50 fast party ideas

Author: Emma Knowles, Lisa Featherby, Adelaide Lucas
Photography: Chris Chen

Does the idea of entertaining throw you into a mad panic? Hosting a great party doesn't need to be an extravaganza. If you're no Tetsuya or Neil - and let's face it, who is? - here's a smörgåsbord of great (easy) ideas to make you the host with the most.

DRINKS

Jugs, jugs, jugs… for drinks, that is. Anything you can mix in a jug, instead of making by the glass, will leave you cool under the collar.

1 Store-bought watermelon juice forms the base for a great jug cocktail. Muddle together coarsely torn mint leaves, coarsely chopped lime and some caster sugar in the bottom of a sturdy serving jug or carafe. Add a good measure of vodka or gin to taste and top up with watermelon juice. Refrigerate to chill thoroughly and add a generous quantity of ice just before serving. 

2 Pulse assorted berries in a food processor with Cointreau and a little sugar. Transfer to a jug and top with soda water or lemonade and serve with plenty of ice.

3 Pimm's Cup never fails to refresh. Add thinly sliced lemon, orange, cucumber and mint, and plenty of ice to 1 part Pimm's and 2 parts lemonade.

4 Champagne cocktails scream festive. Purée ripe white peaches, muddle berries or simply soak a sugar cube in your favourite liqueur, top up with Champagne and you're sorted.

5 Simple but stunning: pour pastis over ice, add a squeeze of lemon, then serve.

6 Pisco Sours for a crowd are a great warm weather tipple. Combine Pisco brandy, lemon juice, eggwhite and sugar syrup in a sturdy jug, use a stick blender to froth and pour over ice. Add a splash of bitters and let the merriment begin.

7 Designated drivers need not have cocktail envy. Muddle coarsely chopped lime, mint leaves and sugar syrup to taste in the base of a jug. Top with plenty of ice and sparkling water. Cheers.

CANAPÉS
These can be as simple as lightly topped crostini or filled tartlet cases, or as elaborate as chargrilled or fried seafood numbers.

8 If you've got a baguette lying around, you've got crostini. Thinly slice, toast until golden and rub with a little garlic. Add any range of toppings. Marinated artichokes with sopressa or goat's cheese with tapenade are great combinations.

9 For a fresh take, blanch broad beans, coarsely purée, combine with finely grated lemon rind and extra-virgin olive oil, pop on crostini and scatter with grated pecorino. 

10 Last one for the crostini files: thinly slice rare roast beef, drizzle with tonnato and scatter over baby capers, lemon rind and finely chopped parsley. The tonnato's a cinch: process good-quality mayonnaise with a drained can of tuna in oil, add lemon juice and season to taste.

11 Tartlet cases are readily available from pâtisseries, delicatessens and supermarkets. They're canapés waiting to happen: add fillings and serve. We like goat's curd and chopped tomato and basil or flaked smoked trout with horseradish and salmon roe.

12 Something a little fancier: toss prawns with a little finely grated ginger, a couple of chopped garlic cloves, finely sliced chilli, the grated rind and juice of a lime and a slosh of kecap manis. Stand for 15 minutes, then chargrill, basting with remaining marinade. Serve with lots of napkins.

13 Lightly dust pieces of squid with flour seasoned with smoked paprika. Deep-fry for a minute or so until golden and serve with whole-egg mayonnaise combined with the finely grated rind and juice of one lemon, a finely chopped garlic clove and chilli flakes to taste.

14 Sashimi-grade tuna and salmon are available from most fish markets trimmed to size, and make an instant party snack. Slice thinly and arrange on a platter. Serve with a simple dressing of equal quantities of finely chopped golden shallot and pickled ginger combined with a splash of light soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil.

15 Drizzle the dressing above over freshly shucked oysters.

16 Puff pastry is a flaky base for savoury canapés. Try these Spanish-flavoured bites. Cut into mini squares or rounds, brush with eggwash and scatter lightly with finely grated Manchego. Bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes until crisp and golden. Cool and serve each topped with shaved Manchego, a thin slice of jamón and a sliver of fig or thinly sliced red grapes.

