Party invites abound at Christmas time - make sure you don't ring the doorbell empty-handed and take one of our perfect portable dishes.
During the season of perpetual partying, chances are you'll either host a house party or attend one. It's wise for the consummate host to make some core dishes then request attendees bring something along as an adage, thus avoiding full, festive stove-side meltdown. The key here is to prepare something easily portable that requires minimal assembling at the other end. We have some clever suggestions.
1. Party vol-au-vents
Despite the trend for mini burgers, individual bowls of stew and other such bijous party food, retro party vol-au-vents are a timeless classic. Bake up the pastry shells in advance - they need to cool anyway - and bring a separate Tupperware box of filling to spoon in on arrival.
Party vol-au-vent cases
Spiced egg & coriander mayonnaise filling
Smoked trout, horseradish & asparagus filling
While we're on the subject of pastry, a large pie is a great choice as it can feed up to 15 people. If you really want to show off, you could make a layered chicken, ham and apricot pie in the style of a hand-raised pork pie. If you want to create something more universal, try a vegetarian puff pastry slice. Make sure you pack your pie tight and glaze well - it needs to be solid to survive the journey.
3. Salads and sides
Often, the job of the host is to create a large centerpiece, so to take the pressure off it's good to bring side dishes, allowing the cook time to concentrate on the main act. Depending on the main dish, versatile sides like rice, pasta salad and breads all work well as they can be eaten cold. Try taking something that's not too niche in terms of cuisine so it'll blend in well with a wide selection of dishes.
4. Terrine and pâté
A set terrine or pâté is a great dish to bring to a party - not only is it impressive (a lot of people plump for the shop-bought variety) but it's quite a solid consistency, so won't break in transit. A terrine is ideal as it's often log-shaped and can be wrapped in foil, while pâté is best brought in a Tupperware pot. Bring a baguette for dipping and spreading - you could even slice and grill into melba toasts for extra brownie points.
5. Infused vodka
Ok, so it's not a dish, but it wouldn't be a party without a round of shots. Impress the host with some home-flavoured vodka. Pick up a packet of plastic shot glasses to avoid scrabbling around in cupboards, lay out a tray and get pouring. A guaranteed ice-breaker!
When it comes to a buffet, it's easy to neglect the sweet-toothed party-goer. To ensure everyone's happy, bring a dessert to finish off proceedings. By mid-December, many people are already bored of mincemeat, which is divisive in the first place, so play it safe with a creamy cheesecake. Carry it on a plate with a dome cover and remember- keep it upright!
7. Pulled pork
Instead of bringing a huge joint of meat, slow cook a pork shoulder for as long as possible- seven hours is ideal. This will leave the meat tender and soft, perfect for shredding with a fork. Once you've broken down the meat, pop it into a tub, then take the cooking liqueur in a separate pot to drizzle on when serving, or make your own accompanying sauce like barbecue, hoisin or chipotle.
8. Pastry bites
Sausage rolls, cheese straws and mini pasties are all great to bring to a party as they can be assembled at home and baked on arrival. You can usually freeze them too, so they're great as an emergency back-up should you be invited to a last-minute do.
9. Big dishes
Not only are dishes like shepherd's pie, lasagne and casserole housed in one mere pot, they can also be par-cooked and finished off under the grill or in the oven. Lasagne is always a hit - try making it vegetarian so everyone can get involved. Cook the meat sauce and mash of a shepherd's pie at home, assemble then crisp up the topping at the party - play about with different meats too.
Trifle is another great make-ahead dessert. Just layer up your sponge, fruit, custard and cream in advance, and bring to the party in a transparent glass bowl - but make sure you hold on to it tight! Play about with flavours - Christmas pudding makes it especially festive, or go for a more classic Sherry or Black Forest version.
Still stuck for party inspiration? Visit our Christmas kitchen for hundreds of seasonal recipes for entertaining.