November 20 2013 - Stocking the holiday pantry!

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Written by Paula Roy

To say I adore the holiday season would be a bit of an understatement. The colourful decorations, familiar music and festive food all help to make it my favourite time of year. I go overboard on just about everything to do with the holidays and love opening my home to family and friends. I do try to make my gatherings as impromptu and effortless as possible; while this does require a little bit of advance planning, having a holiday-ready pantry keeps the season from getting too hetic.

I like to have a good selection of party foods on hand so I can issue last-minute invitations without needing to run to the store. One of the easiest tricks is to have all the fixings for a great charcuterie platter. I roast up spice-coated pecans and almonds, then purchase dry-cured salumi and packaged cheeses (rather than freshly-cut wedges from the deli) which last for weeks in the refrigerator. Add in some crackers, olives, gherkins and dried apricots and you can assemble a very tasty set of nibbles in just minutes.

If you don’t love baking, don’t worry about making ‘fancy’ cookies just because it’s the holidays. I encourage people to make and serve their ‘best’ cookie recipe; you can dress them up with a little colourful sugar crystals if you want to make them more festive. I usually make and freeze a huge batch of little doughballs using my popular molasses-ginger cookie recipe, then thaw and bake them up as needed. There’s nothing more welcoming than having your home smell of warm-from-the-oven cookies.

An easy, elegant dessert option is to have top-quality vanilla ice cream on hand. Scoop some into fancy serving dishes and drizzle with a little flavoured balsamic such as cinnamon-pear, espresso or chocolate.

A glass of bubbly always seems to get a party started in style. Try pouring an ounce of chilled ice wine in the bottom of your champagne flutes, then top with sparkling wine – it’s an easy way to create a signature drink for your gatherings!

Don’t forget the non-alcoholic options. Ice syrup – unfermented ice wine – is delicious mixed with sparkling water. A brand new product called TreeWell – carbonated maple sap – makes a wonderful beverage on its own (or as a base for cocktails). Sparkling apple cider is a third great non-alcoholic option.

Handmade edible gifts are always a hit. Each year I come up with a new creation especially for the holidays; this year it’s a delectable plum jam with ginger, lime and cardamom. I’ve also been busy making little bottles of vanilla extract, combining split vanilla beans with vodka, bourbon or rum which I’ll steep for a month before straining. I’ll gift those with jars of vanilla bean-infused turbinado sugar. I like to stock up on a variety of items from my favourite local shops, including chocolates, flavoured salts and sugars and sampler packs of small bottles of exotic olive oils and balsamics so I can pull little gift bags together in a hurry, as needed.

By stocking up on some of these entertaining essentials, I always feel more prepared and inclined to invite people over on the spur of the moment, plus I’ve always got a stash of hostess gifts for any last-minute invitations we receive. I can’t wait for the holiday season to begin!