Easy-to-make appetizers for the holidays

Annabel Cohen
Special to The Detroit News

It’s December and we’re in the thick of holiday entertaining.

The holiday season is a time for parties. Whether it’s New Year’s, football, office shindigs or just an evening shared with friends, eating seems to be one raison d’etre at these affairs.

Often, the question “can I bring anything” is answered with “how about an appetizer.” There’s a reason appetizers are so often “farmed-out” to others. They’re time consuming. With all the mixing and folding baking that’s involved, an unsuspecting cook may find that what looks like a simple recipe can take hours to make from scratch.

Need some appetizer inspiration? Want some tasty meal openers that are different for a change? Need to bring something to a party that won’t keep you in the kitchen for hours? Read on. These tidbits feature global flavors, a variety of ingredients don’t take all day to prepare and can be hearty enough to be part of a filling buffet, so you may wish to skip the traditional dinner sit-down party altogether.

A few hors d’oeuvres ground-rules (or table-rules, if you will), can help you to create the perfect balance of flavors, textures and ingredients for the best possible selection of tidbits.

■If appetizers are served before dinner, figure 6 to 8 “bites” per person if a full meal follows.

■If appetizers are your “dinner” as well, include an “anchor” appetizer – whether it’s cold sliced beef or turkey breast or poached or smoked salmon, be sure it is a protein. This is the main appetizer that will make your buffet hearty.

■Vary ingredients – nothing’s as unappealing (not to mention unhealthy) than a table laden with nothing but fried, starchy or cheesy offerings (limit the number of similar appetizers as well).

■For easy fillers, include bowls of interesting olives, grape tomatoes or nuts

■Serve a variety of foods at different temperatures. Include room temperature choices – they’re often very little fuss and don’t take up valuable oven space.

There are also some fast and fantastic recipes you can make if you don’t wish to farm out appetizer courses. Garlic Mushroom Tapas, for example, make for a classic dish. Saute 2 pounds of button mushrooms in 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 teaspoons of granulated garlic, over medium-high heat until the mushrooms are just tender.

Season with salt and pepper and serve garnished with fresh chopped parsley and fresh lemon juice. Serve these on small toasts or with French bread on the side.

You can also zip together a quick Kale Avocado Guacamole by adding a bunch of kale (6 to 8 ounces), 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a small, chopped onion in a food processor. Blend the ingredients until finely chopped and add 3 medium, mashed avocados, the juice from one lime, 1/4 cup of chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1 teaspoon of chili powder, salt, pepper and a dash of hot sauce. Pulse it lightly. (The avocados should still be chunky) and serve with tortilla chips.

And for a quick dish with a heavy “wow” factor, consider Caviar and Egg Phyllo Cups. Fill 30 premade phyllo cups (available in the grocer’s freezer section) with chopped hard-boiled eggs and a tiny dollop of crème fraiche. Top with a small spoonful of caviar.

Finally, for a colorful, punchy, easy dish, toss a pint of grape tomatoes with a bit of water, 1/4 cup of chopped fresh dill and a bit of kosher salt. Serve in a bowl with toothpicks on the side.

Roasted Garlic and Lemon Shrimp

2 pounds large (about 13-15 per pound) peeled and deveined shrimp (26-30 shrimp), defrosted if frozen.


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons minced garlic

3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

1/4 cup fresh chopped dill (or 2 teaspoons dried)

2 teaspoons ground paprika

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

To serve

Additional sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 lemon, cut into 6 wedges, to squeeze over shrimp just before serving.

1/4 cup fresh chopped scallions, white and green parts, garnish

Combine shrimp with all marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Toss well with clean hands to coat. Chill for 30 minutes or up to several hours before cooking.

Arrange the oven shelf to be about 8 inches from the top of oven.

Preheat oven to broil (high if possible). Lightly spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray.

Broil for about 5-7 minutes. Be careful to not overcook. The shrimp should curl but not constrict into a tight circle.

Serve the shrimp hot, warm or at room temperature with additional salt and pepper, if needed, sprinkled with scallions, and drizzled with juice from lemon wedges. Makes 12 appetizer servings.

