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Easy Ideas for the Best Make Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers

Easy Ideas for the Best Make Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers

By Sharon MacGregor, Fed Well

Celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday may look a little different this year and keeping your appetizers light, simple, and easy to make ahead has never been more important. These three customizable techniques instead of recipes can be personalized to suit the tastes of your friends and family, are light and easy to make look gorgeous on the table in a few minutes and can be brought along if you are able to visit someone you love. And, as a bonus, cooking is minimal.

CHARCUTERIE BOARD

The first idea is to take the basic building blocks for the best charcuterie (fancy word for meat and cheese) board and put your personal touch on it. Delight in selecting your favorite components and the result will be an appetizer you do not need to pay any attention to once it is on the table. 

What You Need:

  • A board – a large cutting board, tray, or platter 
  • Salty foods – nuts, pickles of any variety or cornichons, cured meats such as pepperoni, ham, salami, prosciutto, sharp and hard cheeses, olives, roast red peppers 
  • Sweet items – grapes, soft cheeses, cherry tomatoes, pears 
  • Crackers or hearty toasted bread – one or two options (gluten free friendly if needed) 
  • Spreads – hummus, avocado, prepared fig spread, or horseradish, may be placed in small bowls and placed on the board 

Building the board:

Most ingredients can be cut or rolled as needed then placed in small plastic bags or separate containers a day or two in advance allowing for quick assembly just before serving to keep chesses and meat cold. 

We all know we eat with our eyes first and to build a beautiful charcuterie or appetizer board it is best to leave little negative, or unfilled, space on the board. Try putting wet items such as olives, roasted red peppers, marinated mushrooms, and pickles in little bowls when possible so the liquid does not ooze out on the rest of the ingredients. Try different patterns to see what makes you happy – different color combinations next to each other or a swipe of one ingredient through the middle of the board. The key is to have a blend of colors, textures, flavors, and create an easy make-ahead Thanksgiving appetizer that gives you more time to be with the ones you love. 

More options:

  • To be extra fancy, slice some melon and wrap it with prosciutto. 
  • If considering apple slices, be sure to squeeze some fresh lemon juice on the apples to prevent browning. 
  • Dried fruits like cranberries, or apricots can also add color and texture. 

Use whatever other seasonal ingredients suit your palette. 

SKEWERS

Appetizers prepared to be bite-sized and individually portioned are ideal during the 2020 holiday season. These light and festive skewers can be prepared in advance and placed on the table without any baking or heating. Take the basic formula for combining two or three flavors to create easy skewers that will disappear before your eyes. 

Caprese Skewers 

The most popular, classic, and well-known skewer is the Caprese. Pleasing to the eyes, nose, and of course, tongue, this bit of red, white, and green sets the scene for the holiday table. 

What You Need:

  • 1 bunch of basil 
  • 1 pint of small tomatoes such as grape or cherry 
  • 1 – 7- or 8-ounce container small mozzarella balls preferably marinated 
  • Balsamic glaze  
  • Toothpicks or mini skewers 
  • Plate or platter 

Simply chop basil, then set-up an assembly line with tomato and cheese. Pierce tomato with toothpick, slide on basil, then end with mozzarella ball. Completed appetizers can be arranged in a circle on a bed of basil to form a pretty wreath or lined up on a rectangular plate. Refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Balsamic glaze can be store bought or to prepare your own simply add 1 cup balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon to a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce and let simmer until the liquid has reduced to about ¼ cup on volume. Let cool. 

More options:

  • Try replacing the tomatoes with strawberries 
  • Add another flavor layer by including cubes of avocado with the traditional Caprese ingredients 

Antipasto Skewers 

Think of the traditional ingredients included in an antipasto salad and design various appetizer skewers with the ingredients. Remember, these individual appetizers are easy to make-ahead, place on a holiday serving dish in the refrigerator and serve. Guests will also feel safer not sharing dips and other possible sources of cross contamination during this holiday season. 

