Holiday party food that doesn’t take 10 hours to make

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Tis the season. For multitasking. As we speak, I am simultaneously making my grocery list for the holiday meals, ordering some last minute presents, chastising my cat for licking the gifts already under the tree (gross), blogging, and trying to figure out how to eat some food so as not to head off to my pasta-making class with an empty stomach and – at some point – freak out from hunger while rolling linguine.

Earlier this morning, I checked and replied to work and personal email, wrapped a few presents, cuddled with the same offending cat, and made an appointment to have my nails re-done, since all of the above have led to them being chipped and awful. Yesterday, my mom called me and said she hoped she wasn’t waking me. As though I had time for sleep.

I bet a few of you just read that and thought. Yes, that sounds pretty similar to my days right now. It’s such a cliché that the holidays are busy. But, damn. The holidays are busy.

That is, no doubt, what led to the requester of this post to ask for some ideas on party food that doesn’t take 10 hours to make. As well established previously, I am super lazy. I would rarely make something that required more than 30 minutes to make. So, she is in luck… I have a few recipes to share.

Pancetta Crisps With Goat Cheese and Pear – Ok, confession time. This is the single easiest thing I have ever made that people go absolutely bat-shit crazy for. It’s an instant hit and I’d highly recommend it.

Caramelized Onion, Gruyère, and Bacon Spread – Cheese and bacon on bread. You get the idea.

Potato-Gruyère Tartlets – This one is good on lots of fronts. 1) It’s potatoes on dough, which makes it carb-tastic! 2) It only requires a little gruyere, which is a perfect way to use up the leftover bits you have from the recipe above. 3) Puff pastry appears complicated, but it’s NOT! You buy it at the STORE! Anyone out there attempting to make their own puff pastry at this ridiculous time of year, I will slap your pretentious face.

Caramelized Onion Tartlets – You already have the puff pastry, make two kinds of little dealies to put out. Then it looks like you made a bunch of amazing stuff, when really you just repurposed some ingredients.

Scallops in Orange-Butter Sauce – Scallops and shrimp are the best possible things to serve to look fancy-pants but really aren’t. Both are incredibly simple to cook. If you want to ante-up the fancy-pants even more with this recipe, you can substitute bubbles for the white wine.

Saucy Asian Meatballs – Serving meatballs will make your dad happy because it’s traditional and meat-y and he’s barely recovered from you telling him you’re making a roast beef for Christmas dinner instead of turkey which is what your family has done since the dawn of time and you are messing with something that wasn’t broken in the first place. (True story.)

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So, when typing the above sentences… I made an edit. I originally wrote that I never cook anything that requires more than 30 minutes to make. Never say never.

My all time favorite holiday party dish is Grilled Camembert With Exotic Mushroom Hash. This dish is not especially complex, but it does require multiple steps and special equipment. For the record, it also allows you to light food on fire – for the win!!! Overall, it’s a bit of a pain in the ass. But, it is also divine. And, it will absolutely be on my holiday table this year.

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Tricks for make-ahead and slow cooker recipes for our busy lives

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Once and a while I’ll make a reference to a slow cooker recipe to some foodie and they will snarkily come back with, “oh, like ‘set it and forget it’?” As though your cooking cred just dropped through a sinkhole. Well, to everyone that’s ever said that, I say back, “screw you.” Slow cookers are AWESOME. I’ve had the same one for ten years and I’ve used it dozens and dozens of times.

Here’s why I like it. Slow cooker recipes are easy. As already established in this blog, I am lazy. Score one. Crock Pots make lots of food that does really well as leftovers (as do pretty much any slow cooked dish). Score two (especially if you don’t want to cook every night!). Lastly, you make your dinner the night before when you have a little time (maybe after you’ve finally stopped checking your email or your kids have gone to bed) and then you don’t have to do SHIT the next evening, when you’re tired and crazy and past-the-point-of-consolable because you ate a block of cheese and some Kit-Kats for lunch (not that this has ever happened to me, of course). Big score three.

This time of year is stellar for slow cookers. They’re perfect for making cozy, filling meals and they feed an army (otherwise known as the extended family that’s descending on your 900 sq. foot apartment for the holidays – oh, sorry, I was projecting there for a second).

One friend told me that she plans to cook a batch of chili in her Crock Pot and just keep it on low all Christmas day. That way, as random friends and family drop by, she always has something warm to serve them. Brilliant. I am totally stealing that. She also mentioned that it’s great for the 20-something cousins that show up hung over. Makes perfect sense to me.

So, if you’re freaking out over all of your cooking duties this hectic time of year – or, if you entire life is nothing but one continuous series of chaos and madness (see: my life), these recipes are just what you need.

Asian-style pulled pork

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Crock Pot Chili

Moroccan Meatballs and Spicy Tomato Sauce

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Peasant Stew (One of my all time favorites.)

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Vegetable and Chickpea Curry

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Easy Recipes

Fall salad
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Ok, I had a request for easy recipes. Truth is, I am fundamentally pretty lazy about cooking, even though I enjoy it. I have an abundance of easy recipes and I’ll list a bunch of favorites at the end.

The friend that suggested this topic was one of my high school besties and joked that I was the only one that could teach her math, so maybe I could teach her this too! I have the world’s most fantastic photo of her looking up over a huge algebra text book, looking utterly defeated and miserable while pulling an all-nighter at boarding school. It makes me laugh to even just think about that pic.

It also made me think about cooking like math and could I, in fact, draw a parallel (that’s right, I said “draw a parallel” like a cute little math joke). Here’s the best I can do… in math, you need to have all of the right elements of an equation for it to function correctly – balance, equal the right number, cancel out, what have you.

In making food, you also need the right components for balanced flavor, equalized texture and aromas, and complimentary essences (like canceling out). In looking into this idea once before for my prior blog, I learned that taste has five elements – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. And it makes sense, because when I create a dish, either on my own or in following a recipe, I generally like for all of those things to exist. And I think that, just like math, if you master the combination of elements, your food will work – and even be easy (or, at least, understandable).

The other afternoon, I put together a salad following the taste “equation” – almonds & feta for salt, persimmons for sweet, pomegranate for sour, and mixed greens & radishes for bitter. The umami (volumes could be written about this word, but I generally think of it as something savory that pulls a dish together) would probably be the vinaigrette.

Fall salad

Two of my all time favorites are listed below – Fried Chicken Salad (herbs and seasoning for salt, dressing for sweet & sour, beets for bitter, and blue cheese for the umami) and Barbecue Roasted Salmon (fish for salt, sugar for sweet, juice for sour, lemon peel for bitter, and chili, cumin, and cinnamon for umami) both follow the equation.

 Fried Chicken Salad

Roasted Salmon

Easy as 1+1? Well… maybe not quite, but once you get the hang of it, I promise it won’t be as hard as an algebra all-nighter.

Easy Recipes:
Fried Chicken Salad
Barbecue Roasted Salmon
Poblano Mango Black Bean Quesadillas
Chickpea Curry
Santa Fe Meatloaf
Chicken Parmesan
Chicken and Pasta with Pecan Cream
Blackened Shrimp with Pomegranate Orange Salsa

You’ll notice that most (all?) of these recipes are from Cooking Light. In ~15 years of cooking, this is hands-down the most consistently reliable source that I’ve found for great, simple, tasty recipes.