NIBBLES AND SNACKS
Gotta love our instant dips for impromptu drinks, while heartier ideas, such as shredded roast duck pancakes, will help keep the party going.

17 Instant dip one: mash up an avocado, add lime juice, Tabasco, chilli and coriander to taste. Season. Serve with grilled tortillas.

18 Instant dip two: purée a can of drained chickpeas with garlic, tahini and lemon juice for a quick hummus. Season. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds, ground chilli and serve with grissini.

19 Instant dip three: purée a drained can of white beans with garlic, lemon rind and parsley to taste. Season. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter with extra parsley.

20 Instant dip four: no party is complete without a Greek dip. Try skordalia: process some whole blanched almonds until fine, add some crustless crusty white bread, a good wallop of garlic, a splash of lemon juice to taste, then a stream of good-quality olive oil until emulsified. Serve with grilled pita bread.

21 Split Lebanese bread in half, brush with olive oil, and lightly roast scattered with dried oregano and sea salt or any favourite spice blend. Serve with any, or all, of the above dips.

22 Grill fennel wedges and big, meaty green olives, toss together with a little extra-virgin olive oil, orange rind and juice, rosemary leaves and roasted fennel seeds.

23 A wheel of ripe Camembert not only makes a great end to a meal but is a wonderful start as well. Buy one in a wooden case and warm it in the oven until the centre begins to melt. Rip off the top and indulge with some crusty bread and a good bottle of wine.

24 Chargrill halved chorizo or other spicy sausage and serve with chimichurri sauce in soft rolls. Perfect with a cold beer.

25 Hot-smoked ocean trout is great to have on hand for impromptu parties. Flake it into a bowl, add crème fraîche or sour cream, finely grated lemon rind, lemon juice and thinly sliced green onion. Season generously to taste and serve with crusty bread. Turn up the wow-factor by serving a bowl of salmon roe (or caviar) on the side.

26 Chinese barbecue shops are an invaluable party resource. Buy a roast duck, shred flesh and skin and serve with warmed store-bought Peking pancakes, cucumber batons, thinly sliced green onion and hoisin sauce. Peking duck, anyone?

27 Equally, coarsely tear the flesh of a white-cooked chicken - from Chinese barbecue shops - toss with julienne carrot, cucumber, green onion and coriander, dress with a soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil dressing and serve with fried wonton wrappers.

28 Pinzimonio, or Italian crudités, is as easy as cutting up crisp summer vegetables, such as radish, Dutch carrot, snowpeas, asparagus or zucchini flowers. Serve with a simple dipping sauce of puréed garlic, anchovy, lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. Serve the sauce hot and you've got bagna cauda. Impressive.

29 Buy some grissini from your local deli, wrap them with thin slices of prosciutto or jamón and serve alongside a bowl of marinated olives.

SIT-DOWN MEALS
From easy but filling staples such as couscous to a poached whole trout or salmon, the idea here is for heartier meals without the hefty workload.

30 Store-bought shortcrust pastry is a lifesaver when it comes to entertaining at short notice. Blind bake in individual tart cases, cool and fill with roast cherry tomatoes, torn basil and marinated goat's cheese for a light meal. Add good sourdough and a green salad - that's lunch.

31 Peel cooked prawns, toss through torn baby cos leaves and sliced avocado, then dress in thinly sliced preserved lemon peel, lemon juice, chilli flakes and olive oil.

32 Instant couscous is a great staple that bulks up any meal. Cover with boiling water and stand until fluffy. Stir through chopped coriander, mint, a sprinkling of ground cumin and coriander, a squeeze of orange and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with pan-fried chickpeas, merguez sausages and a dollop of harissa.

33 Fattoush is a simple salad that traditionally accompanies lamb. Brush Lebanese bread with olive oil, scatter with sumac and sea salt, crisp in oven, then break into pieces. In a bowl combine coarsely chopped tomato and torn mint and parsley leaves.Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and season to taste. Add bread just before serving and toss to combine.