What You Need:

  • Have ¼ pound of each of the following ingredients:  
  • cubed mozzarella  
  • artichokes  
  • cubed meats like salami, pepperoni, and ham  
  • roasted red peppers  
  • marinated mushrooms 
  • olives – black, green, or any variety you enjoy 

Use your imagination and base your choices on the flavors you and your family prefer and simply purchase the same ingredients as an antipasto salad, perhaps layer in fresh basil, slide them on skewers and serve. 

Greek Skewers 

Marinating feta cheese in olive oil seasoned with lemon juice, garlic, dill, and parsley adds a flavorful punch to these Greek inspired appetizers. 

What You Need:

  • 12-ounces of feta cheese, cut into cubes 
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil 
  • 1 tbsp. of lemon juice 
  • 1 clove of smashed garlic 
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill or 1 tsp. dried dill 
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley 
  • Sea salt 
  • Black pepper 
  • 12 pitted kalamata olives 
  • 12 cherry tomatoes 
  • 1 cucumber, cut into 12 large cubes 
  • Toothpicks or mini skewers 
  • Plate or tray 

Place cheese in a bowl with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, dill, parsley, salt, and pepper and stir. Allow the cheese to soak up the flavors of the marinade for about one hour in the refrigerator. Next, assemble one of each the cheese, olives, tomatoes and cucumber on a skewer and place on serving tray or plate. 

More options:

  • Combine watermelon, mint, and feta 

Fruit Skewers 

Using fruit as an appetizer is a perfect light, refreshing option, and can also double as a palette cleanser right before serving the main course. Serve any combination of fruits from the list below, add in other favorites as desired but remember to use ripe, firm, and fresh fruit that does not brown, and consider mixing in complimentary hard cheese. 

What You Need:

  • Watermelon 
  • Grapes – red and/or green 
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Honeydew melon 
  • Pineapple – fresh or grilled for a twist 
  • Orange segments 
  • Blueberries 
  • Blackberries 
  • Strawberries 
  • Kiwi slices 
  • Cubed cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, cheese 
  • Toothpicks or mini skewers 
  • Plate or tray 

Melon can be cubed or use a melon baller for consistent size and shape fruit portions on each skewer. Arrange fruit and cheese on skewers or toothpicks as desired. Optional – serve with balsamic glaze for dipping or place glaze in a tablespoon and drizzle over arranged fruit on a serving platter or tray. 

Land and Sea Skewers 

One last option for an easy, make-ahead skewer combination is a land and sea version you can personalize. Swap out the sausage for andouille sausage or kielbasa, use fully cooked prepared shrimp for a time saver or grill your own shrimp seasoned your way. 

What You Need:

  • 1 – pound of hot or mild sausage 
  • 1 – pound of cooked, deveined shrimp (medium to large size anywhere from 26 – 40 count) 
  • Cocktail sauce portioned out in individual shot glasses or disposable small cups 
  • Skewers 
  • Serving platter 
  1. Simply brown the sausage then slice into ½” disks then drain.  
  2. Skewer with shrimp wrapped around each piece of sausage then place each prepared appetizer in its own cocktail sauce glass.  

BLT Skewers 

Crispy bacon can be made the day before to make assembling these savory skewers a snap well before guests arrive. 

What You Need:

  • 1 – pound bacon 
  • 1 – pint of cherry tomatoes 
  • 1 – head of iceberg lettuce cut into cubes 
  • Skewers 
  • Serving platter 
  1. Cook bacon and drain.  
  2. Cut bacon into ½” pieces. 
  3. Skewer lettuce, one tomato, then bacon. 
  4. Place on platter and serve. 

CROSTINI

Do not underestimate the power of simplicity! It is the extra care and attention you give to seasoning the bread, and grilling or broiling it rather than baking as well as finding the perfect, light, flavorful and seasonal ingredients for you that make the simple crostini a crave-able and repeatedly requested Thanksgiving appetizer. Keep the same bread toasting method for each of the recipes or create your own combinations! 

