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Issue 54 - Tis the season

Scotland Magazine Issue 54
December 2010


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Tis the season

Sue Lawrence digs out the little black dress and gives us recipe ideas for the festive season

The little black dresses are taken off their hangers, the stilettos buffed up. The silly socks and wacky ties are given their annual airing. Candles are bulk bought and positioned all over the house. The cds of festive music are dusted off and slipped on to play. It’s that wonderful time of year when inhibitions are lost, when hedonism is rediscovered. It’s party time.

And, whereas drinks parties throughout the rest of the year invariably precede dinner, a festive drinks party usually precedes yet another drinks party. So, although hosts can get away with a bowl of twiglets with their summery pre-prandial Pimms, the festive party giver has to seriously consider whether or not he wants his under-nourished guests to fall over after their third glass. There is, however, a fine balance between plying your guests with too many delicious titbits – so good they decide to give the next party a miss – and being unseasonably measley with the nibbles, so that you acquire the reputation as a cheapskate.

If you do serve wonderful food, there is the inevitable problem of how to get rid of everyone. Short of passing around cards with the local taxi company’s details, or simply getting out the hoover (or the family holiday snaps), you can always lie and say you have a prior engagement elsewhere, despite the fact it is 11 o’clock at night and even the local pub shuts at 10.30.

No, I’m afraid that serving bountiful supplies of fabulous food and copious amounts of drink will mean no-one will leave before midnight, even although the party started at 6pm. Bear in mind, however, that December is the time for merriment; besides, would you really want all your darling new best friends to call you Scrooge?

This is not the time of year to be too adventurous with the canapés. Simplicity is the key-word, because you too want to be scintillating and flirty, dazzling and amusing. You do not want to be a frazzled wreck, stuck in the kitchen shredding meat from 12 roast ducks, which has still to be enveloped in wonton wrappers and deep-fried. If you can afford staff, go for broke and order the most elaborate canapés imaginable. If, however, you are both host and provider of drinks and canapés, then keep it simple.

My recipes for a survivable drinks party can be made in advance and simply reheated if necessary. Crab cakes are flavoured with a jar of red Thai curry paste: this is not the time to be scouring the shops for kaffir lime leaves and dried shrimps, to make your own. The Danish frikadeller (meatballs) are dipped into rowan jelly, which is made from wild rowan berries that colour the landscape of a Scottish summer; any leftover frikadeller will make a delicious supper, with onion gravy and a mound of mashed potatoes.

The goat’s cheese tartlets are baked in bought shortcrust cases. And don’t feel you have to admit you’ve cheated and not made your own pastry. I’ve seen even Michelin starred chefs use bought pastry cases for canapés. This is the time of year to make everything as easy as possible. Enjoy!

Frikadeller with rowan jelly
Heat the jelly slightly for easy dipping.
250g / 9 oz lean minced beef
250g / 9 oz lean minced pork
Two level tbsp plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ onion, peeled, grated
Generous grating of nutmeg
One large egg
Butter and oil, to fry
Rowan jelly, to serve
Combine everything well, then season generously with salt and
pepper. Shape into about 20 little balls, then chill for one hour.
Heat 25g butter and one tbsp oil in a frying pan and fry the frikadeller,
in two batches, for about 10 minutes, gently turning. Drain on kitchen
paper and serve warm, dipped into the jelly.

Goat’s cheese & red pepper tartlets
You can add some freshly
chopped tarragon or basil to the
mix if you like.
24 bought shortcrust
pastry tartlets
One large red pepper,
quartered, grilled, skinned
and diced
150g / 5 oz soft goat’s cheese
Two large eggs
Place the tartlets on a
baking tray. Place a couple
of grilled pepper dice in the
base of each.
Whizz together the cheese, eggs
and plenty salt and pepper, then
carefully ladle this mixture into
each case.
Bake in a preheated oven
(200C/40F/Gas6) for about 12 to
15 minutes or until golden
brown and set. Serve warm.

It is imperative to drain frozen or
tinned crabmeat thoroughly,
otherwise the crab cakes will be
too wet and will collapse.
450g / 1 lb crabmeat
One heaped tbsp red Thai
curry paste
One tbsp Thai fish sauce
Three spring onion, chopped
75g / 3 oz fresh breadcrumbs
One small egg, beaten
Sunflower oil, to fry
Drain the crabmeat and pat dry
thoroughly on kitchen paper.
Combine everything together in
a bowl and form into about 16
little balls. Place on a kitchen
paper-lined plate and refrigerate
for at least two hours.
Then heat three tbsp oil in a
frying pan until very hot. Lightly
dust the crab cakes with flour
then fry in two batches for three
to four minutes on each side.
Do not move them until three
minutes or they might stick.
Drain on kitchen paper and
serve warm.

Baby potatoes with haggis
To heat the haggis, I
usually open and tip out
the contents into a microwave
dish, cover and heat till
piping hot, stirring a couple
of times.
Bag of small waxy potatoes
Haggis, heated
Turnip (swede), boiled and
mashed with butter and
black pepper
Boil the potatoes till done then
cool. Scoop out the centre to
form a hollow.
Fill with hot haggis and pop
a spoon of mashed turnips
on top. Place on an oven
tray, drizzle with a little oil
and reheat till piping hot
then serve.