Easy, Cheesy Cheats

If they think I’ve gone all out, that’s OK by me

You may know me as a reporter and writer, someone who’s written cover stories for City Weekly and articles for local and national magazines, such as Ladies Home Journal and Redbook. I have given talks about home organization to hundreds of churches, businesses, associations and clubs. Yet, for all my virtues, I do have one vice: I have been known to cheat on meal preparation.

It all started when I was on deadline over the holidays but still needed to entertain friends and family. I put a meal together in minutes but had my guests believing I’d slaved over a hot stove. I didn’t let on that I have a few deceptively easy recipes up my sleeves.

And now, for the first time, I’m revealing my secret holiday recipes.

Three Ingredient Cheese Ball

My cheese ball has only three ingredients, takes five minutes to prepare and is very flavorful. People ask me how I season it so perfectly. My secret lies in a special pouch.

2 8-ounce blocks of cream
1 pouch of
Good Seasons Italian
salad dressing mix
3/4 cup chopped pecans.

Mix the cream cheese and dry salad-dressing ingredients together using your hands. Form the seasoned cheese into a ball and roll it in the nuts. It couldn’t be easier. The process is simpler if the cheese has been left out to soften slightly.

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms

If you are ever tempted to cheat, this appetizer—with only three ingredients—is one of the easiest ways to pull it off.

1 pound Jimmy Dean pork sausage
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
1½ pounds whole mushrooms

Remove mushroom stems by twisting them until they break off. Stir together equal parts of sausage and cream cheese and fill center of mushrooms. Place under heated broiler until sausage mixture is browned.

Party Chicken

This recipe has saved me on countless occasions when I wanted it to seem like I took the trouble to create an elegant main dish. The sumptuous sauce also provides instant gravy, should you choose to serve it with mashed potatoes. This casserole goes into the oven three hours before dinner, leaving you free time to continue working on your deadline (or streaming Love Actually).
You can make it exactly as shown below, or vary the soup and use cream of chicken instead. When using cream of chicken soup, consider melting Swiss cheese slices on top just before serving for a chicken cordon bleu effect. Also, add a half teaspoon of Dijon mustard to the soup mixture when making the “cordon bleu” variation.
Depending on the number of guests who are invited, you can easily adjust the recipe. Just be sure the number of cans of soup corresponds with the number of cups of sour cream.

6 boneless chicken
breast halves
1 package Buddig dried
beef sandwich meat
6 slices bacon
1 8-ounce container
of sour cream
1 can cream of
mushroom soup
(You may want to increase to two cans of soup and a 16-ounce carton of sour cream to use the sauce as gravy or to expand the number of chicken breasts to 8. Just remember to use equal parts of soup and sour cream.)

Grease a two-quart casserole dish. (A 9 x 9 casserole dish is usually big enough for a single recipe. Use a 9 x 13 if you add additional chicken breasts.) Line the dish with a single layer of Buddig dried beef slices. Place chicken breasts on top of dried beef. Place a slice (or half a slice, if you choose) of bacon atop each chicken breast. Mix soup and sour cream together and spread over the top of the casserole. Bake at 275 degrees for 3 hours. If you plan to melt the cheese on top, do so during the last five minutes.

Peanut Butter Caramel Popcorn

Making popcorn balls and wreaths is festive, but it’s also messy and difficult, so I was pleased to find a workaround.
This recipe uses peanut butter, which “unsticks” the corn syrup, making it easy to form popcorn into wreaths and balls. The peanut butter flavor is also quite mild, so many think these are traditional caramel popcorn balls.
Don’t tell my neighbors but I sometimes use this recipe to make popcorn wreaths for them. I place them on a paper plate and fill the center with red and green Hershey kisses for a splash of Christmas color.

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup peanut butter (creamy
or chunk style)
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
3 quarts (12 cups) popped

Measure popcorn into a large pan with tall sides. Pour corn syrup and sugar into a heavy saucepan or cast-iron pressure cooker. Bring syrup and sugar mixture to a vigorous boil and cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Remove pan from heat and add peanut butter and vanilla. Stir mixture briskly with spoon until smooth. Pour syrup over popped corn in the large pan. Stir syrup through corn quickly, before syrup cools.
With a long-handled spoon in each hand, mix syrup through popcorn as you would toss a salad. Work from the outsides of the mixing pan toward the center, lifting the popcorn and then dropping it gently back into the center of the pan. Count 200 strokes, until each floweret of corn is coated with syrup.
With a pan of lukewarm water at your side to wash your hands as needed, form popcorn into balls or wreaths. Makes about 10 small popcorn balls.

Easy Red Holiday Punch

In Utah, adding booze to the punchbowl can be a risky proposition. But one cup of this bubbly concoction will put your guests in a celebratory mood, spiked or not.

4 cups cranberry juice
4 cups pineapple juice
1½ cups sugar
2 quarts ginger ale

Mix first three ingredients. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add ginger ale before serving.

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