Take an easy approach and keep food prep to a minimum for small holiday parties

Jolene Lamb
Jolene Lamb

Every year I host our big family Thanksgiving meal and Christmas dinner. But that’s not the only entertaining I do during the holidays. My husband and I invite friends, co-workers and neighbors over for several smaller get-togethers. Usually wine and cocktails are the focus of these small parties, however I like to offer a decent spread of finger foods and single bite sweets for our guests to casually munch on throughout the evening.

The holidays are a busy time, especially in my kitchen, where preparing two holiday feasts for 40 means many hours of planning and preparing. Did I mention I have a tiny kitchen? So, I opt to take an easy approach to entertaining during our smaller parties. I often prepare a few items from scratch, throw in a couple of simple two or three ingredient dishes and fill in with store made items. By keeping the food prep to a minimum, I’m not exhausted by the time the party starts!

So pour yourself a glass of wine and plan your next party with these recipes and store bought suggestions! Put effort into the crab dip recipe below, it’s rich and delicious, definitely a dish to make from scratch. Serve a cold shrimp dish other than shrimp cocktail. Whip up a super simple red pepper jelly and cream cheese spread, a dish that will soon become your new addiction.  And visit your local bakery or market to pick up some chocolate covered pretzels or truffles for sweet bite with no effort on your part. Enjoy with a white winter sangria!

New England-Style Crab Dip with Brown-Butter Crumbs

Serves: 12

*1 cup mayonnaise

*1/4 cup minced celery

*1/4 cup minced green bell pepper

*2 tablespoons finely grated sweet onion

*2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

*1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

*1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, preferably Tabasco

*1/8 teaspoon cayenne

*1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over

*Kosher salt Pepper

*4 ounces day-old rustic white bread, torn into 1-inch pieces (4 cups)

*4 tablespoons unsalted butter

*Crostini, chips or radicchio leaves, for serving

In a large bowl, blend the mayonnaise with the celery, green pepper, onion, parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, hot sauce and cayenne. Fold in the crab and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. In a food processor, pulse the bread until fine crumbs form. Spread the breadcrumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until crisp.

In a large skillet, cook the butter over moderate heat until the milk solids turn dark golden, about 4 minutes. Stir in the toasted breadcrumbs and season with salt.

Scrape the crab mixture into a 10-inch round baking dish or skillet. Sprinkle the brown-butter crumbs evenly on top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden on top and bubbling at the edge. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving with crostini, chips or radicchio leaves.

Make Ahead

The crab dip can be prepared through Step 3 and refrigerated overnight.

Boiled Shrimp with Spicy Mayonnaise

*2 very fresh organic egg yolks

*1 1/2 tablespoons hot mustard powder

*1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

*1 cup canola oil

*Salt and freshly ground white pepper

*1 tablespoon water

*2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, mustard powder and lemon juice. Whisking constantly, slowly dribble in the canola oil. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Whisk in the 1 tablespoon of water to thin out the mayonnaise if necessary.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and boil until pink, about 3 minutes. Drain and let cool. Serve the shrimp with the spicy mayonnaise.

Sweet Red Pepper Dip

*8 ounces Cream Cheese, softened

*1 jar red pepper jelly

Spread the cream cheese onto a shallow platter. Top with jelly. Serve with crackers. Yes, it’s that easy!

White Winter Sangria

Serves 4

*1 Granny Smith apple

*1 Braeburn apple or other pink sweet apple

*1 heaping Cup Fresh cranberries

*2 large Sprigs rosemary (more for garnish)

*1 Bottle Pinot Grigio

*½ cup white grape juice

*¼ cup sugar (more, for garnish)

*1 can club soda

Chop apples to a medium dice. Combine wine, grape juice and sugar (or honey) in pitcher. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add fruit and herbs, refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Add club soda before serving.

For garnish: Rinse sprigs of rosemary in water, let excess drip off. Roll damp sprigs in white sugar. Garnish individual cups.

Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value-Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.

Cooking or food questions? Email epicuriosity101@llcc.edu.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Take an easy approach to holiday entertaining this season