I adore cooking, and eating, but only at my leisure. Few things amputate the appetite faster than the manic rush of last minute food preparation before guests arrive at your home. These days I write, and cook, from the perspective of a working mother of two adorable, but very small children (girl, 3 and boy, 2) where even the most well intentioned dinner party plans are often scuppered by their last minute needs. I can no longer rely on being able to pull a meal together at the last minute, however speedy the actual recipe may be. Cooking and preparing as much as possible in advance is like taking out an insurance policy against tantrums, multiple toilet trips and other covert toddler operations devised to stay up for as long as possible. These days, I often choose recipes that can be at least partially prepared in advance, it’s far more relaxed for me that way. Growing up, I remember my mother rushing in and out of the kitchen when we had guests and it all seemed a bit frantic, and frankly unnecessary, when the company was surely more important than the food.
Around Christmas time there are canapé occasions aplenty, and you may well be hosting. One of the most enjoyable parts of my job this year, has been working with illustrious wine merchant Corney & Barrow to promote their mouthwatering range of house wines. I’ve been so impressed with the wines, and for their Christmas party next week I’ve developed three easy canapé recipes which we think pair extremely well with three of the Corney & Barrow wines. And tonight, I’ll be joining the team at Harlequins rugby club where the Quins chef will be preparing these here canapés to soak up the wines Corney & Barrow will be presenting!
To go with the Sparkling wine, a melt-in-your-mouth whole side of salmon cured in Corney & Barrow’s Sloe Gin, which by necessity must be prepared at least three days in advance and up to a week ahead. Then, a sweet and salty mix of rosemary roasted grapes and olives, which is possibly the tastiest thing you could put on a piece of toast, which, okay, you can’t prepare the day before but it literally takes 5 minutes to put the grapes and olives in the oven and I must confess I have actually achieved this with a small child clinging to my leg. The Corney & Barrow Blanc goes beautifully with both the salmon and these grape & olive ricotta crostini. Lastly, sweetly spiced lamb and pistachio meatballs, which can be prepared well ahead and fried on the day. They taste amazing with a glass of Corney & Barrow Rouge, a smooth, rich and fruity red which hails from the warm Mediterranean climate of the Languedoc in the South of France.
Apart from the fact that these wines are genuinely delicious, I appreciate that they are relatively low in alcohol. For me, wines that are high in alcohol often detract from their enjoyment, and a perk of having wines around the 12% mark at Christmas is that is somewhat tapers over consumption.
SLOE CURED SALMON
This is a super easy and impressive dish which can, and indeed must, be prepared 3 days in advance. All you need do is blitz up the ingredients and let the salmon wallow in the mixture for 3 days in your fridge. You can prepare it up to 7 days in advance, letting the salmon cure in the fridge for 3 days, then, once you’ve removed the cure, wrapping the salmon up tightly in the fridge to be sliced before serving.
– For the cured salmon
1kg center cut side of salmon
1 cup C&B Sloe Gin
1 cup fresh blackberries – about 1 punnet
1 cup rock salt
1 cup demerara sugar
– Creamy clementine dill sauce
400g crème fraîche
Juice and zest of 4 clementines
40g dill, stalks removed and leaves finely chopped
4 teaspoons mild wholegrain mustard
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons sea salt (or half as much table salt)
5 grinds pepper
– for the sloe cured salmon
- Blend the sugar, salt, sloe gin & blackberries in a blender or food processor until smooth.
- Place the salmon fillet, skin side down, in a dish in which it and the cure will snugly fit. Pour the mixture over the salmon, cover with cling film and let it sit in the fridge for 3 days. It’s important that the cure mixture smothers the salmon with no visible fish sticking out. Every morning and night, mix the cure around to recombine the salt which will settle at the bottle of the dish, spoon it over the top making sure all the salmon is immersed, cover and set back in the fridge.
- When you’re ready to serve, remove the salmon from the cure and rinse it well under cold running water to remove the purple paste. Pat dry with kitchen paper, place on a board and slice into thin ribbons. Arrange on a platter and spoon over the sauce*. Finish with a final sprinkling of dill and clementine zest. *You may not need all the sauce, serve the remainder in a bowl beside the salmon.
– for the sauce – you can whip this up at the last minute, but it will happily sit in the fridge for a few days too, just give it a final whisk before serving.
Simply, zest the clementines into a bowl, squeeze in their juice and mix with the remaining ingredients. Whisk well to combine.
ROASTED GRAPE AND OLIVE CROSTINI
Wine Pairing: Corney & Barrow Blanc
2 cups black grapes
2 cups pitted green or black olives
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt (or half as much table salt)
500g ricotta (you may not need all of it)
2 fresh baguettes
- Heat the oven to 200°C. In a roasting tray or heatproof dish, mix together the grapes, olives, rosemary, olive oil and salt.
- Roast for 45-60minutes – timing can vary depending on the softness of your grapes and olives. You’re looking for the grapes to burst and release their juices.
- Meanwhile, cut the baguettes into 1cm thick slices and toast. I find it easy to do this by laying them out on a baking sheet and popping them in the oven with the grapes/olives for 5-10minutes. Let the baguette slices cool.
- Remove the grapes/olives and mix them around in the juices. Slather each toast slice with about a tablespoon of ricotta, heap with grapey olives and their juices. They’re nicest eaten warm but still amazing cold.
SWEETLY SPICED LAMB AND PISTACHIO MEATBALLS
Wine Pairing: Corney & Barrow Rouge
The meat mixture can be prepared and formed into balls a couple days in advance, and happily left in the fridge. You can even make them the weekend before your event and freeze them to be defrosted and cooked on the night.
800g-1kg lamb mince (equivalent of two supermarket packets)
3 cups fresh breadcrumbs
284ml buttermilk (1 whole tub, just over 1 cup)
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons ground allspice
100g shelled, unsalted pistachios
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt
olive oil for frying – about half a cup
- Grab your largest bowl. Pulse the pistachios in a processor to chop (or roughly chop them by hand). Remove them to the bowl.
- Blend the onions and garlic to a paste in the processor (or grate them on the finest side of a grater), add them to the bowl.
- To the bowl with the onion/garlic/pistachios – add the lamb, breadcrumbs, spices, salt and buttermilk and get stuck in with your hands to mix thoroughly together.
- For cocktail sized meatballs, take a little less than a tablespoon of mixture and roll it around between your hands.
– If you want to freeze them, cover a baking sheet in parchment paper, place the meatballs an inch apart on the sheet and flash freeze them for 45 minutes. Once frozen, transfer the meatballs to a bag to defrost another time –
- Heat a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat, pour in some olive oil and fry the meatballs in batches for 6-8 minutes until they’re golden outside and cooked through. You can keep them warm in a low oven (below 100°C) for about 30 minutes.