Creating an appetizer spread that has your guests clamoring around the kitchen island while taking little time away from being a fabulous hostess is the goal. We all love when our guests enjoy what we serve. It’s even better when they ask for the recipe and you let them know how simple it all was to create.
So that you can enjoy your party without exhausting yourself I’ve put together a few delicious, simple yet beautiful ideas.
If you’re planning a party or just have people stopping by unexpectedly it’s easy to pull together a great spread if you stock up on a few items over the holidays. From Thanksgiving to New Year I usually always have a selection of these items on-hand so that, at any given moment, I can pull out a cutting board and lay out a selection of nibbles that would please just about anyone. If you keep just a few of these items on-hand you’ll never be without an appetizer when friends stop over.
It’s easy to buy pre-made, store bought appetizers. There are plenty of them and this year I’ve seen many of the same ones at several parties. If you would like the ease of store bought but want to add your own personal touch try these stuffed mushrooms. Stuff baby portobello mushrooms with your favorite brand of spinach or artichoke dip. Simply bake and serve.
Crab Cakes with delicious aioli is probably my favorite holiday treat. I make crab cakes on Christmas Eve every year. You can find my recipe HERE
The best thing about Crab Cakes is that you can make them far in advance and freeze them. For appetizer portions simply make them bite-sized. You can also purchase ready-made frozen crab cakes that you can warm and serve. The aioli sauce is delicious. It’s simply a combination of mayo, lemon juice and garlic whisked together then a slow drizzle of olive oil is whisked in to emulsify the sauce. The reason the oil is added very slowly is that the oil (fat) and lemon juice (acid) in the mayo do not mix easily, so adding it slowly while whisking will allow it to blend to a silky smooth consistency. I have not found a single store bought aioli that comes close to the flavor of homemade.
These mini cheese balls or, as some would call them, goat cheese truffles are always a crowd pleaser. One of my favorites for sure. The goat cheese is mixed with a bit of cream cheese, cinnamon and honey then rolled in chopped candied pecans, dried cranberries and parsley then drizzled with honey. I like to use pretzels instead of toothpicks. (#saveatree & #eatitall) The recipe is below.
Here is my basic list of staples to have on hand…
From Your Pantry
- Nuts; almonds, sugared pecans and pistachios are my favorites. I buy marcona almonds and dust them with Herbs de Provence.
- Crackers; I always try to have three or four styles with at least one gluten-free option. Rice crackers are always a hit and we love the rainforest fig crackers. You can buy ready to bake loaves of French bread and keep them in the freezer to pop in the oven just before you’re ready to use them.
- Dried fruit; apricots, cherries, dates and cranberries work deliciously.
- Olive oil, honey, jams like sour cherry or fig. Quince jam or quince paste is always a fave, I like a slice of brie with quince paste on top of a reainfores fig cracker.
Jazz up simple Borsin cheese with a few chopped kalamata olives and serve with warm french baguette slices. The rosemary sprigs add a beautiful scent to the dish and a hint of flavor to anything it touches.
From The Refrigerator
- Cheese; I usually always have several types of cheese. Goat cream cheese, spreadable Borsin cheese and Fresh mozzarella can usually be found in my fridge. Ready made smoked Gouda cheese dip from Heinen’s is always in my fridge. It’s so good. I should get a kick back for the number of people I have introduced to it and who now regularily buy it themselves. Brie, and a selection of hard cheeses such as manchengo last all season in the fridge.
- Fruits; Red or green grapes, somsutra oranges, pomegranates, pears, blackberries, raspberries, lemons and limes.
- Meats; prosciutto, salami rolls, and crab cakes salmon etc.
- Vegetables; baby parisian cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers, radishes, mushrooms, etc. Don’t forget colorful ridicio or enndive for garnishing plates and boards.
- Dips, Jams, beet hummus adds a festive red color, garlic roasted and ready to spread on toast or just to add a beautiful scent to your board.
- I usually keep fresh herbs on hand. During the holidays I always purchase one of the rosemary trees so that I can slip fresh sprigs of Rosemary to add to my olives and cheese or gentle sprigs of time to decorate the tops of cheese Rounds.
- Cutting Christmas greens from the yard is a good way to decorate platters and the table as well.
Mini Cranberry Pecan Goat Cheese Balls
- 10 oz goat cheese
- 6 oz cream cheese
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 3 tablespoons honey, plus extra for garnish
- 1 1/2 cups candied pecans chopped, divided
- 1 cup diced dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
- In a large bowl, beat goat cheese, cream cheese, cinnamon and honey until light and fluffy.
- Add 1/2 cup pecan chips, folding to combine. Set aside.
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Toss together remaining pecan chips, dried cranberries and chopped parsley in the center of the parchment paper.
- Using a large cookie scoop, scoop out one round of cheese filling and toss in pecan mixture. Continue until all truffles have been rolled in coating.
- Refrigerate cheeseballs until ready to serve. You can make these up to three days before, just make sure and store them in an airtight container.
- To Serve: Drizzle with honey, if desired. Serve with crackers, warm crostini or as is with a pretzel stick in place of a toothpick.
If you want to make it easy and portable so you can move your feast to a coffee table or bar, why not pack everything into one cohesive spread? Here are two examples of boards I have served to guests. There is no recipe or even rhyme or reason to building a board like this. I like to start with taller dishes at the center. I add large bunches of grapes on opposite ends. Anything in a dish gets added next then full wedges or rounds of cheese. Then I fill in around those anchor items with crackers and other nnibbles until the entire board is covered. Fill in the gaps with berries or nuts.
The tray below is about 3 inches deep so I used upside-dowm ramekins to lift some of the dishes. Because the tray is metal I added a larger bowl and even a cutting board for wedges of cheese so they could be easily cut. For this one I filled in the gaps with blanched broccoli rabe and red radicchio. The blackberry and blueberry skewers are just F-U-N and the skewers make it easy to spread them around the tray.
Have fun and experiment with what ever you have on hand. Gather your friends, Nourish them with beautiful food and CELEBRATE!
Happy Holiday’s ENJOY!
About the Author
Photographer Sally Roeckell specializes in contemporary lifestyle portraiture with an emphasis on food photography. Her Blog, Table and Dish is a website devoted to celebrating and curating the many ways that food binds us. Sally hopes that her recipes and images will inspire you to gather your friends and family in the kitchen to make memories, use the time to connect with busy kids, chat over mixing bowls, get messy, laugh, sing, set the table, clear the table, pass the salt, debate the days topics and pray. You can follow her here as a weekly contributor to 365Barrington and Heinen’s as well as via Table and Dish on Instagram and on her website at TableAndDish.com.
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Heinen’s Grocery is located at 500 N. Hough Street, between E. Main Street and Route 14 (next to Meatheads) in Barrington, Illinois. They’re open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit Heinens.com.