Its always a bit of an anti-climax when Christmas is over again for yet another year. After a few simple suppers around the telly you may feel like blowing away the post-Yule blues by asking a few friends around for nibbles. Choose 6 or 7 easy bites. Buy a few bottles of Prosecco to add some fizz and sparkle to the evening. If you are one of the growing number who find they can longer drink the sulphite and chemical laden plonk, you may want to seek out organic wines which spare one the gnawing headache and hangover. Not all organic wines are memorable either but there are a growing number of really good ones including some of the premier wines where it doesn’t necessarily say on the label that the grapes are grown organically or biodynamically.
Talk to your local wine merchant or contact Mary Pawle at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now for the food – it doesn’t have to be complicated to be delicious and think tiny portions of your favourite food. Look into the fridge and see what you can put into a frittata – an 8 egg one will make about 40 squares. Top each tasty morsel with a half cherry tomato and a fresh mint or basil leaf, filling and delish.
Frank Hederman’s smoked mussels or a fat prawn on little rounds of brown bread with a rosette of mayo and a sprig of flat parsley will also disappear in double quick time.
Cherry tomato lollipops on satay sticks are fun, so easy to make.
Icky sticky chicken wings are cheap and cheerful and moreish. Provide lots of finger bowls and napkins. Crispy Yorkshire puds with rare roast beef, horseradish cream and rocket leaves will vaporize off the serving platters. Prosciutto wrapped grissini are easy as pie and will keep people nibbling.
Slow toasted almonds sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Roasted hazelnuts with thyme or chilli nuts are also irresistible.
Its also a terrific idea to serve soup, you’ll need lots of espresso cups that hold two or three mouthfuls, serve the soup early on so it lays down a good foundation. Virtually anything can be served as a canapé provided you have suitable vehicle to serve it on. Chinese teaspoons are perfect for mouthfuls of stew, tagine, or other saucy concoctions.
Shot glasses are perfect for oyster shooters or cold soups. Pacific oyster shells make perfect receptacles for other tasty morsels.
Marks & Spencers have pastry spoons that are fun to use as bases and little tartlets are widely available. There are a myriad of tasty fillings one can use, both sweet and savoury. Experiment, taste and when you and your friends go ‘wow’ stick to that.
Variety and balance are essential. If the situation allows, serve both hot and cold canapés, and balance meat dishes with vegetarian.
Attractive serving platters make serving easy and look good – you can use china, plastic, rushes, baskets, sushi and split cane mats, slate and galvanized tin plates. Be careful that they are not too heavy or you’ll will be exhausted from carting them around. Balsa wood circular boxes that large bries are sold in are also terrific. Virginia creeper leaves, vine leaves and even fig leaves are also very effective. Now that we have a banana tree in the garden, we love to serve finger food on its shiny, green leaves.
Don’t forget to provide cocktail sticks, serviettes and suitable containers for your guests to discreetly deposit their used cocktail sticks, bones and pips into.
At a drinks party, start by serving savoury canapés with your cocktails, wine or champagne. About two-thirds of the way through the evening, you may want to switch to a good dessert wine and replace your savoury selection with sweet canapés such as petits fours, little lemon tartlets and glazed strawberries.
There are always the delicious if predictable, goat cheese, sundried tomato, olive and basil leaf or pesto, but why not be a little more adventurous, cold scrambled egg with chives and a sliver of smoked eel or smoked mussel with mayonnaise and rocket leaves, Medjool date with cream cheese and pancetta……..
Don’t forget to serve lots of sparkling water and a home made lemonade, apple juice or elderflower cordial with sparkling water. The bubbles will compensate for the lack of alcohol. Have fun!
Thai Chicken on Chinese Spoons with a Leaf of Fresh Coriander
Serve on Chinese porcelain spoons
450g (1lb) skinless and boneless chicken breasts
50g (2oz) butter
40g (1 1/2oz) fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon green peppercorns
1 stalk of lemon grass, finely chopped
2 red chillies, finely chopped
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
400ml (14fl oz) coconut milk (we use Chaokoh brand)
2 teaspoons freshly chopped coriander leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
30 Chinese spoons
Cut the chicken in 30 even sized cubes. Heat 25g (1oz) of the butter in a large frying pan and sauté the chicken pieces until lightly browned on all sides.
Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan, sauté the ginger, garlic, peppercorns, lemon grass and chillies. Add the lime juice and ground coriander. Gradually stir in the coconut milk, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 8 minutes. Add the chicken pieces, continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the coriander leaves and season to taste. *
Serve on porcelain Chinese spoons with a coriander leaf on top of each one.
* May be prepared ahead to this point.
Tomato and Coconut Milk Soup with Coriander Leaves
Tinned tomatoes and coconut milk are must have store cupboard ingredients. This soup can be made in a few minutes or well ahead and frozen
1 small onion, finely chopped
10g (1/2oz) butter
850ml (1.5 pints) homemade tomato purée or 2 x 400g (14oz) tins of tomatoes, liquidized and sieved
1 x 400g (14oz) tin of coconut milk (we use Chaokah brand)
250ml (9fl oz) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons freshly chopped coriander leaves
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
fresh coriander leaves
Sweat the onion in the butter on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the tomato purée (or chopped tinned tomatoes plus juice), coconut milk and homemade chicken or vegetable stock. Add the chopped coriander, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.
Liquidize, taste and dilute further if necessary. Bring back to the boil and correct seasoning. Garnish with a tiny blob of crème fraîche and some coriander leaves.
*Tinned tomatoes need a surprising amount of sugar to counteract the acidity.
* Fresh milk cannot be added to the soup – the acidity in the tomatoes will cause it to curdle
Note: This soup needs to be tasted carefully as the final result depends on the quality of the homemade purée, stock etc.
For a drinks party serve in espresso cups with tiny bread sticks.
Peppered Beef Yorkshire Puds with Rare Roast Beef and Horseradish Sauce and Rocket Leaves
We use Maldon or Halen mon sea salt
Makes 28 approx.
4oz (110g) plain flour
2 eggs, preferably free-range
½ pint (300ml) milk
½ oz (15g) butter, melted
2 x 5 ozs (150g) sirloin steaks
extra virgin olive oil
Rocket or flat parsley leaves
1 tray of 1¾ inch (4.5cm) bun tins
Sunflower oil for greasing tins
Sieve the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in the eggs. Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides, adding the milk in a steady stream at the same time. When all the flour has been incorporated whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter. Allow to stand for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo8. Heat the patty tins in the oven, grease with sunflower oil and fill a – 2 full with batter. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until crisp, golden and bubbly.
Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.
Heat the pan grill. Crack the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Drizzle the steaks with extra virgin olive oil. Dip each side in the cracked peppercorns. Sprinkle with Maldon sea salt. Cook the steaks to medium rare, allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Warm the Yorkshire puddings if necessary. Fill each with a tiny blob of Horseradish Sauce. Top with a thin sliver of rare to medium rare peppered beef.
Garnish with a sprig of flat parsley or a rocket leaf. Serve soon – best freshly cooked.
Cherry Tomato Lollipops
Fun, delicious and easy to make
20 sweet cherry tomatoes
Tapenade – about 4 tablespoons
Fresh basil leaves
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
20 satay sticks
Cut a slice off the top of each tomato.
Scoop out the seeds with a melon baler. Turn upside down to drain.
Drain the bocconcini.
Put into a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle sparingly with extra virgin olive oil and add some freshly chopped parsley.
Spoon a little tapenade or pesto into each cherry top.
Top with a drained bocconcini.
Secure the two by sticking a cocktail stick up from the base of the tomato. They are easy to serve and look great.
Stand in a tall glass or galvanized flower pot.
Provide paper napkins for drips.
Smoked Salmon, Leek and Dill Frittata
Makes 40 servings for nibbles or will serve 6-8 as a main course.
