Holiday Appetizers

Tis the season for parties, food, drink, and general jolliness.  Whether you are throwing a party or attending a couple, there is sure to be a need for a light bite.

Think beyond the monotony of a cheese board, and try something fresh this holiday season.  A few more minutes in the kitchen will provide you with an elegant app or two to impress your guests.

When entertaining, presentation is everything.  To jazz up a holiday themed plate, add seasonally appropriate garnishes.  Sprigs of rosemary, cranberries, or pecans sprinkled across the plate will give you a sophisticated, yet simple look.

This first appetizer features a winterized version of pesto, made with scallions, capers and parsley as the base.  Caramelized onions and crispy bacon add layers and layers of flavor.

Flatbread with Bacon & Scallion Pesto

  • 4 thick strips bacon, thinly sliced
  • 1 large white onion, thinly sliced
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed
  • All-purpose flour, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until browned and crispy. Transfer to paper towels to drain; keep warm. Add the onion slices to the drippings in the skillet; sprinkle with the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Cook until light brown and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Combine the scallions, capers and parsley in a food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste and half of the lemon zest; pulse gently to chop and blend. Turn the processor on and add the olive oil through the top in a steady stream. Transfer the scallion pesto to a bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the creme fraiche and the remaining lemon zest until smooth. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

Roll the pizza dough into an 8-by-14-inch rectangle on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and unroll it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown.

Spread the creme fraiche mixture on the crust. Dot with the onions and some of the bacon drippings from the pan; sprinkle with the bacon. Slice into pieces and drizzle with scallion pesto.

This next one is a crostini which is bedazzled with delicate cranberry slivers.  Substituting pomegranate seeds would be another fun and delicious option.  More bread! And why not – tis the season to carb it up!

Cranberry, Ricotta and Pecan Appetizers

  • 24 baguette slices, sliced ½-inch-thick on the diagonal
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Kosher salt
  • One 15-oz. container whole-milk ricotta
  • 12 cups fresh cranberries (or substitute frozen defrosted), chopped
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans
  • Juice of 1 small orange, plus ¼ tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 34 tsp. honey
  • Fresh thyme leaves, for garnish
  • Flaky sea salt (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the baguette slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush the top of each lightly with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Bake until the tops are golden brown and the bread is crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Bread can be toasted up to 3 hours ahead.)
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the ricotta, 3 tablespoons olive oil, the orange zest, and ¼ tsp. kosher salt. Process until smooth (mixture should still be thick), adding more olive oil by the tablespoon if the ricotta is very thick.
In a medium bowl, add the cranberries, orange juice, honey, and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir well to combine.
Using an offset spatula or butter knife, spread a generous layer of the ricotta mixture onto the toasts. Top with about 1 tablespoon of the cranberry mixture. Garnish with thyme and flaky sea salt to taste.

Now…let’s take it down a notch on the carbs!  Here is a pretty little number which incorporates all of the colors of the Holiday rainbow.
Goat Cheese Brussel Sprouts Bites
  • 12 large Brussels sprouts
  • 2 ounces goat cheese (plain or with added herbs)
  • 3 tablespoons pomegranate arils
  • Optional: one teaspoon of honey

Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Remove 2 outer leaves from each of the Brussels sprouts and cut off excess stem end, forming a round cup shape. Blanch for one minute in boiling water and then remove and place in a bowl of cold water. Fill each leaf with a little goat cheese and a few pomegranate arils. Garnish with a drizzle of honey, if desired.


 images via foodnetwork, saveur, apronstrings

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