appetizersAppetizers, or hors d’oeuvres (which translates to “outside the work”) rank high in my culinary favorites during holiday gatherings, and judging by what I see on food shows and in magazines, I certainly am not alone in this indulgence. I have been guilty of spending as much time on hors d’oeuvres as I have on the main course and side dishes – but these days, that isn’t necessary. In the age of artisan cheeses, organic vegetables and fine meats, making memorable and delicious hors d’oeuvres is easier than ever.Simply knowing where to shop, the tastes of the people you are aiming to please, and a little creativity in presentation, you’ll realize you have more time to enjoy your guests and to toast what brings you together (hopefully with something bubbly).

When I was in Catering and holiday parties kept us busy every night of the week in December, platters and crudités were standard for every party and never disappointed. Baked Brie en Croute was always a sure-to-please. Chicken skewers with a spicy/sweet Peanut and Chili Sauce sent people to the bar for a cocktail (intentional? Maybe!). Seafood displays, by far, were the most lavish – although people felt safer with cheese displays and grilled vegetables with garlic aioli. If you must.When I entertain I fall back on what worked when I fed people for a living. A holiday gathering at home is a more intimate setting than hundreds of guests in a ballroom, but the formula remains the same – don’t overdo it. Hors d’oeuvres, while fun and necessary, are not the heart of the meal. With fewer guests I also have more freedom and quality control, but still choose the fare wisely.

Presentation is where I take more liberties – in Catering, it would be Meyer lemons in glass vases with sprigs of rosemary. At home, I garnish with sprigs of lavender and whatever herbs are fragrant and in season. I love garnishing with lemony herbs – lemon verbena, lemon balm, and lemon thyme, and maybe some beeswax candles to illuminate the displays.

A little bit of what Hors D’oeuvres and Appetizersyou might find at a holiday event,

Artisan Cheese Display ~ Cheese shops are easy to find, however, the Internet has endless possibilities if you cannot find a good purveyor. Make sure you offer hard cheeses as well as soft varieties (roll one goat cheese log in herbs, roll another in poppy seeds, another in chopped pistachios). Whole wheat crackers and toasted baguette slices are a perfect accompaniment, and honeycombs dripping succulent honey are stylish now, not to mention flavorful.

Grilled Vegetable Display ~ Vegetables that grill well are peppers, onions, zucchini, summer squash, even tomatoes. Brushed with olive oil prior to grilling, this appetizer represents well. An indoor grill pan is ideal for this, and grilling vegetables can be done ahead of time. Pair with healthy dips – pesto, hummus, salsa, and aioli.

Baked Brie ~ Creamy, sweet and satisfying, an entire wheel of brie with Apricot Preserves is placed into a 350º oven for 10-15 minutes (keep your eye on it). I no longer do Brie en Croute, this appetizer disappears just as quickly.

Bruschetta ~ Dice good quality tomatoes and place in a colander until most of their juice is gone, approximately half an hour. Place strained tomatoes in serving dish and drizzle balsamic vinegar, olive oil, coarse grain salt and pepper (roasted garlic cloves if you desire) over them, and serve inside a French Bread prepared the following way, Hollow out a French Bread (by this I mean cut bread in half lengthwise rip out most of the “meat” of the bread), drizzle or brush the inside with olive oil and heat in a 400º oven until bread begins to brown, 5 – 10 minutes.

Prosciutto and Melon ~ Get the best quality prosciutto you can find, and wrap around melon slices or melon balls of your choice. I also wrap prosciutto around steamed/grilled asparagus.

Marinated Vegetables ~ Olives, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, tomatoes. Make sure you place this next to the cheese display.

Seafood Display ~ Steamed shrimp (or prawns poached in sugar and water), crab claws, and oysters on the half shell. Need I say more? Oh – lemon wedges. Don’t forget the little forks.

With these simple but delicious (and healthy!) options, I am able to have conversations with my guests; I can enjoy a glass of wine, and concentrate on the main event. Seeing these hors d’oeuvres prove themselves year after year, this course is one less thing for me to worry about.

I find it much easier to toast to Peace on Earth if I have peace of mind.

Smantha Gianulis

Samantha recently released my her family food memoir, Little Grapes on the Vine…Mommy's Musings on Food & Family .

Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.

Smantha Gianulis

Latest posts by Smantha Gianulis (see all) GianulisApron Strings Cooking ColumnHome CookingChristmas Family Fun,Cooking and Recipes,HolidaysAppetizers, or hors d'oeuvres (which translates to 'outside the work') rank high in my culinary favorites during holiday gatherings, and judging by what I see on food shows and in magazines, I certainly am not alone in this indulgence. I have been guilty of spending as much time on...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids