Saturday, December 19, 2015

Holiday Food in a Hurry!

While the holidays can be a stressful time of the year, the thought of cooking or even preparing food for a small gathering can be overwhelming. 

So here are a few simple ideas that can make an otherwise stressful process pretty easy. You don't have to make everything yourself. As a matter of fact, you don't have to make anything at all if you really don't want to. There are many prepared foods you can "just put together" that taste amazing and can even satisfy the savviest of your foodie friends. However, you can also impress people with a small amount of effort. 

One of my favorite red's is a very affordable bottle
from the Rhone region of France. 

You can keep the drinks selection simple. Red and white wine, a couple of different beers, and soft drinks are enough to get any party started. Of course the sky is the limit and you can always mix a couple of pitchers of your favorite holiday cocktails ahead of time. 

Everyone loves nibbles, so pick up a couple of snack mixes and put them out in small or medium bowls. Visit the bulk section of the grocery store for some fancy variations. Roasted cashews, almonds, pecans, or pistachios are always popular. Check your market for sweet or savory spiced variations. Wasabi peas work for those with nut allergies. 

Marinated olives are also pretty easy to find at your local grocery store these days, check the salad bar or ask at the deli counter where you can find them. If you can't find them marinated, it is as simple as sprinkling them with a bit of olive oil and dried oregano or thyme. Specialty food markets have many many variations of olives. 

Pick a nice platter or wood cutting board and put out a variation of cheeses. Pick a soft cheese such as brie, a good piece of white cheddar, gruyere, a blue cheese (such as Cambozola), etc. Add some olives, nuts, and even some salami slices, grapes, and put out a variety of crackers. 

You can work magic with goat cheese. Pick up a piece of goat cheese, and sprinkle it liberally with balsamic vinegar, then a bit of olive oil. Add some sliced fresh basil leaves and put it out with crackers. For a different take, drizzle some honey over the goat cheese, and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and serve with crackers. (Thank you Foodie Friend Susan Hugart for the delicious honey variation!)

You can find my favorite Alexian Pate your 
deli counter or prepackaged as pictured.
One of my favorite platters consists of a piece of brie cheese, a nice thick slice of pate (my favorite is Alexian, 2% truffle), and a nice pile of very thinly sliced prosciutto from the deli. I love to add some marinated tomatoes (I find them in Houston on the olive bar at Central Market). Decorate the platter/board with a small bunch of basil leaves, a few lemon wedges (a sprinkle of lemon juice compliments the pate very well) a small bowl of olives, sliced baguette, and crackers (I'm partial to the little square french toasts you can find at most stores for this platter). Your guests can create an endless variation of combinations as they enjoy this tray. 

Savory pinwheels really can make an impression and they are so easy to make. You'll have them ready for the oven before it even preheats. You'll need three ingredients: 

1 box of defrosted Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (there are 2 sheets in the box). 
Thinly sliced prosciutto (prepackaged it fine)
Sliced Provolone cheese (prepackaged is fine)

Remove the puff pastry from the box while you preheat the oven to 400 F.  Make sure to keep the pastry refrigerated until you are ready to use it. 

Unfold the sheet and layer the provolone onto the puff pastry in a single layer and then add a single layer of prosciutto, leaving at least a quarter inch border across the top and sides. 

Roll the sheet up into a round cylinder. Slice the cylinder into 1/3 inch slices with a sharp knife and arrange the pinwheels on a sheet pan, leaving about 2 inches in between each piece. (NOTE: If your puff pastry has become too soft to slice evenly, you can put it into the fridge to firm up before slicing.) 

Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are nice and lightly golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

A variation of this is to use pesto and parmesan cheese instead of the provolone and prosciutto. Just spread the puff pastry with a good amount of pesto and sprinkle liberally with grated parmesan. Proceed to bake 15 minutes or until lightly golden. 

If you need something a bit more substantial, pick up a spiral sliced ham from your local grocery or specialty store and set it out with some small party rolls, or a hearty sliced loaf of bread and some nice grainy mustard. As an alternative you could pick up sliced boneless turkey breast and serve warm or at room temperature. 

For something sweet, a trip to your local bakery should suffice. But for a quick dessert, that looks like you worked all day, I suggest a Trifle. Trifle's can be one of the easiest things to put together. Do a quick google search to find a plethora of recipes or literally just wing it. Here is have simplified a recipe from the iconic Ina Garten. All you need to have on hand: 

1 store bought plain pound cake
1 cup of you favorite berry preserve or jam (i.e.: raspberry or strawberry) 
Your favorite liqueur (framboise, orange, or even cognac) or you can opt to use a little fruit juice such as pineapple or orange. 
2 small packages or 1 large package instant vanilla pudding (made according to package directions - no time for pudding? Buy it made in the snack aisle or omit it all together and layer trifle with extra whipped cream)
2 half pints fresh raspberries 
1 half - pint blackberries or blueberries 
1 pint fresh strawberries
Whipped cream 

Whipped cream recipe: 
2 cups cold heavy cream
1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar 

Wash and dry the berries, slice the strawberries and mix all berries together in a bowl. 

Cut the pound cake into1/2 inch slices and spread each slice on one side with jam. Set aside. 
Place a layer of cake, jam side up, in the bottom of a trifle bowl or 3-quart glass serving bowl, cutting the pieces to fit. Sprinkle lightly with liqueur or juice. Top with a layer of berries and then with pudding. Repeat the layers ending up with a third layer of cake (jam side down). Pile the whipped cream over the top and you have a very impressive desert. 
Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until it forms stiff peaks. 
I hope you have found even one suggestion on this post helpful and I wish you all a very Happy Holiday season free of cooking stress! 

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