Questions for Allie: Appetizers for a Stress-Free Cocktail Party?

Allie Lewis of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food asked for your holiday cooking questions. She gave us some great answers on hot buffets for Christmas Eve, shrinking pie crusts and easy food for last-minute parties. Here's her final question and answer, and it's a great one.

Q: Hi Allie, I'm having my first-ever cocktail party at my first-ever house. Could you suggest one or two appetizers that are both crowd-pleasers and can be made ahead so I can still socialize with my guests?

Read on for over a dozen recipes and tips from Allie on throwing a stress-free, crowd-pleasing cocktail party.

Congratulations on your new house! While not as intimate as a dinner party, having a cocktail party is a great way to host a larger crowd - and guests love them because they can have multiple commitments in a single evening. Food-wise, it's great, too. It's a wonderful opportunity to put out a variety of delicious little bites. When I host cocktail parties, it's an absolute must that everything can be made ahead - at the maximum, foods just need to be baked off or reheated before serving.

Hot stuff you can make/ freeze ahead and just bake off before serving

  • Pigs in Blankets (freeze-ahead) This recipe is from the September 2007 issue of Everyday Food.

    Ingredients
    1 sheet puff pastry (half a 17.3-ounce package), thawed
    1 package (12 ounces) cocktail franks, patted dry
    1large egg, lightly beaten
    2 to 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
    Ketchup and mustard for serving

    Directions
    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unfold pastry on a work surface. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut pastry into 10 equal strips; cut each strip crosswise into thirds (to yield 30 1-by-3-inch pieces). Wrap a strip of pastry around each frank, and place, seam side down, 2 inches apart on a rimmed baking sheet.

    2. Brush top of pastry with egg; sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake until golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve with ketchup and mustard. Makes 30

    OR: Make through step 1; freeze (unbaked) on a baking sheet, then transfer to a plastic bag. Brush with beaten egg and bake them directly from frozen and serve with mustard and ketchup.

  • Mini Empanadas (freeze-ahead)
    This recipe is for "regular" empanadas so just make them MUCH smaller (one or two bites each).

    Freeze empanadas (unbaked) on a baking sheet, and then transfer to a plastic bag. Bake them directly from frozen, and serve with sour cream spiked with lime juice (which you can also make up to 1 day ahead).

  • Goat-Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms (make-ahead)
    This recipe is actually from an Everyday Food reader... we love it!

    Stuff the mushrooms and keep on a baking sheet, wrapped with plastic, in the fridge up to 1 day. Bake off just before serving.

  • Bacon-Wrapped Dates (make-ahead)
    A little retro, but people love them - also try this with pitted prunes.

    Wrap the dates in bacon and keep on a baking sheet, wrapped in plastic, in the fridge up to 1 day. Bake off just before serving.

  • Hot Spinach Dip (make-ahead)
    You definitely can't go wrong with this one! Make through step 3, then cover and refrigerate up to 1 day. Bake off just before serving with crackers or crisps.
  • Rosemary-Roasted Nuts (make-ahead)
    These are sinfully addictive... I promise. They are found in the December 2007 issue of Everyday Food. Make ahead and keep in an airtight container at room-temperature. Don't make them too far ahead, or you won't have any left for your party!

    Serves 8
    Prep time: 5 min Total time: 35 min

    Ingredients
    2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
    4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
    1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
    Coarse salt

    Directions
    1. Preheat oven to 350°. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
    2. In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
    3. Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

  • Salmon Mousse (make-ahead)
    Festive and elegant. It's in the December 2007 issue of Everyday Food. Make and keep in the refrigerator up to 1 day.

    Serves 8
    Prep time: 15 min Total time: 15 min + chilling

    Ingredients
    1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin (from a 1/4-ounce envelope)
    4 ounces smoked salmon, coarsely chopped
    11/4 cups sour cream
    1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    Coarse salt
    Fresh dill, for garnish (optional)
    Crackers or baguette slices, for serving

    1. Place 3 tablespoons cold water in a small saucepan, and sprinkle with gelatin; let soften, 5 minutes. Gently heat over low, stirring, just until gelatin dissolves; set aside.
    2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine salmon, sour cream, and lemon juice. Purée until smooth; season with salt. With motor running, add slightly cooled gelatin mixture, and blend until combined.
    3. Pour into two 8-ounce ramekins or bowls. Without touching surface, cover container with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm but spreadable, about 2 hours or up to overnight. Garnish mousse with dill, if desired, and serve with crackers or baguette slices.


Other Super-Simple Hors d'oeuvres I Love
(not make ahead, but easy enough to keep you out of the kitchen)

  • Antipasti Platter - This is one of my favorite things to put out for a crowd: a large platter of bocconcini (bite-sized mozzarella balls), sliced salamis, mixed olives, pickled peppers, bread sticks, etc. This one keeps the boys happy and you out of the kitchen!
  • Cheese Platter - Sounds a bit "uncreative", but I've never seen one of my guests turn their nose up at wonderful, ripe cheeses! Dress up the platter with grapes, a fig spread, and an assortment of beautiful crafts and crisps.
  • Baked Brie with Pecans - Yum! In my family, we'd serve this with those thin, delicate gingersnaps (Anna's Cookies)
  • Smoked Salmon on Chips - These take only a few minutes to put together.

One last hostess tip - slightly antiquated but absolutely practical - is to have a lovely "hostess apron" that you reserve just for when you're having guests over. Have fun with this. There are some great aprons out there (my current personal favorite is an edgy camouflage one from Broadway Panhandler). If you have to do just a few little things in the kitchen, you're protected from any accidents, and you'll still look great if someone sneaks a peek at you in your apron! I know, it sounds like something your grandmother would do (and she probably did), but you'll thank me!

Thank you Allie! It's been great having you in The Kitchn!

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