What a WEEK this has been so far. And it’s not over yet!
I’m writing this from my hotel room in Chicago (I’m here for work for a few days), and as soon as I get home tomorrow night, my tired brain will probably go into overdrive with Thanksgiving planning.
Life has been a bit hectic lately since we got Max the puppy, and I haven’t really had a chance to think about one of my favorite days all year yet. I’m hosting this year (as I have the past few years), so I’ve got to get my butt in gear!
Every year, I make a huge cheeseboard for pre-dinner snacking. It’s awesome because there’s hardly any actual cooking involved and you can set it out for your guests to munch on/customize themselves without you needing to do much. Plus, everyone freaks over an elaborate cheeseboard. Facts.
It is, hands down, my go-to holiday appetizer/snack item for holidays.
This year, though, I wanted to switch things up! While cheese could practically be its own food group in my life, I wanted to see if I could apply the cheeseboard approach to other snacks.
My solution? A CROSTINI BAR!!!
You guys. I am so excited about this. It is SO MUCH FUN. I put out a bunch of toppings and different types of bread for people to mix and match however they see fit. Just like a cheeseboard but with BREAD.
The best part? It is entirely make ahead! You can make all the toppings/dips/spreads a couple days before Thanksgiving and then set them out at room temperature for a bit before your guests arrive. The only thing I save to the last minute is the toasting of the breads, because there’s nothing better than freshly toasted crostini!
This spread has something for everyone.
Whipped feta is up first, which goes great with a couple of the other toppings. I love it by itself, schmeared on bread, or topped with some of the honey balsamic roasted grapes or caramelized butternut squash topping. I like these combos on any of the breads, but the sweet bread (I used a cranberry bread) is AMAZING here. Cinnamon raisin bread would also be awesome.
There’s also tzatziki, only my favorite dip/condiment/spread on earth. I like to make this ahead and let it hang out in the fridge for a few days (it only gets better and better). Take it out, serve it cold or at room temperature and topped with thinly sliced cucumbers or radishes or both. It’s awesome on classic sourdough, pumperknickel, or whole grain crostini.
I also have a caramelized onion and gruyere cheese spread that is to die for. It’s based off my absolute favorite cheeseball in the entire world, thanks to Jessica (that’s a staple for all holidays as well. People lose their minds over the cheeseball!). You can also make this one ahead, but like the feta dip, you want to ensure you give it a good 30 minutes or more to come to a spreadable consistency at room temperature. It tastes like heaven! I serve it alongside spicy soppresata sausage, and the combo is to die for! Creamy, sweet, cheesy, and spicy. What more could you ask for?
Once the toppings are made and the bread is prepped, it’s just about filling in with your favorite snacky bites. Sliced apples, grapes, figs, nuts, crackers, or whatever else your heard desires. You can totally make this yours. The method is really simple.
Pick three to four toppings to make, pick out your breads, and then fill in with other bites as needed. You can make this as big or as small as you need. Only feeding four people? Pick one or two of toppings and one or two bread options. Fill in with your favorite accompaniments!
This is an easy, no-fuss kind of snack spread, and that’s exactly what a day like Thanksgiving requires.
I’m thinking I’ll do a hybrid approach this year to the snacks: half cheeseboard, half crostini bar!
Yes. Yes. And yes!
