HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Drop-in guests at holidays

Although we may have drop-in guests at other times, at the holidays in particular, we have people stop by to say hello. This is often unplanned, so I like to have some foods on-hand that I can pull out for a small bite with a glass of wine. A few are store-bought, but I like to make my own. If nothing else, we always have olives/pickles, cured meats, cheeses and fruit that I can quickly assemble.

What things do you keep on hand? I particularly like warm hors d'oeuvres that can be kept in the freezer and heated/cooked through in under 20 minutes. In general I am thinking of savory bites, not desserts, but am open to any ideas people have.

(I tried to search for old threads, and while I found some good appetizer threads, I am thinking specifically of things that are good to prepare at the last minute when caught off guard.)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I like to keep sausage balls in the freezer and when needed, put some in the oven to bake. I also like to have some meatballs frozen and ready to heat in the oven and serve them with my barbecue sauce. Cheese puffs and olive cheese balls are good to have in the freezer and bake when needed. I also keep angel biscuit mix in the fridge and ready to bake to serve with ham for guests. Little mini pizzas made with English muffins are good. Also I like to keep thinly sliced smoked salmon on hand and make a dill spread to have with party bread. I also make fruitcake cookies and keep them in a tin and I make a big batch of spiced pecans to have on hand. I also like blue chees and walnut crackers. I'm sure others have more elegant ideas, but my friends and neighbors are just like me- plain and ordinary. LOL If you want any of the recipes, let me know.

    1. there is always puff pastry and phillo dough in my freezer.
      there is always brie cheese wheels in my freezer.
      there are always a huge variety of nuts in the freezer.
      flour and corn tortilla's are always in the pantry.
      I freeze turkey/chicken/ham lunch meats and use them only for this, not regular sandwiches.
      that way, if I want to make a ham spread or turkey or chicken salad type thing I know where to find the ingredients.
      dried fruits are plentiful in the kitchen store aka pantry.
      canned beans in the kitchen store too.
      you can come up with much if you have much on hand

      2 Replies
      1. re: iL Divo

        if it's all frozen, how do you get it to thaw so quickly in order to serve it to impromptu guests?

        brie cheese & lunch meats -- what, do you nuke them or throw them in the oven?

        1. re: linguafood

          Wow, I would like to hear too. I keep phillo dough/puff pastry in my freezer all the time, but it takes at least 30 minutes to unthaw enough to deal with it. I have tried nuking it- but it turns into a gooey mess!

          Lunch meats can be defrosted in the microwave on the defrost setting without compromising too much.

      2. Popcorn with parmesan cheese or herbs de provence.

        1. I, too, keep a variety of cheeses, saloumi, olives, and pasturised shelled crab, in the fridge "at the ready".
          In the freezer: ready-to-bake hand pies or savory turnovers, and tart shells, pre-cut puff pastry rounds, grated cheese, slow roasted pork or lamb shoulder... useful items for quick-to-make savory treats. A variety of nuts, also in the freezer, are handy to have.

          1 Reply
          1. re: KarenDW

            If you're fortunate enough to live near a Cajun/Creole store (or are amenable to ordering on line at TheBoudinLink.com) boudin balls are another fine treat.

          2. Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts. These nuts are great, can be tossed in the microwave to warm them in a matter of seconds.

            1. Great ideas!! Thanks, all.

              I actually have an incredibly extensive basement pantry and 3 freezers, il Divo, that includes all you list plus many, many other "raw materials", however, I don't like to even have to assemble something like finger sandwiches. That's a good list, but you would have to "do" something with them that takes more time than I want to when I have guests in my living room. I want something that can just go straight to table from jar or package (olives, fruit, various cured meats) or something that can go straight from freezer to oven to table. The layout of my house is such that preparing anything means I'm completely away from guests. I don't want to have to spend more than a couple of minutes doing so.

              Vafarmwife - would you mind posting your cheese puffs and your crackers recipes? Thanks!

              Karen - can you tell me more about your savory turnovers? Thanks!

              8 Replies
              1. re: gardencook

                The Blue Cheese Crackers are from the Barefoot Contessa

                1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
                8 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 12 ounces with rind), at room temperature
                1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
                2 teaspoons kosher salt
                1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
                1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
                1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
                In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and Stilton together for 1 minute, or until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it's in large crumbles, about 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon of water and mix until combined.

                Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly, and distributing them evenly on the outside of the log. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days.

                Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

                Cut the log 3/8ths-inch thick with a small, sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 22 minutes until very lightly browned. Rotate the pan once during baking. Cool and serve at room temperature.


                1. re: gardencook

                  2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
                  1/2 cup butter
                  1 cup all-purpose flour
                  1 dash Worcestershire sauce
                  1 (5 ounce) jar pitted green olives
                  1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
                  2.In a small bowl, mix together cheese, butter, flour, and Worcestershire sauce. Knead the dough. Pinch the dough into small balls, flatten them in the palm of your hand, then roll each circle of dough around one stuffed olive. Arrange the wrapped olives on the prepared cookie sheet.
                  3.Bake for 15 minutes until lightly brown.

