Ah, New Year's Eve, a night of crushing disappointment, shattered dreams and regrettable trysts. It's the one night of the year the home-bound feel the need to party, which makes it the one night of the year you should definitely stay home. Apart from Valentine's Day. Nobody should go out on Valentine's Day. And the thing is, with a bit of careful planning, you can pretty much nail NYE without leaving your house. None of it's rocket surgery or brain science. It's just having the nous to know what to do, when to do it and Who to Invite.
To whit. You have Legendary Work Friend Bob. He is a deadset party starter. Always ends up wearing a lampshade as a hat, dancing the Macarena at 5am. You also have Ace University Best Mate Boris. Boris, equally, is a champ with a bottle of tequila and a conga line. But Boris and Bob will not get along. This is a plain rule of the jungle. So which of these legends do you invite? It all depends who else is in the room. And that's why the mix is so important – think of it as the human equivalent of making punch. Too much Bob and Boris together is the equivalent of drinking beer with a frosé and warm rum chaser. Pick one, stick with it, then make the rest of the party work around it. The Friend Edit: remember it and apply it.
When it comes to the drinks and What to Serve, it's always a good idea to have something that can be poured out of a jug/beaker/bowl/drinking horn. I always keep a few jars filled with negronis (equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth) in the fridge for visitors. The great thing about that is you can just keep upping the quantities depending on the size of the gathering. It is, however, a fairly lethal drink, and not for the faint of liver. Punch is traditionally lower in alcohol so you can stand around being convivial and Dickensian rather than getting all Hunter S. Thompson before the clock even strikes 12.
As a card-carrying adult, you should already Keep a Well Stocked Bar at all Times. But if NYE is the kick you need to become the grown-up your taxes say you are, here's a good starter pack: gin (Tanqueray for the classicists, Hendrick's for the posers, Four Pillars for the locavores); rye (Michter's or Rittenhouse if you're cashed up, Wild Turkey or Jim Beam if you're not); scotch (a bottle of Ardbeg 10-year is pretty much all you ever need – especially if you, like me, often fall asleep with it still in your hand) and vodka (this is really just for bloody marys – stick a bottle of Grey Goose or Ketel One behind the bar and be done with it). Vermouth is a long and winding road but if you've got red (Martini Rosso for days beside the pool and Negronis by the litre, Rosso Antica formula for serious fortified fanatics) and white (keep it live and local with Regal Rogue or Cinzano if moths fly out every time you open your wallet), anything is possible. Add a bottle of Angostura bitters, and you're ready to martini.
Well, you will be once you're furnished with ice. The most important rule when it comes to nailing a party is You Can Never, Ever Have Enough Ice. Whenever one of your friends asks what they can bring, the answer is always "Are you toying with me? More ice, you fool!". For cocktails, fill up takeaway containers with water and crack into chunks as needed (or use ice cube trays). For everything else, fill the bath, the kitchen sink… anywhere with a plug and make an ice slurry for beer and wine. That way you can keep your fridge space free for Snacks.
Arguably the most important part of a party, it can also be one of the most risky. You don't want to be in the kitchen all day, and you certainly don't want to be cooking while your guests are arriving. Preparation is all. Make a jobs list and stick to it, and be sure to leave yourself at least two hours before guests arrive to relax, get ready and enjoy one of the lovely cocktails you've made and have chilling in the fridge. The key is simplicity. Check out our suggestions of how to MacGyver a few starter snacks from leftovers you might have from Christmas Day.
This is also a very good time to test the strength of your Friend Edit – aka things you can legitimately get your mates to help you out with while making sure they're still having fun. No doubt, for instance, one of your friends is a Spotify ninja. Use this to your advantage and get them to Program all the Music.
You'll want roughly around 12 hours' worth of songs, and if you're particularly confident in your friend's good taste, you might even start a collaborative Awesome Mix Volume NYE playlist that everyone can contribute to. At least that way you're not solely responsible for putting Wuthering Heights on repeat. And the next time someone slyly adds anything by the Smiths, you'll know who to blame. There's no hiding on Spotify.
Fred Siggins presents… Colonial tea punch
Punch was the first ever party-starting cocktail. Especially popular in the American colonies, the story goes that 76 different varieties of punch were served at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Punches of this sort, which take a little planning and preparation, fell out of fashion in the 19th century in favour of single-serve cocktails. But for a big group you still can't beat the complexity and fun you can have with this basic formula. Try using different kinds of tea and spirits, or add splashes of fruit liqueur like triple sec and apricot brandy.
10 juicy lemons
1½ cups white sugar
4 cups strong, hot earl grey tea, strained
2 cups of your favourite bourbon, rye, dark rum or brandy
1. Peel and juice the lemons, setting the juice aside in the fridge.
2. Place lemon peels in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar.
3. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature overnight. By the next day, the sugar will be infused with aromatic lemon oils.
4. Pour the hot tea into the bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
5. Strain the mixture into a large jug or punch bowl.
6. Add the lemon juice and spirits. Leave in the fridge to cool.
7. Serve over ice with a slice of orange and a grating of nutmeg.
Jerry rig your Christmas leftovers into NYE canapes
Tiny ham sandwiches
You may have eaten yourself out of house and home but if you've done it right, there will always be ham. No doubt 20 of your closest relatives have also gifted you your weight in relish. Which mean all you need is a bag full of small soft white rolls and a jar of hot English mustard. It's the perfect drinking snack – you can eat it with one hand, while swinging a drink in the other.
There is no better use for leftover eggs. This is a true fact. For best results, lay all the eggs on their side overnight so the yolks are perfectly centred when you hard boil them. Then it's just a matter of carefully taking out the yolks, mixing them with some mayonnaise, cayenne, salt and pepper till you have a light, smooth paste then piping back into the egg whites. Don't have a piping bag? No problemo – use a sandwich bag with a small hole cut out the bottom of one corner. Garnish with a knife tip of paprika and a few chives, own the party forever.
This is basically giving the royal treatment to mayonnaise by adding garlic and olive oil, putting it in a bowl and then surrounding it with a nice selection of raw baby vegetables (carrots, radishes, cucumber and green beans are a very good start.) And the best bit is, you look like you're some sort of sophisticated kitchen genius to your friends.
Le grand aioli – mayonnaise gets the royal treatment. Photo: Marina Oliphant
Pikelets with brandy butter or caviar
Simple, delicious, and they're something you can make ahead of time then reheat in the microwave just before your guests arrive. Use your leftover brandy butter to Noel them up, or go luxe with caviar and creme fraiche.
Christmas pudding ice-cream pie
Welcome to the easiest way to look super-impressive while entertaining the bare minimum. Take all your leftover shortbread biscuits, throw them into a plastic bag, crush them into crumbs then mix in melted butter and press into a pie tin. Get your Christmas pudding leftovers, mix them into a tub of good vanilla ice-cream, pile into the shortbread crust, cover and freeze till you're ready to serve it. So easy, and so festive!