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Simple Holiday Recipes for a Delicious Season

‘Tis the season for entertaining! OK, so maybe you’re only “entertaining” your immediate family this year. And that feels… odd. It’s definitely going to look and feel different, but we can still have some entertaining fun with delicious holiday recipes.

For Brunch

These are two of my favorite holiday brunch recipes because they make the morning seem special, but are easy to put together.

Quiche is a dish that comes together quickly and then bakes in the oven while you sit back and enjoy a cup of coffee. Cheddar and broccoli quiche is featured here, but there are lots of other combinations you can do. I’ve included a couple suggestions in the recipe notes.

Chocolate for breakfast is always a win for me. And this chocolate cream cheese banana bread can be made ahead of time. Way ahead if you want – just freeze it! Another win, especially during a busy holiday season.

Happy Hour Sips

We all know how I feel about cocktails. (Hint: YUM!!) Both of these cocktails are slightly tart to help offset all the sweet, rich, and creamy foods of the holidays. Blackberry Vanilla Martinis feature vodka and lime, while Bee’s Knees cocktails have gin and fresh lemon.

Want something a little more festive? Garnish a classic Cosmopolitan with some fresh, frozen cranberries. Or mix up this sweet and cinnamon Holiday Spice martini, one of my favorite holiday cocktail recipes.

>More Cocktail Recipes

Appetizers and Snacks

Take your happy hour to the next level with delicious snacks! These slow cooker savory spiced nuts are the perfect bar mix. Full of fresh rosemary and garlic, make a batch up ahead of time and then just set out small dishes for your guests. Looking for something heartier? Three cheese artichoke dip is a hot, creamy appetizer that comes together quickly. Just add crackers!

>More Easy Appetizers

Pitchers of Cocktails

Whether you’re entertaining a group or just want cocktails at the ready, there’s no better time of year to make a pitcher of cocktails – or mocktails! Apple cider sangria is white wine based and full of fall holiday flavor. My pitcher cocktails recipe is SUPER simple and includes instructions for both cocktails AND mocktails. I love making a pitcher of each when entertaining.

Sweet Endings

Fancy, holiday desserts are so beautiful and tempting, but after a big meal, small, sweet bites are more my style. Like many of my other recipes, both of these desserts can be made ahead of time, which is important during such a busy time of year.

Soft, buttery cranberry shortbread cookies are a must-have on any holiday cookie try. They freeze beautifully, which means you can (and should) make them up to a month in advance (hint, hint), and then store them in the freezer until you need them.

You don’t want to freeze peppermint bark, but you can make it a few days ahead of time and then keep it in the pantry until you’re ready to gift it or serve it.

Of course, there’s always dessert cocktails. I love this espresso martini as an alternative to after dinner coffee. And if you prefer your peppermint and chocolate fix in liquid form, look no further than a peppermint mocha martini.

Every year, I strive to make more recipes ahead of time so I can spend more time enjoying the holiday season and time with my family. What about you? Do you like prepping in advance or do you find enjoyment in cooking for your guests day of? What holiday recipes are must-makes for you? Tell me in the comments!

Bacon Wrapped Dates

Bacon wrapped dates are perfect for entertaining and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. They look fancy, but come together easily. You can also add a green salad, and call these appetizers your dinner. They’re that good.

Ingredients

36 large, pitted dates
3 oz cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp whole, roasted almonds (aprox 30 almonds)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 lbs sliced bacon (not thick sliced)
36 toothpicks

Using kitchen shears or a small paring knife, cut each date lengthwise on one side. (See image below.) As you do this, check for any remaining pits or hard pieces on the end of the dates. Remove any excess pits and/or hard pieces. Set dates aside.

Cut dates in half, lengthwise

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, and garlic powder. Finely chop almonds. Add to cream cheese and mix until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Cream cheese and almond mixture

Open package of bacon. Cut all of the bacon slices in half. Set aside.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place wire rack on top of parchment paper and spray rack with cooking spray.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

To assemble:

Open date slightly at the cut and place aprox ½ teaspoon of cream cheese mixture inside. Press seam together to seal slightly. (Dates should be full but not overflowing.)

Place stuffed date onto the end of a piece of bacon, roll up lengthwise and secure bacon with a toothpick.

Place date onto prepared wrack. Repeat with the rest of the dates.

Bacon wrapped dates ready for the oven

Bake dates for 20-25 minutes or until bacon is cooked through.

Remove toothpicks. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Notes on Bacon Wrapped Dates

  • Be sure to remove the toothpicks before serving!
  • These dates are delicious served warm or at room temperature.
  • You can make these ahead of time and reheat in a 300 degree oven for 5-7 minutes before serving.
  • Skip the thick cut bacon for this recipe. The standard cut available in any grocery store works great.

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Cocktail Pairing

Bee's Knees

Salty, creamy, bacon wrapped dates pair well with a tart cocktail. Try a Bee’s Knees.

