Instead of serving the usual cheeseboard at your next drinks party, impress guests with a selection of simple, yet tasty, homemade canapes. There's no fussing with cutlery, just dainty serviettes, and delicious small bites to be nibbled and savoured in one hand, with a drink in the other.
A drinks party, small or large, planning is paramount. Will it be a casual gathering or something more formal? The options of what to serve are endless.
The menu, the quantities, timing, service of food - do you want to hand the food around or have guests help themselves? Keep in mind how many dishes need to go into the oven at the last minute, and understand the importance of a balanced meal.
When selecting your menu, consider how much time you want to spend in the kitchen. Once your visitors arrive it is time to be social and to look totally unflustered as you produce plate after plate of colourful, flavoursome treats.
A drinks party in the early evening is one of my favourite ways of entertaining - or being entertained. And I always love an element of surprise when it comes to the canapes on offer.
Today, I've started with a refreshing fruit cocktail of watermelon and lime topped up with bubbles and a sprig of mint. The juice can be made in advance, and bubbles added as your guests arrive. For a non-alcoholic version add pineapple juice instead of bubbles, and serve on ice.
This spicy broad bean dip with its vibrant colour has the wow factor. Make it the day before, to allow the flavours to infuse. It's fabulous served with homemade crostini, which are easy to make yourself and are a great way of using up leftover French sticks or ciabatta. Simply brush slices with garlic-infused oil and bake until crisp. Keep a bag in the cupboard as a substitute for crackers (they're cost-effective, too). Perfect for a quick pre-dinner snack with blue cheese or hummus.
Filo parcels are always a party favourite, and can all be made in advance. Traditionally made with spinach and feta, I've given these a twist with tuna. Watch guests' delight as they crunch through the light pastry to the surprise of tuna with a hint of anchovy and fresh herbs. Be sure to make extras, as people are bound to come back for seconds. Filo is surprisingly easy to work with, and can be filled in a variety of ways. A dinner favourite in our house is spinach, cottage cheese, kumara and feta with a hint of curry.
You can also prepare the salmon goujons in advance, and then toss them for a few minutes in a pan before serving with homemade tartare sauce that will surely impress your guests.
If you don't have salmon use another firm fish. Fresh herbs added to the crumb are a tasty touch.
Look for a selection of soft herbs such as parsley, dill, tarragon and chives which all work well with fish.
Simple summer cocktail
Juice 3 cups of chopped watermelon with half a pineapple and mix with 2 squeezed limes. Chill in fridge until serving.
Half fill 4-6 champagne flutes with the juice, and then top with bubbles and a sprig of mint.