This is the time of year when we’re all in party mode.
Dips, spreads, and finger foods of all varieties (otherwise known as appetizers) will be filling tables from offices to church basements and every place in between.
We all have our favorites, and this year, our Beacon Journal family decided to share some of ours with you. We’ve been eating them for years at office parties and each other’s houses.
There are old family recipes, like home and garden writer Mary Beth Breckenridge’s family cheese spread that makes an appearance every Christmas.
The recipe for Derb’s Cheese Spread was handed down from Mary Beth’s husband Tom’s great-uncle, Durward Lipp, who lived in East Palestine. Uncle Derb passed away in the 1980s, but he made his pimento cheese spread with a sweet homemade mayonnaise for decades prior.
The recipe was preserved by his daughter Dinah Sitler, and Mary Beth adopted the tradition of making it too, a task that became much easier after she got a grater attachment for her stand mixer. The recipe calls for finely grating or grinding two pounds of sharp cheddar cheese.
One year, she earned bonus points when she made the spread and shipped it packed in dry ice to her in-laws in Florida.
No one in the family is really sure where the recipe came from, but it wouldn’t be a Breckenridge family Christmas without it.
“I first had it at family gatherings when we were, probably dating, and people talked about it all the time,” she said, “It has a sweet and savory quality to it.”
Mary Beth is also responsible for a recipe that all of us are making now for kalamata caviar, a simple spread made by pulsing kalamata olives, feta cheese, pecans, garlic and just a touch of oil in the food processor.
The resulting purple spread looks a lot like caviar, with a robust taste that will keep folks coming back. Remember to buy extra crackers or french bread for this one.
Mary Beth found the recipe online while searching for something new to take to a party. It’s found its way into all of our recipe boxes now. At every gathering, someone is sure to bring it and it’s well on its way to becoming a staple, much the way crab meltaways have become in features editor Lynne Sherwin’s family.
Lynne’s mother, Sue Sherwin, got the recipe from a co-worker at the high school where she worked in Erie, Pa., and has been making them for more than a dozen years.
Sue retired in the spring after serving for 25 years as choir director at her church in Erie. After the Christmas Eve service, family, friends and choir members always head back to the Sherwin home for a party, where the crab meltways have become a tradition.
These are easy to put together because they use English muffin halves as their base. Because they need to be frozen before being broiled, they are the perfect make-ahead: simply pop them into the broiler for a few minutes before serving.
As Lynne likes to say, “It’s crab, cheese and butter, what’s not to love?”
There’s always a lot of love for assistant features editor Yuvonne Bruce Webb’s deviled eggs.
What is it about deviled eggs? They seem so old-fashioned, but put a plate of them down at a party and they disappear in minutes.
As Yuvonne explains it, her large family (she’s one of eight children and there are 23 grandkids) doesn’t waste a lot of time on tiny foods — they all bring family-sized covered dishes and casseroles.
But if she does have to bring an appetizer, her deviled eggs are usually what she takes. The secret to their tasty filling, she says, is using both dill and sweet pickle relish.
For pop culture writer Rich Heldenfels, the holidays are made more festive with a bowl of his wife Connie’s sugared nuts, which she’s been making since 1972.
The recipe was handed down from her grandmother to her mother to her, and it’s a tradition heartily enjoyed by her husband.
Sweet and crunchy with a wonderful vanilla flavor, these nuts are the perfect party munch. Just be careful, they seem innocent enough, but they are very addictive. Before you know it, that bowl will be gone.
Lastly, there are my polenta pizza appetizers. I love polenta (cornmeal mush) and was looking for a way to serve it at a Christmas party I was having about 15 years ago. I knew that serving it soft was impractical for a crowd, so I figured I’d try to serve it firm with the same tomato sauce topping that I would use if serving it soft.
I cooked it from scratch and poured it into a rimmed baking sheet. Once firm, I cut it into small squares, turning it from main dish into appetizer.
More often, however, I simply purchase a 2-pound block of polenta at the grocery store to save time making these mini pizza appetizers.
The great thing about these squares is that they can be topped with anything — just like a regular pizza.
I make some with chopped tomatoes, herbs and cheese, while others may get pepperoni or crumbled sausage. Olives, chopped chicken, broccoli, spinach, and any kind of cheese work great on these.
