Buffet is French for “serve your damn self.” Okay, maybe we lost something in translation. But we love this lazy party setup. It’s pretty, there’s variety, and you’re not making much from scratch. Instead, “you can take credit for having shopped really well,” says food stylist Suzanne Lenzer, author of Graze: Inspiration for Small Plates and Meandering Meals.* “If it tastes really good, no one’s going to say, ‘Oh no, she didn’t make those wonton wrappers herself.'” Here are the rules she swears by for easy AF party planning—plus, some tools to make the job totally fool-proof.
*Graze is published by Rodale Inc., publisher of Women’s Health
Some go-tos: olives, pepperoncini, cured meats, and a jar of marinated artichokes—”they always dazzle people,” says Lenzer.
“You should be able to throw a party with a good, sharp chef’s knife and a few twists of a can opener,” she says. Try Lenzer’s pantry-ready recipe for marinated beans. In a lidded mason jar, combine 1 can drained and rinsed gigante beans (15.5 ounces) with 1/2 cup olive oil; the zest and juice of 1 lemon; 2 cloves garlic, smashed; 4 finely chopped pepperoncini (optional); and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano. Stir in 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, season with salt and pepper to taste, and place the lid on tightly. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to overnight, gently shaking the jar occasionally. Serve with toothpicks so guests can help themselves.
Go ahead and buy the store-bought stuff—we love Better Bean Tuscan White Beans ($4, at Whole Foods). Feeling chef-y? In a food processor, puree 1 can drained and rinsed cannellini beans (15.5 ounces), 1 clove garlic, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary. Drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil, the zest of 1 lemon, and 1 tablespoon of its juice.
Lenzer’s fave: Prosciutto, Asparagus, and Arugula Rolls. Pour boiling water over 1 pound trimmed asparagus, let it sit for 2 minutes, then run it under cold water (it works!). Pat dry. Whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the zest of 1 lemon, and the juice of half a lemon, and season with salt and pepper. Add asparagus and 3 handfuls baby arugula, and toss. Overlap 16 slices of prosciutto to form a 6-by-8-inch rectangle. Lay one-quarter of the asparagus mixture across the bottom and roll tightly. Cut the roll into 8 pieces and repeat 3 times.
Sande Friedman, cheese expert at Di Bruno Bros. In Philadelphia, gives the lowdown on making a cheese plate when you don’t know your curds from whey.
Go for at least three different kinds—more than five and they get “lost.” Make them drastically different: a soft, Brie-style cheese, a hard alpine style like Gruyere or cheddar, and a crumbly blue are a nice mix. Aim for one-half to one ounce of each type of cheese per guest.
If you really want to impress, ask for “holiday release” cheeses. They tend to be superrich because they’re made from the milk of cows that have been grazing on summer grass. One, called Vacherin Mont d’Or, comes in a round tree-bark container that’s perfect for entertaining. Just slice off the top of the cheese wheel to expose the almost fondue-style cheese inside, and dip away.
Hold the crackers. “People get so carbed down this time of year,” she says. Pickled vegetables like carrots, green beans, or cornichons have a hit of acid that cuts through dairy perfectly. Friedman likes Brooklyn Brine Co.’s barrel-cured Garlic Dill pickles ($14, amazon.com); Crisp & Co. Sweet Ginger Pickles ($11, dibruno.com); and Epic Pickles’ fennel carrot, asparagus, or okra ($14, amazon.com). You can also use dried fruit as a “cracker” and stretch your cheese by setting out mustards, jams, or honey to try with cheeses—each pairing makes for a whole new flavor sensation, from sour to fruity.
Never serve it cold. Cheese is a living, breathing creature. Let it warm up a little. If it’s beading a bit, that’s just butterfat rising to the surface. Most cheeses can be left at room temperature for up to two hours.
In a slow cooker set on low, heat 1 gallon spiced apple cider until simmering, about 2 hours. Stir in 1/4 cup cinnamon-sugar butter, such as the one from Land O’Lakes, until melted and frothy. Ladle into mugs with 2 tablespoons rum, brandy, or bourbon, if desired. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or an apple slice. Serves 16.
Nuking certain veggies cooks them in about a quarter of the time your oven would require, and because the process is essentially steaming, you don’t need a ton of fat or oil.
In a microwave-safe dish with a lid, toss about 4 cups chopped root veggies (we like sweet potato, butternut squash, and carrots) with 1/2 chopped onion, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon garam masala (or a pinch of cinnamon, salt, and pepper) and stir well. Cover and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Garnish with a handful of fresh chopped parsley, and voila.
Time saved: 20 minutes
Garlic is the aromatic backbone of practically every savory holiday dish—potatoes, bread, dip. Grate it directly into your pot with a microplane grater and skip the hassle of mincing.
Buy it: $15, amazon.com
Time saved: 5 minutes
A wonder hybrid of the pressure cooker and slow cooker, the Instant Pot does everything fast, from dried beans to stock you can make from your turkey carcass in 20 minutes. But guests will be impressed with these Mini Cheesecakes—and you will be too. (Learn how bone broth can help you lose weight with Women’s Health’s Bone Broth Diet.)
Buy it: $100, amazon.com
Combine 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs and 4 tablespoons melted butter. Press into the bottom of four 4-ounce ramekins. Beat together 12 ounces room-temperature cream cheese, 4 tablespoons sugar, 2 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon sour cream, 2 teaspoons each flour and lemon zest, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Divide among ramekins. Pour 1 cup water into the bottom of the Instant Pot and set the steamer rack in it; place ramekins on the rack, close the lid, and set to steam. Steam for 4 minutes, then let the Instant Pot release pressure for 10 minutes. Segment two blood oranges and toss oranges with 2 teaspoons sugar and 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (if desired). With tongs, remove cheesecakes from the Instant Pot and cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. Top with blood oranges to serve.
Time saved: An hour
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of Women’s Health. For more great nutrition advice, check out the issue on newsstands now!
Source: Women’s Health Mag