Bringing the right food to a party is important. Whereas a poor appetizer is noticeable — hard to eat with one hand, messy, doesn’t stand up to the test of time — a great appetizer is actually fairly inconspicuous. It will be raved about because it is delicious, but no one should notice the effort it takes to eat it or any lingering sign it was eaten (no stains or crumbs). If the food you bring is unobtrusive, people can focus on how good it tastes and how much fun they’re having. This year, you’re going to be a big hit. You’re not going to bring a salad, a veggie platter with bottled ranch dressing, or a store-bought cheese plate made from cubes of plastic-tasting Swiss and cheddar. This year, you’re going to bring the perfect appetizer to the party. What makes a perfect appetizer? We have some rules.
- Snacks cannot impede mingling. The should be consumable from one hand (so the other can stay free for hand shaking and drink holding) and should not take an obscene amount of chewing (because we’ve all been introduced to someone mid-bite).
- Snacks cannot require utensils. Forks, spoons, and knives are out. Fingers and toothpicks only.
- The only reason a plate should be needed is to carry multiple snacks away from the table. Otherwise, you should always be able to pick it up and pop it into your mouth.
- Snacks should still be fairly delicious at room temperature.
- Snacks should be as mess-free as possible. Few crumbs, no spills, and minimal drips.
- Snacks should be stress-free. You have better things to do pre-party than slave over your stove/oven. Dumplings, pierogies, and empanadas require too much filling, folding, and crimping. Fritters, arancini, and falafel require too much frying. Save those for a dinner party.
- Snacks should not take days — or even all afternoon — to prepare. Nobody has time for that. If it does take a couple hours, that better be hands-off time.
Ready your toothpicks. We’ve collected of the best party appetizer recipes the Internet has to offer. Whether you’re capping off the old year or ringing in the new one, this list has you covered. It’s go time.
You can’t really have a party without dip. Since we’ve already banned bottled dressing and little plastic tubs of high fructose corn syrup, here’s a list of six dips for your upcoming party. Antipasto di Ricotta from David Rocco is an incredibly easy way to put together a delicious dip that’s great with some of the flatbreads we have coming up. The quality of the dip, of course, depends on the quality of the ricotta. We’re not saying you have to make your own, but you should definitely get fresh cheese for this.
Pecorino and Honey Dip from Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos. It does have the potential to get messy, but it couldn’t get any easier to make. Dump some chili flakes into some honey, slice some pecorino cheese, and set the cheese out for dipping into the honey.
Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip from Food52. Sure, you could skip the roasted fennel and the roasted garlic and simmering the white beans in spiced oil, but that would be much more lame than this awesome baked dip.
Food52 calls this Fig and Olive Tapenade the thing to make when you have 10 minutes before a party, so naturally, it found a home here. Sweet, salty, briny, and delicious.
Pâté isn’t all for carnivores, and this Mustard Roasted Broccoli Pâté with Leeks and Lemon from The First Mess will be a hit with meat eaters and vegetarians alike. Serve with bread, pickles, olives, raw vegetables — go nuts.
This Caramelized Onion Dip from Food52 isn’t the quickest to throw together, so we had some reservations about including it. We decided after much debate, though, that it should supplant all other onion dips for the following reasons: caramelizing the onions means no onion breath, you can use a slow cooker to do the caramelizing for you, and it’s divine. We see it as a win.
Toasts and Tarts
If 2012 was the year to put an egg on it, 2013 was the year to put it on toast. Crostini are so in, and there’s no better way to end the Year of Toast than to serve it at a New Year’s Eve bash. Also? Anything on toast is basically the perfect, self-contained, one-hander party food.
Pastrami-style Gravlax with Sweet English Mustard on Pumpernickel Toast from Nadia G. If there’s one woman in food media who knows how to party in style, it’s Nadia G. She makes her own gravlax from scratch and tells you how to do the same, but you could also absolutely cheat and go for some smoked salmon here, too, in which case you’ll be done making it before you’re done reading the name.
While we’ve got the smoked salmon out, don’t miss this Smoked Salmon on Mustard-Chive and Dill Butter Toasts from Food52. Smoked salmon and herb butter on toast? Count us in. Persimmon Pear Caprese Toast from Joy the Baker. This was Joy’s Christmas present to us in 2012, and it is the gift that keeps on giving. Joy uses fresh mozzarella balls in her recipe, and though it’s visually stunning, sliced fresh mozzarella may actually be easier to eat at your shindig. Reading this in the summer? Make her Peach, Tomato, and Mozzarella Crostini instead.
