Hot! Appetizers for the Holiday Party


On cocktail parties: "....what is your host's purpose in having a party? Surely not for you to enjoy yourself; if that were their sole purpose they'd have simply sent champagne and women over to your place by taxi."
- P. J. O'Rourke

So you've decided to have a few people over during the Holidays this year. Or perhaps your hostess has asked you to help out and bring something to her party, and someone else is already bringing the chips. You'll need some knockout food, right? Something people will talk about and really enjoy.

We feature a selection of appetizers, two of which derive heat both from cooking and the addition of chiles, and one that, although served chilled, will heat the palate.

Our first offering, a hearty Sausage Dip, can be prepared in advance of your gathering and warmed up just before your guests arrive. It has the advantage of being portable, as well. You can make it before you dress for the party, then take it with you and reheat it in your host or hostess' kitchen. You are in control of the heat of the chiles in this dish, since the choice of the salsa ingredient is yours.

The Sausage Dip is an excellent accompaniment to tortilla chips, but I've seen grown men dipping it up with actual green vegetables. It's good with anything. It disappears so fast that it's not really necessary to serve it in a heated dish, although a crockpot on lowest setting works well. A good idea is to serve it in small batches, replenishing as necessary with the remainder that you've kept warm.

Next is Chile-Cheese Quesadillas, a Tex-Mex classic. This appetizer is not practical if you're expecting 40 people, but perfect for a small gathering. The trick with Quesadillas is to arrive at the correct amount of filling. You don't want the ingredients to overpower the good corn taste of the tortillas. By the way, find the freshest, best tortillas obtainable for this dish. Again, your choice of chiles and the amount you use will control the heat.

Our third offering provides plenty of heat even though it is served cold. Spicy Marinated Shrimp will be an elegant addition to your party fare. If your budget will allow it (because, let's face it, shrimp are expensive), this dish will be remembered by your guests long after the party. Because Spicy Marinated Shrimp will disappear so fast, ravenous partygoers being what they are, be clever and don't serve it until your guests have had a chance to sample your other offerings. Shrimp on the buffet at my parties usually starts a feeding frenzy, and it probably will at yours, too, so plan accordingly.

Here are the recipes:


  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound pork sausage
  • 1 pound Velveeta cheese
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chunky salsa (mild, hot or hottest -- your choice)
  • 1/2 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press


  1. Brown ground beef and sausage together until crumbly.
  2. Drain on paper towels to remove as much fat as possible.
  3. Combine beef/sausage mixture in a heavy saucepan, and add the remaining ingredients.
  4. Cook and stir over low heat until cheese is melted, and mixture is thoroughly combined.
  5. Serve warm with tortilla or corn chips.

For the Quesdillas:


  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded medium-sharp or mild Cheddar cheese
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons canned green chiles
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Making quesadillas is like making tortilla sandwiches. Mix together the cheeses and spread equally on four of the tortillas.
  2. Sprinkle the chiles evenly over the cheese.
  3. Top with the remaining tortillas.
  4. If you have a skillet or griddle large enough to accommodate all 4 quesadillas, warm it up and add the oil.
  5. Over medium-high heat, cook the quesadillas 2 minutes or until bottoms are browned.
  6. Carefully turn them over and brown the other side.
  7. Remove from heat and cut each into quarters.
  8. If your skillet is smaller, cook quesadillas one at a time, using 2 teaspoons of oil with each quesadilla.
  9. Serve warm with salsa.

For the Salsa:


  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped and seeded (enough for 2 cups)
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (more or less, to your taste), seeded, veins removed, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a non-metallic bowl; chill for 1 hour.
  2. Bring to room temperature, stir and drain any excess liquid.


  • 2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 8 cups water
  • 3/4 cup white wine vinegar or tarragon vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 or 2 Serrano chiles (more or less, depending on taste), seeds and veins removed, finely minced OR 1 dried chile de arbol, crushed (no seeds)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped (if desired)
  • 3 green onions (white part only), minced
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Combine the water, salt and lemon halves in a Dutch oven, and bring to a boil.
  2. Add the shrimp, stir, and boil gently for 4-5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and drain.
  4. Combine the vinegar, olive oil, chiles, cilantro and garlic in a large zip-top plastic bag or other plastic container.
  5. Add the boiled shrimp, and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight, turning several times.
  6. To serve, drain liquid from shrimp.
  7. In a large bowl, combine chilled shrimp with additional cilantro, green onions and black pepper, and toss well.
  8. Arrange in a serving dish, and serve immediately.

Good appetizers give you an opportunity to display not only your culinary skills, but your good will toward your guests. Food alone will not ensure the success of a party, but it will go a long way toward letting your guests know that you're glad they came.