Holiday Appetizers: Bite Sized Fun

Studio 5 Contributor Susan Neal gives us some ideas for bite-sized fun.

Christmas is a perfect time to get together with family, neighbors, old friends and new ones too. We celebrate in December in ways we don’t the rest of the year. It may seem intimidating to host a party in December, when we’re so busy just getting prepared, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming affair.

Twinkling lights, softly playing Christmas music, a relaxed evening and a few really special appetizers is all you need for a beautiful evening.

Flavor is always preferred to quantity. Choose a select few, tasty, quick bites for a casual light dinner. No table setting necessary, not even plates…just a simple napkin. All these appetizers are one or two bite recipes. Get creative with the display and you’re ready to go.

Asparagus & Steak Crostini with Grainy mustard aioli

{tangy, colorful appetizers}

Skinny baguette, sliced into ½” slices

Olive oil


1 Tbsp. Butter

Good quality steak

Steak seasoning

Asparagus Tips

½ cup Sour Cream

3 Tbsp. Mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. Lemon juice

1 Tbsp. Grainy mustard

1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard

Salt & Pepper

Directions: Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on baguette slices. Toast in a 375 F oven for approx. 3 minutes, or until bread is a little toasty on the outside, but still a little soft in the inside. If bread gets too toasted it’s very hard to eat.

Make aioli by combining Sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustards and seasonings.

Slice shallots thinly and then caramelize (cook) in butter for 5-8 minutes until soft and golden. Set aside.

Either grill or pan fry steak until med. Rare (or until desired doneness). Put asparagus tips in pan with steak for just a minute or so until they are bright green and a little tender.

Let steak rest for 4 minutes and then slice thinly.

Put together crostinis: Spread some of the caramelized shallots on top of toast. Lay a piece of steak on top of shallots. Smear a little of the aioli on top of the steak and the place one asparagus tip on top. Grind a bit of pepper on top.

Shrimp Bisque Shooter

{Top each shot glass with a sautéed single shrimp and a sprinkle of fresh chives or basil.}

1 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. Olive oil

1 lb. large shrimp in shell

¼ cup finely chopped onion

¼ cup finely chopped celery

¼ cup finely chopped carrot

1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained

3 cans (14.5 oz.) of fish or vegetable stock

1 cup white wine

1/3 cup white rice (uncooked)

1 cup cream

2 Tbsp. Tomato paste

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (adjust according to taste)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions: Heat oil & butter in large skillet. Add shrimp in shell and cook until shells are bright red and shrimp in cooked through. Do not overcook; it’ll only take a few minutes depending on the size of your shrimp.

Remove shrimp from pan and add vegetables to skillet and remaining oil & butter. Add more fat if necessary. Sauté vegetables until soft (not brown), approx. 5 minutes on med. Heat. While the vegetables are cooking, separate shell from shrimp, reserve both.

Once vegetables are tender, add shrimp shells to skillet and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook another 2 minutes. Add stock, wine and rice and cook at a simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is soft and cooked through.

Allow to cool for approx. 10 minutes. Add a little of the soup (including the shells) to a blender and puree until completely emulsified. This will take a while. Do a little at a time, until everything in the skillet is pureed. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and discard what is left. I usually run the soup through the strainer a second time, just to be sure there are no bits of shell left. The shells add a surprisingly rich shrimp taste to the soup, so don’t skip this step.

Finish the soup by placing back on the stove, adding the cream, tomato paste and seasoning.

Take half of the reserved shrimp and chop them fairly small. Add these to these to the soup. The remainder can be added as a garnish to the shot glass (see pic). This soup is actually better after it’s had time to set and allow flavors to blend, so it’s great to make the day ahead. To serve, simply reheat and carefully pour into shot glasses, put a whole shrimp over the side of the glass and sprinkle with a bit of chopped chives or basil.

Coconut Pecan Fried Shrimp

{Sweet & crunchy}

1/4 cup chopped Pecan pieces

2 Tbsp. sugar

1/2 pound Large Shrimp

1 egg, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons cornstarch

Salt & Pepper and a touch of cayenne

1 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 tablespoons coconut milk

Salt to taste

Peanut oil for deep-frying

Chopped Chives

Directions: Place sugar and pecans in a small sauté pan and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved and pecans are coated. Let cool. This can be made up several days in advance and stored at room temperature, not covered.

Make the sauce by combining honey, mayonnaise, lemon juice, coconut milk and salt. This can also be made a few days in advance and stored, covered in the fridge.

Prepare shrimp by removing any shell and vein. Dry thoroughly with a paper towel.

Heat oil to 375°F. While waiting for oil to heat, mix the egg with the cornstarch and seasoning to form a batter. Dip the shrimp in the egg batter. Deep-fry the shrimp until they turn golden brown. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Stick a toothpick through shrimp, lay on platter, drizzle sauce, chives and pecans over shrimp. Serve hot.

Smoked Salmon Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes

{little colorful gems that just ‘pop’ with flavor!

1 pkg cherry tomatoes

6 oz. smoked salmon

4 oz. cream cheese

2 Tbsp chopped dill

1 Tbsp lemon juice

Salt & Pepper

Directions: Cut tops off of cherry tomatoes and carefully scoop out and discard inside of tomatoes. Chop salmon very finely and mix with softened cream cheese. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Season to taste. Fill a small ziplock bag with filling, snip off a tiny corner of bag and pipe filling into tomatoes. Garnish with a sprig of Dill. Chill and serve.

Tilapia-Pineapple Ceviche spoons

{Just one delectable spoonful of flavor!}

1 lb. tilapia fillets, cut into small chunks

6 – 8 limes (enough lime juice to cover the fish)

½ bunch green onions, sliced finely

2 small tomatoes, diced a little bit smaller then the fish

1 avocado, diced a little bit smaller then the fish

1 small jalapeno pepper, chopped finely (optional)

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 ½ Tbsp. of good quality olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions: Marinate fish for 12 hours in lime juice (cover with plastic wrap). This will literally ‘cook’ or ‘cure’ the fish. It’s very important the fish is completely covered in juice.

Add remaining ingredients and serve on a spoon with a piece of tortilla chip. You can change up the quantities of all these ingredients, depending on your taste. Serve with tortilla chips.

Wild Mushroom Crostini

36 1/3-inch-thick baguette slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup chopped shallots

2 1/4 cups chopped oyster mushrooms

2 1/4 cups chopped stemmed shiitake mushrooms (about 6 ounces)

1 1/4 cups chopped chanterelle mushrooms (about 4 ounces)

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1 cup grated Fontina cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 3/4 ounces)

Directions: Preheat oven to 375°F. Arrange baguette slices on rimmed baking sheet. Toast in oven until golden, about 9 minutes. Cool. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots; sauté 1 minute. Add all mushrooms; sauté until beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Stir in garlic; sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in cream, rosemary, and lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper. Cool. Mix in both cheeses. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat broiler. Top each toast with about 1 tablespoon mushroom topping. Place on 2 rimmed baking sheets. Working in batches, broil until cheese is melted and begins to brown, watching closely to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Transfer to serving platter. Serve warm.

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