34 A whole poached ocean trout or salmon is the perfect way to feed a crowd. Combine a coarsely chopped onion, a few slices of lemon, fresh bay leaves, a few whole black peppercorns, a glass of white wine and enough water to cover fish in a fish kettle. Bring to the boil. Submerge fish in liquid and return to boil, cover with a lid, remove from heat and stand until fish is cooked to your liking. Serve warm or cold with a warm salad of boiled baby kipfler potatoes tossed with plenty of picked dill sprigs, thinly sliced golden shallot, rind and juice of a lemon and extra-virgin olive oil. Season to taste. Serve with yoghurt combined with baby capers and horseradish and with lemon wedges to the side.

35 Day-ahead gazpacho is great for entertaining on busy weeknights. Process ripe tomatoes, Spanish onion, garlic, day-old bread, capsicum and cucumber until smooth. Add sherry vinegar, season to taste and refrigerate overnight. Add some picked crab meat, cooked peeled prawns or Balmain bug tails just before serving.

36 Stuff a baguette with antipasto-style vegetables or salami, thick slices of tomato and buffalo mozzarella and basil leaves. Tie up and it's ready to transport.

ALFRESCO
Food outdoors always tastes just that little bit sweeter, especially when it's hot off the barbecue - and it's the quintessential 'shrimp' - or is packed in a picnic basket.

37 Barbecues are a real blessing when it comes to last-minute entertaining. Marinate prawns in mirin, soy and miso (for Japanese flavour) or chermoula, coriander, parsley, cumin and ras el hanout (for Moroccan flavour) before grilling. 

38 Barbecue squid and chorizo, chop them up and toss through canned chickpeas with torn parsley and mint, thinly sliced Spanish onion, sherry vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.

39 Rub lamb cutlets with Moroccan spices, then barbecue and serve with baba ghanoush, a tomato salad and flatbread that's been quickly warmed on the barbie.

40 Crumb chicken breasts and cook until golden and cooked through. Cool and serve in soft white rolls with a shredded cabbage salad and aïoli. Perfect picnic fare.

41 Shred the meat from a barbecued chicken with your fingers. In a bowl mix meat with thinly sliced Chinese cabbage, green onion, long red chilli and snow pea shoots. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds and dress with finely grated ginger, sesame oil, lime juice and soy sauce.

DESSERTS
How sweet and simple are summer treats? You can't go wrong if you include any one of the season's fruits and just a spoonful of sugar.

42 Spoon whipped cream, crushed macaroons and berries tossed in Grand Marnier into glasses.

43 Puff-pastry rounds also make perfect dessert bases. Top with a hazelnut crumble and figs, then bake until golden. Serve with raspberries and vanilla ice-cream.

44 Scatter some pineapple slices with brown sugar and pan-fry, turning until golden. Splash with rum and serve with coconut sorbet.

45 Drizzle honey over some halved figs and caramelise under a hot grill. Serve with gelato.

46 Dress up fresh summer fruit for an impressive dessert. Combine 2 parts sugar, 1 part water and 1 part orange juice and bring to the boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat, add the segments of 2 oranges and a splash of orange liqueur, then pour over raspberries and sliced strawberries. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve fruit with its syrup and a dollop of crème fraîche.

47 Melt together good-quality chocolate and pouring cream and you've got a fabulous fudge sauce to serve with sliced banana and whipped cream, scoops of ice-cream and a scattering of salted peanuts. Yes, instant sundae.

48 Is there a sweeter finish to a meal than a good chocolate mousse? Gently melt 225gm of good-quality chocolate and 60ml of your favourite liqueur in a heatproof bowl over gently simmering water, then cool to room temperature. In an electric mixer whisk 600ml thickened cream to soft peaks. With motor running, quickly whisk in chocolate mixture until just combined. Spoon into serving glasses and chill. Serve scattered with crushed amaretti and dusted with cocoa powder. Serves 8.

49 Drizzle a fresh cheese, such as ricotta, or thick yoghurt with a little fragrant honey. Add some berries and serve scattered with coarsely chopped roast almonds.

50 Scatter Demerara sugar over halved stone fruit such as plums, peaches or nectarines, then flash under a hot grill until caramelised and serve hot with dollops of thick yoghurt or a good-quality ice-cream.







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