Perfect appetizers for your holiday party

Pan-fried onion dip.
Pan-fried onion dip. TNS

Chef Ryan Sneed comes from a family of food lovers with big appetites, so holiday get-togethers always begin with an amazing array of snacks.

Before the main meal, guests graze on Bloody Mary shrimp shooters, avocado deviled eggs, bacon-wrapped jalapeno bites, crunchy maple-glazed pecans and Sneed’s famous asparagus and goat cheese terrine, which he describes as “a souped up cheese log.”

“We do a lot of holiday appetizers because we don’t want everyone tearing into the turkey,” he says.

For Sneed, who is the corporate executive chef for KC Hopps, nothing beats his wife Megan’s onion dip, a decadent bowl of caramelized onion goodness served with thick-cut potato chips. The dip is easy to make and doesn’t require any fancy or expensive ingredients, but, he says, “it will put anything else you’ve ever tasted to shame.”

That’s the thing about holiday party food: Simple snacks can be just as enjoyable as hard-to-make hors d’oeuvres.

Aaron Pillar, chef and co-owner of the Lawrence catering company Culinaria, loves making latkes around this time of year. The potato pancakes, a traditional Hanukkah specialty, require few ingredients (potatoes, salt, oil) and can be kept warm in the oven until ready to serve.

Latkes also lend themselves to a variety of toppings. Pillar likes to make sandwich-inspired latkes with sour cream, salmon and scallions, or bacon, lettuce and tomato. Craving Mexican? Sprinkle on crumbled chorizo and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Because latkes are relatively small, “you can have three or four and not feel like all you want to do is go sit on the couch,” Pillar says.

Variety is important when it comes to planning a holiday feast, says Shelby Fahrni, apprentice chef at Lidia’s Kansas City. It’s good to offer guests a mix of light and rich nibbles.

“I’ve been to those holiday parties where it’s heavy, heavy, heavy,” Fahrni says. “Everyone’s asleep by the end!”

Fahrni says you can’t go wrong with an antipasti platter loaded with trimmed vegetables, marinated olives, mixed nuts, cured meats and cheeses. She especially likes prosciutto, hard Tuscan salami, manchego cheese and Gorgonzola Dolce, a crowd-pleasing blue cheese with a mild, sweet flavor.

Fahrni’s family is from Switzerland, so most special gatherings revolve around fondue. At Lidia’s Kansas City, she loves hearty crostatas around this time of year.

“They’re great when you have a lot of people to feed,” she says. Her favorite recipe “is basically quiche in a sheet pan, with dough, rice, eggs, zucchini and green onion. You bake it all together and then cut it into squares.”

Here’s another idea for a light yet filling small bite: rosemary corn muffins stuffed with sliced ham and crimson cranberry chutney. The mini sandwiches were a hit at a recent holiday-themed cooking class at L’Ecole Culinaire-Kansas City.

Program director Chrystal Tatum says other recipes tested by the sold-out class included individual sweet potato and sage frittatas baked in muffin cups and a savory cream cheese-pumpkin dip with cheddar cheese, toasted pecans, crumbled bacon and bright green onions.

Tatum says the best holiday apps are ripe with seasonal flavors _ cranberry, sage, cinnamon, clove, pumpkin _ and decked out with festive garnishes.

“You eat with your eyes,” Tatum says, “so you always want to add that little extra bit.”

Pan-fried onion dip

This recipe for onion dip is famous in Ryan Sneed’s food-loving family. Serve it with thick-cut or ruffled potato chips.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 large yellow onions

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

4 ounces cream cheese

Using a mandolin slicer, cut onions into 1/8-inch slices. In a nonstick saute pan over medium heat, cook the onions in butter, oil, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper until well caramelized and evenly brown, about 20 minutes.

Allow the onions to cool, then chop finely and mix with mayonnaise and cream cheese. Chill before serving.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 98 calories (94 percent from fat), 10 g total fat (3 g saturated), 12 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 87 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Source: Ryan Sneed, corporate executive chef for KC Hopps


This oversized crostata feeds a crowd and is a holiday favorite at Lidia’s Kansas City. Save time by baking it a day in advance, storing in the fridge and warming in the oven before slicing and serving.

Makes 12 servings

For the filling:

2 cups uncooked arborio rice

4 cups zucchini, shredded

3 large eggs


Freshly ground black pepper

3 cups ricotta cheese

2 cups scallions, white and green

1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated

1 1/2 cups half and half

Parsley, chopped

For the crostata dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup water

1 egg yolk or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter an 18-by-12-inch baking pan with sides about 1/2 -inch high.

