Kitchen Focus

December brings many opportunities to entertain. However, many sit-down dinners can quickly become overwhelming. So save yourself a lot of time and hassle by planning some cocktail parties. Whether it's an elegant Christmas gathering or a festive New Year's Eve bash, the recipes below will have you ready for your very own holiday cocktail party before you know it. Enjoy!

White Christmas

  • 1 oz. amaretto
  • 1 oz. heavy cream
  • 1 oz. white rum
  • 1/2 oz. milk

Mix all of the ingredients together and serve in a mug or a highball glass. Garnish with cinnamon or nutmeg.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Peppermint Martini

  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. peppermint schnapps
  • Splash grenadine

Shake together all of the ingredients with ice. Strain into a martini glass with a candy cane rimmer.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 5 minutes

Hot Buttered Rum

  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 1/2 oz. dark rum
  • 1 1/2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Lemon peel
  • 1 tsp. butter

Put the brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and lemon peel studded with cloves in the bottom of a coffee mug. Pour in a little of the boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum and fill the rest of the way with boiling water. Stir and top it with the butter. Sprinkle it with cinnamon and stir. Remove the solids before serving.

  • Yields: 1 serving
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Chili Dip

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups chili (canned or homemade)
  • 1 cup salsa (prepared or homemade)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese - sharp cheddar, pepper jack, Monterrey jack, or a combination

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a 9-inch square or round baking dish, spread the cream cheese evenly to cover the entire bottom of the dish. Spread the chili over the cream cheese, and pour the salsa over the chili. Sprinkle the top with shredded cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the dip is heated through and the cheese is bubbly. Serve hot with tortilla chips.

  • Yields: 10-12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Hot Artichoke Dip

  • 1 can (14 ounce) artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic (or to taste), minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or other red pepper sauce (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coarsely chop the artichoke hearts, and combine them with all of the other ingredients. Stir to mix it well. Spoon the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve with assorted crackers, bread, or other dippers.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Cranberry Baked Brie

  • 1 wheel brie cheese (8-12 ounces)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup cranberry sauce
  • Citrus rind, mint leaves, or whole cranberries for garnish, if desired
  • Assorted crackers or bread rounds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the outer wrapping from the brie wheel. Using a very sharp knife, remove the rind from the top of the wheel only, leaving the rind on the sides and bottom intact. Place the brie in a shallow pie plate or casserole dish that is slightly bigger than the brie itself.

Spread the cranberry sauce over the top of the brie, to within 1/4 inch of the edge all the way around.

Bake the brie in the preheated oven until heated through; about 12-15 minutes. Serve it in the casserole dish or transfer carefully to a serving plate. Serve warm with crackers or bread.

  • Yields: 12-14 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes