Easy Entertaining Ideas this holiday season

I love entertaining. I don’t like stress.

So when I throw a soiree, I try supplement with what I call “cheater” products.

I am talking about store bought items or super easy recipes. I always have a couple of dishes that are the star of the meal (homemade and decadent), but I also serve five or six items that take no time at all.

For example, I always serve good quality olive oil and vinegar as a dipping sauce with French bread. That takes one minute to assemble, but is another offering on the table.

What impresses people at a party is delicious food, but also variety. Variety is key.  As a host when you offer an array of dips, you ensure everyone will find something they love.

One thing about store bought food is I don’t present it as store bought (of course, I am honest when people ask). But if you open a veggie tray and leave in the container, it’s not as enticing as if you put the vegetables on a platter, place the Ranch dip in a little bowl, and then buy a horseradish dip, maybe some hummus, or even split the Ranch dip in half and add 1 teaspoon of dried dill to the second batch to make it different.

Again, it’s all about variety (and taste and presentation).

Another perk to not serving something in its original container is you can keep the leftovers. If you serve mustard in its jar, then every time someone dips into it they are introducing new bacteria to the mustard which will make leftovers spoil faster if you try to keep them. Also, leaving a dip on the counter for the duration of the party and then refrigerating it for later is not the most sanitary idea.

I only put out half of what I have and then keep the rest in the refrigerator as needed.

I also like to use smaller dishes for serving which enables me to fit more on the table. A Dollar Tree or thrift store is a great place to find inexpensive dishes for a holiday party.

I have some “staples” in terms of entertaining, but I am always trying new products, too. So if you are looking from some excellent products that will impress your guests and keep the stress off you, then here are a few of my recommendations:

Wind & Willow is a company based in Mt. Vernon that sells in 6,000 retail locations nationwide. The products are awesome. The company makes easy dips, cheeseballs, dessert balls, soup mixes etc. The Roasted Red Pepper Dip is one of my absolute favorites.  I serve it with vegetables and crackers. If you are watching your carbs, the dip has less than 1 carb (even after it is assembled). All you have to do is mix it with mayonnaise and sour cream and chill it for a few hours before serving. I make it a day in advance because I think it brings out the flavors and is one less thing I have to do on party day. Another wonderful product from this company is the Tiramisu dessert ball. You can visit www.windandwillow.com/ to see where the products are sold near you.

 

Harry & David Charred Pineapple Relish is incredible mixed with a log of chevre. I mix one-third of the jar with a 4 ounce log of chevre and serve with tortilla chips. People always ask for this recipe. The goat cheese just gives it this zing. The relish is slightly spicy.  Another excellent product from Harry & David is the Onion and Pepper Relish, which is served over a block of cream cheese. Find the closest outlet to you or order online: www.harryanddavid.com

 

I discovered Robert Rothschild Raspberry Honey Mustard about 10 years ago and it remains my favorite honey mustard.

Rothschild mustard credit Robert Rothschild company

 

The mustard is on the pricey side ($6-$8), but I serve it with a $1 bag of pretzels, so it’s not too expensive overall. If you have leftovers of the mustard, spread it on a chicken sandwich with arugula and sharp cheddar cheese (you can also made mini sliders for your party using that same recipe). Another idea for leftovers is to use it as a salad dressing on a salad of spinach, chicken, goat cheese, candied pecans, and strawberries and raspberries. It’s fantastic.

This Christmas tree has four ingredients and takes minutes to assemble.

 

Green salsa and goat cheese Credit Juliana Goodwin (2)

First, I cut a block of cold cream cheese on a diagonal so it makes two right angle triangles. Then flip one of the triangles over to put the two together to make a tree shape. Generously cover the block of cream cheese with pesto sauce. Add a piece of a pretzel rod to make the base of the tree (just break off a piece). And thinly slice a desired amount of sundried tomatoes to make garland and string those across the tree. This step is optional; you can simply serve the pesto tree.  I use this recipe for different holidays –  a spider web at Halloween or a football field for the super bowl. No matter when I serve it, people love both the flavor and presentation. My favorite store bought pesto sauce Giovanni Rana because of its flavor and vibrant green color. It’s refrigerated so it’s fresher than a jarred variety. Serve this dip with French bread and crackers.

World Table Roasted Salsa Verde is one of the best commercially made green salsas I’ve ever tried.

Green salsa and goat cheese Credit Juliana Goodwin (1)

 

So many green salsas are too salty, too limey or too thin. This one is perfect. It’s slightly spicy so I mix it with a block of chevre and serve it as a dip (about ½ cup to 2/3 cup of green salsa). An alternative if you don’t like goat cheese is to pour the salsa over a block of cream cheese. I’ve served it both ways and it has been popular. It’s available at Walmart stores.

You may not think of pomegranate and guacamole as going together, but they pair beautifully. A friend of mine made a pomegranate guacamole a few years ago and I fell in love with.

Guacamole Pomegranate tree credit Juliana Goodwin

 

This is simply store-bought guacamole decorated with pomegranate seeds (also known as arils). It’s pretty and delicious.  I used an open Christmas cookie cutter to make the shape of the tree and filled it with pomegranate seeds. You could use any shapes. You can buy a pomegranate or simply purchase the POM arils which is the easiest way to go. If you decide to buy a pomegranate, leftover pomegranate arils are excellent in sparkling wine or moscato. You can also hallow out the shell of the pomegranate and serve a dip in it. In terms of guacamole, I recommend Holy Guacamole or the Aldi’s variety.

Pomegranate Guacamole Credit Juliana Goodwin

With these dips, you can throw together a party in no time. Happy holidays.

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