JACQUELINE O’Donnell, chef patron of The Sisters Restaurants, takes the stress out of cooking ahead of the festive rush with these seasonal recipes.
What a wonderful time of the year – everyone is getting into the festive spirit, Christmas lights are being switched on, lists of gifts and shopping are being compiled. We’re not quite up to speed on the decorations in my house, but that doesn’t matter, as spirits are high enough with all the Santa chat my kids are getting at school. The tree and tinsel can wait.
I find the whole of December to be magical, although lots of people actually get into a real tizzy about the coming weeks. I suggest that you write down your To Do list, then complete each task as soon as possible in order to make it easier for yourself, come the last week before the big day.
For this week’s recipes, I have picked a seriously snappy and tasty starter, followed by a home-comforting cuddle-in-an-oven dish, closing with a pud that’s so simple you’ll wonder why you’ve never made it before. When it comes to that pud, the one warning I would give is to make sure you have at least six to eight people popping in that day, as you may find that the one slice you promised yourself turns into several...
THAI FISH CAKES
These work as a super tasty starter or nibbles for a party. They can be made in advance and warmed through in the oven. Keep them as small bite-size pieces, as if you make them any bigger they can be in the oil for too long and go soggy.
250g fish fillets
¼ red pepper, chopped
1 red chilli, chopped
1 tbsp coriander
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ stalk lemongrass, tender part only, chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce
50ml coconut milk
1 whole egg
For the sweet chilli dressing
100g white sugar
100ml white wine vinegar
knob of fresh ginger
1 whole red chilli
juice of 1/2 a lime
handful of chopped coriander
1 tbsp soy sauce
• Cut the fish into small pieces. Place the pepper, chillies, coriander, spring onion, garlic, lemongrass and fish sauce into a food processor and blend to a paste.
• Add the fish pieces to the paste and blend well. Keep the consistency smooth by adding the coconut milk and the egg. Place the mixture in a bowl.
• Half-fill a heavy-based frying pan with oil and heat over a medium to high heat.
• Shape the chilled paste into small rounds.
• Carefully lower the fish cakes into the hot oil, in batches (the oil should reach halfway up the sides of the cakes). Fry until crisp and brown, turning once during cooking. Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper. Repeat the process with the remaining fish cakes.
• For the sweet chilli dressing, add the sugar, white wine vinegar, ginger and chilli to a pan, bring to the boil and reduce.
• Strain through a sieve, then add the lime juice, coriander and soy sauce. Drizzle over the fish cakes or serve on the side.
MACARONI CHEESE (MY WAY)
Surely everyone has room in their diary for mac ‘n’ cheese? Please don’t throw a sachet of dry mix in your trolly on your weekly shop. Instead, get a basic white sauce on the go. It makes a world of difference and you will also be amazed at the amount of flavour a great mature cheddar cheese brings to the dish. To keep washing-up to a minimum I don’t cook my pasta first, but add it raw to a slightly runny cheese sauce.
40g plain flour
650ml full fat milk
300g strong Scottish cheddar
1/2 tsp mustard powder
salt and pepper
• Make the roux base in a pot by melting the butter, then add salt, pepper, flour and mustard powder.
• Stir together until it starts to smell like biscuits, do not burn or you’ll need to throw it away and start again.
• Pour in a little milk until it forms a smooth thick paste, then add the rest of milk and stir until the sauce has a smooth, but slightly thick consistency.
• Add 2/3 of the cheese and stir through until melted. Check seasoning.
• Fold in the dry macaroni (there should be an excess of sauce to pasta, as this is needed to help cook the pasta).
• Pour half into a ovenproof dish, sprinkle with a little cheese, then add the rest and scatter the remaining cheese on top.
• Bake at 170c/Gas Mark 5 for 20-25 mins. Enjoy.
In the restaurant, we are coming to the end of our supply of marmalade. We make a year’s worth with Seville oranges in January and use it in puddings throughout the year. You can buy yours in - don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.
8oz/225g very soft butter (you can use margarine, but the cake won’t last as long)
8oz/225g caster sugar
8oz/225g eggs (approx 4 large)
8oz self-raising flour (I use McDougalls Supreme Sponge flour)
2 level tsp baking powder
zest of one orange
• Grease and line two 8”/20cm round tins.
• Pop everything into the mixer and beat until blended.
• Divide the mixture evenly between the tins.
• Bake for 25 mins at 160c/Gas Mark 4, or until springy to the touch. Leave to cool for a minute before removing from the tin.
• Place on a cooling rack. When completely cold, sandwich the sponges together with the filling of your choice (try orange curd, or cream cheese frosting with full fat cheese and marmalade).
• Sprinkle with icing sugar and enjoy with a nice pot of tea.