First: Do you serve them?
We will be hosting my boyfriends family, and he thinks we are expected to serve something ahead of time.
Secondly: What do you serve?
I dont want to kill the appetites for the turkey!
I like to set out plates of appetizers that are bite sized and easy to handle; things that don't drip on grandpa's tie or drop crumbs on grandma's skirt. So I usually cut small lengths of celery and stuff them with a variety of cheeses (I sometimes just use the prepared cheese balls and use those as a base ingredient to provide variety on the plate) along with small thin slices of a variety of cheeses surrounded by a ring of crackers and maybe some chilled thinly sliced veggie strips (par boiled and stored in ice water) for dipping in an avacado bacon dip, horse radish crab dip, or similar package. Some broiled crab cakes are a nice touch. I set out a variety of wines to go along with those few items and let it go at that. I agree that I don't want to get everyone filled up on appetizers before dinner. That's also why I don't set a start time for any hour sooner than I know I can have dinner entirely prepare and the turkey resting. That way I can enjoy the guests up to the time I have to carve without worrying about last minute details and the guests don't have more than about thirty minutes to gobble up the appetizers before dinner.
I always go to a friend's house and she has us come over hours before the turkey is done. The last 2 years I brought a roasted vegetable/antipasto platter. I roasted carrots, brussel sprouts, zucchini, asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, and added salami, mortadella, provolone, marinated bocconcini, giardinara, marinated artichoke hearts, and I forget what else. I sliced up a baguette and so folks could add their choice of topping. It took hours to cook and tray up.
Another guest always brings chopped liver--OK, she's 80+ years old and Jewish--and at this point, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. There's always more than we need, and we're stuffed by the time the buffet is set for dinner.
I usually stick to lighter apps, such as white bean dip (cannellini beans, roasted garlic, olive oil, lemon and herbs) with veggie sticks and a mix of crackers, olives, and perhaps a goat cheese spread (goat cheese, cream cheese, olive oil a little garlic, rosemary, black pepper) with whole wheat crostini.
This question is popping up a lot. Hey, it's the season. I don't know where I saw it (maybe right here on Chow), but I remember thinking the little soup cups was a great idea. Not a huge mug, but a demitasse or shot of rich consomme, with little, thin cheese straws on the side for crunch. A lovely little warm slurp and nibble. Presented to your guests on a tray, especially if they all arrive all at once. I thought it sounded light and unexpected.
A bowl of in shell nuts. They seem autumnal and Thanksgivingish, but take a long time to crack, so you can't eat too many and ruin your appetite.
My mom always gets the cranberry goat cheese from Trader Joes for holiday parties. It's pretty and yummy. You could also do a baked brie with cranberries or apricot jam and nuts in it.
There are plenty of light things you can put out, people usually starve themselves that day before they arrive. We usually do shrimp cocktail, pickled herring, chips with some fancy dip or cheese, that kind of thing, when everyone arrives two hours before dinner, then sort of take it away after an hour or so. Especially if alcohol is being served, you have to put something out.