Party Palates

Appetizers for your festive soirée

Brie and sun-dried tomato dip on Sona Bronze vessel with 24K gold interior, available at Westend Interiors.

Photography by Jeff Amberg

The holidays are all about entertaining and, of course, feasting on comforting dishes. If you’re throwing a party this season, or just hosting family, these appetizers and unique dishes are sure to dazzle your guests. Christmas is a time to reminisce about special recipes you enjoyed as a child, and also a time to try some new ones that will soon become a tradition in your family. Happy holidays –– and happy eating!


Sesame Chicken

Light and tangy, a perfect bite-sized morsel.


2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken

3/4 cup oil (olive oil or vegetable oil will work fine)

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons grated ginger

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Combine oil, soy sauce, ginger and garlic and soak chicken in this marinade for 3 to 4 hours. Remove chicken from marinade and bake at 350 degrees F covered until thoroughly cooked and tender. You can also pour the additional marinade on top of the chicken before baking. Toss sesame seeds and parsley on top of the chicken and stir a little once chicken is cooked. Serve in a chaffing dish with toothpicks.


Kielbasa Relish

A unique appetizer that’s addictively good and super simple.


12 ounces kielbasa, finely diced

1 large yellow onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the kielbasa until caramelized and well browned. Add onion and garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes until soft. Add tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking until the mixture is thick and somewhat jam-like. Season with salt and pepper if needed then allow to cool. Serve the mixture warm with toasted bread or crackers. Also delicious with sharp cheddar slices on the side. 

Beef Tenderloin Crostini With Goat Cheese Spread and Pesto

Impressive and decadent. The holidays just aren’t complete without tenderloin!



1 pound beef tenderloin (or 2 8-ounce pieces)

Extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

5 garlic cloves, divided

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Pesto of your choice (store bought is fine)

Goat Cheese Spread

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

4 ounces goat cheese, softened

1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Pinch of salt

1/2 baguette, cut into 1/4-inch slices (around 25 slices)

Marinate tenderloin in the soy sauce, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper for at least 12 hours, 24 hours plus is preferred. Remove from the marinade and pat dry. Grill the tenderloin over medium heat until medium rare, about 7 minutes on each side. Set aside to rest before slicing thin.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and lightly toast your sliced baguette, brushing each slice with olive oil (about 4 minutes on each side). Put all of the goat cheese spread ingredients into the food processor and blend until smooth and creamy.

To assemble, top each baguette slice with about a tablespoon of the goat cheese spread, followed by a slice of the tenderloin. Top with a small dollop of pesto.

Prosciutto, Boursin Cheese and Asparagus Filo Bundles

These cute little bundles are packed with flavor. Great as an appetizer, or add more asparagus for a unique side dish.


12 asparagus spears, blanched

4 large sheets filo pastry, thawed

12 thin slices prosciutto 

1 small round boursin cheese

Melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. To blanch the asparagus, heat a pot of boiling water and drop the asparagus in for one minute. Submerge in ice water immediately after to stop the cooking process. Once chilled, remove and drain on paper towels. 

Lay first sheet of filo down on cutting board and brush with melted butter and repeat with the next three layers. Cut into 12 squares. Lay one piece of asparagus on each square, then the cheese, then the asparagus. Roll up tightly and place on a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with more melted butter. Bake until dough is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.


Puff Pastry Sausage Rolls

Small pieces of pastry wrapped herb sausage. Be prepared to run out of these!


2 large eggs

1 pound breakfast sausage, such as Jimmy Dean

1/4 cup fine bread crumbs

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

1 box puff pastry, thawed

1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil. Beat one egg in a mixing bowl and then add sausage, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, Dijon mustard and parsley until well combined. Unwrap first sheet of puff pastry and place on a floured surface. Cut along the folded lines to create three strips of dough.

Divide sausage mixture into six equal parts and make each section of sausage into a log straight down the middle of the puff pastry strips. Fold pastry over and press seam to seal. Cut each roll into six to eight portions.

Place on baking sheet and brush with egg wash (1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water). Repeat the same steps with remaining sausage and pastry. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until puffed and golden and serve warm. These can be baked ahead and reheated in the microwave or a warm oven. You can also make ahead and store in the freezer in zip-close bags before baking. Just allow to partially freeze before bagging to avoid sticking. 


