Our final Ask the Chef Burning Questions Series with Matthew Robinson of The Culinary Exchange is tailored toward helping you through the holiday madness. Got some last minute guests coming over? Want to avoid a trip to the grocery store for what feels like the millionth time? We've got you covered here in the Dharma Kitchen.
Ask the Chef: What are some last minute holiday treats I can make with things that are already in my pantry?
This is a good question. Come the holidays, everything seems last minute and while spending time in the kitchen is great, it can be time that needs to be spent on other things. When I think about last-minute treats, my mind immediately wanders to the no-bake variety, and not because all baking applications are slow. I believe no-bake items are much less complicated and hence, faster.
When I think of no-bake snacks, I like to think in terms of broad categories, which along with what's in my pantry help me decide what to make. Here are the categories.
Things That I Can Melt and Dip—and Dip Again
In this category, I first look for melt-able things in my pantry like chocolate chips or caramels (if I have a little time I will whip up a caramel). Next, I look for things I can dip into that which is melted, such as pretzel rods, shortbread cookies, vanilla or chocolate wafers. I then seek out things into which my treats can be dipped again for decoration and added flavor—sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut. It is then a matter of melting, dipping then dipping again. Melting is fast, taking cookies out of the pantry is easy, and chopping nuts can be done lickety split. Try chocolate dipped vanilla wafers dipped in chopped pistachios. Or these caramel dipped shortbread cookies with chocolate sprinkles.
Things I Can Bind in Marshmallow
The next category is based on the famous Rice Krispie treat. Melting marshmallow and butter and binding any number of ingredients in my pantry (cereals, pretzels, popcorn) plus adding a holiday twist like crushed candy cane makes an easy last minute treat. Example – Popcorn marshmallow treats with chocolate chips and crushed candy cane.
Things That Are Sticky and Can Be Made Into A Ball
This category is for when there is dried fruit around. When you grind up dried fruit, like raisins, dates or Craisins, you have a nice paste from which you can make balls. Yes, balls. Once you have a dried fruit base, the sky is the limit – nuts, chocolate, candy, etc., can all be ground up with the dried fruit and then rolled into treats. To take the treats to the next level, another dip into sprinkles, powdered sugar, cocoa powder or coconut (something dry) is a great idea. This takes the stickiness away and decorates the balls. Try these Apricot, Cashew and White Chocolate balls recipe.
Things I Can Re-Season
This category is for when I have plain snacks in my pantry, such as pretzels, cheese crackers (like Cheez-Its) or, on the odd occasion, oyster crackers. I pop these in a sealable bag, add a tablespoon of oil and my favorite seasoning and give it a shake. This takes 30 seconds and makes a nice savory treat. You can even make them spicy.
Things I Can Stuff or Wrap
This category is for when I have things I can stuff or wrap, like dates or figs. You can stuff a date with practically anything from cream cheese and nut butters to nuts and chocolate. If I have some good ham it can be easily wrapped around a fig. Nothing but YUM in this category. Check out these variations on stuffed dates.
Cheese is always easy. If I have a wheel of brie or similar and some goat cheese or cream cheese, I slice the wheel in half on its equator, season with your favorite seasoning mix and spread it on one side of the wheel. Then place the other side of the wheel on top. Cheese sandwiched in cheese—you can’t go wrong. Or just serve the brie as is and call it a day.
Making quick treats out of things you have in the pantry is not difficult. Just think about what you have and one of the categories above and you will be fine. Also, don’t sweat it. It is the holidays! Everyone is in a good mood so even a bag of chips and dip will be great (Dips are other category altogether—sour cream plus your favorite seasoning mixes).
I am sure all your treats will be fantastic. I hope you have the happiest of holidays and that you and yours have a new year filled with calmness, happiness and great health. I look forward to seeing you in The Dharma Kitchen in 2016.