As you cruise into the New Year and find yourself entertaining guests one of these busy, cold weekends, it would do well to look for the easy way out when it comes to the menu planning so you have plenty of time to mingle and visit.

The ideal solution is a few basic appetizers to munch on, followed by a ready to serve crock pot recipe and a yummy dessert, all of which can be prepared in advance and ready to go so that when your guests arrive all you have to concentrate on is relaxing and having a good time.

The following recipes promise to deliver in the easy and quick category, and all will serve up even better with the flavors blending in the fridge overnight. I’ve selected easy, delicious items that will fill your menu bill when complemented by a few secondary snacks like bowls of popcorn, pretzels and pistachios or mixed nuts.

Start the sampling with a couple of savory, simple cheese balls that are excellent teamed with either crackers or fresh vegetable to keep your guests satisfied until you serve up the main course, your heartier, homemade Taco Soup. (I’ve included three cheese ball recipes, take your pick, each is as good as the other.) Similar in taste to its chili cousin, this version is a little more robust, with the inclusion of hominy (a canned hull corn) and both the pinto and kidney beans, along with the package of dry ranch dressing mix.

You are going to find with this Taco Soup recipe that it is the toppings that complete the meal, with the possibilities endless and a matter of personal preference, from chopped onions and tomatoes, to sliced black olives, to jalapenos to any number of varieties of shredded cheese, all complemented by a dollop of sour cream and the scoop-size Frito chips you are going to use for dipping, when you’re not digging in with your spoon.

The Mocha Bars are the perfect dessert nightcap, not too rich, yet deliciously satisfying with their powdered sugar and peanut crusted frosting. Perfect way to end the evening, pared with one of your favorite fresh brewed flavored coffees.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking!

Easy Cheese Ball 1 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened

1 4 ounce package chipped beef, chopped into small pieces

1 tsp. Accent seasoning

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

½ bunch green onion, chopped tops too

Mix all ingredients together. Shape into ball and chill for one hour.

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Zesty Cheese Ball 2 8 ounce packages cream cheese

1 .7 ounce package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix

1 cup chopped nuts

Mix together softened cream cheese and salad dressing mix in large bowl. Shape into one cheese ball and roll in chopped nuts. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Ranch Cheese Ball 2 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 package dry ranch dressing mix

2½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese

1½ cups chopped pecans

Mix dressing mix and Cheddar cheese into softened cream cheese in large bowl. Shape the mixture into a ball and roll in chopped nuts. Refrigerate covered until ready to serve.

Taco Soup 1 ½ pounds lean hamburger

1 medium onion

2 cans stewed tomatoes

1 can pinto beans

1 can kidney beans

1 can white hominy

1 package dry taco seasoning

1 package dry Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing mix

1 can tomato soup

1 can green chilies (optional)

Brown hamburger with onion. Place in crockpot and pour in the rest of the ingredients and let slow cook for 4 to 6 hours.

Top with lettuce, cheese, onions, tomatoes, black olives and serve with Frito chips for dipping.

Mocha Bars 1 white cake mix

2 eggs

1 cup milk

¾ cup water

1 rounded tsp. flour

1 pkg. coconut cream pudding (not instant)

2 ½ cups powdered sugar

½ stick margarine, melted

5 tbsp. milk (or less)

Crushed peanuts

Combine cake mix, eggs, 1 cup milk, water, flour and pudding mix in a large bowl. Mix well. Pour into a lightly greased jelly roll size baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. While cake is cooling, combine powdered sugar, margarine and milk in a small bowl. Mix until creamy and smooth. When cake is cool, spread frosting over cake and sprinkle with crushed peanuts.