Devils on horseback with mulled wine

What you might think of as a canapé restricted to the seventies and something your mum used to make for cocktail parties, is in fact a match made in heaven for mulled wine. Sticky, sweet and salty, bacon wrapped prunes, nibbled in between sips of warm, syrupy, spiced red wine, is actually darn good. And as Christmas in July is fast approaching, devils on horseback might just be the perfect little morsels for your gathering, to accompany aforementioned hot wine or tipple of your choosing. So delicious in fact, you’ll wonder why you’ve never made them before.

The great thing that I have discovered about devils on horseback is that, aside from the traditional recipe, there are great many ways to personalise this hors d’oeuvre. Instead of prunes, the classic fruit of choice, dates or apricots can be used. The selected fruit can be steeped in a bath of tea, black, Earl Grey or otherwise or alcohol, like sherry, brandy or whisky, even alcohol spiked tea, before being stuffed with a variety fillings. Whole almonds for a little bit of crunch, mango chutney to give a gooey centre, or cheese for a salty punch. Prosciutto or pancetta will work just as well as bacon to wrap up the final fruity parcel.

Cold Christmases have been the norm for the better half of my life to date and I still can’t quite get used to celebrating Christmas in the sunshine here in Australia. I site this as the reason I get so excited about Christmas in July. A dinner party, mid way through the year, when the weather is cold and overeating in the company of friends is a very acceptable pastime. Roast root vegetables, caramelised and crisp, big joints of meat, theatrically carved at the table, ripe, oozy  white rind cheese, golden pastry, dried fruit, toasted nuts and warming mulled wine. Preceded by multiple nibbles.

This year I have an inkling that I’m going to prepare a smorgasbord of glistening devils on horseback to serve with drinks before the pseudo Christmas dinner. Like a box of chocolates without a little card to tell you what you’ve chosen, it will keep people guessing what selection they’ve made. Or I might just make some tonight to go with a glass of red. A late night, après supper treat, sweet and savoury, to snack on in front of the fire.

Devils on horseback

A somewhat classic recipe with the addition of one of my favourite blue vein cheese, Cambozola.

  • prunes, stones removed
  • streaky bacon
  • Cambozola cheese
  • toothpicks

Arrange the bacon side by side in a line. Take a small amount of Cambozola and stuff it into the cavity of a prune. Now lay the cheese filled prune at one end of a strip of bacon. Roll the bacon neatly around the sticky black fruit and secure with a toothpick. (I used half a rasher of bacon for each prune.) Repeat as many times as needed and there you have it. Devils on horseback.

Cook under a hot grill for 5 minutes each side and serve with mulled wine.

Mulled wine

The following is for 1 bottle of wine. Simply double or triple the quantites depending of how much you are making.

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • strips of zest from a lemon and mandarin-use a peeler
  • 6 cloves
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 1 small piece star anise
  • 4 cardamon pods

Very simply, put all the ingredients in a pot and heat very gently for at least 20 minutes. Do not boil the wine. Now, turn off the heat and leave the wine to infuse for an hour or so. Once again, gently reheat and serve in glasses. With devils on horseback.

Enjoy cheese and red wine? then you might like gougers, cheesy bite size balls of choux pastry

Gougeres-bite size balls of cheesy choux pastry

Always a sucker for a new food store, and a French one at that, I popped in to Le Petit Marche in Newport when I had a spare five minutes last week. Beautiful wooden shelves were filled with jars and canisters of imported French deliciousness. Of course the visit resulted in a purchase. I was able to talk myself out of any food, although the salted caramel spread that I was given a taste of did make me slightly weak at the knees and the ‘with the fairies’ strawberry and vanilla tea (who wouldn’t fall in love with a tea with that name) nearly had me reaching for my purse. But no. What I bought was a book. The Paris pastry club. I just can’t help myself when it comes to books, and if a cookbook can give you just one good recipe that you use again and agin, then it’s a winner in my eyes. This book’s a winner and the gougeres that I made from it on Sunday have firmly been wedged in to my repertoire.




But what are gougeres? They are moorish and delicious and far too easy to consume with very little effort. More technically, they are bite size balls of cheesy choux pastry, light and airy with a bit of crunch and a salty cheese hit. Even though the thought of making choux pastry intimidated me slightly, Fanny Zanotti’s  description of these savoury snacks won me over and I made a commitment to try the recipe out. With a side of red, as she suggested. The perfect opportunity arose when Ma and Pa came over on Sunday afternoon. Thea loooves Ma. I think it’s because she is such a calming presence and gives Thea her complete undivided attention. Ma doesn’t try to multi task like me, she’s simply in tune with Thea, and Thea knows it and relishes in it. Plus Ma always knows how to make her cackle. The biggest, heart melting, overwhelmed with love, tear in the eye type cackles you have ever heard. So when Ma and Pa took Thea out for a walk to the park, I set about making gougeres.

Having been concerned by the thought of choux pastry, my worries were unfounded. I mean, I know I have room for improvement in the technique department, but within half an hour of following some simple step I had several dozen bites of cheesy pastry in the oven. Plus taste wise, I was happy. Very happy. My main concern was that I wouldn’t be able to restrain myself from eating all the gougeres until Ma and Pa and Thea returned. For this attempt I made the gougeres with Parmesan through the choux mix and Cheddar grated over the top. Next time I think I’ll try with a gorgeous artisan French cheese from Le Petit Marche with a few poppy seeds sprinkled on top. And perhaps I’ll double the recipe. And choose my favourite wine glass. And a beautiful bottle of red. And my favourite movie… Now Im just dreaming. But sometimes that’s what one little recipe can do.







