Party Planning

New Years Eve is always full of excitement and anticipation for me. I love a good house party, and I wouldn’t be seen without a kitchen full of food.

So, if you’re planning a party tonight then here are a couple of my favourite crowd pleasers for inspiration.

I love to have meat as a centrepiece and my absolute festive favourite is Nigella Lawson’s Aromatic Christmas Ham from Nigella Christmas. I do my own take on this as I swap fresh fennel for fennel seeds, and add in star anise and mustard seeds to the stock the ham is boiled in. I also swap the redcurrant jelly for bitter orange marmalade to glaze the ham as I love the combination of orange and cloves. Once it’s glazed in the oven, I set it on a board or a platter and let people carve off as much as they want.

I also couldn’t do a party without cheese, not just for the vegetarians either! A cheese board is always a wonderful addition, but if you’re not sure what to buy or, like me, you can’t make your mind up and end up buying far too much, a baked cheese is a great option. Camembert is the traditional cheese to bake, but this year I went for something I hadn’t tried before and bought a Vacherin Mont D’or, which is a winter cheese made from Alpine cows when there’s not enough milk left for Comte. The texture is beautifully creamy with a delicate flavour. I bought it on the advice of a delightful Frenchman from Curds & Whey gourmet cheese suppliers, and he gave me strict instructions on how to get the best from it. Firstly make a cross in the top as deep as you can get the knife. Slice some garlic very thin and sprinkle it into the cross, along with some chopped fresh rosemary and sea salt. Pour in a generous glass of white wine and put into a 200 degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Once baked, finish it off under the grill to crisp up the top, and serve. I accompanied it with fresh crusty bread, bitter chicory leaves and cured meats.

Of course I always love to make a dessert as well. Another staple of my Christmas kitchen is Nigella Lawson’s sticky gingerbread, again from Nigella Christmas, but a Baileys Cheesecake makes a really indulgent dessert and is perfect for using up some of the leftover Baileys from Christmas. I make mine using 200g of plain digestive biscuits and melted butter for the base, 3 tubs of Philadelphia, 250ml double cream, 100ml Baileys and 100g icing sugar for the filling, and some dark chocolate for the top. Melt the butter, mix with digestives and set in a greased spring form cake tin and put in the fridge. Whip the double cream & icing sugar in a separate bowl to the cheese, then whip the cheese to get a light texture before combining the two and adding the Baileys. Slather onto the chilled base, top with grated dark chocolate and chill. Gorgeous!

For drinks, I nearly always have Champagne or Prosecco in the house over the festive season, and more often than not there’s a bottle of Chambord which I dribble liberally into it, but there’s a tradition in my partners family for having a lethal rum punch at a party, so I make up a Port Royal punch at my parties. To a jug or bowl, add spiced rum (I use Kraken), grenadine, mango juice, pineapple juice and top up with Lemonade or Sprite. I add an extra couple of shots of pineapple rum so it has a real kick. Throw some orange segments into the jug or bowl and you’re done.

Whatever you’re doing tonight, I wish a Happy New Year to all my readers.

Here’s to 2015!