To make the filling, toss the rice and zucchini together in a large bowl until evenly distributed. Let stand 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with salt and pepper until blended. Combine the egg mixture, ricotta, scallions and Parmigiano-Reggiano in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the rice and zucchini and mix at low speed until blended. (Alternatively, the mixture can be beaten by hand with a wooden spoon.) Add the half and half and mix until amalgamated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make the crostata dough, process 2 cups of the flour, the oil and salt in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl once or twice. With the motor running, pour in enough water to make smooth, very soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding flour if the dough begins to stick to your hands, until the dough is very smooth and no streaks of flour or oil remain, about 1 minute. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest 30 minutes at room temperature or up to one day in the refrigerator. Allow refrigerated dough to stand at room temperature 30 minutes before continuing.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 22-by-16-inch rectangle. Flour the surface as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking. Fold the dough into quarters, center it over the prepared pan and unfold it. The dough should overlap all the sides by about 2 inches.

Pour the rice mixture into the dough-lined pan and smooth it into an even layer. Fold the overhanging dough over the filling to form a 2-inch border on all sides. Brush the dough lightly with the egg yolk or olive oil. Bake until the filling is firm in the center and the crust is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Cool the crostata about 30 minutes, then sprinkle with chopped parsley, cut into squares, and serve warm.

Per serving: 494 calories (47 percent of calories from fat), 25 g fat (11 g saturated), 121 mg cholesterol, 47 g carbohydrates, 19 g protein, 121 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber.

Source: “Lidia’s Italian Table” (William Morrow Cookbooks 1998)


Explore the savory side of pumpkin with this festive dip, which is the perfect match for grilled slices of bread.

Makes about 2 cups

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans, plus more for garnish

4-6 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled, plus more for garnish

3 green onions, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish

1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine ingredients in a medium bowl and stir with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until combined. Heat the dip in an oven-safe vessel for 15 minutes, or until warm and bubbling. Garnish with extra pecans, bacon and green onions, if desired. Serve warm, with crostini.

Dip can also be made ahead of time and covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 44 calories (81 percent of calories from fat), 4 g total fat (2 g saturated), 10 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrate, 1 g protein, 66 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Source: Gimme Some Oven


The muffins for these mini sandwiches can be made up to 2 days in advance. Just store in an airtight container until you’re ready to assemble and serve.

Makes 1 dozen

For the corn muffins:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons frozen corn kernels

1 cup buttermilk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup canola oil

12 slices of ham

For the cranberry chutney:

2 tart apples with stem and core removed, chopped

2 cups dried cranberries

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

To make the muffins, lightly coat a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, rosemary and 1 cup corn.

In a small bowl, combine buttermilk, egg and oil. Add to the flour mixture, then stir until just combined.

Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling three-quarters full. Top with remaining 2 tablespoons corn. Bake until tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool in the muffin tin on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

To make the chutney, place apples, dried cranberries, brown sugar, cider vinegar, cinnamon, salt, ground cloves and crushed red pepper flakes in a saucepan over medium-low heat and cook for 25 to 30 minutes.

To serve, slice each corn muffin in half and add a slice of ham and a dollop of chutney to make a mini sandwich. The sandwiches can be served warm or at room temperature.

Per muffin: 226 calories (22 percent from fat), 6 g total fat (1 g saturated), 33 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 552 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber.

Source: L’Ecole Culinaire-Kansas City


These party-perfect potato pancakes lend themselves to a wide variety of toppings, says chef Aaron Pillar of Culinaria. “Be creative,” he says, “as just about anything tastes good on a crispy potato.”

Serves 8

2 large Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Canola oil for frying

In a large bowl, toss the shredded potatoes and salt together, then wring them out in a clean towel to remove excess moisture.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium and add 1/4 inch of oil. Once the oil is hot, spoon tablespoons of the potato mixture into the pan, flattening with a spoon. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, flipping once, until the latkes have a golden crust. Add more oil as needed.

Serve immediately, or store the latkes in a pan in a warm oven. Topping suggestions include sour cream, smoked salmon and scallions; crumbled bacon, lettuce and tomato; and chorizo with Monterey jack cheese.

Per serving: 153 calories (89 percent from fat), 14 g total fat (1 g saturated), no cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, trace protein, 401 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber.

Source: Aaron Pillar, chef/owner of Culinaria


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