Kitchen Tips

How to host a cosy dinner party in winter

Here are our tips for hosting the perfect dinner party in the depths of winter, including all our best recipes for keeping everyone warm and nourished. So pour a glass of mulled wine and make a toast to beating the winter blues for another year!

By Harriet Keown
When the days get colder and the nights get longer, it can be all too tempting to stay indoors and avoid all social contact until summer returns. But that would mean ignoring the delightful cosiness of winter entertaining, filled with warm mugs of hot chocolate, steaming bowls of food and nights huddled around board games and movies… Who would want to miss out on that?

Set the mood

The key to putting on the dinner party of the season is creating an illusion of warmth, making your guests feel cosy and comfortable all evening. An easy way to do this is by using dimmed, warm, yellow light settings, and lighting lots of candles to make the room feel welcoming. If you have a heat pump, set it to a comfortable base temperature, or if you are lucky enough to have a fire, make sure it's burning away quietly all night. Some gentle, relaxing music wouldn't go amiss either.
Remember, entertaining in winter is not like summer where people are happy to move around, mixing and mingling all night. Winter socialising is much more low key, a time for cosying up on the couch for some games or chatter, so it's important to have ample seating for everyone to get comfortable. And just in case the weather takes a turn for the worse, make sure you have a couple of blankets on hand so everyone can be as snug as a bug at all times!
Image: Getty

Pour a drink

A sure-fire way to make everyone feel at home from the moment they step in the door is to greet them with a warm drink. Immediately, their hands are warm and their tastebuds tingled. Our go-to winter drink is the Christmas market favourite, mulled wine, with its comforting spices and full-bodied flavour. Keep a large pot of it warming on the stove throughout the evening so there's always some on hand, and your house will smell divine long after everyone has left.
When it comes to winter beverages, the spicier the better, so it can warm you from the inside out. This hot buttered rum cocktail brings the heat with its black pepper and cinnamon, or adding a pinch of chilli takes this Mexican hot chocolate to a whole new level. For a little less kick but the same degree of comfort, this gently-spiced Irish coffee is a dream on a cold evening.

Get the party started

As far as starters go, a rustic, homely dish is a great way to set the mood. Bubble this seafood mornay under a hot grill, then serve immediately for a quick and easy entrée that will send everyone's taste buds soaring. Or you could try our comforting French onion soup, served with cheesy baguette toasts for a dish that will cure everyone's winter chill.
Nothing beats warm, oozing cheese as a luscious winter starter, and we have all the right recipes to make your guests melt in delight. Try this show-stopping camembert pithivier with spiced grape compote for a gorgeous platter addition, or our golden fried brie cheese bites for the perfect cheesy crunch. Our top pick, however, is this heavenly cheese and herb fondue, which makes an interactive and oh-so-scrumptious starting dish.

The star of the show

The beginning of winter also marks the return of the beloved slow cooker; it's finally suitable weather to bring it back out from the depths of cupboard and in prime position on your bench. The beauty of a slow cooker is that everything can be prepared in the morning, for you to then relax until the switch flicks from 'cook' to 'keep warm'. This means you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time mingling with your guests - and everyone knows that a good host is a relaxed host! Try one of our top 16 slow cooker recipes for a hearty main meal that will keep everyone coming back for more.
A much lighter but equally comforting idea is to make a round of generously garnished pizzas for your guests. Make your own dough and get creative with toppings so everyone can make the pizza of their dreams, or try our pizza trio idea which will see you make three variations: anchovy & olive, parmesan & pancetta and spicy sausage & bocconcini. Pizza is always a crowd-pleaser, and there couldn't be a speedier meal to prepare - after you've let that dough rise, of course.
The main thing is to keep your winter mains nutritious, and to be aware of any dietary requirements that are present in your party. Oh, and it's always a good idea to leave room for dessert!

End on a high

An irresistible winter dessert will always be a soul-warming dish, filled with seasonal fruit and fresh out of the oven. We love a cosy crumble, such as this pear and ginger oat crumble or our mini kiwifruit, ginger and apple crumbles. Or you could try something different with this rhubarb crumble cake, which combines the gorgeously tart fruit with a sweet and cinnamony crumble topping.
If pies or tarts are more your thing, try this divine spiced pumpkin pie, which is just heavenly when served warm with whipped cream, or our comforting rhubarb and apple lattice tart, which feels just like a warm hug. This winter fruit crumble pie is delicious when cooked to golden perfection and perfect for using up any extra fruit, or try our best chocolate self-saucing pudding recipe to really satisfy any chocoholics. Whichever you choose, your guests are sure to leave with a sweet memory of the night.