Appetizers provide a scrumptious prelude to culinary delights waiting in the wings, and they can also serve as a selection of tasty nibbles to fill your plate in place of a traditional meal. When planning an appetizer menu, you shouldn’t have to create a lengthy grocery list that depletes your monthly food budget. Shop in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to create an easy appetizer menu that kids and parents will enjoy.
Stock your pantry and refrigerator with long-lasting staples you can keep on hand for those late-breaking appetizer needs or as primary ingredients for your main meal. While there are endless possibilities for stocking up on staples, keep foods on hand that your family prefers. Refrigerator basics such as cream cheese, sour cream, cheese, bottles of creamy dressing and fresh fruit and vegetables will always find a use. Keep a selection of condensed soups, dip and soup mixes, pastas, crackers, tortillas and canned beans and vegetables on hand for all of your cooking needs.
Survey your fridge and adopt the “use what you have” rule. If you nabbed two dozen eggs on sale, create deviled eggs that are filled with your favorite add-ins, such as minced pickles, green onions, mayonnaise or mustard. The refrigerated ravioli waiting for a busy-night dinner can be breaded and sauteed in oil and then dipped in a jarred Italian sauce. Quickly throw together quesadillas using leftover shredded chicken, cheese and tortillas. Serve with salsa, a homemade pico de gallo made with chopped tomatoes, onions or cilantro, or bottled dressing with Southwest seasonings. When cut into triangles, they’ll entice both kids and adults. Before you incorporate leftover meat into your appetizers, though, ensure it has been refrigerated for only a day or two to protect the health of your guests.
Because of their yummy simplicity, dips are the universal party food that pleases the guest as well as the host. Sour cream and dressing or soup mixes combine to create tangy dips that will be enjoyed with whatever you have on hand: chips, crackers or vegetables cut into dippers. If you have a can of pinto beans available, mash and spread them in the bottom of a chafing dish as the basis for a Mexican layered dip. Top with sour cream mixed with a zesty dip mix and appropriate toppers, such as diced tomatoes, lettuce, onion, cilantro, cheese, or for those with an asbestos tongue, chopped jalapeno. If children will enjoy the dip, reserve the jalapenos for a small side bowl. Cannellini beans can be pureed with olive oil and a hint of garlic or your favorite spices to become a dip for toast points.
For a busy mom, the ability to cook days or weeks in advance of an event is a boon. Fill mini muffin cups with phyllo dough, bake and then freeze the cooked phyllo cups. You can defrost a batch later to fill with chicken, egg or ham salad made from leftovers, a cream cheese-prosciutto dip or a fruit salad drizzled with honey yogurt. Older children can help you make fruit kabobs or veggie and cheese kabobs by threading alternating nibbles on bamboo skewers or toothpicks. Combinations such as melon, strawberry and kiwi or grape tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil leaves work well together. Right before serving, plate the kabobs and drizzle them with a complementary creamy salad dressing. On a relaxing weekend, double a batch of mini meatballs made with ground beef, pork or chicken. Mix half the batch with pasta sauce for dinner that evening and freeze the remainder. Before your gathering, defrost the meatballs and mix with a prepared sauce such as Alfredo, marinara or barbecue.