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In the Kitchen: Holiday appetizers to please

It’s that time of year again. Families and friends come over to enjoy some delicious bites of food, cocktails and dessert and to listen to Christmas music. 

My favorite things to serve are small bites of various foods. I prefer a party where you can graze the whole time instead of sitting down to a formal dinner. 

Be sure to choose a mix of hot and cold appetizers, and plan on making all of the cold ones ahead of time and do as much of the preparation for the hot ones as you can before your guests arrive. Write down a little timeline for yourself so you can stay organized and don’t forget anything. I once forgot about an entire cheese platter in the basement refrigerator until the party was just almost over and everybody was full. Don’t make that mistake. 

Here are some recipes and tips for planning the best holiday appetizer party ever. Tis the season to deck the halls. 

Everybody loves meatballs — especially when they are small, bite-sized and loaded with flavor. Get some cute little toothpicks and make sure you set out a little bowl for the used toothpicks. 

Asian chicken meatballs

1 ¼ pounds chicken breasts, ground

1 can water chestnuts, drained and rinsed

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

6 green onions, chopped fine

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 egg

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil or avocado oil

Add water chestnuts, garlic, ginger and green onions to food processor. Run machine until combined. Add sesame oil, soy sauce, chicken broth, egg and chicken. Combine until it’s a thick paste consistency. Pour into a bowl. Wet hands and scoop into small, bite-size meatballs. Working in batches, heat oil in non-stick skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides until cooked through. Serve with dipping sauce (recipe follows) or alone. 

Dipping sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon Sriracha (more to taste)

Combine all ingredients.

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Building a cheese board

Cheese boards are quite trendy right now. You see them at restaurants and they can be pricey. Making one at home is simple to do and is always welcome for an appetizer party. 

Start with a beautiful platter or for more interest, a wooden cutting board or piece of slate. Choose three or four types of cheeses, making sure you get a variety of textures. For example, you don’t want all hard cheeses (such as cheddar or Italian provolone) or all soft cheeses (including brie or goat cheese) or semi-soft cheeses (like blue, fontina or mozzarella). 

Arrange the cheeses on the board and add a good selection of salami’s, prosciutto, imported ham, etc. Put a small cup of roasted nuts on the board, along with a little cup of preserves. Olives are also good — a mix of green and black looks nicer —even better if they are marinated. Some sort of fruit is nice, some berries or figs would be perfect. 

Fill in any gaps with some grapes and fresh herbs — rosemary sprigs look beautiful and smell great too. Lastly, set out a variety of crackers and some sliced French bread. That’s all there is to it. 

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Wonton wrappers are often an overlooked item that promise to make your party. They are simple to bake and can be filled with all sorts of things. Here are two simple ways to use them. 

I like to serve several bites that are vegetarian or can be modified to be. 

This version of an Asian salad wonton cup is vegetarian but by adding a small shrimp on top can please those who aren’t vegetarian as well. Of course, you could also use cooked beef or chicken instead of the shrimp. 

Asian salad wonton cups

24 wonton wrappers

Non-stick cooking spray

4 teaspoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of salt and pepper

7 ounces Romaine lettuce (the crunchy part), shredded

3 ounces finely shredded red cabbage

1 carrot, peeled and grated

3 green onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped

2 tablespoons water chestnuts, finely chopped

Small shrimp (optional)

Toasted sesame seeds

Spray mini-muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray. Gently press wontons into muffin tins. Bake in 350-degree preheated oven for seven to 10 minutes until golden. Some ovens are hotter than others, so watch them carefully. They burn easily, so keep a careful eye on them. Remove from oven and allow them to cool completely. 

For salad, whisk together rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, salt and pepper. Toss together Romaine cabbage, carrot, green onion, cilantro and water chestnuts. Toss with dressing. Fill each wonton cup with a little bit of salad and then top with shrimp (if using) and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.