The holiday season is a popular time for entertaining. If you are planning an event, you would like it to be a memorable, but it is important that you are able to enjoy it.

Planning ahead and selecting menu items that are easier to prepare and not time intensive can make it less stressful for a host. Choose foods that give some variety in flavor and color that will create an eye-catching display on a buffet table. If you are not sure of the quantity of food needed to serve the number of guests you are planning for, one good source is the book, “Food for Fifty”. Quantities listed in the book can be accessed online.

Mom’s Ham Meatballs

Meatballs are always a popular choice for service at a buffet table since they can be kept hot in a Crockpot or heated serving container. These easy-to-make ham balls don’t require browning and the sauce has a sweet and sour flavor with the basic ingredients of tomato soup, vinegar and orange marmalade.


4 pounds ground ham

1 1/2 pounds ground pork or pork sausage

3 eggs

2 cups Ritz crackers, crushed

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups milk


2 cans tomato soup

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup cider vinegar

2 teaspoons dry mustard

3/4 cup orange marmalade

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


Combine ham, pork, eggs, cracker crumbs and 1 1/4 cups milk, mix well. If too stiff, add the rest of the milk (use hands if necessary). Form into 1/2 cup balls for a meal, or smaller balls for appetizers; place in uncovered baking dish. Combine the sauce ingredients and pour over ham balls. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the meatballs.

Source: “Start Composing,” Billings Symphony Associates, 1988.

Crab Puffs

These tasty Crab Puffs will impress your guests and are not difficult to put together. Using frozen puff pastry makes the job simple. The filling can be prepared the day ahead, and if desired, the puffs can be assembled up to the point of brushing the sides with the egg wash the day ahead, refrigerated and completed the day of the party.

Makes 32 puffs


6 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 can premium flaked white crabmeat (6.5 oz.), drained, or salmon

1/4 cup minced scallions

1 1/2 teaspoons each Worcestershire sauce and prepared horseradish

1 teaspoon each minced lemon zest and fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 package puff pastry (17.3 ounce, two sheets), thawed

1 egg beaten


Combine cream cheese, crabmeat or salmon, scallions, Worcestershire, horseradish, lemon zest and juice, and Old Bay Seasoning for the filling; season with salt and pepper and chill until ready to use. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut each pastry sheet into 16 squares, using a ruler if necessary. Arrange on prepared baking sheets. Spoon a heaping teaspoon filling onto the center of each square; brush egg wash around edges of exposed pastry. Bake crab puffs until squares are puffed and golden and filling is hot, about 15 minutes.

Source: Cuisine at Home Special Edition, “Family Traditions Holiday Meals for the Season,” Winter 2017.

Raspberry Oatmeal Bars

For a sweet treat on a buffet table or if you are looking for a cookie recipe that is quick to put together but is still delicious, try this oatmeal bar recipe. Choose any flavor cake mix you have on hand and combine it with your favorite jam. I have made the recipe with spice cake mix and my homemade Flathead cherry with orange jam. Another choice is lemon cake mix with raspberry jam filling. Chocolate cake mix with raspberry also would be terrific.


1 package cake mix (any flavor)

2 1/2 cups oatmeal

3/4 cup melted butter

1 cup raspberry jam (or other flavor)

1 tablespoon water


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan. Combine cake mix and oatmeal; stir in melted butter; mix until combined. Spread and press half of the mixture into bottom of pan. Combine jam and water. Spread over oatmeal mixture in pan to within 1/2-inch of pan edges. Spread remaining oatmeal mixture over jam; pat firmly. Bake for 18-23 minutes or until top is a very light brown. Cool in pan on rack. Cut into bars. Store in airtight container.

Source: Quilting in the Country, “Cookies to Share with Family & Friends”.

Smokey Almond Cheese Ball

What is a buffet table without a cheese ball? This recipe has the addition of flaked salmon, another popular food of the season. Decorating the outside with sliced almonds will give a more festive appearance to the ball.


2 1/2-ounce package (3/4 cup) sliced almonds, toasted

7 1/4-ounce can red salmon, drained and flaked

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons chopped green bell pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 teaspoon chopped pimento

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke


Coarsely chop 1/4 cup of the almonds; reserve remaining almonds for garnish. In medium bowl, combine salmon, cream cheese, green pepper, parsley, pimento, liquid smoke and the 1/4 cup chopped almonds. Cover; refrigerate 1 hour or until firm. On plastic wrap or waxed paper, form mixture into ball; roll ball in reserved sliced almonds. If desired, place reserved almond slices in a flower-like appearance. Cover, refrigerate. Serve with rye snack bread or crackers.

Source: Pillsbury, “Holiday — Cookies, Candies, Menus and More,” Classics IV.

Bernie Mason has written the Local Flavor column for the Billings Gazette for three years or so. She was Yellowstone County extension agent for 24 years. Mason grew up in Sidney in a family of German and Danish ancestry.


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