Admittedly, I probably like to cook more than the average person, but during the holidays I have no shame in taking a page from the Barefoot Contessa’s playbook and turning my focus to assembling foods rather than making everything from scratch.
I still love to bake Christmas cookies, of course, and I personally can’t imagine outsourcing the main holiday meal, mostly because I get so much joy from preparing it, but when it comes to casual entertaining in December I actually love using some store-bought favourites to assist me in putting together some crave-worthy spreads.
I spent close to a decade working in catering and can confirm that finger foods are the most desired items to serve during holiday get-togethers. If you offer enough of them, they can even serve as a full meal replacement. Generally speaking, you’ll want to offer:
- Four bites of food per person, if snacks are being served before a full meal
- Ten to twelve bites of food per person if you’re offering the nibbles as a full meal replacement
When it comes to assembling the food, here are a few more things to consider:
- No appetizer is more popular than shrimp. Ever.
- Be sure to include a few vegetarian options.
- If you’re serving something on or with bread/crackers, be sure to have a gluten-free variety on hand in case one of your guests requires it.
Here’s a look at some of the brands that I used to create the spread you see in the photo. As always, feel free to swap in your favourite store’s equivalent if you can’t find the items I’ve mentioned below.
Tender, battered cauliflower bakes up to crispy perfection, bringing vegetables and entertaining to a new level. These are perfect for vegetarian guests in the crowd.
These are perfect for piling on veggie trays and party platters. They require no peeling and/or chopping and are a convenient two or three-bite size.
It’s fun to make homemade dips, but during the holidays I definitely rely on store-bought favourites. This one is suitable for vegan diets or anyone wanting to include more plant-based alternatives. Rich, creamy and very spreadable, it’s a great dip for fresh veggies. P.S. Stir in some of your favourite seasonings or spices to elevate the flavour – I like to add a generous sprinkle of “Everything But the Bagel Spice” to mine.
A tangy, relish-like mix of olives and veggies, Muffuletta adds texture and depth to so many dishes. It serves multiple purposes (try it as a salad topper, on pasta, in omelettes or alongside charcuterie), but I really like to spoon it over goat-cheese slathered baguettes.
Speaking of baguettes, keeping the frozen kind on hand lends itself so well to holiday entertaining. If you’re going to serve something on or with sliced bread, you’ll want to use the freshest kind you can find, and to save time driving to the grocery store the day of your party you can simply pop a few frozen loaves in the oven when needed and use them accordingly. Plus, they make your house smell amazing.
Jams, Jellies and Compotes
Condiments are an easy way to add extra flavour to all of your favourite foods. Most are divine served with cheese (like a wheel of Brie) and are the perfect addition to any party platter.
A delicious cheese at a perfect price point. No holiday spread is complete without a baked brie, IMHO.
Spectacular for snacking, or serve as part of a charcuterie board, this seasoned pork sausage is delicious serve alongside cheese and/or crackers.
Crispy, fragrant coconut shrimp make the perfect appetizer! This one is sustainably sourced, quick to cook, and packed full of coconut flavour. Ready in 15 minutes and always a huge hit. Pro Tip: Buy double what you think you’ll need.
Brands abound, so purchase your favourite and use it to make a spiked holiday cocktail. Look for a cranberry/apple/pomegranate flavour to suit the season. The general recipe is:
8oz. kombucha + 1.5oz vodka + garnish (rosemary sprig, cranberries, pomegranate seeds, apple slices)
You can never go wrong setting out a bowl of nuts to nibble on. I like the simplicity of pistachios, but any kind works well.
The easiest sweet finish to any holiday soiree. Set them out in bowls or scatter them over the table/buffet and they’ll look like little ornaments glinting in the light.