Did I ever tell you about that time I undercooked our Thanksgiving turkey? I mean seriously undercooked it? Like, made-dinner-two-hours-late undercooked? Well, I did, and my friends still don’t let me forget it.

The good thing is I had plenty of drinks and nibbles on hand. And nothing puts a group of hangry guests in a good mood better than booze and small bites.

Besides saving my butt, pre-dinner drinks and nibbles are a lovely way of extending Thanksgiving. Let’s face it: People expect (demand?) certain dishes on the Thanksgiving table: mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green-bean casserole, stuffing, icebox rolls, gravy, and cranberry sauce of some sort.

With hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, you have a lot more leeway. Want to express your creativity? Go for it! Want to serve a signature drink? Please do!

Without the deeply-rooted expectations of classic Turkey Day fare, you can serve something out of left field that just might become next year’s tradition.

David Leite's handwritten signature of 'David.'
Golf-ball size cheese balls with pretzel stems sitting on a wooden cheese board.
Jason Wyche
1 of 7

Blue Cheese Balls

Blue cheese balls are a party favorite and far easier than a cheese log for guests to navigate while juggling a glass of wine in their other hand.

When you have a special occasion with your family, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving, you usually have to rush to finish all the side dishes and desserts. To be able to have some appetizers that can be made in advance and are ready to serve whenever you want is the thing that’s most wanted by every hostess. This blue cheese balls recipe is perfect for those occasions. They’re not only tasty and original, but you can make them the day before and leave them in the fridge while you prepare everything else.

cinto f.
A cranberry margarita in a short glass with a skewer or sugared cranberries and orange zest across the top.
Jeanine Thurston
2 of 7

Cranberry Margarita

This cranberry margarita makes a spiked cocktail for any occasion, whether Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a summer afternoon. The swizzle sticks aren’t essential yet add a little lovely bling.
A bowl filled with Ina Garten's rosemary cashews with a sprig of rosemary on the side.
Quentin Bacon
3 of 7

Barefoot Contessa Rosemary Cashews

Ina Garten’s rosemary cashews are sweet and spicy and certain to start conversations. The inspired blend of cayenne, brown sugar, rosemary, and salt is perfectly spiced and just salty enough to be perfect with cocktails.

These cashews are easy and addictive! Loved them and so did my guests.

A white plate with three prosciutto-cheese gougeres with a glass of Prosecco in the background.
David Leite
4 of 7

Prosciutto-Cheese Gougères

For these gourgères, I went one better by adding to the batter classic Proscuitto di Parma as well as one of the noble cheeses of Italy, Grana Padano, along with thyme and rosemary to ensure every bite literally explodes with indulgence. Okay, perhaps I’m a little hyperbolic. But these are indeed not your ordinary savory gougères. Indeed, a fine piece of puffery.
A chipped pot filled with apple pie moonshine, apple wedges and whole spices with a tray of glasses filled with the moonshine beside it.
Rex Miller
5 of 7

Apple Pie Moonshine

This apple cider-infused cocktail, made with vodka, apple cider, lemon, ginger, and spices, is very strong, but undeniably spectacular.
A rectangular baking dish with a block of cooked feta in the center, surrounded by halved figs and tarragon leaves.
Aran Goyoaga
6 of 7

Baked Feta and Figs

Baked feta and figs is an impressive and easy appetizer that's ready in less than 30 minutes. Sliced fresh figs are tossed in olive oil and the feta cheese is drizzled with honey. The whole thing is baked until runny and melted and gooey and impossible to not scrape up every last bite.

With a hands-on time of 5 minutes, this incredibly light yet decadent baked feta and figs dish comes together in no time and is immensely delicious. I subbed out the figs for fresh blackberries but cannot wait to try this again when figs are in season. Came out of the oven and the berries were bubbling away in their gorgeous purple juices yet retained their berry shape. The feta was slightly puffed and lighter than air. So, so creamy!

anthony t.
Spiced cider with a cinnamon stick and orange zest, in a stemless wine glass.
Angie Mosier
7 of 7

Spiced Cider

There is very little on this earth better on a cold night than combining warm apple cider and bourbon with a blend of exotic spices. The smell fills the room, and more than a couple of these will put you on your butt. Believe me.


How many hors d’oeuvres should I serve?

Given that you’ve got a big meal planned, these are just intended to be a little nibble to enjoy before the main event. Plan for enough that each person can have 3 or 4 bites of food. For most gatherings, this will mean offering 2 or 3 hors d’oeuvres.

What can I offer to underage guests or those not drinking?

If you’re offering a signature cocktail to your guests, it’s a good idea to have a non-alcoholic version available. Spiced apple cider can be made in large batches and offered with or without alcohol, or if you’re serving a champagne cocktail, offer sparkling juice as well.

My oven is full of turkey and side dishes. What hors d’oeuvres can I make ahead?

There are many quick and easy snacks and nibbles that can be made ahead of time and served cold or at room temperature. A bowl of spiced roasted nuts, dill dip with potato chips and onion dip, crispy cheese straws, or pimento cheese are all great choices.

We know you’ve worked incredibly hard to organize and cook the most anticipated meal of the year. The above cocktails and hors d’oeuvres recipes should help to keep your hungry guests satisfied and out of your kitchen during the final few moments of reheating sides and carving your turkey.

More often than not, things don’t go according to plan, and that’s ok. If you don’t have the time, oven space, or fridge space to whip up a signature drink or make homemade hors d’oeuvres, just set out some chips and dip, or fancy up a bag of microwave popcorn with spices.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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