Monday 23 April 2018

Recipes: Brenda Costigan says parties are always better when there's a little food involved

Parties are always better when there's a little food involved, says Brenda Costigan, so give a warmer welcome with tasty morsels such as crab cakes and chorizo crunchies


Listen to the sound at the next drinks party you go to. A party where there are enough nice little things to eat has a warm, contented sound -- a sort of a purr -- quite different from the harsh, strident noise at a party where there is just alcohol.

Food for drinks parties can be a bit fiddly, so plan ahead. For example, make your favourite quiche or a Spanish tortilla a day or two in advance, then cut it into little squares. These can be warmed before serving -- don't microwave the quiche, as it makes the pastry soft. For colour, dip the cut edges of the quiche or tortilla pieces into finely chopped parsley or some paprika.



Make these close to serving time. The prawns in the photo are served on ceramic spoons, but you can serve them in a dish, speared with cocktail sticks. Provide paper napkins. Ideally, use fresh or frozen (thawed) raw prawns, shelled and de-veined. If you're using prawns in brine, drain them well, and if you're using cooked prawns, they can be gently reheated in the tasty juices. Don't overcook the prawns.

You will need:

1 tablespoon olive oil

50g butter

3-4 garlic cloves, skinned and chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

15-20 shelled and de-veined king prawns

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy-based pan and add the butter. When it is sizzling gently, add the chopped garlic and chilli and fry them gently for a minute or so until softened, then add in the prawns. Cook briskly, stirring frequently to ensure that they are all cooked through. If necessary, cook the prawns in two lots, lifting out the first lot with a perforated spoon. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the cayenne pepper, if you're using it, if you like them really hot.


Ideally, serve these fresh, but they can be fried in advance and reheated in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes. Makes about 10 cubes, increase as required.

You will need:

200g (7oz) skinless salmon fillet, choose one that has a nice even thickness

A little olive oil to fry

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cocktail sticks

A few teaspoons of sweet chilli sauce

Cut the salmon fillet into little cubes. Fry the cubes in the olive oil until they are golden on each side, by which time they should be cooked through. Season them very, very lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pierce each one with a cocktail stick. Spoon a little of the sweet chilli sauce over each one. If you like, serve extra sweet chilli sauce in a tiny bowl for dipping.



The smoked salmon can be substituted with smoked mackerel or smoked trout. This can be made a few hours in advance. Cover it with cling film and keep it in fridge until required.

You will need:

1 x 200g carton cream cheese, natural or one with chives

100g (nearly 4oz) smoked salmon, any skin and bones removed

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice (adjust to taste)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A little milk or cream (optional)

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and buzz everything until the dip is smooth enough. If you prefer a softer mixture, blend in a little milk or cream, if you are using it. Put into a small dish and serve with crudites of fresh vegetables or little biscuits.


This recipe can be made in advance and reheated just before serving. Makes about 20-24 little cakes.

You will need:

175g (6oz) fresh crabmeat, brown and white

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small egg, beaten lightly

1/2-1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 spring onions, very finely chopped

25-50g (1-2oz) fine breadcrumbs

Olive oil, for frying

4-6 poppadoms or packet of salted crackers, to serve

Place the crabmeat in a bowl and season it with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. If the crabmeat appears rather wet, squeeze out the excess moisture otherwise the cakes will be too soft. Add the beaten egg, the mayonnaise, the Dijon mustard, and the finely chopped parsley and spring onions. Mix everything together well, and then add enough breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Put a little olive oil on a frying pan and, when the oil is hot, spoon little circles of the crab mixture -- about the size of a small walnut -- directly on to the pan and fry until these mini cakes are browned on both sides.

Cook the poppadoms one at a time in the microwave for about a minute each or fry them in some olive oil in a pan. Break them into small pieces, and just before serving, sit a little crab cake on each, or you can use salted crackers.



To make crab on Melba toast, omit the egg, and prepare the crab mixture as above. Use it as is, or, if you prefer, you can fry it gently in a pan until it is well heated. Spread small spoonfuls of the mixture on little pieces of Melba toast (see below) and top with a tiny blob of mayonnaise and a stuffed olive.


