Tuesday, November 30, 2010

'Tis the season to party

I just LOVE the holidays. Everyone is a lot more gentle and caring this time of the year. And I love to see the spirit of giving flourish. All in all, it's just one of those times of the year when everyone is just a little bit happier. It's even more fun to share that happiness and giving when gathered in a warm home among your friends or family or coworkers.

I've been to just about all kinds you can imagine and have hosted dozens. Some of my favorites are our Gingerbread party we loved having each year. An ornament exchange with our ladies from church. A cookie swap with friends. Secret Santa. Caroling and Cocoa. Formal business social events. There are so many fun nights we've had throughout past Decembers.

One of my other favorite party nights was when a very dear friend and I baked cookies and allowed our much younger children (then) to decorate them. We made a huge platter and sent them to the police department for all of the officers on duty that evening. The kids loved decorating and popping in a holiday movie made the whole evening shine like lights on the tree.
Parties are just a highlight of this season!! What about party food? What tops your list on the must haves for delectable delights?

Whether you like an elaborate spread or just a few heavy hor d'oeuvres, the friends and family that gather around is what really matters. To boost affordability and stretch your dollar, don't be afraid to ask each family to bring a favorite dish, appetizer, drink, or dessert. You can always assign each family something to bring....and you're sure to have something they'll want to eat.

Glass serving platters make a great way to showcase your food. Some really great simple designs can be found at your local dollar stores or department stores. One of my easy fixes to give food height is by making your own food stand. 1) simple glass plate 2) 1 glass candle holder 3) ceramic epoxy glue (found in the hardware department) Simply, glue the candle holder to the bottom of the plate and allow it to seal. what a great way to make a very inexpensive stand.

Here are a few of my favorite party must haves for any special event. What's great with entertaining is using your favorite classic food and just taking it up a notch. Like instead of a mozarella cheese sticks? How about some fried gorgonzola balls? Instead of a layered dip with tortillas, try a layered Greek dip with pita crisps.

Get the most out of your veggies and fruits. Not every party has to be unflattering to your figure. Be sure to include a fresh crudite and even skewered fruit makes a great presentation and is a delicious with this

Orange Yogurt Dip

1 package (4 oz) reduced-fat cream cheese
1 container (6 oz) Fat Free orange crème yogurt
2 Tbl. powdered sugar
1 Tbl. frozen orange juice concentrate
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup fat free whipped topping

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add yogurt, powdered sugar, orange juice concentrate, vanilla. Beat on low with mixer for about a minute until smooth. Gently fold in whipped topping until blended. You can refrigerate this up to 24 hours and use with fresh fruit.

How about a hearty appetizer? Ever have leftover pie crust in the fridge? Sometimes I'll buy a box of 2 pie crusts and have one leftover and nothing to use it on. Try this out:

1 Tbl butter
1 tsp hot pepper sauce (Texas Pete or Tabasco)

Heat oven to 450°F. In small bowl, mix butter and hot pepper sauce. Remove crusts from pouch; place on work surface.
Cut crusts into 2-inch squares; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown.
Brush with butter mixture. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Top with a crab salad or a chunky chicken salad.
Try this Thai Chicken Salad:
2 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken
1/3 cup Thai peanut sauce
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

In large bowl, mix chicken, peanut sauce, mayonnaise, onions and bell pepper. Top each pastry square with chicken mixture. Refrigerate 30 minutes or until cold.

Here's another great way to serve veggies, the kick of gorgonzola makes these so delicious and balances out the woodsy flavor of the mushrooms:

Mistletoe Mushrooms
1 pound fresh whole mushrooms
1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts (filberts)
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
4 medium green onions, chopped (1/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350°. Remove stems from mushroom caps; reserve caps. Finely chop enough stems to measure about 1/2 cup. Discard remaining stems.
Mix chopped mushroom stems and remaining ingredients in small bowl until well blended. Spoon into mushroom caps, mounding slightly. Place in ungreased jelly roll pan.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve warm.

What about another use for those pie crusts? Try them in a muffin tin! They make a perfectly portioned cup!! And they're even great in a mini-muffin tin.

Olive Chicken Bites
3 boxes refrigerated pie crusts, softened
2 cups cooked chicken chopped
3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed green olives, drained
1/4 cup sour cream
4 medium green onions, finely chopped ( 1/4 cup)

Heat oven to 400º. Cut pie crusts into circles with 2 1/2- to 3-inch round cookie cutter or you can use a drinking glass. Place 1 pastry circle in each of muffin cups pressing slightly.
Mix remaining ingredients except onions. Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling into each cup.
Bake 12 to 16 minutes or until pastry edges are golden brown. Sprinkle with onions.

Or how about a Layered Greek Dip? This is great with pita chips! You can either make your own or take a little help from the store.

Pita Chips
3 pita (pocket) breads (6 inch)
Cooking spray
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 container (8 oz) chives and onion cream cheese spread
1 container (8 oz) hummus
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 medium Italian plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1 can (2 1/4 oz) sliced ripe olives, drained
1 container (4 oz) crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions (4 medium)

Heat oven to 350°F. Carefully split each pita bread into 2 rounds. Cut each round into 6 wedges; place on ungreased cookie sheets. Spray wedges lightly with cooking spray; sprinkle with garlic powder.
Bake 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Cool while making dip.
Meanwhile, in 10-inch plate or pie pan, spread cream cheese spread. Drop small spoonfuls of hummus evenly over cream cheese; spread evenly. Top with remaining ingredients in order listed.
Serve dip with pita chips.

Enjoy your holiday parties!! 'Tis the season!!

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