Whether you’re getting together for an end-of-year celebration or a simple catch up, the festive season is the perfect excuse to host a little get-together with family and friends at home.
But just because you want to be the ‘hostess with the mostess’, it doesn’t mean you need to go all-out and break the budget. Here are some great tips from The Internet Chef Bridget Davis on how to have the perfect gathering while being kind to the wallet.
Check the freezer of your local butcher for bargains
When you're planning your wintery get together, don't forget to frequent the freezer section of your local butcher to get your hands on a whole-cut special. You might be lucky enough to come across a whole turkey, a rolled pork roast or a tender lamb roast that is priced to fly out the door.
Turkeys and rolled pork roasts make a sensational centerpiece for a mid-winter dinner table and making friends with your local butcher can really help you snag a bargain.
Create the right atmosphere – dim the lights, change the bulbs to a lower wattage and overuse candles
Enhance the party atmosphere with the clever use of lights. Nobody likes the starkness of commercial bulbs and factory lights, so dim your lights and turn on the lamps. Buy some pillar candles as well and place them in the freezer for a few hours before lighting. This will stop the wax from dripping everywhere and will light up your table with glorious mood lighting.
Set a beautiful table – it’s all in the detail
Even if you're a little short on finances, you can still set a beautiful table using a few clever tricks. Handwrite the menu so everyone gets one and iron and fold the napkins so they are smooth and well-pressed. Visit your local dollar store or Reject Shop and source some inexpensive knick knacks and ornaments that can be strewn across the table along with light-giving pillar candles.
Fill a large ornamental bowl with some of the winter vegetables you will be serving and for an extra special touch, cover them with glitter and sparkling jewels that can be easily glued on to reflect the candle light.
Low-sitting flowers also make a nice touch; Have a look in your own garden or back yard for some fresh flowers that’s free of charge!
Warm up with Mulled wine
If you’re considering serving wine with dinner, try serving a true winter treat – spiced mulled wine. It’s a wonderful drink option and your guests are bound to come back for seconds as the warm glasses heat up the belly and cold hands. Mulled wine is also budget-friendly and a little goes a long way.
To make your own mulled wine, thinly slice 2 whole oranges and 1 lemon. Add to a saucepan along with 150 g brown sugar, 5 whole cloves, 5 cardamom pods, 2 cinnamon sticks and 2 bottles of a fruity red wine. Add a good grating of nutmeg along with 150 ml of ginger cordial.
Slowly bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and serve warm with a cinnamon stick and orange peel.
Relish in the winter foods by starting with a hearty soup
Mid-winter dinner parties give us the opportunity to feast on those winter warmers that are normally kept away from our traditional summer gatherings. With the chilly hold of winter in full flight, we can now think about large roasts, hearty stews and casseroles and what better way to start a sit down dinner than with a steaming bowl of soup. Try serving one of our favourite soups like cream of broccoli, which is a great in-season specialty that will keep the costs down.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and sauté 2 finely chopped onions until soft. Add 3 large heads of broccoli cut into florets and season well with salt and pepper. Stir well and cook for a couple of minutes before adding 2 litres of chicken stock. Bring the stock to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
Stir in 300mls of cream and blend until smooth with a hand blender. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with a side of crusty bread and a little extra cream swirled in at the last minute.
Don't forget the trimmings! Winter veg makes great budget-friendly accompaniments
A simple and effective accompaniment for your dinner party is wonderful roasted winter vegetables. Choosing vegetables that are in season will help to bring flavour to your table and at the same time will keep the costs down. Try this fabulous Brussels sprouts with butter and lemon recipe that will have you thinking differently about this humble sprout.
Cut 1 kg of Brussels sprouts in half and trim off any tough outer leaves. Heat 150 g of butter gently in a large frying pan and add the Brussels sprouts. Sauté on medium heat for 15 minutes tossing the sprouts regularly to caramelise evenly.
Add 5 cloves of garlic finely minced along with the juice and zest of 2 small lemons. Reduce the heat to low and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for a further minute before turning the heat off and finishing with a good even grating of parmesan cheese over the top before serving.
Host a potluck
Hosting a potluck dinner is great way to bring people together whilst balancing out the cost of a party. You can set a theme and ask people to supply certain items based on your theme or keep it simple and ask one group to supply an entree, another a main course and so on and so forth.
If you have decided that the main course is going to be your project for the evening, you should try this one pot roasted chicken legs with potatoes and kale. In a large casserole dish heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté 10-12 chicken drumsticks to give them a little colour. Add 4 finely minced garlic cloves and 6 medium-sized peeled and diced potatoes, 2 diced carrots and 4 stalks of diced celery and pour over enough chicken stock to cover.
Season well with salt and pepper, place the lid on the dish and cook in an oven set at 190C for 20-25 minutes. Add 2 bunches of kale leaves, washed and picked and replace the lid of the casserole and continue to cook for further 5 minutes before serving.
Serve cupcakes for dessert – Try red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting to get in the spirit of things
If you’re wanting a different take on a traditional dessert, try making and serving red velvet cupcakes. Their spirited red colour and white frosting will have your guests celebrating the chill. They are also budget-friendly and easy to make.
In a cake mixer, mix together 2 cups of caster sugar with ¾ cup vegetable oil. Mix in 2 large eggs followed by 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, 2 teaspoons of red food colouring and 1 cup buttermilk. Add ½ cup hot water and 1 teaspoon of white vinegar. Now fold in 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and a large pinch of salt. Lastly add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and mix to combine.
Spoon into 24 muffin cases and bake at 165 C for 20 minutes. When cold, top with a cream cheese frosting made by placing 125g cream cheese in a blender with 4 tablespoons of room temperature butter, 2 cups of icing sugar and the juice of ½ lemon. Blend until smooth and pipe on the cupcakes
Try your hand at a warm steamed pudding with custard
A mid-winter table is the perfect time to pull out the pudding steamer and make a traditional and comforting steamed pudding. To make it even more special, try wrapping silver charms in foil and hiding them in the batter before serving with custard and ice cream.
Sago Plum pudding: Soak 100g of sago in 2 cups of milk overnight. In a bowl, mix together 300 g raisins and sultanas, 100g chopped pitted prunes, ½ cup caster sugar, 2 teaspoons baking soda along with 3 teaspoons ground ginger, 3 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 cups soft breadcrumbs. Add 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder and 2 lightly whisked eggs and mix well.
Pour the batter into a lightly buttered pudding basin and cover with 2 thicknesses of foil. Secure with twine and steam for 3 hours in a pot, topping the water up when needed.
Serve with warm custard and ice cream.
Light the fire and have coffee and cake near the open flames
If you are fortunate enough to have a house with an open fire, make sure you utilize this charming statement by lighting a roaring fire so your guests arrive into a cosy environment. Think about serving coffee and cake by the fire instead of at the table for a nice change of pace. For those of us who are without an open flame, keep the windows and doors closed while you are setting up to keep as much heat in as possible and have a few cosy rugs around to drape over knees or shoulders should the need arise.
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