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Bacon wrapped dates

Easy Apple Recipes

Some people love pumpkin recipes in the fall, but for me it’s all about APPLE recipes! Whether in a cocktail, as the star of the show, or in a side dish, apples are a delicious way to elevate your favorite recipes. These easy apple recipes will having you celebrating this juicy fall fruit.

12 Easy Vodka Cocktails

Vodka is a super versatile liquor and one people often have on hand. Whether it’s your favorite spirit or you’re just starting out with vodka, give one of these vodka cocktails a try.

Did you give one of these a try? Leave me a comment on the recipe or send me a message! I’d love to know your thoughts.

Three Cheese Artichoke Dip

This creamy, garlicky three cheese artichoke dip is a delicious alternative to the usual appetizers and sure to be a hit at your next party.

Ingredients

1 – 14 oz can artichoke hearts 
8 oz cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (divided)
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 tsp lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Rinse, drain, and finely chop the artichoke hearts. 

Place the softened cream cheese in a medium bowl. Stir in the sour cream and chopped artichoke hearts. 

Add 1 cup mozzarella cheese along with the Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper to the cream cheese mixture. 

Mix well to combine. 

Spoon mixture into a greased pie plate. 

Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese. 

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the cheese on top is golden brown and edges of dip are bubbling. 

Serve warm with crackers, crostini, or raw veggies. 

Enjoy!

Tips for Three Cheese Artichoke Dip

  • Low fat cream cheese and low fat sour cream work well in this recipe.
  • This dip is best served hot or warm.
  • Serve with crackers, crostini, or raw veggies. I love carrot sticks, red bell pepper strips, celery, and cucumber slices.

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Cocktail Pairing

Blackberry Vanilla Martini

This salty, creamy artichoke dip goes well with a tart, crisp Blackberry Vanilla Martini.


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Three Cheese Artichoke Dip

Meatballs

This is one of my favorite meal prep recipes. It makes aprox 3 dozen, 2 inch meatballs, which freeze easily and are great to have on hand for quick weeknight meals. These also make a great appetizer to feed a crowd.

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chopped, fresh parsley OR 1 ½ Tbsp dried parsley
2 lbs ground beef
1 lb ground chicken
1 ½ cups bread crumbs 
3 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp Worcester sauce
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add onion. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add garlic and parsley. Cook an additional 3-4 minutes until onion is translucent and garlic is cooked.

Remove from heat and set aside. 

Heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Grease two sheet pans. Set aside. 

Place ground beef and ground chicken in a large bowl.

Add all remaining ingredients, including the mixture from skillet.

Using your (clean) hands, mash and mix to combine everything together in the bowl. Stop as soon as all ingredients are incorporated. 

Meatball ingredients ready to be mixed.
{Pans ready. Time to mix!}
Meatballs fresh from the oven
{Fresh from the oven.}

Take a small amount of the meat mixture and roll it into 2” balls. (Make them 1″ if using for appetizers.)

Place into one of the greased pans.

Continue doing this – place so the meatballs are tight together but not touching – until all of the meat mixture is used up. 

Place in preheated oven and bake for 25-30 mins. 

Remove meatballs from oven and allow to cool.

Enjoy!

Tips on Meatballs

  • The meatballs turn out best with 80/20 ground beef. If you use beef with a lower fat content, increase the milk by 1 Tbsp.
  • You can substitute ground pork or ground turkey for the ground chicken.
  • Any non-dairy milk can be substituted for the milk.

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How to Freeze Meatballs

Once meatballs have cooled completely, remove from pan and placed on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover and place in freezer overnight. 

Remove from freezer. Place frozen meatballs into a large, zip-top bag. Store in your freezer until ready to use. 

To reheat

Add frozen meatballs to your favorite sauce in a pan over medium-low heat.

Cover and allow the meatballs to thaw while the sauce heats up. 

Quick BBQ Meatball Appetizer

Place equal parts store-bought BBQ sauce and maple syrup in a saucepan. Add the juice from 1 orange and whisk everything together until it’s combined.

Add frozen meatballs to the pan and gently stir to coat with the BBQ mixture.

Place the saucepan over medium-low heat, cover and allow the meatballs to thaw as the sauce heats up. How long this will take depends on how many meatballs you’re reheating. Start checking them after 10 minutes.

If you prefer a thicker sauce, remove the lid after the meatballs have (mostly) thawed and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes. 

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Meatballs

Week Four of #Cook90… and DONE!

Epicurious issued the #cook90 challenge to cook 3 meals a day for 30 days in January and I decided to accept. (Read: Why I’m Going to #cook90.) But now it’s the end of the month. Which means, I did it!

Done!

img_9032Post-dinner on January 31 and that’s a wrap! I’d love to claim “where did the month go?” but I can’t. This challenge was surprisingly difficult. I even missed some of those pre-made foods – after all, they’re tasty! And I buy them because there are some things that I just don’t want to make myself. (Bring on the Trader Joe’s potstickers!)


