It was our first Christmas in our own home this year so we were rather excited at the prospect of hosting a drinks party. I decided to make life easy and focus on small nibbles and canapes, but I wanted to create some canapes that the children might also enjoy. Strangely these two fairly luxurious choices went down well with both of my children and were also very easy for them to help assemble:
Melon bites with parma ham:
Smoked salmon blinis with philadelphia cream cheese:
I also prepared some cocktail sausages drizzled in honey and mustard, then covered in sesame seeds; mini oatmeal biscuits with a chunk of brie and cranberry sauce; olive biscuits with smoked trout pate and bruschetta.
For the dessert section I made my duo of mince pies and party meringues (see earlier posts). I did also succumb to making some sausage rolls for the kids as well and putting out a cheese plate, but it all went down well and it seems my daughter is now particularly fond of smoked salmon and parma ham. It’s good that she’s trying new things, but they won’t be on our weekday menu just yet!
As a feature of this blog I would like to highlight certain products that I am using in my cooking, for either great taste or health benefits. The first one is cold pressed rapeseed oil.
I tend to do a lot of pan frying when in a hurry, even if it’s just sauteing up some onions for a pasta dish, so wanted to find what was the healthiest oil to cook with. Rapeseed oil scores highly as it has the lowest saturated fat of any oil. It is made using only the rapeseed kernel, giving the oil a high purity. It is rich in the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, which the body cannot make itself and so needs to be found in our food, usually oily fish. It can be used for all types of cooking and with a slightly nutty taste is also great in salad dressings. In addition, it has a higher burning point than many other oils, so maintains its health benefits even at high temperatures when used for pan frying. The benefits continue as it is cheaper than a similar quality olive oil and is produced locally in the UK, so you can feel good about lowering your shopping carbon footprint while making a healthy choice at the same time!
If I make a batch of my mince pies, then this is the perfect recipe to pair with it as it uses up the egg whites that are left over and makes a delicious dessert. I made a huge batch of mince pies for a drinks party and made the meringues to team with them for my dessert section. They are unbelievably easy to put together, but look great on the table at a party.
Add all 3 egg whites to a bowl and whisk them until they form stiff peaks. At this stage add the caster sugar (175g per egg yolk, pre-sieved) in spoonfuls, whisking as you go. I know from previous experience that it can be done by hand, but en electric whisk makes it much easier! If you do have en electric whisk then you can whisk on high seed until the mixture becomes sticky and you can almost turn the bowl upside-down without it falling out…although don’t test that fully, just in case you’re not quite there! Then, simply use a teaspoon and transfer small amounts to baking parchment on a baking tray and place in an overn pre-heated to 170 degrees celcius. As soon as you add the meringues, turn the oven down to 160 degrees and cook for an hour.
Although My daughter would have helped with this, I usually make meringues last thing at night, as they need to cook for an hour and are better left to cool in the oven overnight. The next day you can take them out, whip some double cream, and put a spoon on top along with a raspberry. My daughter was delighted to do this job for me, although I think there was quite a lot of tasting going on at the same time!
These are made following my own mum’s mince pie recipe. They are ridiculously easy to make and even easier to eat! I am not a fan of shop bought mince pies as they pastry if often too thick and tasteless and there is usually far too much of it, along with mincemeat overload. These mince pies are made using a sweet delicate pastry with just a spoonful of mincemeat. My children adore them and they are such an easy Christmas treat for them to help bake and are wonderful Christmas gifts for neighbours and friends, wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow!
The following recipe makes about three dozen, which I promise won’t be too many!
10 oz Plain flour
6 oz Butter (unsalted)
4 oz Caster sugar
2 large egg yolks
I use a blender as it is so fast, but it can also be done by hand. I’ve only had a blender since this year and realised the benefits! While the children are waiting for me to make the pastry I get them to flour a chopping board and also their rolling pins, ready to go.
Chop up the butter into cubes and put into a blender along with the flour. Mix the two together briefly to form a bread crumb like mixture and then add the sugar and egg yolks. Save the egg whites – these can be used to make meringues at a later date (see later post), which are also so easy.
Once the pastry has started to glue together it is ready. At this stage it may still feel a bit dry and crumbly, but do trust my amounts and scoop it out of the bowl and use the heat if your hands to kneed it into a ball. If short for time, then you can wrap it in cling film at this stage and save for a few days in the fridge. A little bit of time in the fridge can actually improve it, but if the children are eager to help then it won’t make much difference if you carry on at this stage. Roll the pastry out to a thickness of about 5mm, and use a medium sized scone cutter to cut out the base and a star cutter for the top. Place the base on a 12-well shallow cake tray, and add just a teaspoon of a good quality mincemeat. Don’t feel tempted to ‘fill’ the mince pie with more as it will spill over the edges and ruin it. Honestly, a teaspoon is just enough, although it may mean that you eat twice as many!
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees Celcius for 7 minutes. The time is quite precise. Take them out just as they are turning golden and they will be just right. Leave to cool in the tray for about 10 minutes and then lift out onto a cooling tray. Don ‘t try to remove them too soon as they will fall apart. Hopefully the kids will love the pastry, and if they find the mincemeat too overwhelming you could always make them a special batch with a jam filling instead. It is Christmas after all!