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Preparing for a holiday appetizer party

My favorite way to entertain is to have an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre party. Dinner parties are fun, but they take quite a bit of coordination and, depending on the number of people at the table, can make it difficult for everybody to interact.

I much prefer to prepare and assemble an array of one or two bite dishes, set everything out on the kitchen table/bar/dining room table, set out some small plates and napkins (paper plates are fine), and let everybody graze and mingle.

I like to set up a beverage table in its own spot, complete with plenty of ice, glasses and beverages to let everybody help themselves.

When it comes to planning your appetizer menu, keep it simple. By simple, I mean use a combination of store bought things and homemade, and by all means choose dishes that can be completely made ahead or at least partially.

You can assemble an entire antipasti platter with store bought olives, roasted peppers, good quality salamis, cheeses, etc. Assemble that early on the day of your party, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until about half an hour before your guests arrive.

The same goes for a cheese board — just choose a variety of cheeses, some soft, some hard, a good blue cheese and add some grapes, apple slices, etc, and another dish is ready to go with no cooking involved at all.

Fresh vegetables, or crudités, might sound boring, but they don’t have to be. Create a pretty platter with bite sized vegetables and offer several dips for dipping. Ranch is always a crowd pleaser, but a roasted red pepper hummus is a welcome addition.

It’s also nice to have a mixture of hot/warm dishes, cold and room temperature dishes, so keep that in mind when you do your planning.

Labeling the dishes is a nice touch, especially since so many people have dietary restrictions nowadays. Here are some recipes that will hopefully inspire your next holiday gathering.

Roast beef canapes
16 small pumpernickel canapé-style bread, halved diagonally
1 package Boursin garlic and fine herbs cheese, at room temperature
4 slices good quality deli roast beef (Boars Head Londonport is good), cut into eighths
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, patted very dry and sliced thin
3 teaspoons fresh dill

Spread some Boursin on each bread triangle and then top with roast beef, two red pepper strips and some fresh dill. Make ahead by several hours and store wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.

Smoked salmon rolls
2 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt and pepper
2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
2 teaspoons capers, minced
2 teaspoons fresh dill, minced
8 thin slices of smoked salmon
Small baby arugula leaves, or Italian parsley

In a small bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, shallot, capers and dill and mix until thoroughly combined.

Spread some of the cream cheese mixture onto each smoked salmon, leaving a bit of an edge. Roll salmon up and cover with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate about three or four hours to allow the cream cheese mixture to firm up. When ready to serve, cut the salmon rolls into bite sized pieces and place cut side down on a platter and garnish with a baby arugula leaf or parsley in the center.

I absolutely love endive. They look beautiful, can hold any number of fillings, and add a bright, crunchy note to whatever they are “holding.” This shrimp salad is always a favorite, but crab salad, chicken salad, or even tuna salad would also work.

Shrimp salad in endive
1 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, halves of lemons reserved
8 sprigs Italian parsley, plus a few tablespoons minced
6 sprigs fresh tarragon, plus 1 tablespoon finely minced leaves
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
Salt and pepper
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 small shallot, finely minced
1/2 cup Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely minced
4-5 heads Belgian endive, leaves separated

Combine 3 cups cold water, shrimp, 1/4 cup lemon juice, spent lemon halves, parsley sprigs, tarragon sprigs, sugar, peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat stirring often until shrimp are firm and pink, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit for two minutes.

Fill a large bowl with ice water. Remove the shrimp from hot broth with slotted spoon and transfer to ice water bath. Chill three or four minutes and then drain well. Dry shrimp thoroughly on dish cloth or paper towels.

Chop shrimp into small pieces. In a bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, shallot, minced parsley, minced tarragon, remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and some salt and pepper. Stir in shrimp and apple and taste for seasoning.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for three hours and up to a day ahead. When ready to serve, place endive leaves on a platter and place a dollop of shrimp salad at the wide base of the endive leaf.

Garnish with more minced parsley.