holiday potluck recipes

The holidays mean two things: parties and food. Unfortunately, it also means parties that you’ve got to bring food to. The thought of having to come up with something to bring to a potluck gathering can be more stressful than a Black Friday shopping trip. So I thought I’d share some recipes that are: quick, easy enough for even a novice, cheap, and not the same old boring, pre-packaged stuff everybody else is gonna show up with.

Spinach Parmesan Balls – perfect for: finger food parties, vegetarians (not vegans), themed displaysIf you’re the squeamish, ‘eww, that’s icky’ type, ya might wanna get a pair of latex gloves for this recipe – things can get a bit messy when you’re working with the mix to make the balls, and the gloves make for easier cleanup. If you really want to get creative with these babies, you can assemble a faux Christmas tree (or wreath) with them. Simply purchase a cone-shaped (or wreath-shaped) foam form from a craft store, insert toothpicks all over the form and slide the spinach balls on – it’s an easy, but elegant presentation.

    2 10-oz packages of frozen chopped spinach 1 ½ cups grated parmesan cheese 1 medium onion, finely chopped 2 cups breadcrumbs – Italian-style, preferably 4 eggs garlic powder italian seasonings (dried): rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram jar of your favorite marinara sauce balsamic vinegar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Thaw the spinach and drain. Place into a colander and press out any excess water in the thawed spinach (you want to get the spinach as dry as possible). In a large mixing bowl, add the spinach, onions, eggs, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Season liberally with the Italian seasonings. Add as much garlic powder as you like – for this amount, I use about a tablespoon. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly – you can use a large spoon, or just mix with your hands. Pinch off small portions of the mixture and roll between your palms to form a ball. The balls should be about 1.5” in diameter. Place finished balls onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake on 350 for 20 minutes, shifting balls around about halfway through so they cook evenly. Remove and let cool slightly before transferring to serving dish.

Serve with marinara sauce for dipping. Marinara sauce can be drizzled lightly with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with a little extra parmesan cheese.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms – perfect for: holiday brunches, smaller gatherings (given the cost of crab)

This one was actually inspired by my Alaska-based ‘Myspace muse’ Robert. He posted a recipe for crab-stuffed mushrooms last year that had me drooling just from the pictures. I made a few adjustments, and the result is still damned tasty, and a favorite of mine year-round. I usually just eyeball the amount of ingredients to determine how much I want to add, so forgive me if the results yield a little more or less….

    10-12 large white mushrooms 2 6 oz cans canned crab meat (lump is best, but I go with the cheaper variety if I’m making a large amount so as to keep the cost down) ½ red bell pepper (optional) ½ stalk celery, diced 2-3 stalks green onions, finely chopped 1 small shallot, finely chopped cilantro (about 7-8 sprigs), finely chopped 2tbsp mustard 1 egg, beaten ½ to 2/3 cup breadcrumbs – plain or Italian-style 1 tbsp whipped salad dressing Old Bay seasoning Cajun or blackened seasoning pinch of nutmeg (optional) 3 tbsp butter, melted shredded parmesan cheese (optional)

Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel and remove stems. Using a spoon, hollow out the inside of each mushroom, removing the gills. Set aside. If using red bell pepper, cut in half lengthwise and drizzle with olive oil. Place under a low broiler until skin is lightly charred (the aroma will be fabulous!). Remove and place in a plastic bag until cool then rub the pepper in the bag until the charred skin comes off. Chop pepper into small chunks. Drain crab meat and place in a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except butter and parmesan, and combine, mixing gently (especially if using lump crab). Pour 1 tablespoon of melted butter onto a baking sheet and place mushrooms onto pan. Spoon crab mixture into mushrooms (you want o make nice, overstuffed mounds), then drizzle remaining butter over the mushrooms. Place mushrooms in oven under low broiler for about 8 minutes or until the stuffing mixture begins to brown. Remove mushrooms from oven and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted. Remove and serve warm.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole - perfect for: sit-down dinners, office/church luncheons, larger quantities

Easy on the wallet and the schedule. You can whip this up in almost no time and it’s comfort food at its absolute best.

    16 oz frozen broccoli cuts, partially thawed 1 can cream of celery or cream of mushroom soup Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes 1 package of boil in bag rice seasoned salt, onion powder, and black pepper to taste 1 sleeve of buttered party crackers (e.g., Ritz) 2 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375. Add all ingredients except crackers and butter to a large bowl. Mix thoroughly. Transfer to a casserole or glass baking dish. Crumble crackers and spread an even layer on top of the mixture. Drizzle crackers with melted butter. Place in oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes or until cheese bubbles and cracker crust is a golden brown.

Celebratini - perfect for: kids, tee-totalers, spiking

This a great holiday beverage for the kids and the grownups alike. It’s pretty to look at, has a wonderful blend of fruity flavors, and since there are no artificial sugars, you don’t have to feel bad about drinking it. But if you want to up the naughty quotient, blend it with your favorite spirit – I’d suggest a good quality light rum or vodka.

    Cranberry-raspberry juice blend (100% juice, please) R.W. Knudsen Sparkling Pear juice Fresh cranberries, raspberries or thin pear slices for garnish

For individual servings: Fill glass a little less than halfway with sparkling pear juice. Top with cran-raspberry juice. Serve chilled in a white wine glass or champagne flute. Garnish with fresh fruit and / or sugared rim.

For larger quantities: mix 1 part sparkling pear to ¾ part Cran-raspberry juice (add alcohol to taste, if desired). Serve chilled in a white wine glass or champagne flute. Garnish with fresh fruit and / or sugared rim.