Holiday season is officially upon us and Advising First has put together a meal for you. In the spirit of the holidays, four AF team members each brought us an appetizer, an entree, a side dish, and a dessert. Read why this is a special dish for them and find the recipe for making it on your own. Enjoy!


The Chef: Korey Lowry

I was searching for a holiday appetizer that I could bring to a holiday work party. I was on google when I ran across this simple recipe and thought I’d try it out. At the end of the party, there was none left and everyone complimented me on the dish. I make it every few years, but my coworkers remind me about it every year. The ingredients do not seem like they would go together but you have sweet, tart, spicy, creamy and crunchy all in one bite.

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese

AF Holiday Meal - Cranberry Salsa


  • 1 (12-ounce bag) or 3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup minced green onions
  • 2 small (approximately 2 tablespoons) jalapeno chile peppers, cored, seeded, and minced
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely-grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
  • Cranberries and/or cilantro sprigs for garnish


  1. Rinse, drain, and pick over cranberries, (discarding all that are soft or bruised).
  2. Place the cranberries in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped but not mushy.
  3. Place chopped cranberries in a bowl; mix together with onions, jalapeno peppers, sugar, cilantro leaves, ginger, and lemon juice.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours so flavors develop (salsa will be too sharp and tart to begin with).
  5. On a serving plate, place cream cheese; cover with the dip.  Garnish, if desired, and served with crackers.
  6. Makes 1 1/2 cups.


The Chef: Tina Beck

This stuffed shells recipe has been passed down from generation to generation on my mother’s side, all the way from Sicily, Italy. My mom makes her homemade marinara sauce, adds tons of good sharp parmesan and bakes it till the cheese on top starts to bubble. I love helping her make this dish because I get the task of stuffing the shells. That means whatever doesn’t go into the shells, I get to secretly eat. I look forward to this dish every holiday season because of its rich flavor from the parmesan and sauce and then with the creaminess of the mozzarella and ricotta when it’s done cooking and hot and stretchy. As you can tell, I don’t miss out when mom makes this for the holidays.

Baked Stuffed Shells

Holiday Meal - Stuffed Shells


  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 ¼ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (reserve ¼ Cup)
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten and 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon black powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 8 ounces spaghetti sauce (jarred or homemade)
  • Fresh basil, chopped for garnish


  1. In an 8-quart pot, bring water to a boil and cook shells for 8 minutes or until al dente.
  2. Drain and cool immediately with cold water.
  3. Drain and place open side down on paper towels.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the rest of ingredients except the spaghetti sauce.
  5. Reserve the 1/4 cup of Mozzarella.
  6. Place a thin layer of spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a 12 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Spoon the cheese mixture into each pasta shell and place open side up, in a single layer, in prepared pan.
  9. Pour the rest of sauce over the stuffed shells.
  10. Loosely cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
  11. During last 5 minutes of baking, remove foil and sprinkle remaining Mozzarella cheese on top.
  12. Bake 5 more minutes.
  13. Garnish with fresh chopped basil.

Side Dish

The Chef: John Strickland

I was fully prepared to write about mashed cauliflower for this blog post. I made it for Thanksgiving a few years ago when I was supposed to make mashed potatoes and I didn’t tell anyone I made the change. I wondered if anyone would notice. They did. I’m not allowed to cook anymore.

Anyway, I got this recipe for roasted cauliflower from the late Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook, “Appetites.” My wife and I spent our anniversary making recipes out of this cookbook, and the roasted cauliflower was one of our favorite dishes (second to the chorizo and peppers quesadilla, also included in the picture).

Roasted Cauliflower Mash

AF Holiday Meal - Cauliflower Mash


  • 1 head of cauliflower, broken up by hand into florets
  • 1/4 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (or really any oil you have)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame dressing you can find in the Int’l Foods section of Publix)
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste (I used black miso, which provided the color; had to get it at Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon water
  • 3 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds


  1. Toss the cauliflower, oil, and dry spices in a bowl to evenly coat. Roast in a sheet pan (space out the cauliflower so no pieces touch) at 450 for 20 minutes, tossing the cauliflower halfway through. Oh, make sure to pre-heat the oven.
  2. Once the cauliflower is done roasting, toss in a dressing made of the remaining ingredients.
  3. This recipe is pretty good when it is hot, but it was even better cold. We made sandwich wraps with the leftovers, and those were incredible.


The Pastry Chef: Allison Young

If you make cookies around the holidays these are a must have! This recipe is a family favorite and I’m told it’s from around the time soured cream first came out to the general public and people were starting to use it in baked goods. This is a simple sugar cookie that comes out soft and fluffy and is easy to make. I enjoy making these with my family and friends because they are a great addition to a cookie platter or to bring to a holiday work event! This is also a simple and easy recipe to make with kiddos and they can top them with as many sprinkles as their little heart’s desire.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Soft Cookies


AF Holiday Meal - Soft Cookies


  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Sprinkles of your choice (I use red and green sugars)


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Cream butter to consistency of mayonnaise. Add sugar gradually, while continuing to cream.
  3. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix and sift flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
  5. Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream; beginning and ending with dry ingredients.
  6. Drop by teaspoons or tablespoons depending on the size of cookie you want.
  7. Top with sprinkles.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove from tray while hot.

Notes: Use PAM or silicon baking sheets to help prevent cookies from sticking.

A Holiday Message

In addition to all the deliciousness included in this post, The Advising First Leadership team wanted to share a message with AF:

AF Greeting

Post Editor: Tina Beck, AF Advisor in the College of Human Sciences