Eat, Drink & Be Merry: Shortcuts to Homemade


By Whitney Miller

The holidays can be stressful with shopping, entertaining guests and parties. It feels like you have no time for anything especially creating a gourmet spread for entertaining or simply putting dinner on the table. Have no fear because I am sharing some of my simple stress-free appetizers and go-to easy skillet dinner.

I believe more cream cheese is bought and consumed during the holidays than any other time of the year. Let’s be honest, it is good and easy to use to create appetizers and desserts. I use it to create delicious cheeseball appetizers. I elevate the typical cheeseball presentation by molding the cream cheese into different festive shapes. Be creative with your own shapes and toppings.

Who has time to spend hours in the kitchen, especially during the busy holidays? My Skillet Cheese Tortellini with Butternut Squash is my go-to for a quick and easy homemade dinner. The packaged cubed butternut squash and cheese tortellini are my shortcut ingredients. The browned butter and fried sage elevate the flavors of the store-bought ingredients in the dish. For a meaty version, add cooked sausage, chicken or shrimp.

Enjoy more time with your family and friends and less time in the kitchen with my shortcuts for homemade appetizers and dinner this Christmas season.

Mini Cream Cheese Bundt Cakes with Cranberry Chipotle Sauce

1 package (8-ounce) cream cheese, softened

Cranberry Chipotle Sauce
1 (14-ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 chipotle pepper, minced
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Pinch fine sea salt
1 Tablespoon chopped pecans
Ritz crackers
Place a piece of plastic wrap larger than the size of a mini Bundt cake cup. Press it into the cup. Spoon half of the cream cheese into the plastic wrap lined cup. With the back of the spoon, press the cream cheese into the cup and smooth the top. Cover with the plastic wrap. Repeat with the additional cream cheese in another mini Bundt cake cup. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm.

To make the sauce, combine the cranberry sauce, sugar and minced pepper in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 6 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sugar melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar and salt. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To serve, unmold the mini cream cheese Bundt cakes onto a cupcake stand or dessert plate. Press the chopped pecans around the bottom sides of each Bundt cake. Spoon some of the sauce in the middle of each cream cheese Bundt cake. Serve with the crackers. Serves 4.

Star Cream Cheeseball with Pepper Jelly

1 package (8-ounce) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup yellow or red pepper jelly
Ritz crackers

Place a piece of plastic wrap bigger than the size of a 4-inch star cookie cutter. Spoon half of the cream cheese into the star cookie cutter. Press the cream cheese down to create a star shape. Cover with plastic wrap and remove from the cookie cutter. Repeat with the rest of the cream cheese. Refrigerate the star cream cheeseballs for 1 hour or until firm.

To serve, unwrap the star cream cheeseballs and place on a serving dish or small wooden cutting board. Spoon the pepper jelly on each. Serve with crackers. Serves 4.

Cheesecake Cheeseball with Spiced Apples

1 package (8-ounce) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Spiced Apples
1 medium granny smith apple, peeled, cored and cubed
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Graham crackers

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and vanilla. Beat until combined.

To form a round, place a piece of plastic wrap bigger than the size of a 3-inch round cookie cutter on top of it. Spoon a heaping 1/3 cup of the cheesecake mixture in the middle. Press the mixture down to form into a 3-inch round. Cover the top with the plastic wrap and carefully remove from the cookie cutter. Transfer to a plate. Repeat the process one more time. Refrigerate both the cream cheese molds for about one hour or until firm. Reserve the remaining cheesecake mixture for later.

To make the spiced apples, combine the cubed apples, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a medium sauté pan. Cook over medium-low heat for about 8 minutes or until the apples are soft. Allow to cool slightly.

To assemble, unwrap the cheeseballs. Place one of them on a cupcake stand or dessert plate. Top with some of the spiced apples. Place the other cheesecake cheeseball round on top of the apples.

Spoon the reserved softened cheesecake mixture in a piping bag with a decorative tip.

Pipe decorative dots on top of the cheeseball round and on the sides of the bottom round if desired. Spoon more of the spiced apples on top. Serve with graham crackers. Serves 4.

Skillet Cheese Tortellini with Butternut Squash

1 (1-pound) bag fresh cubed butternut squash
1 (20-ounce) package three cheese tortellini pasta
4 Tablespoons butter
6 fresh sage leaves
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
2 Tablespoons toasted pecan halves
Optional, shaved parmesan for garnish

Steam the butternut squash in the bag in the microwave for 3 ½ to 4 minutes or until soft but hold their shape. Drain and set aside to cool slightly.

Fill a medium saucepan three-quarters full of water and bring to a boil over medium- high heat. Add the tortellini, and cook according to package directions or al dente. Drain well.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Swirl the pan occasionally and cook until the butter has turned caramel-brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes.

Add the sage leaves to the browned butter and let them fry for a few seconds until crispy. Drain on paper towel.

Add the butternut squash and tortellini to the skillet and cook on medium-high heat for 2 minutes or until lightly toasted on all sides. Stir in the salt, nutmeg and pecans. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with the fried sage and parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve warm. Serves 4.

Note: You can add cooked sausage, chicken or shrimp to create a one skillet meal.


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