Chestnuts exploding on an open fire.

The last few days in the run up to Christmas can only be described as chaotic. A last minute change of plans (well my sister managed to get Take That tickets!) meant I was rushing up to Manchester, then back on the Sunday morning leaving 5 hours to sort the house out, cook for the Christmas party later on and construct a Hexenhaus (Gingerbread house).

This years pre-Christmas nibbles we’re a bit of an eclectic mix of foods, it was all very much dependant on what I could get my hands on. The evening went down well and everyone commented on the food. Mother-in-Law was convinced I had brought the mini toad in the hole from M&S as she was so impressed! The evening was rounded off with chestnuts and brandy. I’m not a fan of chestnuts, but Hubby likes nothing more than roasting chestnuts over our open fire. We’ve also recently discovered an old ikea sieve works as the perfect roasting tin, just watch out for the exploding chestnuts! Hubby could have stopped this happening, by piercing the skin of the chestnuts. We also tried a trick we saw on Jamie at Home – Christmas episode by dropping hot, shelled chestnuts into brandy. According to hubby and father-in-law they tasted delicious.

I have a slight confession over the Hexenhaus. The kit was from Lidl – think IKEA self-assembly house. Hubby was Chief Structural Engineer where I was Chief Icing Bag Lady and Decorator. It was a bit fiddly to begin with and it has been years since I’ve had an icing bag in my hands, but it was good fun. I just haven’t a clue how we’re going to eat it!

The nibbles menu included:
Cherrapeno’s Tomato & Parmesan Whirls
Tinned Tomatoes Red Pepper Hummus
Bacon & Mushroom Quiche (request from Father-in-Law!)
Roast New Potatoes with honey & mustard dressing
DIY Bruschetta
Mini Toad in the Hole with soured cream, garlic & black pepper dip
crudette and dips
plus a few other things.

DIY Bruschetta
Serves 4

Disclaimer: this is by no means authentic bruschetta. It’s my express/lazy way of making it as guests put the toppings on themselves.

1 long ciabatta loaf
2 salad tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp garlic infused olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
ramekin of Parmesan
ramekin of decent olive oil mixed with 1 tbsp mixed herbs or Italian seasoning.

1) Slice the loaf at a slight angle so you get longer lengths of bread. Mix tomatoes, garlic oil, balsamic and a tsp of mixed herbs in a bowl. Serve alongside Parmesan and oil/herb mix.

2) I make my bruschetta by first drizzling some of the herby olive oil on the bread, adding a spoonful of tomato salsa on top, then sprinkling with Parmesan.

Mini Toad in the Hole
Makes 12

12 chipolatas
50g plain flour
1 egg
140ml milk
rapeseed or sunflower oil

1) In a bowl add the egg to the flour, then gradually pour in the milk. Whisk to stop lumps forming. Season with a bit of black pepper and refrigerate batter for about an hour.

2) Preheat oven to 200oc. In a cupcake tray pour in a small amount of oil (enough oil to just over the bottom of each “cupcake”). Put tray in oven for 5 min to heat up oil.

3) Carefully drop a chipolata into each baking tray cup. Pour in batter until each cup is about 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 until sausage is cooked and Yorkshire pud is golden.

As I made our toad in the holes with beef sausages I made a garlic & black pepper dip, but they are just as good with ketchup.

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