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Keep your pantry stocked with these go-tos and you’ll never panic again.

By Stacey Ballis
December 07, 2020
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During these current times, I have discovered some items that aren’t just making holiday entertaining easier, they are making them possible! Having these 8 items stashed away has meant that I can still have small and safe socially distanced gatherings, and many of them are items that I think I will continue to have stocked.

The best news? These are items that are all available at the grocery store! No fancy shopping required. Without further ado, here are my top 8 grocery store finds for holiday entertaining and beyond!

Canned Cocktails

Hella Cocktails
Credit: Courtesy Hella Cocktail Co.

Why to buy: Unless you are a passionate home mixologist, cocktails can be a very annoying part of entertaining. Figuring out what to have for a decent home bar and mixing up individual drinks keep you working instead of socializing. Enter my new favorite thing: the premium canned cocktail. No muss, no fuss, and everyone can have their favorite drink. Distilleries are now making a full range of luxury canned cocktails and there really is something for everyone.

What to buy: Some of my current faves are from Cutwater Spirits. We’ve been really enjoying their Tequila Palomas, Rum and Gingers, and Gin and Tonics. Tip Top Proper Cocktails is making amazing Negronis, Old Fashioneds, and Manhattans; Reed’s makes a great Moscow Mule and Vikre distillery is canning a truly exceptional French 75 called Frenchie. On the days we aren’t imbibing, we have fallen in love with Hella Cocktails’s canned Bitters and Sodas, which are deliciously grown up all on their own and fantastic as mixers. We especially love the Dry and Grapefruit versions.

Frozen Puff Pastry

Puff Pastry
Credit: Courtesy Dufour

Why to buy: If you like to entertain, frozen puff pastry is like having a tiny skilled French pastry chef in your freezer. Whether you need fast snacks like cheese straws, little canapés like mini sausage rolls, great individual entrees like pot pies, or simple desserts like fruit galettes, frozen puff has your back.

What to buy: I buy Dufour brand when I can find it, but any frozen puff pastry will be a game changer for you.

Canned Tomatoes

canned tomatoes
Credit: Courtesy Amazon

Why to buy: Canned tomatoes are the pantry gift that keeps on giving, and when it comes to entertaining, they can make your life so much easier. From being the basis for a fast salsa, a quick dip for things like mozzarella sticks, delicious quick soup, nearly instant pizza sauce, and the obvious pasta sauces, canned tomatoes make entertaining a spontaneous breeze.

What to buy: I look for canned tomatoes from Europe if I can find them, especially the Italian San Marzano tomatoes, which are super sweet and delicious.

Unique Whole Grains

red wheat berries
Credit: Courtesy Bluebird Grain Farms

Why to buy: Grain bowls can be the world’s simplest way to entertain. A hearty bowl of grains topped with the vegetables, protein, and sauce of your choice can be served hot, cold or room temperature. More to love? You can pre-assemble or set up a DIY bar. Best yet, they can be terrific for distanced outdoor dining, no table required. The key to making these special is to source some special grains to serve as the base. Whether you choose nutty quinoa, earthy freekeh, or ancient grains like teff, emmer, and einkorn wheatberries, whole grains are delicious, good for you, and can stand up to almost any flavor profile you can dream up. They last nearly forever in the pantry or freezer, so you can stock up and always be ready. They cook easily on your stovetop, or even faster and easier in your multi-cooker or rice cooker.

What to buy: Some brands I love that are worth seeking out are 4 Sisters Rice, Bluebird Grain Farms and Bob’s Red Mill.

Canned and Smoked Fish

canned fish
Credit: Courtesy Ortiz

Why to buy: Once you upgrade your canned or smoked fish and shellfish, you’ll find all sorts of ways to use it. These powerhouses of flavor can make your appetizer and snack game as simple as some great crackers or bread and some sweet butter. Flake hot-smoked fish like salmon or trout into a smoked fish paté or spread, or skewer shellfish with olives for cocktail-friendly snacking. Use them to amp up a simple pasta dish: Just toss hot pasta with the fish and oil from the can, a squeeze of lemon or some zest, chopped fresh herbs, and maybe a punch of chopped chili or red pepper flakes, and you have a delicious pasta that only needs a salad and some bread to make a meal.

What to buy: I love premium tuna packed in olive oil from Ortiz and beautiful smoked shellfish like Taylor Shellfish.

Cheese

Kerrygold Cheese
Credit: Courtesy Kerrygold

Why to buy: Having good cheese on hand for everything from snacking to use as an ingredient for simple cooking is an absolute entertaining essential for me. Hard cheeses like Parmesan and pecorino are great for everything from topping pasta to making snacking crisps like frico. Aged cheeses like cheddar and Gouda can be cubed or sliced for snacking, but also used for baked pasta dishes. Semi-soft cheeses like flavored Havartis are terrific for topping vegetables or potatoes, a ball of fresh mozzarella is great for salads or on pizza, and no one is immune to the delighted of grilled cheese sandwiches.

What to buy: Some grocery-store brands I love are Roth (their Butterkase is an ideal mild melter and their flavored Havartis bring serious punch), Stella for mozzarella, and Kerrygold for cheddars.

Premium Chocolates

tonys chocolonely
Credit: Courtesy Tony’s Chocolonely

Why to buy: Dessert can be as easy as chocolates if you keep some great ones around.

What to buy: Whether you go for the large shareable bars from companies like Tony’s Chocolonely, or boxes of assortments from companies like Fannie May, one of my favorite meal-enders is just some great chocolates and maybe some special whole fruit like Sumo Citrus or a lovely bunch of grapes.

Cake Mix

cake mix
Credit: Courtesy Duncan Hines

Why to buy: You know I am a fan of a boxed cake mix for all sorts of last-minute baking. From making as-directed, to a choose-your-own-adventure Bundt cake, to using it for other recipes like cookies, boxed cake mixes are worth having in your pantry for all sorts of entertaining. From making snacks for coffee or tea dates, loaf cakes or muffins for breakfast or brunches, or desserts for after dinner, you get all the home-baked glory with minimal effort.

What to buy: Duncan Hines is my favorite boxed mix for quality and variety.