Recipe and photos by Brandon Matzek
Dazzling guests with an impressive appetizer spread is a top priority for Thanksgiving dinner. Setting the tone for the entire evening, the appetizer course is a first impression that should encourage conversation between guests while sparking an appetite for dinner. Often, home cooks focus so much on the main attraction (turkey and sides) that they neglect this equally important first course. Here are five tips to help plan the perfect Thanksgiving appetizer table:
Limit options. If hosting a large Thanksgiving dinner, serve 5 appetizers. Something more intimate? Plan on 3 appetizers. Excite guests as they walk in, but don’t overwhelm them. Also, if there are too many, guests may feel as though they need to try everything, potentially ruining their appetites before dinner.
Mix homemade and store-bought. There’s no need to make everything from scratch. Prepare a few simple homemade appetizers like these Rosemary Spiced Mixed Nuts and deviled eggs, then serve them beside good quality store bought items like manchego cheese, marinated olives, seeded crackers and sliced mortadella. Transfer store-bought items to serving bowls and platters to elevate the experience.
Ask for help. If guests want to bring something to the party, ask them to bring appetizers. Give suggestions to avoid less-thanideal appetizer contributions (for example, chips and salsa wouldn’t work here). If serving a cheese platter, ask for something soft (brie or goat), something hard (manchego, Parmesan, or aged cheddar) or something blue (Cambozola or Stilton). Smoked salmon, artisan pickles and shrimp cocktail are other good options.
Prep in advance. Get appetizers squared away in advance, so there’s time on the big day to focus attention on cooking the turkey and sides. These Rosemary Spiced Mixed Nuts can be prepared the Monday before Thanksgiving and stored at room temperature in an airtight container.
Serve bulk cocktails. Don’t get stuck shaking cocktails all evening. Prepare libations in bulk and let guests serve themselves. Pomegranate martinis, bourbon milk punch and apple sidecars can all be made in bulk and stored in a glass pitcher. To serve, guests can pour several ounces of prepared cocktail in shaker with ice, shake, and then strain into a chilled glass.
Rosemary Spiced Mixed Nuts
1 lb. unsalted mixed nuts (cashews, walnuts and almonds used here)
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. maple syrup (not imitation)
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary, divided
1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. flaky sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste
Go nuts. Preheat an oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, toss mixed nuts with melted butter and maple syrup. Add 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, dark brown sugar, cayenne pepper and 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, mixing until the nuts are well coated with the flavorings. Spread nuts out onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until glazed and golden (about 18 - 20 minutes), stirring twice during the cooking process.
Flavor finish. As soon as the nuts come out of the oven, season with an additional 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary and flaky sea salt to taste (I added an additional 3/4 teaspoon). Serve warm immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.