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WanderSups: Why Christmas still calls for canapes

She’s a MasterChef quarter finalist and founder of world-food supper club WanderSups. In her latest column for Velvet, Bury’s Hannah Gregory says no matter if the Christmas party gets cancelled - festive canapes are still called for

“Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat…” You know the rest…

When the email landed in my inbox with a gentle reminder that the festive edition was underway and maybe us columnists wanted to get our Christmas caps on, I balked. How on earth can it be Christmas? We haven’t even had a proper summer!

So as always, I dug my heels in, resisted, rolled my eyes at those who have already begun the countdown and huffed as loudly as possible at the mince pies that have started to creep their way onto supermarket shelves. But maybe 2020 is the year to embrace Christmas and renounce my Scrooge-ish ways.

The lavish parties that included every neighbour on the street, distant cousins and a godson that you’re not even sure is yours may be on hold for now, but let’s relish in the intimacy that has been bestowed upon us. Just because Christmas is now looking more and more likely to just be myself, my partner and a couple of hounds (I am secretly overjoyed at this prospect) does not mean I am going scrimp on all the fun stuff.

In fact, I am sort of looking forward to scaling back. For too many years, I have worked myself into a frenzy making sure the trays of canapes and vats of mulled wine are ready for the first knock on the wreathed door.

This year, I still intend to cook as much food as humanly possible to consume because that’s the way I roll - literally -and there will still be vats of mulled wine brewing but there won’t be time pressures, or stresses over ‘Has everyone got a drink?’

The one thing I am looking forward to the most? In our house, Christmas means Harry Potter. Starting at the beginning of November, every Sunday we work our way through the films (one a week - we’re not mad), a fire is lit, lights are dimmed, overpriced candles on the go and a sausage dog as lap warmer.

And what do we eat? Well, in years gone by the usual suspects have come out - popcorn, chips and dips, olives if we’re feeling fancy. But this year, all those canape recipes that usually come out at the height of entertaining are going to be put to use for just us!

Because, the more I think about it, the more I realise I never get to eat my own food at such events. Everything gets scoffed so darn quickly I am usually left with a rosemary sprig and not much else. So this year we are going to own the canape: each week we shall recline with a plate of our own personal mini morsels with no fear of having to bat Auntie Pam’s sweaty hand away.

I have shared with you three of my favourite canape recipes. You and yours deserve a ‘party’ and a celebration of each other and what better way to do that than with small, perfectly formed food?!

Mushroom-stuffed Mushrooms

Makes 6

Glorious baked mushrooms, filled with mushroom ketchup, topped with delicate panko breadcrumbs and melted Italian cheese.

WanderSups' Hannah shares her favourite canapes - mushroom-filled mushrooms (42497155)
WanderSups' Hannah shares her favourite canapes - mushroom-filled mushrooms (42497155)

What you need:

6 chestnut mushrooms, medium-sized and all the same (go through the box and get the best ones, you are looking for a mushy that will yield about two bites and has a deep hole once the stalk is removed)

Sprig of rosemary

Sprig of thyme

A handful of panko breadcrumbs

A couple of sprigs flat leaf parsley

Small handful of grated pecorino

1 small onion

125g chestnut mushrooms

125g flat mushrooms

10g dried porcini mushrooms

30ml malt vinegar

¼ tsp garlic powder

A grating of nutmeg

1 tbsp Lea & Perrins

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt & Peps

Olive oil

How you do it :

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Prep your six chestnut mushrooms that are going to be the base of your canape: if needed peel them or lightly brush off any dirt - never wash them or you will lose the flavour. Carefully remove the stalk with a small knife and clean the area so you are left with a perfect ‘bowl’.

Pop the shrooms in a freezer bag with a big slug of olive oil, salt and pepper, rosemary and thyme and shake everything about so the mushrooms get well coated. Tip on to a baking tray making sure the cup is facing up and lay the rosemary and thyme over the top. Set aside.

Heat a lug of olive oil in a saucepan, dice the onion and sweat until translucent.

Finely chop the chestnut and flat mushrooms and add to the onion. Throw in a glug more oil and leave to cook until soft.

Pop the dried mushrooms in a mug and cover in 60ml of boiling water. After five minutes the dried mushrooms will be soft. Add these to the mushroom and onion pan making sure to reserve the hot mushroom water.

Add the nutmeg, garlic powder, Lea & Perrins, lemon juice and vinegar to the pan along with the mushroom water. Stir everything well and allow to cook for 30 seconds.

Transfer to a blender and blitz till smooth.

Pop the baking tray of mushrooms into the oven. After 10 minutes remove and carefully drain off any liquid that has collected. Return to the oven to roast for 10 minutes after which time the mushrooms should be cooked through and tender.

Make your panagratto by frying the panko in a tbsp of olive oil.

Whilst the breadcrumbs are browning finely chop the parsley then add to the breadcrumbs with the grated pecorino. Stir and cook till the cheese is melted and golden.

To assemble, if you have a squeezy bottle decant your mushroom ketchup into it and use it to fill the mushroom cavity. If you have not fully embraced your cheffy ways yet, a teaspoon will do fine. Carefully spoon the crispy breadcrumbs on top, et voila. (PS: You will have a lot of mushroom ketchup left but it keeps for a month in the fridge and is delicious with chips and steak!)

