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It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also quite stressful! If you're hosting a party on the run up to Christmas, the last thing you need is to swamp yourself with complicated recipes. However, you can still impress your guests with some clever cooking cheats.
Spicy Candied Nuts
Popular with our American cousins, the combination of sweet, salt and spice makes this the perfect accompaniment to a festive tipple. Also makes a great gift. Take 500g shelled mixed unsalted nuts, bake for ten minutes at 300 degrees centigrade, cool, then add to a saucepan. In a bowl, mix 1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch each of ground cloves, salt and pepper. Add half the sugar mix to the nuts, heat over a medium heat until it melts, then add the rest and melt that too, coating the nuts. Spread onto a baking tray, separate with a spoon and leave to cool.
Festive Pinwheel Sandwiches
Why have humdrum triangles, when these canapés are so easy to make? Take 8 crustless slices of brown bread and flatten with a rolling pin. Spread with a mix of 84g soft cheese and 2 tablespoons butter. Spread 2 tablespoons pesto on four of the slices, and a 120g pack of smoked salmon on the other four. Roll up into cylinders, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 2 hours. To cut, warm a knife by dipping the blade into a jug of hot water, then wiping dry. Cut each cylinder into 6 pieces and arrange on a serving plate, spiral side up.
Easy Moneybags Mince Pies
Glitz up 200g ready-made mincemeat with 4 tablespoons brandy and the zest of half an orange. Leave to soak in for an hour. Take a 270g pack of ready-made filo pastry (6 sheets) and cut the stack into 6 x 15cm squares to give 36 squares. Take 3 squares per parcel, brush each layer lightly with melted butter. Add a tablespoon of mincemeat mix on each filo stack. Gather up the sides and pinch together to make a moneybag, and brush with more butter. Bake for 15 minutes.
Lazy Cinnamon Swirls
Mix together 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 45g melted butter and 75g caster sugar, and spoon over a rolled out pack of ready-made puff pastry. Roll up long the longest edge, and pinch along to seal shut. Cut into 2cm slices and put on a baking sheet, spaced 2cm apart. Coat swirls with a beaten egg and rest for 10 minutes before baking for 20 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade. When cool, decorate with icing (200g icing sugar mixed with 5 teaspoons cold water).
Mulled Wine Jelly
Definitely one for the grown-ups! Soak 12 sheets gelatine in 8 tablespoons cold water for 5 minutes. In a pan, heat 1 litre red wine, 600ml orange juice, 4 tablespoons honey, a few strips of lemon peel, a cinnamon stick and 5 cloves until just boiling. Remove from heat and stir in the gelatine. Strain, and pour into 12 glasses. Leave to set for 4 hours and decorate with whipped cream, grated dark chocolate and slices of orange.
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