Although Christmas seems miles away already, what with the sales almost over and the new year being in full swing, here's a little glimpse of what we indulged in during these special times. I have already mentioned the fact that we completely broke with tradition this time and created out very own. Unsurprisingly it results that we debated the menu long and hard and, maybe more surprising for some of you, came to the conclusion that for Christmas Eve, the best option was to have various plates of finger food.
You see, since the eve of the 24th of December is the main celebration for us and we have rather small kids who cannot break their routines easily, the one-hour window that we get between church and bedtime doesn't really allow for an elaborate meal - nor would the little ones enjoy it that much anyway, and, as a consequence, nor would we. They're much better off running around, wildly experimenting with the toys they just got and in order for us adults to make the most of this time as well, it's best to be grazing on various tidbits that won't go cold, allowing the casual intake of food while engaging in conversation or playing games together and keeping the little monsters at bay.
So, once again, we resorted to finger food - a favourite of mine anyway and therefore a no-brainer. This time, the challenge was that most of it should be able to be prepared the day before so I could take care of decorating the tree in the morning and giving the reception room a quick once-over (you wouldn't believe what chaos children can cause in a matter of minutes!). Also, I wanted to set up all the plates in advance so I wouldn't be spending time in the kitchen while the others were opening presents. Here's the list of four fool-proof, prepare-ahead platters of canapés that will keep everyone happy:
- blue cheese quichettes with red onion & thyme confit
- polenta & spring onion muffins with hand-carved ham, stilton & port figs
- aubergine, tomato & pine nut croustades
- baked mini-potatoes with horseradish crème fraîche & hot-smoked salmon
For the latter, you can buy ready-made hot-smoked salmon (or trout) from a good supplier - if you don't have a trusted fishmonger, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer do some pretty good stuff around here. If you've never tasted freshly grated horseradish before, let me tell you that it couldn't be more different from what you buy in the jars if it tried... it has the oomph of wasabi (because it is just that: horseradish) and it will give your cream a bite in more than one way. I will insist that you buy fresh and grate it freshly - or else! If your local doesn't stock it, it's worth asking if they can buy it for you if you pre-order or go out of your way to secure it at Borough Market if you live in or around London.
We also served some of this on Boxing Day (ie 26th December), so called because centuries ago the rich would put the left-overs of their Christmas meal in boxes which they deposited on their doorsteps for the poor to collect. Our modern take on this is not to plan any meals for that day (and I mean strictly NO shopping for it at all, not even bread or butter), but invite friends round with everybody supplying the left-overs from their feast (or what they make from it) for a pot-luck brunch. This year we had a selection of our canapés, fruit salad, a big chunk of home-cured salmon I made for Christmas morning, a fennel, gorgonzola & tangerine salad, a cheese platter with left-over cranberry sauce and some home-made bread... A great, new tradition is born - and much better than ending up with the foxes getting into whatever we put outside our front door and making a mess like you wouldn't believe. After all, who needs a meal when you can feast on such fantastic leftovers!
Baked mini-potatoes with hot-smoked salmon and horseradish crème fraîche
20 mini potatoes
2 tbsp crème fraîche
200 g host-smoked salmon
chives, to decorate
Wash and thoroughly dry the mini potatoes, then rub with garlic oil. Place in the hot oven (200 C) and bake for 15 - 25 minutes, until browning and soft inside.
Meanwhile, prepare the horseradish cream. (If you can prepare this a day ahead, the taste will be even stronger - in which case you can use a little less of the harseradish to begin with). Peel the horseradish root and finely grate 2 tbsp of it. Stir into the crème fraîche, season with salt & white pepper.
When ready to plate, bring out the slightly cooled potatoes, tail them so they stand safely upright, then top them by scooping out a small hollow with a small spoon or a melon baller. Put a dollop of the horseradish cream on top, then top with about a tsp full of flaked salmon. Sprinkle with chives and serve or reserve for later.
* I use the oil from my home-made confit garlic I always have at hand - you can just use plain olive oil instead.