Use a white sliced pan that has slices about 5mm (?in) thick. Toast the required amount of slices under a hot grill until they are brown on both sides. Immediately cut off the crusts. Using a sharp bread knife, slit the slices of toast in two to reveal the untoasted insides. Next, cut each slice diagonally, making two triangles, or cut lengthways into three wide fingers. Grill the untoasted sides under the hot grill, but watch carefully as they curl up and burn easily. Use fresh or, when cold, keep the Melba toast slices in an airtight container and use within one or two days.



These will wander a bit on the tin during baking, but they taste nice and crunchy. Cook on the day. Makes about 12.

You will need:

1 roll ready-rolled pastry, puff or shortcrust

175g (6oz) Manchego cheese, grated

About 175g (6oz) chorizo sausage (not raw)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

Preheat the oven to 190 C, 375 F, Gas 5. Line baking tins with baking parchment.

Cut circles about 4cm (1 1/2in) in diameter from the ready-rolled pastry and put them on the baking parchment.

Scatter the grated Manchego cheese generously on to each pastry circle.

Cut the chorizo in thin slices and cut each slice in half. Fry the chorizo slices gently in the olive oil with the chopped garlic until they are nice and oily. Spoon the chorizo slices on top of the grated Manchego cheese and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the pastry is cooked. These will lift easily off the baking parchment, and they'll become crunchy as they cool.


You can cook the beef the day before. Wrap the cooked beef in foil and store it in the fridge. This also helps the flavours to mature. Makes about 24.

You will need:

700g (1 1/2lb) fillet of beef

Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

24 thin slices of baguette

2 large onions, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

2-3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Creamed horseradish (optional)

Watercress, to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 210 C, 425 F, Gas 7. Use a frying pan with a metal handle or put a roasting tin into the oven to heat up. Carefully trim off any sinew from the meat. Coat the surface of the beef generously with the coarsely ground black pepper.

Heat some of the olive oil in the frying pan. When it is hot, carefully place the beef in it and fry it for 3-4 minutes per side to brown it all over. Transfer the pan to the oven, or transfer the browned beef and the pan juices to the hot roasting tin.

Roast the beef -- about 20 minutes for rare, or 25 minutes for medium rare. Ideally, use a meat thermometer to be sure. Take the beef out of the oven and allow it to cool, then wrap it in foil and refrigerate.

In the meantime, reduce the oven temperature to 170 C, 350 F, Gas 3. To make the crostini, brush the baguette slices on both sides with olive oil and arrange them in a single layer on a baking tin. Bake for about seven minutes until they are golden. Or, if you prefer, toast the bread and then brush with oil.

Fry the thinly sliced onions in some more olive oil until they are soft and golden, adding the sugar after about 10 minutes. Increase the heat, taking care that the onions don't burn, and add the balsamic vinegar.

To assemble, thinly slice the roast beef. Season with some freshly ground black pepper and salt. Spread a thin layer of creamed horseradish, if you are using it, on each crostini and arrange the sliced beef, in a crumpled fashion, on top. Finally, spoon some caramelised onions on top. Decorate the plate with some watercress, if you are using it.


These can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container. For a firmer meringue mix, use a recipe for meringue cuite.The mincemeat is cooked with a splash of brandy in a saucepan. Makes about 15-18 tiny nests.

You will need:

2 large egg whites

110g (4oz) icing sugar

A few drops of vanilla essence

4 dessertspoons good, tasty mincemeat

1-2 tablespoons brandy, whiskey or freshly squeezed orange juice

4 tablespoons whipped cream

Sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds

Line a baking tin(s) with some baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 140 C, 275 F, Gas 1. Put the egg whites in a large bowl sitting over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Whisk, using a hand-held electric beater, until the egg whites begin to foam. Sift in the icing sugar gradually, beating well between each addition until the mixture holds its shape. Whisk in the vanilla essence. Transfer the meringue into a large forcing bag and pipe out little meringue nests. Alternatively, place walnut-sized spoonfuls of the meringue on the baking parchment, pushing down the centre of each with a teaspoon to make the nest shape. Bake in a very low oven for about an hour, until the meringue is dried out. Allow to cool.

Cook the mincemeat with the brandy, whiskey or freshly squeezed orange juice, whichever you are using, for a minute or two until the white suet melts into the mixture. Allow to cool. serve teaspoonfuls of the mincemeat in the baked meringue nests with small blobs of whipped cream on top. Sprinkle toasted flaked almonds over the top.


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