Holiday Entertaining Guide - Page 25 - Appetizers as main attraction

Holiday Entertaining Guide
- Page 25
Appetizers as main attraction
In my family, holiday eating was all about the appetizers.

The family lore is this: My mother got fed up one year after we gorged ourselves on the appetizers and barely touched the full Christmas dinner. From then on, it became a feast of only appetizers.

I remember shrimp cocktail, St. Andre triple-cream brie and a popular Pittsburgh hors d’oeuvre called “Polish mistakes,” a sort of sausage and Velveeta combo on toasted slices of cocktail rye bread. My sisters remember deviled eggs, a relish tray, Buffalo chicken dip and a failed stuffed mushroom recipe that involved the microwave.

I believe my mother still whipped up a batch of soup if people got hungry later.

I’ve come to value my family’s appreciation for a good appetizer buffet.These small bites are the workhorse this time of year with so many family gatherings, holiday open houses and parties.

For me, a good appetizer selection offers each of these notes: warmth, crunchiness and freshness.

Warm, to me, means dips (think Buffalo chicken or creamy artichoke or Southern Living’s Sausage, Bean and Spinach Dip that was a hit at my garden club’s holiday party) or cocktail meatballs.

Crunch can be those classic cheese straws, Ina Garten’s Parmesan Crisps, cocktail nuts or anything you serve to eat with those dips, including pita or tortilla chips.

Fresh means fruits and vegetables or a cold dip that is the opposite end of the rich indulgent warm dips; think hummus, guacamole or the New York Bagel Dip that we share with this story.

Some dishes do double duty, like anything you serve on a crostini, offering both crunch and/or warmth or freshness.

It’s clear to me that my mom had the right idea. Sometimes it is perfectly all right for the opening act to steal the show.

Sausage, bean and spinach dip
Yield: about 6 cups

From “The Southern Living Community Cookbook,” by Sheri Castle (Oxmoor House, 2014).

• 1 medium-sized sweet onion, peeled and diced
• 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
• 1 pound hot ground sausage
• 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
• 1 (6-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach, coarsely chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese
• Corn chip scoops, red bell peppers, pita chips and/or pretzels