Brie and Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

A baked brie is a reminder of the holidays, and this works as a dip just as well!


10 ounces brie cheese

1 (8-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 heaping teaspoon dried thyme or 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Fresh cracked pepper

Baguette or crackers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the rind (the white outer part) of the brie and cut into cubes. This is easier if you freeze the brie slightly before slicing. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (besides the bread or crackers). 

In a medium baking dish, use the tomato mixture as your first layer, then brie. Alternate until your last layer is the sun-dried tomato mixture. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until the brie is completely melted and bubbly, stirring if necessary halfway through to combine the layers. Serve warm with sliced bread or crackers. 

Holiday Cheese Wreath

Delicious and festive, a perfect addition to your holiday table.


2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 (7-ounce) jar of roasted sweet red peppers, drained, divided

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 slices bacon, crispy fried, crumbled

1/2 cup smoked almonds, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup sliced green onions

Snipped fresh parsley


In a food processor, process cream cheese, 1/2 of the roasted red peppers, garlic and salt until smooth. Add bacon, almonds and green onions and process until just combined. Refrigerate 1 hour. On serving platter, spoon cheese mixture into a circle. With hands, form into a smooth wreath shape (mixture will be soft). Cover with parsley. Cut remaining roasted red peppers into thin strips for ribbon and bow; arrange on wreath. Refrigerate covered until firm. Serve with crackers.

Chocolate Mint Brownies

Chocolate and mint? These sweet treats scream Christmas!


1 1/2 cups butter, melted

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 (4.67-ounce) boxes individually wrapped chocolate covered mints unwrapped (Andes mints)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 13-inch-by-9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil. Lightly grease foil. In a medium bowl, combine melted butter and cocoa stirring well. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy (about 5 minutes). Slowly beat in butter mixture. Add flour, salt and vanilla, beating until just combined. Spread half chocolate mixture into prepared pan. Place mints, side-by-side, completely covering chocolate mixture. Carefully spread remaining chocolate mixture over mints, sealing the edges. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool in pan completely. Cut into squares to serve. 


Graham Cracker Toffee

These treats make a great, simple snack to pass around during the holidays. They make a fabulous (and affordable) gift too!


10 full-sized honey graham crackers, or enough to cover pan 

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/3 cup toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Place graham crackers in pan in a single, flat layer so pan is completely covered. You will have to break some crackers to fill in the smaller spaces at the edges. It’s alright if there are slight gaps.

To a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan with high sides, add butter, brown sugar and salt, and heat over medium-high heat to melt. Stir constantly until butter has melted.

After butter has melted, allow mixture to boil for about 4 1/2 to 5 minutes at a medium-fast boil (lots of bubbles). Stir constantly to prevent burning. As you approach the 4-minute mark, mixture should seem thickened with the consistency of medium-thick caramel sauce. Evenly pour mixture over graham crackers.

Bake for about 7 minutes, or until there’s bubbling around the edges. Remove pan from oven, evenly sprinkle with chocolate chips, return pan to oven and bake for about 2 minutes, or until chocolate chips are glistening and have softened. Use a spatula to smooth the chocolate chips into an even, smooth layer of melted chocolate. Evenly sprinkle with toffee bits. Allow toffee to cool for about 2 to 3 hours, or until chocolate has set and dessert is sliceable. 


Almond Bars

These bars are perfect for your next cookie exchange!


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup margarine or butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/2 cup sliced almonds, coarsely chopped

1 cup sifted powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3 to 4 teaspoons milk

Stir together flour, baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat margarine or butter until softened. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add egg and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract and beat well. Add flour mixture and beat until well mixed.

Divide dough into fourths. Form each portion into a 12-inch roll. Place two of the rolls 4 to 5 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each roll until it is 3 inches wide. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Brush each flattened roll with a little milk and sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of the chopped almonds. 

Bake in a 325 degree F oven for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. While still warm, cut crosswise at a diagonal into 1-inch strips. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Stir together the powdered sugar, the 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and enough of the 3 to 4 teaspoons milk to make a drizzling consistency. Drizzle over the cooled bars.