Mini Cheese Balls

These are individual bite-sized versions of the classic retro cheese ball and are the perfect finger food for a party or buffet. Skewered with a salted pretzel stick, the whole thing is edible and delicious too.

Bitesized cheeseballs

I used Five Counties cheese for mine, so there is a real mixture of cheese going on, but any sharp tasting cheese combination works well if it has good flavour.

5 counties cheese

This is a really quick recipe to knock up and just the thing to serve with drinks. The cheese balls are coated in pistachios and dried cranberries for a festive touch, so they would be perfect for a Christmas party.

If you do use use pretzel sticks, just make sure you spear the cheese balls just before serving as the ends will get soft if you leave them. Alternatively, a pretty toothpick or cocktail fork would work well here, or you could just serve the sticks separately for people to spear their own.

Bitesized cheeseball

Ingredients:
1 x 280g pack of cream cheese – at room temperature (but not essential if in a hurry)
280g of grated cheese – I used Five Counties – a cheese made up of layers of Cheddar, Derby, Double Gloucester, Cheshire and Red Leicester
1 roasted red pepper – I used some ready roasted from a jar for quickness
0.5tsp salt
0.5tsp black pepper
100g shelled pistachios
50g dried cranberries (craisins)
Extra black pepper for the coating
Salted pretzel sticks for serving

Method:
Very simply, mix together the cream cheese, grated cheese, chopped roasted red peppers and seasoning. I did this by hand with a fork, but if you are making a large batch, a mixer would make things much quicker. It is easier if the cream cheese is room temperature, but I have made this with fridge cold cream cheese and it worked just fine.

Chill for 30 minutes so that the mixture firms up and then roll into bite-sized balls.

Bitesized cheeseball1

Finely chop the pistachios and cranberries and spread over a board or large plate. Sprinkle over freshly ground black pepper and roll each ball in the mixture until coated.

Bitesized cheeseball2

Refrigerate the cheese balls until you want to serve and skewer each one with a pretzel stick just before serving.

Just the thing for a last minute Christmas drinks party.

You can make mini versions of my goats cheese ball and my smoky and spicy cheese ball too, check them out.

Wild Mushroom Vol-au-vents

I always look out for wild mushrooms at this time of year, as they are so good and abundantly available.  I wouldn’t ever go foraging on my own, despite owning several mushroom books, as I don’t have enough knowledge, but I’d definitely be up for an organised foray with an expert.

Wild mushrooms1

I picked up some really nice wild mushrooms early this morning at the market. My selection included oyster, shiitake, maitake and a few field mushrooms, but creamed mushrooms would be good with any selection of fresh, earthy wild mushrooms.

Mushroom vol au vents1

I think its best to eat mushrooms as soon as possible, they go slimy and pretty nasty if you keep them for too long.  I don’t like to leave them wrapped in plastic either, a paper bag or basket is best.

I made creamed mushrooms with my batch and mushrooms on toast is the perfect quick supper for this time of year.

Wild mushrooms

With the rest of the mushrooms, I decided to make retro mushroom vol-au-vents.  My prawn and avocado vol-au-vents recipe is actually my most viewed post, so I thought I would have to do the other vol-au-vents that I remember from the family Christmas parties from all those years ago.

Mushroom vol au vents1

The mushroom vol-au-vents were one of the first things to go from the buffet table (unlike my poor Grandma’s prawn ones).  They were always made from those creamed button mushrooms from a can and placed into frozen pastry cases.  I was never a fan, but I thought it was time to bring back the retro mushroom vol-au-vent and use fresh, wild mushrooms, thyme and home made cases (I did buy the ready-made puff pastry though!)  The result was a really nice, seasonal treat that makes the most of the wild mushrooms that are around right now, but would also be great on a Christmas buffet table as a tasty nostalgic reminder.

Mushroom vol au vents

Ingredients:
A selection of wild mushrooms – I used two punnets
Knob of butter and a little splash of olive oil
1 onion or a couple of shallots, finely chopped
Small bunch of thyme, leaves picked
1tsp Dijon mustard
2-3tbs cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 sheets of puff pastry, or you could use frozen cases
1 egg, beaten

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/375°F
Cut out the bases for the vol-au-vents and place on a lined baking sheet or parchment.  I got 12 bases from one sheet.  Then cut out another 12 from the second sheet of pastry and cut holes out of the second set with a smaller cutter.

Brush the bases with beaten egg and place the rings onto the bases.  If the pastry warms up and becomes difficult to handle, place it in the freezer for 5 minutes to firm it up.

Mushroom vol au vents3

Brush the tops with the egg and bake for 12-15 minutes or until they are golden, crisp and all puffed up.  You can also brush the ‘holes’ with egg and bake those alongside the pastry cases.  Leave on a cooling rack while you make the filling.

Tear up the mushrooms or roughly chop and strip the thyme leaves from the stems if they are woody and give them a chop too.

Heat the butter and oil until foamy and add in the finely chopped onion with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  When they are translucent, add in 1-2tsp of thyme leaves and then the mushrooms.  Cook them until they are nice and golden and then stir through a little cream and check the seasoning.

Mushroom vol au vents2

At this point, you can serve the creamed mushrooms on some toasted, buttered sourdough, or fill the vol-au-vents.  I had enough for both!

Mushrooms on toast

For the vol-au-vents, I simply press down the centre that rises up as they bake (I don’t bother docking the raw pastry with a fork) and fill with the creamed mushrooms, sprinkle over a little more thyme leaves.

Serve as a canapé with or without the lids depending on how retro you want to be!

Mushroom vol au vents4

These are really good in a larger pastry case too, served with a green salad as a first course or a light lunch.

Spicy Halloumi Fries

This is a really quick recipe for Cajun spiced halloumi fries.  Crunchy on the outside, but soft and slightly melting on the inside, they are rather moreish and should probably come with a warning.

Halloumi Fries

I don’t have a deep fat fryer, these are shallow fried in batches and then finished off in the oven so they are all ready at the same time.

Halloumi Fries3

I bought some halloumi with chilli in as we like things hot and I served the fries with a spicy salsa too, but plain halloumi, served with yoghurt is a milder alternative.

Ingredients:
2 packs of halloumi cheese – I used halloumi with chilli
3tbs plain/all-purpose flour
1-2tbs Cajun seasoning
2-3tbs sunflower oil for frying
Handful of coriander
1-2 chillies, thinly sliced
Salsa for serving

Halloumi Fries2

Method:
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/430°F and line a baking sheet with foil.

Mix the flour and Cajun seasoning together in a dish.

Slice the halloumi lengthways then again down the middle to cut them into fries and turn in the seasoned flour. Tap off any excess coating back into the dish.

Heat the oil and fry the cheese for 2-3 minutes, turning until each side is crisp and golden.  Place on the lined baking sheet and continue until all the fries are ready.

Bake for 5-7 minutes in the hot oven while you chop the coriander and slice the chillies.  They are ready when they are sizzling, piping hot and crisp.  Place onto paper towels to absorb any excess oil before sprinkling over the chopped herbs and chilli.

Halloumi Fries1

Serve immediately with spicy salsa for dipping and enjoy with drinks