Spring racing season is well and truly underway. Whether you're lucky enough to be heading to the Melbourne Cup Carnival itself or you're planning your very own party at home, there are plenty of excuses to pop the Champagne over the next week.
Celebrating at home? Don't be the host that gets caught out. A little preparation ahead of your soirée for one of the marquee race days (Derby Day, Oaks or the Cup itself) will go a long way to ensuring your guests (and, importantly, you) enjoy the festivities. Follow these 10 tips for a stress-free Spring Racing Carnival.
10 ENTERTAINING TIPS
1 Champagne cocktails scream Melbourne Cup. Purée ripe white peaches, muddle berries or simply soak a sugar cube in your favourite liqueur, top up with Champagne and you're sorted.
2 When people arrive, it's nice to have some things on the table that everyone can pick at in a relaxed way. Rillettes and terrines work well here, according to Margot Henderson. Bowls of warm brandade and baskets of fresh toasted bread, followed by whole artichokes with vinaigrette are a beautiful beginning to any feast.
3 "One thing that's often forgotten is ice for drinks," says Giovanni Pilu of Sydney's Pilu at Freshwater. "Either make plenty or buy a few bags. There's nothing worse than a warm G&T."
4 Store-bought watermelon juice forms the base for a great jug cocktail. Muddle together coarsely torn mint leaves, coarsely chopped lime and some caster sugar in the bottom of a sturdy serving jug or carafe. Add a good measure of vodka or gin to taste and top up with watermelon juice. Refrigerate to chill thoroughly and add a generous quantity of ice just before serving.
5 Sashimi-grade tuna and salmon are available from most fish markets trimmed to size, and make an instant party snack. Slice thinly and arrange on a platter. Serve with a simple dressing of equal quantities of finely chopped golden shallot and pickled ginger combined with a splash of light soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil.
6 If you've got a baguette lying around, you've got crostini. Thinly slice, toast until golden and rub with a little garlic. Add any range of toppings. Marinated artichokes with sopressa or goat's cheese with tapenade are great combinations.
7 Do DIY cocktails. "Set up a help-yourself bar with Champagne in buckets, coupes, pitchers of cocktails and vintage drink dispensers," says GT's former food-editor-at-large Alice Storey. "Ask your guests what their favourite cocktail is so you can make sure you have all the right ingredients on hand and maybe even face-off in a friendly bartending competition."
8 Get guests involved in your party prep. Have drinks ready for your guests as they walk through the door - everyone always gathers in the kitchen so put them to good use with a Negroni in hand.
9 Chinese barbecue shops are an invaluable party resource. Buy a roast duck, shred flesh and skin and serve with warmed store-bought Peking pancakes, cucumber batons, thinly sliced green onion and hoisin sauce.
10 For a speedy dessert, drizzle a fresh cheese, such as ricotta, or thick yoghurt with a little fragrant honey. Add some berries and serve scattered with coarsely chopped roast almonds.