Holiday entertaining can be simple with this make-ahead menu of appetizers that are both casual and elegant. Tasty nibbles such as Chesapeake Crab Dip and Black Forest Pâté will satisfy hungry guests, while Hot Coffee Punch and Cranberry Champagne Punch will make spirits bright!
Hosting an open house is one of the easiest ways to entertain a crowd during the holidays. All it takes is a little planning and simple recipes that can be prepared in advance. Here you’ll find some of my favorite festive bites along with tips for making the party run smoothly!
Timing is Everything!
- December can be a hectic month, so plan your guest list and menu about four weeks ahead. The menu featured here will generously serve a dozen people, but you can double the quantities or add additional favorite dishes as needed.
- Holiday calendars fill up quickly, so send invites two weeks in advance. Clearly declare a start and end time. I find that 1 pm to 4 pm is a good range, and falls after lunch and before dinner for most people.
- Two weeks before the party, write on your calendar when you’ll make or assemble each dish. Some of the recipes in this post can be made two weeks ahead (or earlier!).
- One week ahead, deck the halls! If you haven’t pulled out the seasonal decor, now is the time!
- The day before, tidy up and clean your house. Place trash bins strategically to avoid finding stray toothpicks and napkins between couch cushions and in flower arrangements.
- A couple of hours before the party begins, finish preparing foods and arrange them on serve ware. Have an extra tray or two of food hidden in the refrigerator to replenish the buffet.
Cheese and Apricot Truffles are lovely little bites of sweet and savory (I mean, cheese and fruit – you can’t go wrong!). I love that these can be made far ahead of party time; one week ahead and stored in the refrigerator, or one month ahead and stored in the freezer.
Cheese and Apricot Truffles
- 16 oz. 2 packages cream cheese, softened
- 2 cups 8 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
- 1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
- 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
- In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until creamy; stir in Swiss cheese. Add apricot and pepper, stirring well. Shape into 30 balls. Roll in pecans, pressing firmly so pecans adhere. Serve at room temperature.
Olive and Gouda Spread has bold flavor with briny olives and it’s great on buttery crackers. I was surprised that this dip disappeared first! (Olives – people love ’em or hate ’em, right?)
Savory Garlic and Bacon Spread reminds me of French onion dip with the addition of crisp, smoky bacon crumbles. This tastes seriously indulgent, and would make a delicious filling for finger sandwiches, too.
Olive Gouda Spread & Savory Garlic Bacon Spread
Olive and Gouda Cheese Spread
- 4 oz. shredded Gouda cheese
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 4 1/2 oz. jar sliced ripe olives, drained
- 3 green onions chopped
Savory Garlic and Bacon Spread
- Yields 1 cup
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 oz. whipped cream cheese
- 8 slices bacon cooked crisp and crumbled
Olive Gouda Spread
- Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until blended. Serve with assorted party crackers.
Bacon Garlic Spread
- Place the olive oil in a skillet and place over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until translucent. Drain and cool. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, onion mixture, and crumbled bacon. Stir well. Serve with assorted party crackers.
Chesapeake Crab Dip is a hearty offering with thick slices of toasted baguette. It’s also really delicious served with crunchy kettle chips!
Chesapeake Crab Dip
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 oz. jar red diced pimento
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1 lb. fresh lump crabmeat drained
- 1/3 cup green onion chopped (plus more for garnish, if desired)
- 1 large baguette sliced and toasted for serving
- Combine the first 7 ingredients in a bowl; stir well. Combine the crabmeat and 1/3 cup green onion in a separate large bowl. Add mayonnaise mixture to the crab mixture; toss gently to combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve with baguette slices.
Hot Coffee Punch is warm and sweet, and will add pep to your party! It’s best served with a dollop of whipped cream melting on top. This is like drinking dessert – swoon!
Hot Coffee Punch
- 5 cups whole milk
- 4 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup light brown sugar packed
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
- 8 cups strongly brewed coffee
- 1 cup Kahlua optional
- Whipped cream for serving
- Combine the first 4 ingredients in a large Dutch oven; cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated. Place chocolate morsels in a medium bowl. Microwave at high, uncovered, 1 minute 30 seconds; stir until smooth. Gradually add 1 cup hot milk mixture to melted chocolate, stirring with a wire whisk until smooth. Add chocolate mixture to remaining milk mixture. Stir in coffee. Add Kahlua, if desired. Cook over medium heat until steaming but not boiling. Serve warm with whipped cream.
Cranberry Champagne Punch is so simple to make, it barely warrants a recipe. Use a bottle of white grape juice in place of the Champagne for a non-alcoholic version. It’s sweet-tart, and so refreshing.
Cranberry Champagne Punch
- 2 bottles (28 ounces each cranberry-raspberry cocktail chilled
- 1 can 12 oz. frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
- 2 bottles 750 ml. dry champagne or sparkling white grape juice
- Combine the cranberry cocktail and pineapple juice in a large punch bowl. Stir in champagne. Alternatively, divide punch between two large pitchers.
Rosemary-Roasted Party Nuts might be a familiar sight because we blogged them last Christmas. The piney flavor of rosemary makes them so perfect for the holidays. You can find the recipe in this previous blog post.
Black Forest Pâté is truly a unique and tasty dessert! It’s like a hybrid of Black Forest cake and ricotta cheesecake. Plus, it’s no-bake, so you can make it a few days ahead of party time. Serve it with store-bought dippers such pirouette wafers and butter cookies.
Black Forest Pâté
- 16 oz. cream cheese softened
- 2/3 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 4 oz. semisweet chocolate melted and cooled
- 1 cup maraschino cherries drained and chopped
- 2.25 oz. sliced almonds toasted and chopped
- 8 chocolate wafer cookies crushed (about 1/3 cup)
- Cookies such Pirouettes for serving
- Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with plastic wrap; set aside.
- Beat cheeses in the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar and cinnamon. Slowly add melted chocolate, beating at low speed until blended. Stir in chopped cherries and almonds.
- Evenly spread the mixture into the prepared pan, pressing with a spatula to remove any air bubbles. Cover and chill at least 8 hours. Unmold the pate, remove plastic wrap, and transfer onto a serving plate. Press wafer crumbs into the sides of the spread. Serve at room temperature with chocolate cookies.
I can’t wait to share these recipes with my friends and family. With almost all of the prep work done ahead, I’ll have plenty of time to visit with them during the party!