T minus 6: A laid-back guide to Thanksgiving
November 19th, 2010
04:00 PM ET
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Over the next seven days – including yes, the very day of – we'll be sharing our time-tested hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities (that's always fun, right?), hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact.

I'm doing my first Thanksgiving for about 18 people in a few weeks (giving my grandmother a break this year). Usually we eat early – around 1:30-2pm to make everyone happy. People should be arriving around 12:30pm which leaves about an hour to 1.5 hours of hungry guests waiting. I want to serve an appetizer or two to hold them over but nothing too filling, and since the kitchen will be occupied with creating the Thanksgiving Feast, I want a few somewhat simple items, yet a little more sophisticated and Thanksgiving-like than a veggie tray. Have some ideas? - Lauren

Bless your heart, you've pulled app duty. It's often a thankless task, as you're essentially running defense for kitchen, so peckish guests don't pick away at the corn pudding and green bean casserole before the turkey is served. It also calls for a thick-ish skin, as many folks will feel the need to loudly state that they're ONLY deigning to nibble so they won't, you know, STARVE before the REAL meal is served.

Their loss. You're going to be serving up major flavor in bitty bites and those folks who decide to hold out for the big feast will be kicking themselves once they hear the rave reviews.

A few of our favorites:

Pimento Cheese
If your guests are from the South, they may appreciate the nod to their homeland. If they've never had the pleasure, they're in for a major taste delight. The store-bought stuff has a deservedly bad rap; it's often gluey and cloying. The homemade versions - and there are MANY permutations - tend toward the piquant and slightly pickled, and can be tweaked to accommodate palates that appreciate more or less spice, smoke and sweetness.

As our associate editor Sarah says, "Ritz Crackers are the Rolls-Royce of pimento cheese carriers," but this spread of cheese, mayonnaise and pimento peppers is also a hit with cocktail rye, slathered into celery sticks or as a dip for other crudite. Here's a recipe for a big ol' batch (it keeps well and your guests will insist on toting some home) of pimento cheese from Chef John Currence.

Tip: Make enough so you can leave some stashed at home for later. You won't come home with any leftovers, and you'll be very cross with yourself.

Bacon Candy
Our managing editor has never hosted a party or brought this to an event where it wasn't the very first thing that was wolfed up. She's doubled, or even tripled the batch, and realized that people would rather ruin their dinner than miss out on crisp, sugar-baked pork. It's not her - it's the recipe. The only way you can screw this up is by letting it burn. Keep an eye on it, and you'll be fine. Chef Linton Hopkins shares his fool-proof method and recipe for bacon candy.

Tip: If you don't have a Silpat or parchment paper, lightly crumpled aluminum foil will provide channels for the excess grease to run off.

Chorizo, Manchego and Membrillo
Sounds schmancy, right? It's not. This combo of Spanish staples just sings together - smoky, soulful sausage with nutty, crumbly cheese and tart quince jelly. All you've got to do is slice and serve. It's a tiny tapas party - just slice and serve.

Tip: Smoked almonds and small glasses of Sherry round out the appetizer and will certainly keep anyone from notions of cook-pestering.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs
Yeah. That's basically it. Get the prosciutto (that's air-dried ham) as thinly-sliced as possible, wrap it around individual figs (fresh if you can find them, dried if they're out of season in your neck of the woods) and secure with a toothpick. Stop guests before they start gnawing the toothpicks.

Tip: If you're feeling ambitious, slit the figs and pipe or spoon in a little bit of soft, creamy goat cheese.

Smoked Salmon Spread
Yesterday, we overheard style editor Steven Cojocaru taping a segment for a CNN show, waxing rhapsodic about smoked salmon. We know better than to buck anything Cojo says, *and* that just happens to be one of our managing editor's "It's not Thanksgiving without..." items, having enjoyed it as an app every year since 1997.

The level of effort is quite negotiable. It can be as simple as 4 ounces of chopped, smoked salmon whirred in a food processor with 8 ounces of cream cheese, or it can get a tad more nuanced with the addition of 1/2 a cup of sour cream or mayonnaise, as well as capers, dill, horseradish, Kosher salt, lemon juice, chopped scallions, fresh dill or pepper to taste. Serve it with triangles of cocktail rye.

