Janet's Notebook
Go-To Party Starters For A Memorable New Year

Festive Argentine Empanadas

Nothing gets a party started like platters piled high with plentiful treats. Well-chosen appetizers can really set the tone of a get-together. From casual dips to fancy pastries, Blue Ribbon recipes make every event the pinnacle of good taste!

So many of our friends have fallen in love with Anne Nunez's Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball that we're considering reserving it a seat at all of our parties! This recipe has such simple ingredients that it's hard to believe the addictive flavor of the finished product. One bite and you'll be hooked. "This sweet indulgence has become a New Year's Eve tradition for our family," says Anne, a native of Kansas City, MO. "I've also brought it to parties and meetings and gotten rave reviews." Well, rave on! Sugar, vanilla and cream cheese bind together with pecans and dainty miniature chocolate chips for one truly sweet palate-pleaser.

Katie Nichols of Thousand Oaks, CA likes to add Latin flair to her party eats. Helping her set the mood are delicious - and versatile - Argentine Empanadas! Consisting of stuffing wrapped in pastry or bread, empanadas make for a terrific appetizer choice. They're easy to eat with your hands and can be filled with any number of fillings... from fruits to meats! Katie's empanadas are stuffed with a yummy mixture of ground beef and red pepper that is seasoned with Argentine flavors like cumin, cilantro and garlic. "[They're a] very tasty finger food and appetizer," says Katie. And fear not, while liberally seasoned, these empanadas aren't overly spicy. Perfect for a wide range of palates.

That brings us to Mrs. Shawn Brown of Chambersburg, PA. Despite being married to a decidedly meat-and-potatoes fella, Shawn has deftly managed to create a meatless munchie that has become a real family favorite... Yes, THAT's how good her Kalamata Olive Hummus tastes! Made the traditional way with garbanzo beans and olive oil, Shawn plays up the dip's Mediterranean charm by also adding yummy Kalamata olives. "I used to buy this already prepared at a store in Vermont when I lived up there," Shawn explains. "I tried to find it here in PA where I live now but to my dismay I couldn't find it anywhere." So what's a hungry girl to do? Invent your own amazing recipe, of course! We just love this creamy starter... made all the more addictive by those salty olives. Serve with veggies or pita chips for a light and delicious way to satisfy your crowd.

Growing up, I simply loved nibbling from those trays of mini meatballs at our family parties. You know the ones I mean... Spear 'em with a pretzel rod, dip them into warm ketchup and all was right with the world. As I've gotten older I still love munching on those kinds of savory bites, and thanks to Candace Vaughan of New Bedford, MA my nibbler repertoire has happily expanded. Her Chinese Meatballs with Sesame Rice give all the meaty satisfaction of those party trays past but with a modern international flair! Her secret ingredients include minced water chestnuts for crunch and sesame oil for a unique, nutty richness. "This recipe is extremely easy," says Candace who encourages folks to get the party started early by getting the kiddos involved with the prep work.

As you can tell, I just love sharing your creative recipes with my own family and friends, both in the Test Kitchen and here on the page. Sometimes, amidst the hustle and bustle, it can be hard to remember that food really does taste best when made with love. Seeing the care that these ladies take in their dishes reminds me to take a minute to enjoy the bounty of these family-filled winter days. After all, with a few good friends and few good recipes, a party is sure to follow... whether your soufflé rises or not.

A New Year's Wish...
2011 has been an amazing year for us here at Just A Pinch. We have been blessed with so many new friends, and with your help have reached some astounding milestones as a Club. We continue to be overwhelmed by your unfailing support and want each of you to know how you have warmed our hearts. May your 2012 be filled with love, happiness and all things sweet! - Janet & the Kitchen Crew

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peggy gamarra - Jan 2, 2012
Happy New Year to all my new Just a Pinch recipe club members! Peace & Blessings to you and your friends & families too!
Thanks to the staff too!
Peggy G.
Bob Wakeman - Jan 1, 2012
Just to let you all know GOT my APRON. Oh soo cool. Looks great Now I can be a great cook. No realy.. LOL. bu it is cool. thanks for the great apron.

By the way. How do youcome up with a blue ribbon for cooks.. Just askin. Thanks
Josi Overstreet - Dec 29, 2011
I missed a few words in the last comment.lololol
Josi Overstreet - Dec 29, 2011
Thank you Donna, You to are very sweet. My friend is 1200miles, and miss so much. But thank God for phones. Yes, every recipe I tried is excellent. Love this site.
donna suer - Dec 29, 2011
Thank you Josi! You're very sweet. Cherish every minute with your friend. They are a treasure. I'm new to this site also but the recipes I have tried are incredible! Enjoy.
Josi Overstreet - Dec 28, 2011
I'm fairly new to this site to Donna. I love it. I'm sorry for your loss of your friend, I have one for 64 yrs. I'll be your friend. Blessing on you, and good cooking.
donna suer - Dec 28, 2011
I just want to say thank you for this site. I recently lost my lifelong best friend and cousin to brain cancer this summer and have not wanted to socialize much and this site has really been a blessing to me. All you ladies are so nice. It has helped me through a very rough time in my life just being able to look at the recipes and all the comments and interactions. Thanks!
Carole F - Dec 28, 2011
Janet and the Crew..this must be like watching a baby grow up! You all have fed us well; love this site for it's many wonderful cooks. I am so happy that JAP has grown and made your dream come true. Cheers to you and the kitchen crew and may you be blessed with many more years of success. I have a feeling you will surpass FACEBOOK one day..Congrats and Happy New Year to the best Crew on earth!!!
Josi Overstreet - Dec 27, 2011
I totally agree with Colleen, Blessing, good health, prosperity, and joy through the year and much more. Not just the crew but all you who are here, this wonderful site. I thank God for all of you. I don't get to talk to many people about my love for cooking, so this site is amazing for me. I'm always checking my email to see if there's comments to read. Thank you all. God Bless
Jennifer Zoretich - Dec 27, 2011
Hi all! I'm new to this site and got a good feeling that I'm going to like here! I like to try new cookie recipes every Christmas and my daughter and I tired the Cream Cheese Cake Cookies we used a yellow mix, we added chocolate chips, walnuts and toffee bits as our mix-ins. We rolled the dough into balls and flattened them with the bottom of a juice glass dipped in cane sugar. Cookies came out all the same size and sparkling from the sugar! Think we'll be using this one again:)
Colleen Sowa - Dec 27, 2011
Janet and the Crew: May God watch over all of you through the New Year ahead.... You have the best cooking site on the internet.... and you have loyal followers because of the site and your exchanges of love and thoughts with the members....

I have met so many wonderful men and women on this site.... and have bonded with them because of the joy of cooking and this wonderful site! Thank you all.... xoxo
Josi Overstreet - Dec 27, 2011
thank you Rose, got it.
Gail Reuwer - Dec 27, 2011
can't get recipe for empanadas please fix it for us
Rose O'Connell - Dec 27, 2011
Try clicking on the title that is in blue lettering. I got there from that.
Josi Overstreet - Dec 27, 2011
ps. tried the Go to Pary Starters to, I just get the picture.