Lingering over Christmas Appetizers

During the Christmas season, we enjoy the presence of people we love.  Talking, laughing, listening, enjoying comfortable silences–all of this is what it means to enjoy each others’ presence at Christmastime.  It is a time to rest, relax, and linger over laughter, conversation, and appetizers.  That means, of course, that for some of the people we love (or even for us), Christmas will be a time of joyous flurry in the kitchen.  But hopefully, even in that, there is time to rest as the timer ticks and the brie or cookies or spiced nuts bake, and to relax and enjoy the chance to be around each other, know each other better, and treat each other to delicious food.

Because Christmas is a time to linger and rest, it’s always a treat to have delicious appetizers throughout the day.  When I think of holiday appetizers, I often think of heavy foods–baked goods with loads of sugar, or fattening (and thus, delightful) savory treats.  Recently, though, I celebrated the holidays at a party where the hosts provided a healthy option–a fruit salad.  It was so considerate; a great way to break up the fat-and-sugar binge, and very kind to people who need to avoid gluten or dairy.

If you’re in charge of bringing a Christmas appetizer or two, a fruit salad is a perfect dish to add to the table, and this one takes advantage of autumn and winter fruits.

Winter Cranberry Fruit Salad
Winter Cranberry Fruit Salad

Winter Cranberry Fruit Salad
 
Ingredients
For the cranberry sauce base, you will need:
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • ½ cup orange juice (freshly squeezed)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 (12oz) package whole cranberries
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Zest of 1 orange
    For the fruit salad, you will need:
  • 1 Pomegranate
  • 2 Pears (crisp ones like Bosc or Asian would work well, or a green one like Anjou add some nice color)
  • 3 Crisp Sweet-Tart Apples (Like Cameo, Pink Lady, Topaz or Honeycrisp)
  • 4-5 Clementines
  • 1 Container kumquats (if desired)
Instructions
  1. Place juices and sugars in the crock pot (or large pot) and stir until dissolved. Add cranberries and spices and stir again.
  2. Turn crock pot on to high and cook for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally, or cook over stove top on high about 40-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Transfer to another container, add zest of orange and cool completely in refrigerator before serving.
  4. Wash all fruit.
  5. Peel pomegranates and clementines. Remove white pith from fruit.
  6. Dice apples and pears, peeled or unpeeled depending on your preference.
  7. In a large serving bowl, mix all fruit together, then pour cranberry sauce over the fruit salad. Stir until combined.

While it might not be as healthy as a big bowl of fruit, one of my favorite winter appetizers has to be bacon-wrapped Parmesan-stuffed dates.  Start by chopping the cheese into little sticks about the same size as the dried dates.  Stuff the dates with cheese.  Cut bacon into thin strips, wrap them around the dates, secure them with toothpicks, and pop them into the oven at 450°F for 15 minutes, turning them once.  Drain them and serve.  If you want to make them just a tad healthier, turkey bacon works well.

A few other Christmas appetizers are on my list to try before the holiday gets here, especially since they make use of vegetables that are available at Wolff’s right now: cauliflower, mushrooms, and carrots.

Cauliflower

Add caramelized onions to any appetizer and it’s a little closer to heaven.  This recipe combines cauliflower and caramelized onions in a tart, with mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, Gruyère cheese, and nutmeg.  A complex, creamy, and flavorful blend!

Mushrooms

Stuffed mushrooms are easy to make, and it’s even easier to eat one right after another!  Here’s a recipe adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook:

Wipe about 24 mushrooms clean with a wet paper towel or cloth (do not immerse them or they’ll get soggy). Separate the caps from the stems, set the caps aside, and chop up the stems until you have one cup. Cook the chopped stems with a clove of minced garlic and a generous amount of butter until garlic and mushrooms are tender. Set them aside while you caramelize some onions. Combine the mushroom-garlic mixture and onions with 2/3 of a cup of breadcrumbs and 1/2 a cup of your favorite cheese (cheddar, Gouda, or blue cheese work well). Spoon this mix into the mushroom caps, arrange them on a baking pan, and bake at 425°F for about 10 minutes, until they are heated through.

Since the filling is simple, you can play around with varieties–adding prosciutto, or, as in this recipe, mascarpone cheese and Italian sausage.

Carrots

Yes, there is more to do with carrots than chopping them into sticks and plunging them into Ranch dressing (although that’s a completely legitimate and tasty way to enjoy them too!)  So, how else can you serve carrots?  Well, you can make them into cumin-dusted carrot fries, shred them and roll them into bite-sized carrot and feta rounds, or follow Martha Stewart’s recipe and shave them into ribbons and wrap them around herb goat cheese.

Now I want to make all of these things all at once, so I hope my family is going to start Christmas early in the day.  Then we can sit around and talk and laugh, all while eating our fruits and vegetables, complete with some holiday splurging on mascarpone and bacon.