Have yourself a sassy little drinks party

Evening Echo food columnist Di Curtin shares her tips and recipes on hosting a successful drinks party at home
Have yourself a sassy little drinks party
Di Curtin's perfect drinks party.

DRINKS at home have always been a thing at Christmas. From the annual welcome for the neighbours, to a festive gathering for the girls. Or a couples night in, where entertaining in the house is the new going out.

Light the fire, put the fairy lights on and make the place look glamorous!

For Christmas 2017, every drinks party needs a few cocktails! Mixed drinks are really enjoying a heyday again, with cocktail bars like Cask in Cork city winning numerous awards in the first year of business. Cocktails are having a moment.

Stylish cocktails deserve sassy nibbles. That doesn’t mean slaving over a hot stove for hours. Quite the opposite, in fact. Just a little bit of cooking clever, advance preparation and going all out with the presentation, to create simple bites that deliver the wow factor on all fronts.

How many canapes? It’s hard to gauge how much people will eat at a drinks party. Bearing in mind that most people will want a little bit of everything on the table, if you have six different ideas like the ones here, assume you need at least one nibble of each thing per guest. A safe bet is to double this amount, or triple it if you know your crowd will be a hungry horde. The recipes here each serve four generously and they are chunky nibbles, rather than dainty ones. Recipes are easily multiplied for larger numbers. Add to these with bowls of crisps and other crunchy savoury snacks, plus bowls of olives, dotted round the room.

TASTES FANTASTIC — LOOKS SENSATIONAL

Presentation is absolutely key Soup is soup, but when it’s served in little espresso cups, it becomes a gorgeous sip, with just the right amount of warmth and flavour to welcome your guests. Homemade spiced nuts look and taste way nicer than any you can buy ready done, and don’t take much effort. A whole baked Camembert takes the place of your usual dips. Shove it in the oven to let the cheese melt, then serve it with Italian Grissini (bread sticks) or thin slices of baguette, toasted. The Mediterranean Skewers are a no-cook nibble. You just need a selection of antipasti items, like olives, jarred artichokes, dates, feta cheese and pancetta, plus cocktail sticks — and away you go. You can use almost anything you fancy on these skewers. The ingredients below are just a guideline.

Sweet Potatoes roast like a dream and make great spicy wedges, with sour cream for dipping, or top them with a scoop of the melted Camembert.

A simple chicken fillet stir fry becomes an elegant bite, served in individual pots, so everyone gets a balanced mouthful each. This one will need little forks and can be served hot or cold.

When it comes to presentation, the wilder your imagination the better. Don’t forget fresh herbs. They always lend eye appeal. Pop a pile of plates and napkins on the table so guests can take a selection of things. Add candles and some fairy lights for atmosphere.

A little tip for wrapping up the party: A sweet nibble acts as the finishing touch. This can be something as simple as little chocolate truffles in mini muffin cases. Or serve festive warmed mini mince pies, with a little dob of cream on top. These sweet bites act as a hint hint that the food as come to an end!

MIXING IT UP

It’s good to stock up on wine and beer as the stalwarts of the drinks party for a mixed crowd. When it comes to cocktails, keep it simple and choose a small selection. You can even just pick one to serve all night. If you are going to serve a selection, as a rule of thumb, a sparkling cocktail, a classic, and one or two extras are perfect. My four ideas below will get you going!

Choose the right glasses for each cocktail. A Martini needs a Martini glass. A sparkling cocktail needs a champagne flute. Fruity cocktails can be served in flamboyant big wine glasses or curvy beer glasses. Whiskey based cocktails are probably best served in short chubby glasses or taller tumblers. Gin and vodka based cocktails look good in tall glasses or extra large wine glasses. Keep it classy with fresh fruit, lemon and lime slices and elegant straws for decoration.

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WHOLE BAKED CAMEMBERT

THIS is easy peasy and looks impressive.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

2 x 250g whole Camemberts

2 whole cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

few small sprigs fresh rosemary

freshly ground black pepper

Method:

Remove the wrappings from the cheeses and pop them into the lower halves of their boxes. Wrap each one with foil to protect the box, leaving the tops uncovered. Cut a circle in the rind on the top of each cheese and remove it, exposing the soft cheese underneath.

Tuck garlic slices and rosemary sprigs into the cheeses. Season with ground black pepper.

Bake in a pre-heated oven, Gas 5 375F 190C for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is runny and the top is golden.

Serve with Italian grissini (breadsticks) or thin slices of baguette, toasted, for dipping.


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SPICED NUTS

EASY to make and tasty to eat!

Ingredients (Serves 4)

2 x 200g packs mixed whole nuts without shells (cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp dried garlic powder good pinch dried red chilli flakes

1-2 tbsp golden syrup (to taste)

Method:

Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat.

Add the nuts and spices with the olive oil.

Stir to coat in the spice mix and heat gently.

