Finger food for your next cocktail party (+ recipes)
I love cocktail parties at this time of year. They're such fun, so easy to put together and always feel glamorous. People dress up a bit, eat and drink delicious things, mix and mingle - then go home.
Entertaining is a bit like travelling - there's as much fun in the planning as the actual travel. I like to figure out everything I can ahead of time - from planning the menu and preparing the food, right down to even labelling the platters that I'll use for each menu item, putting out glasses and ice buckets for the chilled wine, mixing up the cocktails and preheating the oven so that anything that needs to be warmed up can be done in a flash.
Set the tone from the start with a formal invitation. There are some great websites, such as Paperless Post, that allow you to create bespoke invitations. Be sure to specify the date, the location and the start and end times. Two hours is a good duration, so if it's mid-week I usually suggest a 6pm or 6.30pm start and 8pm or 8.30pm finish. That way people can come directly from work but don't feel like they have to hang around all night (and they know you won't be providing dinner).
Having done a three-year stint as a caterer in my 20s (my little catering company was called Hot on the Spot), I've definitely earned my stripes on the cocktail circuit. For the food, I work on the basis of five to six different items, and allow two to three of each per person. It's a good idea to provide a variety, with some light, low-calorie options, such as fresh vegetable bites and light dips, as well as a couple of chilled items and a couple of hot items. Sometimes I'll offer one or two more substantial dishes served as individual portions - eco-friendly disposable tableware is the go here, look for either bamboo or bagasse tableware, which is made from sugar cane.
It's always a good idea to stick to a flavour theme - I don't like mixing up Asian and Mediterranean flavours as it's hard to make the tastes feel cohesive.
Whatever you choose to serve, make sure the food is easy to eat and small enough to handle. When serving food with toothpicks, bones, pits or shells remember to provide a receptacle for the leftover bits, and always have plenty of napkins available.
Theming the party makes things fun and at this time of year you definitely don't need an excuse - it's the silly season!
The Spanish know a thing or two when it comes to creating simple flavour combinations - these little prawn and chorizo canapes with a garlicky, smoky aioli are always a hit and super easy to put together. Get the recipe
Leave the fancy architectural canape creations to the professionals and go for simple combinations that taste great together - like fresh, milky mozzarella and melt-in-the-mouth paper-thin sweet prosciutto. With their Christmas colours, these bocconcini bites are the perfect nibble for a pre-Christmas drinks party. Get the recipe
I remember my grandmother making these and everyone oohing and ahhing over them. We love them still. Good things never go out of fashion. Make twice as many as you think you'll need as they disappear with the speed of light. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com.