Holiday Crostini Bar
- Yield: makes 10-12 servings (easily adjustable) 1x
- 1 (8 oz) block of feta
- 1 (8 oz) block of cream cheese, softened
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 4–5 sprigs of fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
- Drizzle of dry white wine (optional)
Honey-Balsamic Roasted Grapes Topping:
- 1 cup whole green grapes
- 1 cup whole red grapes
- Olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of honey
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Flaky sea salt, for garnish
- Fresh herbs, such as thyme or mint, for garnish
Cucumber Tzatziki Topping:
- 1 English cucumber, finely diced
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (2% or whole milk)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill, plus more for garnish
- Additional English cucumber, thinly sliced, for serving
- Thinly sliced radishes, for serving
Caramelized Butternut Squash & Cranberry Topping:
- 2 cups peeled, cubed, and seeded butternut squash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped fresh sage
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
- Another drizzle of balsamic vinegar, for serving
Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Dip with Soppresata:
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- Salt and pepper
- 1 (8 oz) block of cream cheese
- 8 oz gruyere cheese, grated
- Thinly sliced soppresata, for serving
- French baguette
- Cinnamon raisin or cranberry bread
- Whole grain/seeded bread
- Pumpernickel/rye bread
- Sliced apples
- Pomegranate arils
- Fresh or dried figs
- Crackers or breadsticks
- Flowers, for decorating
- Mini, pumpkins for decorating
For the Whipped Feta:
- Place the feta cheese in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely broken up. Add in the cream cheese, garlic, and thyme and blend the mixture until completely smooth.
- Add in the wine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Blend again. Transfer the dip to a container, cover, and chill for a couple hours before eating. You can definitely eat it right away, but I find that it tastes even better after the flavors have some time to meld.
For the Honey-Balsamic Roasted Grapes Topping:
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Spread the grapes out in an even layer and then drizzle with the oil, honey, and vinegar. Season generously with salt.
- Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, or until the grapes begin to blister and the liquids become syrupy.
- Cool slightly and then transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with fresh herbs.
- I like this crostini on the sweet bread (cinnamon raisin/cranberry), topped with a layer of the whipped feta and then a spoonful of the grapes and their juices.
For the Cucumber Tzatziki Topping:
- Grate the peeled cucumber on a box grater. Place the grated flesh in a fine-mesh strainer lined with paper towels. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the cucumber and then place it in a bowl.
- To the bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Season, to taste, with salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least 20-30 minutes before serving. The sauce can be made a few days ahead (which makes it taste even better).
- I like this crostini on one of the savory breads (pumpernickel is delicious!). Spread some of the tzatziki on the bread and top with slices of cucumber, radish, and a few pinches of fresh dill.
For the Caramelized Butternut Squash & Cranberry Topping:
- I make this topping at the same time as the roasted grapes.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and spread the cubed squash out in an even layer.
- Drizzle with oil, vinegar, and season with the salt and spices. Add a few teaspoons of chopped fresh sage.
- Roast in the oven, stirring once or twice, for 20-25 minutes or until the squash is tender and caramelized in spots.
- Add the dried fruit directly to the sheet pan and toss to combine.
- Transfer to a serving dish, drizzle with a little more balsamic vinegar, and serve warm or at room temperature.
- This topping is delicious on its own or paired with the whipped feta. I like it on any bread option!
For the Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Cheese Spread with Soppresata:
- Melt the butter and oil together in a skillet.
- Add the onion and cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
- Reduce the heat and add the sugar and a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes.
- Transfer the onions to a bowl and add the cream cheese and gruyere. Stir well to combine, and season, to taste with a little salt and pepper.
- Spoon the dip/spread into a bowl and serve with the sliced soppresata alongside.
- To make these crostini, spoon some of the cheese dip/spread onto a piece of bread and top with a couple slices of the soppresata.
For the Bread:
- I like to toast some of the bread and leave some untoasted.
- Line your sliced bread up in an even layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.
- Toast in a 400°F oven for 10-15 minutes or until the bread is golden around the edges and crisp.
- All of the toppings can be made completely ahead and served at room temperature (or warmed up before serving, if that’s preferred).
- I suggest making everything ahead, including slicing up your bread. Toast off your bread before serving and set up the crostini bar so that everyone can top toasts however they like.
- You can also adjust the sizing of this to your needs. Have a small group? Pick 2-3 toppings and 2 bread options. Fill in with your favorite fruits and snacky bites! This is a highly customizable idea.
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