Rachel Allen's Christmas Party: Festive nibbles and tipples
Don’t stress out if friends and family are calling over for drinks and nibbles, as Rachel Allen has some great recipes that are delicious and easy to make.
It was a great idea at the time, inviting your friends over for drinks on Christmas morning.
However, if you're now furiously wracking your brain about what to serve, then I have some ideas for you.
The most important thing to remember is to keep it simple. The chicory, blue cheese, pecan and cranberry bites here are delightfully seasonal with great flavour. Easy to put together and serve, these are made in minutes. The recipe also works well as a salad. Just slice the chicory leaves and mix through more salad greens with the blue-cheese filling and dressing, and, hey presto, you have a super starter.
The salmon rillettes resemble a rough pâté that is normally made from rich meat like pork, duck or goose. I love the combination of equal parts smoked and fresh salmon, but if you prefer you can use all of one type. It's also a great way of using up smoked salmon after Christmas. Once made and covered, it'll keep perfectly in the fridge for up to three or four days, and can be frozen, too. Just make sure to bring it up to room temperature before serving.
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Pâté is always a winner at this time of the year, be it to serve with toast and a glass of mulled wine, should some people drop in for a bit of Christmas cheer, or perhaps with a glass of something cold and sparkling on Christmas morning. It can be made in advance and served easily. This recipe is one that has been made at Ballymaloe for over half a century.
I love to serve it with the Pedro Ximenez raisins. Deliciously sweet, almost date-like in flavour, Pedro Ximenez is a sherry that's also divine enjoyed in a glass over a cube of ice with the pate, or at the end of a meal.
Or for a real treat, try drizzling it over ice cream. I'm really hoping Santa Claus will bring me a bottle… For a sweet treat, the raspberry jam and cream almond tartlets are a doddle to make.
Rachel's top tip
You can use leftover cooked salmon in the rillettes recipe. Just leave it out when cooking the smoked salmon and add it in with the butter.
In the run up to Christmas it's great to get ahead and pop a few things such as soups and pates in the freezer. This week I'm going to clear out and organise my freezer so that I know just what's in there to use over the festive couple of weeks.
Chicory, blue cheese, pecan and cranberry bites
You will need:
3 tablespoons hazelnut or walnut oil
1½ tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 head of chicory
225g blue cheese - broken into small cubes
2 tablespoons dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 Place a frying pan on a high heat and add in the pecans. Toast them for a few minutes, tossing regularly, until a couple of shades darker. Tip them out of the pan and set aside to cool. Chop the toasted pecans coarsely.
2 Pour the hazelnut or walnut oil, whichever you're using, into a mixing bowl and add the white wine vinegar and the mustard. Mix the dressing together adding some salt and pepper to season.
3 Trim the head of chicory about 2cm from the base. Separate the leaves and place them hollow side up on your worktop, like little boats.
4 Break the blue cheese into coarse chunks, about 1cm in size, and place in the bowl with the dressing. Add in the coarsely chopped dried cranberries, the chopped parsley and the chopped pecans. Mix together gently and add a little more seasoning if necessary.
5 Spoon a generous teaspoonful of the mixture into each chicory 'boat' and arrange on a serving plate.
Chicken liver pâté
You will need:
110g chicken livers
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons brandy (put in a small bowl so you can add it quickly)
Freshly ground pepper
1 First, using a small sharp knife, remove any membrane from the chicken livers. Dry on kitchen paper.
2 Melt the 10g of butter in a frying pan. When the butter foams, add in the livers and cook over a gentle heat. Be careful not to overcook them or to turn the heat up too high, or the outsides will get crusty, which you don't want for a lovely smooth pate. When the livers are cooked, all trace of pink should be gone.
3 Add the crushed garlic and the thyme leaves to the pan, stir, and then quickly add the brandy. Allow the brandy to flame, or if you're not cooking on gas and if it doesn't flame, then just allow it to boil for about 20 seconds.
4 Scrape the liver mixture with anything else in the pan into a food processor. Puree until smooth. Set the food processor aside, take off the lid and allow the mixture to cool.
5 Once the mixture is cool, add in the 110g of butter and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper if necessary, however if using salted butter, it often doesn't require any salt.
6 Decant into small individual pots or into one bowl. Tap on the worktop to knock out any air bubbles.
7 When you are ready to serve, spoon some pâté over crackers, bread or croutes, see recipe on page 32. I love the pate drizzled with some Pedro Ximenez raisins, as shown in the photo here, recipe on page 32.
Note: If you like, you can substitute duck or goose livers for chicken livers in the above recipe.
You will need:
175g fresh salmon - see Tip
175g smoked salmon
1 tablespoon water
175g softened butter
Pinch of nutmeg
A squeeze of lemon juice
1-2 teaspoons chopped fennel
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 Cut the fresh salmon and the smoked salmon into pieces about 1-2cm in size.
2 Melt the 15g of butter in a saucepan or non-stick frying pan and add the fresh and the smoked salmon pieces. Pour in the one tablespoon of water. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until it is cooked through to the centre. Set aside and allow to cool.
3 Now beat the 175g of softened butter in a mixing bowl. Using a fork, break up the salmon into pieces that are not too fine. Add the salmon to the soft butter, still using a fork, so that you are left with a coarse-pâté texture. Season with the nutmeg, the lemon juice, the chopped fennel and salt and pepper to taste.
4 To serve, place the salmon rillettes in a bowl, or on to individual crackers or slices of cucumber, as pictured here.
Duck or goose liver
Substitute duck or goose livers for chicken livers in the above recipe..
Pedro Ximenez raisins
You will need:
75ml Pedro Ximenez sherry
2 tablespoons raisins
1 Gently warm the Pedro Ximenez and add in the raisins. Leave to sit and soak for at least 15 minutes, by which time the raisins should be plump and juicy.
2 Drizzle the raisins and sweet sherry over the pate when serving.
Photography by Kip Carroll
Rachel's hair and make-up: Make-up by Roisin Derrane on behalf of Lancome, see lancome.com Hair by Lynsey O'Leary, styling with L'Oreal Paris Elnett, see lorealparis.com Assistant to Rachel: Jane Bolger
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