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Appealing appetizers for holiday parties

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

‘Tis the season for holiday parties, office get togethers, nibbles after work, church events.

In other words, ‘tis the season for small bites — appetizers.

Most of us have go to recipes. You can’t go wrong with sausage balls, or cocktail wienies or special meatballs, but there’s a lot of other options, too.

The possibilities for cheese balls or logs are almost endless, with ideas a simple as rolling a log of goat cheese in herbs or nuts.

Something on a cracker? Bits on sticks? Yep. How about those little ham-and-cheese rolls with the poppy seed topping?

One trend that is fun is making individual cheese balls and skewering them with a pretzel stick. Tiny baked tarts are good, too, but itty bitty quiches seem sort of old hat.

If you are making something that should be served warm, do bring your own warming vessel, like a slow cooker, and a cord to plug it in, saving the host from scrambling around. Also bring the proper serving utensil, if needed, and a way to package the leftovers afterwards.

How many times have you seen that desperate look on a host’s face when confronted with the prospect of putting all those things away and deciding what to toss and what to keep? Save them the trouble. Really.

Plates of raw veggies and dip are still popular, but there’s a couple of new plates showing up. One is the old-fashioned cheese board, with a hard cheese, a soft cheese, a sharp cheese, crackers or bread and something like grapes. The charcuterie plate is big. That’s a combination of meats and cheeses with various carriers, from crackers to crostini. It’s the meat-lovers favorite stop on the buffet table, and it certainly doesn’t require much more than a visit to the deli.

People still love pepper jelly on cream cheese — but there are new variations for that, too, such as cranberry sauce on goat cheese, or a simple drizzle of honey.

Caliente Christmas Cheese Crisps

3/4 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese

1/3 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/4 tsp. garlic pepper blend

1/4 tsp. ground cumin

1/8 tsp. salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup crispy brown rice cereal

1/4 cup finely crumbled cooked bacon

1/4 cup salted pumpkin seeds

1/4 cup crumbled French-fried onions

Pico de gallo or salsa, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat first six ingredients together until blended. Add flour, mix until a dough forms. Stir in remaining ingredients except the pico de gallo or salsa.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheets; flatten with a lightly floured glass.

Bake until golden, 14-16 minutes, Remove to wire racks and cool completely. Serve with salsa or pico de gallo, if desired.

Taste of Home

Marinated Shrimp and Olives

1 1/2 pounds peeled, deveined cooked shrimp (31-40 per pound)

1 (6 oz.) can pitted ripe olives, drained, or kalamata olives, drained

1 (5 3/4 oz.) pimiento-stuffed olives, drained

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tsp.curry powder

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Combine shrimp and olives; set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. In a small bowl, combine curry, ginger, salt and pepper. Whisk into hot oil. Cook and stir 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and parsley. Drizzle over shrimp mixture and toss gently.

Refrigerate, covered, up to 6 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with toothpicks.

Slow Cooker Cranberry Orange Meatballs

48 frozen meatballs

12 oz. jar chili sauce

18 oz. jar orange marmalade

14 oz. can whole berry cranberry sauce

1 box (17.3 oz.) puff pastry

Combine first four ingredients in a 5-quart slow cooker. Cook on low 5-8 hours or high for 2-4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly spray a mini muffin tin with cooking spray.

Gently roll out the puff pastry and cut into small squares that will fit in the muffin tin. Gently press into the prepared pan and bake 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Use the end of a wooden spoon to press the center down and put a meatball in the middle. One box of puff pastry will make 24 tarts.

Or you can simply serve the meatballs with toothpicks.

Mom on Timeout

Mini Cheese Balls

2 Tbsp.salted butter, at room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1/8 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/8 tsp. hot sauce

1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

For toppings:

1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries

1/3 cup crushed nuts or sunflower seeds

1/3 cup green onion, finely chopped

12-15 pretzel sticks

In a medium bowl, add the butter, cream cheese, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and pepper. Beat with an electric mixer until well combined and smooth. Stir in cheddar cheese.

Use a spoon to divide into 12-15 portions, about a tablespoon. Dip clean hands in a little water and smooth each portion into a small ball. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Before serving, roll balls in cranberries, nuts, parsley or green onion. Place a pretzel stick in each just before serving.

Could also roll in bacon bits, chopped pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds or chopped dried beef. Try dried apricots, pineapple or dates, as well.

You can also substitute carrot or celery sticks for the pretzels.

Try using half goat cheese and half cream cheese for a tangier flavor.

Adapted from Tastes Better from Scratch

A charcuterie board can be simple or complex.

A board can include meats, cheese, bread, crackers, olives, pickles, nuts, vegetables, spreads and dried fruits.

We suggest meats, cheese, one bread, one cracker, some small pickles, olives and dried fruit like cranberries or apricots. Spreads may make a nice addition, but are not necessary. You could add a bowl of seasoned olive oil or use a jar of pesto or sun dried tomato spread.

Here are a few ideas:

• Salami slices, rolled up, larger pepperoni, sliced ham, prosciutto, mortadella (Italian bologna), sopressata (an Italian salami) or spicy capocollo. Most of these meats are available at the grocery store, already sliced.

• Cheeses, usually a hard cheese, like aged cheddar, a smoked cheese, like gouda, a soft cheese, such as Brie and a tangy cheese, like goat cheese. That’s the simple way. Cheeses can get as complicated as you want. Manchego is a semi-hard cheese with lots of  flavor; Havarti could be your soft, creamy cheese. Try a chunk of soft blue cheese or gorgonzola and consider fresh mozzarella as a counterpoint to the salty meats.

Try to think of cheeses this way — something familiar, something funky and something unusual. Be sure to go ahead and slice the hard cheeses. Brie is better left in tact, but provide a spreader for it.

• Bread and crackers. Crusty bread is best here, a baguette sliced thinly, perhaps toasted. Those little cocktail rye and pumpernickel loaves are fine, but they do tend to dry out quickly. Crackers should be nice a crispy, so consider rice or whole grain crackers and get a couple shapes, such as a round cracker and a square or rectangular cracker. Water crackers have a neutral flavor, much like bread. Avoid flavored crackers for the most part.

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