Two Quick and Delicious Holiday Appetizers

A few days ago, I did my monthly TV cooking demo for Mass Appeal, a popular noontime show that airs on our local NBC affiliate. With the holidays almost here, I chose two simple appetizers –both tried and true favorites I’ve had in my repertoire for years. Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes as well as Smoked Salmon with Herbed Crème Fraîche and Red Onions require no cooking at all, just a quick assembly. And each calls for a  mere handful of ingredients and can be prepared in advance.

After the live show finished airing, I noticed how quickly the anchors and crew rushed to get a sample of these colorful starters, enthusiastically taking seconds and even thirds of each. So, a day later I prepared this duo again, and brought them to a dinner party some neighbors were hosting. The savory treats were just as popular there as at the TV studio. 

Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes, wrapped in creamy goat cheese scented with mint and then coated with chopped pistachios, offer an enticing combination of flavors and textures. The grapes are juicy and sweet, the cheese salty and smooth, and the nuts crunchy with a slight roasted accent.

For the Smoked Salmon with Herbed Crème Fraîche and Red Onions, you arrange sliced smoked salmon on a platter and scatter some sliced red onions over the fish. Simple accompaniments include a bowl of crème fraîche scented with lemon, chives, and tarragon and a basket of dark bread.

During the holidays if you need some impressive, yet quick appetizers, try these starters. They take minutes to assemble, hold up beautifully in the fridge when prepared ahead, and best of all are hands-down crowd pleasers. I’ve included the links to the TV videos at the beginning of each recipe if you’d like to see how they are prepared!

Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes and Smoked Salmon with Herbed Crème Fraîche and Red Onions

Pistachio and Goat Cheese Grapes
Click here to see TV link. Wait for the short ad to finish and then the demo will begin.

1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) shelled pistachios, salted or unsalted
Scant 1/2 tsp kosher salt, optional
6 ounces creamy goat cheese
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped mint plus several sprigs for garnish
20 green seedless grapes, rinsed and patted dry

1.Place the pistachios in a plastic bag and crush them coarsely with a meat pounder or a rolling pin. If the nuts were not salted, add a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt to the bag and shake to mix. Then spread the nuts on a dinner plate. Place the goat cheese in a medium bowl and with a table fork combine it with the chopped mint.

2.Scoop out about 1/2 tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture and press it evenly over all surfaces of a grape. Then roll the grape for a few seconds in the palms of your hands until the coating is smooth and even. Roll the grape in the pistachio mixture and place it on a large plate. Repeat with the remaining grapes. (The grapes can be prepared two days ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring the grapes to room temperature 15 minutes before serving.)

3.When ready to serve, use a sharp knife to halve the grape balls and arrange the halves on a serving tray. Garnish the platter with one or two mint sprigs. Pass a platter of the grapes with small cocktail napkins.

Makes 40 servings
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2023

Smoked Salmon with Herbed Crème Fraîche and Red Onions

Click here to see the TV video.Wait for the short ad to finish and then the demo will begin.

3/4 cup crème fraîche
3/4 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp (scant) finely grated lemon zest
10 to 12 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into small 2- to 3-inch pieces (for topping the bread slices)
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
Dark, wheat, or multi-grain bread, sliced, each slice quartered or cut into about 2 1/2- by 1- inch pieces
(See Market tip.)

1.In a small serving bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Cover and chill, 1 hour or more.(Crème fraîche can be made 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

2.To serve, arrange overlapping salmon slices on a platter. Sprinkle onion slices over the fish and season generously with several grinds of black pepper. (Can be made 4 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

3.Stir 1 teaspoon chives and 1 teaspoon tarragon into the crème fraîche mixture; sprinkle remaining herbs over the crème fraiche. Arrange bread in a napkin-lined basket or bowl. Serve salmon on bread slices, topped with onion, and garnished with a generous dollop of crème fraîche.

Serves 6 to 8

Adapted from Sunday Brunch by Betty Rosbottom (Chronicle Books 2012)

Market tip: I especially like to use Seven Stars multigrain rustic bread (which I slice and then cut into serving sizes) available at my local Whole Food, but any good dark bread will work.

2 thoughts on “Two Quick and Delicious Holiday Appetizers

  1. Made the goat cheese grapes (half recipe) for our tete-a-tete New Years Celebration tonight and LOVED them. The flavors married so perfectly and they were fresh, juicy small bites to complement the heavier camembert and roasted olive dishes we made. Definitely will make these again.

    • Pat,
      I’m so happy you welcomed the new year with the goat cheese grapes! Hope 2024 brings you and your family good health and much happiness! Betty

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