Appetizer Spread

Holiday Meal Hacks: Appetizers, Soups, and Salads

Appetizers are the perfect bite, scoop, dip, pop, or munch that keep you going before the big feast is served. They can either set the stage for a dinner with a theme, or be totally unique to you.

As I mentioned in Holiday Hacks to Fast Track Your Feast

“You’re probably going to want more than one type of appetizer regardless of how many guests are attending. Everyone likes to get a good base going before the main event.

I suggest one cold app and one hot. If room in the oven is an issue, and the toaster oven is full, and you don’t have a warming drawer (because c’mon, who really has one of those things?), then go for something room temperature.”

So what’s the easiest, hack-worthiest way to get a delicious appetizer without a lot of trouble?

Hit the grocery store! Everything I’ve listed below can be easily purchased, easily cooked – or not cooked at all – and served to the delight of your guests or fellow supper club members. Make things even easier by prepping ahead of time and storing under plastic wrap to keep fresh. Be sure not to store anything that could get soggy though! No online likes a soggy appetizer.

Let’s have a look…

Boiled Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce:

Succulent Shrimp and Spicy Cocktail Sauce

A tried and true appetizer that always gets praise. These can be bought on your way to the event, ready to be displayed and served, or, if you’re feeling just a little, tiny bit adventurous (or you want to make a good impression), you can use my simple Succulent Shrimp and Spicy Cocktail Sauce recipe that puts a flavorful spin on this traditional favorite.

Antipasto Platter:

This Italian appetizer is another favorite that can be made to your personal tastes. Prepare cured ham, salamis, smoked fish, olives, cheese, and preserves so people can choose what and how they combo each bite. Add crackers if you like, or keep it meat focused…the choice is yours.

Assorted Cheese Board:

You can never go wrong with cheese. Many conventional grocery stores now carry a range of nice cheese chunks, and specialty stores will certainly have a variety to choose from. If you don’t know much about cheese, a store employee should be able to help you chose complimentary flavors.

Pair your cheese choices with some crackers, olives, nuts (spiced nuts are great for the holidays), and pickled veggies. Some people choose to label their cheese boards, but I’ve found that the cheese always gets eaten — whether people know what type it is or not. People can pick and choose to make their own combinations.

Bruschettas:

Bruschetta Variety

The Italians really know how to appetize, so here’s another Italy inspired idea. Bruschettas are toasted French bread slices topped with different marinated veggie spreads, olive spread, or smoked salmon. They can be garnished with sliced egg, capers, sour cream, and dill ferns.

This is another opportunity to make it your own, or you can use my recipe for “Anything on a Raft” Buschetta.

Dip Platter:

It’s this simple…grab your favorite dips, grab your favorite dippers, and serve. Some favorites include guacamole, chili con queso, spinach and artichoke, crab and cheese, and buffalo wing. Dippers could be chips, pretzels, bread, or veggies.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can cook or prepare a dip at home. If you’d really just like to show up, no worries, any store will have everything you need.

Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Dates:

Bacon Wrapped Dates

Trust me, the title is longer, but I promise, these are just as simple as everything else. You’ll need…

  • Thin sliced bacon
  • Large pitted medjool dates
  • Robiola cheese sliced into 1/2 inch pieces (enough to fill the cavity of the pitted date).

Robiola is a soft Italian cheese. If you can’t find it, you can use triple cream brie instead.

To pit the dates make a small incision length wise into the date and pull out the seed. It’s super easy, so I know you can do it.

Blanch your bacon but putting it in a bowl and covering with very hot or simmering water. Let rest for 10 minutes to par-cook the bacon, then dry and set aside while you stuff your dates with cheese.

Wrap your stuffed dates with the bacon and lay seam side down on an oiled rack. Roast at 375° until bacon is crisp.

Wa-lah! A hot app that everyone will enjoy…and you haven’t even broken a sweat!

Packaged Hors D’oeuvres:

Everyone loves opening boxes during the holidays, right? Of course! So, in sticking with the theme, go to the store, grab some frozen hors d’oeuvres (the fancy way to say appetizers), open that box, and cook as the directions instruct.

Soup and Salad Hacks:

Yes, “cooking” can be that easy…and we haven’t even scratched the holiday hack surface. Now, this next part may not be for you. Soup and/or salad is not served at every holiday meal, but it may be the perfect addition to your spread.

CAUTION: If you’re dining on plastic, do NOT serve hot soup in a plastic bowl. We want the holiday to be hot, but burning your supper club is not a good way to make friends.

Instead, serve hot soup in serving bowls or mugs.

The trick to hacking soups and salads is to purchase the soup and salad at the store. You come in at the end with a flavor-filled garnish, dressing, or other topping that brings the bowl (or mug) together with a homemade feel.

If you do want to cook, just don’t want that last minute rush, you can make a soup from scratch and store until serving time. Either make it a week ahead and freeze, or a day or two early stored in an airtight container.

But back to those store-bought items…it’s amazing how many varieties of soup now exist in the can or carton. It’s all about pairing the right flavor combinations between the soup and the garnish to create a full bowl of goodness. Here are some ways to maximize those already-made soups:

Butternut or Pumpkin Soup:

Either one goes great with a garnish of pepitas or pumpkin seeds, a swirl of heavy cream, roasted apples, or hazelnuts.

Cream of Mushroom, Broccoli, Carrot, or Tomato Bisque:

If you want cream in your cream of soup, give your finished bowl a dash of herb-infused heavy cream using thyme, dill, or garlic. Give your guests a little crunch with a sprinkling of fried onions, fried jalapenos, or croutons.

For your salad, purchase pre-packaged greens or choose your own from the bins. Use nuts, canned beans, shredded veggies, crumbled cheese, or whatever else excites you to excite your salad. Throw it all in a bowl, grab a bottle of dressing, and you’re out the door.

Need a little help on what goes with what? Take a look at three of my favorite combinations below…

Spinach

Combine baby spinach, arugula, crumbled dolce gorgonzola, candied nuts, fresh blackberries, and a garlic blackberry vinaigrette.

Kale

Combine Tuscan kale, halved grape tomatoes, bacon crumbles, cucumber slices, chick peas, shredded carrots, crumbled or cubed feta cheese, and a roasted red pepper dressing.

Caesar

Can’t go wrong here. Combine romaine hearts, garlic butter croutons, and creamy Caesar dressing.

Mmmmmm, mmmm, mm!

The appetizers have been served and soup and salad is available for the taking. That means we’re close to the main meat event, but not just yet. Stick with me for hackable side dishes coming up next!

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Bacon Wrapped Dates
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