Tip: We prefer Norwegian salmon for this particular spread, but Nova, Gravlax and Scottish hold their own. Heck - anything but AquaBounty will do the trick.

And there is a lot to be said for a veggie tray - if you have the chance to keep it fresh and seasonal. Take a trip to visit your local farmers market to see what's fresh. Then, just cut it into bite-sized pieces, serve on a platter with small bowls of olive oil, salt and lemon juice, and give thanks for our bounteous land.

Got a favorite holiday hors d'oeuvre? Share it in the comments below and we just might highlight it in an upcoming post.

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Filed under: Cheese • Feature • Holiday • Holidays • HolidayShopping • Make • Pimento Cheese • Recipes • T Minus • Thanksgiving • Thanksgiving

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Anita

    This year, I'm going to make:

    Deviled eggs (with a little horseradish and dijon and sweet pickle relish)
    Chicken liver pate (aka chopped liver – – yes, we are Jewish so this is a family favorite)
    Sausage stuffed mushrooms, easy to do ahead and then bake when ready.

    I am going to have to check out that bacon candy though . . ..

    November 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • sockpuppet

      wait I thought you were Jewish

      November 22, 2011 at 4:21 am |
  2. Stephanie Frances

    Wow! This sound incredible. Especially the Smoked Salmon Spread. I might just have to try that one out.

    Need a pick me up? Looking for inspirational quotes? Try http://www.littlebitsofhappy.wordpress.com.


    November 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  3. Stephanie Frances

    Wow! This sound incredible. Especially the Smoked Salmon Spread. I might just have to try that one out.

    Need a pick me up? Looking for inspirational quotes? Try http://www.littlebitsofhappy.wordpress.com.


    November 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  4. Brian

    http://amzn.to/aV2dQa Funny, touching, memorable short Thanksgiving stories about holiday disasters, family & friends

    November 22, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  5. Tricksmom

    Ugh – this stuff sounds AWFUL – and time consuming!

    I usually stick to the "usual" – cheese and crackers, chips & homemade clam dip, but have also tried an artichoke brushetta and a warm spinach dip. Keeping it simple and somewhat boring keep people from filling up too much on the appetizers and not eating all the food I slave over all morning in the kitchen!

    November 21, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  6. lesley

    yummmm! my grandmother makes pimento cheese and it is awesome! soooo addictive! the store bought stuff on the other hand... just... no.

    November 20, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  7. Ari

    Pimento cheese made from smoked Gouda cheese is far better than the bought stuff. It it is yellow-orange it is not the real stuff. .

    November 20, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  8. Melissa

    Halloumi. I might make cocktail sandwiches using grilled halloumi as the bread, or skewer halloumi with cherry tomatoes and pan fry them. Everything is good with halloumi, and it's so easy.

    November 19, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  9. RichardHead@Jdizz

    What is going on?

    November 19, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Bailes24

      Sorry, man, that sucks, try not to let it ruin your holiday and cross Monday's bridge when it comes

      November 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  10. Truth

    I usually don't knock stuff I have not tried, but.....pimento cheese?!?!?

    That's just wrong...!

    November 19, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
    • RichardHead

      It's gotta be a Kentucky or Ohio thing. Wouldn't go over too big on football holiday.

      November 19, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants

        I just walked out of work today. I can't stand these bitches anymore. Not sure I'll be employed Monday. I shakes with the rage right now.

        November 19, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
      • Truth@Jdizz

        I've had a job or two like that...so i feel your pain. Keep the faith and take a day or so. Look at it this way, next week is a short one...

        November 19, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Very sorry, Jdizz. I raise a virtual cocktail to you and hope your day gets better.

        November 19, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • Sir Biddle-Dee-Bobity-Boo

      ...really, really wrong! Reminds me of pimento loaf at the grocery store deli. Who eats that stuff that they keep it in stock?

      November 19, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Meredith

      Mmmmm...pimento cheeeeeeesssssse..... My grandfather made the best, which I now dutifully make for my kids. Must indeed be a regional thing? I'm a fourth-generation Texan...
      Do not buy this in stores. Find a good recipe online. Mass-produced pimento cheese is a bad bad thing.

      November 19, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
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