Originally Published: December 21, 2013 6 a.m.
As we gather with friends and families at this busy and special time of year, there always seems to be a last-minute need - someone we forgot or an unexpected person to give a gift to. So here are some very easy to prepare foods, and some that can be done ahead, using easily found or on-hand ingredients. Merry Christmas greetings to all column readers as we close out 2013.
LEMON AVOCADO DIP
About 8 servings or double for more.
This light, refreshing dip looks so seasonal served with red and green pepper slices for dipping. Serve while waiting for last minute cooking or just before serving main meal.
1 ripe avocado, seeded and peeled
1 tbsp. lemon juice or lime juice
1/2 cup sour cream
1 clove minced garlic
1/8 tsp. salt
Red and green peppers cut into strips
In bowl combine avocado and lemon or lime juice; mash with fork. Stir in sour cream, garlic and salt. Serve immediately or cover surface with plastic wrap and chill up to 4 hours.
GINGER AND HONEY-GLAZED CARROTS
These go well with prime rib, turkey, ham, lamb or game hens for this or any season of the year as a great side.
6 cup water
3/4 tsp salt
3 lb. young, small carrots with tops trimmed to 2 inches, peeled or scrubbed, or use packaged peeled baby carrots.
2 tbsp. each butter and honey
4 tsp. finely chopped fresh ginger
In 12-14 inch skillet, combine water and salt. Bring to a boil. Add carrots. Return to boil and reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 10-12 minutes or just until carrots are tender. Remove carrots and drain on paper towels; pat dry. Drain liquid from skillet. In same skillet, add butter, honey and ginger. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter melts. Carefully add carrots. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until carrots are glazed and heated through stirring gently. To serve arrange carrots in shallow bowl or platter; drizzle with remaining glaze from pan. Serves 10-12.
NOTE: To make ahead, cook, chill and refrigerate carrots up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature 45 minutes then heat in glaze just before serving.
CHOCOLATE NUT BALLS
Makes 5 dozen (no bake)
A quick, last minute treat to share or serve.
2 cups crushed graham crackers (about 32 squares) or purchase
2 cups chopped pecans
1 can (16 oz.) chocolate frosting
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
In bowl, combine the first four ingredients. Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
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Possibly the easiest and most festive dessert sure to please This is given for individual servings.
Use your favorite homemade (make ahead) brownie mix or buy purchased brownies.
You will also need: coarsely crushed candy canes, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream beaten to stiff peaks, and mint garnish (opt.)
Assemble using baked brownies. For a clever twist, precut them the size of goblets or dessert dishes using round cookie cutters (wrap in plastic to keep soft). Place brownies in dish, top with crushed candy canes, then scoop of ice cream, another brownie, additional candy depending on size and depth of serving dish. Top with whipped cream and mint or a quick sprinkle of candy.
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If you like to give guests a take-home gift, make individual nut breads. Gift tags on bread can be placecards. Place individual breads on plates or in dessert area of place settings. Use your favorite nut bread recipe and make ahead, wrap in plastic and attach tag.
Many nut bread recipes use 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pans, but the breads can easily be baked in smaller size pans. For three bread conversion from one loaf recipe using larger pan you can use 5 3/4 x 3 x 2 inch pans. If your recipe makes 2 loaves use the same formula to make 6 smaller breads, which as stated can be given as take-home gifts or frozen as needed with any extra.
ZUCCHINI OAT BREAD
I like the moist texture of this bread and used 4 mini loaf pans and baked it 35-40 minutes using the small pans. For one large loaf, the usual baking time is about 1 hour or more.
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup applesauce
1/4 butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups shredded, unpeeled zucchini (I used frozen from summer crop)
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
3/4 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease bottom and ½ inch up sides of 1 loaf pan or small sizes. Set aside. In small bowl combine 1 tbsp. sugar and 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon. In medium bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, salt, baking soda and remaining cinnamon. Set aside.
In large bowl beat eggs with electric mixer on medium about 2 minutes or until foamy. Add applesauce, melted butter, vanilla and remaining sugar. Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just until combined. Stir in zucchini, nuts and raisins.
Spoon batter into prepared pans. Sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Bake as directed as directed for pan size or until toothpick tests clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Wrap when cool and may chill or leave at room temperature.
NOTE: I had planned to try this recipe substituting shredded apples instead of zucchini, which I think would work equally well since they are similar in consistency so readers may want to do that. It should give results.