Today, I’m thinking about what to rustle up for the unexpected guests who pop in from time to time over Christmas. A well-stocked pantry is of course the key. My brilliant standbys are smoked Irish salmon, tuna, sardines, artisan farmhouse cheeses, pickles and relishes, frozen and fresh pasta, Arborio rice for a spontaneous risotto, chicken liver pâte to slather on pan-grilled bread, water biscuits, pistachios, pizza bases, charcuterie, chorizo, nduja, cooked ham, eggs of course, a large pot of natural Jersey yoghurt, some raw local honey and cream. A bag of meringues and a pot of ‘delicious over everything’– a mixture of mildly boozy dried fruit and nuts that keeps for months in your fridge, awesome to scatter over ice-cream, meringues, crêpes, yoghurt, rice pudding…
A few winter vegetable soups, frozen in 2 person containers are another of my ‘go to’ standbys… They defrost in a few minutes and can be jazzed up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of seeds and a few fresh herbs.
Freeze a few slices of fresh natural sourdough, great to toast or pan grill, as a base for all manner of tasty toppings. Who doesn’t love a toastie perked up with some spicy mustard. My other top tip is to weight up the dry ingredients for white soda bread, crumpets, pancakes and popovers minus the raising agent which can be added with the liquid at a moment’s notice.
Teeny weeny scones take 7 or 8 minutes to cook in a hot oven and you can be tossing crumpets and pancakes on the pan within minutes. Then coarsely chop a few nuts, whip out a jar of that salted caramel sauce, maybe slice a banana and pile them on top for a little spontaneous feast.
I’d also have a few really quick pasta sauces up your sleeve. Frozen pasta or for that matter any fettuccini cooks in minutes and who doesn’t love pasta. I’m never without a couple pots of fresh or frozen tomato fondue. It’s one of my ‘great convertibles’, a sauce for pasta or chicken breast, a filling for an omelette, topping for pizza…
Little tartlets or vol-au-vonts made with all butter puff pastry also merit a place in the pantry. I love to fill tartlets with a blob of goat cheese, a few rounds of kumquat compote and a peppery rocket leaf – Christmassy and delicious. A fat prawn and a dollop of dill mayo is also delicious. A few retro mushroom vol-au-vents will also disappear in no time so have a pot of mushroom ‘a la crème in your fridge or freezer. Another great convertible and a delicious sauce to slather over steak or lamb chop or burgers. Even simpler but equally delicious, Mushrooms on Toast anyone?
I adore sardines on toast or waffles with a big dollop or mayo or horseradish cream but ever since my trip to Portugal. I’ve been making a super quick sardine pâté – just whizz up the sardines with some soft butter, a little mustard and some chopped parsley or dill if you have it. All made in minutes, just a few suggestions so you’ll be relaxed and prepared, doesn’t matter who or how many unexpected visitors you need to welcome. Chill out, pour yourself a glass of fizz. Have fun and enjoy.
Portuguese Sardine Pâte
A gem of a recipe, a brilliant Christmas standby made in minutes and ever present on tables in Portuguese cafés. Slather on toast or a crusty baguette. We use Shine’s sardines from Donegal.
118g (4 1/4oz) sardines in tomato sauce
110g (4oz) soft butter
1 generous tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly cracked black pepper
Put the sardines and tomato sauce into a food-processor. Add the soft butter, freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped parsley and 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Whizz until smooth. Taste and tweak the seasoning if necessary. Fill into a bowl or ramekin and cover.
Served slathered on hot toast or grilled bread. Really tasty with a glass of crisp, dry white wine.
Sardine and Dill Pâte
Use sardines in olive oil rather than tomato sauce. Add a little dill and maybe a scrap of grated horseradish.
David Tanis’s Pasta Cacio e Pepe
This delicious version of Cacio e Pepe, one of my all-time favourite pasta dishes comes from one of my all-time favourite cooks David Tanis. Cacio e pepe (literally, “cheese and pepper”) has lately achieved mythic status, which is a bit surprising considering it’s so basic. You can get it in any restaurant in Rome, but it’s really a home dish. The trick is getting the pasta to finish cooking properly in the creamy sauce, which is just pasta water, butter, and cheese. The more peppery, the better.
