What's for starters?
When cooking at home, ‘starters’ are usually left out of most normal everyday meals and reserved for the big occasions. This time of year for most will be about bringing loved ones together and the best way to go about it is by providing a meal they can't say no to. They've got to fall in love right from the get go. The smells, the textures, the flavors, the starter. This meals primary job is to set you up for what's to come. A prelude to your main course if you will. It's a lot to ask of a small portion of food. So let's put our aprons on and get to work.
Preparing ahead of time is a great way to minimise stress (not just in the kitchen). Most starters can be made prior to the big day. So don't worry, you'll have a chance to give them a go more than once should you make any errors the first time round. If it's been your first time properly cooking in the kitchen since thanksgiving then you may need to double check everything's in working order. If anythings refusing to cooperate, the oven for example, then you may need to phone in some external help. Companies like AppliancePro repair just about anything. You don't want to wake up to discover a stubborn hob on Christmas Day either. This will inevitably add unnecessary pressure to your cook.
Catering for a group can be difficult when taking into consideration everyone's dietary requirements but it doesn't have to break the bank. Sharing platters are a great way of getting everyone involved and serving up a vegetarian option to start with will help to include everyone. Some options to think about combing for a sharing platter that don't take up any time at all would be, hummus dips, freshly sliced carrot sticks, freshly cut celery sticks, chopped peppers also make great sticks for dips, baked camembert, cubed cheese and stuffed olives. That just about covers nibbles but can't quite yet be considered as a traditional starter. So what festive dishes can be whipped up with minimal effort? Here's a few ideas that progress in levels of difficulty.
A Warm Bowlful Of Soup
Nothing warms the soul more and if it isn't broke then don't fix it. Soup has been the nation's favourite for years. It's a classic and it's almost impossible to get wrong. With a couple of attempts under your belt you'll find yourself a master of the pot in no time. Good seasoning and good timing will work well in your favour. You'll only need is water, a few vegetables, lentils, stock cubes and a couple of spices that your bound to still have in your cupboard. Soup is a great option as it can be frozen for later and eaten again the next day. A good thing to remember about cooking soup is not to rush, cook it at a low temperature for a long time for the best results.
Another incredibly simple starter to make is bruschetta. Don't panic, it sounds and can look much fancier than it really is. You can put this together with a few simple ingredients and it really can look splendid. All you'll need is bread, tomatoes, grated parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, basil vinegar, salt and pepper (cheese can be optional Incase your catering for any vegans). A top tip here is to invest in the bread you will be using. A toasted baguette cut down into slices or a rustic bread will be best. Layering a small amount of garlic, pesto and chutney onto the bread first will add an extra kick of festive flavour. Topple your tomatoes on top with your cheese and grill for about a minute.
Mediterranean Style Stuffed Peppers
Super easy to prepare and cook. Stuffed peppers are a superb way of bringing some colour to the table. Red, green or yellow then decide what's going in the middle. Filling the hollow of the peppers with couscous, courgettes and mozzarella will have your guests mouths watering. You'll need an oven and a hob for this recipe. Bake your peppers lightly whilst you prepare your courgettes by cooking them in a saucepan. Stir in the couscous for about a minute then add boiling water. Leave it to simmer for five minutes then remove it from heat to settle. If you like things hot and have any chilli powder close by then a light dusting stirred into the mix will spice things up. Once you've got your stuffing, fill the peppers and add a topping of mozzarella. Place the peppers under the grill for a couple of minutes and they should be perfect for serving.
Eggplant And Potato Tarts
If your thinking the difficulty level just raised sufficiently then think again. In total the preparation and cook time of this meal should average thirty minutes. You’ll have to slice down two medium sized eggplants and have four potatoes sliced just a bit thinner. Also have two sheets of puff pastry at the ready. Preheat your oven to 200C. Fry your eggplant and potatoes separately until they turn a golden brown. Caramelize some chopped onion and garlic together in a pan for about eight minutes then stir in some parsley. Season with some salt and pepper. Cut the puff pastry into small manageable sized circles then add a spoonful of your onion mixture top it off with your potato and eggplant slices. Bake them all in the oven for fourteen minutes. Best served hot with a small side of salad.
So there you have it. The examples given are guaranteed to keep things easy and pleasant for now but once you've mastered the basics you can look into some more advanced recipes. These are but a few options of many and hopefully you'll now feel inspired to give some of them a go. You might find that you're making starters before every meal from now on.
In the mood for more crowd-pleasing with minimal effort? Check out my collection of the easiest sides for a Thanksgiving Dinner (because it's absolutely crazy to think they are only acceptable once a year)!
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