Holiday Cooking Preparation and Finger Foods

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I offered a food safety program where we made appetizers just before Thanksgiving. If you missed it, included in this article are three favorite appetizers with a new twist; Sweet Potato and Sausage Balls, Spinach Tarts and Mini Caprese Bites.

With the holiday season approaching it’s time to find your recipes and prepare some family favorites. You may be planning for friends and family to gather in your home or you may find yourself preparing food to take with you. Regardless of the location, it’s never too early to start holiday food preparation. If left to the last minute, meal planning can be a challenge. Planning your menu in advance allows you the opportunity to be sure all the favorite dishes are included and spend smarter. You will shop more efficiently and decrease costs by avoiding unnecessary purchases. Sticking to your menu items and buying in advance over the course of several grocery trips will spread out the expense and lower the impact on your monthly food budget.

Your Kitchen Staples

Let’s get started by reviewing what we have on hand. We all have certain spices that are family favorites. Take an inventory of these items and make a note of those which are running low. Don’t forget oils and non-sticks sprays. if you don’t know what meal you’ll be preparing, compiling a list of these staples will avoid purchasing the same item twice. Your list will save money and remind you to use items on hand first, utilizing them before they expire. If your paprika is not bright orange-red it needs to be replaced.

Cooking Utensils

Have you ever reached for a cookie sheet only to find it is warped? Now is the perfect time to purchase any needed replacement pots, large roasting pans, or baking sheets. Don’t forget other baking, cooking, and serving supplies, such as an instant read meat thermometer, parchment paper, aluminum foil, dishing washing liquid, food storage bags, and trash bags. Keep in mind that these non-food items will be needed so check your pantry or kitchen storage and note what you will need to replace. For low-cost items, consider local dollar stores or borrowing from a friend or family member who will not be using their roasting pan, etc..

Shopping the Bargains and Sales

Where you purchase certain items can make a difference in how far your food stretches. Consider which stores offer the best value for the items in your recipes. The best buy on spices and canned goods might be in two stores. Check the weekly grocery store advertisements and value store offerings, and select the store that offers the best combination of price and suitable product. Watch for specials through grocery store loyalty card programs such as Food Lion’s MVP or other loyalty cards, which can lower the food bill at check-out. Paid membership warehouses such as Sam’s Club are also great options for purchasing bulk items. Members of these warehouses are allowed to bring one guest when shopping. If you aren’t a member, ask a friend or family member if you can join them when shopping. Let’s kick off holiday meal planning right by finding the best deals. Happy Shopping!

Sweet Potato and Sausage Balls Serves 24 (2 each)

Sweet potato sausage balls

Sweet potato sausage balls

1 pound bulk sausage
2 1/4cups all-purpose baking mix
8 oz. shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chilled mashed roasted sweet potato
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Optional dip:
6 tablespoons plum jam or scuppernong jelly
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir together sausage, baking mix, cheese, mashed sweet potato, cinnamon, and salt. Roll into 48 (1 1/2-inch) balls, and place about 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until sausage balls are cooked through and deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Stir together jelly and mustard in a small bowl until well blended. (If your jelly is too stiff to blend, microwave mixture at HIGH in 15-second increments until soft enough to stir.) Serve with sausage balls.

Note:                                                                                                                                To make ahead:  Bake and cool. Then freeze on baking sheet. Once frozen transfer to plastic freezer bags for storage. Reheat in the oven or the air fryer before serving. Bake from frozen.

Spinach Tarts Makes 30

Spinach Tarts

Spinach Tarts

To make tart shells:
1 (8 oz.) pkg. of cream cheese, softened
½ cup butter
1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour

Combine cream cheese and butter until smooth with a food processor or mixer. Add flour and mix well. Shape into 30 one inch balls and shape into tarts in mini muffin tins.

Spinach Filling:

  • 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. pepper
  • Medium Onion chopped
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 c. butter melted

Place Spinach on paper towel. Squeeze until barely moist. Combine spinach and remaining ingredients. Mix well. Fill each shell with 1 teaspoon of mixture. Bake at 350F for 30-35 mins.

Note:                                                                                                                                To make ahead:  Bake and cool. Then freeze on baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer to plastic freezer bags for storage. Reheat straight from the freezer in the oven or the air fryer before serving.

Mini Caprese Bites Makes 32 skewers

Mini Caprese Bites

Mini Caprese Bites

64 grape tomatoes
16 marinated small mozzarella cheese balls*, cut in half
8 fresh basil leaves quartered
32 (4-inch) wooden skewers

Thread 1 tomato, ¼ leaf of basil leaf, ½ mozzarella ball piece, ¼ piece of bail leaf, and another tomato half onto each skewer. Place skewers in a shallow serving dish.

Note:  The flavor will be different but you could use spinach leaves instead of basil leaves if you don’t have basil.

Sources for this article NC Extension Food and Nutrition. For more information about the Foods and Nutrition please contact Louise L. Hinsley, Extension Agent, Family Consumer Science at the Beaufort County Center of N.C. Cooperative Extension, 155 Airport Road, Washington, 252-946-0111.