Now, we are not here to tell you how to cook Christmas luncheon. We’re all about the party. The cocktails. The nibbles. The easy-peasy cheatsheet.
The easiest way to have yourself a merry little Christmas party is to serve something sparkly, something soft and mulled wine; with a cheeseboard and mince pies (preferably mini mince pies for added chic factor). Add a bit of Michael Buble/Bing Crosby and you have yourself a party.
The perfect cheeseboard should have a minimum of three generous chunks: a crowd-pleaser (a vintage cheddar like Montgomery’s or Keen’s); something soft (Brie; a goats’ cheese like Charolais) or blue (Colston Bassett or Stilton) ; and an unexpected delight – something like Manchego or Comté. Try Neal’s Yard Dairy or La Fromagerie if you feel fancy; or, best of all, your local deli. Serve alongside grapes,figs or chutney.
If you have the oomph to exert yourself further, then do check out HRH of Entertaining, Martha Stewart. She is a domestic doyenne on this front.
I love the idea of crudites – not least because they are so easy and they off-set the heaviness of so much festive fare. Diana Henry has excellent suggestions in her wonderful book, Food From Plenty – and Jamie Oliver’s Winter Crunch Salad is very similar and looks fabulous.
Or, if you really feel like pushing the sleigh out (sorry), these Fresh Prawn Crostini with Caper, Green Olive and Goat’s Cheese Paste, Baby Peas and Lemon Oil from the wonderful What Katie Ate, look astonishingly good (and impressive. And, let’s face it, who doesn’t want to impress their guests?)
I would contend that no party is complete without mini sausages in some form (apologies to the vegetarians out there). For my daughter’s third birthday party last weekend, I made Fay Ripley’s sausage rolls on the run (from this book which is, to my mind, indispensable if you are feeding a family). They look good and taste impossibly delicious and they are delightfully simple. Zhush plain sausages with honey and mustard and – top tip here – thyme leaves.
If your party is more afternoon tea than late into the night, you probably need something sweet. Smitten Kitchen’s spicy gingerbread cookies would do the trick nicely.
If you do fancy turning your hand to making your own, try Daylesford’s Aunt Mimi’s mince pies (recipe here).
On the v important subject of drink. I freely admit that I don’t make my own mulled wine. Nope. I buy it from good old M&S (for preference), then add cinnamon sticks, star anise and slices of clementine as it warms on the stove. (If you do want to make your own, Jamie Oliver’s comes very highly recommended).
I always like to serve jugs of water stuffed with ice and lemon/lime/bunches of mint to add a touch of sparkle. I also mix up a jug of non-alcoholic cocktail e.g. cranberry juice with elderflower cordial and sparkling mineral water (this also works well with apple juice). And what party is truly complete without bubbles of some sort? We err towards Prosecco (this is an excellent guide to the best around)
I am no mixologist. Fortunately the bar staff at the uber-chic Mayfair hotel The Connaught have very kindly shared how to make their favourite winter cocktails with us. Simply mix and then pretend you are reclining in their gleamingly beautiful art deco bar.
30 ml Babicka vodka
10 ml Bols Honey liqueur
20 ml pink peppercorn-apricot puree
15 ml fresh lemon juice
30 ml ginger beer
Shake all ingredients beside ginger beer together, top up with ginger beer and strain into copper mug. Garnish with dried apricot, cinnamon and pink peppercorn.
30 ml chestnut milk
15 ml Cacao liqueur
15 ml Ratafia
40 ml Cognac
Shake all ingredients in shaker and double strain into champagne flute. Garnish with flamed chestnut and grated tonka bean.
30 ml pear juice
20 ml jasmine syrup
20 ml fresh lime juice
30 ml Bols Genever
40 ml Oolong tea soda
Pour all ingredients into mixing glass over ice and gently stir. Strain into old fashioned glass and garnish with pear slices, mint sprig and jasmine flower
45 ml Sacred Rosehip cup
15 ml Grand Marnier
60 ml sweetened hibiscus soda
3 bsp orange marmalade
20 ml fresh lemon juice
Shake Rosehip Cup, marmalade and lemon juice together; top up with hibiscus soda and strain in highball glass. Garnish with dried orange wheel, dried rosehips and and golden sugar.
Deep Purple Cobbler
15 ml Beetroot juice
15 ml lemon sherbet
30 ml Sipsmith sloe gin
45 ml port
Stir all ingredients together in mixing glass and strain into white wine glass over ice. Grate cinnamon on top and garnish with dried orange on top.
30 ml noisette butter infused Bowmore 12
15 ml Amaro Lucano
15 ml black cardamom and cocoa syrup
130 ml hot water
Mix all ingredients in mug and heat it up. Strain it to white wine glass, spray over with discarded orange zest and grated tonka beans on top.