As you may know, I am all about using smart, store-bought shortcuts whenever possible, even for holiday cooking.
Because, let’s be honest, a lot of us love the idea of holiday entertaining — and envisioning all those decadent homemade recipes we want to serve to our friends and family while we wait for the compliments to roll in — until reality sets in. You mean…we have to cook all of this stuff? On top of everything else on our lists?
Clearly, it’s not possible for everyone, let alone busy, multi-tasking parents. That’s why I’m all about easy holiday entertaining with recipes that still impress, like the ones I have here!
Of course I’m a proponent of scratch cooking, but I also know that there are plenty of healthy store-bought products made with simple ingredients that can make holiday entertaining easier without a lot of compromise. Like the sauces produced by our wonderful new sponsor, Francesco Rinaldi. (Ciao, Francesco Rinaldi! Ti amo! ) You might not know, but they’re still a family-owned and run business, making tomato and Alfredo sauces from recipes have been handed down for years using delicious blends of simple ingredients.
Just as it should be with any sauce.
So we’re both here to help! Grab a jar of our favorite store-bought sauce to help you make one — or all! — of these easy holiday appetizer recipes in a fraction of the time.
And be sure not to miss my killer original recipe for a 5-Minute Spinach Artichoke Dip made with Francesco Rinaldi Alfredo Sauce that really only takes five minutes to make. (Yes, really!)
Easy Holiday Appetizer #1:
5-Minute Spinach Artichoke Dip
If you ask me, no party is complete without a warm and creamy veggie-based dip, but they can be a little fussy to make with steps for the stovetop and oven. This year, I’ve made things easier for you by combining two of my favorite shortcuts. One, of course, is using jarred sauce, in this case I think the Francesco Rinaldi Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce works perfectly, adding a creamy taste and texture without having to create a base sauce from scratch. The other shortcut is my beloved Instant Pot which gets things done in literally three minutes.
Using them in conjunction means being able to throw together this 5-Minute Spinach Artichoke Dip. And YES, it really does take just five minutes to make this, from start to finish — watch and see! You can even make it ahead of time and keep it warm in the pot.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, fear not: you can make this recipe in your slow cooker too. Just set it to low for 3–4 hours. Or, if you’re using a traditional stovetop method, simply cook all the ingredients over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until everything is melted and blended.
5-Minute Spinach Artichoke Dip
1/2 cup chopped onion (from about 1/2 a medium onion)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, cut into cubes*
1 15-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 10-ounce bag or clamshell fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup sour cream (you can use light or fat free)
1/2 cup Francesco Rinaldi Roasted Garlic Alfredo Sauce
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper, plus more to taste
1. Add all of the ingredients to your Instant Pot insert. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to mix everything together as best you can. (See note above for stovetop or crockpot cooking instruction alternatives.)
2. Lock the lid into place and set the valve to “sealing.” Using the manual setting, set the Instant Pot to “low pressure” for three minutes—and no longer. If your Instant Pot or pressure cooker doesn’t have a “low” setting, set it on the lowest setting possible or check the dip after 1, and then 2 minutes. The bottom will burn if it cooks for a full 3 minutes at high pressure. Stir well at each check because even though it may look like the cream cheese hasn’t melted, you may find that it has once you stir it well.
3. Quick release the pressure by carefully turning the valve to “venting” and, once you’re able, unlock and open the lid. Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to mix the dip thoroughly; again, it may seem at first as though the cream cheese hasn’t melted and ingredients haven’t come together, but stirring fixes this. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, as desired. Once well mixed, allow the dip to sit for up to five minutes to thicken, then serve with pita bread or chips, gluten-free crackers, or crudite. You can also leave extra in the Instant Pot to keep on “warm” and refresh the dish for guests.
*Pro tip: Spray your knife with oil or cooking spray before cutting the cream cheese into blocks. This will keep it from sticking and getting super messy.
Easy Holiday Appetizer #2:
Cheesy Skillet Meatballs with Garlic Toast
Meatballs make a terrific party appetizer because you can easily make them in bulk. While I sometimes serve them unadorned with a toothpick (especially nice in the summer), by the time the winter holidays roll around, I want my meatballs smothered in cheese and sauce. Unfortunately, that can get messy at a party, which is why I love this easy recipe for Cheesy Skillet Meatballs with Garlic Toast found at The View From Great Island. Not just because it’s easy (Sue is already on board with our jarred sauce trick; I’d recommend Francesco Rinaldi Tomato & Basil for this one), but also because the garlic toasts are a genius way to serve these to a crowd.
