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