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Whether you planned your party months ago, or spontaneously invited guests over for the evening, every hostess loves a good hack to make holiday entertaining easy. How do you make it look special with a minimal amount of effort and no last-minute rushing around? For the last three decades, I’ve been perfecting my entertaining game to make it look like I spent all day preparing when those who know me, know I never have a day to prepare. I love to keep a file of elegant appetizers I love to serve. While I am completely driven to make it special for my guests, I’m a collector of ideas that work for me. Here are a few tips:
You have to plan ahead to pull it all together at the last minute, right? Create your appetizer menu and do your shopping early.
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You have to plan ahead to pull it all together at the last minute, right? Create your appetizer menu and do your shopping early. Having everything you need before the big day is a big stress reliever. Buy the wine you’ll serve and get whites into the fridge ahead of time. Find the holiday dishes you plan to use—they may be packed away— ahead of time and then wash your glassware and special dishes the day before your event. If you are arranging flowers, do that two days ahead so your flowers are in full bloom. A week before, have your cloth cocktail napkins pressed at the dry cleaner or purchase cute novelty napkins. Pull out candles or simple white votives, and make sure your lighter works.
FIND SIMPLE RECIPES
I like appetizers that are more like a list of ingredients that need assembly than they are recipes. Here are a few of my faves:
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BASIL TOMATO MOZZARELLA BITES ON A SPOON
Assuming you’ve already bought a collection of pretty metal appetizer spoons, all you need is mini buffalo mozzerella balls, cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Rinse the mozzarella, wash the tomatoes and slice both in halves. Toss with olive oil and minced fresh basil along with some whole small basil leaves. Place on spoons, and place spoons on a simple rectangular tray like this one.
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SHRIMP WITH CAJUN SEASONING ON A PLANK
This is a professional presentation without a lot of fuss. You’ll need two pounds of medium-to-large fresh shrimp (fully peeled and deveined by your friendly butcher at the seafood counter). Have your party set up ready to go and saute this just before you guests arrive. Rinse the shrimp in cold water, drain and dry, saute in olive oil and sprinkle with my favorite Thrive Market’s Organic Cajun Seasoning before pulling from the heat. Spoon on to an attractive cutting board or plank, and garnish with lime and parsley.
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SALMON AND CAVIAR PUFF PASTRY TOWERS
This one is a crowd pleaser and a craft project. Speaking of planning ahead, two weeks before your event, order these puffed pastry cups. There are 135 in the box, so you can have them on hand for future parties, too. During your grocery run, pick up a package of salmon gravlax, a tin of golden caviar, and radish and lemongrass for garnish. Put the salmon in the puffed pastry, bake as directed and cool slightly. Garnish with the golden caviar first, then add thinly sliced radish and lemongrass.
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FRESH VEGGIE ROLL UPS
These are nice on their own or served with an elegant fresh ranch dip. Shop for zucchini, carrots, red pepper, cream cheese spread with chives and microgreens. Wash all your veggies and pat dry. Slice zucchini and peeled carrot length-wise and spread cream cheese with chives on one side. Roll the zucchini and carrots into well, rolls, and garnish with slivers of red pepper and microgreens as shown.
TAKE APPETIZER SHORT CUTS
SUSHI TAKE OUT
Early afternoon the day of your party, you can do same-day sushi take out. Order your favorite very simple roll and ask your sushi maker to make them very small with little rice. Order 18 pieces and be ready with a jalapeno aioli and Sriracha sauce to garnish them; first a drop of ailoi and then a red drop of Sriracha on top of that. Serve on a good looking tray.
Available with sherry sauce, cheese and chives and risotto, Williams-Sonoma’s Assorted Lobster Tartlets are super yummy and super easy, as you order them ahead and pull them from your freezer when you are ready to warm them up. Be a pro and plate them up beautifully and garnish with fresh, green dill and chives.
ANYTHING ON ENDIVE
I’ve found that a little spoonful of my favorite traditional chicken salad, curry chicken salad or dill salmon salad dolloped onto an endive leaf makes a pretty presentation and a flavorful bite.
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DON’T SKIP DESSERT
Remember that all parties have a sweet ending. Make your life easy by ordering these delicious and elegant Harry & David Holiday Petit Fours. They are festive and fun, and make for a pretty plate.
Harry & David
MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL
There’s no reason to use a plastic container or pre-made CostCo tray at your elegant party. Make it special for your guests by using pretty dishes and bowls, and put all sauces and dips in pretty bowls, too. Add a run or elegant place mats layered to create an overall elegant look. Put utensils in a fork-knife-spoon caddy, and serve on real appetizer dishes. Two of my favorites come from Crate & Barrel: the six-inch white square appetizer plates and the pressed glass appetizer plates. I’ve used both of these so many times, they are so worth the investment.