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Unexpected guests? No need to dash to the shops with food writer Debora Robertson’s ingenious tips for feeding a crowd using store-cupboard staples

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Transform your houmous

Decant into a bowl and customise with a trickle of olive oil or chilli oil and a pinch of smoked paprika, cayenne or cumin, or some finely chopped parsley. For texture, toast sesame seeds or pine nuts in a dry frying pan, then sprinkle over the houmous.

Houmous and pine nuts, with crudites and pitta bread

Spice up some nibbles

Warm 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1 tsp Tabasco. Add 250g of nuts and coat them well, then roast at 180°C/Gas 4 for 8-10 minutes until golden. Toss with 2 tsp light muscovado sugar, 2 tsp flaky sea salt and ¼ tsp smoked paprika.

Mixed roasted nuts coated in sugar, salt and paprika

DIY crostini

Slice slightly stale baguettes into thin slices, brush with olive oil, season, place on a baking tray and roast at 180°C/Gas 4 for 8-10 minutes. Cooled, they keep in a tin for a week, ready to be topped: try soft goat’s cheese with sliced figs.

Goats cheese and figs on homemade crositini

Super-simple canapés

For tapenade palmiers, spread a 35cmx23cm sheet of ready-roll puff pastry evenly with tapenade. Roll the long sides to the middle, until they meet. Chill for an hour, cut into 7-8mm-thick slices, bake on a lined baking sheet at 200°C/Gas 6 for 18-20 minutes.

Puff-pastry palmiers filled with tapenade

Cosiness in a cup

Welcome your friends in from the cold with a warming cup of mulled cider or hot buttered rum – they make delicious alternatives to mulled wine and feel so festive. Find the full recipes here

Mulled cider with cinnamon stick, vanilla and orange slices

Upgrade your ice-cream

Transform vanilla ice-cream by sprinkling with chopped stem ginger, spoon over a little of the syrup from the ginger jar and serve with poached rhubarb; or try sprinkling with chopped pistachios and serve with Roses de Reims biscuits.

Vanilla ice-cream lolly sticks with poached rhubarb and chopped pistachio nuts

Speedy snacks

Rinse a tin of chickpeas, pat dry and scatter in a baking tin. Add 1 tsp olive oil and sea salt. Bake at 220°C/Gas 7 for 20-30 minutes, shaking every 10 minutes. Toss with ½ tsp cumin and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, or ½ tsp curry powder.

Baked chickpeas coated in ground spices

Butter up

Flavoured butter is a great secret weapon! For anchovy butter, whizz up 100g softened butter with 8 anchovies in olive oil, 2 grated garlic cloves, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of paprika until smooth. Serve with toast or radishes.

Anchovy butter with radishes

A bespoke cocktail table

Create a seasonal drink, and set the ingredients out with instructions for people to mix their own. Try this: 30ml vodka or gin, 15ml Cointreau and 100ml pomegranate juice, shake with ice and strain into a glass. Finish with a twist of orange peel.

Homemade cocktail with vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate juice and orange rind

An instant flavour hit

Whipped feta is delicious as a dip with roasted veg or spooned over lamb chops. Whizz 200g of feta with 2 tbsp cream or yoghurt until smooth. Serve as it is or season with black pepper, lemon zest, chopped chives or mint.

Feta cheese dip with roasted vegetables



Party food inspiration

Photographer: Tamin Jones / Food stylist: Alice Hart