Wanna know a secret? I’m super excited for the cooler weather… I mean, hey, I’m no fan of the really cold weather but I don’t like the height of summer either so if I had to choose seasons, the cooler ones are probably my favourites. I love it when the weather starts to get chilly in the evenings because I’m actually a homebody at heart and love to hibernate. But if I’m not careful, I might go much of the winter months without seeing my friends (seriously – once the winter hits there are neighbours I don’t see until the spring, except maybe briefly shovelling snow from time to time!) so it’s important for me to make (low key) plans to see people to avoid a complete hermit-like existence in the winter! Potluck dinners and games nights are high on our list of low key events because 1. they take place indoors and 2. they generally involve food and drinks 🙂
Now, I know what you’re thinking, this involves planning, right? But you know what? A little bit of organisation goes a long way to making socialising easier, even in the depths of winter.
1. The games
Low-tech games without too many moving parts are the best for a games night involving a bunch people. As I’ve learned in my day job, nothing involving technology can be relied on so old school rules when it comes to a relaxed evening playing games with friends (and hey, don’t rule out charades!)! Some of our favourites are Uno, Boggle, Yahtzee, Bananagrams, Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary and The Game of Life (I know – showing our age here but some of those oldies are really good!). If you have a regular date with friends for a games night, rotate the games and play a different one each time
2. The setting (and seating!)
You want to make sure you are all able to be seated comfortably. Maybe you all want to be seated at a table for the games playing portion of the evening and have the food and drinks in a separate area so that people can eat when they are hungry? Or maybe you want to eat and play games at the same time. In any case, plan ahead so you don’t end up with too much “stuff” (games and food/ drinks) in a place where there isn’t enough space. And if you opt for seating everyone in a living room, make sure there are enough cushions and blankets for everyone to get comfortable!
3. The food
Dishes you can prepare in advance are what you’re after for games night. It’s helpful if you can choose dishes you can prepare in advance that you can serve at room temperature so you’re not spending time in the kitchen instead of with your guests. Dishes like roasted vegetables, “tartes salées” (quiches, tarts etc…) and salads are perfect for this type of night. Or maybe a chili or soup you can prep in advance and reheat slowly as you need it? If you’re going the potluck route, coordinate with your guests so you don’t end up with only sweet treats (not that there’s anything wrong with that sometimes but for a complete meal, double check you have all courses represented!).
4. The drinks!
Make sure you have plenty of drinks on hand (as in, more than you think you will need – there’s nothing worse than running out, especially if you are mid-game!). Plan to offer one or two choices (beer or wine) as well as sparkling water and soft drinks. Or, simply ask people to bring what they would like to drink and that way everyone will be happy! Don’t forget to offer coffee and tea with dessert too!
5. The dishes!
Hey, noone wants a ton of cleanup after a fun evening with friends, right? If you’re hosting a gathering with a few people, something which can help save those morning after cleanup blues is using paper plates and disposable cutlery. You can actually get really nice compostable cutlery and plates these days if you’re worried about how they look as well as their impact on the environment too! For drinks, we like the Govino range (because they don’t break and are nice to drink out of!) which, even though they do need hand washing, are much easier to cleanup than real wine glasses. Less worries about breakage and nice to drink out of? Perfect for games night!
Now, about those “make ahead” dishes…
It won’t come as a huge surprise that I always make sure that there are desserts and sweet treats on hand at a gathering with friends. For a games night, I think it’s nice to have handheld desserts (ones you can help yourself to as you’re waiting for someone else to complete a turn, for example). Even better when you can make them in advance.
For a games night (or any get together with friends involving a lot of food), I find mini desserts are a perfect way to end a meal – not too much food but the sweet treat you’re craving at the end of a night. I’ve chosen to do a riff on a lemon meringue tart using the tart dough (which you can prep ahead of time) and store bought lemon curd along with marshmallows instead of fussy meringue. A super easy dessert (that even the kids can help with) that looks impressive – what could be better?
Mini lemon meringue tarts
Easy mini lemon meringue tarts.
For the tart dough
- 1 1/2 cups (225 g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup (113 g/ 8 tablespoons) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons whipping (35%) cream
For the filling
- approximately 1/3 cup (80 mL) lemon curd
- 8-10 large marshmallows
- Kitchen blow torch
Make the tart dough:
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade as well, blitz the flour, salt and butter together a few times until the butter is blended in and you have some pieces the size of peas and others that look like large breadcrumbs.
Add the cream and to blitz until the pastry starts to come together. At this stage, if you pinch the mixture between your fingertips, it should stick together.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured suface and use your hands to bring it together to form two flat disks. Wrap the dough disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Prepare and bake the tartlets:
Remove one of the disks from the fridge, let it sit for a few minutes.
Lightly flour a large sheet of parchment, place the dough on the parchment, sprinkle it lightly with flour and place a second sheet of parchment paper on top.
Roll the dough between the two sheets of parchment paper to a thickness of 4mm (1/6”). If the dough is soft, you might need to PUT it back in the fridge to firm up a little before you cut it.
Pre-heat the oven to 375˚F lightly grease two 12 cup capacity muffin tins with butter.
Using a cookie cutter that’s approximately 3” (7 cm) in diameter (a fluted edge makes for a really pretty little tartlet), cut rounds of the dough. One disk of the pastry should make 12 rounds. You will need to gather up and re-roll scraps of the pastry to make sure you get 12 – each time you re-roll, you will need a touch of flour to ensure the (increasingly sticky) pastry does not stick to the parchment.
Use an offset spatula to help you remove the pastry from the parchment and gently place them in the muffin tins. You don’t need to press them down to the bottom, gravity will ensure they sink to form a little cup. Make sure the pastry rounds are evenly centred in the muffin cups.
Repeat with the second disk of dough.
Place 1 teaspoon lemon curd in the middle of each pastry disk (it doesn’t look like a lot but it will bubble up and expand when it cooks).
Bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the curd is bubbling.
Remove from oven and let the tarts sit in the muffin tins for about 15 minutes (or until the curd is no longer liquidy). Remove from the tins and cool on wire cooling racks.
At this stage, you can store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (they will get soggy the longer you store them).
Cut each marshmallow into 3 pieces and place, sticky side up on top of each tartlet.
Use a small kitchen blow torch to gently heat the marshmallows until they brown slightly.
Allow the marshmallow cool and serve.
What about you – what do you like to eat on games night?
Disclosure: I am part of the PTPA Brand Ambassador Program with Gay Lea, and receive compensation as part of my affiliation with this group. As always, opinions expressed here are my own and I only write about/ recommend products I use and love. If you know me in real life or follow me on social media, you’ll know that writing a French food cookbook requires ridiculous amounts of butter so this campaign is a perfect fit 😉