Easy Party Appetizers
Appetizers are small bites, preceding a meal, designed to whet one’s appetite. It sounds like an oxymoron – “fun easy appetizers.” But it’s really not. I like being creative without getting terribly fussy. Following are some simple ideas for whetting appetites in the weeks to come.
When it comes to making small bites, puff pastry is your friend. Sold in sheets in the frozen section of your grocery store, puff pastry bakes up as a light, flaky, buttery base for just about anything. For example, lay a sheet of puff pastry on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Use a small knife to score an edge about ½-inch around the perimeter. Use a fork to “dock” the dough all over (this will keep it from puffing up too much). Working within the perimeter you scored, layer shredded Gruyere cheese with sautéed mushrooms, fresh chopped thyme, salt and pepper. Bake the tart in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes or until the edges are puffed and golden. Once cool, use a pizza cutter to cut the sheet into smaller squares for serving. Puff pastry also is also great for baking Brie en croute or making savory little turnovers.
Another fun easy appetizer is wild mushroom quesadillas. Heat 12-inch tortillas over a cast iron pan, then top them with white cheddar cheese, sliced and sautéed wild mushrooms and herbs. Fold the tortillas in half and put them on a sheet pan in a 350° oven until the cheese has melted. Cut them into wedges and serve them with a dollop of salsa fresca or guacamole on top.
I also like serving soup in shot glasses as an appetizer. Simply make one batch of soup and then portion it into shot glasses. It is great served either hot or cold, depending on the soup and the time of year. Make sure to garnish the soup with a little something, either a small crouton, a micro green, or a sprinkle of fresh herbs. If you don’t own shot glasses, you can always rent them or use small after-dinner drink glasses. Another fun easy appetizer served in shot glasses is vegetable sticks and dip. Fill shot glasses with about ½-inch of Ranch dressing or dip. Slice vegetables such as carrots and celery into thin sticks. Portion the vegetables among the shot glasses, sitting upright, with one end in the dip.
I also like to grill up chicken sausages and then slice them on the diagonal into large bite-sized pieces. Put them in a shallow dish (with tooth picks on the side for serving) and accompany them with a variety of mustards and slices of French bread. You can also grill vegetables and serve them in a similar fashion with prepared pesto, tapenade and slices of French bread.
Crostini are also a simple way to get creative with appetizers. To make crostini, buy a baguette and slice it into ½-inch slices, on the diagonal. Brush each slice on one side with olive oil. Place them on a sheet pan and bake them in a 350° oven for about 6-7 minutes, or until they just turn crisp. Cool them before topping them with any number of things including pesto, goat cheese, or oven-roasted tomatoes. It’s also fun to use crostini as a base for little roast beef sandwiches. Spread whole grain mustard on each toast and then take thin slices of prepared roast beef and pile them on top of the toast. Top the roast beef with a mixture of plain Greek yogurt, a little bit of horseradish and salt, and then sprinkle with chopped chives.
Another idea is to make a loaf of crusty garlic bread, slice it into thin sticks and serve it with warm marinara sauce for dipping.
If you want to serve a cheese plate, roasted fruit it always a simple, sophisticated addition. Take a bunch of red grapes, remove them from the vine, and toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast them in a 350° oven for about 20 minutes. When in season, plums work well too.
Skewers are another way to serve fun, easy appetizers. I sometimes make what I call “pasta salad on a stick.” Cook tortellini according to directions and toss them with your favorite Italian-style dressing. Set them aside to cool. On a sewer, layer a cherry tomato, a pitted olive, a slice of basil and use the tortellini as a base to make the stick stand upright on your serving tray. This approach also works with Caprese salad ingredients. Simply layer basil, a cherry tomato, and fresh mozzarella on a skewer. Drizzle the skewers with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve them lying on their side on a platter or tray.
Have no time? Stop at the grocery store and purchase Italian parsley, olives, slices of Genoa salami, nuts, and cornichons or other pickled vegetables. Arrange them on a tray and garnish it with the fresh parsley – beautiful, fun and easy. Just how we like it!
I’d love to hear from the community – what’s your favorite fun, easy appetizer?
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