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Every family has its own traditions for holiday gatherings, but almost every gathering has one common denominator: food. Certain dishes appear on our holiday tables, and no matter where the previous year has taken us we are instantly transported back in time with familiar, comforting flavours that remind us we're home.

Some foods are so ingrained in our holiday traditions that we don't make them any other time of year. Grandma's lemon shortbread cookies may be just as tasty during a summertime gathering, but it just wouldn't be right-in people's minds they are undoubtedly a Christmas cookie. And that's part of what makes the holiday special: family and friends, and traditional holiday food that's prepared with so much thoughtfulness and anticipation of our arrival that it almost becomes a flavour in itself, as tangible as peppermint, cinnamon and cacao.

One iconic image during the holidays is the bottomless bowl of potato chips. (My new personal favourite brand is Covered Bridge, based in Hartland, NB, but I digress.) I like to accompany them, or some healthier options such as wholegrain crackers and julienned vegetables, with warm, melting, gooey dips or the more traditional cold dips. Dips provide versatility for holiday entertaining, they only take a few minutes to prepare and can be refrigerated until ready to serve.

A hot dip consists of three parts: a creamy base, most often cream cheese but other soft cheeses work as well, followed by a savoury centre, such as fruit, nuts, veggies or salsa, and almost always some type of cheese melted on top. A cold dip usually has a mayonnaise base, with spices and other ingredients offering flavour and thickness.

Most dips don't freeze well, but I keep unbaked dips tightly covered in the refrigerator for three or four days, ready to bake. The same applies to a cold dip-it will last several days when kept in the fridge. You might have to stir before serving, but separated ingredients won't affect the flavour.

You may have one or two favourite dip recipes with names like Aunt Martha's or Cousin Connie's-dips have a way of becoming forever associated with the person who made or brought them. The following recipes will stand you in good stead.

Recipes featured in this article:

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