Party Food for the Holidays

IMG_9162You walk in the grocery store. The party is starting in 60 minutes. What do you do besides the standard hummus and crackers and tortilla chips and salsa? There are many options out there and I’m here to help. It’s not to say there’s anything wrong with those dishes; you just might want some variety. And other times you want to do something special; you may not have the idea handy.

Here’s a list of quick and easy party foods, everything from appetizers to dessert. I’ve also indicated budget foods, whether it’s making your own or just a tip. I hope you like them and maybe I’ll even see you at one of the parties!

Mezza Platter-hummus is great party food. Try taking it up a notch by adding some other items:
*Regular hummus
*Red pepper hummus
*Tomato jam
*Yogurt and cucumber dip (or raita)
*Pita bread, cut in wedges

Make it a little fancier: Add dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) to the platter. Mix crumbled feta cheese, olive oil, and lemon juice in a small bowl and serve.

On a Budget: make your own hummus in a blender or food processor with garbanzo beans, sesame tahini, olive oil, lemon and salt. Don’t have tahini? Use peanut or cashew butter. Remove half and then add small jar of roasted red peppers and puree. Search the blog for the full hummus recipe. For yogurt dip, use plain yogurt, chopped mint, chopped, seeded and peeled cucumber, chopped red onion, salt and lemon juice. If necessary, skip the tomato jam unless you make it yourself.

Baked Brie-adding a few things to brie and simply baking takes “cheese and crackers” to a new level. Preparation is simple and easy:

*Wheel of brie cheese (for a small group, use a small wheel)
*Dried cranberries
*Walnuts or almonds, rough chopped
*1 Tbl brown sugar or sucanat
*Sliced bread or crackers

Pre-heat oven to 400F (or 375F convection). Remove any wrapping from brie and place wheel on a buttered oven proof dish (preferably something you can serve it in like a nice pie plate). Top with dried cranberries, sugar and nuts. Bake for at least 10 minutes or until cheese is very soft inside (touch the outside to see how soft it is). To serve, place plate on a trivet or pot holder, add a knife for spreading and keep the bread or crackers near by.

Make it a little fancier: Use glazed walnuts or pecans. Or, wrap the whole bundle in puff pastry or pie crust. Make sure to seal well and brush with egg wash. Bake until puffed and golden.

On a Budget: Use a small wheel of brie and skip the puff pastry or pie crust unless you make your own. Buy baguette on sale and keep in the freezer until you need it. Or, buy those wheat crackers when they are on sale and keep in the pantry for occasions like this.

Veggie Stuffed Mushrooms-This is a nice alternative to standard appetizers that you might see. Stuffing the mushrooms with vegetables keeps the price down and the flavor savory. Make sure to use herbs (dried or fresh) and salt; that will make them tasty. And, if you don’t want the veggie variety, add cooked sausage, crab or crisp bacon.

Base: Cook finely, chopped veggies like onions, carrots, zucchini, red pepper, and the mushroom stem with olive oil and herbs. Make sure to add salt and pepper as well. Finish with white wine or sherry. Cool and add bread crumbs. If mixture needs more liquid, add broth and/or olive oil. Instead of bread crumbs, you can use cream cheese for a creamier texture. Add stuffing to destemmed, cleaned mushrooms (use a paring knife to take a little slice off of the top; that way the mushroom won’t roll around). Bake in a 400F oven until mushrooms are cooked and stuffing is brown and/or bubbly.

Make it a little fancier: add crumbled bleu cheese to the stuffing mixture. Instead of white mushrooms, try using baby portabello (crimini) or regular portabello (this could be a single appetizer or vegetarian entrée).

On a Budget: stick to white mushrooms and use veggies. Instead of bleu cheese, try grated Italian cheese like a parmesan blend.

Polenta Stacks-These are so easy and delicious, you can serve them all year long. If you don’t like pesto, just use sun-dried tomato or even a thick tomato sauce (but not too chunky).

*Tube of pre-made polenta
*Sun-dried tomato spread or thick tomato sauce
*Grated Italian cheese

Cut 1/2” slices of polenta. Layer polenta, pesto, polenta, sun-dried tomato, polenta and then top with cheese. Serve at room temperature or warm slightly in a 350F oven.

Make it a little fancier: Use a fancy biscuit cutter with fluted edges to cut out the polenta pieces. Add pesto and sun-dried tomato (separately) to cream cheese and pipe each onto pesto using a pastry bag with a star tip. Top the top layer with grated cheese and toasted pine nuts.

On a Budget: Make your own polenta. Make your own pesto and keep in the freezer (or if you buy it and don’t use all of it, put in the freezer for another time). A thick tomato sauce will probably be less expensive than sun-dried tomato.

Brownie Bites
: Bake brownies in a silicone pan or use a pan lined with foil so you can remove. Once baked and cooled, invert onto a cutting board or large plate. Cut into small squares and sprinkle with confectioner sugar. You can also bake them in a mini muffin tin but bake at 375 degrees F for about half the time. Make sure to test for doneness before then.

Make it a little fancier: make a ganache (1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips heated with 1/4 c heavy cream) and spread over cooled brownie that has been inverted. Make some fancy lines with a fork and cut into triangles.

On a Budget: Make brownies from scratch. Mixes can be good but from a food cost perspective, they are expensive. Skip the ganache.

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