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Lilly Higgins has a warming menu to take the chill out of your autumn dinner parties

Lilly Higgins has a warming menu to take the chill out of your autumn dinner parties.

I always think the best way to start a dinner party or supper is with a drink in hand and the promise of great food. I always serve a drink straight away and don't mind prepping starters as people are chatting and settling in at their table.

My biggest fear is to arrive at someone's house for dinner only to find that they are only beginning to prepare for the evening ahead. A confident host and the smell of something cooking is so reassuring.

This menu is designed to bring people in from the cold outdoors and comfort them. The tempura is crisp, hot and extremely moreish; you can fry these and place platters full on the table for your guests to share.

The main course is the ultimate in comfort food, a slow-cooked stew made using beef shin and bursting with gutsy flavour. I love this with mashed potato, but an alternative would be mashed sweet potato and squash with some nutmeg or cinnamon added to spice it up.

After the heavy stew, I like to serve a simple dessert of fresh apples slices with toffee sauce. It's lovely to get as many different apples as you can. You can prepare the sauce ahead of time and gently heat before serving with the apples. Autumn food at its best.

Squash tempura

This tempura is a great way to celebrate the beautiful squash and pumpkins that are in season at this time of year.

You can use all butternut squash or sweet potato, but the variety is what makes this such a special dish.

Make sure you fry these at the last minute and serve to your guests as soon as they're golden and crisp. Serves 10

You will need

1 butternut squash

2 sweet potatoes

1 small pumpkin

For the tempura batter:

600ml water, ice cold

3 eggs

270g plain flour

1 pinch Chinese five spice

(optional)

For the dipping sauce:

300ml soy sauce

Juice of ½ a lime

2 tbsp grated ginger

200ml water

Chives, sliced diagonally

Method

Peel and slice the vegetables into ½cm-thick pieces. Shake the dipping- sauce ingredients together in a jar.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl, add the water and whisk until light. Tip in the flour and stir until roughly combined. Leave a few lumps in the batter. Dip the vegetable into the batter to coat, then deep fry in hot oil until lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper and serve immediately with the sauce.

Shin of stew

This comforting stew is just what's needed as the nights grow colder.

Your butcher will be able to cut some large slices of shin bone for you to add to the pot and it will give a gorgeous richness to the finished dish. This is great served ‘family style' on the table with lots of buttered mashed potato or colcannon. Serves 10

You will need

4 tbsp olive oil

4lbs good-quality stewing beef, cut into chunks

A few pieces of beef shin with bone cut into 3cm slices

3 medium onions, sliced

6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed with the back of a knife

1 bottle red wine

1 pint tomato passata

500g carrots, in 2cm diagonal slices

Bouquet garni

250g button mushrooms, quartered

Salt and pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the beef and stir occasionally until it goes a nice brown colour. Add the onions and the garlic. Cook for a further five minutes before pouring on the wine and passata.

Add the carrots and season liberally with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then add the bouquet garni. Place the lid on and cook in the oven for two hours.

Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms until golden. After two hours’ cooking, add the mushrooms to the stew and return to the oven for a further 30 minutes. Remove the shin bones before serving

Toffee apple-fondue

This simple dessert is a great way of showcasing all of the gorgeous apples that are grown in Ireland.

Take a trip to your local farmers’ market and you'll be spoilt for choice! You could also serve toasted, chopped nuts or crumbled chocolate flakes alongside the toffee sauce as different toppings. Serves 10

You will need

Selection of Irish apples, at least 1 per person

Toffee sauce:

280g light brown sugar

180g butter

370ml cream

4 tbsp golden syrup

Method

To make the sauce, put the brown sugar, butter, cream and golden syrup into a medium saucepan over a low heat. Stir for 5 minutes, until the sugar dissolves.

Now increase the heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside. Just before serving, core the apples and cut into thick slices. Mix the different apples slices together on a platter and serve with the toffee sauce in a bowl.

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