Good news! Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health say socializing is key to longevity and mental acuity. That means holiday parties are actually good for us!

Cheese and Apples

Organic ‘Honeycrisp’ apple slices and organic New England sharp cheddar cheese with fresh rosemary sprigs and paper leaves make a festive, healthy and tasty treat for holiday sharing.

Photo Credit: ©2007 Dan Hemmelgarn

Cranberry Biscotti

It’s hard to believe these flavor-filled biscotti are low-fat!

Photo Credit: ©2007 Dan Hemmelgarn

Fruit Salad

Bring back the taste of summer with fruit.

No wonder social butterflies like me thrive during this festive season.

There’s just one problem: Each gathering we attend presents a buffet of tempting treats. We need a strategy for preserving our svelte figures and staying fit for all the digging, mulching, planting and weeding we’ll find ourselves doing come spring.

Party foods vary in their kindness to our waistlines. We all enjoy savoring certain foods – the trick is not to go overboard with the ones that are high in fat and calories.

Whether you’re hosting the celebration or attending one, you can please party-goers palates and contribute to their good health. Colorful fruit or vegetable salads are great options. So is a bean and salsa dip with baked corn chips. Both are shamefully quick and easy, not to mention delicious and heart-healthy. (And bonus: They give you a chance to show off your food preservation skills.)

A simple plate of regional apple and cheese slices arranged with paper leaves and adorned with sprigs of winter-hearty fresh herbs like rosemary can go a long way in taste, as well as presentation. Homemade spiced pumpkin bread with chunky apple butter, a crunchy loaf of whole-grain bread with fresh pesto (you no doubt still have some left in the freezer from your summer harvest) or a tray of cranberry-orange biscotti will make you everyone’s new best friend.

Here are a few quick and delicious treats to bring to your upcoming holiday shindig:

Cranberry Orange Biscotti

These low-fat, yet flavorful, cookies are fantastic to bake the day of a party because your home will be filled with the fragrant scent of a Mediterranean orange grove!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups organic whole-wheat pastry flour (You must use pastry flour or else the crumb won’t be as tender.)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract plus 1 tablespoon grated orange peel (also known as “zest”)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups Craisins® (dried and sweetened cranberries)

Directions

  1. Mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.
  2. Add eggs, extracts, zest and Craisins.
  3. Mix together until dough is formed. (Use your hands to get a feel for a workable dough, and add more flour as needed if the dough is too sticky.)
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface (wood works best). Knead the dough several times, then cut it in half.
  5. Roll each half into a long, flattish log shape and place both on a buttered baking sheet about 3 inches apart.
  6. Brush tops of logs with an egg wash (1 egg plus 1 teaspoon water, beaten).
  7. Bake in a preheated 300-degree-F oven for about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Remove to cutting board and slice the logs crosswise on the diagonal into ½-inch-thick slices.
  8. Arrange the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet and bake for another 15 minutes on each side (30 minutes total) at 300 degrees F.
  9. Transfer the biscotti to racks to cool and store them in airtight tins lined with wax paper. (This recipe makes about 48 biscotti.)

Holiday Fruit Salad

Now’s the time to bring out those frozen strawberries, blueberries and peaches you saved from summer’s rich harvest. You can present this simple fruit toss in a cut crystal or earthenware bowl, (depending on your party décor) and serve it up in punch bowl cups or earthenware teacups with fancy spoons.

If your harvest was less than “fruitful,” frozen berries are available in your grocer’s freezer section. Be creative with color and flavor, and boost your immune system with plenty of vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits. Here’s one of my favorite blends:
In an attractive, large serving bowl, toss together the following:

Ingredients

  • 1 pint frozen strawberries, lightly thawed.
  • 2 oranges, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 sliced bananas
  • 1 pint frozen peaches, sliced or chunks

Directions

Toss gently together and savor summer while the snow falls.

Mexicali Dip

This shamefully easy dip always gets rave reviews. If you soak your own dried beans, use those, but if you’re time-strapped, canned beans work well, too.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 cans (about 4-6 cups) organic black beans, drained and rinsed in a colander
  • 1 pint homemade or frozen salsa (If you’ve got any leftover tomatoes from your late fall harvest, chop up a few extra.)
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped
  • Optional: minced jalapenos to taste (Note: Don’t touch your eyes after cutting jalapenos – ouch!)

Directions

In a serving bowl, mix beans gently with your salsa. Chop a small handful of cilantro and sprinkle on top. Sprinkle minced jalapenos on top if desired. Serve with sturdy baked organic corn chips.

When you’re finished feasting and socializing, take a group walk around the neighborhood to admire the sparkling decorations. Sure it’s cold outside. But you’ll be surprised at how quickly a brisk walk generates body heat – you’ll just feel your body burning up those holiday goodies. (Take my advice and you won’t have to add “weight loss” to your New Year’s resolutions!)