During the season of perpetual partying, chances are you’ll either host a dinner or attend one. When doing the former, it’s a good idea to make some core dishes and request attendees bring something along, thus avoiding full, festive stove-side meltdown. The key for guests is to prepare something easily portable that requires minimal assembly 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 bijou party food, retro vol-au-vents are a timeless classic. Bake the pastry shells in advance – they need to cool anyway – and bring a separate container of your filling to spoon in on arrival.
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 centrepiece, 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 is great for taking to a party because it looks impressive and the firmness means it is less likely to break in transit. You can wrap it easily in foil, too. Pâté is another good option, best presented in an earthenware pot and paired with a baguette for dipping and spreading – you could even slice and grill on 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 drinks. Impress the host with some home-flavoured vodka – a guaranteed ice-breaker!
When it comes to a buffet, it’s easy to neglect the sweet-toothed partygoer. 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 in a decorative cake cloche for an extra flourish.
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 over 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 baking dish, 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 for a shepherd’s pie at home, then assemble and crisp up at the party. Just make sure your host factors in the oven space.
Trifle is the ideal make-ahead dessert. Just layer up your sponge, fruit, custard and cream in advance, and bring to the party in a transparent glass bowl – just make sure you hold on to it tight! Play about with flavours, too. Using 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.