Holiday entertaining is so fun, so necessary, and too often, so stressful. I know, I know, you have enough to do without having to clean the house and make food for a bunch of people.
But I promise you, it’s worth it. This is the end of the year, the big holiday season, and if I can get my gifting out of the way and find time to vacuum the house, I have plenty to celebrate.
It doesn’t have to be stressful. Really.
Even at the holidays you can wow your guests with some homemade treats, and save a little money in the bargain. Simple treats that can be made ahead of time lower your stress level to zero. These tasty snacks are perfect for serving with a glass of bubbly, and they are so easy that even kids can make them.
Real Food Snacks
To tempt my sweet toothed friends, all I did was put some juicy mandarins and pomegranate seeds in cups with lush, rich 80% cacao chocolate. A sprinkle here and there with toasted pistachios and coconut and they look bright and festive, with the traditional red and green peeking through.
For the crunch-salty side of the snack continuum, smoked salt and smoked almonds are melded with freshly ground almond butter for a sweet and salty bit of finger food. Smoked almonds and popcorn are two of the best pairings to serve with champagne, prosecco, or cava.
Both snacks can be made up to three days ahead, with no loss of appeal. That is a quality that is essential to a party recipe- because you need to be able to set up your food a day or two ahead, then spend that last day just straightening up, having a nap and making yourself look fabulous.
Nosh without Guilt
Of course, these snarf-able, share-able party snacks are made from real food. Popcorn is a whole grain, but don’t tell anybody that. Almonds are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, packed with good fats. Seriously, eating almonds is associated with living a few years longer, no matter what else you are up to. Deep dark chocolate is a health food now, it’s so blessed with antioxidants. It’s also got a little caffeine kick, so your guests won’t start nodding off two sips in. Mandarins should be in everyone’s fridge right now, to help keep colds at bay with all that juicy Vitamin C. A few sprinkles of pistachios and coconut only add to the health-promoting cred of these treats.
So indulge without worry, these snacks are the opposite of empty calories.
It’s all about treating your friends and having a good time, so take it easy. Make these, pop a bottle of bubbly, and enjoy yourself.
Smoky Almond Butter Popcorn
1/2 cup popcorn, unpopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons butter or buttery sticks
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup apple juice
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked salt
1/4 cup almond butter
1 cup smoked almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Have a large bowl and a parchment lined sheet pan ready.
In a 4 quart pot, combine the oil and popcorn and place over medium heat. Shake the pan occasionally as it heats up. When corn starts popping, shake every minute until the popping slows. Dump the hot corn into the large bowl and allow to cool slightly.
In a 1 quart pot, combine the butter or margarine and brown sugar and stir over medium heat until the butter is melted. Keep stirring until the mixture boils and is lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla, apple juice and half a teaspoon of the salt, (it will bubble up and the melted sugar will harden in chunks, this is ok) then put back on the heat and return to the boil, stirring constantly. Cook until the sugar is all melted and the mixture is smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes.
Take off the heat and stir in the almond butter until smooth, then put back on the burner and stir constantly as it comes to a boil again. When the mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes, drizzle over the popcorn in the bowl, tossing the corn with a heat safe spatula. Toss the corn to coat, then spread on the prepared sheet pan.
Bake the corn for about 10 minutes, just until the peanut butter coating sets and dries. Mix in the smoked almonds. Cool on a rack completely before transferring to an airtight container. Keeps for a week.
Dark Chocolate Mandarin “Shots”
2 or 3 small mandarin oranges, peeled and sectioned
3 ounces 80 % cacao chocolate, melted
pomegranate seeds, pistachios and toasted coconut shreds, for garnish
12 mini muffin papers
Line the cups of a mini-muffin tin with papers.
Remove as much of the white pith as possible from the mandarins. Melt the chocolate and drizzle in a spoonful in each cup, tapping the pan to get it down into the bottom. Drop 2 or 3 sections in each cup. Drizzle with remaining chocolate Sprinkle 4 of the shots with each of the garnishes while the chocolate is warm. Chill until serving.