For whatever reason, the two holidays most-connected with food are Thanksgiving and Christmas.  With Thanksgiving, it's all about the turkey dinner and the sides;  however with Christmas, it seems like the focus is on the appetizers and snacks!

Whether you're asked to bring an appetizer to a Christmas cocktail party or potluck or you're hosting family and friends at your house, a good snack is important to serve.  But, you can't just open up a bag of chips and expect your guests to be satisfied.  Somehow the Christmas holiday demands something with a little more thought (and taste) behind it.

The following is a good starter list to get you thinking about what to serve at either a Christmas cocktail party or before the mail meal.

Some of these ideas aren't necessarily new or novel;  Three of my suggestions include tried-and-true favorites like veggie or crudites, meat, and cheese platters.  However I will say this:  If you're buying one of these trays from a store you're doing it all wrong.  If you don't deserve better than a store-bought veggie or meat and cheese tray your guests do!



  • Vegetable & Dip Tray (Crudites)

    True - many veggie and dip trays seem trite and boring.  And - if you're leaning hard on celery and carrots that's probably the case.  Sure - celery and carrots have earned their spot on your platter, but that's just a starting point.

    Build your vegetable platter using color and texture in mind.  Start by layering leaves of Romaine lettuce on the tray to build a foundation.  In the center, place a red pepper that has the top cut off;  this is a perfect vessel for the dip you'll eventually fill it with.  Then, arrange your veggie platter to alternate colors, sizes, and textures:    A deep-red pepper should go next to a green pea pod; those orange carrots should be placed next to a green pepper or a purple radish.  Remember that you also eat with your eyes.

    Vegetable platters are very forgiving and are the perfect spot to try out produce that you might have seen in the store but never tried.  Look for ways to include jicama, parsnips, even blanched green beans and Brussels sprouts.

    When it's time for a dip, dill is traditional and easy to make.  But what about something a little different like hummus, a tangy-blue cheese spread, or even a simple vinaigrette?

    Jack Puccio
  • Meat & Cheese Tray

    A lot of the same principals towards building a veggie & dip tray apply towards a meat and cheese platter.  Color, texture, and variety all play an important role in your presentation.

    First, you should decide on what the purpose of your meat and cheese tray will be.  Will your guests be snacking on the offerings with crackers or will they use the items on the platter to build sandwiches?  There is a big difference in each - both in composition and arrangement.

    If your purpose of the meat and cheese tray is for snacking, I would recommend using small squares or cubes of product on your platter.  Again, I would start by lining your platter with Romaine leaves or even Kale.  Alternate meat and cheese on the platter, further alternating colors and textures.  Try to avoid neatly lining up your cut cheese.  Instead, pile the cubes up adding height and dimension to your presentation.

    If you're offering the meat and cheese platter to your guests as sandwich material, then those cubes and squares need to be sliced and arranged for ease.  In some ways, a sandwich-style meat and cheese platter is more utilitarian - however, there is always room for creativity.

  • Cheese Platter

    A cheese platter differs from the above platter in more ways than just the absence of meat.  With a cheese platter, you're offering your guests an experience.  Usually cheese platters (sometimes called cheese boards) are comprised of cheeses that may be new to the eater - a way to sample something different.  Think of it as taking your guests on a culinary trip.

    With a cheese platter, I would avoid using greens in your presentation;  instead, I would start with a large white serving platter.  Then, choose three or four cheeses to offer to your guests. Usually, the rule of thumb is to offer one or two hard cheeses, one or two soft cheeses, paired with something to nibble on - like nuts, figs, and fruits.  Avoid flavored cheeses.  Bon Appetit has good suggestions for building the perfect cheese plate.


  • Hot Dips

    Everyone loves hot dips as an appetizer.  You know the type I'm talking about - they've become really popular over the last decade or so.   If you put these hot dips out on a cocktail table, they'll be gone in no time.

    Cheesy queso's and spinach and artichoke dips are longtime favorites.  But, if you look around you'll find creative and tasty dip recipes for Buffalo Chicken, Reuben, and countless other varieties.

    Just make sure that whatever type of hot dip you serve your guests is complimented by an appropriate dipping vehicle.  If the dip in question is hearty and heavy, you need a crudite that will take the weight.


  • Entrees Served As Apps

    The last category of appetizer that I'm suggesting for your Christmas gathering are those entrees that are served as a snack.  This section includes popular offerings like chicken wings, meatballs, mini tacos or sandwiches, egg rolls, won tons, pot stickers, and the like.

    The rule of thumb with these apps is two or three per person;  You're not trying to make them full with these apps - you're only giving them something to tide them over while the drinks last or until the meal is served.  When you run out - you run out!