This Roasted Carrot Harissa and Creme Fraiche Crostini recipe from Food52 involves some planning ahead. In order to really let the roasted carrot harissa spread flavors marry, it should be made at least one day in advance. We decided that meant you were on your game and looking out for future you, so we included what is obviously a fantastic appetizer. As a bonus, here’s a recipe for Mini Zucchini and Goat Cheese Tarts from Bon Appetit. It’s close enough to toast, right? It even calls for pre-made pie dough. We promise not to tell.
David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria says that lettuce — specifically, endive — is proof that Mother Nature is a savvy hostess, and with the low-carb, gluten-free world we live in, he might be right. The hardest thing about making and eating endive cups is saying endive properly, for which we turn to the one and only Stephen Colbert.
We know we said no salad, but with it all contained in a hand-held endive lettuce cup, we couldn’t resist. This Endive Salad with Gorgonzola, Pine Nuts, and Honey is the perfect party salad. Don’t like blue cheese? Try it with goat cheese.
We suggest making this Beet Tartare from Saveur to serve on endive leaves, but think about doing it ahead of time or using golden beets (with red endive, of course, for contrast) to avoid looking like a criminal at the party with those beet-stained hands. No good looking endive at your market of choice? We’ve got you covered there, too. Make these Grilled Shrimp Lettuce Cups, also from Saveur, with a good old standby head of iceberg.
Crackers, Crisps, Sticks, and Chips
Have you ever made your own crackers? Did you know it’s incredibly easy and way better than the stuff you buy in boxes and bags? If you’re going to bring crackers or chips, bring awesome ones. Bring cheese crackers made with real cheese and barbecue potato chips that pack a real punch. Pecan Cheese Wafers from Saveur. These are extra-crisp and a little spicy and very festive with the single whole pecan on top. Oh, and they’re stunning.
Once upon a time, Lidia Bastianich inspired Saveur to give us a recipe for frico, Italian cheese crisps. They’re not entirely gluten-free, but they’re awfully close. These cheese crisps call for Montasio cheese, though you could substitute Asiago. Keep an eye on amounts: 1/2 lb of cheese yields roughly 10 crisps; you may need to increase that for a party.
Sticking with the cheese theme, cheese straws and sticks are easy, tasty, and showy. Stick them in a mason jar and you are the height of 2013 cool. This recipe for Parmesan Cheese Straws from Saveur uses thinly rolled puff pastry if you’re in a real hurry, and this recipe for Cheddar Cheese Straws from Smitten Kitchen has you make your own dough.
Crackers! Crackers everywhere! Why not some of these Red Chili and Cheddar Crackers from Leite’s Culinaria? Or these Spicy Cornmeal Parmesan Crackers from Joy the Baker? Not into spicy crackers? Fine, Joy still has your back. Make these Sea Salt and Poppy Seed Crackers instead.
Are you into dark leafy greens and not eating gluten? Baked Kale Chips are obviously the answer. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen has the recipe. Do you prefer chips of the potato kind? Don’t fret, we’re not going to ask you to fry your own chips (see rule number six). Buy a bag of good kettle chips and toss them with this Smoky Paprika BBQ rub from Leite’s Culinaria.
Breads and Flatbreads
Those dips we mentioned earlier? Those would go really well with these flatbreads. The focaccias can be cut into one or two bite pieces for party optimization, and the pull-apart bread, well, that’s just fun. From Bon Appetit, we get this Blue Cheese and Bacon Focaccia. Plan ahead for the rise and shower/get ready for the party while the yeast is at work.
From Food52, we have a Meyer Lemon Focaccia. You could use regular lemons for this, but they wouldn’t have the slight sweetness of the Meyers (consider a dusting of sugar). Serve with the Antipasto di Ricotta recipe from the Dips section.
Serve this Crisp Rosemary Flatbread or this Flatbread with Honey, Thyme, and Sea Salt (both from Smitten Kitchen) with any of the dips listed previously. This Cheddar, Beer, and Mustard Pull-apart Bread from Smitten Kitchen is a fun way to serve bread at a party, and it comes pre-packed with all the party essentials: cheese, booze, and condiments.
