Although no party is complete without a handful of treat foods – snacks, cakes and perhaps a sausage roll or two – convenient, ready made options can cost a lot of money. And not only are you left with a bin bag of packaging to get rid off, but you have endless trays of food lined up that require last minute cooking just before your guests arrive.
Here are five nifty, no-nonsense short-cuts that will feed your guests and keep the budget down.
Easy chicken drumsticks
In our rush to put something amazing on the party table, like a huge centrepiece meat or fish, we have forgotten that most people - young or old – are more than happy to just tuck into a drumstick or two, Henry VIII-style!
Wash and dry drumsticks (a couple of eight-packs will make an impressive stack for a small home get together but adjust according to number of guests). Rub them with olive oil then roll them in a shallow bowl of spicy dressing. You can quickly create a dressing with bouillon powder, or a mix of your favourite herbs and spices – try mustard powder, paprika and cayenne for a bit of a kick. Put the drumsticks in a pre-heated oven 220ºC for 50 minutes. Keep an eye on them after 40 minutes – they will be ready when you prick under the skin and the juices which run out are clear.
Warm halloumi salad
Although hosts like to put out a bowl of green salad, it rarely gets touched. This halloumi salad has a little extra oomph and gets eaten up in no time.
Cut a 250g-ish packet of halloumi into half-inch squares and fry with one chopped onion. (Don’t use lower fat halloumi as it will spit too much when cooking.) If you feel daring, add some roughly chopped mushrooms and even finely chopped chilli. Use as little cooking oil as you can so the ingredients don’t get too soggy, but do add a splash of lemon olive oil if you have it. Let the cooked ingredients sit for a few minutes then stir in to a large bowl of fresh green leaves, avoiding too much of the oil slipping into the salad. No need to add any other salad dressing.
Baby jacket potatoes
Great for all ages, bite-sized jacket potatoes can be served as a side dish if you’ve already bought a large ham or salmon, or they can be finger food to dunk in dips.
Get two 500g bag of salad or Charlotte potatoes, boil them for 15 minutes until almost completely done, then drain. Put them on a baking tray in a very hot oven for 12-20 minutes. Even if you do these ahead of time they can warm up easily whilst you’re cooking something else just before friends arrive. Serve in a big bowl next to a small pot of ketchup.
Lentils with feta or sausages
Puy lentils keep their shape when cooked and don’t require the faff of pre-soaking. However, with a little stock and the right topping they can look very chic, despite actually being the basis of rugged old French dishes.
Take a 400g tin of green or puy lentils and add it to a pan with about a pint of hot vegetable or chicken stock. (If using dried puy lentils, these don’t take too long to cook first, but do follow the packaging instructions for preparation so they don’t get too mushy or stay too hard.)
According to your taste, add chopped celery or largish chunks of garlic clove. Warm the ingredients through by slowly simmering in the pan for 20-30 minutes, making sure it stays moist enough towards the end. Don’t to speed up the cooking by boiling otherwise your lentils will lose their shape. By the time it is ready, the garlic should be soft and not at all strong to taste.
Drain off any excessive liquid but make sure the lentils haven’t dried too much. Tip the cooked mixture out onto a wide shallow bowl and toss in either two or three meaty sausages cooked and chopped into bite-sized chunks, or diced feta cheese.
Mini cottage pies
Mini versions of party food might sound a bit ’90s, but when people are drinking and talking over a few hours, they want proper food but something that won’t mean they have to sit at a table for half an hour. Small glass ramekins saved from desserts you’ve bought in the past are ideal, and cottage pie is a good choice because it’s tasty but easy to do.
Fry the mince with onion and finely chopped mushroom then add a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a pint of vegetable stock to cook though. While that’s cooking, boil and mash some potato and make sure you add a good knob of butter and some milk so that the mash crusts nicely.
Spoon in a layer of mince into each ramekin and then top with the mash and add to the hot oven while cooking other dishes, just for ten minutes or so to crust over. Serve with teaspoons.