If you've ever attended one of my holiday parties, it's likely you've walked into one of two scenarios: me running back and forth into the kitchen, sweating, frantically trying to get some sort of appetizer or main course on the table; or else I'm cool as a cucumber, dressed up in a new outfit I definitely bought for the occasion, only there's nary a plate of food in sight—just wine.
As a host, neither is ideal. That's why this year I'm doing things differently; no more three-course dinners or food-free parties. Instead, I'm relying on small-but-might snacks to strike the perfect balance. These little nibbles not only keep guests from getting too hungry (or tipsy), but are also easy enough for someone like me (who can get frazzled in the kitchen when cooking for more than a few people) to quickly pull together.
Here are a bunch of simple yet impressive bites to keep in your back pocket this holiday season. Most are ready in 15 minutes or less, and all are beginner-friendly (but your guests will never be able to tell):
There's nothing people love to munch on more than salty, savory bites they can scoop by the handful. But rather than any old trail mix, serve a lineup the likes of which they probably haven't seen before: homemade marinated olives with garlic, orange, and rosemary; a sweet-'n'-spicy pretzel and nut mix with just a hint of chocolate; a bowl of roasted almost in fun flavors like black truffle or Himalayan sea salt; or an easy, winter-ready kettle corn made from scratch.
If you're not feeling any of those combinations, why not freestyle your own blend? Start with a bag of your favorite type of nuts, then add different mix-ins depending on the flavors you like. (One of my new go-tos: rosemary and sea salt almonds, tossed in with dark chocolate chunks and dried cranberries for a sweet-meets-savory pairing.)
No matter how many holiday parties you have (or haven't) thrown before, the ever-dependable cracker (or vegetable slice) and dip is bound to be your best friend. I'm already planning on leaning on a few of the dip recipes below (especially that bright red beet hummus and genius Parmesan cheese spread) this year, because they are so uncomplicated; all you need is a food processor, a handful of ingredients, and about 10 minutes (if that) to pull each one together. Once your dip is ready to go, all you need to do next is plop it in a serving bowl, arrange a spread of your favorite crackers and colorful crudités on a platter or cutting board, and start enjoying the party.
When it comes to party fare, "easy" doesn't necessarily have to mean things that are prepped in advance, or served at room temperature. Serve a bubbling bowl of creamed spinach or gooey baked ricotta straight out of the oven, ready to be dipped and scooped by a bowl of crackers waiting in the wings; they take a little bit of time to cook, but once they're in the oven all you need to do is set a timer and get on with the rest of your to-do list. If you're really crunched for time, these addictive kale chips are ready in 15 minutes, while these crispy Parmesan pinwheels are good to eat in just 10 minutes.
The beauty of a simple crostini is that it looks like a ton of effort went into it—when really you just spread a spoonful of fresh ricotta cheese on a tiny piece of toast and topped it with sliced figs and prosciutto. You can have a tray full of crostini ready in 15 minutes or less, with a variety of garnishes at your disposal; top them with a tangy artichoke tapenade you blitz in the food processor, this tart raspberry and beet chèvre, or even this combination of roasted grapes and yogurt. If you're short on time, you can also swap in crackers for an equally delicious result. Artfully arrange them on your prettiest serving platter and your guests will be wowed, no matter how little time it actually took you to make.
While a cheese and charcuterie board may not be a revolutionary idea, you should never, ever underestimate its power to please your guests. Start by selecting a few of your favorite cheeses: I usually stick to one soft-ripened, funky cheese; a firm goat's milk cheese; and a pungent blue cheese. Then pick out your charcuterie: I'm a sucker for this nduja spread and any type of pâté, not to mention cured meats like prosciutto. Pair all that up with a bit of honey or a store-bought jam (I said easy, didn't I?), a slew of thin crackers for spreading and stacking, roasted almonds, and tangy cornichons. The whole spread (minus the shopping, of course) won't take you more than five minutes.
What's your favorite holiday party snack? Tell us in the comments below!
It's your party! In partnership with Blue Diamond, makers of high-quality almond products for over 100 years, we're excited to share creative ways to make hosting a holiday party easy and delicious. Whether you're hosting on a budget or throwing a festive cocktail party, Blue Diamond is here to help. Their Crafted Gourmet Almonds, seasoned with flavors like pink Himalayan salt and black truffle, and Artisan Nut Thins make a perfect addition to any elegant spread, from last-minute snack trays to homemade appetizers.