Mark Bittman's guide to a holiday spread

Dec. 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM ET

There’s no need to stress about holiday guests; Mark Bittman’s got a simple plan to get you through. The New York Times columnist and author of “How to Cook Everything” shares his plan for stocking your pantry and fridge with the right goods – so you’ll be well prepared for those drop-by visitors.

First, you need a foundation, for example, pumpernickel toast, toasted baguette or pita chips.

Next, you want a spread that you either made or bought at the grocery store: tapenade, guacamole, bean dip or hummus.

Then, you need a flavor topping: prosciutto, herbs, sliced roasted peppers, salmon eggs, jalapenos, sun dried tomatoes or pickles.

There are limitless options, and even with just three or four ingredients, you can create a great spread.

Bittman advises having a good mix of crunch, salty/fatty and fresh and just allowing guests to put together their own combination.

There was one ingredient Matt Lauer really enjoyed: papadum. “These are going to change my life!” he said. Made from lentil flour, these crispy chips are served in lieu of bread at the beginning of the meal at most Indian restaurants. Buy them at grocery stores that carry international fare (like Trader Joe’s) or Indian grocery stores.

What do you like to serve in your holiday spread?