It’s easy to have romantic visions of the holidays: cozy fires, perfectly wrapped gifts, your house decorated like a magazine spread, all your friends gathered to celebrate, marveling at your culinary prowess.
But let’s be honest, parties take work. But if you do it right, the cooking can be the least of your worries.
In fact, you can sometimes get away with no cooking at all. With just a few simple ingredients and minimal effort you really can throw an elegant affair that meets the culinary mark.
So we’ve assembled some easy-to-execute party bites from cookbook authors and chefs to get you off to a good start.
As for doing the dishes after the party? You’re on your own.
Associated Press food editor
• Brie with bourbon-balsamic glaze: Gently simmer 1 cup of bourbon and 1 cup of balsamic vinegar until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Season with black pepper. Drizzle while warm over a round of brie that has come to room temperature. Serve with slices of baguette.
• Spring pea guacamole: In a food processor, combine the flesh of 2 avocados, a 15-ounce can of peas (drained), 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, juice of 1 lime and a splash of hot sauce. Process until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature with crackers.
• Feta cheese and honey: Arrange slices of feta cheese on a platter. Sprinkle toasted pine nuts and fresh oregano over it, then season with black pepper and smoked paprika. Drizzle honey over everything, then serve with baguette slices.
Seattle chef and restaurateur
• Salty-sweet spread: Puree equal amounts of dried figs and pitted Kalamata olives for a delicious smear for pita.
• Wide awake shrimp cocktail: Turn your shrimp cocktail into a “red eye” by spiking 1 cup of cocktail sauce with five finely ground espresso beans.
• Lox and cukes: Top cucumber slices with lox (smoked salmon) for a healthy, crunchy appetizer or finger snack.
Philadelphia chef, author of “The Latin Road Home”
• Smoky almonds: Dust roasted marcona almonds with smoked paprika and Maldon sea salt.
• Spoon snack: Combine good quality canned Spanish tuna, quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced green Spanish olives like arbequina or manzanilla, chopped chives, a splash of sherry vinegar and a bit of olive oil. Serve on miso spoons for an impressive and pretty one-bite snack.
Chef and owner of New York’s Tertulia and author of “Hero Food”
• White beans and sardines: Puree canned cannellini beans with roasted garlic, canned artichokes, olive oil and lemon juice for a white bean spread to serve with smoked sardines on toast.
• Tuna and avocado toasts: Fork mash avocado with olive oil and lemon juice. Grill some flatbread, spread with the avocado mash, and top with grapefruit segments, good canned tuna and coarse sea salt.
Chef of several New York restaurants, including David Burke Townhouse
• Parmesan pops: Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place wooden skewers about 4 inches apart on the paper. Sprinkle shredded Parmesan cheese in a circle on top of one end of the skewer, creating a cheese lollipop. Bake at 350 degresfor 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, spray lightly with oil and sprinkle fine herbs.
• Goat cheese lollies: Roll goat cheese into balls the size of a golf ball. Puree pistachios and roll the goat cheese balls through the nuts to encrust the cheese. Put a lollipop stick in the balls.
• Black olive toasts: Puree black olives. Toast baguette slices and spread with ricotta cheese. Top with a dollop of olive puree.
Chef at Philadelphia’s Le Bec Fin
• Cucumber and Boursin tea sandwiches: Cut the crusts off good quality white sandwich bread. Make a sandwich using Boursin garlic and herb cheese and thinly sliced cucumber. Cut into attractive diamonds. Finish with a sprig of fresh chervil.
• Caviar and quick chive cakes: Grab a box of pancake mix, add chopped chives and prepare according to the box instructions (omitting sugar, if called for). Griddle the cakes and top with a dollop of sour cream and your favorite caviar.
• Bacony popcorn: Pop a bag of your favorite popcorn. While it’s popping, saute chopped bacon and sprinkle the top with brown sugar. And a dash of red wine vinegar. Add toasted cashews and the popcorn and serve hot.
Chef at The Loveless Cafe in Nashville, Tenn.
• Cheese crisps: Blend 1 cup each of flour and grated cheddar cheese in a food processor with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 egg and 1/2 stick of butter. On a piece of waxed or parchment paper, roll out into a 1/4-inch-thick disc. Cut into crackers (use holiday cookie cutters for more fun). Place the crackers on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
• Cream cheese and pepper jelly: A true Southern favorite, just two simple ingredients make for one delicious combination. Unwrap the cream cheese and place in the center of a platter before topping with a jar of hot pepper jelly.