By Rachel Hoeing

How can you guarantee a relaxing, peaceful holiday? Keep everyone FULL and happy! The main course at the holidays varies from family to family, but one thing we all always need are good munchies! Appetizers, starters, hors d’oeuvres … whatever you like to call them, make sure you have plenty on hand and you’ll have a house of smiles throughout the holiday season.

I’ve shared some of my favorite appetizers below that I seem to prepare year and year for two reasons: tasty and simple! I would love for you to each share your favorite recipes as well by commenting below.

Cranberry-Cheese Box

(Pictured above)
• 16-ounce block sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
• 1 cup mayonnaise
• 1/2 cup chopped onion
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
• 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
• 8-ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce
• Garnishes: green onion strips, fresh cranberries, orange curls
• Crackers or bread rounds
Beat first 6 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended; stir in pecans.
Shape mixture into a 5- x 5- x 2-inch box, or spoon into a 5-cup mold. Cover and chill 8 hours or up to two days.
Spoon cranberry sauce over cheese mixture; garnish, if desired. Serve with crackers or bread rounds.
Note: To decorate the box, cut white part from 4 green onions. Blanch green onion tops in boiling water 1 minute or until tender, saving white part for other uses. Drain. Press 1 green onion strip into base of center of 1 side of box, pressing up sides until it meets center of top of box. Remove and discard excess green onion. Repeat with remaining green onion strips. Top center with fresh cranberries, orange curls, and additional strips of green onion, if desired.
Makes 12 to 16 appetizer servings


Stuffed Mushrooms

There are so many variations of these, but I like this one because it is EZ!
• 1 pound large mushrooms
• 8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
• 1 cup Parmesan Cheese
• 1 tsp. Worcestershire
• 1 tsp. dill
• 1 tsp. pepper
Wash and prepare mushrooms for stuffing. Combine Cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, dill and pepper. Stuff mixture into mushrooms. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
Serves 6 to 8.


Water Chestnuts/Bacon Bites

• 2 cans whole water chestnuts
• 1 pkg. bacon
• Brown sugar
• Toothpicks
Cut bacon in half. Dip one slice in brown sugar and wrap it around a water chestnut. Hold together with a toothpick. Repeat with all pieces. Place these on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes.


Clams Oregatino Dip

This recipe has been in my family for years and although I usually do not like clams, this dip rocks!
• 2 cans Progresso minced clams (save juice from one)
• 1 cup Italian Breadcrumbs
• 1 Tbsp. Parsley
• 1 Tbsp. Oregano
• Dash Garlic powder
• 6 oz. grated mozzarella cheese
• 1 ½ sticks melted butter
Mix all ingredients in bowl. Transfer to low baking dish. Bake 350 for 15 minutes uncovered until bubbly.
Serve with crackers.


Paula Deen’s Sausage Swirls

• 2 (8 ounce) cans crescent roll dough
• 1 lb bulk sausage (the sage flavor is really yummy to use!)
Open dough and keeping in one piece as much as possible, place on a cookie sheet, unroll carefully, and pinch all the edges together. Do this for both cans of dough.
Open sausage, cut the roll in half, and spread half thinly over both pieces of dough. Roll up the dough lengthwise. Place dough in refrigerator for 30 minutes until firm. Cut rolls into 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces and place the swirls 1/2 inch apart on the cookie sheets.
Bake 375 for 20 minutes until golden brown and sausage is thoroughly cooked.
Makes 28 swirls

So what are you waiting for? Make that grocery list and get shopping!