Over the next few weeks I'll be giving you lots of tips and ideas for Christmas food and drink – and this week's theme is the festive drinks party. Preparing for a Christmas drinks party can seem an intimidating prospect, but with a bit of forward planning and organisation, you can make light work of the whole thing. So to kick things off, here are a few ideas for delicious cocktails and canapés which you can knock up with the minimum fuss and effort.
On the drinks front, I've teamed up with Nick Strangeway, the cocktail maestro at my new restaurant, Hix, to create some combinations that are sure to make your party go with a swing. You can't go wrong with a punch bowl of cocktail at hand, mixed well in advance, so that all you have to do when your guests arrive is pour some ice into their glasses.
Mini venison burgers
Mini hamburgers tend to go down a treat, but I thought I would make these ones with venison to add an extra-special touch. Venison is quite a lean meat, so it's a good idea to ask your butcher to add 20 per cent minced beef fat to your venison.
You can buy small burger buns these days for kids' parties – or you could ask your local baker to make you some.
350-400g coarsely minced venison, including 20 per cent beef fat
10 mini burger buns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
10tsp redcurrant jelly
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
Mould the coarsely minced venison into patties which are slightly larger than the buns; you can do this by hand or alternatively by pressing the meat into a pastry cutter.
Lightly oil a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan, season the burgers and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, keeping them medium rare.
Halve the buns and sandwich together with the burgers with a little redcurrant jelly on each.
'Hix Fix' shots
Makes about 10
This is a jellified version of our house cocktail which is inspired by the delicious brandy of Julian Temperley (ciderbrandy.co.uk), who recently won the Special Judges Award at the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. Cheers, Julian!
20 Julian Temperley morello cherries in eau de vie (including about 10-15tsp of the eau de vie they are soaked in)
3 sheets of leaf gelatine
100ml very lightly whipped cream
Bring about 100ml of the champagne to the boil, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves in a shallow bowl of cold water for a minute or so until soft. Squeeze out the water, add to the hot champagne and stir until dissolved; then stir into the rest of the cold champagne. Add the liquid from the cherries, then pour into shot glasses with one cherry in each. Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours or so until the jelly is set. To serve, spoon a little of the whipped cream on top of each jelly and place another jelly on top.
Honey-roast salmon on toast
This is a version of a roast salmon dish I found in a Russian cookbook.
200g salmon fillet, boned and skinned
1tbsp clear honey
tbsp Dijon mustard
1tbsp chopped fennel tops or dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
10 slices from a small baguette
A few small salad leaves or herbs
Season the salmon, spread with mustard and press the dill on to the fillet. Heat a grill to the maximum temperature, place the salmon on a tray and pour over the honey. Cook for 4-5 minutes under the grill, keeping it pink. Toast the baguette, break the salmon into chunks and put on the bread. Scatter the leaves over; serve.
The original sin
Serves 8-10 (depending!)
250ml Somerset cider brandy
The juice of 1 large lemon (approx 50ml)
400ml pomegranate juice
600ml dry cider
Pomegranate seeds, to garnish
4-6 kumquats, halved
For the lemon sherbet
The grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g caster sugar
For the spiced syrup
1 stick of cinnamon, broken into pieces
4 green cardamom pods
1 star anise
tbsp freshly grated root ginger
500g caster sugar
First, make the spiced syrup. Place the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom and star anise in a dry pan and heat gently for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often, then add the water and root ginger and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Simmer very gently for about 8-10 minutes, topping up with a little water if the liquid evaporates; you should be left with about 100ml of liquid. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve and leave to cool until required.
Next, make the lemon sherbet: grind the lemon zest and sugar in a mortar and pestle, then transfer to a pan, add the lemon juice and heat up gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve and leave to cool.
To serve, mix all of the ingredients together and serve in a punch bowl.
Parsnip and hazelnut croquettes
Remember croquette potatoes? I used to love them when I was a kid and my dad used to fish them out of the freezer once a week to go with a steak. They felt like a bit of a treat and then, when I started working in a pub kitchen during school
holidays, I realised potato croquettes were a bog-standard frozen item that was on every pub and restaurant menu in the country. During the late Seventies, croquettes finally became fashionable – though I always wondered: why were they covered in orange breadcrumbs? Made well (and without colouring), they can be delicious, and I think they deserve another revival. Spanish croquetas look similar but are made with a thick béchamel sauce instead of mashed potato, with ham and cheese folded in.
Classic croquettes are made from simple mashed potato, but I thought I would dabble a bit and create a parsnip-flavoured version for the festive celebrations.
Make sure your mashed potato and parsnip are really dry; you can do this by returning them to the heat in a pan, once you have drained them, to evaporate the excess water.
300g floury potatoes, cooked and mashed
300g cooked and mashed parsnips
2 small eggs, beaten
50-60g fresh white breadcrumbs
50g hazelnuts, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Mix the parsnip and potato together and season. Mould the mix into cylinder shapes about 4-5cm long and a little fatter than a wine cork.
Mix the hazelnuts and breadcrumbs together. Have the flour ready in a dish and carefully roll them in it, holding them lightly with your fingers and shaking off any excess. Next, roll them in the beaten egg, and finally roll them in the breadcrumb mixture.
Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep fryer.
Fry the croquettes a few pieces at a time for 3-4 minutes until golden and drain on some kitchen paper.
The King's Jewels
200ml Beefeater gin
20ml King's Ginger Liqueur (from bbr.com)
The rind from 1 clementine, cut into strips
For the pineapple syrup
200ml sweet vermouth
The flesh of a small pineapple, chopped into small pieces
A couple of days in advance, place the pineapple in a non-reactive bowl and pour over the vermouth and cover with clingfilm. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve. To serve, chill 4 martini glasses. Rub the clementine rind around the inside of the glasses and leave the strip of rind in. Stir all of the ingredients over ice and strain into the martini glasses.
Parsnip crisps with sea salt
3 large parsnips, scrubbed clean
Vegetable or corn oil for deep-frying
2 teaspoons sea salt
Top and tail the parsnips, leaving the skin on, unless it's very brown. Using a sharp mandolin, slice the parsnips lengthways as thinly as possible, then dry the strips with a tea towel. If you don't have a mandolin, use a swivel vegetable peeler.
Heat about an 8cm depth of vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer or heavy-based saucepan to 180C. Deep-fry the parsnip slices in the hot fat, a handful at a time, stirring occasionally to ensure that they don't stick together, for about 2-3 minutes until they colour. As soon as they are ready, remove the parsnip crisps with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Immediately season generously with the sea salt, crushing it in your fingers as you sprinkle it on. The parsnips may appear soft as you remove them from the oil, but once drained they will crisp up.