Well, having done Dinner by Candlelight to death this month, it seemed prudent to investigate other ways and means of drawing the family together for a meal, whilst also learning to appreciate the warmth of snugglies and socks.
This was achieved by packing a picnic and heading off to the waterfront close to our suburb, at around 5pm.
Now it may not be news to you, but it was to me, having only visited these spots at lunchtime on a Sunday mid-Summer, that those little barbecue huts found in abundance in parks and nature reserves are largely deserted at that time of evening, mid-Winter. So we had our pick of the prettiest location. Do we use the one close to the picturesque and quaint old church where we can admire the setting sun streaming through the stained glass windows, or the one at the other end, close to the bridge, so that we can count the cars crossing the waterway to the suburbs on the peninsula?
The church end won, if only for it's proximity to the waterside path, winding for some time and ending in near a long jetty to walk along.
Now, as for the picnic, it's again a case of 'why do we only do this in Summer'?
You can pack all manner of substances into thermos mugs, foil packages, and flasks and we were able to dine like Royalty on what we had packed in our box of blankets. Granted, it wasn't piping hot, but was warming and tasty nonetheless, and voted a hit by all.
That's one great thing about a Winter picnic. No fear of keeping things cold and lugging around great huge bags of ice to facilitate the process. We didn't even need an esky. We just found a styrofoam vegetable box in the garage, and snuggled all of our yummy bits and pieces, in thermal containers into the box with blankets tucked around. At the other end, the blankets were then used for covering seats and snuggling into.
For a family that avoids camping like the plague, we surprised ourselves at how much we enjoyed wrapping ourselves in layers of polar fleece and eating from homely containers.
I think a Twilight Picnic might become a regular occurence for us...at least in Winter. Too much competition for a spot in Summer!
Rich and Rustic Tomato Soup in a thermos
Sticky Satay Chicken Parcels in foil
Nutella and Marshmallow Baked Apples in foil
Warmed Spiced Pear Juice in a thermos
Now it pays to be well organised to execute this picnic to it's yummy conclusion. So start the day before or at least earlier that day by marinating your chicken thighs, preparing your apples so they're ready to cook, and flavouring your spiced pear juice and tomato soup, so that it's all ready for heating or baking, and transferring to your thermal containers.
You'll need a fair amount of cooking foil, and some space in your refrigerator. Remember to find yourself a large box, some blankets and cushions, your beanies, gloves, snugglies and boots. It's okay. It'll be dark and no-one will see you! Some torches or those little battery operated candles or a camping lantern are a great idea too.
Mimi's Secret Marinade for Anything made up into Picnic Chicken Parcels
Serves 5-6 with side dishes
This is my secret recipe for marinade. It seems everyone has one. Mine relies upon whatever ingredients I have on hand at the time and seems to evolve into something slightly different every time I prepare it. Feel free to do the same. For our picnic, I marinated chicken thighs in this mixture, but chicken breasts or wings, chunks of tofu, thick pieces of eggplant, zucchini or fish, or BBQ steaks are all good candidates too. This version is more like a sticky sweet satay sauce, but change the jam to Plum and the peanut butter to barbecue sauce and you've got a chinese style BBQ sauce to die for. What's needed is that combination of sweet, savoury and tangy. Yum!
Large bowl or dish that fits in your refrigerator and space in the fridge for it
Cling wrap or lid for your dish
Several squares of cooking foil, large enough to enclose the individual chicken thighs
Large baking dish
Covered container to transport them
1 chicken thigh per person
1 cup jam (I used ginger marmalade, but plum, apricot or raspberry jam are all good too)
1 cup peanut butter (but you could also use tomato sauce or barbecue sauce)
2-3 tablespoons fruit juice to thin the marinade a little (I used lime juice for this combo, but apple, orange, mango and pear are all great as well)
1/2-1 cup cooked rice per person
Combine your marinade ingredients in your bowl or container, and add your chicken thighs. Toss them well so they're all dripping with the marinade and refrigerate overnight or for several hours.
Steam your rice using your favourite method. Mine is simply to add one and a half cups of water for each cup of rice to a large saucepan with a lid. Bring to the boil, stir, and cover firmly with the lid, then switch your hotplate off. Leave for 20 minutes, without peeking, and your rice will be cooked to perfection every time. Once cooked, set aside to use, or allow to cool, before refrigerating in a covered container.
