Where did this year go?  The holiday season is already here and now it’s time for entertaining – both planned and unplanned.  When it comes to feeding guests, there are few things more gracious than offering well-made appetizers.  When both time and energy are in short supply, the following are options that will become staples for your annual entertaining repertoire.

I’ve provided a spread (pun fully intended) of tasty appetizer recipes.  The marinated olives are amazing, needing nothing more than sturdy toothpicks and napkins.  Asian Grill Beef Skewers are a hearty and satisfying option, easily converting to a light meal when paired with salad.  For those last minute oh-my-gosh-unexpected-guests-are-coming moments, Spinach Artichoke Pinwheels are a fabulous option, utilizing store-bought components and needing minimum effort, yet delivering delicious results.  All in all, this trio is a great game plan for luscious, hearty and quick-to-make appetizers that dazzle the palate and leave you the host, with both time and energy to enjoy guests.

Marinated Olives: Whether you love green or black olives (or both), this is a super easy way to dress them up for your holiday soiree.  In a pinch, I’ve even used plain, pitted black olives with great results, and nobody has to figure out where to put that awkward pit (if using pitted olives, soak for only 30 minutes). Serves 8-10.

1 pound large olives with pits, drained and rinsed

1 large clove garlic, sliced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup quality extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine or balsamic vinegar

finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange

1/2 teaspoon each – dried tarragon and basil (or 1 teaspoon of an Italian herb blend)

1/4-1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1.      Cover olives in cold tap water; soak 1-2 hours.

2.      While olives are soaking, put sliced garlic on a cutting board, and sprinkle on red pepper flakes. Using a sharp knife, mince the garlic and pepper flakes; the sticky garlic holds the pepper flakes and allows you to mince them at the same time. (Great technique any time you use red pepper flakes!)

3.      Whisk minced garlic with the remaining ingredients, not including olives. Set aside until olives have finished soaking.

4.      Thoroughly drain olives. Add them to the marinade, coating thoroughly. Place in a ziplock bag and remove all air so olives stay in contact with marinade. Place in a cool spot 8-12 hours, then refrigerate. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.

HINT:  If you’re preparing this with only hours to spare before guests arrive, add the full 1/2 teaspoon of curry powder, since they won’t have a full day to develop flavor.

Asian Grilled Beef Skewers: It’s always nice to offer at least one hearty appetizer, especially if guests are arriving directly from work.  Scrumptious, fast and easy to assemble, it goes even faster if you ask your butcher to cut the meat for you. Serves 8.

1/3 cup tamari (or lite soy sauce)

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons dry sherry

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon grated ginger

2 large cloves garlic, sliced

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)

22-28 bamboo skewers, soaked in water 1 hour

4 scallions, very finely minced

2 1/2- 3 lbs beef flank steak, cut across the grain, 1/4-inch thick

1.      Whisk tamari with sugar, sherry, sesame oil and ginger until sugar is dissolved.  Set aside.

2.      Sprinkle red pepper flakes over sliced garlic, then mince finely.  Stir into the tamari mixture.

3.      Add flank steak and toss to coat thoroughly.  Cover, refrigerate and marinate 4-8 hours.

4.      Thread meat onto soaked skewers.  Grill or broil over medium-high heat, until browned and medium to medium-rare doneness (45 – 60 seconds per side).  Place on a platter and garnish with minced scallion.

EZ Spinach-Artichoke Pinwheels: When time is short and you need to make something fabulous and only have time for one fast trip to the grocery store, this is a yummy option.  Serves 8.

2 sheets lahvosh flatbread

1/2 cup pesto (store-bought is fine)

1 cup store-bought spinach-artichoke-Parmesan dip

2 cups shredded gruyere cheese (or your favorite)

5-6 cups lightly packed baby arugula or baby spinach leaves, washed and spun dry

1.      Place lahvosh smooth side up onto a cutting board with the long side facing the front edge of the board.  Spread each thinly with 1/4 cup of pesto.

2.      Spread 1/2 cup of spinach-artichoke dip on each lahvosh.  Top each with 1 cup of the cheese.  Sprinkle evenly with arugula or spinach leaves.

3.      Start at the bottom edge and roll up each lahvosh, pressing to seal the edges, ending with the flap on the bottom.  Use toothpicks spaced every 1 to 1-1/2 inches (depending how thick you want them).  Slice, removing toothpicks if desired.

Candy Lesher is the chef and owner of Baci d’Amore Truffles and Scones, a boutique company that produces luscious Belgium chocolate truffles along with moist and melting-tender, ready-to-bake frozen scones. You can reach Candy at 480-266-0701 or email  candy@bacitruffles.com