By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“I think it is more important to have fun and spend time with my guests at parties.” The Barefoot Contessa
The festive party season has officially begun. Lovely parties decked out in garlands of cedar and holly berries, beckon to us. Twinkling lights, laughter and rich holiday foods grace warm homes filled with party goers. We might even be so inspired by the season as to deck our own halls and have a party. Whatever the case, going to or having a party, there is a definite art to it. Here are some tips to help you avoid getting stressed out of your mistletoed mind and expanding your waist to Santa’s girth.
One of the key components of a stress-free holiday party is easy, healthy food. I know “easy” and “healthy” used in the same sentence with “holiday party” seems like an oxymoron, but it is possible. I assure you.
There are two festive dishes that you can serve at any party that will be received with big rosy smiles; the vegetable platter and the fruit and cheese platter. We’re not talking just any ole platter like you get from a grocery store. (Even those will do in a pinch) We are talking about an updated, healthy and sexy looking tray of merry, healthy foods! These trays are easy to put together and filled with goodness that we all need this time of year. They can even be elevated to art work, with little planning and prep. Oh, and they don’t require any cooking. Easy, healthy and delicious; check.
First off, when planning the platter of your choice, think textures and colors. Start by choosing an interesting platter to arrange it on. A large wooden cutting board or a bamboo tea tray are my favorite go-to containers. I have found some great platters at Good Will or other thrift stores that are interesting and affordable too.
Let’s start with the luscious fruit and cheese platters. Pick out an array of different cheeses; a hard one, a soft creamy one, a mild one and a pungent one. Choosing locally made cheeses adds even more interest to the tray or try making a cheese log for a kick. Tip: Let your cheeses come to room temperature for a few hours before serving as cheese tastes better that way.
Next, think fruit; colorful, different shapes, and the simpler the better. Choose fruits that are in season and are easy to pick up and eat. Grapes, apples and pear slices, figs and tangerines slices are good choices for this time of year. (To keep your pear and apple slices from turning brown, squeeze the juice of an orange over them and toss till well coated.)
Add some dried fruit, like cranberries and apricots, then some nuts roasted cashews and almonds are always good. Choose some sliced breads or crackers for the platter as well. I love nut crackers, like “Blue Diamond Nut Thins” because they are healthy, gluten-free and have great crunch.
Let’s talk vegetable platters, or in French, “crudités platter,” which are equally enjoyable to create. Once again, think colors and textures. Carrots of different colors, sliced in half lengthways, radicchio and Belgian endive cut into little scoops, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, lightly steamed green beans and asparagus, julienned bell peppers and celery make great choices. Make a dip for the vegetables that is sleek and different. Something like a “Green Goddess”, baba ganoush, or zesty orange hummus dip. (Recipe follows)
Now for the fun part, assembling your masterpiece. Allow your creative spirit to flow here. Pick some herbs, like sprigs of rosemary and sage, to arrange around the platter to add interest. Pine boughs that have been washed work too if you can’t get fresh herbs. Pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries sprinkled around the herbs make a lovely holiday theme.
You can use leaves from the garden to place under the cheese, fruit and veggies. Make sure they are non-poisonous and pesticide free first! Our native salal is a great one to use; completely edible and evergreen. (Holly and mistletoe are not edible, so don’t use them.) Then arrange the fruit and cheeses or the veggies in a fun and pleasing way. Use your imagination and most of all enjoy the process and the different flavors you are presenting. Your tray will be well visited! There are many people wishing to eat healthy foods this time of year. I wish you a healthy and (relatively) stress-free holiday season!
Zesty Orange Hummus
Adapted from Cooking Light. You can get all the spices, from your local grocery store, including Mother Nature’s in Manzanita. Great served with veggies or pita wedges.
½ onion roughly chopped
2-6 cloves of garlic
¼ cup of orange juice
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
2 teaspoons of low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons of tahini (sesame paste)
1 tablespoon of dried parsley
¼ teaspoon of ground ginger
¼ teaspoon of ground coriander
¼ teaspoon of turmeric
½ teaspoon of cumin
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
Or regular paprika
1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained)
Get down the old food processor or a blender on steroids. Add the onion and the garlic to the food processor then whirl until diced up. As the processor is running, add the rest of the ingredients, one at a time until well blended.
Serve sprinkled with smoked paprika, a drizzle of a really good olive oil and some holiday love.