In the mood for party food

HAVING a party at home can be daunting but with good organisation a family Holy Communion lunch or a celebration for family and friends can be enjoyable for everyone, even the hosts.

GET AHEAD: Take out all the plates, bowls and cutlery to make sure you have enough and that they are clean.

Buy napkins, and if you don’t have enough glasses, some paper cups. Make sure you have plenty of rubbish bags for afterwards, but try to recycle food. Leftovers can make great soups and sandwiches.

Heads of lettuce can be bought a few days ahead and kept fresh in the fridge if they are sprinkled with a little water and popped into a plastic bag which is then tied. Don’t dress it until the last minute, but make the dressing a few days ahead.

A joint of ham or bacon can be cooked a few days beforehand. It will make good chunky sandwiches with delicious chutney, or a cold plate with lots of salads and thick bread.

An easy dish which can be made a day ahead is a chicken, goat’s cheese and cherry tomato bake. If you don’t have one in a cookbook, try on the BBC Good Food website: www.goodfood.com.

Meatballs are a good idea and the meat can be made ahead and kept in the fridge, along with a rich tomato sauce which can then be put together on the day in the oven. Serve them with bread, rice or pasta, or mashed potatoes for the less adventurous. There are recipes in many cookbooks and Kevin Dundon’s on the RTE website is a winner. www.rte.ie/food.

TARTS: Roll out bought puff pastry, place on a baking try and cut a line, not fully through the pastry to form a border. Place in the oven for 10 minutes at 200c/400f/gas 6. This will cook the underside of what will become the base for your choice of topping.

A good combination is some thinly sliced onions (3 large to 1 packet puff pastry), slowly cooked in olive oil with some fresh thyme leaves until thick and sticky (15 mins). Spread these on the pastry and add thinly sliced or crumbled cheese. Top with fresh tomatoes sprinkled with a little sugar and salt. Bake for 25 minutes at 180c/250f/gas 4.

STARTER OR BITES: It’s always good to have some hand-around food while children are calming down after an event. The tarts above are excellent cut into fingers or squares and handed around with a paper napkin to catch any juices.

DIPS: There is wild garlic growing in the hedgerows these days and recently I made terrific pesto from a large handful of the leaves, some cubes of hard goat’s cheese (100g) walnuts (50g) and about 100ml of olive and sunflower oil all blended together. Start with the nuts and cheese and add the wild garlic, roughly chopped, a few leaves at a time. Add the olive oil in a stream so you have some control of the texture. Decide if you are going to keep it thick to spread on toast to serve as crostini or as a dip for dipping with wholemeal pitta or rye bread croutons. There is a good recipe for these in a new vegetarian wholefood book called My Goodness. I worked with author Liz Nolan in the production of the book and can guarantee these croutons are very easy to make (Onstream hardback e16.99).

Try handing around whole cherry tomatoes on sticks for dipping into the pesto above or in hummous or any kind of light paté. It’s hard to beat the selection of excellent patés from On the Pig’s Back’s (English Market Cork and Douglas Woollen Mills) in Cork.

The more firm terrines are delicious cut into cubes and served with cocktail sticks or served on small pieces of good quality bread — brown, sourdough or baguette.

If not serving a main course, make crostini substantial with meat and fishy toppings such as smoked salmon or smoked mackerel pate. It’s well worthwhile, for taste and economy, to roast a free-range chicken or turkey or bake or boil a joint of ham, bacon or beef a few days ahead and using it for sandwiches or salads. A few ham hocks go a long way and are excellent value. They are best chopped up or shredded and are delicious mixed with finely chopped parsley.

SWEET TREATS

Christine Girault of the former Sugar café in Cork is making celebration cakes to order at laspoon.ie where you can also buy vouchers for cookery classes which would make a good gift instead of giving children money. Heavenly Cakes in Cork’s English market has great cakes and tarts.

Rhubarb is in season and often the simplest recipes are best. A crumble can be made ahead, but keep the topping and fruit separate until a few hours before serving, so the juice of the rhubarb isn’t absorbed and the topping retains its crunch.

I would make both three days ahead and keep in the fridge. I like Odlum’s recipe at www.odlums.ie as it has a handful of porridge oats to add substance and nutrition. For more zing mix a teaspoon of ground ginger when gently cooking the rhubarb.

Tiny meringues with stewed rhubarb are delicious. Any basic meringue recipe will do. Keep them away from steam and make sure your container is airtight. If they do go soggy, crumple them up and put at the bottom of a glass and pour the fruit on top.


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