Photo credit April Harris
This is the time of year we all love to entertain, but with mile long to do lists and lots of pressures, it’s also the time we get most worked up about it. So how to give a holiday party without breaking the bank and exhausting yourself? It’s easy when you know how.
My husband and I have always loved to entertain, and have given loads of parties over the years, both at home and in larger outside venues. One of our favourite things is to do is invite people to our home for cocktails – or what we like to call our ‘drinks and nibbles’ parties. We generally host about 30 to 40 people at a time, but with a bit of advance planning and just a tiny bit of organisation, we both enjoy ourselves just as much as our guests do.
Here are some of my top tips and suggestions to help you enjoy holiday entertaining as much as we do.
Keep it simple.
Don’t feel you have to give elaborate dinner parties, especially this time of year. There are so many occasions to eat right now, it can be a welcome relief to enjoy a drink and a few canapés, and not have to face another big meal. In fact, our holiday entertaining nearly always consists almost entirely of our ‘drinks and nibbles’ parties and they are always well attended.
Do it your way.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to impress anyone. Entertain people the way you would like to be entertained, and your party is almost guaranteed to be one people will talk about for months to come.
Be realistic about the number of people your house will hold.
Better to have two parties for 20 than one for 40 and be absolutely crowded out.
If someone offers to bring something and it would be helpful for them to do that, then let them. It’s also no sin to ask people to bring things – in fact it can be very flattering. Ask your friend to bring ‘that wonderful cheeseball’ she always makes or ‘those amazing chocolate cupcakes’. No one likes to arrive at a party empty handed anyway.
Make sure you have time to enjoy the party too.
Choose things you can make ahead of time, and don’t be over optimistic about how much time you will have to get ready. I rarely make everything for any of our parties, and usually get help with some or all of it. For our most recent party, I made lots of little squares and desserts for later in the evening, but one of our friends made some cupcakes as well. I also bought my canapés ready made from Waitrose Entertaining. It made my life much easier and everyone loved them. Most of the canapés I chose could be served cold, although I ordered a few that required heating and saved them for later in the evening.(Remember to let hot canapés cool for a little while before you serve them!) It’s always better to over-cater a bit, and I always keep some good cheese on hand, along with firm crackers and garnishes like sliced olives, mandarin orange sections or chopped chives just in case I run out of things to offer round.
Frugal ideas for canapés include egg salad on Ritz crackers, tuna salad on Triscuits, Devilled eggs, cocktail sticks with small cubes of cheese alternated with small chunks of drained tinned pineapple and of course, cheese and biscuits. You can also serve chopped carrots, celery, broccoli florets and peppers with dips as well.
Serve lots of soft drinks as well as Christmas cheer.
We always make sure there is a wide selection of drinks on offer, from sparkling water to fruit drinks and juices, as well as lots of wine, beer and cocktails.
Allow half a bottle of wine per person, as well as a couple of bottles of beer. Not everyone will drink that amount, or even drink alcohol, but this equation allows for those who drink more than average so you don’t run out. You can’t really count cocktails into the equation either, so if you are going to make them, it’s a good idea to choose one or two and serve them from pitchers until they run out, and then let folks switch to wine, beer or soft drinks. Another alternative is to welcome everyone with a glass of sparkling wine or Prosecco poured over a couple of teaspoons of Crème de Cassis (for Kir Royale), St Germaine or peach puree (for Bellinis), and then just offer wine and beer after that. (You can usually get 5 to 6 glasses from a bottle of sparkling wine.)
Fill a large cooler with ice and cold drinks and put it somewhere accessible so folks can help themselves as well. (Be sure to put a cloth nearby to wipe off any of the wet bottles., and put a bottle opener and corkscrew near by). Walk through the party frequently with wine and water bottles to top up people’s glasses – it’s a great way to make sure the conversation keeps flowing and that everyone is enjoying themselves.
Don’t get knitted about about how things ‘should’ be. Let the evening evolve and everyone will have much more fun. There are no hard and fast rules about how to throw a successful party – but one of the best ways to make sure you do is to relax and enjoy it yourself!