By Sherrie Norris
No other time of year stirs my creative culinary juices as do these between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
My kitchen is rarely vacant, whether I’m preparing family meals or baking, making and taking goodies to friends and neighbors. Through the years, I have collected hundreds of recipes, tips and suggestions for holiday entertaining and in the next few weeks, I plan to share as many of them as possible, with you, my friends, who keep me motivated by your kind comments about Lovin’ Spoonful. It wouldn’t happen without you.
- A good hostess plans ahead for a party or special gathering so she can enjoy her own parties and guests instead of spending time fussing over the food. This lesson did not come easy for me.
- Make-ahead appetizers are the ticket to hassle-free entertaining. Remember to balance rich, dense and highly flavored foods with simple, fresh items. Serve a balance between hot and cold food items, as well as room-temperature foods such as nuts, crackers, and cheese. As you plan, it is also important to visualize how much space you will need, and how much is available.
- If serving appetizers buffet-style, choose foods that are easy to pick up quickly. To keep the line flowing smoothly, avoid too many items that must be spooned out, sliced or spread.
- Try to stay away from foods that are messy or difficult to eat, especially if your guests will be standing while socializing.
- When planning, also visualize how the foods will look and taste together. Eye appeal is very important for party appetizers. No matter how attractive the foods are individually, consider their collective impact.
- Plan foods that you are familiar with but don’t be afraid to try something new. You might want to let your family “test” it before serving it to guests, just in case.
- Be good to yourself. Try to keep your stress level at a minimal, if possible.
- Make lists. I write everything down, starting with the foods I plan to serve, listing the ingredients I will need, and the bowl, platter or dish, that I will serve it in.
- Shop well in advance and prepare as much as you can in advance.
To add sparkle to your party food, dress it up: add simple garnishes and take a little extra time arranging the food. Use parsley, endive, cherry tomatoes and the old stand-bys, such as fruit wedges and radish roses.
Fresh vegetables also make colorful and convenient containers for dips: red, yellow and green peppers, hollowed out red cabbage or tomatoes.
The possibilities are endless and there are tips by the score to help make your gathering the talk of the town. Follow your own hunches, ask a friend for help, but whatever you do, enjoy.
An inexpensive and colorful finger food and as versatile as what you have on hand. Have fun with it and put your favorite flavor combinations together on bamboo shish kabob skewers or toothpicks. Examples:
- Strawberries, honey dew melon and/or pineapple chunks
- Cubes of cheddar cheese and salami
- Small cocktail wieners, (heated) pineapple chunks, small green olives, cheese cubes
½ cup warm butter or margarine
1 cup plain flour
2 cups grated medium or sharp flavor cheddar cheese
¼ tsp. ground Cayenne pepper
1 tsp. paprika/red pepper
Preheat oven to 400˚F
Mix butter, pepper and flour. Add cheese and mix well.
Shape into small bite-size balls. Arrange on a baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven (400˚F) for about 10 minutes.
Pecan Cranberry Spread
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup dried cranberries
4 Tbs. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
In a small bowl stir together cream cheese, pecans, cranberries and orange juice concentrate. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to blend flavors. Garnish as desired. Serve with crackers.
We’ll start to get serious next week with more great Christmas candies, cookies and other seasonal favorites.