Make entertaining easy with this handful of holiday aces

Reed Hellman

Albert Kirchmyer with one of his amazing chocolate creations. (Reed Hellman)

Excuse me, Thomas Paine, but these are the times that try cooks’ souls. 

From Thanksgiving through New Year’s to Super Bowl Sunday, we are called upon to turn out full-scale, traditional family dinners, informal repasts, festive buffets, and barge loads of appetizers, snacks, and quick bites. Receiving an invitation to a holiday feast can pose an additional challenge: What to bring along as a contribution to the holiday fare? For foodies, holiday parties are prime occasions to strut our culinary stuff.

The ideal “bring-along” dish is easy to make, easy to transport, and just complex enough to make a statement about your cooking abilities. If you will need to cook or prepare the dish on-site, be sure that the requisite stove space and gear are available. Also, stay away from main course dishes to avoid treading on your host’s culinary toes. Appetizers or side dishes make good choices and provide fertile ground for your creativity.

I devote this month’s column to easy, tasty, and sometimes fancy dishes built specifically for holiday entertaining. Each recipe is an ace that I keep carefully tucked up my gastronomic sleeve.


1/2 pound olive medley, pitted and drained

1 roasted red pepper, fresh or jarred

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup capers

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or to taste

Small bunch of fresh parsley, thyme, and chives, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon 

In a food processor, add olives, garlic, and red pepper. Pulse only until coarsely chopped, then transfer to a bowl. Add capers, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and herbs. Toss with enough oil to coat. Depending on your personal taste, any ingredient can be adjusted.


Courtesy of chef Jay Angle, of Salsa Grill.

4 cups cubed apples

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 cup diced celery

1 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon salt and white pepper

1 tablespoon curry powder, or to taste

Mix all ingredients and chill well.


Reputedly quaffed by Continental Army Gen. Nathaniel Greene upon hearing of the victory over the British at the Battle of Cowpens on Jan. 17, 1781.  

1 quart wild cherries, or domestic equivalent

1 cup sugar

3 cups bourbon

Leave the cherries and sugar in a jar for a couple of days. Add bourbon and let steep for 10 days.  Strain, and serve as a liquor.


A spicy-sweet fruit confection first prepared for Monty Goodman, an award-winning horseman.

1 cup turbinado sugar

1 cup water

1 cup raisins

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup dried apricots, diced

1 (or 2) fish pepper, chopped fine (use other peppers for milder or spicier flavor)

In a pot, bring the water to a boil and add the sugar, lower the heat, and simmer, stirring frequently until the syrup begins to thicken. 

Add the dried fruit and fish pepper, and continue to stir until the syrup has thickened and the fruit is a cohesive mass. Serve chilled as a relish.


8-ounce package cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese

1 teaspoon mild Madras curry powder

2 tablespoons mango chutney (such as Major Grey’s)

A handful of raisins, currants, pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans

Blend together all ingredients except the raisins or nuts. Line a mold (at least 1-cup capacity) with plastic wrap. Sprinkle the raisins or nuts into the bottom the mold. Spoon the cheese mixture evenly on top. 

Refrigerate overnight, at least eight hours. 

Serve with melba toast or other crisp crackers and a chilled riesling.


Courtesy of one of my favorite chocolatiers.

1 pint heavy cream

1/2 stick unsalted butter

2 pounds bittersweet chocolate chips or shreds, plus 1/2 pound

2 tablespoons brandy

1/2 pound sifted cocoa powder.

Bring the cream and butter to a boil and stir it into the 2 pounds of chocolate until it dissolves.  Add the brandy and chill in a covered bowl in the refrigerator overnight. Use a melon baller or small ice cream scoop to make balls of chocolate. Refrigerate until firm.

Melt the 1/2 pound of chocolate at 95 degrees. Coat the palms of your hands with some of the melted chocolate and roll the refrigerated chocolate balls in your hands until the balls are coated.  Immediately drop them into sifted cocoa powder. Remove, cool, and serve.


Reed Hellman is a professional writer living in Alberton, Md. Visit or email questions and comments to




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