We recently discovered this beautiful cookbook, Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman, and thought we'd share some tips inspired by her approach to stress-free cooking. At this time of year it can feel like there's a pressure to get things exactly right – to serve your mum's signature dish just like she made it, or to feed people with various dietary requirements. It's enough to put you off entertaining altogether. But don't feel daunted. With some simple tips you can create a warm, welcoming atmosphere and serve up delicious food without fraying your nerves.
Here's our guide to stress-free entertaining, from spontaneous gatherings of friends to multi-generational dinners.
Set the scene simply
There's no need to start spray painting pine cones or learning ikebana for a centrepiece. Take the pressure off by laying an unfussy linen tablecloth over your table, adding some charmingly crumpled napkins and dotting with plenty of candles. A jar of white narcissi or a vase of pussywillow twigs will add some natural beauty. Use whatever crockery you have to hand, and if you have to serve wine in tumblers then just pretend you're being French.
Feed a crowd with minimal effort
One-pot dishes are brilliant for feeding a crowd and allowing you to actually speak with your visitors, rather than being stuck in the kitchen cooking on your own. Prepare in advance and stick in the oven when your guests arrive, then pass around bowls of nuts and olives until the food is ready.
If you're feeding kids and adults and don't have a huge table, a buffet style meal works well. The kids can pick what they want, and you can set a smaller table elsewhere – or even lay out a blanket for them to have a Christmas indoors picnic while the grown ups eat at the table. Dishes like a large plate of smoked salmon blinis with a beetroot and horseradish cream, homemade veggie sausage rolls, a plate of cheese and crackers, vegan baby artichoke bruschetta, and some fresh vegetable crudités are easy to assemble and look impressive.
For even less work, ask your guests to bring a dish each. Give them an overall theme or guide so you end up with dishes that complement each other.
Constantly refreshing people's drinks can feel stressful. Instead, let people help themselves. Have a large pan of mulled wine on the hob or serve a large bowl of punch, and guests can ladle out their own helpings as they wish. Mulled apple juice will fill your house with suitably festive, irresistible aromas, and is good for non-drinkers and kids.
Keep plenty of spare linen tea towels to hand to mop up any spills.
Most of all, remember that people just want to spend time together and to see you – they aren't there to judge or compete. If you're relaxed, your guests will be, and you can allow the event to just unfold rather than rushing around in a flap.
Here's to effortless entertaining. Or at least, perfectly imperfect meals shared with people we love. Wishing you all a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and a peaceful holiday season.