Who has time to bake dozens of cookies, wrap them, then deliver them to family and friends who groan inwardly at the thought of another calorific temptation?
Answer: not you, and therein is the dilemma.
You want to make and give a homemade gift, but want it to be quick to prepare and gratefully received.
The answer is to think savory, not sweet.
Dreams of sugarplum fairies notwithstanding, snacks, nibbles and cocktail treats are a welcome change from candies, cookies, and fruitcake.
Savory morsels are also simple to prepare and make a very attractive addition to any festive occasion.
These simple recipes share some basic ingredients, so your shopping list will be shortened if you decide to make all three.
Each recipe also lends itself to your personal variations, so, by all means, feel free to improvise!
1) Cheese Ball with Homemade Pita Chips Recipe
Serves fifteen to twenty
- 1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
- 1 4-ounce package blue cheese, any variety OR if you are also making Stilton Toasts (recipe below), use one half of an 8-ounce package of Stilton cheese.)
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, any variety; pre-shredded is fine
- 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1 dash hot sauce, optional
- 1 generous cup finely chopped walnuts OR 1 bunch curly parsley, minced
- 1 extra-large pimento-stuffed olive OR 1 perfect walnut half
- 1 package (8 loaves) mini pita bread, any variety
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter OR ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons coarse salt or sea salt, optional
- ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, optional
For the cheeseball:
- Mash the softened cream cheese with the blue cheese, then stir in the shredded cheddar; add two dashes of Worcestershire sauce and one dash hot sauce, if desired. Combine well.
- Shape into one large ball or two smaller balls.
- Spread chopped walnuts or chopped parsley on a piece of waxed paper, then roll the ball or balls until well coated. Reshape if necessary.
- Cut the olive in half, and press one half into the top of the cheeseball cut side up. Eat the other olive half. OR press the walnut half into the top of the cheeseball.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
For the pita chips:
- Preheat oven to 300 F.
- Melt butter, if using.
- Cut mini pita loaves into four triangles, then separate the triangles so that you have eight pieces total for each mini loaf. Repeat until you have cut all loaves, for a total of 64 triangles.
- Arrange pita pieces on the ungreased baking sheet. It’s OK to crowd the chips on the sheet. You may need more than one sheet.
- With a pastry brush, lightly brush each chip with melted butter or olive oil. If you have leftover butter or oil, distribute it as evenly as possible over the chips.
- If desired, sprinkle with salt or cayenne pepper. The chips are good plain, salted, or spicy.
- Bake in a slow oven until golden brown, about 0-15 minutes. Check the oven often as the chips are browning, and be prepared to remove as soon as they are golden.
- Cool on a rack, then place in plastic bags when completely cool.
NOTE: Chips keep well; can be heated briefly in a slow oven to re-crisp, if necessary.
Remember that presentation is important.
Go to the dollar store and buy a small basket, shredded paper to line the basket, cellophane bags, and ribbon.
Wrap the cheeseball in a cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon.
Fill one or more bags with chips and tie with ribbon. Place in the basket, and your gift is ready to give.
You’ll have leftover walnuts if you bought a bag to make your cheeseball.
Here’s a winning way to use them up by making another edible gift.
Cheese bites were a favorite cocktail bite back in the 1950s.
It’s time to bring them back!
2) Chicken Cheese Bites Recipe
Serves ten to twelve
- 2 4.5-ounce cooked chicken breast
- 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, regular or reduced fat, softened
- ¾ cup roughly chopped sweetened dried cranberries, divided
- 2 tablespoons minced white or yellow onion
- 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
- 1 generous cup finely chopped walnuts, divided
- Mash chicken into small pieces/shreds.
- Combine chicken, cream cheese, onion, and Worcestershire sauce and mix well.
- Divide the mixture in half, and place each half in a separate bowl.
- Add ½ of the walnuts to the mixture in one bowl, and ½ of the cranberries to the mixture in the other bowl. Mix both combinations well.
- Shape into one-inch balls.
- Roll the walnut balls in the remaining cranberries to coat well.
- Roll the cranberry balls in the remaining walnuts to coat well.
- Refrigerate until firm, then pile some of each of the coated balls into cellophane bags and tie with a pretty ribbon.
There is nothing more elegant–or delicious–than homemade hot hors-d’oeuvres served piping hot.
Stilton toasts combine the best of both worlds: they are easily made ahead, frozen, and can be popped in the oven at the last minute for a delectable bite with cocktails, port, or as an accompaniment to soup or salad.
3) Stilton Toasts Recipe
Serves twelve to fifteen
- 1 baguette, sliced thinly; day-old bread is best
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 4 ounces Stilton cheese, room temperature (OK to substitute another full-flavored firm blue cheese)
- ½ cup finely chopped walnuts
- Combine butter, cheese, and walnuts
- Spread butter-cheese mixture sparely on bread slices
- Chill slices until firm, then freeze in a single layer on a plate.
- When frozen, bag and replace in the freeze.
- To serve, preheat oven to 325 F. Place toasts on ungreased cookie sheets and bake, about 15 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Remove, plate, and serve. Stilton toasts are also good at room temperature.
- To give as a gift, bag frozen toasts in a cellophane bag, tie with a ribbon and add a tag with heating instructions.
Of course, you may decide to keep these treats for yourself–they’re that good.
But they’re even better shared with family and friends and a generous pour of your favorite libation.