Food & Drink

Starters worthy of the Big Feast

The ham is purchased, the pies are already made, but what to serve as an appetizer before your big holiday dinner? Here are stand-out appetizers with flavor that will make a memorable contribution to your holiday party:

Chicken bites: It’s chicken pot pie, only smaller, easier, faster and more party-friendly. It’s easy to make from grocery store prepared phyllo dough shells. The filling is the usual creamy base with carrots, peas and chicken and can be made a day ahead.

Caribbean shrimp skewers: We start with easy, pre-cooked shrimp, but they get tossed with a zesty Jamaican-style seasoning blend and skewered with cubes of tangy mango and cool, crunchy cucumber. Add a touch of zippy pepper and nobody will suffer from yet-another-shrimp-cocktail syndrome.

Meatballs: Let’s face it, party meatballs have been done to death with grape jelly and ketchup, or beer and barbecue sauce. How about something with zing? Try sweet, tart and spicy cranberry chipotle meatballs. We’ve given directions for making the meatballs on the stove, but if you prefer you can transfer them to a slow cooker to keep them warm for your party.

Onion dip: French onion dip is a delicious and classic holiday party offering. And yet most people don’t bother to make it, instead opting for a tub of convenience. But convenience comes at a cost — a lackluster, totally forgettable dip. The good news is that french onion dip isn’t difficult to make from scratch. And the difference between it and purchased makes it well worth the trouble.

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Makes 50 meatballs

For the meatballs:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 pound lean ground beef

1 pound lean ground pork

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce), minced

1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from canned chipotles in adobo)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 eggs

3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

For the sauce:

16-ounce can cranberry sauce

12-ounce jar chili sauce

3 tablespoons adobo sauce (from canned chipotles in adobo)

Heat the oven to 425 F. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

In a medium skillet over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and onion and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the cooked onion mixture, beef, pork, salt, black pepper, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, vinegar, eggs and breadcrumbs. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until cooked through and browned.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cranberry sauce, chili sauce and adobo sauce. Bring to a simmer.

When the meatballs are done, transfer them to a shallow bowl or rimmed platter. Pour the sauce over the meatballs.

Nutrition information per meatball (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 60 calories; 25 calories from fat (38 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 0 g fiber; 280 mg sodium.

Creamy French Onion Dip

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 16

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large sweet onions, sliced

4 shallots, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

16 ounces low-fat cottage cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

In a large skillet over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper. Saute until the onions are browned and caramelized, about 15 to 18 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the garlic begins to brown too much, add a few tablespoons of water and continue cooking.

Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes, then transfer it to a food processor and puree until smooth. Add the cottage cheese, thyme and marjoram. Puree again until smooth. Stir in the chopped chives. The dip can be served immediately, but benefits from being refrigerated for an hour or so to give the flavors time to combine.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 50 calories; 20 calories from fat (37 percent of total calories); 2 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 0 g fiber; 240 mg sodium.

Chicken Pot Pie Party Appetizers

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Makes 45 appetizers

3 packages (each package contains 15 cups) frozen phyllo cups

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/8 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 cup petite peas

1 carrot, finely grated

2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the phyllo cups over 1 rimmed baking sheet (or several baking sheets if you want to bake them in batches).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, egg whites, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Add the peas, carrots and chicken, mixing well. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into each cup, then sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per piece (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 50 calories; 30 calories from fat (56 percent of total calories); 3 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 0 g fiber; 70 mg sodium.

Caribbean Shrimp Skewers

Start to finish: 30 minutes

Makes 24 skewers

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon dry ginger

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 ounces peeled, deveined and cooked medium shrimp

6 Peppadew peppers, quartered

2 mangoes, peeled and cubed

1/2 English cucumber, cut in 1/2 moon slices

In a medium bowl, stir together the garlic powder, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, thyme, cayenne, black pepper and salt. Pat dry the shrimp (this will help the spices stick), then toss in the spice mixture.

On 4-inch skewers or picks, place a piece of pepper, then a piece of mango, a piece of cucumber and finally 3 spiced shrimp.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 30 calories; 5 calories from fat (10 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 4 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber; 85 mg sodium.

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