The holidays can quickly become an overwhelming amount of cooking, shopping, parenting, preparing, and entertaining. This year might look a bit different for some of us. Whether you’re cooking for five or cooking for 25, it’s always fun to have some appetizers to nosh on before any big dinner. As a chef, the expectations can be high at my house. However, as a busy mom, I find myself sometimes stretching to get things on the table on time, and that looks beautiful.
So to alleviate stress for us moms, I’ve put together three appetizer recipes that you can make from scratch that will wow your family without spending all day in the kitchen. BONUS! Many components can be made ahead of time and then assembled and warmed as your guests arrive. (This is the moment I cue my husband to bring a glass of wine, and I smile as my family walks in the door.)
Three Family-Friendly Holiday Appetizers
Butternut Squash Mac N Cheese Bites
How is it possible to have a delicious CHEESE LESS mac n cheese? These appetizers are definitely approved by everyone, big and small, in our family. I love to use lentil pasta when I make this appetizer recipe, so they’re loaded with protein and good veggies. Hey, maybe even grandma could use some stealth health!
Makes 12 regular-sized muffin cups (or 24 mini cups).
- 1 pound elbow macaroni (lentil or gluten-free pasta)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups butternut squash, cooked and mashed
- 1 yellow or orange pepper, chopped fine
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced fine
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free all-purpose flour)
- 3 ½ cups whole milk, almond, oat, or soy milk (if using a milk alternative, make sure it’s unsweetened)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, diced
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a 12 cup muffin tin.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.
- In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté shallots, garlic, and chopped pepper, until lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, make a roux by whisking the 3 remaining tablespoons olive oil and flour over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk of choice until fully incorporated and smooth.
- Add mashed butternut squash, peppers, mustard, soy sauce, rosemary, and lime juice to the saucepan and let gently bubble, whisking frequently.
- Toss pasta in a large bowl with sauce until all the pasta is coated. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Fill each cup with a heaping spoon of mac ‘n cheese. Bake for 15 mins until golden. Let rest for 5 minutes to set before serving.
Zucchini Ricotta Flatbread with Red Onion & Basil (Gluten-Free)
This is one of the easiest appetizers! I love making flatbreads because they’re so versatile for any occasion. You can make the bread and toppings ahead of time, assemble and throw it all right in your oven, or toaster oven to heat up as you need for your family.
Makes 4 medium size flatbreads, when cut, 16 bite-sized squares.
Ingredients For the Flatbread:
- 1 cup gluten-free flour
- ½ cup plain, full-fat greek yogurt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp dried basil leaves
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp fresh black pepper
- Olive oil
- In a large bowl, mix the yogurt, gluten-free flour, baking powder, spices, salt, and pepper until a dough forms. (The dough may seem shaggy at first, but once it comes together, transfer onto a cutting board and knead until a smooth ball is formed.)
- Cut the ball into 4 equal parts and flatten each part to about ¼ inch thick using a rolling pin or hands.
- Transfer the dough pieces to a nonstick pan preheated with a drizzle of oil over medium heat.
- Cook each side of the flatbread until well browned.
- Trim edges of flatbread to make a large square (crusts make a great snack).
- Store in an airtight container until ready to serve.
Ingredients For the Topping:
- ½ cup fresh ricotta cheese
- ½ large zucchini, sliced thin
- ½ red onion, sliced into thin slivers
- 4 fresh basil leaves, sliced
- 1 lemon, zested
- Olive oil
- Heat a medium pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and saute onions until soft, 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add in zucchini and continue to cook for another 2 minutes just until the squash begins to soften (not overcooked!) Transfer to a bowl.
- Lay flatbread squares on a cutting board and smear 2 tbsp of ricotta on bread. Top with onion and zucchini
- Garnish with basil and then zest a little lemon over each of the 4 squares. Cut each of the large squares into 4, yielding 16 bite-sized pieces.
Crab, Cauliflower & Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
Some more stealth health coming at ya! I snuck cauliflower into this appetizer recipe to give a little more texture to each bite. Plus, if you’re vegetarian, you can just omit the crab and bump up the amount of cauliflower you use, still making a delicious and beautiful appetizer that will get your family wondering what else you’ve been practicing making in the kitchen!
Makes 24 mushrooms
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs
- ⅓ pound fresh lump crabmeat
- ½ cup riced cauliflower
- 1 cup shredded Italian fontina cheese, divided
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- Salt and black pepper
- 24 medium crimini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- In a large bowl, gently toss mushroom caps in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Set a medium skillet over medium-high heat on the stove and melt butter until foaming subsides. Add shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add white wine and cook for 1 minute more.
- Stir in panko crumbs, remove from heat, let cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir in crabmeat, cauliflower, ½ cup fontina cheese, lemon juice, and paprika.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Transfer mushrooms topside down onto a baking sheet. Stuff each one with the crab mixture. *Top mushrooms with remaining cheese.
- Bake for about 18 minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden.
- Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.
*If making these appetizers ahead of time, bake them for 15 minutes without putting the cheese on top. When ready to serve, top with cheese and bake for 10 minutes so the mushroom is warmed and cheese is golden and melted.
We hope you and your family enjoy these quick and easy holiday appetizers. Happy holidays!