about five lovely stalks. Wash and trim into 2cm pieces and place in a small baking dish with about 1/4 cup of sugar. Cover with foil and bake at 160C for about 20 mins. Cool and set aside for serving.
To make the junket, I placed two fresh bay leaves (everyone should have one in a pot) into a saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of milk and a tabs of sugar and gently heated it, stirring to dissolve the sugar and removing it from the heat just before boiling. Discard the bay leaves and allow to cool. Add 1/2 cup of cream and re-heat to lukewarm and add your crushed junket tablet or junket powder mixed in a tabs of cold milk. Stir through and pour into bowls and leave to set for about 20 mins before putting them into the fridge to chill.
Junket takes me right back to childhood though the bay leaf infusion lends a sophistication to this simple dessert, and stewed rhubarb is also an old fashioned memory so for a bit of whimsy I set the junket into Bunnykins porringers. The bottom of the plate patterns are all different and as in childhood, everyone had to eat to the bottom of the plate to see what pattern they got.
These were the spoons we had in childhood too and I thought they were just right for a bunny bowl dessert!
Total cost about $1.50
So a three course dinner for four people cost us under $15 leaving plenty in the budget for a nice bottle of wine. The recipes were easy and made use of seasonal produce and could be done ahead of time allowing me to simply serve and garnish. Oh I also forgot, I made dinner rolls too from a basic bread dough and they simply went into the oven 20 mins before we sat down to soup so they were nice and hot and crusty.
Dining out sometimes is lovely but you can save yourself squillions and you can play whatever music you like when you entertain at home. Go on, revive the dinner party.