Make Mine Merry

How to make holiday entertaining simple

Sometimes I wish December had an extra week or two to fit in the frenetic activities of the holiday season. Celebrating with family, friends and colleagues takes time, energy, and imagination—all of which can be in short supply during “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Food is a big part of the celebrations in my house and that means both Christmas and Hanukkah, with a little Festivus for the rest of us, complete with the airing of grievances and a nice bottle of bubbly.

Holiday food doesn’t have to mean fancy food. In fact, I’m of the opinion that holiday entertaining should be as simple and stress-free as possible, with a little whimsical fun thrown in to get everyone in the holiday spirit.

Here are two of my family’s favorite holiday hors d’oeuvres. They’re both fun, festive and simple to prepare. The wow factor is in the presentation.

Photo by Candace Karu


These savory bites of cheesy goodness are just right for dressing up the holidays. Serve them in the shape of a holiday tree or a wreath or prettily arranged on your favorite serving platter. I often double the recipe; they disappear before your eyes! Pro tip: If you have a little extra cheese filling, it is delicious spread on bread, then popped under the broiler until golden and bubbly.

20–30 small and medium sized white button or baby Portabello mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups fresh baby spinach, rough chop (or 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained)
8 ounces cream cheese or Neufchâtel (Though they are quite similar in taste, and usually sit right next to each other in the supermarket, Neufchâtel has less milk fat and a lighter taste that goes well with stuffed mushrooms.)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup Panko Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh thyme, pimento stuffed olives and tiny red Biquinho peppers for garnish


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Clean mushrooms thoroughly with a soft cloth. If rinsing, be sure to let mushrooms dry completely before stuffing.

Separate stems from mushroom caps, chop and set aside. Place caps on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and mince the stems.

In a sauté pan over medium heat add olive oil and cook stems for 2–3 minutes until softened and moisture is released and evaporating. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Do not let garlic brown.

Add chopped spinach and cook until it is wilted, but still bright green.

Add cream cheese, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and stir until all ingredients are combined.

With a small spoon, put a dollop of the mixture in each mushroom cap, being careful not to overfill.

In a small bowl combine breadcrumbs and grated cheese and sprinkle over the filled mushroom caps.

Bake for 15–18 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve on a platter, arranging the mushrooms in the shape of a Christmas tree, larger mushrooms on the bottom smaller on top. Garnish with thyme and peppers.

You should have more mushrooms than you need to create the tree. Use extras to fill in as the tree gets gobbled up!


Photo by Candace Karu

I have been making variations of this simple, old-school snack since long before my children were born. These little piggies were one of the first things I remember making with my kids. They are on heavy rotation for parties, game days, sleepovers and yes…Christmas. My son’s idea of turning them into a wreath made it even more fun. In our house they were always accompanied by “Magic Sauce,” a combination of ketchup, mustard, sweet pickle relish and, when the kids got older, a healthy spoonful of Sriracha. They’re not fancy, but they are a hit…every single time, and perfect when party guests include small revelers. (Related: It has been said that Santa is a big fan of Pigs-In-a-Blanket.)


1 tube of crescent rolls
1 14-ounce package of mini hot dogs or smoked sausage dogs
Parsley for garnish

Magic Sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard (yellow or Dijon)
1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon Sriracha (optional)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Unroll crescent dough and separate pre-cut triangles. Cut each triangle into three strips.

Roll a mini-dog with a dough strip, starting with the wide end, working to the small end.

On a parchment lined baking sheet, arrange wrapped pigs into a wreath shape, making sure that the dough on each is touching its neighbor. They will expand as they bake and hold together.

Bake for about 12–15 minutes until golden brown.

While pigs are cooking, mix the ingredients for Magic Sauce together. It will keep in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days and is also fabulous on hot dogs and hamburgers.

Carefully slide wreath onto serving platter and place Magic Sauce in a bowl in the center of the wreath. Garnish with parsley.

Six Tips for Stress-Free Entertaining

K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, sister! A bountiful charcuterie board with a selection of meats, cheeses, nuts, fruits and crackers is simple to prepare and has something for everyone. You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen to throw a fabulous party.

PLAN AHEAD. Make lists and keep to a schedule that includes shopping, a little house cleaning and party prep. Leaving all the details until the last minute is guaranteed to make you miserable.

LIMIT THE LIBATIONS. You don’t need a full bar for holiday entertaining. Sparkling water, wine—one red, one white—beer, and maybe a make-ahead signature cocktail—Mistletoe Mules or Cranberry Mimosas come to mind—will give your guests more than enough choices to make merry.

BE YOUR OWN DJ. Make a party playlist of your favorite holiday tunes on your phone and you’re party ready. Or better yet, outsource this job to a musical guest.

MAKE SCENTS. Scented candles can set a festive mood as your guests enter your house. They’ll make the best impact at your entry. Remember to keep scented candles off your dining or buffet tables, so their scent doesn’t compete with the food.

RELAX & ENJOY. People come for the company. A relaxed host sets the tone for a party nonpareil.

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