I love entertaining, but it’s always tricky to find time to make the food. I’m all for supplementing a homemade menu with terrific store-bought items like great cheeses and olives, but it’s also possible to make some items ahead.
First, try your hand at spiced roasted chick peas. They’re super easy and a nice change from nuts and pretzels. Plus, they’re actually healthy. And they can be made a day or two ahead (if you can keep your family from eating all of them).
Quick breads make good desserts, and they’re always better after resting a day. I love pumpkin bread, gingerbread and banana bread. For the holidays, the cranberry-orange bread recipe below is beautiful and festive.
Finally, if you want to do something a little more than cracking open bottles of wine, but nothing as time-consuming as a signature cocktail, the warm red wine punch is a nice option. Mix it all together in the crock of a slow cooker the day before, then let it sit overnight. The flavors benefit from time to meld. A couple of hours before your guests arrive, just plug in the slow cooker.
ROASTED SPICED CHICK PEAS
Makes about 2 cups (6 to 8 snack servings)
Use your imagination with the spice mix. A combination of cinnamon, cumin and coriander is also good. Add 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper for a little extra kick.
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) chick peas, rinsed, well drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
11/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
Ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Spread the chick peas in a single layer on a baking sheet. Pat dry with paper towels. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast until golden brown and crispy, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Combine salt, paprika and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle chick peas with spice mix. Toss to coat. Roast an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until fragrant.
Cool. Store in an airtight container up to 3 days.
Makes 1 loaf (10 to 12 slices)
2 cups flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup buttermilk
11/2 cups whole fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
To make bread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Make a well in the center.
Beat the eggs in another bowl. Add orange juice, butter, orange zest and buttermilk. Whisk well.
Add buttermilk mixture to well of dry ingredients. Stir until almost combined. Add cranberries. Stir just until no streaks of flour remain. Do not over mix.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn loaf out onto rack and cool completely.
To make glaze: Stir orange juice and confectioners’ sugar in a small bowl until smooth. Drizzle over top of loaf. Let stand until firm.
Wrap in plastic and store up to 3 days.
WARM SPICED HOLIDAY WINE
Makes about 16 servings
1 gallon dry red wine (or five 750 ml bottles)
11/2 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon Angostura or other bitters (optional)
6 whole cloves
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 cinnamon stick
Peel of 1 orange cut in strips (remove any pith)
Mix together all ingredients in the crock of a slow cooker. Cover and let stand overnight.
Plug in slow cooker. Set on low to warm, about 2 hours.
Ladle into mugs.