Heaven knows but I love throwing a party. And mostly because I love love LOVE making party food! Spending a day preparing nibbles for my friends fills me with so much joy it’s almost embarrassing – especially when they start to arrive and it initially looks as though I’ve over-catered in the extreme… (Which, not to blow my own trumpet too much, is actually never the case. If food is there, people will eat it.) So anyway, just thought I’d share some pics and tips about the food I served up at a little cocktail party at J’s flat last Saturday night. It was our first ‘joint-hosting’ and, if I say so myself, it went down a storm! Guests were greeted with dire homemade mojitos and moscow mules (I am a seriously rubbish cocktail-maker. But I was just extremely generous with the spirits in the hopes that no one would notice.)
Anyhoo, here are a few tips based on the nibbles I whipped up on Saturday afternoon. Seriously, the whole spread only took 3 and a half hours to make, which sadly isn’t because I’m a superwoman, but because this is the easiest stuff ever.
It’s Bruschetta, B*tch.
I am obsessed with bruschetta, or crostini, aka fancy pants toast. Sometimes I fantasise about running a crostini-only restaurant, serving up weird and wacky toast toppings from around the world. But for this party I kept it sane: using slender mini ciabattas I did a plate of mini classic bruschetta (or should that be bruschette?); a plate of mini mushroom crostini and a plate of mini ricotta and squash crostini using the epicurious recipe found here. [A word of warning with this recipe – sage leaves can crisp up all too quickly in hot oil, leaving you with little leaves of charcoal all too apt to crumble into sage-y soot.]
The mushroom mix was super simple: chunky slices of chestnut mushrooms gently sauteed into tender oblivion in butter with a crushed clove of garlic and plenty of fresh parsley, salt and pepper; I added more parsley and a generous drizzle of olive oil to the finished toasts.
Call me an ’80s housewife, but in my opinion, the mark of a truly great party is truly great dips. There is some green gloop available in most supermarkets which masquerades as guacamole, but the real deal, the homemade stuff, is a completely different animal – an amazing, nom-nom-nom, ‘I wish there weren’t any guests so I could just eat this all myself’ kind of animal. I’d have to agree with the BBC when they describe this recipe as producing the Best-ever Chunky Guacamole. I actually added a bit more than the recipe suggests and so here’s a quick run-down of my quantities:
4 ripe avocadoes, mashed; 2 medium tomatoes, diced; 1 small red onion, finely chopped; 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped; juice of 1 large lime – plus plenty of salt and pepper to taste
I omitted the coriander because I didn’t have any and tbh it survives perfectly well without, whereas all of the other ingredients are essential. My number one tip however for making guacamole is buy your avocadoes at least three days in advance, maybe more. They have to be really ripe.
True story: I once went to a Fourth of July party in a mews house in South Kensington, hosted by an extraordinarily and extravagantly wealthy young American who was, like me, volunteering at the V&A. When I walked in, I was less struck by the loveliness of the little house (that came later) and more struck by the gigantic bowl of guacamole which formed the centrepiece of the buffet, surrounded by not just normal yellow tortilla chips, but also purple tortilla chips (oh yeah, and servants, there were actual servants). It looked incredible (the dip, not the servants). It tasted incredible. I aspire one day to serve my guacamole alongside two different colours of tortilla chip, and then I will know I have arrived.
Those mini potatoes you can see in the photo above? They were supposed to be slit open and piped full of cream cheese, but I ran out of time. In fact, they were equally good straight out of the oven (where they had been for at least an hour, tossed previously and generously in oil, salt and pepper), with a sprinkling of fresh chives. They were the teeniest potatoes I could find, bite-sized essentially, and the very first guest immediately dunked one in the guacamole. This was, frankly, genius. I’m now considering guacamole as a jacket potato filling. Thoughts?
Ah, sausage rolls. I have never hosted a celebration without them. I even took some to my friend’s wedding last month for the tea table. I frequently use Jamie Oliver’s chilli and cumin recipe although I’m usually a bit more restrained with the chilli element to make it as guest-friendly as possible. Sometimes I do a herb and mustard sausage meat version (using Colman’s mustard powder and fresh or dried mixed herbs) or another favourite is to spread the pastry with non-chunky chutney before adding the sausagemeat on top. A few tips that help me out:
- In my experience it’s easier to find good quality sausages in a supermarket than it is good quality sausagemeat, so if in doubt go for sausages, snip them apart and squeeze out their fillings. You can even save yourself seasoning if you like, as many sausages now come with distinct ‘flavours’.
- Adding a bit of water (not much) to your sausagemeat should make the pastry puff up more.
- For a party, make the line of sausagemeat no thicker than an average hotdog. Then cut your sausage rolls to be each about an inch wide. This way guests/you can pop them in whole, and oh boy, does that taste good…
Courgette and cream cheese rolls
I have no idea now where I got this idea from, but it is phenomenal. It’s actually not the best thing to do for large parties, because each roll is so small you’d have to make heaps to cater properly, but would make a great canape for a dinner party. They are so easy, yet look so fun and taste unexpectedly good. Simply take wide ribbons of raw courgette with a peeler. Fill a piping bag with cream cheese and pipe a small sausage of cheese about 1cm from the end of each ribbon. Starting with the cheesy end, roll up the ribbon into a scroll. Grate over some lemon zest, and voila, a perfect ‘who’d have thought it’ spring/summer canape.
Phew, long post – sorry! If anyone has any other suggestions for great party nibbles, please do let me know – I’m always planning the next menu!