1 oz butter
2 medium leeks, thinly sliced
8 free range eggs
2-3 tablespoons freshly chopped dill
(25g)1 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
175-225g (6-8 ozs) smoked salmon, cut into dice
1 x 9” (23cm) non-stick pan
Melt the butter in a sauté pan. Add the finely sliced leeks, toss. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to continue cooking while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Whisk the eggs, add the chopped dill and grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked leeks. Melt a little more butter
in the non-stick frying pan. When it foams, add the egg mixture, reduce the heat to minimum. Sprinkle the smoked salmon over the top and allow to sink into the egg mixture. Continue to cook for 8-10 minutes until almost cooked.
Meanwhile preheat the grill. Flash under the grill until the top is puffed and golden. Turn out onto a warm plate and serve hot, warm or at room temperature with a good green salad.
Smoked Mussels with Home-made Mayonnaise
Brown Soda Bread or Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread
Lollo rosso or rocket leaves
Home made mayonnaise
Stamp out 1½ inch (4cm) rounds of bread. Spread with a little butter, put a little Lollo rosso or rocket on top and a blob of home-made Mayonnaise. Sit one or two smoked mussels on the Mayonnaise and garnish with a sprig of chervil.
Whole unpeeled almonds
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Put the almonds dry onto a baking sheet, and roast until golden and crisp, 10-15 minutes. Toss in olive oil and sea salt, cool. Try not to the eat lot!
Lemon Curd Starlets
Sweet shortcrust pastry
Home-made Lemon Curd (see recipe)
1-2 shallow non-stick bun trays.
2½ inch round or 3½ inch star-shaped cutter
Make the pastry as directed in the recipe.
Cover and chill for at least one hour, better still make the pastry the day before.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Roll the pastry out thinly and stamp into rounds or star shapes. Use to line the bun trays.
Put a small teaspoon of lemon curd into the tartlets and bake for 14-18 minutes until the pastry is just lightly golden.
Or alternatively you may bake the empty tartlets (no need to use beans). Allow them to cool. Then put in a spoon of lemon curd.
They are delicious both ways, see which you prefer.
Makes 2 jars
Tangy delicious lemon curd can be made in a twinkling, use it to fill tartlets, smear it over a sponge, or onto fresh bread, buttery scones or meringues.
2 ozs (55g) butter
4ozs (110g) caster sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 2 good lemons, preferably organic
2 free-range eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep white aside for meringue)
On a very low heat melt the butter, add castor sugar, lemon juice and rind and then stir in the well beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl or sterilized jar (it will thicken further as it cools.)
Cover when cold and store in the refrigerator. Best eaten within a week or a fortnight.
To be served as a petit four or as a garnish on dessert plates or cakes.
Strawberries (unhulled) or
you could also any of the following -cherries with their stalks, grapes, segments of tangerine or clementine or physalis (cape gooseberry)
8 ozs (225g) sugar
4 fl ozs (125 ml) water
This amount of syrup would glaze about 1lb of fruit – eg 8oz (225g) strawberries, 4oz (110g) physalis and 4oz (110g) grapes.
Dissolve sugar in the water in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to the boil and cook to a light caramel. Carefully dip the fruits into the caramel to glaze them lightly. Put them immediately onto silicone paper or onto an oiled surface where the glaze will set hard. Keep in a dry place and serve in individual petit four cases within an hour.
Centre for Adult Continuing Education, University College Cork
One of the courses being offered will be a unique course in Ireland’s food culture –
A Little History of Irish Food – a 10 week course delivered by Regina Sexton, food historian, journalist and lecturer.
Baileys Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year 2007 –
Congratulations to Ian Ussher, chef de partie at Bank Café on Dublin’s Merrion Row – the 21-year old chef from Tallaght beat four other finalists to win Ireland’s toughest and most prestigious culinary competition which took place recently at Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel. Now in its 18th Year, the Baileys Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year competition represents the best establishments and emerging chefs in the country, open to chefs under the age of 25.
Good Things Café and Cookery School, Durrus, West Cork
Course programme for 2008 now available –