Nat's in Christchurch for a couple of weeks, so I invited her around for dinner and a catchup. After some deliberation, I chose my menu: apricot chicken (p134), and almond rice (p105) for a main, then baked apple dumplings (p206) for pudding.
I started with the apple dumplings, reasoning that having them ready to go would minimise kitchen faffing time later in the evening. The apples are wrapped in a simple dough made from flour, baking powder, butter and milk. You roll out a 20cm 'square' for each apple (only 2 in the case of my half-recipe) and place a peeled and cored apple in the centre of each. Sprinkle on a bit of sugar, fold the dough up around the apple, and you've got your dumplings.
The other element of the dumpling recipe is a sugar syrup. I dissolved the remaining sugar in water, and set the syrup aside in a jug, to go over the dumplings before I put them in the oven.
When I got a text saying Nat wasn't far away, I got my almond rice on, cooking onion and garlic in a saucepan, then adding raisins and chicken stock. When I'd brought this to the boil, I added the rice, reduced the heat and left it to absorb for 15 minutes or so.
Next, I made a start on the apricot sauce. The recipe doesn't specify either apricots in syrup or in juice, so I got ones in syrup, figuring that when my book was printed, that would be the standard. It was only later that I noticed the instruction "puree apricots and juice". Looks like I should have got them in juice. Oh well, I just put in the syrup instead.
Into the pureed apricots went lemon zest and juice, some ginger and a couple of tablespoons of cornflour. It would have been a better idea to mix the cornflour with something before stirring it in, because Nat arrived to find me madly stirring the sauce in an attempt to get the lumps out. I don't recall the finished sauce being lumpy though, so I must have succeeded.
With both rice and sauce underway, the only thing remaining was to cook the chicken. The recipe actually uses chicken pieces, but I had a couple of chicken breasts in the freezer I wanted to use. Anyway, I dislike eating bone-in chicken unless it's possible to pick it up with your fingers - not really an option when you're eating it with a sauce.
I'd realised at some stage that a meal of chicken and rice was lacking in vegetable components, so I quickly threw together some broccoli and almonds (also an Edmonds recipe, but one I've already completed). Purely as a result of rushing in the supermarket and picking up the wrong thing, I made it with lime juice instead of lemon this time: just as nice.
Having Nat there while I tried to get the meal together was quite entertaining - we hadn't seen each other for quite a while, so the final stages of cooking and serving my meal were punctuated with absent-minded comments and disorganised fumbling as I found myself distracted by the conversation.
When the chicken was cooked, I got it all onto a platter and poured the sauce over. There was plenty of sauce: it was threatening to overflow the dish, but I managed to keep it all in there as I placed it on the table with the broccoli. I just had to finish off the rice, stirring through spiced vinegar, seasoning and toasted almonds.
Just before we sat down to eat, I took my apple dumplings out of the fridge, poured over the syrup, and placed them in the oven.
The apricot chicken was pretty good. Really, it tasted like what it was - chicken in an apricot sauce. More interesting was the almond rice. I'd never really looked at this recipe in depth, thinking it was just rice with almonds in it. Actually, it has a lot of flavour, and with the nuts and raisins, kind of a Middle-Eastern feel about it. Very tasty.
When the dumplings came out of the oven, the syrup had thickened into a kind of toffee, and the dough around the apple had gone a delicious-looking golden brown. I wasted no time in serving us up one each with a bit of hokey pokey ice cream, and we set about finding out whether they tasted as delicious as they looked.
They did. If you're tempted to make this one, definitely do it - it's the perfect pud for the chilly winter's evening. One dumpling makes for a good-sized serving, though: having already eaten a good meal, we were both struggling to get through the last few mouthfuls.
I think next time I make this I'll experiment with taking it out once or twice and basting the dumplings with the syrup. It's almost a waste that the toffeeish results of the syrup end up sitting in the bottom of the dish, while the dough itself is quite dry in appearance. It would be good to get a nice sticky glaze on that dumpling, but I'll have to experiment to see if it'd work. Until then, I fully recommend this recipe the way it is. In fact, all three dishes are worth doing - get out your Edmonds book and have a go.