Easy post-holiday buffet ideas

By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

What was a glorious ham dinner on Christmas can be part of a tasty — and easy — post-holiday buffet later this week.

Whew we made it!

We survived the holiday onslaught, fed large numbers of people and generally were all-around heros in the kitchen. Now’s the time to take a break from all that stress and offer laid back, easy to prepare dishes.  And the first thing that comes to mind is a post-holiday buffet, preferable where guests contribute some of the dishes.  Unlike a buffet that one might have prepared pre-Christmas, this is all about low key, no fuss eating.

That glorious roast, that enormous turkey, that sturdy ham, are now but a memory.  Only their leftovers remain.  But creative cooks can still bring out their glory.

Here are what I’ve found to be great suggestions for a post-holiday buffet.

Make ahead – I try to choose as many recipes as possible that can be made ahead of time. That way, I can enjoy the dinner, without being frazzled by last minute cooking.

Personalized meals. With allergies and general likes and dislikes to contend with, it’s hard to please everyone. A buffet allows you to serve a variety of dishes that might not otherwise fit together. And, you can enlist those with specific requests to bring a dish that pleases them and to share with the gathering.

Easy self-serve – At a buffet, everyone can serve themselves.  While everyone chooses their favorites you’re free to tend to the last-minute details in the kitchen or better yet, enjoy the group.

No waiting. At a buffet-style meal, guests can get up and refill whenever they like. You don’t have to pass dishes around the table all night, and no one has to wait for seconds.

Ok, you’re saying, “you’ve sold me but what do I make?”  Here are some thought starters for easy to prepare or make ahead dishes using leftovers of what you have on hand from the holidays.

Sandwich tray using sliced leftover meat and fun condiments

Mashed potato strada or scalloped potatoes using a layer of potatoes, a layer of bite sized meat chunks,  mayo, sour cream to moisten, another layer of potatoes and shredded cheese on top.  Bake till hot.

Vegetable medley using a mélange of whatever didn’t get eaten at the holiday.  The vegetables can be cut up and tossed with a sauce or dressing of your choosing with croutons.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  I especially like asparagus pieces as a leftover with balsamic dressing.

Tossed salad – try Boston Bibb lettuce with cherry tomatoes, which are widely available at the store.  Use your favorite salad dressing.

Sweets platter using homemade baked goods or “good as homemade” cookies from a cookie swap.

Beverages including ice tea or more invigorating drinks depending on your crowd.

Entertaining couldn’t be simpler with a make-ahead spread using up leftovers that lets the hostess/host kick back and relax after all that pre-holiday stress while satisfying family and friends.

Cathy Branciaroli also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her award-winning blog Delaware Girl Eats

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