As the 2021 holiday season unfolds – some might even say unravels – we look forward to joining safe gatherings with friends and family. Some might be impromptu, some more formal. Stocking your pantry with ingredients you can put together in a hurry is a good strategy for contributing to a delicious and successful gathering.
Try my Rule of Three — plus crackers — approach. Cheese, fruits and nuts — a combination that can start or end any holiday spread.
Three cheeses that are always welcome
Cambazola – This creamy and mild combination of Camembert and Gorgonzola goes well with just about everything.
Unexpected Cheddar from Trader Joe’s – A terrific cheese that has the tang of cheddar with parmesan overtones, it is so popular that TJ’s now sells it shredded.
Goat cheese – Holiday goat cheese logs include sweet and savory. They pair well with other ingredients and can be enjoyed by people who are lactose intolerant.
Fresh Apples, Pears and Grapes
Display whole fruits with a fruit slicer or knife nearby. Remember, apples need to be refrigerated or they lose their crispness. Pears, as soon as they feel slightly soft to the touch at the stem end, also need to finish ripening in the refrigerator.
Rave, Cosmic Crisp, Honeycrisp, Envy, Fuji – There are so many distinctive Washington apples it is hard to choose. Offer several varieties and let your guests discover which they like.
I am partial to Bosc pears — I love the crispness of them. Bartlett and Anjou are terrific for the season and Comice pears – boxed and wrapped in gilt paper at Trader Joe’s – are special.
With more varieties available than ever before, arranging clusters of fresh grapes on a plate with your cheese and nuts is an easy way to create an attractive display.
Red, green and black seedless are always plentiful. Cotton candy or other special types are also available and worth trying.
Dried fruits are great companions for this holiday approach. Again, I turn to some classic choices as well as some more unusual ones.
Dates, figs, apricots are standard and reliable.
Dried satsumas, candied pineapple, candied orange slices, cranberry mixtures and dried mango all look beautiful and mix and match well.
While peanuts and raisins are a classic snacking mix, walnuts, pecans, cashews and other nut mixtures are readily available — some spiced and sugared — and are worth the investment.
There are so many to choose from, each with their own character. I suggest the crispy ones with dried fruits and nuts, and the Italian ones with rosemary. There are more gluten-free choices than ever before so everybody can choose what works for them.
You might have your favorite spread or homemade offering for this approach. They – and you – will be appreciated for adding a festive assembly to holiday gatherings.