Hitting the perfect dinner party balance of style, flavour and not being stuck in the kitchen can be hard, so here are 3 of my favourite winter party recipes: Mulled Cider, Baked Camembert and Pumpkin Soup.
They are all perfect for a festive catchup, a Christmas feast or a New Years knees up. Minimum set up, maximum flavour – without overwelming your guests. And, every one of these is vegetarian (just swap the chicken stock in the soup) and scrumptious.
There is something magical about a communal dish – Spanish Tapas nestled in the middle of a table, a warming pot of goulash, a selection of spiced Indian curries or tearing the end off a piping hot loaf of freshly baked bread that unites us in an almost neanderthal manner.
Mulled Cider Recipe
I love the idea and the smell of mulled wine, but not the taste, so I tend to offer mulled cider when entertaining. Light, delicious and very festive.
- 1 orange
- 1 litre dry cider
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tbsp dark brown soft sugar
- 8 tbsp brandy
- 1. Peel the zest from the orange and add to a pan, then squeeze in the juice.
- 2. Add all the other ingredients and heat gently for 10 mins, until warmed through.
Baked Camembert: The Ultimate Indulgence That You Won’t Want to Share
This will blow your mind (and possibly the size of your hips but it is worth every single extra flight of stairs). A warm, indulgently unctuous Camembert baked in the oven with a sprinkling of delicious flavour, served alongside a selection of freshly toasted bread and dipping crudites. What more could you want to start a luscious Christmas feast alongside the people that you love?
What’s more, you could make individual ones if you get small rounds of brie, and depending on your crudite choice, it’s a totally gluten-free starter. You might try baking it in the wicker containers some cheeses are sold in, but for our gluten-free friend we didn’t want to risk it.
- 1 large round of Camambert
- 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic
- 4-5 springs of fresh rosemary
- Olive oil
- Crudite such as fresh toasted bread, crackers, vegetables
- 1. Pop the oven on to pre-warm to 180° & pour yourself a glass of something delicious.
- 2. Unfold the Camembert from the wrapping & place in an oven proof dish, or a round of foil with the sides folded up. You'll want something to support the cheese once it's centre is melty and glorious - ramekins work well.
- 3. Either, lightly skim the skin of the brie (literally just a few milimetres deep) off with a spoon, from the top level to about a cm from the edge (ie the green area in the pic) or diagonally score the cheese to about 5mm deep.
- 4. Insert the tip of a knife into the body of the cheese, then slide slivers of the skinned garlic and sprigs of rosemary in order to ensure the flavour is evenly imbued.
- 5. Dash a few drops of olive oil onto the exposed surface.
- 6. Slide into the oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until the centre seems liquid (if you’re in the process of cooking a Turkey just make a little room on the bottom of the oven and add a few minutes if the heat is much lower). Pour yourself another glass of something festive.
- 7. Serve with crudite.
- Baked cheese can be both sweet and savory, allowing for such a large variety of possible flavours.
- > Spread a thick layer of fruit preserves (apricot, raspberry, or fig would be excellent) on top of cheese before baking.
- > Cook fresh berries with sugar and a bit of water in a saucepan until they break down and form a sauce. Use compote to top warm cheese.
- > Drizzle baked cheese with honey and crushed almonds - serve with fresh apple slices for crudites.
- > Crumble dried cranberries and crushed walnuts on after baking for a rich, earthy texture contrast.
- > Top with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes before baking.
- > Caramelize sweet onions in butter until they turn a deep golden brown. Add thyme leaves to onions and place on top of baked cheese. Drizzle Balsamic vinegar on.
- > Before baking, fully remove the top rind of the cheese. Sprinkle on shaved black truffle or drizzle with truffle oil. Replace rind and bake for a truly gourmet treat.
Pumpkin & Parsnip Soup: A Winter Warmer
This soup will warm you and your guests from the toes, to the top of your heads. Homey and soft, it’s one of my absolute favourite things to cook in my slow-cooker. It’s healthy too – you don’t need to add any cream or cheese – though it is scrumptious if you to want to take a walk on the indulgent side. It is one of those recipes that to me almost feels too simple – vegetables + stock + a bit of extra flavour to add depth.
I did tell you that I liked Pumpkin, didn’t I? You can use most root vegetables, though I found that using potato made it a bit boring.
Instead of throwing away the Pumpkin Seeds, try drying them and adding flavour, a great snack if you hold back on the oil & butter. A great recipe I found is here and has a variety of suggestions.
- A red onion
- Half a pumpkin or a small Butternut Squash, with the skin off*
- Two large parsnips
- A couple of knobs of butter
- 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 Tablespoons or curry powder or 2 teaspoons of paprika
- Thick cut bacon & cream fraiche to serve
- 1. Turn your slow-cooker on. If on high the soup will take 3-4hours, on low the soup will take 6-7 hours (another reason I love it – turn it on when you leave for a day of meetings, come back to a hot cooked dinner).
- 2. Dice the Red Onion, and cube the Pumpkin/Squash and Parsnip.
- 3. Add to the cooker with the butter. Leave to cook for about half an hour. This par-roasts the vege, giving it a little richer flavour.
- 4. Mix, then add the stock and curry powder / paprika.
- 5. Leave to bubble away for either 3-4 hours on high, or 6-7 hours on low; until all the vegetables are soft**
- 6. Mash with a potato masher, if like me, you like your soup chunky (also like me) or blend once a little cooler for a velvet like texture.
- 7. Enjoy on it’s own, or with cream fraiche and bacon chunks stirred through, accompanied by fresh bread. Autumnal bliss. Serves about 4 bowlfuls.
- * Tip: unless your pumpkin is really bumpy, use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. A lot of people use a knife but it removes so much of the flesh.
- ** Essential Tip: Cover the slow-cooker with a tea towel!
What are your favourite dinner party go-to recipes?
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