December 30, 2013

Break out the party hats and champagne. Soon we will ring in a new year. Some are anxious to say "goodbye" to 2013, while others want to celebrate the past year by going out with a bang.

When I return to school after winter break, I will spend time listening to my students about what they did for Christmas and New Year's. I did not know about Mexico's New Year's traditions until I became a teacher.

The first tradition I learned was eating twelve grapes. Mexicans celebrate New Year's Eve (Vispero de Año Nuevo) by eating a grape with every chime of the clock at midnight while making a wish with each one.

Mexican families also decorate their homes and parties in traditional colors. Red encourages an improvement in love and lifestyle; yellow symbolizes improved employment conditions; green symbolizes money; and white is for better health.

Mexicans also celebrate New Year's Eve with a late-night traditional dinner and sweet bread. The sweet bread is baked with a coin or charm hidden inside the dough. The lucky person who receives the slice containing the coin or charm is said to be blessed with good luck for the upcoming year.

Another Mexican tradition is to make a list of all of the unhappy events over the past year. Before midnight, the list is thrown into a fire while at the same time, giving thanks for all of the good things that happened during the past year.

If you and your friends are gathering for a New Year's Eve or New Year's Day celebration, be sure to whip up a quick appetizer or two. Even if you are short on time or short on money, five tasty appetizers with five ingredients or less are sure to add to the festivities.

Bavarian Meatballs

This appetizer was a big hit at our family's Christmas. My son, Kellan, a kindergartener, kept asking for "more meatballs, please." The combination of ingredients sounds a little odd, but they cook together to make very flavorful meatballs.

1 bottle barbeque sauce, any variety

1 can sauerkraut with liquid

1 can whole jelled cranberries

plain prepared meatballs (beef or turkey) - 2 to 3 pounds

Combine barbeque sauce, sauerkraut and cranberries and pour over the meatballs. Cook in Crock-Pot on low for 3-4 hours.

Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos

My colleague, Brooke Hakert, brought this appetizer to our annual holiday luncheon at school. I made a dozen of them on Christmas Eve and they were so well liked by my family, I should have make twice as many.

12 fresh jalapeno peppers

8 oz cream cheese, softened

6 slices thin bacon, cut in half to make 12 slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and pat dry peppers. Cut off tops of peppers, cut in half length-wise, remove seeds and insides. Fill each pepper with about a tablespoon of cream cheese. Wrap each pepper with a half slice of bacon, covering most of the cream cheese. Secure with a toothpick. Place peppers on a baking sheet with a rack (or you can use a cooling rack or even a broiler pan) to give bacon grease a place to drain. Bake for 30 minutes or until bacon is done and as crisp as you would like it. Serve immediately or keep warm in a crock pot.

Spicy Pigs in a Blanket

Before our Thanksgiving dinner, we helped ourselves to goodies at the appetizer table. One of them was sliced sopressata sausage I found near the gourmet cheeses.

Pigs in a blanket are always a favorite appetizer. This is an updated version of an old classic.

4 oz. spicy sopressata hard sausage, cut into 1/8-inch slices

2 packages Pepperidge Farm puff pastry shells

Spicy mustard

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone liner. Bake pastry shells for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and gently pry open each shell with a fork. Using a basting brush, brush the insides of each shell with spicy mustard and stuff each shell with 1-2 slices of sausage. Re-close pastry shell and bake in oven for 5 minutes longer. Cool for 5 minutes.

Makes 32 servings.

Onion Rolls

If you have time to make these the night before, all you have to do is bake them for 10 minutes before the party begins.

3 large yellow onions

1/4 cup butter

8 oz. cream cheese

6 oz. Swiss cheese, grated

1 package burrito size flour tortillas

Thinly slice onions and sauté in butter in a large sauce pan on medium-low until onions are limp. Stir occasionally to prevent onions from burning. Add cream cheese and Swiss cheese. Stir until cheeses are melted. Cool slightly. Spread onion and cheese mixture onto tortillas. Roll up tortillas like a cigar. Wrap each tortilla in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease baking sheets. Cut tortillas into one inch slices and place with slices facing up on baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes until lightly brown.

Mini Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail is always the most popular appetizer. We enjoyed jumbo shrimp cocktail at our house on Christmas Day.

Instead of shrimp and cocktail sauce, add a little bit of crunch by serving it on a cracker.

16 crackers (round or oval make a prettier presentation)

16 medium shrimp, cooked

1/3 cup whipped cream cheese

1/3 cup cocktail sauce

1/3 cup green onions, sliced

Spread each cracker with cream cheese and top evenly with cocktail sauce. Place one shrimp (tail on or off, your choice) on top of sauce and sprinkle with sliced green onion.