Making it look hard is the holiday secret

Ahh, the list of dishes I need to make for holiday parties just grew by two. And since I got a little frostbite putting up the outside garland and wreaths yesterday, I’m looking forward to doing a little Christmas work in the warm kitchen.

But not that much work.

Really, when a party table is groaning under its load of food, you don’t have to worry about the old razzle-dazzle. You need a dish that will play well with others, not a show-stopper.  So taking some shortcuts to produce something great is perfectly acceptable. Well, that’s what I tell myself.

My newest go-to recipe is for Americanized empanadas – those delicious Mexican pastries filled with meat and cheese. Some pie crust, some salsa and a few other things and stand aside. Make batches of them ahead of time and freeze them. Then pull out what you need, bake and go.

For this year’s pot-lucks, I’m going with a very simple dessert cooked up by my second Mom, Shirley. I have been friends with Shirley’s daughter, Linda, since the first grade. Shirley, a bit a perfectionist, has always put that quality into making  the finest baked goods and desserts. Her yeasty apple breakfast rolls get devoured at our house. But that’s another post. The dish best suited for easygoing potlucks is her caramel apple empanadas. Not a make-ahead dish, but easily and quickly put together, this one actually might turn some heads.


Makes 18-20

1/2 pound ground beef or turkey

2 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. oregano

1 1/2 cups prepared salsa (I stick with mild to suit many tastes)

1 cup cubed processed American cheese

2 refrigerated pie crusts

1 egg, beaten

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

In a large skillet brown the meat. Add cumin and oregano and stir. Add salsa, heat through, then add cheese and cook until cheese is melted and incorporated into mixture. Remove from heat.

Unfold a pie crust and, using a glass or cookie cutter that is at least 3 1/2 inches in diameter, cut out circles. Fill each circle with meat mixture and pinch edges together firmly. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat with second pie crust. Brush empanadas with egg wash.

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, until crust starts to turn brown.

To freeze: Stack unbaked empanadas (without the egg wash)  in containers in layers of waxed paper and freeze for up to two weeks. No need to thaw. Just decrease heat to 350 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.


Caramel Apple Empanadas

1 large can sliced apples

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. allspice

4 Tbsp. butter

8-10 small flour tortillas

1 jar caramel ice cream topping


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a 13×9 casserole dish with cooking spray.

In a bowl, mix apples with cinnamon and allspice. You can add nuts and raisins, if you like. Fill each tortilla with apple mixture and a top with a dot of butter. Roll tortillas loosely around filling and place in dish.

Bake for 20 minutes, until apple filling is bubbling. Remove from oven, pour caramel sauce over dish and return to oven for 5 minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream.








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