You're going to bake your chicken thighs so that they're ready just before you leave, so about an hour before, preheat your oven to 210C, and get your squares of foil ready.
To each square of foil, add a couple of generous spoonfuls of steamed rice, laying one of the chicken thighs on top with a good drizzle of your marinade. Lay your foil parcels carefully in a single layer in a large baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes.
Pop your prepared Choc Hazelnut and Marshmallow Baked Apples in foil, into your second baking dish at the same time. Maximum use of your oven, and max enjoyment from your picnic!
You'll be eating these straight from the foil, but forks are still a must. Much as I love finger food at a picnic, cutlery is a prerequisite for this one!
Choc Hazelnut and Marshmallow Baked Apples
Allow one apple per person
Large baking dish
Covered container for transporting
One apple per person
One or two marshmallows per apple
A teaspoon or two of choc hazelnut (Nutella or similar) spread per apple
Remove your apple cores and discard them.
Lay out one large square of foil per apple. Measure one first to make sure it's large enough to entirely enclose your prepared apple.
Sit each apple on it's square of foil, and poke one marshmallow into the hollowed out middle. If your marshmallows are large, you can cut them with scissors so they fit. Mini marshmallows are cute too, but you get more marshmallow for your money if you buy big ones! Spoon a generous amount of Choc Hazelnut spread into the hollow and top with another marshmallow. Wrap the lot firmly in the foil, enclosing it by twisting the top so the apples remain upright.
Your apples can now be refrigerated, ready for baking with your chicken, an hour or so before you leave on your picnic.
Some of the choc hazelnut spread and melted marshmallow may bubble up and overflow into your baking tray, making the foil parcels good and sticky, so have another container with a cover ready to pop these into for transporting.
As for eating them, well, this is a picnic, so fingers are acceptable, as is licking the foil when done.
Rich and Rustic Tomato Soup
Serves 3-6 as an entree`
Large Thermos Flask
Serves 4 as a small entree`:
One bottle of Passata (tomato puree`)
1/2-1 cup of relish or chutney in a flavour you like eg. eggplant, tomato
1/4 cup of cream
Start this one about 25 minutes before you're ready to leave. You've still got your Spiced Apple Juice to heat up, and your chicken parcels and apples to transfer to containers and pack into your waiting box, so give yourself time to do that as well.
Combine the Passata and relish in a saucepan and heat until bubbling. Do a taste test to see whether you need to add salt, pepper or sugar. Some relishes have a high vinegar content and can make the soup very tart. Usually though the relish or chutney takes all of the hard work out of things as all of your lovely seasonings and ingredients like chopped onions, are already there in the jar. I prefer to use my home made Tomato Relish for this, but anything you have on hand will do.
Add your cream and stir to combine, reheating well. Do not boil. Carefully pour your soup into your thermos and seal tightly. Snuggle it into your waiting box of blankets. Pack some cups to drink it from too!
Warm Spiced Apple Juice
Covered container or jug for overnight refrigerating
Large thermal flask for transporting
1 litre apple juice
4 cardamom pods
1 vanilla bean
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
1/2 teaspoon powdered or minced ginger
1 tablespoon honey
Turn your hotplate on High.
Pour your apple juice into your saucepan, and add the other ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for several minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.
Transfer the juice and it's flavouring ingredients to your covered container and refrigerate overnight for best results. However, if you're pressed for time, you can strain it, and decant straight into your thermos flask and it'll still be flavoursome and warming.
Reheat your spiced apple juice about fifteen minutes before you're ready to leave and pour into your waiting thermos flask. And remember to take some extra cups. You don't want your spiced apple juice, subtly flavoured with rustic tomato soup!
This is so lush, and much like a guilt free, fat free Chai Tea. Try different variations with other juice flavours, teas or coffee, soy milk (a combo of vanilla soy and skim milk is divine), or powdered milk.
Now you're all packed and ready to go. A quick check...food, blankets, cushions, torch or lantern, gloves and beanies and maybe some old fashioned sparklers or Glo-sticks for fun.
Off you go! And you know what the best part is? Coming home to a snuggly, warm house afterwards...he-he! And of course, if the mid Winter temperatures around your way are just too chilly to venture out, then a picnic on the living room floor can be just as much fun!