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Melissa Hemsley on nailing festive entertaining and Christmas parties

Tray bakes, drink stations and independent producers: the chef and writer gives us her best advice for stress-free hosting during the festive season

Melissa Hemsley's Christmas Tips: The chef in the kitchen cooking

As a relatively stressy person, my main suggestion is to take away all the complications when hosting – go shopping, pick one amazing supplier and build your meal from there. I like to get a side of salmon or trout – or you can buy a pre-sliced one for ease – put it out on a tray, get some big fat capers, slice up some red onions (you can pickle them if you want with some coriander seeds and vinegar and let them get bright pink). It becomes a centrepiece and it looks impressive when you've done nothing apart from shopping.

When it comes to hosting, with everyone arriving at different times, a great idea is to have a gorgeous picking board, grazing board, sharing board, smorgasbord, whatever you want to call it, and put it out onto the table thoughtfully, keeping your vegetarian and your meat bits separate. Something I love to do is a sticky nut selection, where you toss them in a baking tray with rosemary, bay leaves, maple syrup, a bit of cayenne, a bit of paprika, chilli flakes, a tiny bit of oil or butter, put them into the oven and let them roast. Just bring batches of that out when you think more people are arriving, and it will be absolutely amazing. You can do the same thing with chickpeas, with harissa or salt and vinegar. You just put bowls of that out, and a picking board with olives and so on.

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If you're in charge of the food, trying to be in charge of drinks as well can be brutal, so set up a drink station, make it far enough away from the food that you're not cluttering your space, and again, make a little board: put out some citrus, a couple of good knives. I always think delegation is key in a party – if you give people the tools to make their own drinks, they'll make their own drinks, which saves you half your night. Maybe add some rosemary or mint, some thyme or some sage. Put out little trays of salt, pepper, sugar and chilli flakes, and it becomes something to do, especially when people don't really know each other – it's a nice little ice breaker.

Finally, I always think that if you buy all these ingredients and the food doesn't get eaten, every single thing can get shoved into the fridge: you can turn leftover cheese into a really delicious brussels sprout bake or massive cauliflower cheese the next day; the salmon you blitz into pâté or scramble with some eggs. There'll definitely be leftovers for you, and you can make it into your brunch the next morning when the last thing you want to do is go out because you've hosted everyone the night before.

Melissa Hemsley is working with American Express (principal supporter of Small Business Saturday), to inspire those looking for a more eco-friendly Christmas this year to shop small on 7 December and beyond.

While you're here and feeling festive, why not check out some of our other Christmas content, like our guide to the best advent calendar 2019 and the top Christmas hampers?

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