Bountiful Buffets — Festive, Appetizing And Safe

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Photo courtesy of Tetra Images/Getty Images

It is recommended that spiral cut ham be served cold.

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Photo courtesy of the USDA

Meatballs are a great appetizer for your holiday buffet, but require careful handling to stay safe for your family, friends and guests.

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Photo courtesy of General Mills

Make some traditional Chex Party Mix or one of its many variations for carolers, a tree-trimming party or those quick holiday visits from friends and family.

Thanksgiving is behind us and the Christmas festivities are at hand. If putting on a holiday soirée is on your “to do” list this year, how about trying a buffet?

Bountiful buffets are a sideboard of scents, an intriguing array of choices, and an attractive sight for the eye. Whether it’s a holiday celebration, a family gathering, a sports-watching party, or a potluck dinner, the chance to partake in a variety of delectable dishes is fun for everyone.

However, buffets — where foods are often left out at room temperature for several hours — leave the door open for uninvited guests: bacteria that cause food-borne illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foods prepared in the home cause thousands of food-borne illnesses yearly in America. The top two causes of food-borne illness are:

1. Leaving food out at an unsafe temperature, and

2. Not cooking food to high enough temperatures to destroy bacteria.

Keep Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold

To keep bacteria from growing, it’s important to keep hot food at 140 degrees or above. After cooking or reheating foods, keep them hot in an oven set at 200 to 250 degrees. For serving, a chafing dish, food warmer, slow cooker, or electric warming tray can keep hot food hot. Do not reheat food in a slow cooker. However, once reheated to 165 degrees, foods can be transferred to the slow cooker and kept hot.

Cold food should be held at 40 degrees or colder. Nest cold dishes in bowls of ice. It’s best to arrange and serve cold food on several small platters rather than on one large platter. Keep them refrigerated until serving time. Replace empty platters; don’t add fresh food to a dish that already had food in it.

Cold food can be out of the refrigerator a maximum of 2 hours. After that, the food will be in the “Danger Zone” — temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees where bacteria thrive and grow. Discard any food left at room temperature more than 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees).

Spiral-Cut Hams

Spiral-cut hams are best served cold. However, if you wish to reheat one, cover the entire ham or portion with heavy aluminum foil and heat at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes per pound. Be sure to use a food thermometer to insure the ham reaches 165 degrees — a temperature high enough to destroy any bacteria that may be present in a fully cooked, pre-sliced ham.

The Always-Popular Meatballs

Whether you make homemade meatballs ahead of time or purchase them from the freezer case, it’s important to reheat them to 165 degrees before serving — and keep them hot.

When making homemade meatballs, it’s best not to store raw egg-meat mixtures in the refrigerator. As soon as you mix and form the meatballs, cook them until they reach 160 degrees. If not using them right away, cool them in a single layer and refrigerate in shallow containers. Reheat and use the cooked meatballs within 4 days. Leftovers may be frozen.

Safe Handling of Buffet Foods

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends these practices to keep all hot and cold buffet foods safe:

Keep Everything Clean

• Wash your hands with warm soapy water before and after handling food.

• Keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean.

• Always serve food on clean plates — not those previously holding raw meat and poultry. Otherwise, bacteria which may have been present in raw meat juices can cross-contaminate the food to be served.

Cook Home-Prepared Foods Thoroughly

Cook foods to safe minimum internal temperatures as measured with a food thermometer.

• Beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops may be cooked to 145 degrees.

• All cuts of fresh pork to 160 degrees.

• Ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 degrees.

• All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Chill Promptly

Divide cooked foods into shallow containers for rapid cooling.

Store these foods in the refrigerator or freezer until serving.

Handle Frozen Convenience Foods Safely

Follow handling and cooking instructions on frozen convenience foods.

Thaw foods in the refrigerator, not out on the counter.

Before serving cooked foods intended to be served hot, reheat them to 165 degrees.

Handle Take-Out Foods Safely

Refrigerate cold perishable foods as soon as possible, always within 2 hours after purchase or delivery. If the food is in air temperatures above 90 degrees, refrigerate within 1 hour.

When picking up hot take-out foods such as fried or rotisserie chicken, transport the food to the buffet location and keep it hot.

If you plan to eat at a later time, take-out or delivered food should be divided into smaller portions or pieces, placed in shallow containers, and refrigerated.

The “Two-Hour” Rule

Bacteria grow rapidly in the “Danger Zone” — temperatures between 40 degrees (refrigerator temperature) and 140 degrees (the minimum for holding hot food).

Foods should not sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees).

Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything there 2 hours or more.

