Holiday Appetizers and Drinks
Begin the festivities with these elegant and delicious recipes.
Indulgent as it may seem, a cup of rich hot cocoa can offer enough health benefits to dissolve any guilt. One cup has twice the level of antioxidant activity of a five-ounce glass of red wine and two to three times more than a cup of green tea. This version combines bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened cocoa with espresso, brown sugar, and orange rind for a pick-me-up that's enjoyed in Spain and Europe.
Save 104 calories, 12.6g fat, and 156mg sodium over traditional mini crab cakes. You can bake these cakes up to 2 hours ahead of party time and rewarm in a 300° oven for 5 to 6 minutes.
Unlike classic pesto, there's no oil in this filling. Once everything is minced in the food processor, though, it develops a paste-like consistency. Thaw the pastry in the fridge overnight, or leave out at room temperature for an hour or two.
Simplify the liquor shopping list: Skip setting up a full bar and instead offer a signature cocktail featuring just one or two types of spirits or wine. Make this punch up to 4 hours ahead, but wait to add the cava until just before serving.
This appetizer is based on bisteeya, a traditional Moroccan pastry that pairs savory, spiced meat and flaky phyllo with a dusting of cinnamon and powdered sugar. Make ahead: Freeze unbaked pastries for up to 1 month; bake frozen, unthawed pastries 5 additional minutes or until browned.
Pick up inexpensive Chinese soup spoons at Asian markets, or serve on rice crackers or in hollowed-out pieces of cucumber. The chives, an optional sixth ingredient, perk up the look but aren’t crucial to the flavor.
Save 108 calories, 7g sat fat, and 69mg sodium per serving over a traditional cheese ball. Almond milk cream cheese is delicately nutty, with a buttery-rich texture and zero grams of sat fat. Find it at Whole Foods stores nationwide. You can substitute 1⁄3-less-fat cream cheese, which adds 1.6g sat fat to each serving.
We streamlined and lightened the original recipe but kept true to the gin, apple, and vermouth at its heart. Premix big batches (except the ice) in a pitcher up to a day ahead. Shake servings for 1 or 2 at a time with ice.
While you're putting the final touches on your dishes, your guests can snack on this dip. Precut crudités will hold up well if you'd like to prep them the day before. Wrap trimmed and cut veggies in a damp paper towel and refrigerate in a zip-top plastic bag for the crispiest texture.
Achieve a bronze-like patina on these candied nuts by keeping a close watch near the end of their roasting time. Too long and they'll overdarken and take on a bitter flavor.
Save 167 calories, 3.6g sat fat, and 393mg sodium per serving over traditional spinach-artichoke dip. Frozen artichoke hearts contain no added salt, unlike the canned variety, which may contain more than 300mg per half cup.
Avoid overmixing the batter to keep fritters from becoming too heavy and dense. You can make them earlier in the day and quickly reheat; arrange fritters on a wire rack set over a baking sheet in a 425° oven until thoroughly heated and crisp.
This lovely appetizer is about as quick and easy as it gets—and tasty, too. You don't even need to let the cheese come to room temperature first; the warm fruit that goes on top will soften it up. Serve with crostini or crackers.
Enjoy all the spice and creaminess of this traditional drink with none of the guilt. Our trimmed-down version contains just 152 calories per serving and 2.7 grams of saturated fat. This recipe calls for brandy, but you could substitute rum or whiskey if you prefer.
Get black-tie elegance in about 20 minutes with this appetizer. The meaty pancetta and salty Parmesan flavors match the sweet and briny clams just perfectly. A great recipe for a cocktail party or a menu of heavy hors d'oeuvres.
Thickened with vegetables and finished with a touch of light cream, this silky soup makes an elegant first course. Small oysters, such as Kumamoto or Prince Edward Island, are preferable, but you can use your favorite fresh raw oysters.
The sweet, crunchy nuts are great on their own—make a double batch and give some as a gift. Served in this salad, they give just the right amount of sweet crunch.
A classic gin sling is dressed for festive parties when made with seasonal pomegranate juice and decorated with crimson pomegranate fruit. Both simple syrup and agave syrup are widely available at liquor stores. To make your own simple syrup, boil 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, stirring just until sugar dissolves; reduce until thickened. Cool before using.
This minty salad makes a refreshing first course for a holiday feast. Every component of the salad can be prepared and ready to serve well in advance. Make the dressing several hours or even a day ahead; just bring to room temperature before tossing with arugula. Buy washed and ready-to-use arugula. It takes time to peel and slice the oranges, so do that ahead, arranging the oranges on a plate and covering with plastic wrap. If you can find fresh blood oranges, they make a stunning presentation.
