While Christmas dinner is arguably the most important – and stressful – meal of the year, entertaining on New Year’s Eve comes close second.
There can be a lot of pressure to throw the perfect NYE party, whether you’re catering for a crowd or just a handful of friends.
So, what’s the secret to nailing New Year’s Eve? Of course, having plenty of champagne on ice will go a long way, but it’s also about being smart with your cooking, and whipping up delicious dishes that will suit everyone.
This ethos will serve you well at any party, says Yotam Ottolenghi (Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Extra Good Things, Ebury Press, £25).
“The important thing is to give a sense of abundance, but also minimal work,” he advises. He recently cooked for a group of friends, but he knew he wanted to actually spend time with them, “So, there are lots of things that can be made ahead and sit there – there was only one last bit I did, which was I cooked some eggs.
“Everything else was pre-made – for me, this is the ultimate entertaining tip.”
Kate Young (The Little Library Parties, Head of Zeus, £15) also encourages you to prepare at least some dishes in advance. She recommends things like “sausage rolls prepped the day before and served at room temperature, a tart that can be baked hours before, and a salad that can live happily in the fridge for a bit until you need it”.
Hogmanay is a big occasion for Coinneach Macleod (The Hebridean Baker: My Scottish Island Kitchen, Black and White Publishing, £25), so he’s well-versed in how to pull off the perfect party. “Every Scottish home will be filled with visitors on Hogmanay – before AND after the bells!” he says. “So plan ahead and make a hearty batch of Mince and Tatties, that can be served with a big dram of whisky, to family and friends who come round to celebrate.”
And you can do the same with any desserts you might be serving on New Year’s Eve. “Most bakes last three to four days, so it’s a good idea to start baking on 29 December. That way, you can be fully prepared and enjoy the day,” advises Jane Dunn (Jane’s Patisserie: Celebrate!, Ebury Press, £20).
Use your freezer wisely
Making dishes earlier in the day will go a long way, but what if you wanted to be really prepared?
For Suzanne Mulholland AKA The Batch Lady (The Batch Lady: Cooking on a Budget, HQ, £22, available 5 January), the best thing you can do is cook a meal well in advance, and pop it in your freezer.
“I’m a huge party animal, and I love to be enjoying the party with everybody else – I’m a work hard, play hard person,” she says.
“So, for example, we are hosting [a party] that’s the day before New Year’s Eve, and it’s beef bourguignon for 40 – and it’s already in the freezer.
“Because a rainy Tuesday in November is sometimes a perfect day to organise that party, when actually in between Christmas and New Year, do you want to be going to the shop finding all the ingredients? You might have people over, you’ve just done Christmas – so it’s really nice to be able to just pull it out the freezer, and you’re only doing a little bits round about it.”
Make interactive food
NYE isn’t quite as formal as Christmas, so you can have a bit of fun with food.
Whenever she’s hosting, Noor Murad (Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Extra Good Things, Ebury Press, £25) tends to make it a team effort. “I like to do interactive food, so everyone gets involved,” she explains. “So, it’s either lots of different mezze – like sharing platters – or something that is ‘build your own’.
“I think that’s the easiest, least pressure thing for you, because it’s all there and you can pick and choose, and take what you want.”
Lean into picky bits
Can you ever go wrong with picky bits? Not according to Joe Swash (Joe’s Kitchen, Pavilion Books, £22), who says: “With a gathering like New Year’s Eve or a party, always do loads of tapas food, do loads of little bits.
“So, do a plate of roast potatoes, and little bowls of different things. Let people pick and choose what they want. It’s a party – they don’t really want to eat that much, they want to have a drink on New Year’s.”
And from a dessert perspective, Dunn recommends making miniatures. “If you’re entertaining a crowd, make mini versions of bakes, so they’re easier to serve.”
Ask for help when you need it
“I spent my 20s as one of life’s great hosting martyrs. I refused offers of help, wanting desperately to give my pals a nice relaxed evening in my flat,” remembers Young.
“In reality, my friends watched me from their seat on the sofa, as I flapped about, trying to do 12 things at once. Now, I’m far less precious. I take the help, and invite people into the kitchen with me to chop, stir, and pour. My top tip? Let people be useful. They love to help.”