It was Christmas Eve. Aisling laid her head back on the chaise longue’s tasseled pillow and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the sounds of bustling activity below. Her father had arrived home that very morning, Jack the day before. The entire household was now in a tizzy, preparing for the Wainscott’s annual Christmas Eve open house.
At that very moment, Aisling’s mother was downstairs with the housekeeper, making certain that every little light on the Christmas tree was twinkling brightly, that every red velvet bow was straight, that the eggnog was perfect and the wassail just so.
In no time, their guests would begin to arrive. A buffet supper would be served, followed by a pantomime, and then a concert featuring traditional holiday music. The evening’s festivities would conclude at the stroke of midnight when the musicians played “Silent Night.” Each guest would light a taper and form a processional through the house and out the front door, where they’d all gather in the drive and stare up at the night sky for a few moments before blowing out their candles, gathering their coats, and heading back to their own homes.
These events had happened in precisely that order as far back as Aisling could remember.
--From “Lover’s Dawn” in WINTER’ DESIRE
‘Tis the Season….to entertain! And what better way than with delicious appetizers? Make enough of a variety, and you can even call it a light meal. When I was growing up, my parents traditionally invited over friends on Christmas Eve for appetizers and dessert, and I can’t even imagine Christmas Eve without my mom’s sausage balls (yum—but unfortunately they can’t pull double-duty as a Hanukkah treat). I’ve since added a couple new favorites to my appetizer repertoire, roasted red pepper tartlets and spinach artichoke dip. This year, I plan to continue the tradition of inviting over friends for a little pre-holiday cheer, and you can bet the three recipes below will be served! Enjoy!
2 c. Bisquick
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb. sausage (hot or mild, depending on taste—I use Jimmy Dean brand)
Grate the cheese, the finer the better. Mix all ingredients and roll into bite-size
Balls. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 min. Can be frozen and reheated.
Red Pepper Tartlets
4 c. roasted red pepper strips (approx. 6 med. Sized peppers) OR 2 7oz. jars roasted red peppers, drained.
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced fresh Italian parsley
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. capers, drained
1 med. clove garlic, smashed, peeled, and mashed to a paste with
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 small container ricotta cheese (optional)
1 package pre-made phyllo tartlet shells (I get these in my grocer’s freezer aisle)
Arrange drained peppers on a double layer of paper towels, and let them dry while preparing the recipe. Combine the remaining ingredients—except for pastry shells and ricotta cheese!—in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the capers and parsley are very finely chopped. Add the drained peppers and process using on/off pulses, until the peppers are coarsely chopped. Stop several times to scrape down the sides of the work bowl to make sure mixture is evenly chopped. Check seasonings and adjust as necessary. Keep mixture in refrigerator till ready to serve—then remove to room temp. for 30 min.
Prepare phyllo tartlet shells as directed on the packaging. Then, fill each shell with a spoonful of red pepper mixture, and top with a dollop of ricotta cheese, if you like. Heat briefly before serving.
Alternately, you can simply make the red pepper mixture and serve it as a dip—delicious with chunks of sourdough bread, or even tortilla chips.
Spinach Artichoke Dip
2 6 oz. jars marinated artichoke hearts (drain, but reserve liquid for consistency)
2-3 cloves garlic chopped fine
1 10 oz. pkg. chopped spinach (defrosted and drained well)
1 lb. hot pepper cheese (Monterey Jack with chilies is good)
3 yellow chilies or jalapenos boiled for 20 min. and then chopped (do not discard seeds--you can substitute a few bits of jarred jalapenos for above, chopped, to taste)
½ bunch cilantro (optional—I hate cilantro, so I omit)
½ cup low-fat mayonnaise
Mix all ingredients and add just enough liquid from artichoke hearts to moisten.
Pour into small casserole dish that has been lightly sprayed with Pam.
Bake uncovered for 30 min. at 350 degrees. Serve with tortilla chips.
What are some of your favorite holiday appetizers? Please share in the comments section!