’Tis the season to be jolly

Veggies and dip
(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Veggies and dip (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

December is full of special events, most laden with lots of food. Traditional holiday foods, like mince pie, fruitcake, bread pudding are loaded with calories. If you’re not careful, it can be the season of gaining weight.

If New Year’s resolutions are any guide, most people want to be fit and healthy. Yet, in the past half-century, our obesity rate has climbed from about 1 percent of the population in the 1950s to 25% today.

Here are some tips for making your holiday party appetizers healthy as well as delicious.

Offer lots of fruits and veggies, like vegetables with dip or bowls of fresh fruit. Keep cheese, chips and baked goods to a minimum.

Plan your party menu with color in mind. Multi-colored crudites like peppers, carrots, snow peas, grape tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower can round out the menu. Make a simple, holiday-themed veggie tray with green broccoli, white cauliflower and red.bell peppers. Cut the calories in dip by using Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise and cream. Dips are easy to make, but if you’re pressed for time, use prepared hummus. For a lighter option, serve salsa.

Set bowls of fresh fruit in places guests will gather: seedless grapes, clementines or tangerines and berries take little prepping. Pineapple or melon cubes take a bit more time to cut and prepare. If you’re using apples and pears, spritz them with a little lemon juice to prevent the slices from turning an unappetizing brown. Make skewers with colorful fruit like melon, banana, red, green and black grapes. Arrange bananas and strawberry slices on plates in the shape of candy canes, or alternate them on skewers.

In addition to wine, offer non-alcoholic beverages. Fruit compote or hot spiced cider are indulgent and seasonal.

Small bites are ideal and uncomplicated. They can be as simple as fresh sliced fruit such as pineapple or melon, bowls of nuts and dried fruit, crisp vegetables with dip, and cookies. Small bowls of dips, mustards, and sauces placed near vegetables, chips and meat are good for dipping.

A relish tray can include stuffed green & black olives, pickled carrots, green dilly beans, red peppers, in addition to the ubiquitous cucumber pickles. Spiced meats can be placed near the olives and pickles – but don’t forget the toothpicks!

Replace chips with colorful root vegetables and sturdy greens like kale. Slice the root veggies like beets and carrots into thin strips, drizzle with olive oil and bake at 200 degrees for a few minutes to crisp them.

For heartier fare, individual quiches loaded with vegetables like spinach, kale, or colorful peppers can be made ahead in muffin tins, or in a large pan and cut into rectangles. Serve them at room temperature.

Mini-muffins can be simple to make ahead – and they don’t need to be sweet. Make them with ham, onions and peppers, or Greek-style with olives, spinach and feta.

For warm treats, try meatballs or an Italian bruschetta topping with fresh, warm baguette. Toppings can be made ahead and taken out of the refrigerator an hour or two before guests arrive. Serve on top of baguette slices or toasted bread rounds, or simply place it in a bowl near the bread and let the guests scoop out their own topping.

Cheese and wine are simple and casual, yet elegant. Very few people are allergic to cheese; even lactose intolerant folks can usually eat aged cheese, because the process of making cheese eliminates most of the lactose sugar. For a colorful presentation, arrange fruit and cheeses on cutting boards or plates. Take them out of the fridge at least an hour before serving, as cold temperatures mute the intricate flavors of cheese.

Welcome variety. Balance meat dishes with vegetarian fare and hot appetizers with cold. Serve food with different textures and flavors, savory food as well as sweet.

Place appetizers on small tables for guests to munch as they mingle, or serve on one buffet table. Serve treats that are easy to eat without making a mess, but have napkins ready at each food station just in case. Label dishes, especially ones with seafood and nuts, two big allergens.

Simple, delicious, healthy appetizers will help you throw a party that your guests will truly appreciate!

Greek Salad Skewers

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon feta water (liquid from feta cheese)

1 fresh lemon, squeezed (1 tablespoon juice)

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill or parsley (or some of each)

1 zucchini or cucumber

12 oz. block of feta

12 cherry tomatoes

12 olives

Directions:

In bowl, combine olive oil, feta water, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, crushed garlic and herbs.

Slice cucumber or zucchini into 12 cubes. Peeling optional.

Toss in the bowl with the marinade.

Slice feta into 12 cubes. Add to marinade bowl and toss gently.

Allow to sit and absorb flavors at least 30 minutes or up to several hours.

On each skewer, place a cube of feta, a tomato, zucchini or cucumber cub e and olive. Place skewers on serving tray.

Makes 12 skewers.

Spicy Sweet Potato Crisps

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon mustard powder

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 medium sweet potatoes

1 Tablespoon cooking oil

Directions:

In bowl, combine cornstarch chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 2 wire racks on bop of 2 large rimmed cookie sheets.

Peel sweet potatoes and slice as thinly as possible. In a large bowl, toss with the oil until evenly coated.

Place sweet potatoes on wire racks in a single layer. Bake until they feel dry, 25 to 35 minutes. (They’ll continue to crisp as they cool.)

Place potato crisps in serving bowl, and serve with creamy dip.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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