Appetizers - Holiday Meal Planning

Meal planning during the holidays can be an absolute nightmare. Thanksgiving might have been yesterday but some families are still celebrating throughout the long weekend and there's still Friendsgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Years'. We've entered the month of entertaining and as much as the season is cheerful and full of memories to be made, it can also be stressful and exhausting. For the next few weeks, we will be sharing recipes from cocktails to dessert. Similar to many other recipes we share on Lattes, Life & Luggage, they'll be relatively simple and quick or at least have quick prep. Put a lot of work behind one dish, the main dish. Let the sides, appetizers and treats all be relatively simple. If you're not hosting and just bringing a dish, these recipes are for you as well. 

The cast-iron skillet is one of the best inventions ever made. Not only is it multi-purpose and durable, it retains heat making it great to set food out for a while. These Cast-Iron Skillet Pizza Bites are not only easy to make, they are a crowd-pleaser. Stick these out on the bar while everyone is arriving to give yourself a little extra time to finish any last-minute dishes and tasks. 

12 medium store-bought rolls (or 24 small)
1.5 cups Marinara Sauce
1 cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1 tablespoon Dried Basil
1 tablespoon Dried Oregano
1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. 

2. Pour about 3/4 cup of the marinara into the cast-iron skillet. Spread around so it's even. Place the rolls into the skillet so they are comfortably nestled together. 

3. Carefully pour 3/4 cup more marinara over the rolls. Use a pastry brush to spread it around evenly. Top with the shredded Mozzarella. Sprinkle basil, oregano and red pepper flakes and top with Parmesan cheese. 

4. Bake 25-30 minutes until the rolls are cooked and golden and the cheese is melted. Serve. 

Tartlettes have become a favorite appetizer of mine for any occasion. They can go sweet, savory or a combination of both. They're adaptable for any season and occasion and they're perfect finger food. Using store bought puff pastry or pie dough takes out most of the prep work. Simply cut it into squares or use a cup or cookie cutter to make circles. Use another baking sheet to keep puff pastry from puffing up too much and arrange the topping. The less ingredients and the less labor they require, the easier they are so try and go for recipes that have pretty simple toppings. 

2 packages of Puff Pastry or Pie Dough
1/4 cup Olive Oil, divided

Topping #1:
2 Heirloom or Beef Steak Tomatoes, sliced 1/2" thick
18 Basil Leaves
2 Mozzarella Balls, sliced 1/4" thick

Topping #2:
1 Yellow Onion, halved and sliced
1 cup Gruyere Cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Honey

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice each sheet of Puff Pastry or Pie Dough into 9 squares, or use a cup or cookie cutter to carve out as many circles as possible.

2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and lay your dough squares down. If you're using Pie Dough, place into the oven and bake 15-20 minutes until golden. If you're using Puff Pastry, place another sheet of parchment onto the dough and cover with a baking sheet. This will keep the pastry from puffing too much. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the baking sheet sitting on top and the extra sheet of parchment and return the pastry to the oven for another 3-5 minutes until golden brown. 

3. While the dough is baking, heat 1 tbsp. of the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until caramelized. Set aside. 

4. When the dough is finished baking, drizzle olive oil over each of the tartlette bases. On half, layer with a slice of mozzarella cheese followed by a tomato slice and basil leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

5. On the other half of the pastry squares, spoon the caramelized onion and sprinkle with Gruyere cheese. Place back in the oven for about 5 minutes until cheese melts. Remove from the oven and drizzle with honey. Serve.

Yields about 36 tartlettes.

Both of these recipes can be prepared most of the way in advance and popped in the oven right before serving. The pizza bites can be assembled and baked later. The Tomato and Mozzarella Tartlettes can be completely prepared in advance and the Onion and Gruyere Tartlettes can be assembled in advance then baked right as guests are coming in the door. They're all crowd pleasers and the tartlettes can be easily modified to preference. Enjoy!