Its easy to have romantic visions of the holidays cozy fires, perfectly wrapped gifts, your house decorated like a magazine spread, your friends gathered to celebrate, marveling at your culinary prowess.
But lets be honest, parties take work. If you do it right, though, 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 ingredients and minimal effort, you really can throw an elegant affair that meets the culinary mark.
So weve assembled dozens of easy-to-execute party bites from cookbook authors and chefs to get you off to a good start.
Chef Jose Garces:
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 (arbequina or manzanilla), chopped chives, a splash of sherry vinegar and a bit of olive oil. Serve on miso spoons for a pretty one-bite snack.
Chef Jamie Bissonnette:
Cheese and apples: Serve Epoisse cheese at room temperature on a decorative spoon topped with an apple slice and toasted walnuts.
Mortadella rolls: Spread mortadella slices with olives and oozy robiola due latte cheese and roll.
Asian dip: Instead of instant onion soup, spike sour cream with a ramen noodle flavoring packet and spicy kimchi. Add a little cream cheese for texture, and serve with rice crackers.
Chef Tom Douglas:
Salty-sweet spread: Puree equal amounts of dried figs and pitted Kalamata olives, and serve with pita.
Lox and cukes: Top cucumber slices with lox (smoked salmon) for a healthy, crunchy appetizer or finger snack.
Chef Michael Romano:
Mediterranean dip: Drain a jar of baby artichokes and toss with a can of oil-packed tuna. Add a squeeze of lemon, chopped black olives, Aleppo pepper and chopped parsley. Serve with crackers.
Crunchy caviar: Slice celery into very thin strips and salt lightly. Top with grated bottarga caviar and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
Peppers and toast: Toast focaccia or garlic bread slices and top with good quality prepared roasted peppers.
Chef Kevin Gillespie:
Smoky sweet apples: Wrap thick apple wedges with smoked bacon and sprinkle with brown sugar. Broil until the bacon is crisp.
Baked brie, 2012: Arrange pieces of defrosted puff pastry in an X. Put a wheel of brie or camembert in the center and cover with truffle honey (or another variety). Tuck a few toasted walnuts inside for crunch, if you like. Pull up the sides of the dough like youre wrapping a present. Bake until golden brown.
Fruit and cheese bites: Cut brioche slices into squares. Top with sliced pears, cooked smoked bacon and sharp Cheddar cheese. Put on sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese melts.
Chef Seamus Mullen:
White beans and sardines: Puree canned cannellini beans with roasted garlic, canned artichokes, olive oil and lemon juice. Serve with smoked sardines on toast.
Avocado toasts: Mash avocado with lemon juice. Spread on grilled flatbread, and top with grapefruit segments and coarse sea salt.
Chef David Burke:
Parmesan pops: Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Top with wooden skewers placed about 4 inches apart. Sprinkle shredded Parmesan cheese in a circle on top of one end of each skewer, creating a cheese lollipop. Bake at 350 degrees for 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. Roll in finely chopped pistachios to cover. Put a lollipop stick in each ball.
Black olive toasts: Puree black olives. Toast baguette slices and spread with ricotta cheese. Top with a dollop of olive puree.
Chef Walter Abrams:
Caviar and quick chive cakes: Add chopped chives to pancake mix, and prepare according to package 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 microwave popcorn. Meanwhile, sauté chopped bacon; drain and sprinkle with brown sugar. Toss with hot popcorn along with a dash of red wine vinegar and chopped, toasted cashews.
Chef Bart Pickens:
Balsamic raisins: Plump jumbo raisins in balsamic vinegar by simmering over low heat for 10 minutes. Serve on a cheese platter.
Cheese crisps: Blend 1 cup each flour and grated Cheddar cheese in a food processor with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 egg and 1/2 stick butter. On a piece of wax or parchment paper, roll out into a 1/4-inch-thick disc. Cut into crackers (use holiday cookie cutters for more fun). Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Cream cheese and pepper jelly: Unwrap a block of cream cheese, place in the center of a platter and top with a jar of hot pepper jelly. Serve with crackers.
Chef Chris Painter:
Stuffed figs: Wrap a whole toasted almond in a basil leaf. Using the pointed end, push the nut through the fat end of a fresh fig, tucking it inside. Repeat as many times as you like. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, place on a sheet pan, and roast for 5 to 8 minutes at 425 degrees.
J.M. Hirsch, AP food editor:
Brie with bourbon-balsamic glaze: Gently simmer 1 cup bourbon and 1 cup balsamic vinegar until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Season with pepper. Drizzle while warm over a round of brie that has come to room temperature. Serve with baguette slices.
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, and season with pepper and smoked paprika. Drizzle with honey and serve with baguette slices.