November 27, 2017
The month of December seems to be an endless stretch of social occasions, with plenty of reasons to gather family and friends together—of course, all involve food. You may have extra relatives staying with you, or invites to holiday parties, or a party of your own planned. There are concerts and brunches and open houses, and big family dinners. Here are a few things I have in the works, and how I make them easier on myself, so that I can enjoy the party too.
Most everyone loves cheese. It’s simple to throw together a cheese board, bring some cheese if you’re invited somewhere, or warm a brie or cheesy baked dip—neither takes much time, and can be assembled ahead—in the oven as people arrive at your door. Picking up a few unusual varieties makes any gathering, from brunch to an open house to a cocktail party or dinner, seem extra festive. I like also having some fancy crackers on hand, and small jars of fig jam or apple jelly to go alongside. And one of my favourite baked dips is made with artichokes and caramelized onions—it can be mixed up, spread into a baking dish and hide out in the fridge for a day or two, until you need to slide it into the oven.
If you’re looking for a colder dip you can make ahead, muhammara is one of my favourites—made with roasted red peppers, garlic, walnuts and pomegranate molasses, it has a texture similar to hummus and a flavour that improves after a day or two in the fridge. Serve it with torn pitas alongside, and a few leaves of fresh parsley and some pomegranate arils on top dresses it up for the holidays.
When it comes to beverages, it can be tough to stock a bar—I like making a big batch of one thing, like punch people can add a splash of rum or vodka to if they like, or a pitcher or two of sangria. In the winter, it’s nice to add a handful of citrus, a few sprigs of rosemary and slices of fresh ginger, and sparkling wine or ginger ale for some bubbles.
Another easy way to feed a large group is to braise a large batch of meat—beef or pork shoulder are my favourites—and set it out for people to make their own tacos or carnitas. If you have a box of mandarin oranges around, you could add them to the pot—pork, mandarins, fresh cilantro and a glug of stock or beer, braised in the oven for a few hours, makes deliciously tender meat you can pull apart and set directly on the table with fresh corn or flour tortillas, thinly sliced purple onions, feta cheese or any other toppings you like. It’s nice to have something that could be substantial, for those who are hungry, but also works as a smaller nibble. And warm braises work especially well if your group is coming in from a day of skiing or snowboarding.
Have a great week, everyone!
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