The night before Christmas can be a great time to get a few friends around for a gentle knees-up, before or after midnight mass (if you go, that is). I always think that a really good Christmas Eve sort of rolls into Christmas Day, in the sense that the festive spirit is well and truly upon us by then.
There's nothing wrong with getting the Christmas party going a bit early – though I would recommend getting organised in advance so that you have everything more or less prepped and ready for the Christmas lunch!
I've had some truly memorable parties on Christmas Eve in the past – and to me it seems so much more fun than everyone mooching around at home just waiting for something to happen.
What I've decided to create this week, therefore, are four simple, delicious dishes for a light Christmas Eve supper that won't overload your guests too much.
Herb-roasted sirloin with carrot and horseradish salad
You can make this dish with sirloin, rib or even fillet. The sweetness of the carrots with the horseradish goes perfectly with the beef and if you are not able to get hold of fresh horseradish then you can get away with the stuff in a jar – though not the creamed variety.
A piece of sirloin weighing about a kilo
2tbsp chopped thyme
2tbsp chopped rosemary leaves
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the carrot salad
350-400g carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into ½cm x 5cm batons, or thinly sliced
6 large shallots, peeled, halved and chopped
200ml vegetable or chicken stock
100ml cider vinegar
150ml olive or rapeseed oil
2-3tbsp freshly grated horseradish
2tbsp chopped parsley
Put the shallots, stock and vinegar in a large saucepan and simmer until it has reduced by half, add the carrots, cover with a lid and cook for just 2 minutes, turning them with a spoon a couple of times during cooking. Remove from the heat, drain the liquid into another smaller saucepan and reduce by half. Transfer the carrots to a bowl. Whisk the oil into the stock and vinegar mixture and stir into the carrots with the parsley and half of the horseradish; season to taste. Cover and leave to infuse.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the sirloin well, heat a roasting tray on the stove top with a little oil and brown the beef well on all sides, then scatter over the herbs and rub in the garlic and roast for about 30 minutes for rare and an extra 15 for medium-rare; leave to rest for about 15 minutes.
Give the carrots a final toss together and transfer to a serving dish or bowl and scatter the rest of the horseradish over. Cut the beef into as thin or thick slices as you wish and arrange on a serving dish with the carrots or separately.
Prawn, persimmon and cucumber salad
Persimmons, or Sharon fruit or kaki fruits, as they are often called, are one and the same thing, but unfortunately they are often sold rock-hard, which means they are no use to man or beast. A little tip I learnt years ago from the vegetable and fruit specialist, Tony Booth, was to pop them in the freezer overnight and they magically come out as if they have ripened on the bush; there aren't any other fruits that I know of where this ripening process works.
Once ripened, on the bush or at home, they make a delicious addition to a salad or as a part of a fruit plate, or even as a breakfast addition to your muesli.
I recommend that you buy raw prawns in the shell and cook them so that you can get a second meal out of them in the form of a broth.
30-40 good-quality medium to large prawns, cooked and peeled
30-40g very fresh root ginger, scraped and cut into fine matchstick-like shreds
100-120g pea shoots
2 ripe persimmons or kaki fruit (see above)
A handful of coriander, washed
Half a cucumber, halved lengthways and seeds scooped out with a teaspoon
1tsp black sesame seeds
For the dressing
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely diced
1 stick of lemon grass, trimmed and chopped as finely as possible (keep the trimmings)
A small piece of galangal or ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated (keep the trimmings)
1tbsp fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1tbsp rice vinegar
Mix together the ingredients for the dressing and leave to infuse for at least an hour. Cut the cucumber into 4cm lengths, then slice and shred it into matchstick-like pieces.
Halve the persimmon and remove the core and any leaves. Cut it into thin-ish wedges and place in a bowl with the cucumber, prawns, ginger and pea shoots. Mix with the dressing and season. Scatter over the coriander sprigs and black sesame seeds; arrange on a serving dish.
Sprouting broccoli salad with raisins and pine nuts
We have had a great year for sprouting broccoli – it must be due to our erratic weather, which makes it keep flowering.
500g sprouting broccoli, trimmed
30-40g pine nuts, lightly toasted
30-40g raisins, soaked in hot water for a couple of hours
For the dressing
4-5tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the broccoli in boiling, salted water for 4-5 minutes until tender, then drain. Whisk the oil and balsamico together and season. Arrange the broccoli on a serving dish, scatter over the raisins and pine nuts, season and spoon the dressing over.
Boiled bacon and cider sauce
You can use a piece of back or streaky bacon for this – it's up to you – and choose between smoked or unsmoked; I prefer the smoked, personally. You can also add some peeled, small potatoes into the pan along with the bacon.
A piece of streaky or back bacon weighing about a kilo
2 onions, halved
15 black peppercorns
1ltr dry cider
1-1.5ltrs beef or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
About a tablespoon of cornflour
Place the bacon in a large saucepan with the onions, peppercorns, cider, stock and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 1½ hours or until the bacon is tender. Remove about a third of the liquid and transfer to a saucepan. Boil it rapidly until you end up with about 300-400ml.
Dilute the cornflour in a little cold water and stir enough into the reduced stock just to thicken it slightly, then whisk in the butter and season to taste if necessary.
To serve, remove the bacon from the stock, cut into 1cm-thick slices, arrange on a serving dish and spoon over the sauce.