Appetizers help fend off hungry guests while you're preparing the main dishes, but you won't save any time if your appetizers are as complex to prepare as your first course. Appetizers don't need to be complicated and intricate to be tasty and delicious, so focus on simple ingredients and straight-forward recipes to create a spread that's impressive but not time consuming.
Spreads and Dips
Dips utilize a range of premade and fresh ingredients to create scoopable spreads for a tray of crackers, breads or vegetables. A package of onion or vegetable soup mix combined with a pint of sour cream or low-fat Greek yogurt stirs up in a snap. For something fresher, a few mashed avocados, a chopped tomato, splash of lime and sprinkling of cilantro are all you need to create a bright, festive guacamole. Food processors are handy for quickly turning your favorite vegetables and spices into spreads. Leftover cooked eggplant whips up into baba ghanoush with a splash of lemon and salt, or make your own fresh hummus with a blend of canned chickpeas, garlic, tahini, salt and olive oil. Serve with packaged crackers or chips, pre-sliced Italian bread or chopped fresh vegetables.
Party mixes combine all your favorite snacks from the packaged food aisles, so all you need is a handful of seasoning to make them delicious. Scan cabinets for unsweetened cereals like puffed wheat or rice and bran or corn flakes. If you want something savory, mix in cheese-flavored snack-sized crackers or chips. To stay on the sweeter side, add raisins, dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots. Almonds, honey roasted nuts and sunflower seeds are also traditional stir-ins, but you can think outside the box and reach for chocolate candies, marshmallows or wasabi peas for something distinctive. For extra flavor, toss the mix with garlic powder, onion powder or powdered sugar depending on the overall taste of the mix. Let guest grab their own or portion everything into clear plastic cups for more serving convenience.
One-bite appetizers allow guests to indulge in a range of flavors. Save time with prepacked miniature dough shells that double as serving cups for your favorite fillings. For hot appetizers, bake miniature pie crusts filled with a mixture of eggs, your favorite cheese and a vegetable or two for quick, bite-size quiche. Defrost light, airy miniature shells made from phyllo dough and fill the convenient cups with cold dishes like crab salad or coleslaw. The tarts provide just enough space for layering leftover cooked ground beef, sour cream and a sprinkling of cheese for bite-size tacos. If cups aren't your thing, opt for skewers instead. A thread of cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar is a classy, easy-to-eat option.
Making your appetizers ahead will save you stress and time when service rolls around. Soups are elegant appetizer options that freeze well enough to be made several days in advance. Opt for smooth soups like creamy tomato, butternut squash or potato leek and prepare the batches earlier in the week. Defrost the night before and heat up just before pouring the soups into tall shot glasses as classy soup shooters. Fried coconut shrimp or handmade corn dogs are crowd pleasers, but frying to order is time consuming and stressful. Instead, fry up to three nights before and then freeze the items. On serving day, bake the fried goodies in the oven to crisp them and they are ready to serve.