‘Tis the Season: Stupid-Easy & Festive🎄Holiday Appetizers - No. 171
I share my go-to goat cheese, fig, and pesto layered thingamajig. Share your great idea & we’ve got a contest!
HOLIDAY PARTY APPETIZERS ARE LIKE WE ARE—brilliant or dead boring.
I’m sure you are incredibly festive. Your houses and apartments are decorated, gifts purchased online yesterday, and matching pet and human pajama sets are arriving in moments.
Moi? Festive doesn’t kick in until December, which is Thursday, so I have a couple days. In the meantime, I’m mulling over which appetizer recipes to pull out this year. I hate the same-old, same-old, but when your go-to is a pretty nice layered torte that everyone loves, it’s hard to give it up. Good appetizers can be like a favorite sofa—switched out with new pillows or moved in front of a different window.
Forgive me if I have talked about the goat cheesecake with fig preserves and pesto before. I shared it with paid subscribers a year or more ago when the basil in my garden was a foot high. The recipe comes from a high school classmate, Laurie Bullington, who brought it to a reunion party years back. I came home with some great recipes I continue to make. And this is the appetizer you’ll seldom do the same way twice.
It has three parts. Signs of a great appetizer:
Crunch. Because of those sweet and spicy pecans on top.
Sweet. Fig preserves straight from the jar. (The added bonus of a great condiment! It’s not did you make the fig preserves as much as how you use the fig preserves. Wink, wink!)
Salty tang. Goat cheese and cream cheese whizzed in the food processor. Add crumbled blue cheese, perhaps? More tang and salt. My daughter Kathleen has completely made this appetizer her own. If recipes were a GPS, she and I have the same destination but she takes the side streets, enlivening the store-bought jam with lemon juice and zest. She makes her own pesto that’s not a pesto, blanching basil leaves and whizzing them in the blender with olive oil, lemon juice, and pistachios until she arrives at a chunky, vivid green oil.
Come to think of it, appetizers liven up the party!
They are the party. Why do we think boards have been so popular? They’re an edible tablescape, so who needs flowers? Pull together your favorite collection of cutting boards and interesting platters. Plan something salty, something sweet, something crunchy as I mentioned, and have at it! Fluff up with sprigs and branches of holiday greenery.
No doubt, social media has scared away a lot of us from taking risks on new recipes. It’s not so much FOMO as it is FOLU, or fear of living up. The pressure to whip up the appetizer of the moment and tell everyone about it on TikTok or an Instagram Reel isn’t great for the old mental health. And who knows what’s going to be trending by the time you upload your photos?
Better question—who cares?
I, for one, would love a good rehash of mom’s cheese ball. That’s right, the one that Hickory Farms destroyed. I can nosh on from-scratch artichoke dip better than anyone and will arm wrestle you for the Scoops. Rumaki, anyone? What about those slightly greasy but otherwise irresistible toasts made with mayo, onion, and Gruyere spread onto Pepperidge Farm party rye and stuck under the broiler until golden? Just give me a slightly dated but well prepared appetizer any day.
In the ‘60s, appetizers were serious business, or so it looks from the photos and hearing the stories. Could it have been because the dinner casserole of chicken and wild rice was pre-made and the squares of frozen Sara Lee banana cake were thawing for dessert? Or that the martinis were stiff?
This year, let’s be prepared. Some great appetizers are already in my archives!
I can absolutely recommend off the top of my head:
Kathleen’s Hummus, Dayna’s Firecrackers (with the bonus recipe of Chocolate Saltine Toffee), Cara’s Cocktail Shrimp, and Pat’s Artichoke Dip.
But I’m looking for something new! So, selfishly, I’m asking you:
What are you nibbling for the holidays? What is your new favorite cracker? Are you going full-on vegan or just channeling Julia Child and opening a bag of Goldfish? What’s your best app?
In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, I’ve got a contest: The Best Stupid-Easy but Festive Holiday Appetizer that might involve a can or jar—again, who cares?—and, did I say, festive?! Share your idea/entry by tapping the Comment button below. I’ll pick a winner who will receive a year’s paid subscription to Between the Layers! And if you’re already a subscriber, you can gift it to a friend.
It’s nearly December. Let’s be brilliant and festive!
- xo, Anne
Coming Thursday for Subscribers
Appetizer week continues! Your quick and easy ideas. I announce the winner. More ideas from me, something really nice with cranberries, above, (from another high school classmate!) and wheat-free pecan cheese wafers using my favorite pecans from Schermer Pecans in South Georgia. Plus, a couple nice suggestions for gifting the baker on your list, too.
Don’t miss out! Join us! December newsletters will be published just on Thursdays. Take advantage of the holiday special until Dec. 5:
Laurie's Goat Cheese, Pesto and Fig Cheesecake
Laurie Bullington of Birmingham created this go-to appetizer that she says "always gets devoured." It is sort of a torte, has been called a terrine, and has the consistency of cheesecake. And it is especially welcome at Christmas, when life gets hectic, because we make this ahead of time and have it ready to go in the fridge. Laurie varies the recipe by the season and what she has on hand. For example, instead of the fig preserves she has used peach preserves or mango chutney instead. To keep things interesting she scours craft fairs and farmers markets for hand-made preserves, and for special occasions she often tops the cheesecake with her own sweet and spicy pecans or crumbled bacon. After you top the cheesecake with pesto, you can keep it chilled for three days before unmolding and topping with the preserves. If topping with the pecans, prepare these three days ahead and keep in a sealed plastic bag until time to garnish.
Prep: 15 minutes
Chill: 1 hour, or overnight
4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup basil pesto (store bought or homemadeLINK)
1/2 cup fig preserves
Crackers or thin rounds of French bread for serving
1. Spray a 5 1/2-by 3-inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray, and line it with waxed or parchment paper and set aside.
2. Place the goat cheese and cream cheese in a medium-size bowl and blend with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy, 30 seconds. Press the cheese mixture into the loaf pan using a rubber spatula. Spoon the pesto over the cheese, spreading it out evenly. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time, at least 1 hour.
3. Just before serving, remove the cheesecake from the fridge. Remove the plastic wrap and unmold onto a serving plate. Spoon the preserves over the top. Top with chopped Sweet and Spicy Pecans, if desired (see recipe below) and serve with crackers.
Sweet and Spicy Pecans: Place a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon hot sauce. Stir until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in 1 cup pecan halves, and stir until the pecans are coated with the mixture. Reduce the heat to low, and place the skillet back over the heat. Cook and stir 2 minutes, or until the pecans are lightly toasted. Remove the pan from the heat and let the pecans cool completely, 20 minutes.
My got to for after the late night Xmas service are these Holiday Coins. Slather a warm flour tortilla with a smooth mixture of feta and cream cheese, also warmed. Dot with dried cranberries and green onions. Roll and wrap and chill. Before serving slice into coins. In a sea of beautiful Christmas cookies, my plate of these gems in always the first one that is bare. Enjoy.
How about this for easy-peasy....
8 oz. cream cheese
Pour Worcestershire sauce over top (a couple of tablespoons)
Sprinkle couple of tablespoons of sesame seeds on top of W sauce
Too easy....and great with Ritz crackers!