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December 16, 2010
Help for that last-minute holiday gathering

We only have 9 days until Christmas but between now and then there's bound to be an office potluck or neighborhood gathering where you need to bring a plate of something. With that in mind, we consulted recipe researcher Sheila Kern and she came up with lots of ideas. Some of them sound so good, you may want to serve them for the holidays. Enjoy!

Herb-Topped Sweet Potato Biscuits

From www.foodandwine.com

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 2-inch biscuits

Ingredients

1 pound sweet potatoes, scrubbed

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced

1/3 cup whole milk

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon heavy cream

30 small sturdy herb sprigs, such as sage, thyme and rosemary

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°. Pierce the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Set the potatoes on a cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour, or until tender. Let cool slightly. Using a spoon, scoop the potato flesh from the skins into a bowl and mash with a fork; you should have 1 1/2 cups of mashed sweet potatoes. Refrigerate until chilled.

In a large bowl, mix the 2 1/2 cups of flour with the brown sugar, baking powder, salt and cayenne pepper. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender. In a small bowl, mix the sweet potatoes with the milk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until all of the flour is incorporated; the dough will be quite sticky. Refrigerate the dough for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°. On a well-floured work surface, pat out the dough until it is 1/2-inch thick. Using a floured 2-inch round or fluted cutter, stamp out as many biscuits as you can and transfer them to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Re-roll the scraps and stamp out more biscuits. Brush the tops of the biscuits with the egg wash and press a small herb sprig into each one. Bake the biscuits for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sweet and Savory Spiced Nuts

From www.familyfun.go.com

Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

2 cups pecan halves

SPICE MIX:

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or less to taste)

GLAZE:

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon canola or corn oil

Directions

Heat the oven (or toaster oven) to 350°. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast them for 6 minutes or until they are fragrant and their color deepens slightly.

In a medium-size bowl, stir together the spice mix.

In a saucepan, combine the glaze ingredients and bring them to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Stir in the toasted nuts and continue to stir until all the nuts are shiny and the liquid is gone, about 1 to 2 minutes. Move the glazed nuts to a mixing bowl, sprinkle on the spice mix, and toss them well to coat. Spread the coated nuts on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven for another 4 minutes; check regularly to make sure they don't burn. Remove and let cool.

Wrapping it up: We placed our pecans in a ceramic bowl that we then wrapped in clear cellophane (the sturdy material used to cover fruit baskets; we bought ours at a craft store). We used a 20-inch-wide sheet about a yard long. Place the bowl in the center, bring the corners up to the top, and tie the bundle with a wire-edge craft ribbon. To make tying the bow easier, first secure the corners with a twist tie. Trim the excess cellophane at the top with scissors. Other packaging options: decorative tins and lined cardboard boxes. Avoid placing the nuts in plastic bags, as the coating rubs off.

Christmas Package Cheese Snack

From www.familyfun.go.com

Ingredients

8 ounces of cream cheese (softened)

1/2 teaspoon dried dill

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Scallion

Red bell pepper

Directions

Mix the dried dill, garlic powder, and salt into the softened cream cheese.

Pack the mixture into a rectangular container lined with plastic wrap (you can reuse the cream cheese box).

Refrigerate it for at least 3 hours. Before serving time, set the unwrapped block of cheese on a platter and decorate it with a scallion bow and red pepper polka dots and gift tag.

Seven Layer Taco Dip

From www.allrecipes.com

Ingredients

1 (1 ounce) package taco seasoning mix

1 (16 ounce) can refried beans

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (16 ounce) container sour cream

1 (16 ounce) jar salsa

1 large tomato, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 bunch chopped green onions

1 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded

1 (6 ounce) can sliced black olives, drained

2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

In a medium bowl, blend the taco seasoning mix and refried beans. Spread the mixture onto a large serving platter.

Mix the sour cream and cream cheese in a medium bowl. Spread over the refried beans.

Top the layers with salsa. Place a layer of tomato, green bell pepper, green onions and lettuce over the salsa, and top with Cheddar cheese. Garnish with black olives.

Tomato, Basil and Cheese Baked Pasta

From www.foodnetwork.com

Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray

Show: 30 Minute Meals Episode: Cooking With Cami: Date Night

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound small shell pasta

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan in a slow stream

3 large cloves garlic

1/2 small to medium yellow onion

1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian tomatoes, any brand

1/2 cup, 10 to 12 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Salt and pepper

1 cup store bought basil pesto sauce

1 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a couple of handfuls

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water. Add small shell pasta and cook the pasta to al dente doneness which means that the pasta will still have a bite to it or be a little chewy. The pasta will soak up more juice and keep on cooking after we drain it, so we need it to be a little under cooked. The shells will probably cook about 9 or 10 minutes.

Preheat a deep, big skillet or a medium sauce pot over medium heat.

Place garlic on the cutting board and place the flat of your knife on top of each clove. Carefully give the garlic a whack with the palm of your hand to separate the cloves from the skins. Throw out the skins and chop up the garlic. Remember to keep your fingers curled under and the edge of your sharp, chef's knife tilted slightly away from your body.

