You've picked a date, invited a few too many friends (the more the merrier, no?) and bought some fairy lights but the key to an amazing Christmas party all comes down to two things - food and booze.
So - when there's so much to think about, where does a hostess start? From serving sharing plates (more impressive than canapes) to tips on pairing drinks with each dish at a dinner party, food and wine expert Rebecca Seal shares her advice below.
Domestic goddess? You soon will be...
What's cool in canapes?
People love something a little bit hearty when they're handed a canape - something with lots of flavour that will keep them going until they sit down for dinner. Everyone loves tasting different and unusual dishes from around the world too - whether that's Italian arancini balls or pizzette, or little meatballs with a bit of Middle Eastern spice, or crispy salads with zingy ingredients in, like orange, fennel or pomegranate.
Can party food be prepared in advance? Is it easy to make?
I am a massive fan of preparing as much as possible in advance - who wants to be stuck in the kitchen while your friends are catching up in another room? Most of my recipes can be prepared in advance and finished off at the last minute. All the ingredients are things you can easily find in local shops or your supermarket. It's worth remembering that the fun gets cancelled out if you're so stressed you can barely speak! Don't try and do more than five dishes, with only a couple of those at most, being hot dishes.
Why are you championing the trend in sharing plates?
The best way to get people interested in food is to try new things and discover that pairing food and wine isn't actually that tricky. Having people round to yours and cooking them restaurant-style dishes is a huge trend and sharing plates are a perfect way to recreate the experience of being in a cool restaurant or bar.
What makes a good alternative to champagne/sparkling wine at a party?
Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are such versatile food wines and they go with masses of different dishes and ingredients. Brancott Estate's new one, Flight, is fantastic because at 9% ABV it's relatively low in alcohol, so makes a good aperitif.
How many drink options should you provide and how do you match them with food?
I usually go for a white wine and a red wine with starters and mains, then white wine with cheese (it's better match than red) and sparkling wine with dessert. I don't usually serve cocktails before food as it can all get a bit much, and I'd rather serve a negroni or espresso martini in place of a digestif, right at the end of the evening. My tips for matching food and wine include:
- Match weight for weight, so for a heavy hearty meal, like a stew, go for a hearty spicy wine, whereas for a light zesty seafood stirfry, go for a zippy, citrussy white.
- Oaked white wines (that have been aged in oak barrels) are good with things with butter or cream in, but are less good matches for things with lots of citrus.
- Un-oaked or zesty (acidic) white wines can cut through the creaminess of some dishes in a good way.
- The red with meat and white with fish thing isn't a hard-and-fast rule: light reds like the Brancott Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir can go with meaty fish, while apple-y whites are dreamy with pork.
- Match complementing flavours - if there are red berry notes in the wine then it will go well with redcurrant or cranberry sauce, if there is warm spice in the wine, it will go well something like my lahmacun, a Turkish spiced lamb pizza recipe.
- Sweetness in a wine can temper spiciness in food.
- If you're serving dessert wine, it has to be at least as sweet as the pudding.
What happens if the booze or food supplies run out?
You'll realise you have very greedy friends! If you can, keep a secret stash of a couple of bottles of wine hidden, or the ingredients for gin and tonics, so you can bring them out if you need to. Most people over-cater though, and as long as you work out carefully how much food you will need and then add a bit more, you'll be fine, even if extra guests turn up. It's always nice to have some leftovers to nibble on the next day when you're clearing up!