(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Have you ever surprised your Christmas guests with a sweet gingerbread man waving from atop their rosemary-, thyme- and brown sugar-enhanced butternut squash soup or a broiled stuffed fig side dish that’s brimming with Granny Smith apples, real bacon bits and brown sugar? Sound gourmet? That's what they'll rave, but only you will know that these are not much more than 10-second fixes to already easy dishes. It doesn’t take longer than a moment to jazz up holiday fare, as the snazzy selections for appetizers, first courses, entrees, side dishes and desserts that follow prove.
Cooking can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast – even during the holidays, as these split-second family-friendly sensations prove. They take just
10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare
. The dishes are delicious proof that everyone has time for tasty home cooking and, more importantly, the healthy family time around the kitchen table that goes along with it! Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook,
since there are no right or wrong amounts
. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you - or your kidlet helpers - choose to use can't help but draw "wows" at the holiday dinner table.
Wild Wedge Salad Dip
Wedge salads are famous at steakhouses. You can make them into hand-held festive holiday appetizers. Serve both mini wedges you've cut from iceberg lettuce and rye crackers as dippers for a blend you’ve created from mixing equal parts of blue cheese dressing and softened low-fat cream cheese, as well as finely diced tomatoes, real bacon bits, finely chopped red onions and chopped pine nuts.
Bake your favorite meatloaf recipe in mini muffin trays that have been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray until fully cooked through. Spread with bottled chili sauce that's been mixed with pumpkin pie spice to get all the flavors of the season in one easy touch. Top with crumbles of store-bought warmed cornbread.
Sourdough Bread Bowl Salad
Prepare a mixed greens salad and also include thinly sliced pear, crumbled blue cheese and candied walnuts. Dress with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in a gutted sourdough bread bowl in which you've left at least a three-quarter inch thickness along the sides. As guests are served the salad, also tear off part of the dressing-soaked bread to serve with it.
Gregarious Gingerbread Soup
To store-bought butternut squash soup, add freshly ground black pepper, chopped fresh rosemary and thyme, a dash of brown sugar and melted butter. Just before serving, float a thin gingerbread man cookie on top, which will absorb the flavors and break up as diners are enjoying the soup.
Better Holiday Butter
Prepare a simple seasonal butter that can do everything from improve a turkey main course, to crown potatoes and vegetables or perk up bread, buns or biscuits. At least a day before to let flavors gel, mix seasonal herbs and spices --- like chopped fresh rosemary, ground juniper, fresh thyme, fresh sage, minced shallots, minced garlic, minced fresh ginger and freshly ground black pepper --- with unsalted softened butter and store, covered, in the refrigerator. Serve melting over potatoes or other vegetables, spread on rolls or, for turkey, rub it under the skin before roasting.
Hamming it Up with Some Sparkle
Combine sparkling cider with cranberry sauce and allspice and heat, stirring frequently. Spread glaze on ham during last 30 minutes of baking. Tent ham with foil during last 15 minutes of baking after applying glaze again. Serve ham with leftover glaze.
Tempting Tomato Stocking Stuffers
Serve your stuffing in healthful and delicious broiled tomatoes. Prepare stuffing mix according to package directions and also include sauteed onions in it. Top with toasted chopped pecans. Scoop into the thick shells of tomatoes for which you’ve scooped out the pulp. Broil until very hot, being careful not to burn tomato skin (cover with aluminum foil, if necessary).
Make a mixture of very finely chopped: Granny Smith apples, real bacon bits, parsley as well as brown sugar. Cut a slit in dried figs. Insert a bit of apple mixture and broil.
Prepare a seasonal healthful granola and press it into the top of store-bought fudge. Granola can include rolled oats, dried cranberries, dried cherries, finely minced fresh mint and candied pecans.
Brilliant Broiled Oranges
Cut thick round slices of fresh oranges and broil. When out of oven and still very hot, top with orange marmalade, sweetened coconut, dried cranberries and sugar-free chocolate syrup.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK:
During holiday season or anytime you'd like to whip up a fast impromptu appetizer, keep on hand a package of won ton skins (also known as wrappers) in your refrigerator. Available in the ethnic aisles of most major supermarkets, they are an inexpensive versatile ingredient for all kinds of cuisine. It's amazing how quickly they can turn into the crispy craters for hors d’oeuvres you may have only tasted from caterers. Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat mini-muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray. Press one won ton skin in each against bottom and up sides. Coat the skins moderately with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 8 minutes, or until won tons are crisp and golden. Let cool completely in pans. Spoon in your favorite filling, like a citrus- and cranberry sauce-filled holiday chicken salad.
is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling
The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes
(Avery/Penguin Putnam) and
Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet
(Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission Granted for use on Dr.Laura.com.