Lessons Learned

So what did cooking and Instagram-ing so many meals in one month teach me?

  1. Weekend prep is KEY. There is no getting around it. Coming home on a weeknight knowing there’s roasted veggies, washed and chopped lettuce, and cooked chicken in the fridge, makes dinner seem less daunting. Pasta, sandwiches, wraps, and tacos can all the made from those ingredients in less time than it would take me to decide where to call for takeout.
  2. Meal planning is a must. To keep from getting bored with everything I’ve cooked on the weekend, a meal plan with pre-determined variations is necessary. It also helps in dealing with the inevitable leftovers.
  3. The freezer is my friend. Much of my weekend meal prep goes into Ziploc bags and into the freezer so I can easily thaw sauces and sides in minutes. This has helped keep the variety up and the leftovers to a minimum.
  4. A lot of people like pictures of food. I am still surprised when complete strangers leave encouraging comments on my Instagram posts. It’s oddly motivating and definitely appreciated.

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Goal Reached

When I started this challenge, the goal was to get back to truly enjoying cooking. Last weekend, after sampling some fresh-from-the-oven blueberry banana bread I declared out loud “I love cooking.” It was completely spontaneous, and definitely told me that this little experiment has been a good one.

Upkeep

Now comes the really hard part – keeping it up. At least in some capacity. While I have no doubt that some pre-made food will sneak back into rotation, my new goal will be to keep up some version of the weekend prep and planning for as long as possible. Who knows, maybe I just spent 30 days creating a new habit!

Recipes from this week:

Week Three of #Cook90

Epicurious issued the #cook90 challenge to cook 3 meals a day for 30 days in January and I decided to accept. (Read: Why I’m Going to #cook90.)

22 days down. 8 to go.

Cooking Ahead Wins Big

This week saw big shifts in schedules for us as husband’s work had him gone several nights and I began taking an online class two nights a week. Everything we’re eating on the nights I have class comes straight from the freezer supply of pre-cooked-by-me dinners, giving me lots of motivation to keep up the weekend prep cooking.

Eat and Repeat

In trying not to constantly repeat dinners, I’m noticing meal planning getting progressively harder as we move through the month. Apparently we’re creatures of habit when it comes to eating. But I’m also dipping hard into our freezer stockpile, which lends itself to repeats. But meatballs can be turned into lots of things and we love burritos, so maybe repeats are OK.

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A Cooking Challenge

img_8873One of my favorite people recently began an autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet to help ease some of her symptoms. It’s super restrictive, but I’m determined to make it as painless as possible for her. So this weekend I cooked her an AIP-friendly lunch. There was no sugar, wheat, dairy, eggs, nightshades, nuts or additives to be found. I enjoyed the creative challenge of creating a menu that was healthy, delicious and met AIP diet standards. We dined on sage and garlic rubbed pork, sweet potato and apple puree, and salad with avocado and a ginger-basil vinaigrette. Italian sodas made with a blueberry vanilla reduction, and mango banana granita for dessert rounded out our meal.

Onward to Week 4

After conquering the first week of eating a home cooked dinner before night classes, I feel confident we can do it again. I’m heading into the last stretch of this challenge, and if I’ve made it this far, I can do another week. Right…?

Recipes from this week:

Recipe: Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

Creamy and comforting, this slow cooker Thai-inspired chicken dish is a favorite in our house.

Ingredients

2 lbs of chicken*
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
1 – 15oz can coconut milk (full fat or light)
1 – 15oz can petite, diced tomatoes
¼ cup peanut butter
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 ½ tsp salt
Chopped peanuts
Chopped cilantro
Cooked rice

Spray 6qt slow cooker with cooking spray. Place chicken in slow cooker. Top with sliced red bell pepper and onion.

Drain liquid from tomatoes.

In a large bowl, combine coconut milk, tomatoes, peanut butter, lime juice, fish sauce, and salt.

Pour over chicken, peppers and onion.

Cover and cook on low heat setting 8-9 hours or until chicken shreds easily with a fork.

Using two forks, shred chicken into sauce.

Serve over rice with a side of naan. Top with chopped peanuts and/or cilantro.

*You can use any combination of chicken pieces you’d like. Make sure the skin is removed before using. If using bone-in chicken, remove the bones from the crockpot when you shred the chicken.

Recipe: White Bean & Kale Soup

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White Bean & Kale Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup sherry or white wine
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2-3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 packed cups kale, washed and chopped
1 cup diced chicken, cooked
1 can great northern (white) beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups chicken stock
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp garlic powder

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add celery and parsley. Cook additional 2-3 minutes. Add sherry, cook until sherry is absorbed into the veggies.

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Add tomatoes and chicken broth. Stir to combine. Cook until boiling, then reduce heat to low. Add kale, garlic powder and black pepper.

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Cook 15-20 mins. or until kale is done. Add chicken, white beans and salt. Stir to combine. Cook 2-3 mins until chicken and beans are heated through. Serve and enjoy!

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