Per serving: 41 calories; 2 g fat (0.3 g saturated fat; 44 percent calories from fat); 1 g carbohydrate; 0.1 g sugar; 41 mg cholesterol; 282 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 0.2 g fiber.

A Baked Brie with Caramelized Onions dish created by chef Annabel Cohen is prepared without a crust making the cooking endeavor easier.

Baked Brie with Caramelized Onions, Cranberries and Almonds

This brie is baked with no crust … easy!

1 cup dried cranberries, cherries or golden raisins


2 pounds whole, uncut Brie cheese (or 2 1-pound Bries)

1 cup sliced or slivered almonds or pine nuts

Caramelized onions:

3 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

4 large yellow onions, peeled, halved and cut into thin slices (about 8 cups)

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Place cranberries in a medium bowl and add enough very warm water to cover. Allow to soak for 30-40 minutes. Drain well.

Prepare the onions: While the cranberries are soaking, melt butter in heavy, very large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are golden, about 20 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 5 minutes more. Stir in balsamic vinegar and sugar and cook for 3 minutes more. Set aside until ready to use.

Bake the brie: An hour before serving, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap brie and place, uncut, in an attractive baking dish or the shallow pan of a chafing dish (the brie will be served in the baking dish). Sprinkle with the almonds. Cook the brie, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

While the brie is baking, reheat the onions over medium-heat until warm.

Serve the uncut brie with the onions spooned over topped with the drained cranberries. Serve with gourmet crackers or raw cut vegetables. Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 421 calories; 28 g fat (15 g saturated fat; 60 percent calories from fat); 24 g carbohydrates; 15 g sugar; 83 mg cholesterol; 503 mg sodium; 19 g protein; 4 g fiber.

The Asian Beef Satay dish with Hoisin Peanut Sauce involves marinating flank steak before threading the meat on bamboo skewers.

Asian Beef Satays with Hoisin Peanut Sauce

1 1/2 pounds flank steak, slightly frozen

1/2 cup minced onions

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup coconut milk

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon minced garlic


1/3 cup hoisin sauce

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

2-4 tablespoons coconut milk

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1-2 cloves)

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (or more, to taste)


1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro or scallions

1/4 cup chopped honey-roasted peanuts

Cut flank steak across grain on a diagonal into 1/8- to 1/4- inch slices, the width of the beef. Transfer slices to medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Cover and chill 1 hour up to overnight.

Make the sauce: Combine all sauce ingredients in medium bowl and whisk well. Chill until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray or line with parchment.

Discard marinade, and thread steak on skewers, “scrunching” the meat so that you don’t see the bamboo skewer through the meat.

Arrange on the prepared baking sheet and cook for 4-5 minutes (do not overcook). Serve hot, warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with cilantro, with the sauce on the side or drizzled over. Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 195 calories; 11 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 51 percent calories from fat); 8 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 26 mg cholesterol; 367 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 1 g fiber.

A blend of tomatoes adds brightness to the simple-to-prepare dish of Fettunta al Pomodoro. Olives and capers complement Parmesan and add a vinegary finish.

Fettunta al Pomodoro

Normally, fettunta or bruschetta would consist of bread slices rubbed with fresh garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Everything else is interpretation. This simple version features fresh grape tomatoes (always in season), capers and olives.

1 French baguette, cut diagonally into 1/3-inch slices (or into at least 20 slices)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups quartered (if small) or chopped (if large) grape or cherry tomatoes, any color

1/2 cup thinly sliced pitted kalamata or Cerignola olives

1 tablespoon drained capers

Kosher or sea salt to taste

Fresh ground pepper to taste


1 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

1 cup basil chiffonade or thinly sliced basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the bread rounds on a baking sheet and toast until lightly colored.

While the toasts are baking, combine the topping ingredients in a medium bowl.

Remove from oven and top with the tomatoes, olive and caper mixture. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Just before serving, bake the toasts until hot, about 10 minutes. Serve garnished with the Parmesan and fresh basil. Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 300 calories; 16 g fat (5 g saturated fat; 48 percent calories from fat); 27 g carbohydrates; 1 g sugar; 14 mg cholesterol; 670 mg sodium; 12 g protein; 1.5 g fiber.