It’s that time of year when cooking, be it plain or fancy, is at its most meaningful, thanks to those you know are coming for a visit. Unless, of course, you don’t know their coming.
With all our communication technology, it seems implausible that friends of family would turn up at your doorstep without so much as a quick test. But it happens hall the time, creating the greatest of holiday contradictions: the guests saying nothing much is required to make them happy, and you wanting to make something they will absolutely enjoy and, in a perfect world, never forget.
We’ve asked a few of the best caterers we know what they keep around their houses in case someone just shows up to wish us the happiest of holidays. Such advice adjusts a bit each year, following the ebb and flow of food trends. Yes, even during this most traditional of holiday seasons, offering your guests something they haven’t tried before – or even better have enjoyed only in fine dining restaurants – is a sure way to bring on big smiles.
Any such encounter begins with décor and decorations, and happily, when most of us think of the holiday season, we’re not necessarily thinking of anything coldly commercial or particularly elegant. Decorators suggest you split the difference, drawing on old-fashioned rustic elements like raw linen tablecloths, candlelight and sprigs of holly while evoking glamor and sophistication with accents of gold and silver.
Following the same lines as décor, the best holiday food might be “elevated comfort food” – delights like prime rib, roast chicken or pork tenderloin and, of course, meatloaf. That’s if you are preparing a full sit-down meal. If you are not, our sauces come in especially handy in turning cream cheese and similar staples into memorable hors d’oeuvres with a selection of puff pastry, phyllo cups and other frozen shortcuts that bake in the oven with the creative filling of your choice.
As you might have noticed, this is a very good time for drinking, thanks to the talented mixologists working in our finest restaurants and cocktail lounges. You can dare to be innovative with beverage, perhaps creating a cocktail of your very own out of the blue, or putting your personal twist on one of the classics. During the holidays, champagne cocktails always seem to go over big, including that traditional mix of sparkling wine with raspberry liqueur that’s called a kir royale.
Once you have these basics in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer, you are ready to consider what current food trends you wish to embrace this holiday season. Color on the plate, for instance, is more important than ever – probably because so many dishes end up on social media, hoping to look their very best.
Trends that are too important to overlook yearround are also too important to overlook within our thoughtful holiday celebration. That means knowing where your ingredients come from (local if possible, but at least knowing their specific provenance), choosing healthy and clean items as much as possible, and being thoughtful when it comes to your guests’ dietary needs like gluten-free, low or no salt, low-carb and meatless.
Seemingly conflicting with such care, however, is the need we all have this time of year for nostalgia. Many of these nostalgic foods involve meat, though most of the people we consulted are seeing greater and greater emphasis on vegetables as well. Any vegetable dish, like any meat or seafood dish, can be rescued from over-familiarity with a creative, unexpected sauce.
WHOLE LEMON & FIG PHYLLO CUPS
One way to be ready for unexpected company during the holidays is to keep all the ingredients of a few quick and easy hors d’oeuvres around your kitchen at all times. There are a lot of options, but here’s one we get really excited about. The phyllo shells will be a resource you can use with a lot of different fillings.
1 (15-shell) pack frozen pre-baked phyllo shells, such as Athens.
3-4 slices thick-cut bacon
½ cup creamy goat cheese
½ cup spreadable cream cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ jar Fischer & Wieser’s Whole Lemon Fig Marmalade
¼ cup dry red wine
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and warm the phyllo shells until crispy, about 5 minutes. Cook bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon, and drain on paper towels. In a bowl, mix the goat cheese with the cream cheese and the lemon juice, beating the mixture until it’s smooth and cream. Liquify the marmalade with the red wine, then let cool. When all components are back at room temperature, fill the shells almost to the top with fig-red wine mixture. Top with a ball or other shape of cheese and one or more crumbles of bacon. Serve on a platter. Makes 15 hors d’oeuvres.