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Culinary Countdown To The Festive Season


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7th December 2016

I think there’s nothing quite like the countdown to Christmas, after all, it’s the season for food, drink and general merriment! The festive period is also a time of traditional eats, where almost on cue, the mince pies come out, fine wines and cheese boards are suddenly in greater abundance.

I have to admit, I do enjoy this food familiarity as there’s always something so cosy about knowing what you’re going to be eating over the next month. But in the last couple of years, I’ve come to think of this time of year as an opportunity for a little food and drink experimentation, particularly when throwing a soirée for friends and family.

Here are my tips for the all-important countdown to the festive season!

Festive Cocktail Trends

Using herbs and spices is a great way of adding a little twist to your festive cocktail menu. I love the use of cardamom and cinnamon, which gives such a warming, winter feel to any drink. However, coriander is one of my all-time favourite ingredients, and I’m excited whenever I see this zesty, aromatic herb on a cocktail menu. At home, I like to make my own coriander-infused drinks: I put a small handful of coriander into a container, pour over the gin, seal the top of the container and then refrigerate either for a few hours or overnight – depending on how long you’ve given yourself. It adds such a lovely herbal flavour to a classic gin and tonic. It can also be used for many gin-based cocktails.

Serving your cocktails in different and unusual receptacles is a creative way of presenting your drinks to guests. If you’re making an espresso martini, for instance, serve it in a small coffee cup. If you’re making a martini with an herbal infusion, serve in a pretty teacup and saucer. I even had a drink served to me once in a mini watering can which I thought was charming, and unique.

Using Sloe gin and vodka is a great way of adding more intense flavours into your cocktails. The delicious fruity notes of the berries are ideal for a wide variety of Christmas-themed cocktails.

Sourcing your ingredients locally is a fantastic way of supporting local businesses around the festive season. It’s also an interesting conversation starter at a party! If you have a local distillery, have a chat with the company and see what ingredients will work for your cocktail menu. In London, for instance, check out The City of London Distillery.

Drink and Canapé Pairings

When throwing a Christmas party, I always like to think the drinks and canapés set the tone for the rest of the evening. Offering a unique selection of canapés and drinks to get the evening going is a lovely start to the festivities. It’s the time of year when we do go that extra mile for our family and friends, and I also think this is the part where we can experiment a little more with our food and drink options.

Here are my suggestions for the perfect drink and canapé pairings:

Cool And Spicy – If you’re serving a spicy bite as your first canapé, pair it with a delicious cooling cocktail to counter the heat. I mentioned the use of herbs as a great way to bring an aromatic flavour to a cocktail, and for me, coriander, basil and mint all work incredibly well. I also think a cucumber martini is always a firm favourite and a refreshing twist on the classic martini drink.

A Bit Of Tradition – If you’re having a non-traditional meal, why not create a fun and festive traditional drink and canapé pairing. It’s a great way of fusing some of the more familiar elements to the evening’s culinary offerings. What could be more festive than a glass of mulled wine, served with mini Yorkshire puddings, filled with turkey and a gravy drizzle.

Wine and Cheese – The classic combination of wine and cheese can be given a modern twist with a refreshing Sangria being served instead wine. Also, to give the sangria a festive twist, it can be infused with a cinnamon stick, and clementine juice as an alternative to orange juice. Instead of the traditional cheese board, I think bite-sized squares of Welsh Rarebit are a moreish and delicious start to the celebration.

More Ideas for Canapés

Fish and Chip Skewers – A modern take on this British classic. Small fresh fish bites on top of a fluffy chip then topped with a tartare sauce make for a moreish, delicious canapé.

Tofu Curry Spoons – Mouthfuls of a tasty, warming curry is a great way to whet the appetite of your guests. It’s an easy canape to make, as it is in essence, a one-pot meal, served on little disposable spoons. It also has the added benefit of looking appealing when served to your guests.

Stephanie Brookes is a Foodie Expert and BBC London Radio Contributor. For more information about Stephanie, please visit her website at and follow her on Twitter @StephBrookes

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