No plates for this party

It’s coming up to that time of year when we will be offering food and drinks to big gatherings, and these nibbles are substantial, without requiring cutlery

Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 00:00

There are two words that this column has worked hard to avoid over the past few weeks, mainly because early November is waaaaaaay too early in my book to mention “party nibbles” and “Christmas” in the same sentence. But seeing as December is here this weekend, I’ve had to take my ostrich head out of the sand and face the tasks ahead. My, my, we’ve a lot planned for you over the next few weeks!

No more gazing in fear at all the shiny, glittery Christmas-related paraphernalia and jiggery pokery that now pervades every TV screen and shop window. Instead it’s time to start plotting your menus and making some firm decisions about what you will be feeding yourself and your loved ones over the next four weeks.

The thought of what to cook over Christmas can spark brief but intense episodes of hair clutching. This is often followed by a frantic search for food that fulfills that tricky brief of being substantial enough to satisfy wind-chilled partygoers, while still looking glamorous enough to impress.

I am often guilty of hiding out in the kitchen on social occasions – even if it’s not my own house. There is something soothing about working away quietly while people come into my domain to chat and share outrageously good gossip. But at Christmas, I usually can’t get away with this behaviour as I’m surrounded by family, who tell me to stop hiding in the kitchen.

So, when I was doing my research for this column, I had in mind recipes that call for something a bit more filling than nibbles, but with no requirement for plates, nor a need to babysit the food.

In the end I plumped for the two recipes here. The port-soaked blue cheese toasts are delicious. The salty, crumbling cheese serving as the ying to the yang of the crisp baked bread it sits on and the sweet caramelised pear topping. If you can’t eat cow’s milk, you can substitute the Cashel Blue with Crozier Blue from the same maker – it’s made from sheep’s milk.

The hoisin chicken parcels are a variation on an old favourite – stuffed Baby Gem lettuce. The lettuce is robust enough to hold its shape when filled and these are delicious with the filling served either warm or cold. These tasty parcels, flavoured with hoisin, chilli and soy, are a bit like Christmas itself: wonderful to savour, but you’re even more pleased when it’s gone.

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