As you read in our previous post, all about the traditions of ‘Little Christmas’ for the Hanlon household, we promised to share the recipes for some of our original nibbles/finger food/party food ideas. These are inspired by family and adapted by us with a few modern tweaks and festive flavour enhancements.
First up is the caramelised onion tart. This is so simple and is a true example of the wonder that is conjured with the combination of store-bought and home-made. Buy the pastry, let it do most of the work, and just add on a few personal taste touches. This is completely open to interpretation. Sometimes we pair a rich and salty goat’s cheese with the sweetened, reduced onions, and some roasted nuts like walnut or hazelnut would be a fantastic addition on top of that too… Make it your own!
Caramelised Onion Tart
This is so simple we won’t even give a step-by-step recipe.
Slice 5 medium-sized onions, first cutting in half and then slicing into half-moons. Sweat them down in a pan with a tablespoon or two of butter and salt and pepper. Don’t be tempted to stir too much. After about 15 minutes, add in two heaped tablespoons of dark brown sugar and a little balsamic vinegar. You can vary your herbs, we like to roast half of the onions with some fennel seeds and sweat the other half, then combine – but you can do either or both.
For assembly, all you need is some frozen (then thawed) or chilled puff pastry. Roll it out if it’s in a block to your desired rectangle shape. Leave a margin of about 1 inch around the border and prick the inside rectangle all around with a fork.
Spread on the onion mixture. At this point, taste takes over. If you want something like goat’s cheese, take generous chunks and drop across the onion bed. If you want hazelnuts or walnuts, lightly toast or roast them until just about bronzed and oven-kissed, then scatter across the tart. Make this your own.
Bake at 180°C for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry has puffed and has turned a wonderful golden brown. This can be served hot or cold, so can easily be made an hour or a full day ahead. This amount will feed 8 people.
Spiced Pork Belly Slices
Now for the star of nibbles. Though we should really eat less meat, there’s always need for a nice chunk of meat on a stick or spoon to satisfy Christmas carnivores. We love pork belly as it holds together, can be cut into small or large chunks and is bursting with flavour due to the layers of meat and fat working in heavenly harmony. Our version is slightly festively spiced, slightly Eastern inspired. These will feed 8 people.
- 500g slices of pork belly (we got ours in Lidl)
- 1.5 tbsp local honey
- 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tbsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1.5 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 clementines (juice and strips of peel)
- salt and pepper
- Make the marinade by combining all the ingredients above, bar the pork.
- Add the pork and leave to marinade overnight, if possible. If not, marinade for two to three hours.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C and cover the dish with tinfoil. Roast for two hours.
- Take out of the oven and put the pork belly pieces onto a lipped baking sheet. Crank up the heat to 220°C.
- Cut the pork belly into desired chunks, bite-size is best. Pour 1/3 of the juices from the roasting pan onto the cubes of belly. Roast for 10 minutes.
- Take the sheet out and turn the belly slices over. Pour the next 1/3 of the juices over the belly – you will now be left with 1/3 of the original juices after baking. Roast for another 10-15 minutes.
- If not blackened, sweet and crispy enough, pour on the final bit of juice and roast for 10-15 minutes again.
- Serve slightly cooled, but still warm from the oven, simply with cocktail sticks.
Cheeky Chestnut Soup
We call this one a little ‘cheeky’ one, as it’s a cinch to make and it’s also cheeky in that not everyone is going to adore this – but it’s seasonal and so delicious if given a chance. The earthiness can be offset by adding dollops of cream or creme fraiche. We love it, and for the month of December we will be gulping down batches of the stuff with lots of herbs and mushrooms. The recipe below will feed 20 people comfortably.
- 2 packets (400g) of cooked chestnuts (we used Merchant Gourmet ones)
- 2 large shallots
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2.5l vegetable stock (we used Buillon)
- 3-4 sprigs of thyme
- 150ml creme fraiche
- salt and pepper
- Chop up the shallots, not too finely. Then fry in a little butter over a medium-high heat until just softened. Chop the garlic into slivers, tear the tyme leaves off their stalks and fry together with the onions for a further two minutes.
- Open up the cooked chestnut packets and add to the pan, along with good pinches of salt and a few twists of freshly cracked black pepper. Introduce everything by stirring over the heat for a minute or two, before adding the stock.
- Bring to the boil and then reduce to a slight simmer and allow to cook for 20 minutes. Add the creme fraiche and continue to cook for 10 minutes, until the chestnuts are falling apart when squeezed against the side of the pan.
- Blitz with a hand blender or pour into a processor in batches to make silky smooth. Serve warm, drizzled with some creme fraiche and a tiny scattering of fresh thyme leaves.
- For a dinner party, serve in double measure shot glasses or in egg cups (like below).
Last up are the perfect way to finish a merry get-together at home. After bellies have been fed and the last drops of wine drunk, finish with some cheese, tea and coffee. As a sweet treat, like a kiss goodbye, our chocolate, coconut snowflake truffles are just the ticket you need. Crunchy and sweet, these have a refreshing bite from dessicated coconut and are far lighter than ordinary truffles. The cream cheese may seem a strange addition, but it makes these light and also counteracts the (sometimes) sickly sweetness of white chocolate with a slight savoury bite.
White Chocolate and Coconut ‘Snowflake Truffles’
- 200g white chocolate
- 300g low fat light cream cheese (try to use room temperature!)
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 100g cashews (steeped in enough water to cover them)
- 50g desiccated coconut
- 25g sesame seeds
- Steep the cashews in the water for about 10-15 minutes. Then drain completely.
- Melt the white chocolate. Whether you use a bain marie or the microwave, doesn’t really matter. We found it quicker to do it in 20-30 second increments in the microwave on a medium setting. Reserve 1/3 of the chocolate before melting and combine in the melted chocolate bowl at the end to regulate the temperature of the chocolate. Leave to all melt together towards the side. It should take no more than 10 minutes.
- Blitz the cashews in a food processor until they are a chunky rubble. Then add the cream cheese and vanilla and process until silky and smooth. You can chop the nuts on a board and whisk the cream cheese mixture if you don’t have a processor – as we didn’t until the end of this year!
- Measure out the coconut and sesame seeds. Add to the cream cheese and nut mixture.
- Now fold in the slightly cooled, but fully melted, white chocolate into the cream cheese mixture. Leave in a cold room or in the fridge to harden for about an hour or two.
- When cooled, take the bowl out and put on a pair of disposable gloves and spread about 50g of desiccated coconut on a large flat plate.
- Roll just under 1 tbsp amount of the mixture between your palms until it forms into a ball. Then roll well in the coconut. Set to one side, or set onto your future serving dish – we like to put a blanket of ‘snow’, i.e. some more coconut, underneath the truffles on the serving dish.
- Repeat the above step, you should get about 30 nicely-sized balls that can be gobbled up in one or two bites.
Hope you have enjoyed some of our little Christmas canapés and nibbles for Noel. If you’re having a Christmas party or entertaining guests before or during the big day, let us know if any of the above has been of use. These snowflake truffles are best serve chilled, but can also be given as edible gifts to people too – just tell them to keep ’em in the fridge and eat within three days.