Entertaining must be my middle name – I LOVE it. I love nothing better than having a crowd of people over, and dare I say it, I’m well known for my cocktails and canapés. If it were possible, I’d be having cocktail and canapé nights every night. It’s simple but impressive if you’re having a lot of people over although it can require a lot of effort. I tend to make very fruity cocktails so there’s a lot of chopping, crushing and pureeing going on. And canapés, unless you keep them really simple, can be quite fiddly to prepare. Furthermore, when ever I invite people over, it usually tends to be a very last minute thing so I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been running around like a crazy woman trying to get everything ready in time before the doorbell starts ringing. Goodness knows what I’d do if I regularly put on four-course dinner parties!
That’s not to say that the hard work isn’t worth it because when I hear the raucous laughter and non-stop chatter above the already very loud music, see the empty dishes and knocked-over cocktail glasses (accidentally of course) and know that everyone’s having a damn good time, then it’s most definitely worth it.
But there are ways of hosting a great cocktails and canapés night without feeling as though you are in danger of committing murder beforehand. Here are some great tips to hosting the perfect C&C evenings Mrs. D style:
BECOME THE COCKTAIL QUEEN
If like me you are very last minute dot com or you simply dread having unexpected guests, it’s a good idea to make sure you have some stand-by items ready in the fridge or cupboard. There isn’t really much need to stock up on ultra expensive ingredients that you’re probably never going to use again. We all remember the fairy tale about the magic stone soup and it’s true – with limited ingredients and a lot of imagination you can come up with something quite impressive:
- I always have at least one bottle of wine, rum or vodka ready to act as the base for a good cocktail so always make sure you have a bottle of something tucked away for ’emergencies’.
- Always make sure you’re never out of ice.
- You can cheat by using a cocktail mixer pack where all you have to do is add alcohol and serve.
- I can’t think of any fruits that can’t be used in a cocktail, either sliced, pureed or muddled and strained so let your fruit bowl be your best friend!
- Herbs and spices such as basil, mint, lemongrass and ginger and even chilli can really give your cocktails a much needed kick – just remember not to overdo it!
- Cola, lemonade, sparkling water and various types of juices make great mixers.
- Never underestimate the importance of the humble lemon (or lime.) The zest and juice can be added to the alcohol; the fruit can be sliced, and the peel can be used for decoration.
- When all else fails, cooled sugar syrup + lemon juice + alcohol + ice + soda + lemon slice = inexpensive yet impressive cocktail!
- Don’t forget to frost the rims of the glasses with sugar.
- If you do have time to prepare, freeze either fruit juice, coffee, cola, tea lemonade etc. to avoid watery cocktails.
Also remember that it’s not all about the alcohol (strange coming from me, I know!) as you may have guests who don’t drink. Where possible simply omit the alcohol in their drinks, substitute it with a flavoured syrup if necessary or top up with more ginger ale, lemonade, soda etc.
THE EASIEST CANAPES EVER
Canapés and antipasti platters are traditionally nibbles served to guests as they arrive and as they are a precursor to a main meal, they tend to be light. However, it’s not uncommon now for people to forgo a sit-down meal in order to serve an array of canapés, especially if they are having a lot of guests or want to keep things informal.
- So unless you’re planning a party with lots of guests, keep the antipasto fairly simple so you don’t override the the main meal. You could perhaps serve two or three dishes from the list below along with some fruit, nuts and bread.
- If you’re planning on serving a main meal, then the antipasto should complement the meal you’re planning.
- Think about the appearance and fragrance of the food; blending flavors, aromas and colours will create interesting antipasto plates.
We’d all love to do a Delia when it comes to entertaining but let’s face it – we don’t all have time to stuff quail eggs or make pastry from scratch. Neither do we have the patience or finances to track down obscure, expensive ingredients which can probably only be ordered online. So if you’re pushed for time – or money – cheat! Make the most of your local, supermarket, grocer or deli. And if you’re fortunate enough to live near a farmer’s market, so much the better!
Here’s a list of simple nibbles you could include as part of your canapés:
- Jarred marinated artichoke hearts
- Water crackers
- Various types of cheese
- Sliced or cherry tomatoes marinated in dressing
- Cold meat slices
- Different types of bread
- Slices or chunks of fresh fruit
- Jarred roasted peppers
- Garlic hummus and pita bread
- Sardines and sweet onions
- Sweet pickles, chutneys and relishes
- Cold shrimp
- Roasted nuts
- Homemade garlic bread
- Grilled deli vegetables
- Marinated fresh mozzarella
You could also decide what you’d like to be the key component in your antipasti platter ie. – meat, vegetables, fish etc. and then base other nibbles around them:
Meat: a selection of natural deli meats – pepperoni, salami and prosciutto etc. — then add mixed olives, brie, deviled eggs, roasted vegetables and crackers.
Vegan: vegetable crudités, marinated olives or olive tapenade, pitta bread, roasted peppers, vegetarian stuffed dolmas and roasted garlic hummus.
Seafood: fish roe, sardines, anchovies, seared fresh tuna and smoked salmon, crackers served with cream cheese, sliced marinated onions and capers.
Fresh Fruit and Nuts: Serve chunks of melon, figs and pomegranate alongside deli meats, and then add toasted walnuts and roasted, salted pistachios.
Roasted Vegetables with Cheese: roasted veggies e.g. – baby aubergines, beets, bell peppers,courgettes, carrots, tomatoes, asparagus, onions and garlic. (Look for roasted vegetables in the prepared foods section of the store, or simply toss raw veggies with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in a 450°F oven until tender.) Served with tangy cheeses like feta, Gruyère or aged Manchego.
Cheese and More Cheese: Look for out-of-the-ordinary cheeses like Rustica cheese with red peppers or black peppercorns, rosemary coated Manchego, Caciotta cheese with green olives, Gouda with mustard seeds or cumin, drunken goat cheese made with red wine and Sotocenere cheese with truffles and a hint of cinnamon. Then combine them with a few traditional ones like provolone or fresh mozzarella. Serve with crusty bread, olives, deli meats, fruit, crackers, pickles and chutneys.
I’ve included an example of a super simple antipasti platter and a quick and easy cocktail. Hardly any fuss at all with easily found ingredients.
240g sunblush tomatoes
225g queen green olives
70g Napoli salami
70g Milano salami
70g sliced chorizo
80g Parma ham
Arrange the selection of canapés on a breadboard or platter.
APPLE AND CINNAMON SPARKLE
300ml sparkling apple drink
1 green apple, sliced
6 cinnamon sticks
- Mix vodka and sparkling apple drink.
- Pour into martini glasses.
- Garnish with a slice of apple and a cinnamon stick.
What could be simpler! Enjoy!