Easy Holiday Appetizer #3:
Fried Bocconcini with Spicy Tomato Sauce
As long as we’re talking cheese—which I do, often—there may be no more crowd-pleasing appetizer than, well, fried cheese. So yeah, this recipe for Fried Bocconcini with Spicy Tomato Sauce at The Curvy Carrot had me at fried, though Bocconcini sealed the deal. Follow Shanon’s recipe, knowing that you can prep the cheese early in the day, then fry it right before guests arrive to serve hot. To make things even faster and easier, skip the homemade sauce and use jarred instead. Francesco Rinaldi Tomato, Garlic & Onion will give you plenty of zing without any extra pots on the burner.
About our sponsor
You might be surprised at what shows up on the ingredients list of many jarred tomato sauces when you read the labels, which is why we love family-owned Francesco Rinaldi. Their high-quality ingredients and simple recipe blends are the key to big, fresh flavor, making their tomato and Alfredo sauces delicious.
Not only are their sauces made by Italians from family recipes to help you feed your own family more easily, but Francesco Rinaldi has even made their jars family-friendly too. Their new lightweight, shatterproof package is a boon to parents (especially if your kids are old enough to help carry the groceries to the car) and, of course, they’re totally recyclable. Yay for store-bought goodness, inside and out.
Be sure to try these holiday recipes — and also use your favorite Francesco Rinaldi sauce over pasta for a quick weeknight dinner that the whole family will love — and share your creations on Facebook using the hashtag #GetSaucy.
Easy Holiday Appetizer #4:
Baked Goat Cheese with Fire Roasted Tomatoes
While I’d love to try the from-scratch tomato sauce recipe for this Baked Goat Cheese with Fire Roasted Tomatoes at A Couple Cooks during a less busy season, you can use a good jarred sauce to make this just as delicious in half the time. Just pick your favorite tomato-based flavor — I’d go with the rich flavors of the Francesco Rinaldi Garden Combo Sauce, which pairs nicely with the goat cheese — then pick up at step two of the recipe for a crazy fast, but totally elegant appetizer that one-ups a standard cheese plate, big time.
Easy Holiday Appetizer #5:
Palmier recipe | Photo by James Ransom for Food52
Palmiers are a simple joy; an easy holiday recipe made with little more than store-bought puff pastry. While they are usually made sweet, I also love them as savory appetizers for my guests. Start with this Palmier recipe at Food52 (pictured), which offers very clear basic instructions, including how to fold them — the most important part! Then, swap out the sugar for your favorite savory fillings.
I love the sound of these Prosciutto Palmiers at Chowhound, which is worth a look, but I would personally swap out the tomato paste for Francesco Rinaldi Pizza Sauce, which is made with EVOO and spices to give your Palmiers big, crowd-pleasing flavor.
Easy Holiday Appetizer #6:
Potato Laced Breadsticks
Bread is always good, but the Potato Laced Breadsticks recipe at Spoon Fork Bacon is better. I mean, how fast are these going to go? (Very is the answer.) This easy holiday appetizer recipe actually calls for two of my favorite, often-used shortcuts: store-bought pizza dough and jarred sauce that you can gussy up yourself. Given how easily the entire recipe comes together, I’d start with Francesco Rinaldi Marinara Sauce and take the time to stir in freshly chopped herbs and a little red wine per the recipe; but even if you skip that step, a small bowl of warmed marinara can serve as a simple and delicious dipping sauce all on its own.
Easy Holiday Appetizer #7:
Gluten-Free Polenta Cakes Topped with Tomato Sauce
Gluten-Free Polenta Cakes Topped with Tomato Sauce | Photo by Carmen Sturdy for Daily Burn
While you can skip the bread in some of these appetizers if you’re low-carbing it, they are all fairly heavy on the gluten, as many wintry appetizers tend to be. If you’re looking for something gluten-free to add to your easy holiday recipe repertoire, try the fabulous Gluten-Free Polenta Cakes Topped with Tomato Sauce recipe at Daily Burn. You can use either tube polenta or instant polenta, then for a shortcut, use the gluten-free Francesco Rinaldi Original Recipe Sauce to top it off. Finish with a little grated Parmesan or maybe crumbled Feta for a more Mediterranean twist. That’s what this Greek mama would do!
Thank you to our sponsor Francesco Rinaldi for their wholesome tomato-based and Alfredo sauces made by Italians that we can feel good about sharing with our families and that help make family dinners — and even holiday meals! — that much easier to pull off. To learn more about their products, visit the Francesco Rinaldi website or find them on Facebook where you can share your Francesco Rinaldi creations, including these recipes, using the hashtag #GetSaucy.