Here we all are, well and truly entrenched in the season of goodwill, too much food and more Christmas specials than you can shake a glitter-covered stick at. Chances are that by now, if you hadn’t already planned to, you or your other half have inadvertently invited 15 people round for drinks at some point in the next two weeks and ‘the fear’ has set in. Worry not! A little preparation and a bumper pack of toilet roll and you’ve got it in the bag.
The calming power of an empty bin with a fresh bin liner is not to be underestimated!
1. Clear the decks (and the halls)
No matter how spacious your kitchen, the chances are that by the end of the evening every inch of it will be covered in party debris. Get ahead of the game by clearing away as much as possible before hand. Try and squeeze bulky items such as coffee machines or stand mixers into cupboards for the short-term, to free up counter space, and collect up all the detritus of everyday life and put it in a box to be dealt with after the whirlwind of the season is over.
Leave a phone charger plugged in in an out of the way place for that one guest who always turns up with 9% battery and a cold sweat.
Take the rubbish out. The calming power of an empty bin with a fresh bin liner is not to be underestimated! Put a cardboard box next to the bin so that guests can deposit empties.
If you’re going to be serving trays or platters of food, make room for them before everyone arrives, clear your coffee table or side tables, and put out mats or coasters if needed.
If yours is a ‘shoes off’ household, the chances are that along with a coat rack that looks like it might be home to half a dozen medium-sized woodland creatures, your hallway is also home to the equivalent of the entire contents of Selfridges shoe department. Tidy away any shoes and coats that aren’t needed in the short term and make room for the belongings, and comings and goings, of guests.
2. Set the scene
Scented candles, a roaring fire, a cracking playlist – we all know the drill. The trick is to have all of these things prepped and on the go long before people arrive. Not only will it help you get into the party mood, but doing it an hour before people arrive means you’re not running around lighting candles or covered in soot from the fire when your guests arrive.
Make a playlist that will last longer than you foresee the party lasting (if you’ve got some Stevie Wonder on there so much the better), and have a back-up list ready incase things need livening up. Put spare tea lights within easy reach so that you can change them if they burn out before you do. If food isn’t going to be served immediately, have a few bowls of something to munch on for guests who imagine themselves to be starving or who can’t have a drink without something salty or crunchy at hand. M&S Roasted Salted Cashews are my go to, or a bowl of juicy nocellara olives.
Christmas Spiced Negroni (see recipe at end)
3. Become a pre-mixologist
While the usual suspects of beer, wine and Prosecco will satisfy most appetites, it’s feels much more in the spirit of the season to serve a cocktail. BUT, this is not the time for time consuming or RSI-inducing cocktails like old fashioneds or dirty martinis. Plenty of drinks can be made in advance of the hordes descending, the much maligned punch is perfect for large groups – Garrick Club Punch, created in the 1830s, is a favourite of mine and universally loved by all it’s served to.
In the winter, my go to drink for gatherings of more than half a dozen is a negroni. Equally at home on a balmy summers day as it is in the depths of winter, this orange-spiked mix of gin, Campari and sweet (red) vermouth is both sweet and bitter with an aromatic kick. Mix a batch in advance and pour into a stoppered bottle or decanter. Set on a tray with small tumblers, an ice bucket and slices of orange or strips of orange peel and encourage guests to serve themselves. Include a bottle of soda water for those who might like to take the edge off (sacrilege to some, but my sister likes a splash in her negroni, it helps her pace herself), or a bottle or Prosecco for those who want to take it the other way. See below for a festive take on the classic negroni. Also, cocktail napkins are your friend.
Now is not the time for a dozen new and unfamiliar dishes with a list of obscure ingredients that would make even Heston Blumethal shudder.
4. You only need half as much food as you think you do
First of all, I will hold up my hands and admit that I am a total over caterer. I can’t help myself. But, the truth of the matter is that you really only need half as much food as you think you do. Whatever form the catering takes – be it buffet, finger food or full on sit down affair, keep it simple. For those of you hosting Christmas dinner this year – the same rules apply!
For buffets and sit down dinners, chose one main dish and a couple of side dishes. Now is not the time for a dozen new and unfamiliar dishes with a list of obscure ingredients that would make even Heston Blumethal shudder. In place of dessert, serve a generous cheeseboard with a few slabs of dark chocolate and a chunk of honeycomb (more on the magic of cheeseboards another day) along with a bottle of Port and your job is done.
For finger food, 4 different dishes is more than enough, as long as one of them is veggie and one of them is hot. All of which means minimal kitchen time and minimal stress for you.
5. Don’t skip the loo
I have a small home with only one bathroom, as a result, I’m constantly trying to make it as easy as possible for guests, especially the weekend variety, to use the facilities without any embarrassment. Light a candle before guests arrive and leave a large box of matches on the side. It may seem the most ridiculous product ever made, and you are literally throwing money down the drain when you use them but Aesop Post Poo Drops actually do the job and smell lovely. Plus the bottle looks good on the shelf. I also love True Grace Room Sprays, mainly because they smell nothing like air fresheners, which I simply cannot abide. It goes without saying that spare loo rolls should be easy to find, no one wants to be hunting down the host in the middle of a party to ask where the spare bog roll is, and that a couple of clean hand towels should be hanging up.
The only thing left is to pour yourself a drink and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Happy hosting!
Recipe: Christmas Spiced Negroni
A negroni is one of the easiest cocktails to make as it simply comprises equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, stirred with ice and served with a twist or slice of orange. If you want to give it a Christmas spin, infuse your gin for a few days before hand.
Makes 10 drinks
- 250ml Gin (an Old Tom style gin such as Jensens is best suited to the job)
- 1 star anise
- 2 cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 strips of orange zest
- Small pinch of grated nutmeg
- 250ml Campari
- 250ml sweet vermouth (Antica Formula Carpano is a bartender’s favourite)
Dry roast the spices in a heavy pan for a couple of minutes.
Put the gin, spices and orange zest into a preserving jar or screw top bottle and leave to infuse away from sunlight for 3 to 4 days. Strain the gin and mix with the Campari and vermouth and bottle ready for serving.
Serve over ice, stir, and garnish with an orange slice. Top with Prosecco if you’re feeling extra fancy!