Cuisine - - CONTENTS - Styling Tracey Strange / Photography Ja­son Creaghan

Our con­trib­u­tors share their top stress-free en­ter­tain­ing tips

HERE AT CUI­SINE, we love the fes­tive sea­son and all the fun it brings, but en­ter­tain­ing a never-end­ing stream of friends and rel­a­tives can send stress lev­els through the roof. So, we asked our con­trib­u­tors to share their never-fail stress-free en­ter­tain­ing tips...

Choco­late mousse. How can you go wrong with a dessert that can be whipped up quickly and made ahead? I don’t have a favourite recipe – you can’t vary it too much when the in­gre­di­ents are ba­si­cally cream, choco­late, eggs and su­gar. A big crys­tal bowl to serve it in if I’m into rus­tic; straight-sided glass tum­blers if I’m go­ing for a bit more so­phis­ti­ca­tion. If I’m feel­ing retro, I’ll add some Coin­treau. I’m also fond of themes, so a light pasta starter will be joined by an Ital­ian main and salad and I’ll dec­o­rate the mousse with crushed amaretti bis­cuits! Tracey Strange, stylist

My mum Pat was a caterer and there was al­ways a big plas­tic con­tainer full of ice and wa­ter in her kitchen. As­sorted sal­ads, thinly sliced radish, cu­cum­bers, spring onions, mi­cro greens (well, they weren’t around in Mum’s day, but they are now) – it all went into the ice bath for a few hours be­fore the event and came out for a quick whiz to re­move ex­cess wa­ter just be­fore serv­ing. It gives you the crunchi­est sal­ads and veg and ex­tends the life of a gar­nish. Pre- blanched as­para­gus can sit in there and then go straight on the bar­be­cue for a quick grill. I set fresh herbs and ed­i­ble flow­ers into ice cubes and scat­ter through ice buck­ets hold­ing drinks. Get your­self some de­cent ice cube trays and make ahead a stash of nice big odd-shaped cubes for san­gria and cock­tails. And if you’re the guest, take along a bag or two of ice – your host will love you. With­out ice, there is no party! Kelli Brett, Cui­sine ed­i­tor

Try mak­ing wine part of your en­ter­tain­ment by serv­ing a mys­tery wine – a bot­tle wrapped in a sock, so its iden­tity is hid­den. The wine can be any­thing, but it’s never a bad idea to pull out a bot­tle of some­thing off­beat you may have picked up on your trav­els. You then pose a se­ries of mul­ti­ple choice ques­tions, e.g. is it a) chardon­nay, b) pinot gris, or c) juh­fark? (That last one is a Hun­gar­ian va­ri­ety, in case you were won­der­ing). There’s no room for se­ri­ous­ness… it’s im­por­tant to make it fun. It’s a good way to have peo­ple think a lit­tle harder about what they’re tast­ing (and per­haps dis­cover the joys of juh­fark!) John Saker, wine writer

Low lights with can­dles and fresh flow­ers. A playlist of mu­sic to set the vibe – hit play once and for­get about it. I al­ways write a list and work back­wards from the time I want to serve food – the mo­ment I write that list, there is no more stress, be­cause all I have to do is fol­low the time­line. (I am also one of those peo­ple who gets a kick out of cross­ing stuff off it!) My go-to cock­tail in spring/sum­mer is the Ne­groni – not for the faint-hearted. I al­ways have a lit­tle “sta­tion” with spir­its and wine for peo­ple to help them­selves if I get dis­tracted in the kitchen. My favourite two-sec­ond nib­ble for Christ­mas is a plat­ter laden with pro­sciutto and other cured meats along­side a mound of creamy buf­fallo moz­zarella bro­ken into chunks, served with a driz­zle of good ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, a sprin­kling of sea salt, freshly ground black pep­per and a hand­ful of basil leaves. Take some moz­zarella, wrap it in pro­sciutto and tuck in some basil – sim­ple and out­ra­geously good. Sarah Tuck, food writer

I have a great go-to cock­tail recipe – straw­berry bub­bly. It’s quick and easy to make and em­bod­ies sum­mer and the fes­tive sea­son. Put 2 ta­ble­spoons of honey in a small bowl, pour over 2 ta­ble­spoons of boil­ing wa­ter and stir to melt. Add 2 tea­spoons rose wa­ter and stir again. Puree 300g hulled, halved straw­ber­ries (I use a stick blender) then add the honey mix­ture and puree again to mix. Pour into a large jug, slowly add a bot­tle of sparkling wine, bit by bit (it tends to bub­ble over).

Add some ice cubes, di­vide among glasses and top with a sprig of basil or a rose petal or two. Serve with quick egg sand­wiches: diced hard­boiled eggs mixed with ca­pers, whole­grain mus­tard, sliced red onion, yo­ghurt/ mayo and chives on bite-sized pieces of bread gar­nished with wa­ter­cress or rocket. Emma Boyd, food writer

I al­ways have a good bit of cheese in the fridge and some crack­ers, and there is usu­ally some quince or dam­son paste and some olives lurk­ing in the fridge too. Bar­be­cues are al­ways a great idea. I have a char­coal hooded We­ber so I al­ways make sure I have plenty of char­coal on hand, and as it takes a good half hour to heat up, there’s more than enough time to fig­ure out what I have to throw on it. I don’t do for­mal, so ev­ery­thing goes on plat­ters. Ginny Grant, se­nior food writer (for more bar­be­cue ideas from Ginny, see Chop Chop on page 32)

Gin and ton­ics, lots of ice, thinly sliced cu­cum­ber, lime and fresh mint (make sure you’ve had one be­fore any­one turns up). A good sound­track… pre-made, hand-cho­sen – thanks Tony! And good light­ing. Or just go out! Fiona Las­celles, art di­rec­tor

Plenty of my home-brewed beer in the fridge, and if I’m feel­ing par­tic­u­larly fancy, I might open a packet of chips. Alice Neville, se­nior ed­i­tor

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