I am prone to make rash decisions when I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine- I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Luckily, my impromptu decisions are usually very upbeat and happy ones, and so it was on Saturday night. On New Year’s Eve, returning home early from a lovely party at a friend’s house, our neighbour popped round to wish us Happy New Year- we were all full of New Year’s spirits, and I decided then and there, at 12 o clock at night (loudly, enthusiastically, and gesticulating like only the sozzled can do), that they were to all come round the next day to ours, for drinks and snacks, following their New Year’s day pub lunch. I decided this in full knowledge that I’d not been to the supermarket for six days post the huge Christmas shop, and yet I happily offered to feed and entertain 8 adults and 6 children for a few hours. In my over-excited state I saw an almost empty grocery cupboard and fridge not, of course, as an obstacle, but as a tiny challenge which I could of course quite easily overcome.
Sunday dawned, with, strangely no headache, but quite a large amount of exhaustion. After a few breakfasts (we eat rather a lot in our house) I began tackling the food scenario- what the hell I was going to feed my friends? As you by now may have guessed, the little foraging mission was quite a success- so much so that I decided to write a little bit about what I got up to, and what I made, which I hope will inspire you: proof that one really can make do and be inventive when one has made huge promises to people while under the influence of a lot of wine. Here goes…
Chicory & Gem with Bacon & Walnuts
Look, the best-by date on the leaves had of course gone over a while back, but, once the outer leaves were discarded and the funny bits removed, I was left with a perfectly acceptable platter of crisp green boats. I decided I’d do the usual, a bit of blue cheese, bacon and walnuts, but upon opening the fridge, a rather hirsute Gorgonzola greeted me. If it were just me tucking into my canapés, I would have probably shaved the fur off the cheese and risked this, but I didn’t want my guests to- so I sadly discarded the forlorn bit of blue. What to do? I arrived at the ingenious solution of mixing soft cream cheese, with a little finely chopped basil and parsley, a little lemon zest and a good dollop of smoked paprika together. I popped a little of this at the ends of the gem and chicory, and topped with very crispy bacon and toasted pecans (yes, yes, the idea was walnuts, but I couldn’t find those…)
Well, I’ve posted the recipe for these before and they are quite the easiest things in the world to make, and, I think, utterly delicious. Always keep tins of artichoke hearts in your cupboards- they are just the most versatile things, for using in bakes, on top of pizzas, whizzing into dips, and, of course, for eating on their own. The recipe for the artichokes is here– you’ll need garlic, lemon juice, parsley, salt and black pepper and very good grassy olive oil.
I always have a pack of ready rolled puff pastry or shortcrust pastry to hand, and those who know me well know that cheese nut garlic puff things are my usual offering, either at our home, or taken as a little gift when we visit others. So, it was with great relief that I found the shortcrust pastry lurking in the fridge: I cut little circles from the pastry, popped these discs into a shallow fairycake type of tin, and then topped each disc with my chorizo mix- again, this is an old reliable mix and does very well for any sort of pastry canapé. Saute a small, finely chopped red onion with a large microplaned clove of garlic in olive oil, add finely chopped chorizo, then, after 10 minutes or so, remove from the heat and stir through an egg yolk, a good dollop of sour cream or soft cream cheese, black pepper, and finely chopped parsley. Dollop a teaspoonful onto each disc as I said- and grate over a little hard cheese- whatever you have to hand. Bake at 180 for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top.
Jalapeno Baba Ghanoush and Pastry Nut Sticks
I am laughing at my ridiculous descriptions here: apologies. These are more ideas of what to do, than exact, refined recipes- I do hope you find them helpful!
The aubergines in the fruit bowl were not looking their glossy rotund best, it had to be said, but I soldiered on, and removed the rather unappealing bits. I made a mix of olive oil, garlic, dried chillis, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika, scored the aubergines, rubbed the mix into them and roasted them on a high heat for a good 45 minutes. I had leftover pastry remaining from the little chorizo tarts, and I didn’t want this to go to waste, so I toasted some pecan nuts, garlic and olive oil, and mixed this garlicky nutty mix, along with salt and pepper, into the pastry. I made funny, knobbly looking sticks and baked these until golden brown. Once the aubergine was done, I scraped out the spicy flesh, and whizzed it up with lemon juice, jalapenos, olive oil and a little more garlic.
Well, these are a doddle aren’t they? I had made lots for Christmas, and still had salmon leftover, a forlorn bunch of rather withered dill, and, of course, there was a tub of everlasting sour cream in the fridge. In fact, one of our lovely friends Carly brought over a pack of salmon too- so we ended up using hers for this particular platter! I chopped the dill finely instead of using the individual feathers, as they really were rather sad: and a little dollop of that ersatz caviar we all buy at Christmas time ensured that these looked acceptably pretty. Sadly I left the platter of unadorned blinis on top of the warm Stanley, so when served were slightly crispier than they perhaps should have been!
Everyone was feeling a little fragile, and we all admitted we were a bit over the wine scenario. I don’t generally make cocktails, and, as I said, I hadn’t been to the shops for a good week or so, so I really had to make do with what I had to hand. I boiled soft brown sugar and a large knob of ginger down to a syrup (caster would’ve been my choice, but we were out of that). The cocktails were simply a tablespoon of syrup, good squeeze of lime, shot of rum and topped with ice and fizzy water and another wedge of lime.
The children snuck what they liked from the snacks (mostly the salmon), but I ensured they didn’t kill each other by making plates of little cheese and ham sandwiches (the ham that kept on giving- it truly was like Button Soup!). There was no bread in the house- but we do have a breadmaker- which comes into its own at times like these. Children do eat a lot- and I always ensure there is more than enough for them to tuck into.
It was a really last minute, cobbled together affair, but worth it to see 2017 in with good friends, before we all went our separate ways to early beds, and promises of a healthier start to the rest of the year. And it made me think that even those of us who love order, planning, and control would do well to be a little more spontaneous at times: as long as you’ve a tin of artichokes in the cupboard and some ready rolled pastry in the fridge, that is.