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Last-minute holiday hacks: Make a Christmas tree cheese ball, pesto palmiers and more

Alejandra Ramos shares quick and easy appetizers for a festive spread.

What’s a holiday party without the apps? Food and lifestyle expert Alejandra Ramos stopped by TODAY to share her best hacks for whipping up festive appetizers that are guaranteed to be the first gone from your spread.

If you’re hosting this year, or even just tasked with bringing a plate to a potluck, we know it can be tough to decide what to make. You want the ease of store bought, but the taste of homemade — these bites definitely strike that balance. From two-ingredient pesto palmiers that are perfect to serve with holiday cocktails to a Christmas tree cheese ball that’s almost too pretty to eat, Ramos sure knows how to satisfy your savory side. Lots of kids in the family? Her mini shrimp tacos and thin-crust pizza will be enjoyed by guests of all ages. And because we want you to be prepared for any last minute cookie swaps that pop up, we of course had to add a classic shortbread recipe to the roundup. ‘Tis the season!

Alejandra Ramos's last-minute holiday hacks

Christmas Tree Cheese Ball

A simple mix of cream cheese and herbs transforms into a show-stopping party appetizer with just a little bit of creativity. This Christmas tree-shaped cheese ball will be the hit of your holiday party. Feel free to swap in your favorite cheeses or a different mix of herbs. Note that with an appetizer this adorable, some guests might be a bit too shy to dig in, so you'll have to be the first one to help yourself to get the party started!

Pesto Palmiers

Though you’ll get plenty of flavor from these two ingredients (pesto and puff pastry), you can also play around with it by adding a sprinkle of chili flakes or some finely grated cheese. Looking for other fun ways to mix it up? Try swapping in an olive tapenade or a sundried tomato pesto for another easy version.

Tarte Flambée (Bacon and Onion Pizza)

Tarte flambée is essentially a simple pizza topped with crispy bacon, caramelized onions and a creamy cheese base. Sliced into small pieces it makes for a wonderful and crowd-pleasing party appetizer. You can make it in advance and serve chilled or room temperature, or if you prefer to pull it hot out of the oven, prep the toppings the day before then assemble and bake once your guests arrive.

Mini Chipotle Shrimp Tacos

There’s something about mini food that makes it absolutely irresistible and always the hit of any party. You’ll need a 3” round cookie or biscuit cutter to make these mini soft taco shells cut out of regular size flour tortillas or wraps. Use the smallest shrimp you can find to make these extra cute and super pop-able. You’ll get 24 mini tacos out of this recipe, but you may want to double it since they’re guaranteed to go quickly!


The name of these nutty shortbread cookies comes from the word "polvo," which means dust in Spanish. It references the powdery sugar that covers the cookie, as well as the trademark crumbly texture of the cookie itself. You may know these as Mexican Wedding Cookies or even Russian Tea Cakes. It seems like just about every country has their own version of this sweet treat ... and with good reason since they are as easy to make as they are delicious to enjoy.

More holiday recipes

Holiday Prime Rib Roast
Creamy Spinach Gratin