Holidays are my favorite time of the year. Friends come home, families look for every opportunity to gather, schools host events showcasing the kids – and there are a ton of unexpected visitors who stop by the house.
There are thousands of reasons to have to cook “on the fly” and a well-stocked kitchen can certainly make a difference.
Here are my top 10 must haves for holiday flavors:
Sage is the flavor that, for me, epitomizes the holidays. Its warming earthy flavor is perfect for all poultry, soups, roasts – nearly everything. Fresh sage is easily available now. You can simply place whole leaves in your pots while they simmer and remove before serving. Be sure to keep dried rubbed sage available in your pantry and add a dash to any dish.
It always seems to me the colder it gets, the more rosemary I cook with. This hearty, robust herb holds up well in the refrigerator and is great with all meats. My favorite is to create a bed of rosemary and cook my favorite beef dishes over top. Or roast potatoes with rosemary, salt and pepper and you have an amazingly easy, delicious side dish.
For me, cinnamon is in the winter what cayenne is in the summer. It's a touch of heat that you don't taste till the end. But the thing that is so great about cinnamon is that it's not only a little spicy, it's a warming familiar taste to people. Add a dash to finish a dish or mix with sugar for your baked goods. It's perfect for sweet and savory dishes during the holidays.
4. Chinese Five Spice
Chinese Five Spice is pretty much any combination of any five spices. My mixture includes anise, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and clove. It's easy to find this in grocery stores and it's a "go-to" for me right now. I love to rub on steaks with a little salt, or mix into pureed pumpkin. It works either sweet or savory but packs a lot of flavor both ways.
5. Frozen Puff Pastry
I have frozen puff pastry in my freezer at all times of the year. I just defrost it in the microwave in 15-second increments and smear my favorite spread like pesto or olive tapenade and roll it up, slice, bake and serve for an easy appetizer. Or, simply sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, roll, slice, bake and serve for the easiest and potentially fastest dessert ever!
6. Ore Ida Steam n' Mash Sweet Potatoes
Ore Ida Steam n' Mash is my life saver. You keep them in the freezer and then when you are ready you just microwave the potatoes for 10 minutes. Then you can mash, puree, rice the potatoes however you like. Not only do they offer sweet potatoes but they also have plain Russet potatoes in a variety of flavors. Sincerely, this ingredient will save you an hour of prep time. I love to use the potatoes for gnocchi, soups, and tons of sides.
Popcorn is a necessity when there is the risk of school being cancelled. It's the perfect snack, gift for friends, or activity that could take a long time (think stringing popcorn for Christmas tree). I love to flavor mine with Parmesan and black pepper. You can sprinkle with cocoa and cayenne, store in a fun container, and give as a great, affordable hostess gift. Play around in your spice aisle in the grocery store because your options are endless and popcorn is a fantastic medium for trying them all!
This time of year pureed pumpkin is available in the baking aisle. I love to buy the unseasoned pumpkin so it can become either sweet or savory. Add chicken stock and veggies for a quick soup, cream and rosemary for a simple pasta sauce, or powdered sugar and Chinese five spice for dessert filling.
9. Cocoa Powder
If my boys are going to be playing outside then there is a safe assumption they are going to come in search for hot chocolate. Just add cocoa powder with hot milk and a little sugar to make a fresh cup of hot chocolate.
10. Roasted Garlic
This is one of my favorite holiday party tips. When I get home from the grocery store with fresh garlic I always cut the garlic so the tops of the cloves are exposed, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, wrap in tin foil and then roast until golden brown and tender. Once I have roasted the garlic I just store in the refrigerator until someone makes a surprise visit. Then I pop it in the microwave to warm up and slice up a loaf of bread, and let everybody smear it all over the baguettes like butter. It's a gourmet appetizer in no time.
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