Last-minute holiday entertaining

This originally appeared in the St. Catharines Standard in early December 2012. I’m posting it here to share the ideas and recipes with you.

The month of holiday entertaining is upon us, and I’ll venture I’m not the only one donning a red apron and humming renditions of Burl Ives’ “A Holly Jolly Christmas” while whipping up treats in the kitchen, decking my halls, and trimming my tree.

Even better, what comes along with the excitement of the season is the desire to spread it to others, most often in the form of gatherings, the kind where everyone mixes and mingles and makes all things merry and bright.

One key to being the holiday host that’ll jingle everyone’s bells is having a spread of finger foods full of local flavors… without having to resort to roasting chestnuts over the open fire (though that certainly would be delicious).

Another ingredient for serving up success is bringing out the balance of both salty and sweet. While some folks have a major sweet tooth (guilty!), others beeline to corn for popping (for those times the snow doesn’t show signs of stopping). Regardless of what you make, many seasonal flavors are found locally, when we highlight winter-inspired tastes straight from the markets.

Maple syrup, fresh nuts, cranberries, apples, pears, potatoes, squash… these are just a sampling of what we have to offer. Here are some easy-to-whip up finger food ideas, along with some recipes, for delivering some delights that everyone can enjoy.

Butternut White Bean Dip: Process cooked squash, cannellini beans, roasted garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Stir in freshly squeezed orange juice and a touch of cinnamon. Serve with crackers.

Sweet Cinnamon Popcorn: Add icing sugar and a generous amount of cinnamon to still-warm stove-top popped popcorn. Season with ginger, nutmeg, and salt to taste. Drizzle with amber maple syrup. Add a handful of Maple Spiced Candied Nuts.

Pear Bites: Process raw cashews or soft tofu, lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste. Spread on a pear slice. Sprinkle with dried cherries or cranberries and salted dry roasted pistachios.

Marinated Olives: Toss green olives with garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon, and red pepper flakes. Marinate for at least 1 day before serving.

Maple Roasted Almond Butter: Toss raw almonds with maple syrup, salt, and coconut oil. Bake for about 20 minutes at 325 degrees F. Cool 10 minutes, process until smooth. Adjust sweetness to taste. Serve as a dip for apples and pears.

Marinated Veggie Endive Boats: Marinate grated beets, carrots, fennel, and cabbage with wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper overnight. Serve on endive leaves.

Though the food is certainly a bonus, what’s really at the forefront this time of year is spending time with one another. Whether it’s family getting together for an evening of relaxing or new friends coming over for afternoon treats, good ol’ Burl tells us all we need to know: it’s the best time of the year.

Recipes for this article include:
Fresh Cranberry Almond Truffle Squares
Crispy Potato Chips with Onion Kale Dip
Maple-Spiced Candied Nuts

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