Dinner is served

Two delicious recipes to serve to special guests, by Michele Guinness
For my passion for dinner party cooking, and for one or two of the favourite recipes I produce, I’m indebted to retired consultant surgeon, Frank Little.  Frank, with his wife, Susan, a retired GP, rescued me and six others some 18 years ago and have been like ministering angels in our lives.  Let me explain.

For the past 25 years, since we left theological college, seven of us - three vicars and spouses, and a single woman minister - have been meeting twice a year in a cell group.  The aim, through listening, is to support, encourage and challenge each other.  We have been there for each other through some good times and some pretty bad ones too, through criticism, despondency, discouragement, bewilderment, illness and bereavement, and have prayed our churches, with much joy, from inertia to growth.

But where does a cell of seven people find anywhere or anyone who will house, cook and care for them for a couple of days twice a year, so that they can give each other this kind of quality time?

We advertised in a church newspaper, and in return for an offering to their church, the Littles opened their home, their hearts and their culinary expertise to us.  In fact, they spoil us rotten with their fine food and wines, often imported from their beloved France or Italy.  They understand the loneliness of ministry, and also know exactly how to make us feel loved, cosseted and valued.

I can never serve this particular chicken dish without giving grateful thanks for the way they have so generously and selflessly served us, contributing so much to our ministries and, unknown to them, to the lives of our churches.

Tarragon Chicken

Can be served hot as a dinner party recipe, or cold with a nice green salad when friends come round and you want to eat in the garden.

Serves 4

4 chicken portions or breasts
A bunch of chopped fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
300ml (1/2 pint) chicken stock  (made with chicken stock cube or powder)
250g (9oz) pot of creme fraiche (half or low fat if preferred)
I tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoonfuls Madeira (or sweet sherry)
1 teaspoon olive oil

Put the olive oil in a frying pan.  Coat the chicken pieces in the tarragon and brown quickly.  Sprinkle with the flour and turn the breasts over to coat well. Pour over the brandy, then set it all alight with a match (stand well back).  Add the stock and Madeira, and cook until the sauce thickens. Add  the creme fraiche and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Place in a casserole, cover and cook slowly on 180 gas 4 (fan oven 150) for around 45 minutes, and serve.  Alternatively, allow to cool and serve.

Hazelnut Strawberry Torte

This is a favourite old recipe that I created. What makes this so different is the crispy, nutty shortcake, that sets off the delicious new English or Scottish strawberries so well, and creamy cheese filling.

Serves 6 -8

100g (3.5oz) good quality margarine*
100g (3.5 oz) castor sugar
175g (6oz) plain flour
50g (2oz) chopped, toasted hazelnuts
300g (11oz) low fat cream cheese
several drops of vanilla essence
A large punnet of strawberries

Beat the margarine, flour, hazelnuts, and 75g of the sugar together until the mixture is firm enough to press into a tin.  Add a little more flour if necessary.
Divide the mixture in two and press into two, 20cm/8inch greased tins, lined with baking parchment.
Cook them on 180/ gas mark 4 /150 in a fan oven for 12 minutes, or until just golden.
Allow to cool a little, then turn out onto a rack to become completely cold and crisp.
Mix the cream cheese with the vanilla essence and 25g sugar and spread over both pieces of shortcake.  Halve the strawberries and place on top of each.  Sandwich both together, decorate with icing sugar, and serve.

*Too much fat isn’t good for any of us.  When baking, always opt for a good quality margarine containing no hydrogenated vegetable oils, and that promises to be kind to your heart.  They may be a little more expensive, but they are worth it in the long run