Simple recipes are perfect for holiday entertaining

Simple recipes are perfect for holiday entertaining
Dates, wrapped in bacon, are an easy appetizer that can be prepared for holiday gatherings. (Brooke Echols)

The holidays are the perfect time to gather with friends and family, and a festive party is an ideal way to assemble. At seasonal social events, we chat and catch-up, strengthening existing bonds and maybe forging some new ones too.

And while connecting with other people is the main point, almost anytime folks get together, eating is on the itinerary, so food is an essential ingredient in a successful soiree.

But the food doesn’t have to be fancy. Forget the idea that “holiday party” is synonymous with a banquet of delicacies served on fine china or a feast fit for a king. Don’t worry about conforming to some preset list of holiday flavors like peppermint or gingerbread.

Our busy lives and packed schedules (that somehow manage to get even busier this time of year), often keep us from attending holiday parties. Add to that the idea that any mixing and mingling we’re in charge of needs to be supported by a massive spread of seasonally appropriate dishes, and there’s little chance we’ll consider actually hosting one.

So shrug off any obligation you feel to “go all out” and just do it. Have a party. Bring those you love together to celebrate grace and goodness and whatever else the holidays mean to you. No formal invitations; an email or text will do just fine. No decor other than what you pull out and put up any other year. And don’t bother dragging out and dusting off the fine china or crystal either.

And for the food, keep it simple. It can still be satisfying and delicious enough to ensure your guests don’t leave hungry or unhappy. Need some ideas? We’ve got plenty of them, tried and tested by our readers at many holiday parties past.

Cook of the Month

Featured cook Ann Hitchner and son Aiden. (Brooke Echols)

Amy Hitchner enjoys both the ease of eating and the taste of Bacon-Wrapped, Blue-Cheese-Stuffed Dates and so do her party guests.

“They are always a hit, their mix of savory, creamy and sweet all in one small bite,” she said. They’re also simple to whip up and and can be made ahead.

But Hitchner offered a warning: The enticing blend of flavors can make that risky.

“You can prepare them up to a day beforehand, and they keep well, but you may not be able to keep from eating them all up before your event if you do!” she said.

Bacon-Wrapped Blue-Cheese-Stuffed Dates

1 pound bacon
18-ounce package blue cheese
1 package of dates (pitted preferred)
1/3 cup brown sugar
Cut bacon strips in half. Stuff dates with blue cheese, enough to see a little poking out. Wrap strips of bacon around dates and place the end of the bacon down on baking sheet. (I suggest using a wire rack over a backing sheet to allow the bacon fat to drip off. This helps to get the bacon crispy.) Once all dates are filled, wrapped and placed on sheet, top each one with a little brown sugar. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. After bacon has cooked through, place dates on a cooling rack. Make sure to place something under dates as the bacon will still be dripping grease. Cool for at least 15 minutes.

Nana’s Awesome Party Mix

2 sticks salted butter
2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons (heaping) Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon cayenne papper
Dry mix:
1/2 package Rice Chex®
1/2 package Corn Chex®
1/2 package Honey Nut Chex®
4 cups Cheerios®
18-ounce bag Pepperidge Farms Pretzel Goldfish®
*Note for cereals: use larger box for lighter flavor or smaller box for robust flavor.
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees. Microwave flavoring ingredients until butter is melted, mix well. Place dry mix into a large disposable aluminum tray. Evenly disperse dry mix. Pour flavoring evenly across dry mix (making sure the dry mix is evenly coated.) Pouring the flavoring onto the back end of a spoon or spatula will help with an even spread. Every 15 minutes remove the mix from oven and carefully stir to keep the flavoring even. Remove when the mix feels dry (about 2 hours). You can add in other dry items like nuts, other cereals, or candies. If you do, consider increasing the amount of flavoring.

Lucy Manly, Dixie EC

Seasoned Pretzels
2 16-ounce packages mini pretzels
1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
1 package Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix
12 ounces Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil
Put seasonings in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag and mix well. Add oil and mix well. Add pretzels, mix and turn bag over periodically. Let stand overnight. Eat and enjoy.

Michelle Tucker, Covington EC

Pepper Boats
6 jalapenos
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 container of spicy pimento cheese
3 Red Hot link sausages
Cut jalapenos in half and remove seeds and ribs. Mix cream cheese and pimento cheese in a bowl. Chop Red Hot link sausage and add to cheese mixture. Stuff the pepper boats with the sausage and cheese. Cut bacon and cover the top of the pepper boat. Grill on high, indirect heat for 40 minutes.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Cheese Pennies
1 stick (1/2 cup) margarine, softened
½ pound grated cheddar cheese
½ package dry onion soup mix, shaken well before opening
½ teaspoon salt
1cup all-purpose flour
Cream margarine and cheese together. Add remaining ingredients and blend well. Divide dough into fifths. Shape each section into a long “snake” one inch in diameter. Chill. Cut into ¼-inch slices. Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray. Bake slices at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until well browned. Remove immediately and cool completely. Makes 3½ to 4 dozen “pennies.” Store in an airtight container.

Peggy Key, North Alabama EC

Sweet and Tangy Meatballs
2 pounds ground meat (beef, turkey or pork)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
2 eggs
Salt and pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Accent, to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup honey
1 cup Sriracha hot sauce
1/2 cup lemon juice
Preheat oven to 365 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground meat, chopped onion and green onions. Add eggs in one at a time. Season the mixture with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Accent to your preference. After all is mixed well, take and shape meat into 1 to 11/2-inch balls and place on a baking sheet. Once all meatballs have been shaped, bake uncovered for 35 minutes. In a medium saucepan heat olive oil, honey, Sriracha and lemon juice on low heat. Once meatballs are done cooking remove from oven and drain any excess grease from meatballs. Pour sauce mixture evenly over meatballs. Let them cook for another 15 minutes and then serve.

Sharlene Parker, Baldwin EMC

Festive Pecan Rolls
17-ounce jar marshmallow crème
1 pound package confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 14-ounce package assorted vanilla and chocolate caramels
3 tablespoons water
1-1½ cups chopped pecans
Combine marshmallow crème, sugar and vanilla, mixing well with hands. Shape mixture into five 4×1-inch rolls. Mixture will be very dry. Chill for 2 to 3 hours. Combine caramels and water in a microwave safe dish. Microwave for 4 minutes on high until smooth, stirring after 2 minutes. Dip rolls in melted caramel and roll each in chopped pecans, chill 1 hour. Cut in slices to serve.

Ann Varnum, Wiregrass EC

Pizza Pinwheels
2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 package pepperoni, chopped
1 1/2 cups pizza sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out one can of crescent rolls onto wax paper and seal perforations to make one whole rectangular shape. Mix cream cheese, chopped pepperoni, pizza sauce and mozzarella in a bowl until creamy and well combined. Spread half of mixture on crescent rolls. Starting at long side, roll up crescent roll into a log. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate 1 hour. (This makes pinwheels easier to slice) Repeat with other can of crescent rolls and refrigerate. After 1 hour, remove first roll and cut into 1/4-inch slices and place on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Continue until all pinwheels have been sliced and baked.

Lynn Bowen, Marshall-DeKalb EC

Caramel Popcorn
15 cups popped popcorn
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup margarine
¼ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Divide popcorn between 2 ungreased 9×13-inch baking pans. In a saucepan, heat sugar, margarine, corn syrup and salt. Stir until bubbly around the edges. Continue cooking over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in baking soda until foamy. Pour over popcorn, stirring until well coated. Bake one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Brenda McCain, Coosa Valley EC


This story originally appeared in Alabama Living.

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