It's hard to resist canapes during the festive season, but they can be deceptively high in calories. We look at some recipes for snacks that are healthy, but full of flavour.
Christmas may well be over, but those watching what they eat shouldn't breathe a sigh of relief just yet; not with all those New Year's Eve canapé-filled parties to negotiate. Canapés are deceptive little things and are certainly no friend of the would-be healthy eater. They're quick to disappear, extremely moreish and insubstantial enough to convince you that you've barely eaten. Well, think again. Absentmindedly eat five or six pastry-laden mouthfuls (mini quiches, vol au vents, tarts, etc) while chatting away to friends and you'll substantially increase your saturated fat and calorie intake for the day.
Don't feel that you need to abstain completely, though. The trick is to think about the choices you make. Avoid stodgy, carbohydrate-heavy offerings, canapés with creamy or cheesy fillings and anything deep fried. The recipes below use low-fat, high-protein ingredients, such as prawns and smoked salmon, and pair them with interesting flavours. Mackerel is a great ingredient to incorporate into your diet; this heart-healthy fish is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and contains high levels of vitamin B12 and selenium.
Crisps and nuts are some of the worst offenders when it comes to high-calorie party food; a large handful of crisps can contain around 10g of fat and has little or no nutritional value. If you really can't resist, don't make things worse by dunking them in creamy or oily dips - eat them alone, or seek out the salsa. For an interesting alternative to crisps and nuts, try making your own popcorn. Without the added butter, salt or sugar found in commercial varieties, homemade popcorn is high in fibre, low in fat and can be flavoured in all manner of interesting ways - the chilli, lime and parmesan version below is particularly moreish.
Cranberry jelly topped with frosted berries makes a lovely, light, festive dessert and is streets ahead of mince pies, Christmas pudding and chocolate log in the health stakes. It also looks very pretty when served in small glasses.
All the recipes below are designed to serve 12, working on the basis that people will eat two of each canapé, but they can easily be halved or doubled.
Mackerel pâté on pumpernickel bread
2 smoked mackerel fillets 1 tbsp low-fat natural yoghurt 1 tbsp low-fat crème fraîche 2 tsp horseradish sauce (or to taste) zest of 1 lemon juice of half a lemon black pepper cucumber 24 pumpernickel cocktail rounds (we used Delba) or five slices of pumpernickel bread, quartered
Remove the skin from the mackerel and flake the fish into pieces, discarding any bones. Place the fish in a bowl, add the yoghurt, crème fraîche and horseradish and mix well. Stir in the lemon juice and half the zest, season with plenty of black pepper and chill in the fridge.
Peel the cucumber, remove the seeds and cut the flesh into small dice.
When you are almost ready to serve, toast the pumpernickel bread lightly on both sides. Put a small spoonful of pâté on top of each piece of bread, top with a few pieces of diced cucumber and sprinkle over the remaining lemon zest.
Beef carpaccio with mustard crème fraîche
400g piece of beef fillet 1 tbsp olive oil 150g low-fat crème fraîche 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard 1 small loaf ciabatta bread handful of frisée lettuce or rocket leaves salt and black pepper
Trim the beef to neaten the edges and season all over with the salt and pepper. Place a frying pan containing the oil over a high heat and briefly sear the beef on all sides. Allow to cool, before wrapping in cling film and placing in the freezer for two hours. This will firm up the beef and make it easier to slice.
Preheat the oven to 180¿C/fan 160¿/gas mark 4. Cut the bread into thin slices and cook in the oven for 4-6 minutes or until crisp and light golden brown. Turn halfway through the cooking time.
Put the crème fraîche into a bowl and whisk until thick. Stir in the mustard and season.
When the beef is firm, remove it from the freezer. Select a very sharp knife and slice the beef as thinly as you can. If you are slicing the beef ahead of time, lay the slices out on a tray or plate lined with cling film, cover and refrigerate.
Spread the ciabatta with the mustard crème fraîche, top with a slice of beef and a small lettuce leaf.
Roasted asparagus wrapped in smoked salmon
24 asparagus spears 2 tbsp olive oil 200g smoked salmon 1 lime, juice and zest orange, juice and zest lemon, juice and zest 1 tbsp honey salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200¿C/fan 180¿/gas mark 6. Snap off the woody ends of the asparagus and place the spears in a large bowl. Drizzle over 1 tbsp of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and mix well. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a baking tray. Cook for 12-15 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cool. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining oil, the lime, lemon and orange juice and zest and the honey. Pour over the smoked salmon, coating on both sides and leave to marinate in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Shake the excess marinade off from the salmon and cut into 24 thin slices. Wrap a piece of salmon around each asparagus spear. Serve at room temperature.
Cranberry and soy-glazed prawns
300g raw prawns, peeled 1 tbsp groundnut oil 4 tbsp soy sauce 2 tbsp cranberry sauce zest of 1 orange cocktail sticks
In a small pan, whisk together the soy sauce, cranberry sauce and orange zest. Place over a low heat to warm through. Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or wok. When you can feel that the pan is giving off some heat, add the prawns. Fry for 2-3 minutes, then add the cranberry glaze, tossing well to coat the prawns in the mixture. Remove from the heat and divide between a few bowls. Serve with cocktail sticks, so people can skewer their own prawns.
Chilli and cheese popcorn
200g popcorn kernels 35g parmesan, finely grated tsp chilli powder 1 lime, zest only tsp fine salt 2 tbsp ground nut oil
Mix the parmesan, chilli powder, lime zest and salt together and set aside.
Place a large saucepan over a high heat. Once hot, add the groundnut oil, followed by the popcorn. Stir well to coat the popcorn in the oil. Cover with a lid. After a minute or two you should hear the popping start. Shake the pan a couple of times and when the popping stops, remove from the heat.
Pour over the spiced parmesan mixture, and toss well to coat - the cheese will start to melt. Divide the popcorn into bowls and serve warm.
Mulled cranberry jelly with frosted cranberries
Fills: 12 x 60ml glasses, 24 x 30 ml shot glasses
For the jellies: 500ml cranberry juice pared zest of 1 orange 1 stick of cinnamon 2 star anise 30g powdered gelatine
For the frosted cranberries: 36 cranberries 1 egg white 2 tbsp caster sugar
Pour the cranberry juice into a pan, add the orange zest, cinnamon and star anise and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse. After two hours, strain the liquid into a clean pan and discard the orange zest and spices.
Pour six tablespoons of water into a small pan. Gradually sprinkle over the gelatine, whisking continuously. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Pour 100ml of the infused cranberry juice into the pan, stir and place over a very low heat. Keep stirring until the gelatine dissolves - be careful not to let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and add to the rest of the liquid. Divide the mixture between the glasses and transfer to the fridge for three to four hours to set.
To make the frosted cranberries, whisk the egg white in a bowl. Tip the caster sugar on to a plate. Dip the cranberries into the egg white, shake off the excess and roll in the caster sugar, coating well. Place on a tray lined with parchment or foil and leave to dry out for a few hours.
Top the jellies with a couple of frosted cranberries just before serving.