When it comes to feeding people at holiday parties, it can be tricky to know what to bring. Especially if you consider the many preferences, allergies and diets people have these days. Though your wife may love habaneros, your cousin hates anything spicier than pepper. Your brother may be a carnivore, but your sister-in-law is a strict vegetarian. Then there are those who stay away from gluten and dairy. So what are some things you should consider when choosing the right party dish?
"To me, a good party dish is one that can be picked up and eaten easily in one bite and that is, of course, delicious," says Lindsey Machado, 36, who works as a stylist at Stella and Dot. "I usually try to bring something that is both healthy and vegetarian, such as tomato, basil and mozzarella caprese skewers, or a nice pasta salad. Those are actually perfect for the holidays, too, because they include festive colors."
Machado, who has been a vegetarian for two years, says that while she usually sticks to bringing vegetarian foods to parties, she sometimes will make both a regular and veggie version of the same dish so that everyone can enjoy. But she loves introducing vegetarian options to her friends and family.
"I truly enjoy showing that I can supplement an ingredient and have a dish that I enjoy just as much, if not more, than the meat-filled version," she says.
Machado says she also considers the attendees, the venue and time of day when deciding what to bring to feed the masses. If the event takes place in the afternoon or evening, she loves bringing stuffed mushrooms or spinach and artichoke roll-ups. If it's a brunch event, she likes bringing a quiche or a casserole, which she makes by pressing browned hash browns into a baking dish, and then mixing eggs or egg beaters, shredded cheese, green chilies, salt, pepper and her "secret" ingredient -- a container of cottage cheese.
"The cottage cheese gives the egg portion of the dish the perfect saltiness, and gives it an amazing texture," Machado says.
Another of Machado's party staples is a dip created from three refrigerated ingredients found at Trader Joe's -- one package of steamed lentils, one container of feta cheese and one container of their bruschetta, which you simply mix up and serve cold.
"It's so simple and delicious and goes with any cracker or chip," Machado says. "I also sometimes forego the feta cheese and instead put sliced avocado. Then the dip is vegan and also healthier."
Oprah Winfrey seems to agree with Machado about the awesomeness of the one-bite appetizers. An article in O Magazine points out that one-bite apps are great because they leave one hand free to shake a hand, hold a drink, or grab another bite of food. Among the 22 delectable treats included in the article are a skewer of cold roast beef, blue cheese and grapes; thin rice crackers topped with a wasabi mayo, cooked shrimp and scallions; gourmet pickles spread with cream cheese and wrapped in ham; cherry peppers stuffed with extra-sharp provolone and thin slices of prosciutto; polenta mini-pizzas; and figs stuffed with gorgonzola and almonds.
As for gluten-free options, consider recipes such as zesty deviled eggs, bacon-wrapped figs or Greek appetizer pizza made with Pillsbury gluten-free refrigerated pizza crust dough, shredded mozzarella cheese, marinated artichoke hearts, pitted Kalamata olives, roasted red bell peppers and crumbled tomato and basil feta cheese.
And dairy-free options, such as vegan macaroni and cheese, vegan potatoes au gratin and spinach ravioli are easy to make when you substitute in ingredients like soy milk, soy plain yogurt, ground cashews, tahini paste and dairy-free pesto.
Holidays are also a time of traditions. Machado, the mom of two girls, ages 5 and 7, says she likes to re-create a chili dip her mom used to make.
"I've tried to continue that tradition with vegetarian chili," she says. "It's super simple: two cans veggie chili, one block cream cheese and your favorite salsa to taste."
Machado says that it's not always easy deciding what to bring to holiday events when people's taste buds are so different, but it's good to keep even the pickiest eaters in mind.
"My best friend is literally the pickiest person I've ever come across in my life," says Machado, adding that her father is also a very picky eater. "We are always trying to cater the food to their liking, which often includes supplementing different ingredients or just making something simple."