Winter is the time when my inner hostess goes into overdrive. Oh how I yearn to welcome people into my home, woo them with trays full of delicious nibbles, serve tart & tangy cocktails on a silver platter and try to make them feel like they’re living (just for an hour or so) in a page from the Farrow & Ball catalogue. I mean, obviously, this has never happened. My house doesn’t even have flooring yet. You have to keep your shoes on or you’ll get splinters, it’s hardly welcoming. When I dream about my future though, a warm, full house is what I see. Burning candles and rosy cheeked friends with full glasses in their hands. When a close friend recently said “Dinner at Lil & Matt’s is one of my best things” I almost squealed. I’m on my way, people.
Let’s get one thing clear, I bloody love a canapé. My one complaint about my own wedding is that I never got to actually eat the canapés I painstakingly chose. Apparently they were nice, but I’ll never know. This time of year presents loads of opportunity to crack out some bite-size bits and pieces. I have a few fail-safe ideas that are applicable to most social gatherings. Glazed Sausages are always a hit. Just ask Nigella. My mum’s done them at Christmas for years and in my experience very few people can turn down a banger. Buy raw chipolatas and marinade them in heaped spoonfuls of honey and wholegrain mustard. Keep them in the fridge for half a day and then roast them in a hot oven, ready to pull out when you guests arrive. They’ll be sticky, shiny and irresistible. Next, I like to make myself some Pear, Gorgonzola and Pancetta Crostini. Slice and toast some shop bought baguette and fry your pancetta until it’s brittle and gleaming. Smear some soft gorgonzola onto that toast and pile on the rest. There are loads of variations but I like to keep things simple (3-4 ingredients) and seasonal. This year I made a selection of pastries and some homemade potato rostis with some toppings.
Joy the Baker’s French Onion Pastry Puffs
Potato & Apple Rostis with Sirloin Steak, Horseradish Cream & Chives
Our home bar is, perhaps worryingly, one of the only things we’ve unpacked since moving in. Yeahhhh ok, we like a drink, but a collection of spirits is great when you have people over. After a year or so of building ours up we have a fair selection to choose from, and it makes cocktail making a lot easier because you don’t have to plan ahead. A Winter Sangria would be my perfect drink for a Christmas gathering, if you have friends over for dinner or a film (hands up for Love Actually!) or even for a present wrapping party in the week before the big day. Still seasonal but a refreshing change amidst weeks of mulled wine, use a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a slug or two of a spirit of your choice – gin or vodka would be ideal. Add a cup or two of fruit juice (I’d use apple or elderflower but anything goes) and chuck in plenty of seasonal fruit like apples, pomegranate and fresh cranberries – better yet, frozen cranberries or grapes can take the place of ice. Whack in a sprig or two of rosemary too. Asking guests to bring a bottle is the easiest way to keep the booze flowing all night without being seriously out of pocket, but I think a cocktail on arrival is a nice little flourish and definitely something I want to work into my routine when having people over.
In the shops over the festive period I keep seeing things to lust over when really my priorities should be elsewhere. I should probably consider buying some curtains rather than those perfect napkin rings or a cut glass punch bowl. My guests could probably do with some coat hooks for their jackets before personalised glass markers, but yanno – I can’t stop. I won’t. One day, readers, one day.
Clockwise from Top Left: Martha’s Entertaining, Normann Copenhagen Liqueur Glasses, John Lewis Lacquer Round Tray in Gold, Marimekko Pieni Unikko Tray, Zara Home Teaspoon, Ball Canning Quilted Jars, LSA Punchbowl & Ladle.
It works the other way too. I make sure I’m a pretty good guest. Invite me over and generally, I’ll arrive with wine, flowers or occasionally chocolate, but I feel like 2014 is the truly the year I’ll come into my own when it comes to the hostess (or host) gift (been catalog shopping on Flyp and found a few things). I always go to town at Christmas, arriving at parents’ and in-laws’ with arms full of chutneys, curds and baked goods. I guess it makes me feel like a adult to bring gifts with me, since I’m the baby of the family. This year we made flavoured oils to take home with us. It can get expensive if you’re making a lot, but buying the odd glass bottle only costs a few quid, and it’s even cheaper if you save your oil bottles throughout the year. It helps if you have a well stocked spice cupboard too. This year we packed five of our bottles with garlic, rosemary, coriander seeds and peppercorns. The other five got green rocket chillis, red birds eye chillis, chilli flakes and peppercorns. Each couple in the family will get a pair to open with a note explaining what they are and asking the recipients to leave them to infuse for a month or two. It’s hardly original, but it’s tasty, useful and shows a bit of thought.
I always like to receive something handmade, it’s personal and every time you use it, you think of the person who gave it to you. I think these bottles look pretty impressive too. Similarly, jars of sweets or preserves work pretty well. Try these Bourbon Salted Caramels by Shutterbean for hosts with a sweet tooth!
Did you make gifts for christmas this year? Do you go to town when you entertain, or do you prefer to be the perfect guest? What are your fail safe dinner party recipes?