Makes 2 servings
Cook 225g (8oz) linguine extra al dente (this is crucial) in well-salted water.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat and add 1/2 teaspoon coarsely crushed black pepper.
Drain the pasta and add to the pan, along with 110ml (4fl oz) of pasta water and a good pinch of salt. Stir constantly, keeping the liquid at a rapid simmer; the pasta will begin to wilt in the sauce and absorb liquid. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
the heat, 175g (6oz) grated pecorino, and stir until the pasta is coated with
the creamy sauce. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Enjoy immediately…
Darina’s Magic Mushrooms
This creamy mushroom sauce is a ‘must have’ in your fridge. It’s a brilliant sauce for a juicy steak, chicken breast or piece of grilled fish or toss it into a vegetable gratin – I particularly love it with leek and potato. It makes a delicious sauce for pasta, a filling for an omelette, pizza topping and the most awesome mushroom toast. It keeps well in the fridge for 4-5 days.
15-25g (1/2-1oz) butter
75g (3oz) onion, finely chopped
225g (8oz) mushrooms, sliced (flats have best flavour)
110ml (4fl oz) cream
1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley
1/2 tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
a squeeze of lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
Roux (see recipe)
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams. Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured. Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a little butter, in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary. Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Thicken with a little roux to a light coating consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning and add parsley and chives if used.
110g (4oz) butter
110g (4oz) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2
minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.
Use as required. Roux can be
stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if
preferred. It will keep at least a
fortnight in a refrigerator.
This is a gem of a recipe which can be made in seconds and used as a sweet or savoury dish, breakfast, as a pudding or just to go with a cup of tea. There are many variations on the theme.
For 14 popovers
110g (4oz) flour
300ml (10fl oz) milk
15g (1/2oz) butter, melted
1/2 pot homemade kumquat compote (see recipe) OR raspberry jam OR cranberry sauce OR savoury filling of your choice – how about Darina’s Magic Mushrooms and a little diced ham!
150ml (5fl oz) cream, whipped
icing sugar, to dust
Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in eggs. Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides and add the milk in a steady stream at the same time. When all the flour has been mixed in, whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter. Allow to stand for one hour. Grease hot deep patty tins with pure beef dripping or oil and fill half full. Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8 for 20 minutes approx.
Remove from the tins. Cool and fill with a teaspoon on kumquat compote or homemade raspberry jam or cranberry sauce and whipped cream. Decorate with holly leaves.
Dust with icing sugar and serve immediately.
Note: If serving for breakfast fill with a spoon full of homemade marmalade, omit the cream.
Add 50g (2oz) grated Cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a good
pinch of salt to the mixture, season well and proceed as above, omit the jam
and cream and enjoy immediately!
A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham. Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt.
Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served
235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats
200ml (7fl oz) water
110g (4oz) sugar
Slice the kumquats thinly into four or five round slices depending on size. Remove the seeds. Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender. If they accidently overcook or become too dry, add a little water and bring back to the boil for one minute – they should be crystallised but slightly juicy
Serve warm or cold.
Note: This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.
Kumquat and Clove Compote
Add 6 cloves to the kumquats in the saucepan and proceed as above.
‘Delicious Over Everything’
This spiced fruit relish keeps for months and is as the title says, delicious over everything…You’ll find lots of ways to use it. It will even perk up porridge, rice and is gorgeous over ice-cream, panna cotta, pancakes or crumpets. Try it with cold ham or bacon. I sometimes use Irish whiskey or Grand Marnier instead of sherry and post.
Makes 425ml (15fl oz)
50g (2oz) yellow raisins
50g (2oz) muscatel raisins
50g (2oz) currants
50g (2oz) dried apricots, sliced into pieces
50ml (2fl oz) port and 50ml (2fl oz) of sherry
25g (1oz) almonds, peeled and split
150g (5oz) sugar
150ml (5fl oz) water
1 Ceylon cinnamon stick
1 star anise
4 cardamom pods
25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped
Cover the dried fruit with warm port and sherry. Allow to soak and plump up overnight. Add the split almonds.
Put the sugar and water into a saucepan, add the cinnamon, star anise and cracked cardamom pods. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the syrup thickens. Add the soaked fruit to the syrup with the chopped candied peel. Bubble for 2 or 3 minutes. Fill into sterilised glass jars, cover with a screw cap. Keeps for 6 months or more.