Leftovers from safely handled dishes should be refrigerated and used within 4 days. Frozen cooked leftovers will taste best if used within 3 months but are safe indefinitely.

Following the USDA’s recommendations will keep your bountiful buffet safe for guests.

Consumers with food safety questions can “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. For additional information, go to www.fsis.usda. gov.

If meatballs sound like something you would like to offer as appetizers at your holiday buffet, here are recipes for a choice of Tex-Mex, Swedish, Chinese, or Middle Eastern flavors

Basic Meatball Mixture

Makes 48

1-1/2 pounds ground meat or poultry, or any combination (ground beef, veal, pork, lamb, chicken or turkey)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking sheet with non-stick spray or olive oil, or line pan with non-stick aluminum foil.

In a mixing bowl, combine ground meat, onion, breadcrumbs, milk, parsley, salt and pepper.

Add the seasoning for the flavor of meatball you want.

Form 48 meatballs from mixture and place on prepared baking sheet.

Bake 15 minutes, or until meatballs reach 160 degrees (165 degrees if using ground poultry).

If not serving immediately, keep warm in a 200-degree oven or cool and refrigerate in shallow containers.

Accompany the meatballs with dipping sauce listed for meatball variety.

Tex-Mex Meatballs

Ground beef stands up to hearty flavors.

Seasoning for meatball mixture:

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1-1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Dipping sauce: purchased chunky salsa or green tomatillo salsa.

Swedish Meatballs

Ground turkey or chicken gives a delicate flavor.

Seasoning for meatball mixture:

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg.

Dipping sauce

1 cup sour cream

1/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons dry onion soup mix (half of a 1-ounce packet)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dried dill weed.

Mix together at least an hour before serving.

Chinese Meatballs

Get best flavor by using some ground pork.

Seasoning for meatball mixture:

1/4 cup chopped almonds

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Dipping sauce: purchased (10-ounce) jar sweet and sour sauce.

Middle-Eastern Meatballs

Get best flavor by using ground lamb.

Seasoning for meatball mixture:

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

2 tablespoons sesame seeds (for “garnish”)

Sprinkle formed meatballs with sesame seeds and press into meat.

Dipping sauce

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 cup chopped green onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

While meatballs are great appetizers, you may want to impress your guests with fast and fabulous and more substantial holiday food, such as Crunchy Coconut Shrimp, Tuscan Roast Pork Tenderloin and Crunchy Onion Chicken. They are simple-to-prepare recipes that can all be prepped in under 10 minutes and cooked in 30 minutes or less — so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time with family and friends.

Crunchy Coconut Shrimp

Preparation time: 10 minutes; cook time: 10 minutes; makes 4 servings (double for 8; triple for 12, etc.)

1-1/3 cups French’s French Fried Onions

1/3 cup flaked, sweetened coconut

1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 egg whites, beaten

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place onions and coconut into plastic bag. Lightly crush with hands or with rolling pin; shake to combine.

Dip shrimp into egg whites; then coat with onion mixture, pressing firmly to adhere.

Place shrimp on baking pan. Bake 10 minutes until shrimp are fully cooked and crispy.

Variation: Add 1 teaspoon curry powder to crushed onions.

Tuscan Roast Pork Tenderloin

Preparation time: 10 minutes; cook time: 30 minutes; serving size of 4 ounces makes 12 servings

3 cups French’s French Fried Onions

2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, chopped fine

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 pounds pork tenderloins

1/4 cup French’s Spicy Brown Mustard

Crush onions to consistency of coarse breadcrumbs and combine with rosemary, garlic powder and pepper. Brush pork tenderloins with mustard and coat evenly with onion mixture. Bake at 400 degrees to internal temperature of 155 degrees. Slice to serve.

Crunchy Onion Chicken

Preparation time: 5 minutes; cook time: 20 minutes; makes 4 servings (double for 8; triple for 12, etc.)

2 cups (4 ounces) French’s Original or Cheddar French Fried Onions

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 egg, beaten

Place onions into plastic bag. Lightly crush with hands or with rolling pin. Transfer to pie plate or waxed paper.

Dip chicken into egg; then coat with onion crumbs, pressing firmly to adhere. Place chicken on baking sheet. Sprinkle with additional crumbs, if desired.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until no longer pink in center.

For more great recipes and cooking tips from the test kitchen at French’s, please visit www.frenchsfoods.com.

Perhaps a full-blown buffet isn’t part of your holiday party plans. Maybe you just want something for the carolers, a tree-trimming party or friends that drop by with Christmas tidings.