Add extra-virgin olive oil to the pan by pouring a slow stream of it twice-around-the-pan. This will be about 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Do not let the oil pour out too fast. You are looking for a slow, steady stream. Add the garlic to the oil. To chop the onion, cut the ends off and cut the whole onion down the center. Wrap half and save it. Cut the other half into thin slices then twist the slices a quarter turn and chop them again. Hold the tip of knife on the cutting board and lift the back of the knife up and down over the onion to make the pieces really small. Add the chopped up onion to the garlic and oil. Cook, stirring a lot, 5 minutes until the onions are mushy and look cooked.

Add the tomatoes to the onions and stir. When the tomatoes come to a bubble, reduce the heat under the sauce to low. Stir in basil pieces to wilt them. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, to your taste.

Preheat your broiler to high and place a rack in the center of the oven.

Drain pasta shells. Add them to a casserole dish. Add pesto sauce, 1 cup of ricotta cheese and a handful of grated Parmigiano, too. Stir carefully and coat the hot pasta with the pesto and cheeses. Pour the hot tomato and basil sauce over the pasta, as much as you like. You can always serve a little extra at the table, to pass around. Shred up some mozzarella cheese with a grater and scatter it over the pasta. Add a final sprinkle of Parmigiano to the mozzarella as well. Place the casserole under the broiler in the middle of oven, 10 to 12 inches from the heat. Let the cheese melt and bubble on top, 3 to 5 minutes.

Crockpot Little Smokies

From www.southernfood.about.com

Ingredients

2 packages Cocktail wieners, little smokies

1 bottle (12 ounces) chili sauce

1 cup grape jelly

Directions

Combine cocktail wieners or little smokies in Crockpot with chili sauce and grape jelly; cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours.

Chilaquiles Casserole

From EatingWell: June/July 2006

Makes 10 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium zucchini, grated

1 19-ounce can black beans, rinsed

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1 1/2 cups corn, frozen (thawed) or fresh

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 corn tortillas, quartered

1 19-ounce can mild red or green enchilada sauce

1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in zucchini, beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are heated through, about 3 minutes.

Scatter half the tortilla pieces in the pan. Top with half the vegetable mixture, half the enchilada sauce and half the cheese. Repeat with one more layer of tortillas, vegetables, sauce and cheese. Cover with foil.

Bake the casserole for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes more.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

From www.allrecipes.com

Servings: 4

Ingredients

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon white sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (8.75 ounce) can sweet corn, drained

Directions

In a small bowl, mix together balsamic vinegar, oil, salt, sugar, black pepper, cumin, and chili powder.

In a medium bowl, stir together black beans and corn. Toss with vinegar and oil dressing, and garnish with cilantro. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.

Chard with Shallots, Pancetta & Walnuts

From www.eatingwell.com

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

2 thin slices pancetta, (1 1/2 ounces), diced (see Tip)

2 medium shallots, thinly sliced

1 pound chard, stems and leaves separated, chopped (see Note)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted (see Tip)

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions

Cook pancetta in a Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring, until it begins to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

Add shallots, chard stems and thyme to the pan drippings and cook, stirring, until the shallots begin to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chard leaves, water and lemon juice and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Cover and cook until tender, 2 to 4 minutes more. Remove from the heat; stir in the pancetta, walnuts and pepper.

Tips & Notes

Tips: Pancetta is an unsmoked Italian bacon usually found in the deli section of large supermarkets and specialty food stores. Regular or turkey bacon may be substituted.

To toast chopped walnuts: Cook in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

Note: After washing the chard, allow some of the water to cling to the leaves. It helps steam the chard and prevents a dry finished dish.

Almond Cheesecake Bars

From www.tasteofhome.com

Yield: 3 dozen

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

FILLING:

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

FROSTING:

1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon almond extract

4 to 5 teaspoons milk

Directions

Combine the flour, butter and confectioners' sugar; press onto the bottom of a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

For filling, in a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and extract until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low speed just until combined. Pour over crust. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine the frosting ingredients until smooth; spread over bars. Store in the refrigerator.

Double-Chocolate Dream Cookies

From www.verybestbaking.com

Yields: 54 cookies (4 1/2 dozen)

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Baking Cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups (12-oz pkg) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

Directions

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs for about 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are puffed. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Cinnamon Sugar Cookies Recipe

From www.tasteofhome.com

Yield: about 8 dozen

Ingredients

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon Spice Island® Pure Vanilla Extract

4-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup finely chopped pecans, optional

Colored sugar, optional

Directions

In a large bowl, cream the butter, sugars and oil. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Add flour, salt, baking soda, cream of tartar and cinnamon. Stir in the pecans if desired. Cover and refrigerated for 3 hours or until easy to handle.

Roll into 1-in. balls. Place on greased baking sheets; flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired.

Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until set.

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About Shop Cheap

Pam Dinsmore is The Bee's Community Affairs Director. When she's not working, she's shopping. The goal of this blog is to help you save time and money at the grocery store. She's pretty good at it but she can't do it alone. That's where you come in, sharing your tips and secret methods for saving money. You can either respond to the blog or email her at pdinsmore@sacbee.com

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