• Nectarine and Aperol spritz (Benito Martin)Source: Benito Martin
If you've said yes to hosting the party, but no to doing any preparations whatsoever, this one's for you. Everything you need to pull together a festive party with maximum wow-factor, but minimal fuss.
Bron Maxabella

18 Dec 2019 - 10:13 AM  UPDATED 18 Dec 2019 - 10:20 AM

For many of us, something changes between sending out the invites and the actual event. Which is to say, the mind changes, but little else does. On invite day you have visions of a table groaning under the weight of all the festive fare you've loving made and a home decked in greenery and lights.

You still want all the fuss and extravagance, but with way more extravagance than fuss.

A week before the party and those lights have significantly dimmed. Now you just want to pull off an event that is remembered for all the right reasons. You still want all the fuss and extravagance but with way more extravagance than fuss. Here's how you're going to pull it off in style.

Fizz up the welcome

A carefully selected cocktail offered with speed will hide all manner of ill-preparedness. Choose one with lots of fizz to amp up the party spirit. A classic Fino Bellini, Champagne lassi or Singapore sling will suit nicely. All three are simple to prepare and you can make a big jug in advance, ready to go.

Maha's The Eye cocktail

In Arabic, ‘maha’ refers to a woman with beautiful eyes, a concept that has inspired artists and poets throughout the Middle East for centuries. You can make the base ahead of time and add the berry ice cubes and garnishes when ready to serve.

Nectarine and Aperol spritz

This drink is a cross between two very fine and classic Italian drinks, a peach bellini and a spritz. It would be perfect served in the afternoon or as an aperitivo. It’s a lovely balance between sweet and bitter and, thus, is perfect to have in one hand as you nibble snacks with the other. 

Watermelon granita dark & stormy

This is a thirst-quenching and refreshing summer afternoon beverage. Don’t be tricked though as it does contain alcohol. Based on a Bermudan trademarked cocktail, Dark ‘n’ Stormy, made with Goslings Black Seal Rum, it is a drink for the sailors, made with ginger beer to help with sea-sickness and rum to keep you nice.

Sunset in Jalisco

This is the perfect cocktail to accompany Mexican food. Not only is this a cocktail of beauty, it is a refreshing blend of sweet and sour elements.

Pre-make the canapés

Serve your cocktail with a selection of easy-to-make canapés and you'll find yourself with time to relax with your guests. You can make all of these choices in advance, so they are ready to pull out when your guests arrive. Unlike many bite-size foods, each of these recipes is super-simple too. There's no time for fuss, remember!

Tomato and anchovy pizza (pizzette con pomodoro e acciughe)

Find the recipe for these lovely bites here.

Jewel box labne balls

What’s a party without a cheeseboard? Go for a healthier option and make your own labneh, an addictively creamy yoghurt cheese, eaten all over the Middle East. Labneh is simply strained yoghurt. 

Bread with oil (hobż biż-żejt)

This easy and ultra-delicious snack is Malta's answer to Italian bruschetta. Slices of sourdough bread are shallow-fried then topped with tomato pesto, basil, capers and a crumbling of ricotta.


A deep-fried lentil dumpling that will keep your guests salivating for more, bara is a popular canape served at weddings, Hindu festivals, and casual dinner parties alike. Try it with a side of green chilli chutney for a spicy kick!

 Work that oven

Dishes that go into the oven when the guests arrive and come out of the oven to go straight on the table are your friends. Even better if you can throw something into the oven in the morning and not have to think about it again until lunchtime. A baked ham falls into that category - if traditional feasting is your thing - but any slow-baked roast will do the trick.

Serving salads makes sense at a summer soirée. It's nice to be less formal and salads are cheerful and delicious.

If it's way too hot to even contemplate switching the oven on inside, note that most slow-cooked meats do fine on the barbecue outside. Just remember to use a rack to elevate the pan off the barbecue so the bottom doesn't get too hot. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge on the barbecue hood too. Slightly lower in temp than the recipe calls for is better.

Find the recipe before it falls off the bone here.


Celebration lamb with dirty rice

This rice is cooked with a heap of spices, which gives it its 'dirty' look and name.

Overnight roast pork

"The surface of the roast was burnished and crisp, and when I went at it with two forks, the meat virtually fell apart."

Barbecue brisket with shiitake glaze and stir-fried mushrooms

This tender beef brisket is spiked with classic Asian flavours like lemongrass, soy sauce and chilli for an Asian-American version of pulled beef.

Veggie pleasers

Offering a vegetarian dish or two is a must at any gathering. The good news is, most are simple to prepare in advance and wait patiently to be served. A vegetarian frittata or lasagne can be heated in advance, or a muffaletta or fritters are perfect served at room temperature. All of these dishes are good to serve either buffet-style (and for sanity's sake, we highly recommend you do a buffet) or plated or community-style at the table.

Find Donna Hay's recipe here.

Stem leaves risotto

A simple, nutritious meal that also helps to reduce your food waste. Celery heart is the tender inner section of a bunch of celery and has a sweeter, more delicate flavour. The pale inner leaves of the cauliflower and broccoli are those that you find still snuggly attached after you have removed the larger outer leaves.

Split pea and cauliflower curry

Essentially this is a dhal, but I’ve put my own stamp on it by bulking it out with cauliflower. You can use this as a base for other vegetables, too. I love to add leafy greens, such as kale and spinach, or zucchini and broccoli. Make it your own and take the opportunity to use up any veggies in the crisper so they don’t go to waste.


