Christmas tipples and nibbles

In the pink: beetroot and mackerel with pumpkin-seed crispbreads. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer By Nigel...

In the pink: beetroot and mackerel with pumpkin-seed crispbreads. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

By Nigel Slater. The Guardian

Drinking is different at Christmas. A little more plentiful, yes, but also a tad sweeter. In our house, bottles come out at this time of year that would normally never see the light of day.

For every drink I pour, there has to be something to eat. It is a rule, a way of life. Thin slices of jamón ibérico with a tiny glass of sherry, some curls of gravlax with frivolous bubbles, and maybe something along the lines of a punch with plump, parmesan-crusted muffins.

There will be warming drinks. Mulled wine is a much misunderstood drink, being used primarily to get everyone pissed, when it deserves a little more reverence and thought. It needs more than a couple of star anise and a cinnamon stick. Such drinks allow – some might say beg for – slightly more delicious accompaniments than they get. A fat slice of gravlax on a square of dark rye perhaps, cured with beetroot juice and juniper berries, or perhaps a tiny pastry parcel of mashed pumpkin.

I baked a new batch of crispbreads this week, the texture of pebbledash, knobbly with pumpkin seeds and oats, and used them as a base for a coarse paté of grated beetroot and smoked mackerel. We ate them with glasses of prosecco turned rose pink by the addition of pomegranate juice. There were chubby little muffins, too, studded with pine kernels and rosemary and passed round with glasses of hot cider. A practice run for Boxing Day morning.

All that remains now is for me to raise a glass and say thank you for another year and to wish you all a very happy Christmas.
Beetroot and mackerel with pumpkin-seed crispbreads

We served this with prosecco and pomegranate juice. For 12 glasses, you need a couple of bottles of prosecco, chilled for several hours, and 250ml of pomegranate juice which is about three medium-sized juicy pomegranates. Cut the fruit in half and use a lemon reamer to extract the juice. It’s a messy job, best done over a bowl wearing an apron. Divide the juice between the glasses, then top up with prosecco and serve immediately, before the fizz dies. The crackers, on the other hand, will keep for several days in an airtight tin.

Enough for 12 people with drinks
For the crispbreads:
plain flour 75g
rolled oats 20g
sea salt 5g
sesame seeds 60g
pumpkin seeds 60g
sunflower seeds 50g
groundnut or vegetable oi
l 50ml

For the beetroot and mackerel:
smoked mackerel fillets 350g
dill 20g
crème fraîche 3 heaped tbsp
raw beetroot 80g

Set the oven at 150C/gas mark 2. Line a baking sheet, measuring approximately 40cm x 28cm, with baking parchment. Put the plain flour in a mixing bowl, then add the rolled oats, 5g of sea salt, the sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, then stir in the groundnut oil and 150ml of boiling water. Bring the ingredients together with your hands to form a ball of seed-freckled dough, then transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet.

Press the dough with a floured hand to fill the baking sheet. The dough should be very thin. Bake for an hour until crisp, then remove from the oven. Transfer, still on its parchment, to a cooling rack. When cold, break into crackers and store in an airtight tin till needed.

To make the mackerel and beetroot paste, discard the skin from the mackerel, then crush the flesh with a fork, checking for any stray bones.

Remove the dill fronds from their stalks. Chop the fronds and add to the mackerel together with the crème fraîche. Coarsely grate the beetroot and fold gently and briefly into the mackerel. (If you over-mix, you will end up with a bright pink paste.) Cover and refrigerate until needed.

To serve, place mounds of the mackerel and beetroot mixture on to pieces of cracker. You will need approximately 2 tbsp per person.

Speck and parmesan muffins

Bite sized: speck and parmesan muffins. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer

If you don’t mind a bit of last-minute cooking, may I suggest you serve these warm? Light, cheesy, rosemary-scented little cakes, they are infinitely more delicious when served from the oven, like their sweet cousin, the madeleine. You could bake them an hour before you plan to eat, keeping them warm in the switched-off oven or, should the oven be busy, wrapped loosely in tin foil still in their baking tin. Ideally, though, they are meant as breakfast muffins, something to serve on Boxing Day morning.

Makes 12
plain flour 275g
caster sugar 1 tbsp
baking powder 2 tsp
apple 1, medium-sized
eggs 3
yogurt 175ml
speck 200g
parmesan 75g, finely grated

To finish:
parmesan 1 tbsp, finely grated
rosemary leaves 1 tbsp, chopped
pine nuts 2 tbsp

Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6.

Line 12 bun tins with paper muffin cases. Put the flour in a mixing bowl and combine thoroughly with the caster sugar, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Grate the apple without peeling it. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs then stir in the yogurt. Tear the speck into small, stamp-sized pieces and add to the batter, followed by the grated apple. Fold in the grated cheese, then lightly mix with the dry ingredients.

Divide the batter between the muffin cases, add the pine nuts, rosemary and parmesan, then bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until risen and pale gold.
Cider with sloe gin

Enough for 6
cider 2 litres
cinnamon sticks 2
star anise 4
cloves 6
sloe gin 400ml

Pour the cider into a large, non-reactive pan, add the cinnamon, star anise and cloves and set over a moderate heat. Just as the liquid is hot, but before it actually comes to the boil, add sloe gin to taste then remove from the heat and serve.

• The recipe for beetroot and mackerel with pumpkin seed crispbreads was amended on 24 Dec to include 150ml of boiling water required for the crispbreads.


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Christmas tipples and nibbles
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