De-stress the holidays with make-ahead appetizers

December arrives tomorrow, marking the most wonderful, if not the busiest, time of the year. We’re all stretched thin anyway but add holiday decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, cleaning, baking and entertaining and it can seem a bit overwhelming. Though we press on, the stress can take its toll.

Over the years I’ve looked for ways, especially where food is involved, to lessen the load so that I can enjoy the festivities alongside my guests. A great way to do that is to prepare a variety of appetizers ahead of time, place them in the freezer, then heat up a few, or a lot, as needed, whenever company drops by. Nothing says “welcome” like a warm heartfelt smile and a platter of hot tasty snacks.

When expecting more than a few guests just add some dip and dippers (prepare that a few days ahead), a block of cheese, some crackers and fruit, a plate of holiday cookies and a refreshing punch or creamy eggnog and voila! You’ve got yourself a party.

Here are a few suggestions for festive appetizers that freeze well – and please well.

Mushroom Turnovers

12 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup butter, softened

3 T. butter

1 cup chopped onion

1 pound mushrooms, chopped

1/4 tsp. thyme

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

2 T. all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sour cream

3 T. sherry

1 T. butter, melted

Directions: Combine first 3 ingredients. Shape dough into a ball; cover and chill 1 hour.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, saute 12 minutes or until golden. Stir in mushrooms and saute 3 minutes. Stir in thyme, salt and pepper. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons flour evenly over mushroom mixture. Stir in sour cream and sherry. Remove from heat and set aside.

Pat or roll chilled dough to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into circles with a 3-inch round cutter. Spoon 1 teaspoon mushroom mixture on half of each dough circle; fold dough over filling. Press edges together with a fork to seal. Prick top with sharp knife tip to vent. Place turnovers on an ungreased baking sheet.

To serve immediately, bake in preheated 400 degree oven 15 to 20 minutes until edges are lightly browned. Brush tops evenly with melted butter.

To freeze for later use, place unbaked turnovers in a single layer on baking sheets and freeze. Transfer frozen turnovers to large freezer bags, seal and freeze up to 1 month. To bake, place frozen turnovers on ungreased baking sheets and bake as directed. Makes 3 1/2 dozen turnovers.

Cranberry Meatballs

2 pounds ground chuck

2 large eggs

1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. thyme

1 (16-ounce) can cranberry jellied sauce

1 (12-ounce) jar chili sauce

1/4 cup orange marmalade

1/4 cup water

2 T. soy sauce

2 T. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

For meatballs: Combine first eight ingredients in a large bowl. Shape mixture into about 54 (1-inch) balls. Cook meatballs, in batches, in a large skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Remove meatballs from pan and drain on paper towels. If making ahead, place browned meatballs in a large freezer bag or container and freeze up to one month. When ready to serve, thaw in refrigerator then cook with sauce until thoroughly heated.

Sauce: Stir together cranberry and chili sauces and next five ingredients in large Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook five minutes, whisking occasionally, until smooth. Add meatballs, reduce heat to low and cook 15 to 20 minutes, or until centers are no longer pink. To keep meatballs warm while entertaining serve from a chafing dish or a small slow-cooker set to low. Makes about 4 1/2 dozen meatballs.

Crab Bites

6 English muffins

1 (6-ounce) can crab, drained and picked, or canned shrimp, drained

1 (6-ounce) jar Old English cheese spread

1 stick butter, softened

1 T. mayonnaise

2 tsps. parsley

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Generous dash seafood seasoning, if desired

Directions: Split muffins with fork. In medium bowl combine remaining ingredients. Spread on muffin halves.  At this point crab bites may be frozen on baking sheet then transferred to a freezer bag or airtight container. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned and muffin edges are toasted. To serve, cut each muffin half into fourwedges. Makes 48 appetizers.