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The Free Range Cook
The Free Range Cook

Breaking the ice

By Annabel Langbein
Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook
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When you're busy, entertaining guests can feel a pretty daunting prospect. I find the secret is to plan ahead and put together a menu that allows you to do most of the preparation ahead of time.

If I'm racing the clock, I'll often assemble a platter of deli nibbles to pass around when my guests arrive. This buys me extra time to focus on the main course and is always a welcome way to break the ice. It feels far more relaxed to have guests stand and mill around, rather than sitting them down in a formal living room.

You don't have to start from scratch to make great nibbles and finger foods. Buy ready-made snacks (as long as they taste really good) and give them your own signature with a drizzle of the best olive oil, a grating of lemon zest or parmesan, or a sprinkle of paprika or fresh herbs.

I like to have a range of "fridge fixings" on hand for last-minute entertaining or those occasions when friends drop by unexpectedly. These handy make-ahead sauces, dressing, flavourings and spreads can be kept on hand in the fridge or the pantry, then used to add a homemade touch to platters of store-bought offerings.

Finger food has a reputation for being fiddly but your efforts don't need to be complicated to ease everyone's hunger or make guests feel relaxed. Tip wasabi peas, pistachios and roasted nuts out of the packets and into bowls. Or try roasting your own nuts flavoured with soy or baking olives in oil with chillies and other fragrant flavours.

Buy dips or, better still, make things like pesto, salsa verde and hummus ahead of time and serve them with crisp cucumber wedges, green beans and asparagus plus a platter of artisan breads or your own home-baked crusty flat bread.

Lavosh, a thin, crunchy Middle Eastern bread, is the perfect pre-dinner nibble with blue cheese and dried fruit such as figs and pear. It will keep for weeks in an air-tight container and it lends a nice homemade touch to a platter of store-bought treats. You can cut it into any shapes you like - so long as the dough is very thin you'll get a fabulous crisp bread.

First impressions count. So focus on quality, attractive presentation and a good wine match and your guests will instantly feel special.

Note: you could make the Lavosh a link to the Sesame & Oregano Lavosh recipe


Annabel Langbein is the star of the new TV ONE series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook (7pm Saturdays).

Watch more Annabel Langbein recipe videos.

Get Annabel Langbein's Sesame & Oregano Lavosh recipe.

Get all Annabel Langbein's cooking tips here.

See the cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook for all the recipes from the TV show.

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