When you’ve got 50-odd hungry people to impress and don’t want to spend the entire evening in the kitchen, the choice of canapés is crucial.

Sausages with honey and mustard are always popular, but can feel a bit predictable. To shake things up a little, try serving them with homemade tomato jam or a sticky Thai dressing of chilli, lime, honey and soy sauce. Or try one of these recipes.

The dough for the stilton and walnut sablés can also be stored – or even frozen – in a roll and sliced just before baking. The recipe is versatile, so you can experiment with other cheeses and nuts. Try replacing the walnuts with three tablespoonfuls of chopped fresh herbs and the stilton with parmesan. It’s fantastic topped with seasoned crème fraîche mixed with parmesan, herbs and a little lemon juice. The biscuits are also delicious on their own or with a dip.

There’s a recipe for everyone who wants game on the Christmas menu:
a crispy, fried-bread case filled with madeira-glazed onions and topped with a slice of sautéed pigeon breast and black pudding crumbs. If you’re not comfortable sautéing the pigeon breast à la minute, it can be replaced with a small spoonful of any game pâté. It will taste just as good, especially when topped with a little rowan jelly.

One final note: my ultimate weapon in canapé preparation is the piping bag. It’s an invaluable help in quickly garnishing blinis or little biscuits with soft toppings, as in this month’s sablé recipe, and comes in useful when putting together the salmon spirals. Dig yours out this Christmas.

Pigeon, Madeira onions and black pudding crumbs in bread cases

Makes 24 pieces
■ 6 slices white bread
■ 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil
■ 2 large red onions
■ 100ml (4fl oz) madeira
■ Salt and pepper
■ 100g (31⁄2oz) black pudding
■ 2 tsp breadcrumbs
■ 4 pigeon breasts, skinless

Cut the crusts off the bread and quarter each slice. Brush each piece with oil and press firmly into a well in a mini-tartlet tray (24-well trays are readily available and always come in handy for canapés). Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown; this can be done a day in advance.

Slice the onions thinly and cook in a little oil until soft and turning golden-brown. Add the madeira and reduce over a medium heat until very little liquid remains. Season; set aside.

Slice the black pudding into rounds and fry them off in a little oil for a couple of minutes on each side. Blitz with the breadcrumbs in the food processor to make fine crumbs.

To serve, fill each fried-bread case with a teaspoonful of onion mixture and put them and the crumbs in a low oven. Halve the pigeon breasts lengthways, season and sauté in a hot, oiled pan until medium rare.

Let them rest briefly in a warm place, then slice into 0.5cm (¼in) thick pieces.

Top each fried-bread case with a slice of pigeon breast and a sprinkling of black pudding crumbs.

Serve warm.