Make a merry holiday with easy appetizers

By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
Tis the season for appetizers. It is their time to shine! My favorite parties to attend and give have revelers gathered around the holiday table laden with mouthwatering appetizers, chinking their glasses in celebration. If you are going to a holiday party or having one, appetizers are the shining star.

Imagine a stress free holiday party…The hostess and host are there around the table, enjoying the party, looking unhurried and relaxed, laughing with their guests. You think this impossible? It isn’t. With a bit of organization and some easy appetizers in the starring role, this could be your holiday party. After reading this, even if you have NEVER given a party… you will want to. So read on at your own risk of becoming a smooth operator.
Here are a few tips to making a holiday party come together like Beethoven’s 9th.

-First off, it is important to make appetizers that are easy to handle with one hand, as most people have a drink in hand. Also make sure they aren’t messy as folks tend to dress up a bit for parties and don’t want BBQ sauce on their Christmas shirt.

-Select easy hors d’oeuvres that you can serve at room temperature so that you can prepare all the food ahead of time and be relaxed and enjoy your friends at the party. There is nothing more stressful for everyone than a harried host that is running back and forth from the oven to the table.

-Have easy to serve drinks, like wine, pre-made punch and sparkling cider at a drink counter where guests can help themselves. Have all your appetizers ready on the table around the time that the first guest arrives.

-Arrange many different small sweets on a tray in an artful pattern for a fun way to serve your desserts. You don’t have to bake all these goodies, buy them from Bread and Ocean or one of our other fine stores. Try to arrange the desserts in a way that there is height, color contrast and shape. If you start with arranging slices of sweet bread, like pumpkin bread down the center, that gives it a grounding agent. Make sure and have some brightly colored fruit, like strawberries for interest.

Now for easy appetizers that you can make for your party or bring to a party, here are some delicious ideas for your holiday merry making.

Easy appetizers with maximum impact:
~Take a small round of brie at room temperature, place on a plate and drizzle with cranberry sauce, chopped fresh rosemary and honey. Serve with crackers or Bread and Ocean’s baguette slices. (This is truly amazing, simple but amazing)
~Make a cheese and fruit platter in the shape of a wreath on a large round platter. Use your imagination and have cedar boughs or salal leaves under it all in the form of a wreath, red grapes, dried fruit and nuts for contrast and cute little cheese rounds with crackers. Have fun with this one!
~Put out a platter of cooked shrimp and serve with cocktail sauce. (This never grows old)
~Bake a frittata of your choice and cut into bite sized pieces and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of green onions.
~Fill endive leaves with a tablespoon or two of hummus and garnish with smoked paprika and chopped green onions or olives. Arrange on the platter like flower petals with the bowl of hummus in the center. Arrange other veggies around the endive leaves in a floral pattern as well. (There has to be a veggie platter, just make it beautiful.)
~Make tiny tea sandwiches, like turkey, cream cheese and cranberry sauce on raisin bread or ham with artisan mustard, mayo and gouda cheese on rustic bread.
~ Everybody LOVES deviled eggs; just make them a wee bit dressier by adding smoked paprika, crumbled cooked bacon and hot sauce to the yolk mix. Garnish with cooked crumbled bacon, chopped chives and smoked paprika.
~Cut fingerling potatoes into fourths, length wise. Toss in olive oil and salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven, like 425 degrees till done. Arrange on a platter in a floral pattern with a garlic or red pepper aioli dip in the center.
~Roast sweet potatoes cut in one inch cubes, tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper, in a hot oven till done. Fry up some sliced chicken apple sausage till brown. Stick one piece of sweet potato and a slice of sausage on a toothpick and serve with a garlic aioli dip. (delish!)

Here is a recipe for the hottest rage in hors d’oeuvres, bacon wrapped dates. They can be made so many ways but this is my favorite. I’ve also included a recipe for sparkling cranberries that are a beautiful and delicious on all your appetizer plates. So dear holiday partiers, whip up an appetizer and get out there and make merry. Tis the season!

Sparkling Cranberries
2 cups of fresh cranberries
1 cup of cooking grade maple syrup
1 cup of granulated sugar

Rinse the cranberries and place in a colander to drain. Meanwhile heat maple syrup in a small sauce pan till warm, and almost getting hot. (If you get the syrup too hot is will cause the cranberries to pop. We don’t want that. No no no) Pour the cranberries into the syrup and let soak in the fridge overnight. The next day drain the cranberries and reserve the cranberry syrup for another use. Put the sugar in a pie plate and dump half the cranberries in there and roll around till sparkly. Remove from dish and place on a baking sheet, not touching, lined with parchment paper. Sugar the other half of the cranberries and add to the baking sheet. Let them dry for an hour or so. You can store these nuggets in an air tight container in a cool place for a day or two. Add to everything.

Bacon Wrapped Dates
24 large moist dates, such as medjool
12 not-too-thick slices of bacon
24 whole toasted unsalted almonds

Move oven rack to upper third of oven and preheat oven to 500°. Pit dates, by tearing them as little as possible. While the dates are awaiting their moment, halve the 12 slices of bacon crosswise. Stuff cavity of each date with 1 almond and then wrap 1 half-piece of bacon around the width of each date and put dates, seam side down, on a baking sheet, at least ½” apart. Bake until bacon is golden and crisp, 6-8 minutes. Set aside to cool briefly before serving or can be served at room temperature.