Holiday Guests, Holiday Appetizers



Crostini with white bean puree and fried capers

Our home tends to have a revolving door for guests—sometimes it’s a last minute drop-by for a cocktail, sometimes it’s a planned dinner on the calendar for weeks, sometimes it’s house guests staying with us for a few days. It’s always nice to have your pantry stocked with appetizer essentials to help make entertaining easier, that and some well-chilled motivation in a glass is all you need to have fun preparing for guests. Appetizers set the mood when entertaining. Handing your guests a nibble (I’m talking food here) and a cocktail upon arrival is the quickest way to start a great night. Here are a few of my mainstay quick and easy appetizers.

Sausage and Mustards

Am I the only one who has a ridiculous amount of mustard in my fridge? Quick dishes like this one keep those condiment jars moving—you know, the ones on your fridge door that never get used. Sweet Italian sausage you can find anywhere, including my garage freezer (have I told you how much I love that thing?).

In a Dutch oven, simmer uncovered a pound of sausage in a bottle of beer—make sure you prick each sausage with a knife or fork beforehand or you will have exploding sausages on your hands. By the time the beer evaporates completely, the sausage will be cooked. You will have moist, flavorful, perfectly cooked sausage. Slice it on the diagonal just before serving and serve the mustard in cute ramekins. Don’t forget toothpicks and some napkins.

Radishes with Butter and Sea Salt

Slice the radishes in half lengthwise (forming your landing platforms for the butter and salt). Smear with some great butter (the Irish Butter at TJ’s is great and so is this one from our local farmers market) and a sprinkle of sea salt. You can put the ingredients on a platter and let your guest assemble. Fresh, amazing and easy! I like to make up the first few for my guests to get them going.



I just updated the recipe—this is a classic and everyone loves them. You can also add some chopped seasonal herbs (thyme and chives are great right now) to the dough.

Kale Chips

Loved by kids (even my picky one) and adults alike.


Anything on a baguette is good, but remember, it’s a bit filling, too. Try to slice them thin enough (these are about 1 centimeter thick) that they hold your ingredients but thick enough so they don’t flop off on to some fabulous holiday blouson pants. This will also limit the carbo load before a potentially big meal, allowing those pants to fit in the new year. I like to grill my bread slices with a little olive oil on a grill pan. It’s quick and provides great flavor and pretty color.

Here are a couple of tasty toppings for crostini:

White Bean Puree and Fried Capers 

Here’s my recipe for flageolet puree. You can use white beans or garbanzo beans as well. Blot the capers with a paper towel to dry them, then fry in grapeseed oil on medium-high heat until toasty and brown.


Swiss Chard Sauté with Sprinkling of Feta

You can used pretty much any green from your garden, arugula is great too. A sprinkle of feta makes so many things tastier, and here it lends a nice creaminess to the peppery arugula.

Boiled Shrimp

This recipe is one that Donald Link taught me, using Santa Barbara Ridgeback shrimp. This is simple, yummy and a bit messy—but so, so good.

Whipped Feta Dip

My favorite dip ever. Your guests will freak out, and you can buy everything for it at Trader Joe’s. Serve it with seasonal veggies and watch out for double dippers.

whipped feta dip

In addition to food, I overstock the following entertaining gadgets, which helps me pull things together quickly:

  • Candles (LED and regular)
  • Lighter
  • Coasters
  • Cloth and paper cocktail napkins
  • Tillandsias (air plants) help create an organic feel without doing a full-blown flower arrangement. Throw one on a platter alongside the appetizers and you’ll look like you’re shooting a magazine cover for Dwell. I have a bowl of them in my garden that I pillage on the fly for quick esthetic enhancement.
  • Large water bottles (both sparkling and flat) will keep your guests hydrated (they will thank you in the morning).