3 Holiday-Inspired Appetizers

Holiday party season is upon us! I love a good party (who doesn’t?!). There are snacks, plus you get to hang out with friends and family, so it’s basically the best ever. I wanted to share three recipes, based off some of my favorite comfort foods.

This post is in partnership with Frito-Lay, and you’ll see that I’ve used three different items from them to create these recipes. All the recipes shown within this post can be made ahead of time, making entertaining at home easy. You can make these, set them out and not have to worry about them for the rest of your event, meaning you’ll enjoy more of the party! Plus, I’ll share a few tips on how to make these dishes travel in case you want to take them to a potluck, office party, or wherever you are headed this season.

I’ve got a variety of different appetizer recipes for you. We’ve got something savory and cheesy, something sweet and salty, and then a full on dessert appetizer—because who says appetizers can’t be dessert too sometimes? 😉

Chili Cheese Ball

2 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder, divided
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bag of Fritos corn chips, I prefer the scoops here

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, cumin, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (reserving the other 1/2 teaspoon), red pepper flakes, cayenne, black pepper, and salt. Cream until well combined.

Using a soft, rubber spatula, form the mixture into a ball and place in the center of a piece of plastic wrap. Roll up into a ball. Place this inside a piece of tin foil and roll that into a ball as well. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.

When you’re ready to serve, in a food processor grind together 1/2 teaspoon chili powder and 1/3 cup Fritos corn chips. Roll the cheese ball in the mixture and place on a serving plate. If you want to dress it up in a little fresh chopped cilantro, you can but this is optional. Serve alongside the remaining Fritos corn chips.

If you are taking this to a party, simply leave the cheese ball in the tin foil and bring the ground chip mixture in a small plastic bag. Roll and put together your plate once you get to your destination as this will ensure your cheese ball is looking top notch, because no one likes a lumpy misshapen cheese ball. (JK, it’s not a big deal if it gets a little smooched, but transporting it in this way will help.)

Fruit Cake Party Mix

2 cups Rold Gold Pretzels, tiny twists are best here but original are OK too
1 small pound cake (from the bakery section at most grocery stores), approx. 12 oz.
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried dates
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 oz. rum

Prep the pound cake by cutting into small cubes and letting those dry out a little, at least 1 hour but (covered) overnight is OK too. Think French toast, as the bread dries it will absorb more flavor later. Also cut the dates into 2 or even 3 pieces depending on the size.

Add the pretzels, cubed cake, pecans, cranberries, and chopped dates to a large mixing bowl. In the microwave (or on the stove top), melt the butter and then stir in the sugar, cinnamon, and rum. Drizzle this over all the ingredients and toss so everything gets coated in the mix.

Bake at 375° for 10 minutes, tossing once in the middle of bake time.

Once this cools it’s ready to serve, or you can store in an airtight container for at least 2-3 days. This one travels super well, in a bowl or in a big plastic bag (if a serving bowl will be available once you arrive at your destination), so you don’t really need any tips on that from me.

Hot Chocolate Popcorn Balls, makes around 10-15 balls depending how big you form them

1 bag (10 oz.) Smartfood Kettle Corn popcorn
1/2 cup butter
1 bag (10 oz.) marshmallows
1 packet hot cocoa (approximately 3 tablespoons)
1/2 cup mini marshmallows (either from the hot cocoa packets or you can buy them separate)

In a large pot (I like to use a stock pot when making popcorn balls), melt the butter over low/medium heat. Once melted, stir in the hot cocoa mix. Then add the marshmallows and stir as those melt. As soon as they are melted (or like 95% melted), remove the pot from the heat and stir in the popcorn. After a minute or two, as it cools a little, then stir in the mini marshmallows as well.

Coat your clean hands in either a little butter, oil, or cooking spray. Quickly press the popcorn into balls and place on a piece of wax paper. Working with the popcorn quickly here and handling it the least you can helps so it won’t stick to your hands. If it sticks too much, you may need to wash your hands halfway through to remove the residue and re-butter your hands before finishing all the popcorn balls.

The popcorn balls can be stored in an airtight container or a large plastic bag (or two). Try not to let the popcorn balls touch each other too much because they will stick together. If needed you can place a small square of wax paper in between the balls in your storage containers. You can travel with the popcorn balls in whatever container you have stored them in. Another option is place each in small plastic bags, but this is more useful if you plan to hand them out (like around your office or a church or something like that).

So there you have it—three delicious appetizers based on a few of my favorite holiday-time comfort foods. Make one or all of these for your next event! xo. Emma

P.S. Starting 11/6, you can share your favorite holiday recipe creations using the hashtag #mingleinabox and #sweepstakes to be entered to win a Frito-Lay Merry Little Mingle Box that has all kinds of fun things in it to help you celebrate the holiday season. They’re giving away a box a day for 30 days! Can’t wait to see what you create! (Official rules here.)

Like these? Check out these 5 Easy Crostini Appetizers!

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. 

  • I love all of these, but I’m especially excited about popcorn balls! I think I might serving them in cute cupcake liners to minimize sticking and help with transport.

  • I’m going to steal that recipe for the hot chocolate popcorn balls for Christmas or Thanksgiving – or heck, maybe for both! These are truly unique recipes.

  • If you’re hosting a party, the simpler the better…and these fit the bill perfectly! Thanks for sharing. Mary

  • I cannot believe how beautiful and DELICIOUS these all look. I will be making them for sure! Thank you for sharing!


  • Oh yum! I might make the chili cheese ball just for a snack this weekend. Love how simple these are!

  • Such fun ideas! I might try the party mix for my family-in-law, I always love making something for them!


  • That fruit cake party mix looks so good, puts me right into the holiday mood!

  • Aaahh these look so great! They’re perfect for any type of party, even. The Fritos and the popcorn ones are the most tempting to me. I don’t usually hold parties but I’m definitely saving this post for any future get-togethers with the family. <3
    Have a lovely weekend!

    Joanne | With Risa: A Lifestyle Blog

  • I love how simple the snacks are, they make for great little bites! Not sure if these products are available where I live, but I’ll keep a lookout for them!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

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