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THE
INSTANT HOST

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
 

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Photographer: Tamin Jones / Food stylist: Alice Hart