Gatherings great and small

"FOOD for me is an excuse to gather people - for at least one meal a day, when you can sit, socialise and share stories about your day, or about others. It isn't just about eating, it is all the things that come with that process: passing the bread, tales that come when someone is a little over-tipsy, sticky fingers, dishes that remind guests of previously visited places or anecdotes. It is as much about fuelling as it is about good hearty laughs. Cooking is the rewarding route you take to get there,” writes Flora Shedden.

If you are like Flora and you love gathering your family and friends around you and feeding them delicious, appealing food, without a lot of fuss, Gatherings is well worth adding to your cookbook collection.

It offers a wide range of recipes and menus for a variety of social occasions - brunches, morning teas, drinks, baked goods, sweet treats and puddings, as well as "Food to Take Your Time About” and (my favourite) "Food to Fling Together”.

Recipes include hazelnut croissants, and crepes with roasted cherries for a brunch with your besties; asparagus and ricotta tart with herb pastry, or duck salad with poached eggs for a memorable family picnic; and ginger and macadamia nut cheesecake, and Earl Grey ice cream to spoil your loved ones.

Gatherings also includes advice for setting the table, essential equipment, and must-have items for your pantry. Everything you need for your next wee gathering.

Gatherings by Flora Shedden is published by Hachette Australia (Mitchell Beazley) in hardback at $39.99 and ebook $19.99.

Sherry and tarragon chicken with pearl couscous

Serves:

4

Ingredients

4 large chicken breasts, halved on the diagonal

Olive oil

2 banana shallots (echalions), cut into eighths

5 tbs sherry

5 tbs dry white wine

Small bunch of tarragon, leaves picked

300ml chicken stock

200g giant couscous

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To garnish:

½ small bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves picked

50g pine nuts, toasted

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Season the halved chicken breasts with a little pepper. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the chicken pieces and cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes or so until the undersides are light golden in colour. Turn over the chicken pieces and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a deep ovenproof dish and set aside.

Reduce the heat under the frying pan to medium-low, then add the shallots and cook for just a few minutes until lightly coloured. Spoon the shallots over the chicken in the ovenproof dish.

Add the sherry, white wine and tarragon to the frying pan, then increase the heat to high and boil for 2-3 minutes to allow the liquids to reduce a little. Add the stock and continue to boil for a few minutes.

Pour one-third of the sauce on top of the chicken in the ovenproof dish or enough so that both the meat and the shallots are submerged in the golden liquid. Transfer the dish to the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking, make the couscous. Add the grains to the frying pan with the remaining sauce and bring to the boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly and keeping an eye on the grains to avoid overcooking. You may need to add a little boiling water if the liquid dries up towards the end of the cooking time.

Once everything is cooked, add the chicken, tarragon, shallots and any juices in the dish to the cooked couscous in the frying pan and stir to combine. Season to taste. Serve directly from the pan, scattered with the fresh parsley leaves and toasted pine nuts.


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