At this time of year I always like to have people round sharing a cup of something warm or something fizzy. The great company of old friends, reminiscing about good times, laughing about something silly and feasting on delicious food. I always try to create a feeling of relaxed abundance – as I too need to enjoy myself!
I was once given some advice for hosting a party;
“The host should move seamlessly between conversations, never seen without a drink in hand, unflustered and in control of the evening.”
A three course, sit down dinner would have me stove side or prepping plates for most of the evening therefore missing out time with my friends. So the only way I feel I can achieve this is by providing a banquet-style table of food;
something cold, something piping hot, something savoury, something sweet.
Last year I discovered the wonders of a great mulled cider – a warm, welcoming drink to bring you in out of the cold. If you dislike mulled wine, this is a Christmassy alternative which, in my opinion, is better.
Actually if I think about it, I think I had people round pretty much every evening in the build up to last Christmas just so that I could make a pot of this delicious mulled cider – any excuse!
The warm spice-scented pan of Christmas cider working better than any scented candle spreading wafts of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg throughout the house.
There are staples I return to every Christmas that I know I can create comfortably and without stress – cranberry, chilli and soy glazed sausages, pesto palmiers, spiced nuts and peanut butter cups washed down with my favourite Christmas cocktail, poinsettia; however, this year I created a few different dishes which had everyone ignoring the ubiquitous cured meats and cheese and have made it into my Perfect Christmas Party Banquet.
Christmas Party Banquet:
- Mulled Cider
- Smoked salmon and cucumber spoons
- Glazed ham
- Cranberry, chilli and soy glazed sausages
- Chorizo and prawns
- Chilli con carne
- Mini New York cheesecakes
- Cured meats and cheeses
500ml dry cider
1 Cinnamon stick
1 Clementine (studded with cloves)
125mls of Orange Liqueur
500mls of Cranberry Juice
1 Bottle of Prosecco
How to Mull Cider:
1) Place all the ingredients into a pan and heat gently. Control the flavours as you go drinking, if it becomes to cinnamony in taste, remove the stick. The same goes for the cloves.
Poinsettia is dangerously quaffable and you know when you’ve run out of orange liqueur (Cointreau is my favourite) you’re in for a good night!
The Smoked Salmon and Cucumber spoons are a work of mere moments, however, look impressive and taste delicious.
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Spoons:
How to prepare:
Using a vegetable peeler, slice the cucumber into thin ribbons (avoiding the wet, seedy, centre).
Cut the smoked salmon into strips.
Roll the smoked salmon and cucumber together and place on the spoon.
Place a dollop of the dressing on top and decorate with a sprig of fresh dill.
|For the dressing:
1 small pot of crème fraîche
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
Handful of chives snipped in
season to taste
This has been the first time that I have made a glazed ham. I was incredibly surprised as to how simple it was to create and how delicious it tasted. I know that boiling a gammon joint and glazing it is neither innovative nor exciting but watching it sat majestically in the centre of the table, pinned to its wooden board, stabbed through its bronzed glaze, slices of pink ham enticing you to slice it again; what a sight to behold.
My guests continued going up for more morsels, even scrapping the board well after the last rounds of cheesecake went down! Make sure to put little pots of chilli jam, piccalilli, chutney around the table as these are a must with cold cuts.
Simply, boil the ham for 2 ½ hours in your liquid of choice; I favour full fat coca-cola as the sweet-spiced liquid permeates through the meat making it moist and flavoursome. Once cooked, remove from the boiling liquid and remove the rind which is now pallid and score the bottom layer of fat into diamond shapes. I stud each corner of the diamond with a clove (as my mother would do) and then spread black treacle, mustard powder and Demerara sugar over the top. Scorch in a hot oven for 10mins.
Another great alternative is an English mustard and honey glaze.
Chorizo and Prawns
Drop fat rings of chorizo sausage into a large frying pan with a little olive oil. Turn on the heat and allow the paprika flavour to render out of the sausage. Once, this has been in the pan for a few minutes add the grey prawns. Allow them to turn pink, coating themselves in the paprika juices before adding a good slosh of sherry and season to taste. Serve immediately.
If cooking this for myself at home, I tend to add freshly chopped parsley before serving, spooned onto a baguette or mixed with spaghetti.
Christmas Chilli con Carne
This year I decided on a huge pot of chilli con carne that guests could help themselves to. I don’t mean minced beef and a can of kidney beans cooked in a spicy tomato sauce! As tasty as that could be I wanted it to be a Christmas Chilli Con Carne.
I want diced steak that’s had a few pulses of the food processor. Spices such as ground coriander, cinnamon and cumin running through the pot. Red kidney and Borlotti beans. In a tomato sauced spiked with chilli flakes and melted dark chocolate.
This is a very easy recipe which is ideal to make a few days in advance to allow the flavours to permeate into the meat. Chill in an airtight container and heat up before serving.
Optional Extra: Serve tortilla chips or flatbread to soak up the juices.
Mini New York Style Cheesecakes
Taken from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com, these cheesecakes were much better to serve than chocolate peanut butter cups. Plus I made them a few nights before and forgot about them in the fridge. The recipe calls for lemon curd to be drizzled over, however, I thought it more Christmassy to reduce fresh berries (blueberries, raspberries, black currants) to a thick consistency with the taste of boiled sweets. Mashed and passed through a sieve to remove any pips.
There wasn’t a single rectangle left!
If inviting friends round this Christmas, my advice when catering for a party is: get organised, sit down with a cup of coffee and make lists.
If like me, the month of December sees you going out for Christmas drinks, office dinners as well as trying to cater for your own party, then you are going to need to have a battle plan.
If there is anything that you can do in advance good; if there is anything that friends can make for you, GREAT!
Plan your cooking times around your social calendar, for example – I made the cheesecake on Thursday evening when I got in from dinner with friends as it needed to be baked, cooled and chilled before being slathered in cream on Friday. The chilli con carne was made a few days before.
Identify things that need to be made at the last minute, organise them so that they are ready for either cooking or assembling once your guests arrive.
Remember to give yourself time to scrub up and dress for the occasion; no matter how great your food is, no one wants to see their host wearing their culinary efforts!