Nibble your way into the New Year

  Savoury muffins inspired by a Parisian treat is one of Roz Crowley's delicious New Year's Eve bites. Pictures: Des Barry

LET’S party! New Year’s Eve is one of those nights when reliability goes out the door.

People come and go, fitting visits to lots of friends and family into their night of fun. Food needs to be flexible to avoid frustration, so choose carefully.

A simple pie made from bought flaky pastry over a creamy chicken, lamb, beef or vegetable sauce is easy to prepare. Or try stir-fried rice with cans of chickpeas or lentils, and crispy fried onions or crisp rashers on top. But sometimes all we want is plenty of tasty and filling bites, with no plates to wash up later. Here are some ideas, and my popular recipe for savoury cupcakes. There are more ideas on my blog, rozcrowley.com. Happy New Year!

New Year Nibbles

* A decent cheeseboard can be simple but luxurious. There are delicious new crackers from Sheridans, and garlic and parsley bread sticks from Fáinne Óir which are good enough to eat alone. For me, chunky, sourdough bread is the best accompaniment to good cheese. Buy large hunks or full rounds of Irish farmhouse cheeses instead of little pieces of a wider variety. Ask in speciality shops what is at its best now. Many cheeses are seasonal. A round of Vacherin du Mont d’Or warmed gently in the oven and dipped into with strips of bread is superb now.

* Make easy dips using Greek yoghurt or two thirds cream cheese and one third cream as a base. Put into a blender or mash with a fork, adding any of the following: shredded spiced beef, smoked mackerel, a little cooked spinach and chilli, a decent blob of relish, a little curry sauce. Also delicious is a grated clove of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a half teaspoon salt to 500ml liquid.

* Make a pancake batter with added sweetcorn, grated onion, a pinch of turmeric and cumin. Fry on a very hot pan in rounds of about 10cm diameter so they can be hand-held. Chicken liver paté is delicious spread on them.

* Butternut squash is excellent for vegetarian treats. From his Jerusalem cookbook, I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s idea of adding cinnamon to it.

Cut the peeled butternut squash into 2cm wedges and two red onions into six wedges each. Rub with a teaspoon of cinnamon, salt and black pepper and a large tablespoon of olive oil.

Roast for 30 minutes at 220°C, gas 9 until softened. Serve on a plate with lots of forks or spoons to hand. They are too heavy for cocktail sticks.

ROZ’S SAVOURY MUFFINS

One of my favourite places to go in Paris is Chez Hélène on Rue Duhesme, near Montmartre, where I was first introduced to muffins like these.

Helene’s flavour combinations are delicious, and while I haven’t yet asked her for the recipe, this is what I worked out for myself.

Cubes of beetroot, roasted butternut squash, salami, chorizo, even roast beef, and any type of cheese are delicious. I have tried varying the sizes from muffin to cupcake and mini bites and the same mixture works well. The oven temperature doesn’t have to change, but watch the timing, allowing just 10 minutes for the mini ones.

Makes 12 muffins, 20 cupcakes, or 30-40 mini bites

2 large eggs 220ml plain yoghurt 50ml milk 250g plain flour 3 tsp baking powder ½ tsp salt

Flavouring

100g smoked, rindless, streaky rashers 1 tsp sunflower oil 1 small onion, finely diced 1 small carrot, diced 50g butter 50g feta cheese 6-8 olives

Preheat oven to 200°C (fan oven 180°C) 400°F, gas 6.

1. Beat the yoghurt and milk together and leave aside while preparing the flavouring. The yoghurt can be replaced with buttermilk, or regular milk with a squeeze of lemon left aside for 15 minutes.

2. Cut the rashers into 1cm strips. Fry in the oil until crisp. Turn the heat down, add the onion and carrot and fry until barely softened.

3. Turn off the heat, add the butter and allow it to melt. Spread the rasher, butter, oil and bacon fat on a plate to cool.

4. Add the eggs to the yoghurt and milk mixture and beat until well blended. Add the cooled rasher pieces with all the fats. A chopped strip of roasted red pepper is also good to add here.

5. Remove the stones from the olives and tear roughly. Add to the bacon and egg mixture. Crumble in the feta or any other cheese (blue is good).

6. Mix the flour, salt and baking powder.

7. Add in the egg mixture, stirring gently and mixing until it is just about blended. Overworking makes the mixture tough.

8. Carefully drop spoonfuls into the centre of each paper case/muffin mould to come up to two thirds, avoiding the sides so they keep their shape.

9. Bake for 20 minutes (25 minutes for muffins) until well-risen and firm to the touch.

10. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack or by turning on their sides.

To decorate, thread an olive on a cocktail stick and stick on top.

Sweet treats

Hot chocolate is often just right after midnight. Top it with grated chocolate and/or a sprinkle of cinnamon and serve with biscotti and cantucci Italian biscuits. I also love ginger nut or shortbread biscuits, half dipped in dark chocolate.


Lifestyle

Des O'Driscoll looks ahead at the best things to watch this weekFive TV shows for the week ahead

Frank O’Mahony of O’Mahony’s bookshop O’Connell St., Limerick. Main picture: Emma Jervis/ Press 22We Sell Books: O’Mahony’s Booksellers a long tradition in the books business

It’s a question Irish man Dylan Haskins is doing to best answer in his role with BBC Sounds. He also tells Eoghan O’Sullivan about Second Captains’ upcoming look at disgraced swim coach George GibneyWhat makes a good podcast?

The name ‘Dracula’, it’s sometimes claimed, comes from the Irish ‘droch fhola’, or ‘evil blood’. The cognoscenti, however, say its origin is ‘drac’ — ‘dragon’ in old Romanian.Richard Collins: Vampire bats don’t deserve the bad reputation

More From The Irish Examiner