Platter Full of Holidays: 8 bold appetizer concepts that really cook

Photo by Tj Turner

A great first bite can set the mood at a holiday gathering, and there’s a world of choices out there beyond deviled eggs or cheese and crackers. With that in mind, we reached out to a few of our favorite local food people for some of their go-to appetizer choices.

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  1. Mushroom Jerky – Marinating and dehydrating mushrooms is popular with foragers who score a big haul. Do it with portobellos or locally cultivated oyster mushrooms to add some intense flavor and chew to an appetizer plate. Slice and soak raw mushrooms overnight in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, maple syrup, and rice wine vinegar with a dash of spices. Then cook in a low oven for a couple of hours. Vegan and non-vegan friends will thank you.
  2. Foraged Fruit Gelée – Crab apples are sometimes overlooked for fancy holiday desserts, so cook them down into extra firm jellies. Served in charming jars, their tartness and color shine with bread and cheese and rich meats. Pomona’s brand pectin isn’t sugar dependent, so you can sweeten to taste and it comes with great instructions.

Kathy Yerich is a Minnesota Mycological Society (MMS) and North American Mycological Assn. board member. She’s the co-author of “Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest: A Simple Guide to Common Mushrooms”, a second edition of which arrives March 2020.

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  1. Ginger Tomato Shots – Festive and chock-full of flavors, stir fry in ghee some onion, ginger, and black peppercorns with a few cumin seeds as well. Add tomato juice and simmer. Puree it all with a hint of cream and serve in shot glasses with a few specks of chopped cilantro.
  2. Chile-spiked Latkes – Latkes don’t have to be only for Hanukkah! Add chiles and a hint of ground turmeric to shredded potatoes. Pan-fry the latkes and serve with a housemade apple sauce spiked with ground cloves and freshly grated ginger.

Raghavan Iyer is an award-winning author, consultant, and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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  1. Smoked Marcona Almonds – Toss almonds with a bit of sugar and smoked paprika, and let them roast in the smoker for an hour or so until they get a nice golden color.  This can also be done in the oven for one hour at 225°F. Finish them with a bit of sea salt, and let them cool to room temperature.
  2. Country Style Terrines – Find them at Lowry Hill Meats or any fine butcher or cheese shop. The rich mousse or terrines pair well with a hearty bread from any great bakery, soft butter, spicy mustard, a pickled vegetable, or fermented food from Topos Ferments.

Erik Sather is the owner of Lowry Hill Meats, a locally sourced whole animal butcher shop you want to hang out at. 

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  1. Smoked Whitefish Rillette – Using locally smoked whitefish from Lake Superior whipped with rendered bacon fat is a great take on this classic dish and perfect for the holidays.
  2. Alaskan King Crab Legs Alaskan king crab is absolutely perfect as-is. Use kitchen shears to remove the shell and then serve with decadent melted butter or a rich and creamy garlic aioli and you’re in shellfish heaven.

Keane Amdahl is the local marketing director for Coastal Seafoods and Fortune Fish & Gourmet MN and is the author of the cookbook “Lake Fish: Modern Cooking with Freshwater Fish.”