Christmas time and the living is easy ... Well, that's the aim, with a bit of planning when it comes to entertaining. We love the idea of making the most of the great outdoors with a Christmas Eve soiree on a, hopefully, balmy evening or setting the table for Christmas Day dinner outside in the dappled shade of a garden tree.
Keep the mood relaxed with mix and match chairs, a trestle table and organic shaped dinnerware. Use outdoor lights, garden flares or candles to create a festive glow.
Throw cushions and rugs about on the lawn, use sheepskins for comfort and have blankets on hand for when the evening gets cooler. There's an elegant ease to a setting like this, where there's plenty of room to move around, and for children to play and guests to unwind and feel totally at ease.
A Christmas Eve soiree is the perfect time to get friends together, before the family commitments of the big day. It's a wonderful opportunity to put together a few special cocktails, break open the Champagne and prepare a delicious supper.
The gifts are all wrapped, you have done all your prep and the tree is looking magnificent. Time to show off your efforts. The last thing you want is a lot of dishes, so aim to serve food you can eat with your fingers or have disposable plates and plenty of serviettes on hand.
Our menu includes delicious bacon and mushroom tarts. Make as many of these as you need, simply double the recipe. Goat's cheese, available from your supermarket, adds a wonderful richness, complemented by the mushroom and thyme.
For vegetarian guests, leave out the bacon, and add olives or sundried tomatoes. The pastry cases can be made well ahead of time allowing for a quick reheat when guests arrive.
A side of salmon goes a long way, so is great for this kind of evening when you never know if your guests will linger on into the evening. A deliciously simple crust adds interest to the salmon, which is perfect served with light vermicelli noodles. I often have this cooked before the drinks begin and serve at room temperature, allowing the flavour to develop as it sits.
Chicken sliders are always a hit and provide a substantial fix. The chicken can be crumbed in the morning and refrigerated ready for cooking. They are best eaten straight from the pan when the chicken is crunchy and hot.
Served with lashings of garlicky aioli and a crunchy cos lettuce, they are a guaranteed hit, so make plenty.