When it comes to holiday entertaining and hosting a holiday appetizer party, two central questions come to mind: What should I make? And, how much should I serve?
Let’s tackle these questions in the context of a cocktail party. These are great parties to throw because you can set a semi-short time window (say 2 or 3 hours), and be clear that this isn’t dinner, but a party comprised of various holiday appetizer bites and drinks. Also, unless you have a large space that can hold several rented tables for a sit-down dinner, this will allow you to fit more people in your space.
If you can stick with finger food, you’ve not only got fewer dishes and utensils to think about (and wash!), but this also helps you focus your holiday appetizer menu. And if you can think of dishes that can be made ahead and heated or reheated, then you are also heading in a smart direction. Make sure to have a few vegetarian offerings in the mix, and a nice balance of color, texture and flavor, and don’t get too hung up on the details. Think about 5 to 8 different items on the menu, but no need for more than that.
As for how much? If you are not providing dinner after, then you’ll want to go heavy on the hors d’oeuvres. Think of about 10 “bites” per person. A “bite” could be a jumbo shrimp, an ounce of cheese or sausage or smoked fish, a small fried pastry, a crostini, a tablespoon of hummus on a chip, a small handful of nuts. Round up so you’re covered, but that’s a good baseline for holiday entertaining.
Here are a few simple holiday recipes that would be welcome at any party:
A hot dip is often the first thing to go at a party, and this vegetarian, creamy Goat Cheese Dip is speckled with scallions and chopped sundried tomatoes, which also provide some festive color. Serve with toasted baguettes swept with olive oil, or some nice crackers and sliced vegetables. Assemble the dip in the baking dish ahead of time and bake it as guests arrive (this doubles well, just use a larger dish and add a few minutes to the cooking time).
Robustly-seasoned Spanish Shrimp can be picked up by their tails, or a toothpick, and if you splurge and get the extra jumbo shrimp, your guests will really be in for a holiday appetizer treat. You can cook them in the skillet until almost cooked through before guests arrive, hold them in the fridge, then finish them off in the oven on a baking sheet or even in the microwave for a minute.
Crispy Carrot and Broccoli Fritters can be sautéed earlier in the day, held to the side, and then reheated in the oven in batches and served hot. Dollop the warm fritters with the lemony dip, which can be made up to 2 days beforehand, or put the dip on the side and let people dollop theirs as they wish.
Don’t be nervous about mixing in ready-to-go holiday appetizer ideas, like some prepared foods with some homemade items. Not only will it keep you sane, no one will notice, and unless you are curing your own meats, it’s probably going to be necessary. It’s a good idea to anchor your party with a nice, substantial spread of good cheeses, or charcuterie, or both. This assortment of Italian Truffle-Infused Cheeses is just plain dreamy, and you can liven up the platter with some dried fruit and nuts.
Mix up the serving platters, playing with rectangular shapes, round individual plates, a cake platter for height. White and silver are an elegant and classic holiday color palette, punctuated by bursts of red. You can add instant color and another item to nibble on by piling clementines in a pretty silver bowl.
And you know it’s a good party when there is a big-batch cocktail being poured. A Blood Orange Champagne Cocktail with Fruit Ice Cubes is beautiful, bright and bubbly. You could make the base mixture ahead of time, up to a day, and keep it in the fridge. Put it in a pitcher, then add the ice cubes, sliced blood orange, and champagne right before serving. This is a handy thing to do if you are planning to serve several pitchers of the drink throughout the evening.
And all of this holiday entertaining needn’t be stressful. Relax, make a plan, get some friends and family to pitch in on the holiday appetizers, and usher out one year, and welcome another one in with optimism and joy.
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Photos by Sarah Crowder