It’s time to party!
Thanksgiving is past. November has ended.
December makes way for celebrations, presents and gift-giving. Hanukkah begins on Thursday. Solstice and Christmas will be here before you blink. It’s time for holiday gatherings.
Give your party a theme. In December, holiday parties are common. What type of party will it be? A Christmas party? Solstice? Hanukkah? A cookie exchange? A party themed around Hawaiian food? Traditions from another country?
The month is full of special events, most laden with lots of food. Whether it’s a Caroling Party, a Holiday Cookie Exchange, or a Solstice gathering, parties mean friends, music, pine cone-scented candles, tinsel, drinks and food. Lots of food.
For a couple of years at the beginning of this decade, COVID put a damper on parties. People were not getting together for fear of getting sick.
But now, we’re back to a new normal. Some parties will never return because the hosts have aged, died, or moved away. But new gatherings will replace them. Because, after all, most people need social contact.
Lavish holiday spreads with cocktails, bowls of eggnog, platters full of cheese, fried goodies, hot meatballs, nuts, chips, cookies and other sweets are a time to over-indulge. These traditional holiday foods are loaded with calories. If you’re not careful, it can be the season of gaining weight.
If you’re hosting a party, serve your appetizers on a buffet table, or at small tables for guests to munch as they mingle. Offer treats that are easy to eat without making a mess, but have lots of napkins available.
Prepare ahead as much as possible. Bake cookies. Wash and cut veggies. Prepare spreads and garnishes and refrigerate. Set tables the night before.
Bowls of fresh fruit and vegetable crudites can accompany heartier fare like chips, cheese and crackers, cookies and baked sweets.
Serve savory as well as sweet things, and offer foods with a variety of textures and flavors. A simple holiday-themed veggie tray can include red bell peppers, green broccoli, and white cauliflower. Fruit skewers can be made with colorful cubes of melon, slices of banana, red, green and black grapes. Bowls of clementines or tangerines, seedless grapes and berries take almost no time to prepare.
Offer a relish tray with stuffed green and black olives, pickled carrots, green dilly beans, red peppers, cubes of spiced meats and cheese. Have toothpicks and napkins on hand.
Arrange colorful fruit and cheeses on plates or cutting boards. Take them out of the fridge at least an hour before serving, as cold temperatures mute the intricate flavors of cheese.
For heartier fare, make mini vegetable quiches in muffin tins, or bake in a square pan and cut in squares for easy serving. Serve these at room temperature. Or make Greek-style mini muffins with spinach, feta and olives, or Mexican muffins with peppers, onions and sausage or ham.
Tortilla Rollups are easy to make and may be prepared in advance. Spread tortillas with filling, roll, and chill until ready to serve. At party time, simply unwrap, slice diagonally into 1″ sections and arrange on a serving platter.
Cookie exchanges are a common December event. Cookies shaped like stars, snowmen, Christmas trees and Santas, decorated with red and green sparkles or icing are special for seasonal celebrations. Many — like gingerbread — date back to medieval times when traders brought ginger and other spices to Europe from the east.
In addition to wine, offer non-alcoholic beverages. Fruit compote or hot spiced cider are indulgent and seasonal.
Simple, delicious, healthy appetizers will help you throw a party that your guests will truly appreciate!
Spicy Sweet Potato Crisps
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
In a bowl, combine cornstarch chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard powder, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place two wire racks on top of two 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, 25-35 minutes. (They’ll continue to crisp as they cool.)
Place potato crisps in serving bowl, and serve with creamy dip.
Hanukkah Gelt Cookies
Apples and honey are traditional for Hanukkah — and so is gelt, or coins. These cookies combine all of these traits, only since we live in the Adirondacks, I replaced honey with maple syrup.
12 large or 24 small chocolate coins (dairy or non-dairy)
2 cups flour (may use 1 cup whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter or almond butter
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup (I used maple syrup)
About 1/2 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
Remove gold wrappers from chocolate coins and discard. Set coins aside.
In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
In large bowl, beat together egg, applesauce, peanut butter and maple syrup or honey. Stir in the flour mixture, a little at a time, until incorporated and a silky, smooth dough forms. Core and peel the apple, and shred; stir in. Add more flour if needed.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll the dough into balls, roll each ball in granulated sugar, then place on parchment-lined cookie sheet, but do not flatten. Be sure to leave space for the dough to spread.
Use approximately 1 Tablespoon of dough for small coin cookies or 2 Tablespoons of dough for the larger chocolate coins. Use separate cookie sheets for the larger and smaller cookies, as the baking time will vary.
For large cookies, place in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven, place a large chocolate coin in the center of each cookie. Leave on cookie sheet until cool.
For small cookies, place in oven for 12 – 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, place a small chocolate coin in the center, and allow to cool on cookie sheet.
This recipe makes 12 large or 24 smaller cookies.
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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: Writing and cooking. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter: @yvonawrites.