Hostess with the mostess: 5 easy ways to ALWAYS be prepared for guests this Christmas
It's almost time!
And for most of us, that means welcoming family and friends into our homes in droves over the next few days, something that can be both incredibly lovely and also incredibly stressful – in equal measure.
Whatever it is about the guests and gatherings you know are happening, and can meticulously prepare for, what often happens over the holiday season, is that unexpected guests will pop in too.
Maybe they are just home for the holidays and just wanted to say hi, maybe they are neighbours who thought it would be nice to pop over and hand-deliver their Christmas cards. Regardless, they are guests in your home and you want them to feel welcome and wanted.
And so, as with most things in life, preparation is key. To help you out, we had a chat with product developer Barbara Ross in M&S about how you can rustle up canapés and treats quickly for unexpected guests and got her top tips for hosting an unforgettable get-together so you can enjoy the party season just as much as your guests do.
1. Stock your fridge well
Do the groundwork, stock up smart, and you will be ready for anything – and anyone – come Christmas.
"Having an of artisan charcuterie selections in the fridge is always a good idea," says Ross. "Our Christmas Selection one is really great, and the best thing about these is that you can assemble them quickly and present them beautifully on a plate or board. Add some crusty bread and antipasti grilled peppers, stuffed olives, tomato and mozzarella, and you are all set."
Just look at the 'pull-apart and dip' Brie-En-Croute above, featuring an entire Normandy brie, surrounded by all-butter puff pastry that's studded with rosemary and garlic. YUM.
Being "fake prepared" is a life-saver, we think, and having a selection of ready-to-eat nibbles will save you when guests land at your door unannounced. Cheese, crackers, and crudité selections are all brilliant, the goal here is everything being as no-prep and stress-free as possible.
"Lots of our canapes and party foods come ready assembled, so all you have to do is heat them up or present them beautifully on the plate," Ross reveals. "In fact, we scored all of our party food with a “faff factor” to ensure at least two-thirds of the range has a 0 or 1 faff factor- meaning little or no prep."
2. Have something everyone can eat available
More and more people are going vegetarian or are avoiding gluten, so to make sure you have a couple of options everyone can eat is always a good idea – and a nice touch.
Stock up on some party food that is gluten-free, making it easy to cater for all your guests, no matter their dietary requirements.
"Over a third of all our chilled party food range is gluten-free," confirms Ross. "And as for vegetarian options, try our Great British Cheese Bites, Brie and Cranberry Tartlet or the new 24-piece American selection, which includes mac and cheese bites and cream cheese filled jalapenos – all real crowd-pleasers too."
3. Think of the kids
Having kids around at Christmas time is all sorts of lovely, and instantly makes for a more relaxed and informal gathering. But it also means you have to have something handy to feed them, of course.
The smartest things to go for is something like pizza or fish-n-chips, that not only most kids love, but that is also easy enough to eat without making too much mess!
As for dessert, we bet everyone is going to love the new, festive-themed Colin-the-Caterpillar!
4. The extra touch
Nobody (or, at the very least very few of us) have the time nor the inclination to cook everything from scratch when guests are around the corner, meaning relying on ready-made stuff way more realistic and stress-free. And the good news is that it only takes a minimum of effort to add that extra little touch to dress them up a little.
"There are lots of simple finishing touches you can use to ensure your dishes wow the crowds," Ross can reveal. "A few of my favourite ideas include a drizzle of olive oil or balsamic glaze, a generous sprinkling or sprig of fresh herbs, a handful of rocket, a grind of black pepper or a dollop of crème fraîche or soured cream."
When it comes to serving sweet treats, you can totally take these to the next level without much effort too.
"A dollop of mascarpone or extra thick double cream on a decadent Christmas treat is great, the same goes for adding some fresh, seasonal fruit or berries," says Ross. "Use a tea strainer to sprinkle over icing sugar, cinnamon or cocoa powder, and add a sprig of mint, and you are all set."
5. Go all out with the presentation
Presentation and how you serve your nibbles is pretty much the easiest way to wow your guests with absolute minimal input this festive season.
"With canapes, a lot is in the presentation," agrees Ross. "Use beautiful crockery and serving platters. Think about how you serve things up. For instance, American style snacks will look great served in mini metal buckets lined with grease-proof paper or Kilner jars or brown paper on wooden boards."
As for seafood like scallops and shells, why not serve them up on a bed of rock salt on a black slate or marble plate?
Use plates that are mismatched in colour and design for a more relaxed look, or simply pile your plates onto a kitchen counter or dining table, add a few strings of fairly-lights and make it a help-yourself self-service bar where everyone can get their own nibbles – easier for you, more fun for your guests.