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Party bites: Impress your guests savory appetizers, sweet treats

| Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

As the party season grows to a crescendo of air kisses, hugs and clinking toasts for the New Year, we look forward to sampling a new recipe, an updated favorite or a creative cocktail.

Our collection of party treats brings savory hot appetizers, cool and refreshing sippers and sweet treats that even Mrs. Claus will envy.

To help prevent hosting the party from being an energy drain, "Good Housekeeping Merry Christmas Book" ($5, benefits Kohl's Cares) offers these tips:

• Have a master "to do" list, plus individual lists for specific tasks. When entertaining, always have a guest list, a menu list and two shopping lists for nonperishable and perishable items.

• To avoid a last-minute rush, set a schedule for completing as many tasks as possible in advance of your party.

• In advance, stock bar supplies and soft drinks. Count chairs, glasses, serving dishes and utensils. Borrow, buy or rent what's needed.

• Be prepared for unexpected guests by stocking savories for shortcut appetizers. Marinated artichokes, tapenade, fancy nuts, pate, assorted cheeses and crackers are great hurry-up hor d'oeuvres.

But, most importantly, remember to relax and enjoy your party as well as your guests!

Caribbean Shrimp Skewers

This year, try something different from the usual shrimp-cocktail tray. Start with the same easy, pre-cooked shrimp, but this time, they get tossed with a zesty Jamaican-style seasoning blend and skewered with cubes of tangy mango and cool, crunchy cucumber.

The recipe is from the Associated Press.

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 10 ounces peeled and deveined cooked medium-size shrimp
  • 6 Peppadew peppers, quartered
  • 2 mangoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 English cucumber, cut in 1/2 moon slices

In a medium-size bowl, stir together the garlic powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, thyme, cayenne, black pepper and salt. Pat the shrimp dry (this will help the spices stick), then toss the shrimp into the spice mixture.

On 4-inch skewers or picks, place a piece of pepper, then a piece of mango, a piece of cucumber and, finally, 3 spiced shrimp.

Makes 24 skewers.

Apple-Cranberry Crostatas

Cranberries' super-tart flavor brightens these rustic individual pastries.

The dough needs to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour and for as long as overnight. The crostatas can be assembled (unbaked) and refrigerated a day in advance. They can be baked several hours in advance and kept at room temperature.

This recipe is from California cooking instructor Linda Capeloto Sendowski, via The Washington Post.

For the crust:

  • 3 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup organic, cold-pressed coconut oil, at room temperature
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 7 tablespoons ice water
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

For the filling:

  • 4 large crisp, fresh apples, such as Fuji or Honeycrisp
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 firmly cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch, plus more for for the cutting board
  • 1 log (10 ounces) almond paste or marzipan (make sure it feels soft and pliable)

To prepare the crust: Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a medium-size bowl. Use a pastry cutter, two forks or your fingers to cut in the (solid) coconut oil so the flour mixture resembles small peas.

Whisk together the egg, vinegar and ice water in a liquid measuring cup, then add to the flour mixture. Gently press the dough together without kneading. Divide the dough in half and wrap each portion in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or for as long as overnight.

To prepare the filling: Peel and core the apples. Cut them in half, then into thin slices. Toss them in a large bowl and sprinkle evenly with the lemon juice. Add the cranberries, brown and granulated sugars, cinnamon and cornstarch, tossing to coat evenly.

Use a little cornstarch to lightly coat a cutting board. Roll out the almond paste or marzipan log into a 6- by-12-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. Cut it into 8 pieces, each about 3 inches square, and move them to the side.

Use a little flour to coat a work surface. Working with one-half of the dough at a time, unwrap and roll out to a round that's 15 inches across. Cut into quarters. Place a piece of the almond paste or marzipan in the center of each portion of dough. Use half of the apple-cranberry mixture to create portions that cover each piece of the almond paste or marzipan, arranging the fruit so the slices encircle or cradle the cranberries in the middle.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

Gather up the edges of the dough, bending and turning it inward, like pleating a folding fan, to form crostatas that are roughly round; they will show a bit of fruit in the center. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet, then sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top of each one and place the baking sheet in the oven. After 30 minutes, start checking for color and doneness; if the crostatas seem to be browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for a total of 45 to 50 minutes. The filling should be slightly bubbling.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings.

Forgotten Kisses

This recipe is from United Methodist Women, via McClatchy Tribune News Service. These meringue kisses are crunchy on the outside, with a slightly soft center. We used mini chocolate mint chips and left the cookies to set overnight.

  • 2 egg whites from large eggs
  • Few grains of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Red, green or yellow food coloring
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate-mint chips, chocolate chips or chopped nuts

Heat oven to 375 degrees for at least 15minutes.

Beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the salt and cream of tartar and beat until stiff. Add the sugar slowly while continuing to beat and the mixture becomes glossy. Add the vanilla. Divide the mixture into thirds. Tint each with one of the colors. Fold into each third 1/2 cup of chocolate-mint chips or any combination of chips and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Place in the oven and turn the oven off immediately. Do not open the oven for at least 5 hours.

