It's on. That party, the picnic, that "we have to catch up before Christmas" get together. Yes, you're looking forward to it - except for one thing. There's that scary question you have to ask: "What can I bring?" There's a danger that they won't say, "Bring a few beers or some wine." What if they say, "Oh, just a little plate of something"? You barely have time to get dressed let alone whip up a pavlova. But it doesn't need to be a major stress. Bring-a-plate success is as easy as smart shopping and these summery no-cook solutions that will ensure you're invited back.
Tomato, bocconcini and basil
Easy, seasonal, pretty and very delicious. Slice Roma (or other) tomatoes into 5-8mm slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Layer with slices of bocconcini (mini fresh mozzarella) and basil leaves. Pierce with toothpicks to ensure they behave.
Caprese skewers with cherry tomatoes served with festive plates and napkins from Market Import. Photo: Marina Oliphant, Styling: Caroline Velik
Smoked fish is your friend. Roll smoked salmon slices with cream cheese, a sprinkle of pepper and finely sliced spring onions/shallots or chives. Buy mini toasts and top them with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and a sprig of dill. Dress whole smoked trout with capers and lemon zest and serve with a baguette.
Buy ethical cured meats, and arrange them with pickles and olives. It's classic and it works. Or simply buy the olives, toss them with chopped parsley and a little chilli sauce and introduce with confidence. "Oh these, I just marinated some olives!"
Rice paper rolls
Pour boiling water over rice vermicelli noodles. Leave for five minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, then drain again. Cut carrots, spring onions/shallots, cucumber and smoked tofu (it's on your supermarket shelf) in long batons. Soak a rice paper sheet in 1 cm water (a frypan can be good for this). Remove rice paper from water when soft and lay on a flat surface. Arrange noodles, vegetables and tofu in softened rice paper. Roll up like a burrito. Rice paper rolls can be packed in containers for transport but don't wedge them together too firmly or they'll tear when separating. Make a dipping sauce by placing 3 tbsp peanut butter, 2 tbsp dark soy, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tsp sesame oil and juice of 1 lime in a jar and shake it well. Add a little water and shake again if sauce is too thick. Serve rolls with sauce in a dipping bowl.
Rice paper rolls from SuperTree by IndoChine. Photo: Singapore Travel and Tourism
Radishes with butter
Beautiful little radishes with their tops on. A pat of nice, soft unsalted butter. A tiny mound of flaked salt. How very French are you? And how easy was that!
Slice small Lebanese cucumbers (or mini cucumbers) into quarters lengthwise. Sprinkle the cut side with salt (and a drizzle of olive oil if you like). Scatter over mint leaves if desired. If people query you, tell them it's a popular street snack in Japan.
Grate a large zucchini, squeeze it in a tea towel to dry it, then toss it with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little pomegranate molasses or red wine vinegar. Shave Parmesan or salted ricotta over it or top it with large chunks of fresh ricotta.
Labne with dukkah
This one requires a little forethought. Line a large sieve or colander with a new kitchen cloth (eg Chux). Set it over a bowl. Pour in 1 kg Greek yoghurt. Leave for 8 hours or overnight to drain. The strained yoghurt is labne, a fresh cheese. Roll labne into small balls. Place on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with dukkah, a spice mix, or paprika or chilli flakes and flaked salt. You can also microplane lemon zest over the labne balls.
It sounds too simple but perfectly ripe seasonal fruit is always a winner - just think of those $300 melons given as prestige gifts in Japan. Choose beautiful fruit, cut it with care and you'll got an impressive platter. Keep it simple: go deluxe with blueberries, raspberries and cherries, pair strawberries and watermelon, drizzle mango cubes with passionfruit pulp. Cantaloupe wedges wrapped in sliced prosciutto are always a good option.
Keep it fresh and seasonal with mangoes, apricots and kiwi fruit. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Take two punnets of strawberries, wash them and pinch off their stems. Slice them in half (or if you're in a rush, leave them whole). Sprinkle them with a tablespoon of caster sugar and drizzle them with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. You can add a pinch of pepper or a few drops of vanilla paste too. Gently stir. Carry in a covered serving bowl or sealed container. When ready to serve, give strawberries another stir and add a few torn mint or basil leaves. Serve with double cream, mascarpone or thick yoghurt.
Peaches and amaretto with mascarpone
An easy boozy dessert is great to have up your sleeve - except literally. Cube peaches and squeeze lime over them. Layer in bowls or glasses with crushed amaretti biscuits, a dollop of mascarpone and a drizzle of Amaretto liqueur.