Scarmoza Arancini, Basil Mayo & Pancetta Crumb

Makes 6 (plus enough risotto for two hungry people)

This recipe is great because it forces you to make a risotto for dinner the night before which, let’s face it, is great. And then you get to use the leftovers to make these canapes.

WanderSups' Hannah shares her favourite canapes - arancini (42497153)
WanderSups' Hannah shares her favourite canapes - arancini (42497153)

What you need:

500ml veg or chicken stock

Glug of olive oil

1 medium onion peeled and chopped

1 clove of garlic peeled and finely chopped

1 stick of celery trimmed and very finely chopped

200g risotto rice

250ml dry white wine

Salt and peps

40g gruyere

40g taleggio

20g parmesan

Knob of butter

20g of scarmoza

6 rashers of pancetta

Small bunch of basil

Squeeze of lemon

1 heaped tbsp mayo

1 tbsp natural yoghurt

1 egg

Plain flour for breadcrumbing

Panko bread crumbs for coating

Vegetable oil for frying

How you do it:

First things first, we make our risotto and try not to eat it all as leftovers will make these delicious snacks.

Heat the stock in a saucepan.

Fry the onions, garlic and celery in the olive oil for about five minutes until softened with no colour.

Add the rice to the pan continuously stirring for a minute or so so every grain gets covered in the pan oil.

Add the wine to the pan and keep stirring until all the wine has been absorbed by the rice.

After this stage begin slowly adding your stock a ladle at a time. Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep stirring. The creaminess of the risotto comes from the starch being released from the rice grains, which only happens with constant movement. Think of it as a rice and spoon massage if you will.

Season generously and keep stirring till the rice is cooked - tender but with a bite.

Stir in the gruyere and taleggio. Take the pan off the heat and then stir in the parmesan and butter. Pop a lid on and leave to rest for five minutes.

Once the risotto is cold you can begin assembling your arancini.

Using a melon baller, carve yourself six balls of scarmoza about the size of a marble. (If you don’t have a melon baller because you weren’t hosting dinner parties in the 80s then just cut small cubes.)

Take a tablespoon of risotto and form a thin patty in the palm of your hand, place your cheese ball in the centre and then carefully wrap the risotto patty around it making sure you fully seal the cheese. Roll gently in your hands to create a perfect ball. They should be no bigger than ping pong ball.

To make your pancetta crumb, fry the pancetta in a dry pan until crispy and then blitz in a processor.

To make the basil mayo, pound the basil leaves and stalk in a pestle and mortar till you have a green paste, stir in the lemon juice, yog and mayo till you have a bright green punchy sauce. Taste and season as needed.

Set up three bowls to breadcrumb your arancini. One with a beaten egg, one with plain flour and one with panko breadcrumbs.

Heat a saucepan of oil or deep fat fryer to 180.

To coat your arancini, roll in the flour shaking off any excess, then the egg, then dredge in breadcrumbs.

Carefully lower into the hot oil and fry till gold and crispy (about eight minutes).

Serve the arancini sitting on a dollop of basil mayo and sprinkle the pancetta crumb on top.

Crispy Chicken Skin, Lemon & Ricotta Whip

Makes 6

WanderSups' Hannah shares her favourite canapes - crispy chicken (42497154)
WanderSups' Hannah shares her favourite canapes - crispy chicken (42497154)

What you need:

6 skin-on chicken breasts or thighs (we don’t use the meat in this recipe but they can be kept for a later date)

Flaky sea salt

Olive oil

50g feta

50g ricotta

Juice and zest of half a lemon

Lemon thyme

Black pepper

How you do it:

Preheat your oven to 190C and get two baking sheets ready along with two sheets of greaseproof paper cut to the same size as the baking sheets.

Remove the chicken skin from the flesh. I find the easiest way to do this is to insert a finger between a loose edge of skin and flesh and gently lift the skin away, being careful not to tear.

On a chopping board lay the skin flat (feather side down, if there were still feathers) and using the back of a knife firmly scrape any excess fat off the skin and discard. You should be left with paper-thin skin that will go super crispy.

Carefully lay the skin on a paper-lined baking sheet and stretch out so it’s all flat.

Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and olive oil and lay the other sheet of greaseproof paper over the skin. Place the second baking tray on top to weigh everything down. Put into the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes, remove the top baking tray and paper and carefully put the tray of skin back in the oven to crisp up. Keep an eye on it as it can catch quickly. It should be golden brown and crispy to touch. This could take a further 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

To make the whip, place the feta and ricotta in a stand mixer or food processor with the lemon juice and olive oil and whisk till smooth and light.

Either using a piping bag or teaspoon, dollop the cheese mix on to the crispy chicken skin.

Grate over the zest of lemon, then sprinkle with thyme leaves and a crack of black pepper.

About Hannah

Hannah has recently competed in BBC’s MasterChef, finishing up in the final 16 as a quarter finalist. She hosts WanderSups supper clubs serving meals created with love, inspired by journeys around the world, dished up on home turf. Her ethos is simple - have fun, enjoy it, make it an occasion. To find out more follow @WanderSups or visit wandersups.com

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