When a friend who is a vegetarian came to the party and raved about how nice it was to have something meatless other than cheese or veggie sticks, I knew I had hit upon a appetizer that would please everyone — it’s even gluten-free.
In fact, other than the crab meltaways, all of these party foods are gluten-free.
So from our home here at the Beacon Journal to yours, here are recipes for some great party food for the holidays and all year long.
DERB’S CHEESE SPREAD
2 (4-oz.) jars pimentos
2 lbs. sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup cooking oil
½ cup cider vinegar, or ¼ cup each water and wine vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. dry mustard
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (such as Eagle brand)
In a food grinder, grind pimentos and cheese separately; or grate the cheese finely on a grater or in a food processor and chop the pimentos separately in a food processor. Let cheese stand at room temperature.
Mix together oil, vinegar, salt, garlic powder and mustard; beat well. Add condensed milk and beat until the mixture is the consistency of homemade mayonnaise. (It won’t be as thick as prepared mayonnaise, but should be as thick as cake batter or better.)
Remove about ⅓ of the mixture from the bowl. At slow speed, gradually add cheese and, if necessary, more of the oil mixture to reach desired consistency. Stir in pimentos.
Place in airtight containers and refrigerate a few days to age.
Note: You will have oil mixture left over. You can keep it in the refrigerator a few days in case you want to make another, smaller batch.
Makes about 2½ pounds of spread.
— Durward Lipp/
Mary Beth Breckenridge
6 English muffins, split
2 (6 oz.) cans crab meat
½ cup butter, softened
1½ (5 oz.) jars Old English cheese spread
½ tsp. seasoned salt
½ tsp. garlic salt
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
6 English muffins, split
Drain crab meat well. Combine crab, butter, cheese, mayonnaise and seasoning and mix well.
Spread crab mixture on top of 12 muffin halves.
Place in freezer and freeze for at least 30 minutes. (These can be prepared ahead of time to this point and kept frozen for up to two weeks.)
When ready to serve, place muffins on baking sheets and place in broiler. Broil until topping is hot, puffed, bubbly and golden brown.
Cut each muffin half into quarters and serve.
Makes 48 appetizer pieces.
— Sue Sherwin/
1 dozen large eggs, hard-cooked
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. Miracle Whip salad dressing
2 tsp. yellow mustard
2 tsp. dill pickle relish
1 tsp. sweet pickle relish
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Paprika, for dusting
Remove eggs from their shells and slice in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl. Place whites on a separate plate.
Mash yolks with a potato masher or fork. Add mayonnaise, salad dressing, mustard, relish, sugar, salt and pepper and mix well until creamy.
Spoon yolk mixture back into cooked egg whites. (If you are feeling particularly ambitious, use a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip to pipe filling back into the eggs.)
Garnish with a dusting of paprika.
Makes 24 deviled eggs.
— Yuvonne Bruce Webb
8 oz. pitted kalamata olives
1 (4 oz.) container feta cheese crumbles
½ cup pecans
2 cloves fresh garlic (more or less to taste)
2 tbsp. olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a food processor, pulsing until smooth.
Makes about 2 cups.
— Adapted from online sources
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light Karo syrup
½ cup water
½ tsp. vanilla
3 cups walnuts
Combine sugar, Karo syrup and water and cook over medium heat until mixture reaches soft ball stage.
Add vanilla and nuts. Stir until creamy. Pour out onto waxed paper and separate nuts with a fork. Cool completely. Store in airtight jars or containers.
Makes about 3 cups.
— Connie Heldenfels/
1 (32 oz.) block polenta (cornmeal mush)
Olive oil, for brushing
Freshly chopped herbs, such as basil
Coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Cut polenta block in half, and slice each half into 12 squares, about ⅝-inch thick. (Or slice into circles if tube-shaped.)
Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Place polenta squares on tray. Brush tops lightly with olive oil. Place in oven and bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until tops of squares begin to look blistered and squares are beginning to get browned at the edges.
Remove from oven. Top the squares with pizza toppings of your choice, such as fresh tomatoes, herbs and grated Parmesan; or pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella and pepperoni slices. (Topping choices are limitless, and can include any kind of cheeses, meats or vegetables.)
Place prepared pizzas in broiler until toppings are hot, and cheese is melted and bubbly.
Makes 24 squares.
— Lisa Abraham