When we have company and visitors over, especially during the holidays, I like to serve some appetizing foods with cocktails or wine before dinner, but I need them to be simple so I can concentrate my energy on welcoming guests and getting the meal made and on the table.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for holiday appetizers that guests will love but don’t take much effort.

•    Popcorn with fun seasonings: Everybody loves popcorn, and it’s a healthy way to indulge before dinner, and kids especially love it. Top freshly popped popcorn with truffle oil, smoked sea salt, grated Parmesan cheese and rosemary, or chili or curry powder.

•    Flavored store-bought dips like hummus with carrot, celery and red pepper sticks. We particularly love Sabra’s innovative hummus flavors like Asian Fusion, Roasted Red Pepper, Roasted Garlic, and Basil Pesto hummus.

•    Goat cheese topped with pesto, and Brie topped with cranberry sauce (you’ll love the festive holiday colors)

•    Apple slices topped with blue cheese and chopped walnuts

•    Endive leaves with a dab of goat cheese and chutney

•    A bowl of roasted almonds and dried cranberries

•    Celery cut into thirds and stuffed with Boursin herbed cheese or flavored cream cheese

•    Smoked trout blended with a little mayonnaise and served with rosemary crackers

•    Thin round toasts with thin slices of avocado fanned over them, with chopped toasted pistachios and sea salt sprinkled on top.

For something that takes a little more work, but that will make your guests swoon, make this Cheesy Stuffed Bread that I learned how to make from my friend and colleague, Linda Wolpert. These can be made in advance so you can focus on guests when they arrive, and your kids will have fun helping you stuff them.

Hollow out the inside of the bread.

Chop the ham into small pieces.  Repeat with the cheese and the bread scraps.

Use a long spoon to push the stuffing all the way into the middle of the bread.

Wrap in plastic wrap until you are ready to serve.

Recipe: Cheesy Stuffed Bread

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes min(s)

Ingredients

    • 1 15-18" long baguette
    • 1 1/2 cups cooked ham, cut into 1" cubes
    • 1 1/2 cups Gouda cheese, cut into 1" cubes
    • 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
    • 1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
    • 1 Tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped (optional)
    • 1 Tbsp. finely chopped shallot (optional)

Instructions

    Slice off both ends of the baguette. Cut the baguette into 6-8" long pieces so that your knife can reach all the way into the middle from both sides.  Using a long serrated knife and working from the both ends, hollow out the baguette, leaving about ½-inch thick crust all around.

    In food processor, pulse the ham until chopped into small pieces, but not ground fine and put in a mixing bowl.  Do the same with the cheese and the bread that you have removed from the middle of the baguette.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir together.

    Using a long narrow spoon, fill the baguettes with the ham and cheese mixture, working from both sides of the bread so that you can reach the middle.  Pack the filling tight. Wrap the stuffed baguettes tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least two hours and up to two days. Right before serving, slice the baguettes into ½-inch thick slices and serve.

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