In the midst of the holidays, special nibbles that are easy to pull together can make gatherings more enjoyable and stress-free.

Here are a few of my favourites that are delicious any time of year, but tend to make the rounds every Christmas at our house.

Bacon wrapped dates with cheese 

These tasty bites have been around for centuries in various forms. 

Meaty Medjool dates (available in the produce section of most grocery stores) can be stuffed with any number of ingredients, but the combination of sharp cheese and salty prosciutto is divine.

They can be assembled ahead of time, then slid into the oven to heat just as your friends arrive.

  • Medjool dates
  • Parmesan, extra-old Gouda or Asiago cheese
  • Thinly-sliced prosciutto

Pull the pits out of the dates, and cut the cheese into small sticks about the same size as the pits. Push a piece of cheese into each date, then cut each sliced of prosciutto in half lengthwise and wrap one piece around each date.

Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 400˚F for 10 minutes, or until the prosciutto is crispy and has shrink-wrapped the date and the cheese is oozing out the end.

Serve warm. Makes as many as you want.

Stuff Bacon Wrap

Stuffed bacon wrapped dates. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Goat cheese with herbed olive oil

My friend Gwendolyn Richards, food writer at the Calgary Herald, enjoys this every year with her family on Christmas Eve with crusty bread and good wine.

She says it tastes like Christmas and it wouldn’t be the same without it. It’s one of the easiest, tastiest appetizers I’ve tried. It looks pretty too. (Adapted from Gourmet magazine, via Gwendolyn Richards.)

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • leaves of 2-3 sprigs of thyme
  • 8-10 whole black or pink peppercorns
  • ¼ tsp. coriander seeds, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 250g log soft goat cheese
  • crusty bread or baguette slices

In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil with the garlic, rosemary, thyme, pepper and coriander. Place the goat cheese in a shallow dish and pour the warm oil overtop.

Alternatively, combine the oil and herbs in a jar. Keep in the fridge until you're ready for it, then remove the lid, microwave the jar for one minute, until the oil is hot, then pour over the goat cheese.

Serve immediately with crusty bread or crackers. Serves eight.

Herbed goat cheese

Herbed goat cheese. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Cheddar-olive shortbread balls

My friend Elizabeth Booth and her family host a retro-themed Christmas party every year. 

This year she made these tasty cheddar shortbread balls with olives inside, and they were a hit.

The dough is simple to mix together, and once wrapped around pitted olives, the cheesy, briny balls can stay in the fridge until it’s time to slide them into the oven for 20 minutes.

  • ½ cup butter, melted
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups grated aged cheddar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • About 1½ dozen pitted olives
In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, flour, cheddar and salt and pepper. Wrap some dough around each olive (patting them dry with paper towels seems to help the dough not slide off — just cup it in your hand and squeeze it together as if you were making a little snowball) and refrigerate for an hour or so. 

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F and bake for 20 minutes, or until pale golden on the bottom. Cool before serving. The olives inside can get hot!

Makes more than a dozen olive balls.

Olive Cheddar Balls

Olive cheddar balls. (Julie Van Rosendaal)