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These fennel-spiked Italian turkey and spicy sausage meatballs are milder than a traditional beef meatball, making them superb appetizers for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or whatever holidays you are celebrating during this festive season. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Sara Stirs: Share these holiday-around-the-world-themed appetizers with family, friends this December

Upshur County resident Sara Jeran writes a monthly cooking column exclusively for My Buckhannon premium members. To read more articles like this one, please subscribe today!

BUCKHANNON — The end of 2020: At times it felt we would never reach this calendar mark, but alas, the new year is upon us. The year 2021 will be a time of change and renewed hope. With many lessons learned, we will assuredly be able to put 2020 to rest.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” are perhaps the most associated words with the holidays. While these lyrics still ring true, our lives have yet to resume a feeling of normalcy. Large parties and gatherings may be taboo, but many ways to share the season with loved ones remain.

I pause to admire the vast array of traditions celebrated throughout the world and have chosen to incorporate a few of these ideas into my season. While holiday baking is traditional, for me it is a chore. Baking is accurate and precise – two qualities I struggle with in the kitchen. Cooking lends me more creative ability and is forgiving of my freeform culinary style.

Food preparations with those dearest to us are precious opportunities, and although I am not cutting out countless cookies, I have a few new savory dishes that make fabulous family projects.

I am sharing three recipes that are absolutely more enjoyable when prepared as a group. Plus, all three freeze beautifully, making them ideal prepare-ahead options. In addition, they all may be served as appetizers. How about “holiday around the world”-themed appetizers for dinner this year?

First, we will start in Eastern Europe with the pierogi, a filled dumpling consisting of an unleavened dough wrapping and most traditionally, a potato filling. The dumplings are boiled in water then often pan-fried to crisp. My recipe is a basic cheesy onion potato filling that is a favorite amongst family. To dress the pierogi up, in a skillet I crisp pancetta (or bacon) then caramelize onions and cabbage tossed with browned butter, rosemary, and a splash of cider vinegar for balance. The boiled pierogi gets tossed in the skillet to crisp a bit.

Served with a side of sour cream (or Greek yogurt) for coolness, this plate is festive and delicious.

Next, we will drop down to Italy for fennel-spiked turkey and spicy sausage meatballs. These flavor bombs are light and airy due to the addition of ricotta. They are milder than a traditional beef meatball, making them superb appetizers. Herbed whipped ricotta makes the tastiest dipping sauce along with garlic toast to catch all the sauce. Sliders are a great option for satisfying both adults and children. Meatballs are crowd pleasers, and this one certainly does not disappoint.

To Asia we head next, for a different kind of dumpling. Often referred to as pot stickers, these delights are made with store-bought wonton wrappers filled with ground chicken and mushrooms. An alternative to this recipe is swapping out the chicken and mushrooms for ground pork and shrimp. Both are outstanding. This is in the top five most addicting and requested recipes I have ever created. Dipped in a sweet and spicy soy sauce, your guests will be coming back for more all evening.

Although these are three vastly different flavors, they somehow all work together to create a gorgeous appetizer table. Since they can be made in advance and frozen, they are ideal for gifting. Neatly and festively pack up some frozen appetizers for neighbors and friends so that they may enjoy some of your holiday even though you are apart. You could even have multiple households on zoom enjoying all the same treats.

I lastly leave you with a bonus recipe for the only blender salsa you will ever need. It is simply the best, and my go-to hostess gift that is a welcome change from all the sweets.

These recipes form a small collection of my favorites that I have planned countless times for entertaining and special occasions. I hope they fill your household with good times and cheer, too.

May your holidays be merry and bright, while we all look forward to a healthy and peaceful new year.

Peace be with you and your loved ones. ‘Til 2021 …

Traditional Cheddar Pierogi

For the dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg

Combine all ingredients. If mixing by hand, knead for 5-7 minutes until smooth. If using a stand mixer, mix using a dough hook for 3-4 minutes until a single ball forms and the dough has pulled away from the side of the bowl.

For the filling:

  • 3 cups cooked potatoes
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cracked black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients. Taste, and add salt if needed.

For the assembly:

Divide the dough in half.

Take half and roll it out 1/8 inch thick, cut circles using a pastry or biscuit cutter (or the rim of a glass or jar). I use a 2-inch cutter, but you certainly may cut them larger.

To the center of each circle add 2-3 teaspoons of filling.

Fold in half, crimp the pressed edges with a fork to seal. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and filling.

At this point, the pierogi may be frozen in a single layer on a sheet pan, and once frozen solid, placed in freezer bags for storage. Place pierogi directly from the freezer (or freshly made) into a pot of boiling water, and once they float crisp them in a skillet.

My favorite skillet accompaniments are pancetta (or bacon) in small pieces crisped. I then remove the pancetta, and to the grease I add 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 sweet onion sliced.

Cook until caramelized.

Deglaze pan with 1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, then add pierogi and fresh chopped rosemary.

Serve with crispy pancetta on top and fresh chives or green onions with a side of sour cream.

The finished product — Traditional cheddar pierogies. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Chicken and Mushroom Ginger Pot Stickers

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 8 oz finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup cabbage finely chopped
  • 4-5 scallions chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger grated
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons sesame oil
  • Sesame seeds (optional)
  • Black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Wonton wrappers
  • Oil for frying

Directions:

In a skillet sauté chicken seasoned with black pepper and red pepper flakes in a little oil.

Add mushrooms and 1/2 of the ginger and cook thoroughly. Drain off any liquid that is in the skillet.

Put chicken and mushroom mixture into a large mixing bowl, stir in cabbage, onions, remaining ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Assemble dumplings with the filling; the amount of filling depends on the wrappers. Optional: brush the filled dumplings on one side with water and dip in sesame seeds. In batches of 6-8 at a time, pan fry in a couple tablespoons of oil over medium-low heat on each side until golden and crispy (roughly 4 minutes total).

Recipe for a quick dipping sauce: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 1-2 teaspoons sriracha, chopped green onions.

These Chicken and Mushroom Ginger Pot Stickers are among Sara Jeran’s most-loved — and craved — recipes. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

Turkey and Italian Sausage Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 6 oz Italian sausage (I use hot)
  • 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup ricotta
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, taking caution as not to over mix.

Form into balls; I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup and this makes 12 meatballs.

Place on a baking sheet lined with greased foil.

Bake for 20 min or until browned.

Remove from oven and add to marinara (crushed tomatoes, garlic, basil, chili flakes).

Simmer (covered) sauce and meatballs for minimum of 30 minutes, but an hour-and-a-half preferable.

For the whipped ricotta, simply whip a cup of ricotta, juice of 1/2 a lemon and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil or both until fluffy and light.

Turkey and Italian sausage meatballs can easily be converted into delectable adult and kid-friendly sliders. / Photo courtesy Sara Jeran

The BEST Blender Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilies
  • 1 half medium onion
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro (or less to taste)
  • 1-2 jalapeños (depending on desired heat)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Juice of 1 lime

Directions:

Blend all ingredients to desired consistency. Chill and enjoy.

Sara Jeran is a culinary enthusiast, gardener, beekeeper and Buckhannon native. Follow her on Instagram at @sarajstirs.

Upshur County resident Sara Jeran writes a monthly cooking column exclusively for My Buckhannon premium members. To read more articles like this one, please subscribe today!

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