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.

Devilled Eggs with Avocado and Bacon

Devilled eggs are considered rather retro nowadays, but like prawn cocktails, cheeseballs and vol-au-vents, the old recipes are all still really nice and deserve to be dusted off once in a while.

Devilled Eggs

These ones are very simple and have bacon and avocado, but there are many variations to try. The eggs would be perfect for an Easter table, but I think they are good any time of year.

I have a special devilled egg plate that I just bought. I needed to replace my nice egg-shaped one that my husband smashed (allegedly) by accident! He does think I have too many plates though, as if you can have too many plates!

Devilled Eggs1

Ingredients:
6 Eggs – I used extra large
1-2tbs Mayonnaise
1tsp Dijon mustard
1tsp smoked paprika plus extra for garnish
Pinch of salt and pepper
3 slices of smoked streaky bacon, cooked until crisp, cooled and chopped finely
Small bunch of chives, finely chopped
Half an avocado, cut into small chunks
A little lemon juice to stop the avocado from discolouring

Method:
I have tried various ways of ensuring the yolks are centred, including laying the eggs on their sides overnight, but it doesn’t always work. I find the easiest way is to give each egg a little shake before placing it in the water. Just enough to move the yolk inside the egg – not enough to break it!

I use this method to hard boil my eggs:
Place the eggs in water and bring up to the boil. As soon as the water is at a rolling boil, turn off the heat, put a lid on and time for 17 minutes. This is for extra-large eggs, I find any less time and the yolks are still a little waxy in the middle. As soon as the time is up, plunge them into iced water and peel the shells off, taking care not to pull chunks of egg white off.

Devilled Egg1

Cut the eggs in half length-ways and scoop out the yolks into a bowl. Place the egg halves onto a plate.

Add enough mayonnaise and mash with a fork to make a smooth consistency. Then add the mustard, salt, pepper and paprika and mix thoroughly. Some people like to pass the yolks through a sieve, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

You can either use a piping bag with a small star tip to pipe pretty stars, or just place the yolk mixture into a plastic bag, cut off the corner and squeeze little mounds into the waiting egg halves.

Stud each egg with a little chunk of avocado and sprinkle over the chopped bacon and chives and finish with a little more of the smoked paprika. You could also heat things up and use cayenne pepper.

Devilled Egg

These are perfect little snacks for a buffet table, picnic or canapé with drinks.