Planning a Christmas party can be a stressful experience - but it doesn't necessarily need to end in you frantically lighting tea lights and shoving mini-pizzas into the oven 10 minutes before the guests are due (as certain Stylist staffers have been known to do). We've teamed up with Paul Squire, owner of London-based boutique caterers Cook and Waiter, to bring you some straight-forward and original tips in planning a perfect Christmas party. From mouth-watering recipes to advice on special diets and table decoration tips, read on to find out how you can breeze your way through an event, whether that's an intimate dinner or a larger gathering...
Picture credit: Rex Features
Tips courtesy of Paul Squire (pictured above, second photo), owner of London-based boutique caterers Cook and Waiter
Many hands make light work
Feeling festive conjures up childhood memories for most of us. I love the camaraderie of a party and sense of family that’s celebrated at Christmas time. Part of this joy starts with preparing for Christmas as a family and we always get everyone involved; setting the table, choosing the wine, selecting some festive music and prepping the vegetables together on Christmas Eve.
Think creatively with table decorations
Food is often the centre of attention, but it’s important to have considered the other components in creating the right atmosphere for a Christmas party. Candles are beautiful, I like to use lots of them and create a soft, cozy atmosphere. Keep any table flowers simple and low, so as not to obstruct eye contact or use some lovely potted herbs as table decorations that can double as a gift for your guests on departure.
Get mulling like mad
I normally have a batch of mulled wine on the go from the end of November! Fill your home with all those wonderful smells before guests enter. I’d suggest leaving your saucepan of mulled wine on the stove 30 minutes before you expect your guests to arrive, which is plenty of time to let the festive spices fill the home. You can also prepare small parcels of cinnamon, cloves and dried citrus fruits in muslin, place these on radiators to bring extra festive aromas into your home.
Plan your aperitifs with care
Don’t give your guests too much to eat ahead of your festive feasts! More than likely you’ll be serving more food than they would normally eat at the table and it’s good to have them sitting down feeling hungry. Try these to serve before a meal.
Recipe: parmesan and sage wafers
Finely grated parmesan (start with 200g, but grate more depending on how many you’d like to make)
Chopped sage leaves – approx.10 for every 200g of cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 180C
2. Mix the parmesan and sage leaves together
3. Line a baking tray with silicone paper or a silicone mat
4. Place one dessert spoon into a round pastry cutter on your tray and pat down, so the cheese is spread evenly
5. Once you’ve got a full tray, place into the oven for 15 minutes. They should bubble and turn golden. When they have cooled they turn crisp and can be easily removed. We place them in stacks on a plate for people to nibble on before dinner – they are light and a perfect accompaniment to a glass of fizz.
Barbeque your meat
Particularly on Christmas Day, none of us can get our ovens to reach the temperatures we need. If you’ve got a gas barbeque with a lid in the back garden, make use of it this Christmas. You’ll get it up to the temperature you need and free up valuable oven space to finish off the roast potatoes and other bits going through the oven.
Covet your brussel sprouts
I believe they’re like Marmite … you either love them or you hate them! But try them like this and you’re bound to convert most of those who aren’t normally a fan of these little green balls!
Recipe: brussel spouts
Brussels (base removed and cut in half)
A generous knob of butter
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200C
2. Heat a pan on a high heat. Add the butter and allow to melt until bubbling
3. Toss the brussels into the butter and season generously – you need to add colour to them during this stage and they should start to take on hints of a golden colour in the pan
4. Finish for 15 mins in the oven – you’ll notice that some sprouts will begin to bounce around like popcorn cooking!
5. Remove from the oven once the outer skins have become crispy.
Remember special diets
There are increasingly more people with specific dietary requirements and it’s always good to have a couple of ideas up your sleeve in case a guest springs a last-minute request onto you.
On Christmas Day, it’s likely you’ll know everyone’s diets, but when entertaining others over the festive season, keep some good parmesan, eggs, and mushrooms in the fridge to help you wriggle out of any tricky situations. In addition, it’s always a good idea to have an interesting non-alcoholic drink for the drivers; this year I’m doing a Mulled Pomegranate Warmer – made with pomegranate juice and all your regular mulling spices (it needs sweetening with some sugar too!).
Ask your guests to pass side dishes around
I prefer the communal aspect to serving food from a platter, this way it needs to be passed from one diner to the next and encourages people to share and interact. Normally I’d serve the protein on the plates and pop everything else into warmed bowls. It’s a lot less work in the kitchen and keeps the diners busy while the host is completing any finishing touches in the kitchen. Simple tableware also enhances the natural elegance of food itself. The food can be abundant and particularly in the home this is a demonstration of your generosity.
Save the brandy to serve with coffee
Try using vodka on your Christmas pudding this year - it will light much easier than brandy and give you a more impressive flame.
Chocolate truffles - the perfect finishing touch
Forget the After Eights this year and make your own handmade chocolate truffles to serve with coffee. They can be made in advance and popped in the freezer until you need them. We used a good chocolate (70% single origin) and add to warm cream; you can add flavour using your favourite tipple too. Once cooled, you can roll these by hand and then dust with cocoa and pop them into the freezer until 30 minutes before needed.