Holiday Tabletop: No-Sweat Starters, Dips, and Spreads

A goal for every host should be to put guests at ease -- and crucial to that is to be at ease yourself. Master the task at your next holiday fête with a starter that's simple to tackle, yet impressive to the eyes (and tastebuds). Our culinary counselor Jeffrey Nimer, owner of Haute Chefs LA, brings us approachable and delectable recipes for the holidays and dishes out some sage advice on holiday entertaining. "During the holidays, I really try to keep things very easy," says the celebrated chef. "Since there is so much to do, and so much planning that goes into entertaining, I want my parties to be stress-free."

BE INSPIRED Any number of dishes would make fine candidates for a holiday party, so the first thing Nimer does is create a menu based on his theme. Save yourself hours scanning Pinterest and dog-earing cookbooks and look for menu inspiration in the occasion of your event or the design of your tablescapes.

WORK AHEAD "I love to create dishes that I can prepare ahead of time so I have more time to relax and have cocktails with my friends," says Nimer. "Dips and spreads can always be prepared ahead of time, so that right there makes it easier." Not only can dips and spreads be prepared in advance, but they also require little effort in the way of serving; simply supply your guests with accompanying flatbreads, crostini, or dipping vegetables and let them do the work.

GO FOR HIGH-IMPACT In place of time-intensive recipes, Nimer suggests using high-impact ingredients. "During the holidays, I spare no expense," he says. In his chilled lobster salad, the richness of the lobster in "mind-blowing." Nimer recommends shopping for "female" lobsters at your local fishmonger or market -- "they taste so much better." Impactful ingredients needn't be expensive or even rich, though: an element of surprise can be enough. "I love onion rings, and they be a bit unorthodox," says Nimer, "but I love to showcase them because my guests will speak about them weeks, even months, later." Serve a dip that packs a punch alongside something with texture, such as his crispy (and famous) onion rings.

GET A HEAD START As they do on the cooking shows, Nimer recommends having all of your items pre-measured and within arm's reach before you light up the stovetop. "As we say, mis en place, or 'everything in its place,' makes entertaining so easy."


thumb1An elevated twist on a carnival classic, these little bites explode with flavor.

thumb2Infused with herbs, this color-rich starter looks stunning on focaccia or flatbread. thumb3A luxurious, flavor-heavy seafood dish, this easy spread is an absolutely indulgence.
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Dot Dessert Plate, $40, Jayson Home Rose Gold Flatware Set, $112, West Elm Cabin Stripe Runner, $34, West Elm
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Small Rectangle Slate Board, $8, Crate & Barrel Mariko Indigo Linen Napkin, $9, Crate & Barrel Tyrol Horn Cup, $38, Jayson Home
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Cassiopeia Double Old Fashioned, $24, West Elm Tiny Horn Spoon, $7, Canvas Cerused Oak Breadboard, $98, Jayson Home
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Striped Horn Spreader, $14, Jayson Home Porcelain Rice Bowls, $10, Crate & Barrel Obtuse Paperweights, $18, Jayson Home
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Reindeer Plates, $84, Furbish Studio Cheese Utensils Set, $20, Furbish Studio Pinch Small Bowl, $5, CB2
Photographs: August Dering