These are the get-togethers call for super snacks that are easy to make and delicious to share. A simple solution is to keep several recipes that call for on-hand ingredients within reach, so you can go from pantry to party in a snap.

One of America’s classic snacks, Chex Party Mix, now offers a new way of entertaining family and friends with convenient 15-minute microwave preparation.

“My grandma and mother both made party mix, and now I make it when I entertain,” says Katie Lee Joel, TV food personality and author of The Comfort Table, an entertaining and recipe book.

“With so many flavorful options and speedy microwave preparation, these party snacks are easy to make and simply delicious,” Joel said.

The key to any party is planning ahead so you can have fun. Set the table and have the music ready to go the day before. Salads, soups and desserts, as well as these Chex Party Mix variations and some favorite Yule time beverages can usually be made in advance.

While you are serving one or two the Chex Party Mix during the festivities, make another version to send home with guests. Or — if you are going to be the guest, you might put your party mix in a pretty gift bag or a mason jar with a homemade label and offer it to your hostess as thanks for the fun.

Here are five simple, go-to recipes for this party season. For more recipes and nutritional information, visit www.chex.com/recipes.

The Original Chex Party Mix

Start to finish: 15 minutes; makes 24, 1/2-cup servings

3 cups Corn Chex cereal

3 cups Rice Chex cereal

3 cups Wheat Chex cereal

1 cup mixed nuts

1 cup bite-size pretzels

1 cup garlic-flavor bite-size bagel chips or regular-size bagel chips, broken into 1-inch pieces

6 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1-1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt

3/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

In large microwavable bowl, mix cereals, nuts, pretzels and bagel chips; set aside. In small microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High about 40 seconds or until melted. Stir in seasonings. Pour over cereal mixture; stir until evenly coated.

Microwave uncovered on High 5 to 6 minutes, thoroughly stirring every 2 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool. Store in airtight container.

For a big bold taste, add 2 tablespoons red pepper sauce with the seasonings.

Cinnamon-Apple Chex Mix

Start to finish: 15 minutes; makes 16, 1/2-cup servings

5 cups Wheat Chex cereal

1 cup lightly salted whole almonds

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup chopped dried apples

1/2 cup vanilla yogurt-covered raisins

In large microwavable bowl, mix cereal and almonds.

In 2-cup microwavable measuring cup, microwave butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and cinnamon uncovered on High about 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until mixture is boiling; stir. Pour over cereal mixture, stirring until evenly coated. Microwave uncovered on High 3 minutes, stirring and scraping bowl after every minute. Stir in apples; microwave uncovered on High about 2 minutes or until apples just begin to brown on edges.

Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool, about 5 minutes. Place in serving bowl, stir in raisins. Store in airtight container.

Chocolate Chex Caramel Crunch

Start to finish: 15 minutes; makes 16, 1/2-cup servings

8 cups Chocolate Chex cereal

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

6 tablespoons butter or margarine

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup white vanilla baking chips

Into large microwavable bowl, measure cereal; set aside. Line cookie sheet with waxed paper.

In 2-cup microwavable measuring cup, microwave brown sugar, butter and corn syrup uncovered on High 1 to 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until melted and smooth. Stir in baking soda until dissolved. Pour over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Microwave on High 3 minutes, stirring every minute. Spread on cookie sheet. Cool 10 minutes. Break into bite-size pieces.

In small microwavable bowl, microwave vanilla baking chips uncovered on High about 1 minute 30 seconds or until chips can be stirred smooth (bowl will be hot). Drizzle over snack. Refrigerate until set. Store in tightly covered container.

Muddy Buddies

Start to finish: 15 minutes; makes 18, 1/2 cup servings

9 cups Corn, Rice, Wheat or Chocolate Chex cereal (or combination)

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla

1-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Into large bowl, measure cereal; set aside.

In 1-quart microwavable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter uncovered on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.

Add powdered sugar. Seal bag; shake until well coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Cheesy Ranch Chex Mix

Start to finish: 15 minutes; makes 26, 1/2 cup servings

9 cups Corn, Rice or Wheat Chex cereal (or combination)

2 cups bite-size pretzel twists

2 cups bite-size cheese crackers

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

1 package (1 ounce) ranch dressing and seasoning mix

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In large microwavable bowl, mix cereal, pretzels and crackers. In small microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High about 30 seconds or until melted. Pour over cereal mixture; stir until evenly coated. Stir in dressing mix and cheese until evenly coated.

Microwave uncovered on High 3 minutes, stirring each minute. Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool. Store in airtight container.

All materials on food safety and meatballs courtesy of USDA

All materials on Chex mix courtesy of General Mills

Courtesy of Family Features

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