                  1. re: gardencook

                    1 cup water
                    2 tablespoons butter
                    1/2 teaspoon salt
                    1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
                    1 cup all-purpose flour
                    4 eggs
                    1-1/4 cups shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
                    1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
                    1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
                    In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and cayenne to a boil. Add flour all at once and stir until a smooth ball forms. Remove from the heat; let stand for 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in Gruyere and mustard.
                    Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 425° for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or cold. Yield: 4 dozen.

                    1. re: gardencook

                      sorry I missed something in the request I think...I guess it's too early to have paid enough attention..... you wrote : > "but I like to make my own"

                      I'm pretty sure you've gotta assemble the listed requests above too...................?
                      a savory turnover doesn't pertain to this > "I want something that can just go straight to table from jar or package" ??

                      the frozen section of the market of choice, most love Trader Joe's for this... buy a box of jalepeno poppers or spinach filled puff pastry or olive cheese puffs......
                      take 'em out of package, toss 'em on a cookie sheet in preheated oven, and bake, slide onto a serving tray and enjoy your guests.

                      my house - different set up.
                      I have a long bar in the kitchen, people sit there, while I work on the island to do whatever the taste temptations will be.

                      hope some suggestions help

                      1. re: iL Divo

                        Thanks iL Divo! I was probably just not clear or not reading your post well. Sorry! I was just saying that I like to have something already together when it's something I make, too. When I read your post, I was just thinking the phyllo, the puff pastry, the tortillas all are ingredients, but unless they are already used in a recipe, they require more work than I think is polite with company in the other room. I do keep, for example, frozen caramelized onion/feta puff pastry bites. They are already made and frozen in the tartelette molds, so it's just a matter of pulling them out and popping them in the oven. I wouldn't want to try to make those while guests are here... I'd be ignoring them rather than visiting. ;-)

                        I do keep a tray of olives, cheese, and fruit all the time, anyway. Dh eats olives and cheese for breakfast. So those are a stand-by that require just crackers and done. The beans are a good idea, too, although I usually avoid canned food. I do have some I cooked that are in the freezer and those would keep for a while in the fridge. I have several nice cold Turkish bean dishes. Thanks for reminding me of that!

                      2. re: gardencook

                        Savory turnover combinations (all frozen before baking):
                        Dried and fresh mushrooms, sauteed, finish w/ sherry and a dab of mayonnaise, bit of flour. Cool and use to fill cream cheese pastry rounds. Freeze on a sheet pan without cooking. Pack into a rigid container for freezer storage.
                        Ground lean pork with onions, garlic, alspice and nutmeg. Season w/ maple syrup. Cool and use to fill flaky pastry. Serve with chili sauce for dipping, or drizzle with more maple syrup.
                        Ground or minced beef, or cooked lentils; season with curry powder plus cooked onions and garlic. Serve with mango chutney.
                        Ricotta and spinach, with basil and garlic. Add parmesan if you like. Wrap in phyllo.

                        Hope this helps.

                        1. re: KarenDW

                          All of those sound really yummy! Thanks!

                          How do you make the cream cheese rounds?

                          1. re: gardencook

                            Combine 1/4 lb each low fat cream cheese and butter. Stir in 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I use non-additive unbleached), just to combine. Knead lightly a few turns. Chill 30 min. Divide into 1 ounce portions (2 tbsp). Roll 1/8" thick, or press in a tortilla press. Easy peasy.
                            The pastry rounds can be frozen, in layers with parchment between, for "other purposes", too... sprinkle with sesame seeds or seasoned salt for a quick snack.

                      3. Loads of great ideas here...how about the crab spread on english muffins...? You make it with Old English cheese spread, crabmeat and a few other ingredients...spread it on the muffin halves and freeze...they bake up quickly and are yummly...it's a retro nosh from the 70's I believe...


                        1. Libby's canned vienna sausages, saltines and velveeta or aeorsol spray cheese, always a favorite and a snap to prepare! Serve with your favorite box or jug wine, you can't go wrong.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                            Don't forget the Rotel dip and it's a party!

                            1. re: vafarmwife

                              how do you make yours?
                              I do rotel
                              canned chili con carne
                              brick or 2 of cream cheese
                              small blister pack of cheddar cheese
                              all in crock pot, so good

                            2. re: mrbigshotno.1

                              Box wine nothing- Christmas calls for Mad Dog 20/20 or Wild Irish Rose- something special. LOL

                            3. During this time of year..I usually keep a supply of cheeses, crackers, pepperoni slices and lobster dip in the fridge. My uncle makes fantastic zucchini pickles so I always have a jar of those on hand. I have a great recipe for spinach puffs that are easy to whip up...but most of all..if someone comes to my home they get fed a complete meal..even if they are unannounced.