Gougeres

Adapted from a recipe by Fanny Zanotti

  • 125g whole milk
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 75g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 60g grated hard cheese, like Cheddar, Parmesan of Gruyere
  • 1 egg, beaten for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 250c.

Add the milk, butter and spices to a pot and set over a low heat until the butter melts, then increase the heat until the milk comes to a rolling boil.

Add the flour in one go and stir until completely combined. Keep stirring the mixture over heat until a crust forms on the bottom of the pan, which indicates that the mix is now dry enough for the next step.

Remove pot from the heat and transfer contents to a bowl. Add the eggs, beating well after each addition so that they are well incorporated. While the mix is still warm, fold in half of the grated cheese (30g) and then transfer the mix to a piping bag.

Pipe 3cm wide mounds of cheesy choux pastry onto a paper lined baking tray and then brush each mound with egg wash and sprinkle the remaining cheese.

Pop the tray in the oven and turn it OFF. Bake for 15 minutes and then turn the oven back on and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the gougeres are golden.

Remove from the oven and enjoy.

NOTE. These get better and better as they cool down, so the more restraint you show will work in your favour. Promise.

Enjoy this recipe? You may also like chicken and cheese empanadas

Meringue canapés you’ll want to make.

What better way to start an elegant, girly dinner, than with a miniature dessert and a pomegranate Bellini. A dainty, pink, raspberry, pistachio and rosewater meringue kiss to nibble on in one hand and a ruby red, sparkling, pomegranate aperitif to sip in the other. A slightly exotic combination with rosewater and pomegranate, that’s also slightly different to serving savoury morsels to entice people to dinner.

The recipe (see below) for the kisses is from the fabulous Meringue Girls cookbook, a neon covered, hedonistic collection of THE prettiest, girlies desserts. You will want to make every single one. But then that’s me saying that and I’m slightly dotty about meringue. It’s gorgeously sweet, but not heavy or sickly, crisp and chewy and extremely pretty and playful, the perfect partner to fresh fruit, cream and a little glass of sticky. Plus there are endless combinations to try, like adding nuts, cocoa or lime zest to a basic meringue mixture, adorning with cream, yoghurt or sorbet, even drizzling with chocolate or caramel.

After nibbling through the kisses, and finishing the Bellinis, a very simple mix of prosecco, a splash of pomegranate juice and the glamorous addition of a few pomegranate arils, seated around the table everyone chatted freely and easily. Babes were in bed at home with their dads and there was a sense of relaxation, to be away from home, communally enjoying an evening meal with friends. Eager to make the night special, I had prepared a fennel, orange and Moreton Bay bug salad and a chicken and pistachio terrine with pickled figs to start. Ingredients with a touch of luxury in dishes that could still be enjoyed informally, passing platters around the table, picking out favourite bits and taking second and thirds. Bread was dotted here and there and in-between the enjoyment of wine, slices were spread with terrine or dotted with salad leaves and pieces of seafood, as the remains of the entree was finished.

So that I could stay and enjoy conversation around the table and not spend too much time in the kitchen, when it came to the main course, I had prepared a fillet of beef rolled in herbs and wrapped in prosciutto. A Jamie Oliver recipe from his second book. I cooked it before anyone arrived and had left it to rest wrapped in abundant layers of foil and tea towels on the kitchen bench. I love using this method when cooking meat. Not only does it take the stress out of catering, but it ensures that the meat is well rested and juicy. Contrary to what most people believe, it stays hot too. I simply had to slice it and arrange it on a platter, along with some greens and roast potatoes. I was back at the table in no time, choosing the crispiest spuds!

After having our fill of of meat, fish and vegetables, it was time for dessert, also a replica of a Meringue Girls creation. To the table I gingerly brought a metre long plank of chocolate meringue. It was smothered with mascarpone, dotted with quartered, cinnamon poached pears and toasted walnuts before being anointed with caramel and chocolate. A spectacular centrepiece, that between the 10 of us, was gone in five minutes. Everyone agreed that it was the standout dish of the night, some having seconds and thirds. I was truly honoured. And it wrapped up the evening nicely. Meringue to start and finish a gorgeous evening with friends.

Meringue canapes

Adapted from the Meringue Girls cookbook

Serves 8

300g caster suger
5 egg whites (150g)
50g finely ground pistachios
1 tsp rosewater
300ml Cup whipping cream
Fresh raspberries

Preferably in a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Now add the sugar a little at a time over a 10 minute period. Stop the mixer and add the pistachios and rosewater. Start the mixer again, and let the whisk turn no more than 10 times. You want the ingredients combined, but don’t want to knock any of the air from your meringue.

Working quickly, transfer the mixture into a piping bag, and pipe little mounds on to a baking tray lined with baking paper. The more you pipe, the better and more consistent your mounds will be. The trick is to squeeze the bag firmly and keep the tip of it in the mixture then lift up quickly.

Bake the mini meringues at 95 degrees C for 30-40 minutes until they lift easily from the paper. When they are done, turn the oven off, open the door and leave the meringues to cool on the tray. Stored in an airtight container, the meringues will keep for two weeks.

Dollop each meringue with a generous tablespoon of whipped cream and top with a fresh raspberry.

Stored in an airtight container, the meringues will keep for two weeks.

Enjoy this? You might also like my brown sugar meringue roulade