Christmas dinner parties

Since the Beloved and I have been together, we’ve always had formal dinner parties around Christmastime. Most years, we will entertain my stepchildren and their partners the weekend between Christmas and New Year. We’ve also had friends over for dinner on New Year’s Eve a couple of times, and often have people to lunch on New Year’s Day. It’s a busy time of year, but surrounding oneself with friends and family is the very essence of Christmas for me. My Godfather once said of my Mum and her family, “they make love to you with food.” It’s a gene I’m happy to have inherited!

I love a nice table!

Although it’s a great stand-by, I think it’s possible to get a little champagned-out at this time of year. I do serve it before Christmas lunch and open a bottle to let the New Year in, but I usually look to other aperitif drinks for my dinner parties. One drink I learnt to love in my twenties is the Trinity cocktail. I was living and working in a Jesuit retreat house in Merseyside, and it had become the house tradition to have a Trinity before dinner on Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and the founder’s feast day. Twenty-five years on, I still like to drink it on happy occasions. It reminds me of a good time in my life and some important friends.
In a tumbler half-filled with ice, mix equal quantities of Gin, dry vermouth and sweet red vermouth. Stir, garnish with a slice of lemon and serve.

I’ve written extensively on sherry, port and Madeira in the last month or so and I won’t revisit those thoughts here. You can find the blog entries at and 

One great thing about those wines is that they’ll handle some big flavours. If you’re giving a Yuletide dinner party, a little extra time in the preparation could give you some very impressive canapés. Try this:
·         Slice 6-8 dates in half lengthways and remove the stones.
·         Down the centre of each piece, place a sliver of fresh red chilli about an inch (2cm) long.
·         Wrap each half of date in thinly sliced smoked venison and pin with a cocktail stick.
·         Sprinkle the whole plate with finely chopped fresh parsley and a little grated orange zest just before serving.

My stepson lived with us for a short while in his teens and shares my love of fine drinking. A few Christmases ago, he bought me a copy of Harry Craddock’s magnificent Savoy Cocktail Book. It has become my Bible for all things cocktail. I love to return to the original versions of classic cocktails, and my stepson is rarely far away when I do. The Manhattan is one we both love, and it makes for a warm, welcoming drink on a winter’s evening.
 In a mixing glass of ice, mix:
·         A few dashes of Angostura bitters
·         A teaspoon or so of Maraschino liqueur
·         A small glass of vermouth (like to use a mixture of red and dry white)
·         A measure of rye whiskey
Strain into a goblet and garnish with a quarter slice of lemon or a cherry.

A classic canapé that takes little preparation but always delights is Angels on Horseback. They’re beautiful, warm oysters wrapped in streaky bacon (smoked or unsmoked, according to your preference). You can get it all prepped up beforehand and just wazz it through a hot oven or grill (broiler) on the last minute. It’s a perfect accompaniment to any of the drinks I’ve mentioned. Allow 3-4 oysters per person if it’s your only canapé.

·         Gently stretch the bacon with the back of a knife, then cut each strip in half.
·         Wrap each raw oyster in a half-rasher of bacon and pin with a cocktail stick.
·         Heat under a hot grill or in the oven until the bacon fat is translucent.
·         Serve immediately.

If you don’t fancy shucking your own oysters when you’re up to your eyes in other preparation, you can usually buy them ready shucked and frozen from the Fish Society ( ) Outside the UK, quality fishmongers may well offer the same service. You can also make Devils on Horseback by replacing the oysters with ready-to-eat prunes or apricots and cooking in the same way. To prevent the cocktail sticks burning, soak them in water for about 30 minutes before you use them.


It’s important to provide properly for those of your friends who don’t drink alcohol, especially at a time of year when they may be feeling somewhat excluded. Too much of what we offer is childish. Adult palates are very sensitive to sweetness, and something a touch sharp or bitter might be more appreciated. Think about making a jug of grapefruit punch, rather than simply opening lemonade. For drivers, a mixture of soda water with Angostura bitters is both refreshing and sophisticated. Many of the commercial alcohol-free drinks are excellent, and I’ll review a couple of these in January.

Next time: Christmas Day at Aperitif Towers


  1. I love this Paul. It's mouth wateringly good. Keep up the blog lovely it's so enjoyable. X

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'm pleased my writing keeps you entertained.


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