                              1. A classic: pitted Medjool dates, stuffed with toasted pecans or walnuts and a piece of hard cheese (Reggiano, Grana, aged Gouda, Asiago, et cet.)

                                5 Replies
                                  1. re: Karl S

                                    That sounds great! How long do those keep in the fridge?

                                    1. re: gardencook

                                      They don't need to be refrigerated. A cool, dry place would be sufficient for a few days. That's why I specified hard cheese, the kind that are happily left out.

                                      1. re: Karl S

                                        Wonderful! I just don't know if I could keep Mr. Gardencook away from them if I left them in plain sight. I'll have to find a cool, dry, and hidden place.

                                        1. re: gardencook

                                          I would certainly cover them. If you experiment now, you can yourself test how long they last before they start to fade in quality.

                                  2. Cheese, crackers, olives, nuts, hummus, pita chips, pimento cheese & Ritz crackers and some type of frozen appetizer (mini quiches and the like) from Fresh Market.

                                    3 Replies
                                      1. re: iL Divo

                                        Awwwwwww.....thanks. That's me (on the left) and my brother back in 1965. He's the main reason I am a Chowhound :-)

                                    1. I made these, form into balls, freeze on a sheet pan, put into a freezer bag. When people drop by you just pull out as many as you want and continue the recipe. Very good.


                                      Savory Cheddar Cheese Thumbprint Cookies Recipe

                                      Recipe Type: Appetizer, Hot Pepper Jelly, Cheddar Cheese, Pecans
                                      Yields: 3 dozen
                                      Prep time: 20 min
                                      Cook time: 15 min


                                      1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
                                      1/2 cup (2 ounces) freshly grated parmesan cheese
                                      1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
                                      1 egg yolk
                                      1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
                                      1 cup all-purpose flour
                                      1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped pecans, unblanched almonds, or hazelnuts*
                                      1 cup water
                                      1 cup Hot Pepper Jelly (red and/or green pepper jelly may be used)

                                      * When measuring cheese and nuts, it is best to use the weight measurements.


                                      In a food processor, combine cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, and butter; process until creamy. Add egg yolk and pepper; process until well blended. Add flour and pulse just until soft dough forms. Dough will be sticky at this point.

                                      Using your hands, roll approximately 1 tablespoon of dough into 1-inch balls; place on a cookie sheet and refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes to firm the dough up.

                                      Place finely chopped nuts on a plate. Place 1 cup water in a bowl.

                                      Roll all the balls first, then dip refrigerated balls in water, and then roll the balls in nuts to coat (pressing nuts lightly into dough balls). Place balls on an ungreased baking sheet. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each cookie ball. Refrigerate for 15 minutes before baking.

                                      Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

                                      Bake cookies in center of your oven for approximately 15 minutes or lightly golden. Remove from oven and place baking sheet on a cooling rack, allowing the cookies to cool directly on the baking sheet.

                                      After cookies have cooled, they may be stored in airtight containers at room temperate or freeze. If you have stored the cookies for a long time before serving them, you can re-crisp them by baking them at 350 degrees F. for 3 minutes. Remove from oven and allow them to cool fully before adding the hot pepper jelly.

                                      Before serving, fill the indentations with hot pepper jelly.

                                      Makes approximately 3 dozen appetizer cookies.

                                      1. 20 years ago we had many people drop by. These days no one seems to entertain or expect to be entertained where we live, even during the holiday season. This year I'll bake Christmas cookies for the garbage collectors and the mailman.

                                        1. for me, i always have Mini Salmon Croquettes in the freezer. if i don't have a drizzling sauce on hand, it's easy to whip one up.

                                          i generally also tend to have a marinating salad of some sort or another going... tomatoes, onion, balsamic vinaigrette; or marinated mushrooms; or zucchini in a lemon white wine vinaigrette, etc.

                                          i've also taken to keeping some par-baked baguettes in my freezer. i just undercook em, cool and freeze then bake to serve. i can serve with a tapenade or some fresh butter (it's one of those things that few people take the time to do, but is shockingly easy, and never fails to impress :) )

                                          and i know you weren't interested in desserts, but personally, i always have something baked, or dough on the ready.

                                          1. Take brie and cut in one inch cubes, roll in honey and chopped nuts. Then wrap with puff pastry, seal with egg wash and freeze. When your guests arrive take out what you need and pop into the oven. Cook according to the puff pastry directions.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: LindaR

                                              Now THATS what I'm talkin' about!

                                              1. re: LindaR

                                                Oh, yes, I used to do this and it was great! I used to be able to get these mini-brie, about the size of the mini baby bel cheese, at Costco. I didn't freeze them, though. I would make up a batch and keep them in the fridge. I'd use them for guests if they stopped by, but would also bake a couple for ourselves if not. Yummy. I make all of my own preserves and jams and we also like to make this with a dollop of my blackberry jam instead of the honey and nuts. I sure wish Costco still had those baby brie. We LOVED those!