Offer enough assortment. For small gatherings of 8 to 10 guests, three or four types of appetizers are suitable; for parties of up to 45 guests, plan on six kinds; and for more than 45 guests, offer eight types. For variety, you'll want to plan appetizers from each of the following categories: meat or poultry, fish or seafood, cheese, and vegetables or fruit. If your party will extend several hours, consider serving some hearty appetizers, such as meatballs, kabobs, or items made with pastry or bread.
A variety of hot and cold foods can help keep everyone nibbling, as cold appetizers can be circulated while other treats are heating in the oven.
Think visual appeal. No matter how attractive the foods are individually, consider their collective impact. Combine foods with interesting color contrasts (monochromatic colors give guests the visual blahs). Also, consider how foods will look as they begin to be demolished by hungry guests. You don't want foods that become brown, soggy, or wilted after a brief stint on the table.
Serve party-friendly foods. Consider your guests and your carpeting. Party-goers will likely be standing and milling about the house, so stick to finger foods that aren't messy or greasy, are easy to pick up quickly, and are substantial enough to be eaten with two fingers. Too many offerings that must be spooned out, sliced, or spread tend to cause people to bunch up around a buffet table.
Offer drink choices. You can stock a full alcoholic bar, limit the alcoholic selections to wine and beer, or stick to champagne or one specialty mixed drink such as margaritas, a punch bowl of eggnog, or hot rum toddies. Be sure to provide a variety of nonalcoholic options for nondrinkers and designated drivers, including juices, sparkling waters, and soft drinks. Keep in mind that many guests will drink both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
Fruit and dip: Thread fruits such as pineapple chunks, apple wedges, pear slices, and orange sections onto wooden skewers. Serve with a curry dip made from equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream and seasoned with curry powder.
Chicken bagels: Split mini bagels in half and toast. Top with chicken salad, and sprinkle with finely chopped red onion. Top each with a thin apple wedge or toasted, sliced almonds.
Easy mini-Reubens: Top crispy rye crackers with thinly sliced corned beef, rinsed and well-drained canned sauerkraut, and Thousand Island salad dressing.
Quick broiler treats: Combine equal amounts of mayonnaise and grated Parmesan cheese. Stir in some snipped parsley. Spread on melba toast rounds. Broil about 1 minute or until golden. Or, top assorted crackers with sliced Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeno peppers, and add some salsa. If desired, broil for 30 to 60 seconds or until cheese melts.
Brie and fruit: Warm rounds of Brie cheese in a 325 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with apple and pear wedges or crackers.
Marinated appetizer kabobs: Thread cubes of salami or cheese, cooked tortellini, and vegetables alternately onto 6-inch skewers. Place in a shallow dish and add some Italian salad dressing; turn to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator for several hours. Drain and serve.
Fast pizza: Spread a 6-inch Italian bread shell with tub-style cream cheese; top with cooked vegetables, sliced red onion, and snipped fresh herbs. Sprinkle with crumbled blue or feta cheese. Bake until heated through.
Mexicali chips: Cook ground beef seasoned with ground cumin until brown; drain off fat. Stir in enough salsa to moisten, and add sliced ripe olives and snipped cilantro. Top with sour cream or shredded cheese. Serve with tortilla chips.
Simple smorgasbord: Spread water crackers with tub-style cream cheese with chives and onion. Top with thinly sliced smoked red salmon and fresh dill. Or, spread rye crackers with tub-style cream cheese. Top with canned sardines and finely chopped tomato.
Jelly-topped cheese spread: Melt jalapeno jelly in a saucepan and spoon over an 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese. Use as a spread on crackers.
Tomato and melon kabobs: Wrap thin slices of prosciutto or corned beef around cherry tomatoes or melon balls. Thread tomatoes or melon onto wooden toothpicks.
Kabobs on the barbie: Partially cook halved bacon slices. Wrap them around chunks of vegetables or fruit and grill until the bacon is completely cooked.
Tiny taters: Halve or quarter small baked potatoes. Scoop out some of the potato and fill the shells with sour cream, bacon, and chives, or chili and cheese.
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