Wine-bar food at home

Substantial but unfussy food to offer your guests with their drinks


If I said that I really love entertaining friends and family over Christmas and the New Year, then feel free to metaphorically slap me. I really don’t mind cooking Christmas dinner, but after a while, I get fed up, probably with the endless eating more than anything else and as soon as no one is looking, I’m itching to get rid of the tree. Yes, bah humbug to me too. But enough is enough!

If you’re not looking for a proper sit down meal, but still want to spend time over something moreish and savoury, then treats on large platters or boards work a dream. Think of it as the culinary equivalent of importing a wine bar into your home – you’re not obliged to really feed anyone, and no-one expects dinner, but by just providing enough fodder to keep everyone nicely fed while they enjoy a glass of wine, you’re guaranteed to get some good conversation in return.

What to serve can be a dilemma, but platters or wooden boards with a selection of nice things to eat are perfect. An array of ripe, delicious cheeses, maybe with quince paste on the side, is always appreciated. Pâtés are also an old reliable – smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, chicken liver or duck – and having nice crackers and a few condiments on standby always helps. A few slices of smoked salmon or cured meats are always popular. A full main course is not what you’re after, but neither is fiddly, fussy food that demands time and close attention. You want food that everyone can help themselves to.

In an effort to ramp things up a bit in the food stakes, I trawled my library for inspiration. And while the 1970s and 1980s have a lot to answer for food-wise, I have to concede that a few gems did emerge that are still winners today.

So for this week’s recipes, inspired by the inimitable Delia, I settled on a truly lush potted pork, studded with raisins and pistachios which I ate both while it was still warm and then the next day after a night in the fridge. It was fantastically tasty. The other winner was a variation on a 1970s classic – Devils on Horseback (prunes and bacon) – this time using Mejdool dates stuffed with Parmesan, wrapped in a blanket of streaky bacon and baked till sticky and oozing – salty, sweet and delicious.

These got enthusiastic thumbs-up from a group of very fussy women and in between mouthfuls, it was suggested that a hard goat’s cheese that’s really tangy would also work well. But be careful, as they can suddenly burn, which although it didn’t stop them being devoured, means they need a little attention as they cook.

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