Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
This is that crunch time moment right before Thanksgiving where I hunt around for a few new ideas to start the meal off right.
One of the things my parents always did was vacuum the whole joint, set the table, get the wine ready and put out a few little snacks on the table. That way, any panic about the turkey, stuffing, or cranberry sauce could be handled with the guests feeling totally happy.
I still try to do the same thing to this day. Your closest friends and family can be some of the hungriest people on the planet, and because they are your closest friends and family, they are also less forgiving if there’s nothing to eat when they get there! Here are a few of my favorite hors d’oeuvres and little snacks that I like to make in advance and put out when the guests arrive.
I love anything that’s made with only vegetables because then pretty much everyone can eat it no matter their dietary restrictions. I always go straight to roasted beets because you can make them ahead and they’re so tasty.
I have also done this recipe with beets and other vegetables. Peel and cook small rutabaga and turnips in the same way until tender. They are really delicious when you let them sit in the vinaigrette in the fridge for a couple of hours at least before serving and it makes for a healthier and more unusual little bite.
Roasted Beets with Red Wine Dressing
10 medium red beets, stemmed
5-6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
Cracked black pepper
2 tbsp. smooth Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
5-6 sprigs flat leaf parsley, stemmed
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Cook the beets: On a flat surface, spread 12 sheets of foil large enough to wrap around each beet. Put each beet in the center of each piece of foil. Drizzle with a total of 2 tbsp. of the olive oil, some of the sugar, salt and black pepper. Wrap the foil tightly around each beet and place on a baking sheet in the oven. Cook until they are tender when pierced in the center with the tip of the knife, 1 to 1 ½ hours. The cooking time will depend on the size of the beets.
3. Clean the beets: Remove the beets from the oven. Unwrap the file and allow them to cool slightly before peeling them. If you use a kitchen towel you can wipe the skin off each beat with the towel. The skin should slide fairly easily off the beets. If not, they might need to cook a little bit longer. Cut each beat into wedges like an orange and season with salt and pepper again.
4. Make the vinaigrette and finish: In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, red wine vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar and the remaining olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Toss the beets in the vinaigrette skewer them. Refrigerate. Sprinkle with parsley when ready to serve.
There is absolutely no shame in serving a platter of premade meats, slices of grilled bread with mozzarella cheese, little jars of pickles, little jars of olives to make an antipasti bar of delicious stuff. I am a professional chef and somehow that means I have to make absolutely everything from scratch. If you are making a whole Thanksgiving feast and spending the day (if not two) in the kitchen baking pies, roasting turkeys etc. there is absolutely no guilt in laying out some delicious salami, prosciutto, mustard and toasted bread and letting everybody go to town. Who doesn’t like that?
I really love a good cheeseboard with a few cheeses and some crackers. Completing the picture with grapes, other fruits cut up into accessible, bite-size wedges and some smoking nuts is a great way to start the meal.