Blame an early exposure to Martha Stewart, but I've always been a "go all out" person when it comes to entertaining. For brunch, I would head to a bakery for fresh pastries, juice oranges for a mimosa bar, and froth whole milk for lattes. A casual invite to come over for board games could just as easily take up my entire day as I visited the farmers' market, picked up beers I know my friends love, and made appetizers like warm dates over olive oil-thinned yogurt (which, for the record, is delicious, but besides the point). It was an opportunity to give my friends the best of the best, which I loved, but it was also exhausting, not to mention expensive!
A few months ago, I invited friends over to hang out during the day and seriously considered canceling when I realized I wouldn't have hours to prep before they arrived. But here's a truth I learned: You don't have to go all-out every time you have guests over, and the right, simple appetizer can make just as strong of an impact without the hassle.
Recently, I've started putting together a simple vegetable plate that takes about thirty seconds to compile, includes ingredients all available from Trader Joe's, and receives as many positive reactions as going all-out ever has. Here's what I do:
1. I begin by filling two small ramekin-sized bowls with two dips (my favorites are Eggplant Hummus and Everything Bagel Greek Yogurt, which is delicious with cucumbers). Transferring them from their plastic tubs makes the entire thing look nicer. I then shape the dips with a spoon and add olive oil and sumac to the hummus, then a bit of Za'atar or Everything Bagel mix on top of the Greek yogurt.
2. Just like you would a cheese plate or candy board, surround the vegetables around the "grounding points" of the ramekins on a pretty board or platter (I use the Year and Day low serving bowl, which is the perfect size). I then arrange 1 packet of carrots, 1 sliced cucumber or a pack of Persian cucumbers, 1 bag of radishes (halved), and 1 bag of snap peas around it, alternating so that the greens aren't all together.
That's it! Because I have friends over at least once a week, I always make sure I have the ingredients in my fridge so they're ready (and if plans fall through, I roast the carrots and radishes for dinner with some olive oil and salt!).