Cranberry and Goat Cheese Crostini 

This flavorful appetizer pairing is classic Thanksgiving flavors on a crispy slice of seasoned bread. Your guests are sure to ask what your secret is to make this tasty treat something special. 

What You Need: 

  • 1 loaf of French or Italian bread (or baguette if available, gluten free will also be fabulous) 
  • 1 cup olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • 1 cup dried cranberries 
  • 1 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock 
  • Honey – 4 teaspoons for cranberry mixture, additional for drizzle as desired 
  • 8 ounces goat cheese 
  • Fresh rosemary – chopped 
  • Baking sheet, pastry brush 
  • Serving dish 

Make Ahead:

Combine cranberries, stock and 4 teaspoons of honey in saucepan and simmer. Once cooled, refrigerate to use when ready. 

For the bread: 
  1. Slice the bread in approximately ½” slices 
  2. In a bowl, whisk together olive oil with salt and pepper to taste (do not skip this opportunity to season) 
  3. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat each side of the bread slices – immersing the bread in the oil mixture to save time will result in soggy crostini 
  4. Broil or grill bread on both sides at a low enough temperature to allow the entire slice to warm through as well as have a crispy texture with visible golden-brown color. 

For the topping: 

  1. Warm cranberry mixture in microwave until heated through. 
  2. Coat toasts with goat cheese then top with cranberry mixture 
  3. Garnish with rosemary and honey as desired and place on serving dish 

Other flavor combinations:

  • Substitute sauteed mushrooms with or without onion for the cranberry mixture  
  • Add fig jam before or after the goat cheese mixture continue with recipe above 

Classic Bruschetta 

Tomato with basil is a crowd-pleasing combination but using the seasoned toasting method above will elevate this light appetizer to delight your guests. 

What You Need:

  • 4 – 6 diced, fresh, medium tomatoes  
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of chopped basil 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Toasted bread recipe listed above 

Simply combine ingredients and spoon over toasted bread. The best bruschetta is simple and made with the freshest ingredients. 

Zesty Roast Beef Crostini 

This crostini appetizer delivers a little flavor kick from the prepared horseradish mayonnaise. Keep in mind, you can make this zippy condiment yourself and dial up the zing by adding a higher ratio of horseradish to mayonnaise. 

What You Need:

  • 1 – pound thinly sliced roast beef  
  • 1 – cup prepared horseradish mayonnaise 
  • 1 – thinly slice cucumber 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Toasted bread recipe listed above 
  1. Spread a generous amount of the horseradish mayonnaise on one side of the bread. 
  2. Layer thinly sliced roast beef, then one or two slices of cucumber, season with salt and pepper and serve. 

Mashed Avocado with Hard Boiled Egg 

This light and tasty appetizer is easy to make-ahead and as a bonus, it is a vegetarian friendly dish! 

What You Need:

  • 4 – 6 fresh and ripe avocados 
  • 2 tablespoons of diced cilantro (parsley can be substituted) 
  • 4 thinly sliced hardboiled eggs  
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Toasted bread recipe listed above 
  1. Mash avocado in a bowl with cilantro, salt, and pepper 
  2. Spread mixture over toasted bread 
  3. Top with one or two slices of egg (depending on diameter of the bread slice) 
  4. Season again with a little salt and pepper 
  5. Garnish with additional cilantro if desired 

Other flavor combinations:

Swap out the hardboiled egg with cooked, and cooled shrimp or halved cherry tomatoes, if desired. 

Hummus with Cucumber or Carrot Ribbons 

This vegetarian friendly appetizer is crisp, flavorful, and fresh, while light enough to leave everyone ready for the main course. 

