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In the Kitchen: Appetizers you must try for the holiday season

My favorite thing to serve when entertaining are appetizers. It is so much easier to make lots of little “bites” and let people graze while talking and listening to music, than timing everything just so and sitting down for a big meal. In addition, you can choose appetizers that can be made ahead completely, or at least assembled ahead so things are ready to be popped into the oven. 

Creating a cheese board is an easy way to provide lots of “bites” with minimal fuss. Choose three or four different cheeses — pick a variety. 

Perhaps a soft cheese such as brie or goat cheese, a tangy Manchego or a sharp cheddar, blue cheese, and a Gruyere or a Swiss cheese. 

Arrange the cheeses on a large platter and then add some grapes, some pear slices, a little bowl of fig or raspberry preserves and some toasted nuts. Garnish with some fresh herbs and you are all set. 

Another easy platter to make is a charcuterie platter. Choose three or four types of salami, prosciutto, mortadella or good quality ham. Arrange the meats on the platter and add several small bowls of olives — kalamata, green olives, etc. 

Set out some small bowls of grainy mustard and mayonnaise. I also like to take those little pickled peppers you find at the olive bar at the grocery store and stuff them with little cubes of fontina cheese wrapped with prosciutto. Some store-bought pate is also a nice addition along with some gherkins. Set out several types of crackers and toasted slices of a baguette. Garnish with herbs as a finishing touch. 

Shrimp cocktail is always welcome at parties. Set out several different sauces for dipping. You can also assemble a platter of crudites — baby carrots, celery sticks, radishes, fresh zucchini sticks, etc., and then add a few different dips. Ranch dip is always a hit. A green goddess dip is also always yummy. 

As far as hot appetizers go, you can assemble several dips ahead of time and just pop them in the oven right before your guests arrive. Most dips are just as good when they are warm or even at room temperature. For dips that need to remain heated, such as cheese dip, use a small slow cooker and let guests help themselves. 

Here are a few apps that are always a hit. 

Bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds

20 Medjool dates, pitted

4 ounces goat cheese or blue cheese

12-16 ounces of bacon, not thick cut

20 whole almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stuff each pitted date with a little bit of cheese and then insert an almond. Cut bacon strips in thirds and wrap each stuffed date. 

Place dates on baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes and then flip the dates and continue baking 15-20 minutes until bacon is crisp. 

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Baked coconut shrimp

1 teaspoon curry powder

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoon rice vinegar

1 orange, zest and juice

1/2 cup flaked unsweetened coconut

6 tablespoons panko 3 tablespoons flour

2 egg whites, beaten

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined with tail left on

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. For sauce, in a small saucepan, combine curry powder, red pepper flakes, honey, rice vinegar, orange juice and orange zest. Heat to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for a few minutes. 

For shrimp, combine flaked coconut, panko and flour in a bowl. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper. Dip shrimp in egg whites and then into coconut mixture. Place shrimp on baking sheet that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake for eight minutes and then flip and bake another eight to 10 minutes. Serve with dipping sauce. 

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Onion dip

2 onions, sliced

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup avocado or vegetable oil

Pinch of cayenne

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup sour cream

1/3 cup mayonnaise

Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions slices, stirring to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, about 40 minutes. Cool slightly. In a bowl, combine onions, cayenne, salt, pepper, cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. 

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Beer and cheese dip

1 teaspoon Dijon

1 clove garlic, minced

8 ounces gouda cheese, grated

8 ounces gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated

2 tablespoon cornstarch

1 (12-ounce) lager beer

2 tablespoon lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Toss grated cheese with cornstarch. In a saucepan, combine beer with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Heat over medium heat. Add cheese, one handful at a time, stirring until melted after each addition. When melted and hot, stir in Dijon and remaining lemon juice and pinch of salt.