Easy eats for fuss-free holidays

Associated PressDecember 16, 2013 

Brie, berries and orange marmalade are easy to put together and tasty at the same time.

ASSOCIATED PRESS — AP

Fantasizing about throwing a big holiday bash but fearful you'll spend the whole party -- or worse, the whole week -- in the kitchen prepping? We've got you covered.

We've assembled an easy mix-and-match approach to holiday entertaining. An hour or so of prep and you'll have enough nibbles to feed a crowd in high style. Here's how it works:

We've divided the menu into 10 base ingredients. Each ingredient is paired with three simple suggestions for dressing it up for the party. All you need to do is pick enough base ingredients to feed your crowd, then decide how you'd like to prepare each. A little shopping, a little prepping, then you're ready to party.

Many of these options make easy dips, spreads or other toppings for bread, so when you make that trip to the grocer, round out the menu with a variety of crackers and baguettes or pita bread that can be sliced and toasted.

Brie

  • Top a round of brie with purchased fig jam and toasted pecans.

  • Top slices of brie on a platter with a quick fresh herb sauce (puree half a cup parsley, half a cup chives and quarter of a cup cilantro with a quarter cup olive oil and two tablespoons sherry vinegar, season with salt and black pepper).

  • Place a round of brie in a small, shallow baking dish. Bake at 250 degrees 10 minutes, then top with fresh berries and drizzle with warmed orange marmalade.
Goat cheese

  • Spread on slices of baguette, then broil for two minutes or until lightly browned. Top with sliced strawberries and black pepper.

  • Stuff into Peppadew or sweet cherry peppers.
Top a log of goat cheese with crumbled bacon and thinly sliced scallions.

Manchego cheese

  • Skewer cubes of manchego with Castelvetrano olives and grape tomatoes.

  • Stuff pitted dates with a piece of manchego, then wrap each date with half a slice of prosciutto. Broil for three to four minutes.

  • Make a slaw by slicing fennel paper thin, shredding manchego, then tossing both with two tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, one tablespoon olive oil, one tablespoon white balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper.
Asparagus

Start by arranging the spears (bottoms trimmed) on a baking sheet, misting them with cooking spray, then roasting for 10 minutes at 400. Then:

  • Toss with thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes and a bit of the oil from the jar they were packed in.

  • Toss with a vinaigrette made from one tablespoon olive oil, one tablespoon red wine vinegar, two cloves minced garlic, salt and black pepper.

  • Toss with hoisin sauce and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions.
Roasted peppers

Save yourself time and trouble by using jarred red peppers. Just drain them well and pat dry with paper towels.

  • Finely dice and toss the peppers with the zest and juice of one lemon, two tablespoons chopped fresh oregano and two cloves minced garlic.

  • Slice and mix with four mashed anchovies, two tablespoons rinsed chopped capers and a quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes.

  • Make a roasted red pepper chimichurri pesto. In a food processor, combine a 12-ounce jar of red peppers (drained), half a cup fresh parsley, two tablespoons fresh oregano, a quarter cup fresh mint, two tablespoons olive oil, two tablespoons red wine vinegar, salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Pulse until finely chopped.
Pitted olives

  • Marinate one cup pitted Kalamata olives in one tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, the zest and juice of one orange, and one tablespoon balsamic vinegar.

  • Finely chop one cup pitted Kalamata olives and mix with two tablespoons chopped fresh garlic, two tablespoons chives, and two tablespoons olive oil. Spoon over purchased hummus.

  • In a food processor, combine half a cup olives, four ounces cream cheese, two tablespoons tomato paste, salt and black pepper.
Grapes

  • Roast red grapes on a rimmed baking sheet for 10 minutes at 450. Toss with one tablespoon balsamic glaze, one tablespoon honey and one tablespoon chopped fresh mint.

  • Cut green grapes in half, then toss with marinated artichoke hearts.

  • Freeze individual grapes on a rimmed baking sheet. Toss with cinnamon and sugar.
Shrimp

Start with chilled cooked, shelled shrimp.

  • Toss with diced mango, cucumber, lime juice and minced jalapeno.

  • Serve with a light dressing made of mayonnaise, roasted garlic and Dijon mustard.

  • Toss with purchased pesto and diced sweet bell pepper.
Chicken breast

  • Shred and toss cooked chicken breast with barbecue sauce spiked with smoked paprika and diced apples. Serve warm.

  • In a food processor, chop together some green bell pepper, one stalk of celery, two scallions, two tablespoons fresh thyme and half a cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Mix in finely chopped chicken breast, two tablespoons olive oil, the zest and juice of one lemon, salt and black pepper.

  • Thinly slice cooked and cooled chicken breasts crosswise to form thin medallions. Spoon hot pepper jelly onto each piece, then sprinkle with chopped salted peanuts.
Roasted mushrooms

Start by roasting 8 ounces of crimini or button mushrooms on a rimmed baking sheet for 12 minutes at 450 degrees.

  • Make a mushroom pate by blending the mushrooms in a food processor with a quarter cup heavy cream and a hefty pinch of salt and black pepper. Stir in two tablespoons chopped fresh thyme and a quarter cup minced salami.

  • Stuff with a blend of crumbled cooked bacon, chopped walnuts, feta cheese, and minced fresh marjoram.

  • Whisk together two tablespoons spicy brown mustard, one tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, one tablespoon cider vinegar, one tablespoon soy sauce and a hefty pinch of black pepper. Toss the mushrooms in this mixture.

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