What You Need:

  • 1 – 10-ounce package prepared hummus or 1 ½ cups your favorite hummus recipe 
  • 2 – medium sized cucumbers or carrots 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • Toasted bread recipe listed above 
  1. Top toasted bread with hummus. 
  2. Peel cucumbers or carrots then use vegetable peeler to create ribbons. 
  3. Place vegetable ribbons over hummus, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy. 

Melon Planks wrapped with Prosciutto 

A crostini can take recognized ingredients that are known to work well together and elevate them to create a festive holiday meal starter. 

What You Need:

  • 1 Cantaloupe melon 
  • 1 – pound thinly sliced prosciutto or ham  
  • Toasted bread recipe listed above 
  1. Halve melon and remove the seeds. 
  2. Place flat side of melon on cutting board and slice down, creating a thin slice of fruit. 
  3. Cut away the rind. 
  4. Wrap the fruit with prosciutto or ham and place on top of toasted bread and serve. 

French Onion Soup Crostini 

All the flavors of a classic soup piled on tasty, bite sized bread, will be a new tradition for you and your family. 

What You Need:

  • 3 tbsp butter 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 thinly sliced onions 
  • 1 clove chopped garlic 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • salt 
  • black pepper 
  • ⅓ cup red wine 
  • 1 ½ tablespoons flour 
  • 1 cup beef broth 
  • 3 oz shredded Fontina or Gruyere cheese (can substitute Swiss cheese) 
  • Combine butter with olive oil and let warm in medium sized sauté pan
  • Add sliced onions, chopped garlic, bay leaf, salt, and pepper to taste, over low heat, and stir often. Cook about 25 minutes until the onions are soft and brown. 
  • Coat the mixture with flour and let cook for a few minutes. 
  • Pour in the red wine and beef broth and allow to reduce and thicken.  
  • Remove the bay leaf.  
  • Top bread prepared with recipe above. 
  • Place a slice of cheese over entire mixture and broil for 2-3 minutes. 

Sweet Berry Crostini 

There are no rules about only serving savory and light appetizers for Thanksgiving. You can certainly have a sweet version. Warning – this recipe could become addictive. 

What You Need:

  • 6 – ounces of cream cheese or mascarpone 
  • 5 teaspoons of granulated sugar 
  • ¼ cup of slivered and toasted almonds 
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract (can use vanilla extract) 
  • ¾ cup blackberries 
  • ¾ cup blueberries  
  • ¾ cup raspberries 
  • ¾ cup sliced strawberries 
  • 2 teaspoons of confectioners’ sugar 
  • Modified bread recipe from above 

For the bread: 

  1. Slice the bread in approximately ½” slices 
  2. In a bowl, whisk together olive oil with 2 ½ teaspoons of sugar  
  3. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat each side of the bread slices – immersing the bread in the oil mixture to save time will result in soggy crostini 
  4. Broil or grill bread on both sides at a low enough temperature to allow the entire slice to warm through as well as have a crispy texture with visible golden-brown color. 

For the spread: 

  1. Combine cream cheese, remaining granulated sugar, almond extract then spread mixture over the bread. 
  2. Top with assorted fruit and almonds. 
  3. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve. 

The secret to flavorful foods during the holidays is choosing the ingredients you love best more so than the recipes you choose. Remember, recipes are simply guidelines and ideas for you to jump off from and make them your own. Choosing make-ahead appetizers that are light, with the tasty elements you select will guarantee everyone has a happy holiday to remember. 

Sharon MacGregor

Writing from her desk in New York, Sharon MacGregor is a contributing reporter, freelance writer, and blogger with a passion for human interest stories as well as meals shared with friends and family. Her blog, Fed Well includes recipes with upcoming tips to prepare foods for infants and toddlers, simple and seasonal cocktails, and easy modifications to create dishes respecting dietary restrictions including dairy and gluten intolerances. She loves entertaining for the ones she loves including her new grandbabies!

About The Author

Casey Christiansen

Casey supports the PR team at Zulily.

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