My goodness, it's my last column of the year! I hope you all had a very nice Christmas and are prepared to send 2017 out in style. Or in pajamas. That can be nice, too. I think New Year's Eve is highly overrated, filled with high expectations and thus nearly always ends with disappointment.

This year, I'm excited that our family is reviving an old tradition of gathering on New Year's Day. When my sister-in-law proposed having the whole family over on New Year's Day, I happily responded to her email with a "yes, finally, a New Year's Day with a purpose!" Some people find purpose on Jan. 1 through watching college football bowl games, but that pretty much puts me to sleep. I guess a Jan. 1 nap would be nice, but I don't think my kids would allow it. So gathering to see our family and let the cousins run wild through someone else's house is looking mighty fine.


So for this week's recipes, I chose four appetizers that are easy-peasy to make but come across as having gourmet flavor. First up, raspberry balsamic meatballs. You can use store-bought meatballs here, or make your own from your own recipe, and then throw them in the slow cooker (even while they are still frozen) with a sauce made from raspberry preserves, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, red pepper flakes and fresh ginger. This sauce is going to hit a lot of different notes, with sweet and tangy and spicy and umami, it's going to be delicious. And you can toss them in the slow cooker and just go back to them when the guests arrive.

Second, bite-sized spinach dip stuffed potato skins. These little mini baked potatoes get de-capped and hollowed out, then stuffed with store-bought spinach dip and topped with bacon for garnish. I'm drooling just thinking about it.

Third, smoked salmon and cream cheese cucumber bites. These are nice and light, with a little cream cheese flavored with horseradish and fresh dill, layered over thin cucumber slices, and a bit of smoked salmon laying across the top. This is a classic combination, put together with cucumbers instead of a bagel or cracker.

And finally, jalapeño cheese crisps, which are nothing more than shredded cheddar cheese, melted on a baking sheet to look like a bit of a nest or a web, with a thin slice (or slices) of jalapeno in the middle to give them some bite. These cheese crisps are delightful, though they work best if you shred the cheese yourself because then it doesn't have any of the "anti-caking" agents in it and it melts a little easier,

However you spend your New Year's, Eve or Day, may it be filled with optimism and encouragement about the coming year.


Raspberry balsamic meatballs for the slow cooker

2 pounds package frozen meatballs

1 cup raspberry preserves

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or minced

Sliced green onions, for garnish


Sesame seeds, for garnish

Spray your crock-pot with nonstick spray. Add the raspberry preserves, sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and red pepper flakes, and stir together, using a whisk if you want. Once combined, remove a 1/2 cup of the mixture and set aside.

Add the meatballs (it's OK if they are frozen) and stir to coat. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, or on high for 2 and 1/2 hours.

Remove the lid to add the ginger and reserved sauce. Turn the crock pot to high if it is not already there. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Garnish with green onions and/or sesame seeds.

Bite-sized spinach dip stuffed potato skins

48 ounces red potatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or ¼ teaspoon dried)

¼ teaspoon dried crushed rosemary

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

12 ounces spinach dip

1-2 strips bacon for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry potatoes. Next, cut them in half and toss with oil and seasonings. Bake them face down/cut-side down on a baking sheet for 20 – 30 minutes until tender when pierced with a fork. Note: You do not want them so tender that they fall apart, they need to be just tender enough so that you can eat them but not so tender you can’t cut into them.

Remove potatoes from the oven and let them cool. Once they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the centers leaving ¼ inch potato flesh around all sides.

Combine the scooped-out potato flesh with spinach dip.

Use a Ziplock bag with the corner cut off to “pipe” the filling back into the potato halves.

Garnish with bacon, can be served hot or cold!


Smoked salmon and cream cheese cucumber bites

2 English cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds

1 pound smoked salmon, cut into bite sized pieces

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 tablespoon horseradish (more or less to taste)

1 tablespoon heavy cream, optional

Toothpicks or tiny party forks

Peel cucumbers and slice them into 1-inch circles. Arrange on a platter as desired. Place in the refrigerator while preparing the cream cheese.

Place cream cheese, dill, horseradish, and cream in a large bowl. Beat until well combined (a handheld mixer really helps here.)

Spread 1 teaspoon of cream cheese on top each cucumber slice (more or less to taste), then top each slice with a bite sized piece of smoked salmon. Insert a toothpick down the center to keep in place.

Serve at once, or keep in the refrigerator until needed.

Jalapeño cheese crisps

1 large fresh jalapeño pepper

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice the jalapeño pepper into very thin slices. If you don't want your cheese crisps very hot, remove the seeds and membranes, especially from the slices near the stem. It's a good idea to wash your hands after handling jalapeño peppers.

Using a measuring tablespoon, scoop the cheese into the prepared baking sheet, creating 16 mounds.

Gently flatten the cheese mounds with your fingers. Keep them about an inch apart from each other.

Place a slice of jalapeño in the middle of each cheese mound.

Bake until very browned, about 12 minutes.

Allow to firm up on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a serving platter and serve.