Cook for a few moments over medium heat, till the nuts are browned and the spices cooked.

Add the golden syrup and stir through.

Spread the nuts out on a baking tray lined with parchment to cool. This will stop them sticking together as they cool.

Store in an snap top plastic box until ready to serve. Tumble into serving bowls.

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BUTTERNUT SOUP CUPS

SEASONAL butternut squash is warming and savoury, served in these little cups. If there is any soup leftover it will freeze well.

Ingredients (Serves 4 in an espresso cup each, with enough for extra helpings)

2 tbsp olive oil knob of butter

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and in chunks

2 tsp medium curry paste

750mls vegetable stock

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Method:

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and fry the onion and garlic over low heat till translucent and soft. Trasnfer to a heavy bottomed saucepan.

Add the butternut to the pan with an extra splash of oil, and cook for a few moments, till the edges are softening. Transfer to the saucepan.

Stir the vegetables over low heat and stir in the curry paste. Cook for a moment, stirring. Pour over the stock. Bring to bubbling and partially cover.

Simmer gently till the vegetables are tender. Season Puree smooth and check seasoning.

Add a little more stock if the soup needs to be thinned.

Pour into warmed expresso cups and decorate with snipped chives to serve.

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MEDITERRANEAN SQEWERS

THESE are no cook and allow you to run away with your taste combos! Feel free to mix and match.

Ingredients (Serves 4 — 4 pieces each)

Tomato, olive and feta:

2 cherry tomatoes, halved

4 pitted Kalamata olives

1 thick slices feta cheese, cut in 4 equal sized cubes

Date and Pancetta:

4 Medjool dates

4 thin slices smoked pancetta

Artichoke and olive:

4pieces artichoke hearts in oil, from a jar

4 Kalamata olives

Pancetta and Feta:

1 thick slice Feta cheese, cut in 4 equal sized cubes

4 slices smoked pancetta

Method:

Cut the feta into chunks.

For the tomato, olive and feta skewers: Thread the halved tomatoes onto cocktail Add an olive then a chunk of feta.

For the date skewers, carefully slit the dates without cutting right through and remove the stones.

Wrap each date in a thin slices of pancetta. Skewer onto cocktail stick.

For the artichoke skewers: thread the artichokes onto sticks and top with a black olive.

For the Feta and Pancetta: Wrap feta cheese cubes in the pancetta and skewer with cocktail sticks.

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SOME DRINKS INPIRATION:


Raise a glass during your drinks party with some of these festive favourites by Di Curtin.


WINTER BERRY PROSECCO

A gorgeous mix of cassis or blackcurrant cordial topped up with lighthearted Prosecco, and finished with a fresh blackberry.

Ingredients (Makes 4)

4 small shots cassis or blackcurrant cordial Prosecco to top up

4 blackberries to decorate

Method:

Pour a small shot of cassis or blackcurrant cordial into four champagne flutes Top up with Prosseco to serve.

FROSTY GIN AND LIME

A take on the classic G&;T, adding some coconut water and lime to the mix! This needs really good gin and best quality tonic water.

Ingredients (Makes 4)

Ice cubes

4large measures Boyle’s Craft Irish Gin

2 limes

4 normal measures

coconut water

Fentiman’s Tonic Water to top up

4 lime slices to decorate

Method:

Fill four tall tumblers with ice cubes.

Pour a large measure of gin into each glass.

Halve limes and squeeze half into each glass.

Add 1 measure coconut water to each glass.

Top up with tonic water.

Add lime wedges to glasses and decorate with lime slices on the rims.

Serve with straws.

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COSMOPOLITAN

You’re not a real Sex And the City fan unless you’ve drunk several of these in your time! Particular appropriate at Christmas, since a Cosmo contains cranberry juice. What more excuse do you need?!

Ingredients (Makes 4)

4 measures vodka

2 measures orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier)

4 squeezes lime juice

100mls cranberry juice twists of orange peel to decorate

Method:

Place the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.

Shake well then pour into four classic Martini glasses, or use Coupè glasses (like champagne saucers) Thread the orange peel in a twist onto cocktail sticks and balance on the top of each glass.

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BLOODY MARY

An all time great cocktail, suited to winter drinking because of warming, spicy flavours. (P.S. This is also brilliant for curing hangovers. You never know when you might need to know that.)

Ingredients (Makes 4)

Ice cubes

4 large measures vodka

tomato juice to top up

2 limes, halved

4 good dashes

Worcestershire sauce Tabasco Sauce to taste.

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 sticks celery to stir

Method:

Fill four tall tumblers with ice cubes to about two thirds of the way up the glass.

Add four large measures vodka Top up with tomato juice.

Add the juice of half a lime, a dash of Worcestershire Sauce and few drops of Tabasco sauce in each one.

Season with crunchy sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a celery stick stirrer.

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