Hungry for the holidays

These appetizer and dessert recipes make for some memorable treats.

Story and photography by Joe Stumpe

Like reverse hibernation, the winter holidays tend to bring out the party host in all of us. Who doesn't want to open their home and kitchen to family and friends?

Even if you're not personally throwing a bash, you're probably going to be asked to contribute to a family or office potluck. In case it's been a while since you last put your kitchen skills on display, here are some recipes to get you through the festivities with your culinary reputation intact.


1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
3 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 container (16 ounces) fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Whip ricotta cheese, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract in a medium bowl using an electric mixer. Divide mixture into six serving goblets and chill. Combine vinegar and granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture lightly coats a spoon. Cool completely. Toss strawberries with balsamic syrup. Evenly divide strawberries into each goblet. Sprinkle basil ribbons on each.

Notes: This recipe can be made a couple hours ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to serve. For larger groups, serve smaller amounts in disposable plastic shot glasses.


1 box pitted whole dates, about 40
1 medium block Parmesan cheese
1 lb. bacon, cut into thirds

With a knife, make a slit in the side of each date. Cut a piece of cheese large enough to fit into the slit and place inside it (it can protrude out slightly). Wrap bacon slice around stuffed date and secure with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining dates, cheese and bacon.

Cook stuffed dates under broiler, turning once, about 3 to 5 minutes or until bacon is crisp (do not burn).

Notes: Dates are available in the supermarket near the raisins. Do not buy candied dates. For a festive look, use multi-colored party toothpicks.


5 to 6 large tomatoes (or 10 to 12 medium)
1 red onion
1 green bell pepper
1 handful fresh basil
3 cloves garlic
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Goat cheese

Chop all vegetables and basil and combine in a bowl. Season to taste with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Slice baguettes, brush with olive oil and toast. Arrange ingredients so that guests can spread bread slices with goat cheese, then top with tomato mixture.


1 (17.6-ounce) package brownie mix with walnuts Vegetable oil cooking spray
3 (6-ounce) Symphony candy bars with almonds and toffee chips

Prepare the brownie mix according to package directions. Line a 13 by 9-inch cake pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil cooking spray. Spoon in half of the brownie batter and smooth with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Place the candy bars side by side on top of the batter. Cover with the remaining batter.

Bake according to package directions. Let cool completely, then lift from the pan using the edges of the foil. This makes it easy to cut the brownies into squares.

Note: This recipe has been making the rounds for a couple years and with good reason: it's as delicious as it is easy to make.


1 (9 ounce) package cheese filled tortellini, cooked al dente and cooled
 cup fat-free Italian dressing
8 ounce block of reduced-fat Swiss cheese, cubed
2 cups baby spinach leaves
32 pieces turkey pepperoni
3  cups cherry tomatoes
16 wooden skewers (9  10-inch)

In a large bowl, marinate tortellini in Italian dressing for 30 minutes in refrigerator. To assemble skewers, start with two pieces tortellini, one cheese cube, two spinach leaves, one pepperoni slice (folded in fourths), one tomato and repeat again. (Each skewer will have total of four pieces tortellini, two cheese cubes, four spinach leaves, two pepperoni slices and two tomatoes.) Repeat until 16 skewers are made. Refrigerate until serving.

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