Fast Christmas Appetizers
Pepper-Glazed Goat Cheese Gratin
This warm, sweet-spicy goat cheese dip is an easy alternative to a cheese plate--and it takes just 20 minutes to make. The red pepper jelly gives this dip a great festive color, and mustard gives it a little tang. Serve with toasted baguette slices and pita chips for a no-fuss, delicious appetizer.
Smoked Salmon Toasts with Mustard Butter
Sour cream or cream cheese may be the usual spread with salty smoked salmon, but chef David Tanis thinks softened butter makes a tasty alternative. (Think of ham-and-butter sandwiches.) To give the butter a zippy bite, he stirs in lemon zest and both Dijon and grainy mustards.
Crab Cakes with Horseradish Cream
Lump crabmeat is mixed with only enough bread crumbs and mayonnaise to hold it together, then coated with more crumbs and fried to a golden brown. A mixture of sour cream and horseradish provides lively accompaniment.
Mussels on the Half Shell with Curried Crumbs
This starter is inspired by mouclade, the classic Bordelais mussels in saffron or curry cream. Here, plump mussels are topped with garlic-curry-bread-crumb butter and broiled until sizzling.
Caesar Salad Spears
Salads usually require forks, but Grace Parisi transforms a classic Caesar into a clever finger food. She tosses chopped endives with a lemony dressing, then spoons the mixture inside elegant endive spears, topping it with cheese and crunchy mini croutons.
Butternut Squash Rösti Cakes
Adding shredded butternut squash to mini potato pancakes adds a touch of sweetness and a nice orange hue.
“We created this dish as an homage to Jay-Z. He inspires us,” says Mario Carbone about the rapper and cofounder of the Roc-A-Fella record label. “The original dish was named for John D. Rockefeller. He was money back then, and to us, Jay-Z is money in New York City now.” Carbone tops the oysters with a tangy vinegar-shallot mignonette, plus a Champagne-infused foam and frozen Champagne grapes.
Gouda, Pancetta and Onion Fondue with Pretzels
Leyden, a Dutch cheese flecked with cumin seeds, inspired Laura Werlin to create this cumin-spiced Gouda fondue. Serve it with soft, warm pretzels or pickled vegetables for dipping.
Crab Rolls with Lemon Aioli
New Orleans chefs often drown seafood in rich, spicy sauces, but here, chef Jason McCullar of Cure simply dresses sweet crabmeat (a Louisiana staple) in lemon-scented aioli. The crab salad is wonderful piled on hot dog buns like a New England lobster roll or arranged delicately on small rolls as hors d’oeuvres.
These luscious little tarts are filled with fresh ricotta. The trick to making the cheese silky is to puree it before spreading it on the flaky pastry and topping it with oven-roasted tomatoes.
Shrimp Cocktail with Marie Rose Sauce
Chef and Food Network Canada star Anthony Sedlak spikes the ’70s throwback Marie Rose sauce (mayonnaise and a touch of ketchup) with brandy and horseradish. It’s fantastic with shrimp cocktail as well as fried seafood like battered cod.
Maple-Soy Snack Mix
Savory snack mixes are typically flavored with soy sauce, Worcestershire and butter. Grace Parisi prepares her crunchy mix with a little maple syrup for sweetness and Thai curry paste for heat.
Ginger-Miso Sweet Pea Spread
As a dairy-free alternative to creamy dips, the recipe here calls for pureeing sweet peas with scallions, ginger and jalapeño, then seasoning the mix with yellow miso. Serve the spread with different kinds of crackers and breads or sugar snap peas and celery for dipping.
Wild Mushroom Crostini
Southern cooking is often very meat-focused, but chef Ford Fry likes to emphasize vegetables. For these crostini, he tops creamy ricotta with a mix of garlicky mushrooms and a handful of herbs.
Shumai with Crab and Pork
Sylvan Mishima Brackett uses Dungeness crab to make these open steamed dumplings, but any lump crabmeat will work well. The dumplings are juicy and flavorful on their own, so they’re best served simply with just a little Chinese mustard and soy sauce, for dipping.
Cucumber-Rye Tea Sandwiches
Little slices of party rye are a Southern favorite for tea sandwiches: “You don’t see regular rye down here every day,” Martha Hall Foose says. If party rye isn’t available, use a cookie cutter to create rounds from regular bread slices.
This recipe is based on the Arabic lamejun, a thin piece of dough topped with minced meat, then baked. Here Grace Parisi flavors ground lamb with cumin, mint and pine nuts.
Buckwheat-Cheddar Blini with Smoked Salmon
Sophie Dahl makes her blinis with wonderfully earthy buckwheat flour and serves the salmon-topped hors d’oeuvres at parties throughout the year.
Austrian Cheese Spread with Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seed oil from southern Austria gives this spread its nutty flavor.
Miso-Glazed Smoked Sable on Rice Crackers
For a modern twist on a traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes party.
We like the variety here—the same toast spread with two different toppings. The green-olive tapenade, which uses pre-pitted olives, can be made in minutes with a blender or food processor. The sautéed mushroom topping is equally savory hot or at room temperature.
Smoked Salmon Crisps
Thomas Keller's salmon cornets (tuiles shaped into tiny cones and topped with crème fraîche and fresh salmon) are a famous kickoff to his luxe and whimsical meals. Top these ones with store-bought smoked salmon and crème fraîche.
After baking flaky squares of puff pastry, Melissa Rubel tops them with sweet fig preserves and pungent blue cheese.
Marinated Olives with Orange
Olives marinated in citrus juice, garlic and spicy crushed red pepper become a sensational cocktail-party snack.
Inspired by the classic combination of bagels with lox and cream cheese, Tory Miller devised this variation using smoked, locally raised trout and homemade English muffins. It would be equally good on other breads, such as a baguette, or even the bagel that inspired it.