(BPT) - The hectic holidays can mean hurried cooks, frantic trips to the grocery store and chaotic menu planning. But it doesn't have to - with some tried and true solutions for easy entertaining, you can reduce your stress and set up a holiday party guaranteed to impress guests from near or far.
Don't let cooking and entertaining dim your holiday spirit. Follow these simple tips for making your next holiday meal as easy to plan as it is delicious:
Appetizers - Modern cheese plates are far from boring and are a simple way to add a gourmet touch to your event. Remember to balance tastes, textures and visual appeal to create a memorable cheese plate. A good rule of thumb: include three cheeses with different flavor profiles, such as a soft brie, a sharp cheddar and a crumbly blue like Stella blue cheese.
Fondue - Add an interactive twist to your favorite holiday fare with fondue. Fondue is a fun way to kick off a meal with a variety of appetizer options. Or make it a full meal experience, with multiple courses incorporating fondue as the common element. Buy or rent fondue pots and set up tables or stations with different themes. Cheese fondue is perfect for veggies, fruit and breads. Rich broth-based fondues are great for main courses like meats and seafood. Chocolate, of course, is ideal for dessert when paired with berries, brownies and marshmallows.
Potluck - The holidays are all about bringing people together, and what better way than to host a potluck-style meal where everyone brings a favorite dish to share? The host typically handles the main entree, and then the guests can bring dishes to complement the meal. Ask attendees if they have something in mind, or if they are unsure, assign particular items to ensure your meal is covered. It's a great way to introduce everyone to new recipes.
Reinvent classic dishes - Think your guests are bored with the same foods year after year? Unlikely, but if you want to add pizzazz to your cooking, you can do so while staying true to the classic recipes you love. Traditional holiday dishes - like mashed potatoes and salads - can be updated in seconds with cheese. Few things can't benefit from a quick sprinkle of Stella Parmesan, which you can pick up at your local grocery store. Another option is to add a dash of herbs to help bring out the natural flavors of your foods; fresh herbs like rosemary and mint or pantry staples like cinnamon and nutmeg bring bold new flavor to your dishes.
Pairings party - Let your inner foodie shine and impress your friends with a holiday pairings party. Select items that are easy to prepare and pair with complementing drinks. For example, Champagne pairs great with delicate cheeses like brie, ale beers pair nicely with richly flavored cheeses like gorgonzola, and medium-bodied red wines pair well with hard Italian-style cheeses like Asiago. Label pairings appropriately so guest can congregate around the buffet table and sample at will. Their taste buds will dance and the food discussions will be plentiful.
Try these two tasty and simple recipes at your next holiday party:
European Stella Cheese Fondue
1 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio
15 ounce (3 containers) Stella 3 cheese European Blends
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon kirsch or brandy (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Bring wine to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Toss together cheese and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 of cheese mixture to simmering wine, stirring constantly until melted. Continue adding cheese and stirring constantly until all cheese is melted and simmers gently. Stir in kirsch, if desired, and salt and nutmeg. Transfer mixture to a fondue pot set over a fondue burner or heating element. Serve assorted dippers with long forks for dipping. Stir warm fondue often to prevent scorching.
Stella Romano Cheese Cheesy Mashed Potatoes
4 medium red potatoes, with or without skins
4 ounce Stella Romano cheese
1/3 cup skim milk
4 tablespoon butter, softened
2 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Put potatoes in large pot and cover. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are easily pierced by a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain water. With potatoes over medium-low heat, add remaining ingredients and mash with a potato masher until smooth.