Move over ham and cheese. This American-Sicilian favourite showcases three types of sliced meats, provolone, roast capsicum and a tapenade-style olive salad, all encased in a hollowed-out cob.

Share the salad love

Serving salads makes sense at a summer soirée. It's nice to be less formal and salads are cheerful and delicious. Look, you could probably do all of the salads in advance and be ready like a pro, but who has the fridge space for that? The best thing to do is to ask each of your guests to bring a salad with them. It's neither outrageous nor unexpected to ask such a thing these days. Make it super-easy for them by preselecting a few easy recipes you want them to make, then leave the final choice to them.

Grab the recipe for this chickpea, parsley and feta salad here.

Pomelo and crab salad

It may take a while to peel the pomelo, but you can sometimes find pre-peeled segments at select Asian grocers. 

Sweet potato lentil salad

Puy lentils are the perfect salad partner, holding their shape after cooking and adding a delightful nuttiness. Plus, they’re packed full of nutrients and protein to keep you full.

Bhutanese red rice, goji berry & hazelnut salad

It is hard to find salads from regions that are high, cold and remote, and in Bhutan red rice is eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner in many guises. This salad includes hazelnuts, which thrive in Bhutan and are being planted there in huge numbers, helping local people earn a living.

Dessert buffet love

Once everyone has eaten their fill (and most likely beyond) at dinner, it's time to pause a little while before offering dessert. Fill the drinks and mingle, knowing that you've got dessert ready to go. Serving a few dessert options at a buffet table means you don't have to make a lot of the same thing. Instead, you can make three or four really impressive options - though, of course, rather simple - desserts to complete your brilliant meal.

Impressive-looking trifles are always a hit and deceptively easy to pull together. Most puddings are likewise a cinch. Serve them with lashings of ice cream to keep things cool. You can't go wrong with any easy dessert: just make sure you make plenty.

Ultimate one-bowl chocolate dessert cake

The easiest chocolate dessert cake recipe is here.

Fast raspberry trifles

Take some stress out of hosting a festive lunch with these express trifles that look bright and rosy and still pack a boozy punch.

The lazy dessert (tinginys)

A biscuity, crunchy chocolate dessert that's quick to make and quick to disappear.

Lebanese nights dessert

Round off a Middle Eastern meal with dainty little pots of smooth, creamy and aromatic semolina custard. 

End on a high

Something that always makes a dinner party feel very polished is the offering of petite fours or something else small and dainty with coffee. Making coffee for a large group is always tricky, so don't be afraid to buy in some of those new 'cappuccino' or 'espresso' coffee bags, which make service a little more of a breeze after the feast that was.

Guaranteed you will be called 'the hostest with mostest' by some sloshed buddy at least once.

Set out your coffee options with a few plates of little morsels and everyone will feel very loved. Guaranteed you will be called 'the hostest with mostest' by some sloshed buddy at least once. Adding to your 'mostest' is the fact that most little morsels are easily made in advance, ready to whip out and be fabulous.

This delightful petite fours recipe is here.

Chocolate peanut slice

Snap, crackle and crunch. An easy quick no-bake slice that happens to be gluten free and dairy free.

Sri Lankan love cake

Dial up your love of cake and spice with this family favourite that calls on preserved pumpkin and lime zest to seal the deal.

Apricot slices (abrikosskiver)

These are so good that cravings for artificial sugary confections will disappear.

Clean up help

Since we've completely nailed the menu and made everything so easy, the only really painful thing about hosting is going to be the clean-up. Ugh. Some tips for keeping on top of things:

  • Start with a clean kitchen - before guests arrive, make tidying the kitchen your second priority (the first is tidying yourself, of course...)
  • Strategically place plenty of rubbish and recycling bins - guests will use a bin if they can find one
  • Place a tray for dirty glasses in a convenient spot
  • Clean as you go - keep the dishwasher moving and don't hesitate to handwash to help keep up
  • Enlist help - when someone says, "What can I do to help?", hand them a tea towel. A little help can move things along very quickly.
  • Use stemless wine glasses that are so much easier to clean and manage
  • Let it all go - at some point, things are going to get messy and that's okay. A party is to be enjoyed and tomorrow is all the time you need to set the house right again. Your guests want to spend time with you, not be astounded by your amazing cleaning skills. Go out there and enjoy their company.

Festive with style
The best Christmas cake you’ll ever eat comes from Sri Lanka
This is the cake even fruit cake haters will love. It's much closer to a flourless cake or a brownie than the usual rock-hard missiles that pass for Christmas cake elsewhere. But there's a catch: you need to make it now to for flavours to develop and the cake’s moisture to increase.
13 festive desserts that are gluten-free and glorious
Creative desserts from around the world that don't use wheat flour because gluten-free doesn’t mean glutton-free.
A very Swedish Christmas: How to celebrate Christmas like the Swedes
From hygge to lykke to lagom, we're all understandably obsessed with how the Scandinavians live. A little peek at Swedish Christmas festivities and we're fully preparing to emigrate.
Where to eat out in our capital cities on Christmas Day
If you're ready to hit the panic button and cancel Christmas lunch altogether, it's time to call in the professionals. Here's where you can have a jolly good time on 25 December.
How I grew to cherish the festive tradition of making tong jyun
Tong jyun reminds me of my family’s love, all I have learnt from my mother and all I am still to learn.
Iceland's book and chocolate tradition is the perfect way to spend Christmas Eve
The Jólabókaflóðið combines two of our favourite things.