Brandish your toothpicks, everyone, because we’re getting out the meatballs! Alton Brown did a whole Good Eats episode on meatballs that really does a fine job of perfecting the meatball. This recipe for party favorite Swedish Meatballs comes from that episode.
Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen puts an Asian-inspired spin on meatballs with these Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze. Don’t go too crazy with the glaze, or you’ll be breaking rule number five. Though neither made of meat nor really a ball, we wanted to find something meatball-esque for vegetarians. For this, we turn to Smitten Kitchen’s Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms.
Sometimes you really need to stuff something inside of something and then wrap it with something else. Parties are usually those times. Bacon Wrapped Jalapeño Poppers from Saveur fit the bill. We have half a seeded jalapeño, a bunch of cream cheese, a bunch of bacon, and a big handful of toothpicks. The longer you roast the jalapeño peppers, the less heat they’ll have. Just don’t rub your eyes after handling them! Bright red eyes at a party might sound festive, but trust us, it isn’t.
On the other hand, if you have access to hatch chilies, these Devils on Hatchback from Food52 are an excellent variation on the standard. If you’d like to go the briny route and still have some smoked salmon, try Saveur’s Stuffed Pepperoncini with Smoked Salmon. Since you’re stuffing the peppers with cream cheese and creme fraiche, you’re removing the possibility of biting into a pepper and squirting brine all over yourself and your closest three party-goers. It’s a rule number five complaint.
From Daisy Martinez, these Stuffed Mushrooms are filled with a Spanish Chorizo mixture and baked in the oven until tender and bubbly. They’re on the line of not holding up wonderfully at room temperature, but you probably won’t have that problem. Can’t get your hands on Spanish chorizo? No problem. Make this Creamy Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms recipe from Food52 with Italian sausage instead.
The next two recipes might be dangerous, because they fall into the “Once you pop, you just can’t stop” category. Take the sweetness of dates, cut it with the tang of goat cheese, and then top it with something salty and you’ve got yourself a seriously good appetizer. These Chevre Devils from Food52 are topped with spiced pecans, and these Cheese-Stuffed Dates with Prosciutto from Leite’s Culinaria (you can substitute bacon for the cured ham, but you’ll have to bake them) are, of course, wrapped in Prosciutto.
Easy, classy, and infinitely stackable. These Spiced Pecans from Saveur are a little sweet, a little spicy, a little savory, and a little salty. They only take 30 minutes to bake, but be sure to leave time for cooling.
If you want to sound really fancy, add Fleur de Sel to almost anything, including these Roasted Almonds with Rosemary Fleur de Sel from Bon Appetit. The meatiness of the almonds holds up to the rosemary, not often a flavor you see on spiced nuts, really well. Of course, you could truly spice your almonds. Just make either this recipe for Spicy-Sweet Roasted Almonds from Leite’s Culinaria or, better yet, these Honey Chai Roasted Almonds from Joy the Baker.
Want even more crunch? As Deb points out in her recipe for Granola-Crusted Nuts (the nut is of your choosing), everyone goes for the biggest nuggets of granola. Skip everything else and go straight for the big chunks with help from Smitten Kitchen.
Oh, spiced nuts are for the uninitiated, you say? You need a party snack that is more visually stunning? You need more variety in your textures? Fine, then. Make some popcorn.
Swooping in on the fancy train is Saveur’s recipe for White Truffle Pistachio Caramel Corn. Much like fleur de sel, white truffle (you could probably dilute some oil if you can’t get your hands on a small white truffle) add instant wow to any recipe title. Add pistachios and caramel and you’ve got yourself a handful of goodness.
Do you like bacon? Have we gone over this? In that case, make this Bacon and Cashew Caramel Corn from Bon Appetit. Oh, you really like bacon? My apologies. Make this Popcorn with Bacon Fat, Bacon, and Maple Syrup from Leite’s Culinaria instead.
Then again, pretzels are always a good snack food. This recipe for Salty Pretzel Vanilla Caramel Corn from Joy the Baker is great for parties because it handily clumps together, making it easy to hold a drink, shake a hand, or get down with your bad self, all while never letting go of your hunk of popcorn goodness.