Prepare this retro-chic snack up to two days ahead, and serve with crackers, bread, or veggies. Rolled in minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, this cheese ball is festive enough for the most discerning of holiday crowds.
This simple twist on the traditional kir royale blends tart-sweet pomegranate juice with subtle herbal notes from a rosemary-infused syrup. Float rosemary leaves on the drinks for a pretty garnish.
To get your holiday-preparations underway before the frenzies begin, make the soup several days in advance. Reheat this sweet and creamy soup over medium-low heat just before serving.
The knobby bulb called celeriac or celery root has a celery-like flavor, but one that is more robust and creamy at the same time. Add leftover turkey to make this an entrée.
Pink grapefruit, a popular winter fruit, stars in this pretty beverage. Look for canned lychee fruit, which has a delicately sweet flavor, in the ethnic food aisle at the supermarket or at Asian groceries. Use the leftover lychees in a fruit salad.
Whether hosting a casual gathering with snacks or a sit-down dinner, don’t forget to include at least one dish that’s fresh and crunchy—especially during the holidays. Crunchy Brussels sprouts with sweet and salty applewood-smoked bacon will surely do the trick.
This Middle Eastern dip is traditionally made with chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil; it lends itself to several variations. Prepare and refrigerate it a day ahead; let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with a lemon wedge and fresh parsley sprig, and serve with Spicy Baked Pita Chips. Feeling adventurous? Try these variations on Traditional Hummus: White Bean and Roasted Garlic Hummus, Spicy Red Pepper Hummus, Feta-Baked Hummus
This is a timely concoction for a party. Simply prepare the gingered sugar syrup, and refrigerate it until you're ready to shake and serve the cocktails.
Smoked salmon is an easy way to add visual appeal to any appetizer. This dish couldn't be simpler or more delicious, matching a crispy gyoza-skin "crust" with a creamy-tangy cheese mixture and a salty, chewy salmon topper.
Take a break from creamy and cheesy with the light Asian flavor of these dumplings. A ginger-and-sesame-scented filling of chicken and crunchy veggies is balanced by the tart and salty dipping sauce, which awakens the palate with just a hint of heat.
This cocktail kicks up staid mulled wine to a whole new level. Cranberry-pineapple juice is steeped with spices and combined with complex dark rum and spicy, sparkling ginger beer for a fizzy, peppery, and altogether refreshing experience.
View Recipe: Spicy Rum Punch
Shrimp creates a pleasing variation on crab cakes in this dish, and matches well with the chunky salsa, which brings in sour, sweet, and buttery flavors. Hot sauce in the cakes and poblano peppers in the salsa bring some heat, but not enough to overwhelm―the balance is just right.
Classic Hanukkah latkes form the base for this intriguingly flavored appetizer. Seemingly incongruous tart apple and spicy horseradish flavors unite to balance the strongly flavored smoked trout, all atop a crunchy-starchy pancake foundation.
No need to forgo one of the holiday's favorite indulgences—creamy, rich eggnog. This version gives you all the satisfaction of the full-fat version without the guilt, and it can be made up to a week in advance.
We took this classic warm, creamy dip and improved it with smoky bacon, because bacon makes everything better. Make sure to serve this in a central location―it's sure to attract a crowd at any party.
A mix of fruity and meaty olives works well in this treatment. They are ideal for cocktail platters, antipasto, snacking, or as a gift when placed in a decorative jar.
Savor summer in the middle of winter with this fruity concoction. Blood oranges add beautiful color, while more fruits and spices add depth of flavor. It may be sweet as candy, but this beverage is definitely for adults only, with a base of red wine and Triple Sec for an extra kick.
Turn a beloved side dish into a cute and savory appetizer. Frozen phyllo shells speed prep time, as does bagged baby spinach (rather than frozen). Toasting the phyllo cups keeps them crisp longer after being filled.
If you're lucky enough to be both clever AND organized, this is just the app for you. Assemble and freeze these up to two weeks in advance (a good weekend project), then pop them into the oven and add seven minutes to the cook time (no need to thaw). The savory mushroom filling and the feathery phyllo will impress all your holiday guests.
The slow cooker offers great convenience here, keeping the stovetop open for meal prep. Pouring the soda into the hot wine right at the time of service brings the temperature down enough to drink immediately. Change out the orange slices for fresh when serving to punch up the look.