Ding-dong! Your neighbors, the in-laws or carolers are here. ‘Tis the season for spontaneous or even not-so-spontaneous gatherings, and you’ll need to put together food for guests. Instead of planning intricate dishes, stocking up on a few must-haves can help minimize stress around the holidays and make your life a whole lot easier. Here are a few foods to keep on hand so you can easily throw together crowd-friendly snacks or even a light meal for hungry guests.
1. Canned White Beans
One of the easiest things to make guests is crudite and dip. Veggies are always easy to cut and place on a large platter. Using a variety vegetables of different colors also makes it visually appealing to guests. When it comes to the dip, store a few cans of low-sodium white beans (or rinse and drain regular white beans to reduce the sodium by up to 40 percent). Blend a can with a few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and paprika, and you have the easiest white bean dip ever. You can also use the white beans to dress up a green salad or, if you stock up on several types of canned beans, you can throw together a three-bean chili in 30 minutes or less.
Throughout the year, I stock up on eggs, so much so that I started buying those huge crates from Costco. I suggest you stock up, too, and not just for baking. Having a holiday brunch? Whip up a frittata with leftover vegetables and cheese. A picky child doesn’t eat anything you’re serving? Scramble some eggs in a flash. Hard-boil a dozen eggs to have in your refrigerator as grab-and-go high-protein snacks for you and your guests. You can also serve those hard-boiled eggs at a breakfast or brunch buffet, use them as a sandwich filler or put atop a salad.
Simple is the way to go over the holidays, and you can make several simple dishes using potatoes. How about baked potatoes with a topping bar? Lay out easy toppings like salsa, reduced-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt, leftover pulled chicken or pork, leftover chili or leftover broccoli with shredded cheese. It’s a fun meal activity for adults and kids alike. You can toss potatoes in your three-bean chili (with the canned beans), whip up simple mashed potatoes or use a mandolin to thinly slice those potatoes for homemade (and better-for-you) chips.
4. Greek Yogurt
Stock up on a few large containers of nonfat plain Greek yogurt. My cookbook, “The Greek Yogurt Kitchen,” can give you over 130 different ways to use it, but even without a recipe on hand, you can easily use Greek yogurt in a variety of ways. Do you have a handful of guests sleeping over? Use Greek yogurt as a base for smoothies and toss in leftover or frozen fruit. Even if you have five or six extra guests at breakfast, it will take you only 10 minutes to blend those babies up. You can also make a smoothie and serve them in shooter glasses, a fun appetizer to pass around when guests arrive at any party. If it’s adults only, add a splash of vodka or rum.
[See: Unusual Uses for Greek Yogurt.]
You can also create a fun toppings bar for breakfast or brunch. Serve Greek yogurt with both sweet toppings (dark chocolate chips, fresh fruit, granola, sunflower seeds and chopped nuts, for example) and savory ones (like diced bacon, avocado, smoked salmon and chopped tomatoes). It’s a great way to use some of those leftover foods taking up space in your fridge or pantry.
Having a whole grain on hand is important to help balance meals. Quinoa cooks up in 15 minutes, and can become both hot and cold dishes. Make a simple side by cooking quinoa in a low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock, and toss in frozen vegetables like peas, carrots or broccoli. You can also add beans to make it even more filling. You can always make a cold quinoa salad using fruit like strawberries and mango or vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. Quinoa can also add another layer to dishes like soups and chili, and can be used in place of rice in a quick stir-fry.
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5 Ingredients Every Kitchen Needs for Last-Minute Holiday Entertaining originally appeared on usnews.com