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

We've given directions for making the meatballs on the stove, but if you prefer, you can transfer them to a slow cooker to keep them warm for your party. You also can keep them warm in a Dutch oven over a stovetop burner set on low.

The recipe is from the Associated Press.

For the meatballs:

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, diced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce), minced
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from canned chipotles in adobo)
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

For the sauce:

  • 1 can (16 ounces) cranberry sauce
  • 1 jar (12 ounces) chili sauce
  • 3 tablespoons adobo sauce (from canned chipotles in adobo)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Coat a large, rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

To prepare the meatballs: In a medium-size skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and saute until soft and translucent, for about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the cooked onion mixture, beef, pork, salt, black pepper, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, vinegar, eggs and bread crumbs. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until cooked through and browned.

To prepare the sauce: In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the cranberry sauce, chili sauce and adobo sauce. Bring to a simmer.

When the meatballs are done, transfer them to a shallow bowl or rimmed platter. Pour the sauce over the meatballs.

Makes 50 meatballs.

Creamy Spinach Dip

You can have your dip and eat it, too. The brilliant cooks in the EatingWell Test Kitchen figured out how to make a delicious, creamy spinach dip with reduced-fat cream cheese, nonfat yogurt and low-fat cottage cheese instead of full-fat cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream. A quarter-cup serving is 53 calories.

  • 1 small shallot, peeled
  • 1 can (5 ounces) water chestnuts, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
  • 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh chives

Pulse the shallot and water chestnuts in a food processor until coarsely chopped. Add the cream cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and pulse until just combined. Add the spinach and chives and pulse until incorporated.

Makes 10 servings.

Chicken Pot Pie Appetizers

If you like, these miniature pot pies can be topped with a layer of puff pastry. To prepare the tops, thaw a sheet of prepared frozen puff pastry according to package directions. Use a 1-inch round cookie cutter to cut circles, then bake them on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Set one baked round over each fully baked pot pie just before serving.

To get a jump on things, make the filling as long as a day in advance and refrigerate. The cups can be filled a few hours before the party, then quickly popped in and out of the oven as needed (bake them a dozen or so at a time so you always have a fresh batch coming).

The recipe is from the Associated Press.

  • 3 packages (each package contains 15 cups) frozen phyllo cups
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 egg whites, from large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup petite peas
  • 1 medium-size carrot, finely grated
  • 2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the phyllo cups over 1 rimmed baking sheet (or several baking sheets if you want to bake them in batches).

In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, egg whites, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Add the peas, carrot and chicken, mixing well. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into each cup, then sprinkle with parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 45 appetizers.

Christmas Cream Cheese Mint Dainties

This recipe is from United Methodist Women, via McClatchy Tribune News Service. Kneading by hand is crucial. Using a beater will incorporate too much air into the mixture and result in a soft, "wet" mint.

  • 2 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon flavoring (wintergreen, peppermint or almond)
  • Food coloring
  • Granulated sugar, for rolling
  • Candy molds

Cut the sifted sugar into 2 pounds confectioners' sugar, sifted cream cheese. Add flavoring, oil and coloring. Knead until the color and flavoring are spread evenly throughout and the mixture is smooth.

Roll into small balls and roll the balls in granulated sugar and press into the molds. Let stand in a cool place for at least two hours (do not refrigerate).

Tap gently out of the molds and let air dry for at least 30 minutes before packing so the mints won't stick together. Refrigeration is not recommend for these mints, so make them for a small gathering where they'll be appreciated and finished off.

Creamy French Onion Dip

French onion dip isn't difficult to make from scratch. And, the difference between it and purchased makes it worth the trouble.

This recipe is from the Associated Press.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large, sweet onions, sliced
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 16 ounces low-fat cottage cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons chopped, fresh marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon chopped, fresh chives

In a large skillet over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are browned and caramelized, for about 15 to 18 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the garlic begins to brown too much, add a few tablespoons of water and continue cooking.

Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer it to a food processor and puree until smooth. Add the cottage cheese, thyme and marjoram. Puree again until smooth. Stir in the chopped chives. The dip can be served immediately, but benefits from being refrigerated for an hour or so to give the flavors time to combine.

Makes 16 servings.

Old-Fashioned Caramels

This recipe is from United Methodist Church, via McClatchy Tribune News Service.

  • Butter for coating pan
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups cream, divided use
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Butter the pan and set aside. Put cold tap water in several bowls to test the mixture for the hard-ball candy stage.

Boil the sugar, corn syrup, butter, 1cup cream and the cocoa until the mixture comes to a rolling boil that can't be stirred down. Continue boiling; slowly add the second cup of cream while continuing to stir and allowing the mixture to keep boiling. Stir and cook until the mixture makes a hard ball in cold tap water (250 degrees on a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla and nuts and pour the mixture into the prepared pan to cool. Mark for squares and turn onto wax paper while still warm, or allow to cool completely and break with a knife handle.

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