Big bowls, platters, and charcuterie boards are great alternatives for holiday entertaining, especially if you have to prepare multiple meals. Work smarter, not harder. Plus, guests enjoy the variety of foods and helping themselves!
Due to some recent health issues, I needed to minimize exertion but still wanted to bring some variety and great ingredients to the table. For some reason, this idea of bowls and boards entered my mind. It's fun, delicious, and guests love it for a change.
All you need to do is cut the items so it's easy for guests to help themselves. Keep slices to one or two bites per guest and include knives on the board.
Here are some examples:
Charcuteries board: Select a couple types of cured meats, at least one soft and mild option (such as prosciutto) and one firm and heavy option (such as salami). If you wish, roll the meats (or fold) to make it easier to eat.
Cheese board: Mix the flavors, such as a soft Brie with a bolder option such as Gouda. If it's summertime, chose two or three cheeses that won't melt such as aged or hard cheeses. Stack or swirl crackers, flatbreads, or crostini on boards near cheese and meats in empty spaces.
Bowls of dip: pesto, hummus, olive spread, any dip. Consider dips that add color or new flavors to the board. Leave room around the bowls for crunchy vegetables to dip.
Seasonal fruit and vegetables: Something sweet with grapes, figs, dried or fresh berries. Colorful veggies such as mini carrots, radishes, cucumbers, bell peppers, figs, and grapes.
Something acidic: Think pickles (cornichons), pickled green beans, pickled jalapenos.
Platters with sliced, roasted meats and basket of sandwich breads (soft baguette or sliced buns)
A giant bowl of mixed salad greens tossed with roasted chickpeas, black beans, and/or lentils.
Add-ons for salads, sandwiches, and soups: fresh or roasted peppers, grape tomatoes, steamed broccoli florets, sliced cooked beets, carrot sticks, thinly sliced onions, hard-boiled eggs, edamame.
Nuts: Almonds or cashews or a healthy, delicious nut mix is a good idea for those who want to avoid sweets.
Soups: For fall or winter, a comforting bowl of seasonal soup or a soup night with several soups is a fun idea. Add a basket of delicious bread.
For a more festive board, spring for some might-adds: fancy olives, smoked salmon, shrimp, marinated mushrooms, and artichoke hearts
If you're a gardener or keep your freezer stocked, you may find that you've done much of the work!
We already have two freezers full of many different vegetables (roasted peppers, steamed broccoli, baby green beans, pea pods) and fruits (five kinds of berries and cubed melons). In our case, it all comes from the garden.
I have containers of well-seasoned broths in the freezer, ready to thaw and receive vegetables for soup.
I’ve canned dozens of jars of tomatoes, tomato sauces, and salsas, along with jars of fruit jams and pickles.
We’ve stashed a winter’s supply of home-grown onions, purple- and yellow-fleshed potatoes, winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and garlic in the cellar.
Our kitchen opens onto a small solar greenhouse which has begun and will continue producing a variety of cut-and-come-again salad and cooking greens until spring.
Our cellar shelves are already stacked with several weeks’ worth of emergency supplies along with a few fancier things in case of unexpected company: canned tuna, chicken, sardines, smoked herring, etc.
I did a little extra work during the past few weeks that didn't seem that onerous:
As I was preparing other meals, I cooked up and froze dry beans, chickpeas, lentils, and brown barley in various-sized containers. See my lentil soup recipe.
Finally, we did a big final shopping: a pound of smoked salmon, a big bag of frozen shrimp, a variety of hard cheeses, several boxes of whole-grain crackers, a few quarts of yogurt, several bags of green pears and winter apples, and an assortment of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits (our usual snack foods).
Oh, I’ve allowed one major deviation. Pies. I’ve baked and frozen three pies from my summer larder: a squash-maple, a blackberry, and a blueberry. See pie-making tips.
With the leftovers, enjoy bowls of oatmeal and berries for breakfast. For dinner? Mix up a container of broth, a load of diced vegetables and a container of barley or white beans, and—voila!—a hearty soup. Broccoli-cheese soup. Black-bean chili. White-bean chili. It becomes a feast when accompanied by a platter of pitas, crackers, cheeses, hummus & other dips, olives, sliced beets, carrot sticks, broccoli florets.
Yes, we’ll bypass a lot of traditional cooking this season. But we will be chatting online and on the phone, and sharing with everyone how well we’re eating.
Bon Appétit to us and to you. Wishing you all a season of groaning boards and overflowing bowls.