By Georgie Socratous
It’s here! I can’t deny it, it’s started, I’m counting down. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said I didn’t love Christmas and all things festive: the parties, the food, that warm tingly feeling you get for everything and everyone (often fuelled by a few glasses of mulled wine). Even the most “bah humbug” of people can’t ruin it for me. It’s the perfect time to spread the love, spend time with loved ones and show how much you care. I never feel quite as sociable and eager to please as I do at Christmas.
Of course, party planning takes time and a bit of money still, but it needn’t break the bank or mean you spend hours slaving away at dishes that get devoured in seconds. With a bit of thought and prep it’s easy to be the host or hostess with the mostess, so these are my top tips on a thrifty, super-easy party:
Mulled wine and cider
They may be obvious choices for a Christmas party beverage, but hear me out. Mulled wine and cider are always big hits – they’re quaffable, festive and warming, and importantly fuss-free and cheap. All you need to do is make a tasty mulled syrup base in advance (try Jamie’s delicious recipe) and when your guests ask “What should I bring?”, you just ask for bottles of inexpensive red wine and cider that you can gently heat and add the syrup to. Et viola!
I know what you are thinking, chai isn’t for Christmas, chai is for life! True, chai is one of my all time favourite drinks, however the combination of spices definitely has a festive feel and makes a great alternative to eggnog (I love eggnog but not many do!).
So how does chai work for a party? Easy – before the party, make the tea base in advance by infusing a large vat of milk with chai spices (or teabags) over a low heat. Heat until the milk almost reaches the boil then leave to one side to infuse for around 10 minutes, or until you have a lovely deep chai flavour.
Discard the spices or tea bags then sweeten (generously) with golden caster sugar. When you are ready to serve, place in a pan on the hob to warm through at the last minute. Serve your warm chai laced with lots of brandy or spiced rum. Perfection.
Keep an eye out for online supermarket bargains. Last year one supermarket not only had 25% off their Prosecco and Champagne, but a further 33% off if you ordered online! We picked up top-quality bottles of bubbles for just over a fiver, definitely worth being savvy for! Serve as is, or make a flavoured base you can pour into the glasses before your guests arrive, to top with bubbly as and when you need them. Try something seasonal such as freshly squeezed clementine juice for a twist on bucks fizz. Or, if you want something a little more fancy, poach peeled and chopped quince in sugar and a little orange juice until tender. Then blitz ‘til you have a smooth, pourable purée and add a few spoonfuls to your Champagne glasses before you top them up.
Slow-cooked pork is perfect for parties…
For one of my first-ever Christmas parties I went all out, or so it seemed to my guests. I bought a shoulder of pork from my butcher, rubbed it with salt, pepper and fennel seeds and slowly cooked it in the oven the morning of the party (this involved very little work on my part). Then I made a simple apple sauce and bought lots of small bread buns. When the guests arrived the kitchen was a haven – there was a pot of mulled wine warming on one side and a large hunk of slow-cooked pork on the other. I left the warm pork on a large wooden board, next to a platter of buns and bowls of apple sauce so everyone could just tuck in! Perfect party food and you’ll have insanely happy guests. Also, it really doesn’t cost that much at all – pork shoulder is an inexpensive cut and you’ll save on all those fiddly dips and nibbles.
…and so is doing it Swiss-style
For a more simple yet still effective party snack, go for an Alpine theme. Buy boxes of cheese such as brie and camembert that come in wooden containers and make mini fondues. Remove the inside plastic coating and pop the cheese back in the box. You can simply bake as is or pimp them a little. I like to pierce little holes into the top of the cheese and poke in slithers of garlic, seasoning and a few sprigs of thyme. Bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on the size of your cheese) at around 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4, or until gooey in the middle. Serve with bowls of cornichons, radishes and par-boiled new potatoes for a Swiss raclette feel, or with a few fresh baguettes for dipping. Unbeatable.
So there you have it. Some of my top Christmas party tips, hopefully making life a little simpler and you more popular! If you have any great ideas, put it in the comments below. Merry Christmas!