Let’s face it; we’d all love to recreate Martha Stewart’s perfect Christmas party featuring a bountiful table filled with homemade delicacies. After watching 24-hour coverage of Food Network holiday dinners, placing a similarly-impressive spread of a glistening turkey, succulent ham, and magnificent sides and desserts before family and friends is on everyone’s wish list. But try as we might, lack of time, imagination, and, all too often, finances, prohibit most of us from carrying out the ideas we’ve glimpsed in magazines and on television cooking shows.
Instead of spending the upcoming holidays in the kitchen, why not stop by any number of restaurants and supermarkets for dips, appetizers, party trays, and desserts for parties and Christmas dinner? Almost everything necessary for a Martha-worthy party or dinner can be purchased, and, if you’re lucky, your guests or family won’t know the difference. This creates more time for you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the holidays instead of spending hours in the kitchen.
Following is a short list of some of my favorite supermarket and restaurant food items to create the perfect holiday gathering. Call ahead to check policies on take-out, especially when it involves an entire meal. But if you miss the window for a Christmas party or dinner, just extend the holiday merriment to New Year’s Eve!
1. Get the party started – Kroger never disappoints when it’s time for party food shopping. A number of Private Label and Kroger brand appetizers are delicious and inexpensive, including crab dip, which can be placed in a casserole dish, topped with crushed crackers, and served as a hot dip. There’s also gourmet pimento cheese, delicious served warm or cold with a variety of crackers for dipping. A personal favorite is Kroger’s Tex Mex dip. It’s the perfect dip for crudités or crackers. A friend recently recommended Kroger’s Jarlsberg dip, a tangy combination of Jarlsberg cheese, mayonnaise, and onions. The copycat recipe is online if you prefer to make your own version. And complete party tray kits containing sliced ham, cheese, and crackers make compiling an impressive charcuterie board easier than you’d imagined.
Another supermarket to check out for party needs is Jackson’s Whole Foods. Shrimp and smoked salmon platters, fig-stuffed brie, and cheese platters are just a few of the delicacies that can be on your party table in minutes.
It’s no secret among Mississippians fortunate enough to have a Piggly Wiggly in their midst that this supermarket chain knows how to fry chicken. Luckily, they also create party trays filled with crispy drummettes, wings, and tenders. Trust me, the chicken tray will be remembered long after memories of your party have faded.
2. Holiday central – Primos Café has been Mississippians’ go-to holiday meal and dessert pick-up place for decades. With locations in Flowood, Ridgeland, and Madison, Primos has everything necessary for a memorable party or dinner. From party trays loaded with poboys, finger sandwiches, pasta, chicken tenders, and specialty breads, to Christmas dinner casseroles featuring sweet potatoes, broccoli, and green beans, to name a few, Primos has played a part in thousands of holiday gatherings over the years.
3. When it comes to Christmas dinner, nothing’s easier than getting a trusted supermarket to do the job for you. Whole Foods offers complete turkey, ham and prime rib dinner with all the trimmings to feed groups ranging from small to large. Many other supermarkets with full-service delis, including Ridgeland’s Fresh Market, offer complete Christmas dinners complete with a turkey or ham and traditional sides. Remember to call several days in advance to check prices and ordering cut-off dates.
4. Sweets, sweets, and more sweets – It’s the Christmas season, so dietary restraints should temporarily go out the window. Some of my top picks for holiday sweets and desserts include the Christmas petit fours and berry burg cake at Corner Market (check locations in Hattiesburg, Petal, Ellisville, Laurel, and Vicksburg), Cotton Blues’ cheesecake sold at the Hattiesburg restaurant and in Ramey’s Supermarkets in select locations, Whole Foods’ pecan pie, and a favorite of thousands of Mississippians, Primos’ caramel cake.
A friend recently served me a piece of Pepperidge Farm coconut cake – yes, the one seen for decades in the freezer case - and I have to say, it was surprisingly delicious. If you’ve missed the cut-off time to order a dessert, defrost the old standard, place it on a dessert plate, and, just like that, you have a delicious dessert to serve your guests. You also can’t go wrong with Marie Callender’s frozen lattice apple and Southern pecan pies found near the coconut cake.
5. Setting the stage – Table decorations are important, but when the budget has been depleted, look no further than the cut flower section at Wal-Mart or other supermarkets. I recently purchased three bundles of cut fall flowers at Walmart for less than $30 to decorate a large banquet hall. Christmas bouquets will soon be out; an inexpensive, festive way to dress up buffet and dinner tables without going over the budget.
As you plan Christmas parties and dinners, remember this important fact. Your family and friends won’t notice or care if you purchased food from a supermarket, deli or restaurant. Being invited to your home to celebrate the season is a personal gift everyone enjoys receiving. So, shop around, place the order, and let others do the cooking so you can enjoy this special time as much as your guests.