Facing some health issues this fall, I turned my mind toward how to make holiday meals that would minimize exertion but maximize variety and flavor. For some reason, instead of frozen casseroles, stews, lasagnes, and quiches, two words popped into my mind: bowls and boards!
Bowls, boards, mugs, and platters offer up the variety of foods that guests enjoy without endless cooking. Work smarter, not harder!
Here are some examples:
- Cheese board. Mix the flavors, such as a soft Brie with a bolder option such as Gouda
- Charcuteries board with at least one soft and mild option (such as prosciutto) and one firm and heavy option (such as salami)
- Bread bowl with baguette, crackers, or crostini
- A giant bowl of mixed salad greens tossed with roasted chickpeas, black beans, and/or lentils
- Comforting bowl of seasonal soup
- Cozy pastas with mix-ins: olives, grape tomatoes, steamed broccoli florets, grated mozzarella
- Platters with sliced, roasted meats and sandwich breads (soft baguette or sliced buns)
- 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
- Something sweet with grapes, dried or fresh berries, seasonal fruit
- Something acidic such as pickles (cornichons), pickled green beans, pickled jalapenos
- Bowls of dip: pesto, hummus, olive spread, any dip
- Almonds or cashews
- For a more festive board, spring for some might-adds: fancy olives, smoked salmon, shrimp, marinated mushrooms, and artichoke hearts
I was startled to realize I’d already done most 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) from the summer 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:
- I baked and froze bread: a big load of flatbreads, baguettes, pitas, and loaves. See how to make flatbread.
- As I was preparing other meals, I cooked up and froze dry beans, chickpeas, lentils, and brown barley in various-sized containers.
- 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. Needless to say, the freezers are groaning.
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. We won’t be participating in a cookie exchange. 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.