Entertaining guests during the festive season can be daunting and stressful. The pressure to make the occasion “perfect” can easily lead to blunders and put people off hosting altogether. However, with a bit of forward planning and some helpful tips, festive and memorable entertaining becomes a lot easier than it looks.


Planning ahead will save your sanity. Generally, you will know that you have guests incoming and can create a selection of canapés to wow them on arrival. Aim for three: one which is really easy to prepare in advance, one which is slightly more fancy and just one to be served hot. Remember that cold, premade canapés can wait in the fridge for a few hours and still cause “ooohs” and “ahhhs” when they are served. For example, take a neat rye bread square and smear with a little soured cream, then top with a small slice of smoked salmon (or cooked beetroot) and a few drops of lemon juice! For extra luxury and visual appeal, add a dollop of caviar, some fresh dill or even a little edible gold!


I also make sure I always have a batch of blinis, melba toast (great for paté, rillettes or charcuterie) and pastry baskets at the ready. To make the baskets, just layer 3 squares of filo pastry in a mini-muffin tray with a little melted butter and bake for 5 minutes until the edges are turning golden. These will keep in an airtight container for up to a week and can be filled with just about anything – they can even be baked again if necessary!


Perhaps the easiest way to feed a crowd is with dips, served with chopped vegetables, breadsticks or crisps. Dips can actually be quite filling if you use legumes (an excellent source of protein) and really delicious too, provided you make them yourself. Just keep a few tins of cooked chickpeas, butter beans or other legumes in the cupboard – just add boiling water, tahini and oil (ideally a flavoured oil), plus lemon juice, spices and herbs, and blend until smooth. You can even add cooked vegetables like beetroot, carrots and peas.


For a slightly more impressive canapé, go for mini Yorkshire puddings, which can be made up to three months in advance and frozen. Just flash them through the oven to crisp them up, then top with horseradish cream and sliced fillet steak. Another good freezer-filler is a batch of choux buns, where the pastry has been mixed with cheese and marmite, then baked. When reheated, these become instant homemade gougères, and are almost worryingly delicious. Alternatively, keep the choux buns plain, hollow them out and transform into sweet profiteroles, or savoury canapés like spicy prawns, chicken with mango and coriander, or fried mushrooms with a little hollandaise.


Another great way to do hot canapés with minimal hassle is a thick, tasty soup served in a shot glass or a small cup – maybe a parsnip and chestnut soup with a drizzle of truffle oil. If you are really determined to impress, you can always go for vegetable tempura, mini fish cakes (make the mixture in advance, then slice and fry straight from the freezer) or simply splurge on luxury ingredients like lobster, served chopped with herbs and lemon juice.


Remember that canapés need not be complicated but should always be packed with flavour. Spending extra time getting the seasoning and textures just right is well worth it. Visual impact also matters – don’t be shy with garnishes and even props, such as wooden boats or spoons, great big platters, micro herbs, edible flowers or even edible gold and silver. One last tip: edible gold spray on fresh leafy herbs brings a real festive sparkle to your table!