It’s time for holiday parties and you can’t arrive empty handed. Sure you could stop at Publix and pick up a bag of chips and some salsa, but if you were that type of person you wouldn’t be reading this column would you? You want to bring something that shows off your mad kitchen skills. Here are a few sure-fire holiday app recipes that are certain to garner you compliments. But, we’re all so busy this time of year, each uses a clever short-cut or can be made far in advance, leaving plenty of time for you to get ready for that next festive party.


Mini Holiday Cheese Balls

The cheese can be made days ahead of time, covered and chilled in the fridge. Just, roll on the coating and insert the pretzel sticks at the last minute.


4 tablespoons salted butter

8 ounces cream cheese

8 ounces goat cheese

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon hot sauce

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1 package pretzel sticks for serving



Allow cheese and butter to come to room temperature. In a medium bowl, blend the butter, cream cheese, goat cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, pepper and Parmesan with an electric mixer until well combined and smooth. Use a tablespoon to scoop the mixture into 24 tablespoon-size portions, chill until firm. Dip your clean hands in a little bit of water and smooth each portion into a small ball. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll the balls in your choice of coating (chopped dried cranberries, crushed pistachios, chives or pretzels all work well. Keep chilled and covered until ready to serve. Just before serving, spear each ball with a pretzel stick.


Ham & Cheese Pinwheels

This classic is always a popular dish at holiday parties. Pre-made puff pastry dough makes it easy to prepare. Be certain to chill the rolled dough before cutting.


1 sheet puff pastry dough

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 pound Boar’s Head ham, thinly sliced

1 pound Swiss cheese, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon poppy seeds



Preheat oven to 350ºF and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Roll out your puff pastry dough into a 13x18 inch rectangle. Mix mustard, dried onion and Worcestershire sauce, spread evenly across dough, top with ham, then cheese. Starting on the long side of the dough, roll up tightly. Pinch the ends together and place with the seam facing down. Chill for 30 minutes (pinwheels can be stored in fridge up to 6 hours). Cut into 24 equal pieces, using a bit of dental floss (wrap the floss around dough and pull in opposite directions). Place the pinwheels in the baking dish, evenly spaced, allowing room for the pinwheels to expand as they bake. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes until lightly browned. Serve warm.


Pull Apart Christmas Tree

Gooey bread and cheese with a marinara dipping sauce (use your own or doctor up a store-bought brand with a little fresh garlic and basil)



1 package of fresh pizza crust dough (available at Publix bakery)

8 ounces cream cheese

1 cup mozzarella or Italian blend shredded cheese

6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1 clove garlic, minced very fine

3 tablespoons freshly chopped basil and rosemary

1 cup warmed marinara sauce for dipping



Preheat oven to 400°F. Lay pizza dough on a work surface and stretch to a 10 x 15 inch size. Cut the dough into 36 equal squares. In a small bowl, combine cream cheese and shredded cheese and 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil. Mix well and form into 36 small balls. Insert one ball of the cheese mixture into each dough square. Make a ball with the dough, pinching the dough to seal the edges. Roll the dough ball in grated Parmesan cheese. Place the balls side by side on a cookie sheet in a Christmas tree shape. Allow to rise for 20-30 minutes. Bake for 15 - 17 minutes, or until golden brown. Mix butter and garlic, set aside. After removing pull-apart from the oven, brush with garlic-butter and sprinkle with chopped herbs and any remaining Parmesan. Transfer to platter; serve with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping.


Jalapeño Popper Stuffed Mushrooms

Everyone’s favorite bar food, stuffed into a mushroom. These can be made ahead and then frozen.



24 button mushrooms, stems removed

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

8 slices bacon, cooked and chopped

1 fresh jalapeño, minced (seeded if you prefer less heat)

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup bread crumbs



Preheat oven to 400° F. Clean and stem mushrooms, chop stems. In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, cheddar, bacon, jalapeño, mushroom stems and garlic. Stuff mushrooms with cheese mixture, sprinkle top with bread crumbs and transfer to a baking dish or sheet. Bake until mushrooms are cooked and cheese mixture is lightly browned, about 25 minutes.


Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

This couldn’t be simpler, or more delicious. If your asparagus is thick reduce the oven temp by 50° and cook a bit longer.



24 asparagus spears

24 slices of prosciutto

1 cup grated Romano cheese



Wrap prosciutto in spiral around the asparagus. Bake in a preheated 400° F oven for 15 minutes, or until asparagus is cooked and prosciutto is crispy. While still warm, roll the wrapped asparagus in grated cheese. Serve warm.


Mini Frittatas

These are equally delightful for a cocktail party or a holiday brunch.



1 medium zucchini

4 cremini mushrooms

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

16 large eggs

¼ cup flour

1 tablespoon chives

1 cup grated Gruyere

Vegetable-oil cooking spray


Preheat oven to 400° F. Slice zucchini into 1/8-inch rounds. Slice mushrooms lengthwise into 1/8-inch pieces. Core and seed red and yellow bell peppers, chop finely and mix together. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and chives, set aside. Lightly spray two 24-mini-muffin tins with vegetable-oil spray. Place a zucchini slice in base of each muffin tin, top with a mushroom slice and grated peppers. Ladle egg mixture into each tin, just even with the rim, and sprinkle with cheese. Place muffin trays in oven and bake until frittatas are set and golden brown on top, 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to sit for a minute or two before attempting to remove frittatas from tins. Serve warm, or refrigerate, then reheat briefly in microwave before serving.


Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Meatballs

This is a nice variation on a popular appetizer. Make your own meatballs or use frozen ones, I won’t tell.



1 14-16 ounces can whole berry cranberry sauce

1/4 cup Chinese hoisin sauce (sub ½ cup brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons soy sauce)

1/4 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons hot sauce

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger



In a bowl, mix all sauce ingredients to combine. Line the bottom of a slow cooker with meatballs, then a layer of cranberry sauce, then the remaining meatballs followed by the remaining sauce. Cover and cook on low heat for two hours. Taste and stir in additional hot sauce if desired. Keep warm until serving.




I apologize for some misinformation in my article on coffeehouses last week. The soon to be opened Phoenix is not in anyway affiliated with The Alchemist, nor is the property for sale.