SOURCE: Hillshire Farm

December 02, 2011 05:00 ET

Holiday Entertaining Made Easy

MISSION, KS--(Marketwire - Dec 2, 2011) - (Family Features) When preparing a holiday feast, you want to know your friends and family will enjoy every last bite. But cooking the meal can often mean spending more time in the kitchen and less time connecting with loved ones. This holiday season, use these tips and recipes to create truly delicious dishes, while spending more time with your guests.

Effortless Entertaining Tips
Whether you've been planning a holiday party for weeks, or you just got a call to alert you of unexpected company, here are some great tips for how to be prepared for hosting guests this season.

-- Surprise! We're on the way. The last-minute arrival of company doesn't have to be stressful. Simply whip up a tray of convenient savory cocktail links, such as Hillshire Farm Lit'l Smokies -- these pre-cooked favorites for both adults and kids are ready in less than 60 seconds. Accompany these savory sausages with easy-to-make dipping sauces using many of the ingredients found in your refrigerator.

-- Planning a dinner party? Think simple. Think ahead and plan your menu with recipes that can be made in advance. Whip up dips, casseroles and desserts the day before. This way you'll only have to worry about meats, cheeses and veggies on the day of your event.

-- Need some flair? Add a garnish. Serving beautiful plates is easy when you create garnishes from items already in your fridge. Slice vegetables on the bias, or use fresh herbs to add color and flavor to dishes.

-- Stock up for delicious nibbles. Keep the pantry and refrigerator stocked with tasty ingredients so you can make convenient snacks to keep you going through all the holiday prep. To cut calories without cutting the flavor this season, opt for fresh or better-for-you options like low-fat artisan cheeses, sweet or tart fruit, and poultry-based products such as the new Hillshire Farm Applewood Smoked Lit'l Smokies. With 60 percent less fat than traditional Lit'l Smokies, these sausages can see you through tree decorating and present wrapping.

When hosting friends and family for the holidays, time together is highly valued. Whether you have 40 minutes to spend in the kitchen or just a few minutes to whip up a delightful treat together, enjoy these flavorful cocktail links that are simple to prepare and sure to be new holiday family favorites. For more recipes, visit www.hillshirefarm.com.

If Time Is on Your Side
Fancy Pigs in a Blanket
Prep Time: 25 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 15 appetizer servings (3 each)

2 packages Hillshire Farm Applewood Smoked Chicken Lit'l Smokies
2 cans (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls (reduced fat)
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard plus extra for dipping if desired
1/2 cup whole berry cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 375°F. Open package of cocktail links and drain off any liquid; set aside.

Separate crescent rolls from both cans into 8 rectangles total; firmly press perforations to seal. Cut each rectangle into 6 squares.

Spread a small amount of mustard in center of each square. Place approximately 1/2 teaspoon of cranberry sauce on top of mustard. Place a sausage on top of cranberry sauce; bring up 2 opposite corners of dough over sausage and pinch to seal.

Place wrapped pigs in a blanket on baking sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with additional Dijon mustard if desired.

Whip It Up in Minutes
Mustard-Maple Dipping Sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 1 to 3 minutes Makes: 1/2 cup (8 servings)

1 package Hillshire Farm Applewood Smoked Chicken Lit'l Smokies
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

Remove Lit'l Smokies from package and place on microwave-safe dish. Microwave on medium-high power for 1 to 3 minutes, checking every minute.

Mix mustard, maple syrup and horseradish in small bowl. Serve with heated cocktail links.

Spicy Southwestern Barbeque Dipping Sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 1 to 3 minutes Makes: 1/2 cup (8 servings)

1 package Hillshire Farm Applewood Smoked Chicken Lit'l Smokies
1/2 cup barbeque sauce
1 small chipotle chili pepper in adobo sauce

Remove cocktail links from package and place on a microwave-safe dish. Microwave on medium-high power for 1 to 3 minutes, checking every minute.

Place barbeque sauce and pepper into bowl of small food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Serve heated with cocktail links

Warm Swiss Cheese-Apple Dipping Sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 8 minutes Makes: 1/2 cup (8 servings)

1 package Hillshire Farm Applewood Smoked Chicken Lit'l Smokies
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut in half
1 cup shredded reduced fat Swiss cheese
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 cup apple cider

Remove cocktail links from package and place on microwave-safe dish. Microwave on medium-high power for 1 to 3 minutes, checking every minute.

Rub garlic halves around inside of medium microwave-safe bowl. Discard garlic.

Place cheese, mustard and cornstarch into garlic-rubbed bowl.

Place cider into microwave-safe mug or small bowl. Microwave on medium-high power for 1 to 3 minutes, checking every minute.

Stir hot cider into cheese mixture. Place mixture into microwave and cook on medium power 4 to 6 minutes or until cheese is melted, stirring every 2 minutes. Serve with heated cocktail links.

Buffalo Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce
Prep Time: 5 minutes Cook Time: 1 to 3 minutes Makes: 1/2 cup (8 servings)

1 package Hillshire Farm Applewood Smoked Chicken Lit'l Smokies
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons vinegar-based hot sauce
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup fat free Greek-style yogurt

Remove cocktail links from package and place on microwave-safe dish. Microwave on medium-high power for 1 to 3 minutes, checking every minute.

Mix remaining ingredients together in medium bowl. If desired, further break up pieces of cheese with spoon as you stir. Serve with heated cocktail links.

Make It a Team Effort
Don't carry the holiday cooking burden alone -- share the responsibilities by asking everyone to bring a little something to the feast:

-- Beverages - Sparkling wine, juices, lemonade or flavored waters will ensure everyone will have a favorite.

-- Breads - Most grocery stores now carry artisanal selections, such as rosemary and olive oil, or asiago breads.

-- Desserts - Make sure to ask for a variety, such as pecan pie, cheesecake and brownies, for example.

-- Side Dishes - Potatoes, vegetables and whole grains can be warmed up in your oven shortly before serving dinner.

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