Recipes

Small and easy bites with holiday appeal

The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

This baked brie with pecans is usually served as an appetizer, but it could be dessert, says Jennifer Palcher-Silliman.
This baked brie with pecans is usually served as an appetizer, but it could be dessert, says Jennifer Palcher-Silliman. Raleigh News & Observer

With everything going on during this time of year – family visits, friends dropping in, New Year’s Eve plans – don’t let the need to produce a festive snack add to your stress level. What you need are some incredibly easy appetizer recipes.

None of these involves complicated techniques – we’re talking a little slicing, spreading, stirring and pouring. Seriously, you could probably just throw all the ingredients off the side of a mountain and they would come together at the bottom as finished hors d’oeuvres.

In addition, these recipes have five ingredients or less. Fewer ingredients means less time and money spent at the grocery store. There’s just a teensy bit of cheating in that some ingredients are prepared foods, like pesto. But I’m not going to pile on more stress by being a stickler about homemade everything, and neither should you.

With these simple, short recipes you can offer a homemade taste while maintaining your holiday sanity.

EASY FINGER FOODS

Classic cheese plate: Follow this formula: two cheeses – one soft (like goat cheese or brie) and one hard (try Manchego or Asiago). Offer bread or crackers for the third element, then add two of any of these items: olives, fresh or dried fruit, nuts (spiced or candied if you have them), honey or already-sliced salty cured meats, like salami or prosciutto. Arrange artfully on your nicest wooden cutting board with appropriate serving knives or spoons and call it a day.

Crostini: Start with a fresh baguette cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices as ingredient number one; if you have a few extra minutes, toast the slices. Or even better, buy ready-made crostini slices at the bakery. Top with your favorite two- to four-ingredient combinations. Here are some I love: cranberry chutney or fig jam with blue cheese; Manchego and Serrano ham; roast beef and brie; butter topped with thinly sliced radishes and sea salt; and deli chicken or egg salad topped with chopped chives.

Dips: Surely, you’ve heard of the (in)famous-yet-delicious two-ingredient queso dip of processed cheese and spicy canned tomatoes nuked in a microwave until creamy. A guaranteed crowd pleaser, but it’s not the only quick dip made with few fixings. Mix vanilla Greek yogurt with honey and a splash of lemon and serve with sliced apples. Or stir taco seasoning into plain Greek yogurt and serve with corn chips or carrots.

Tortillas: You can do a million snacky things with tortillas. There’s the classic smoked salmon roll: Spread a spinach tortilla with a thin shmear of herbed cream cheese – make sure to spread to the edges. Layer smoked salmon along one edge of the tortilla, sprinkle with chopped fresh dill and top with red onion slices. Starting with the salmon side, roll the tortilla up tightly, then slice into 1/2-inch portions. Refrigerate until serving.

Other tortilla pinwheel combos include cream cheese, apricot jam and pre-shredded carrots, or a take on a muffuletta with ham, salami, provolone and store-bought olive tapenade.

You can also use tortillas as bases for flatbreads by topping them with brie and pear or favorite pizza ingredients. Or get creative with quesadillas. Try these pesto sausage quesadillas. Spread about a tablespoon of pesto on a tortilla. Sprinkle crumbled cooked hot Italian sausage on the pesto, then add a layer of mozzarella and thinly sliced red onion on top. Place the tortilla on a medium hot skillet or griddle; cook until cheese is melted. Fold one side of the tortilla over, then transfer to a cutting board. After the quesadilla has cooled a minute, slice and serve hot with warmed marinara sauce.

Parmesan-

pepper jack cheese crisps

Makes 20-24 crisps

You may have heard of Parmesan crisps, the one-ingredient wonders. I think these cheese crisps are less salty than the Parmesan crisps I’ve had before, and the pepper jack adds some nice heat.

1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the two cheeses, then form into roughly 2-inch circles on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Spicy maple bacon

Makes 16 slices

Bacon-y goodness is never out of season, but this version provides a zesty touch to your holiday table. The maple/mustard/Sriracha sauce was created by my husband and is very versatile. Make extra to brush on grilled chicken, pork or salmon; glaze a baked ham; or serve as a dipping sauce for chicken tenders or pigs in a blanket. Just keep the proportions the same – two parts syrup, two parts mustard and one part Sriracha. Inspired by a recipe from Food Network star Ina Garten:.

8 slices thick-cut, applewood-smoked bacon

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

2 teaspoons yellow mustard

1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the slices of bacon in half. Place a baking rack on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and arrange the bacon in one layer on the rack. Bake the bacon for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges start to get crispy.

Stir the syrup, mustard and Sriracha together in a small bowl until thoroughly combined.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven very carefully. Using tongs, turn the bacon slices over on the rack. Brush each slice with the sauce until coated. Return bacon to the oven and bake for 3 to 5 more minutes, or until desired crispiness.

My mom’s baked brie with pecans

Serves 20-24

My mom has been making a version of this indulgent treat for years. We usually serve it as an appetizer, but it would be great as a dessert, too.

One 5-inch brie round

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped pecans

Sliced French bread, apples or pears

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the brie in an oven-safe serving dish. Bake the brie for 8 to 10 minutes to soften.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add the brown sugar and stir, cooking until the mixture is well incorporated and bubbly. Stir in the pecans. Remove the brie from the oven and pour the pecan mixture over the cheese. Serve immediately with sliced French bread, or if you prefer, sliced apples or pears.

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