How to make easy party appetizers

menu knife and fork image by Warren Millar from

Appetizers are traditionally a small course served before the entrée. Appetizers served at parties should follow certain principles. If possible, the host should offer a variety to suit many differing tastes. The item should be easy to eat in case guests would like converse with each other during this course, and it should tie in with the rest of the menu. If you are not a professional chef or just pressed for time, you may prefer items that are easy to put together.

Use items you have on hand already. If you decide to hold an impromptu party at the last minute, you still can please your guests. Chop up fresh vegetables into easy-to-hold chunks. Arrange them on a plate. Make a dip in the middle. Add spices and herbs to sour cream and thoroughly blend. If you have no sour cream, puree canned beans in a blender. Add oil and garlic or chopped onions. Dips also can be made from other canned ingredients, including mushrooms, artichokes and tomatoes.

Create simple items. Focus on quality instead of complexity. Treat your guests. Buy half a pound of four or five rare cheeses. Cut into small chunks. Top with a small slice of prosciutto or other imported ham. Drizzle with imported balsamic vinegar or aged olive oil. Secure with toothpicks. Lightly sauté scallops or shrimp until just cooked. Wrap each one with bacon, and bake until crisp.

Prepare parts of the course a few days in advance. Easy can mean breaking more elaborate creations into a series of smaller steps. If you want to dazzle guests with your own cheese- and onion-stuffed focaccia, combine the dough ingredients together and let it rise overnight. The stuffing mixture also can be prepared several days in advance and placed in the refrigerator. Assemble the finished product the next morning. Place the ingredients in the center of the bread dough, pop the bread in the oven to bake and serve hot as guests arrive. Often an important item can be frozen and then thawed out at the last minute for quick use.

Buy parts of the appetizer you intend to serve. Making items such as puff pastry or tart shells can require a great deal of advanced preparation. Cut down on the time needed and buy these items. Puff pastry can easily be filled at the last minute and then baked as guests arrive. Tart shells also can be filled with a simple mixture of mushrooms and cheese, chopped vegetables, chopped cold cuts or even onions, cream and bacon.

Purchase ready-made items. Many supermarkets have frozen food sections where you can find items that you can freeze and reheat later. Frozen appetizers are ideal if you have last-minute, unexpected guests or find yourself with unexpected company. Make them your own by adding an extra individual touch, such as shavings of cheese or sprigs of fresh herbs. If possible, taste all the items you purchased yourself before serving to make sure they meet your culinary standards.