HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Easy, inexpensive, delicious cocktail party food

  • h

I'm hoping the experts out here will help a relatively new (but very enthusiastic) home cook. We're having a house party, and I'd love to make some delicious appetizers for around 30 people at a cocktail party. Of course, I don't have a lot of money to spend, and don't want to spend the whole party in the kitchen! Any suggestions for delicious, easy dishes that will help keep a crowd munching and drinking happily? Thanks!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. My friends won't come over unless i make this:

    I get the smallest disposable loaf pan you can get. They make one's that are about two inches by four inches. I cut inch wide strips of parchment paper or waxed paper and line the pan so it's coming up the sides and sits as flat as you can get it. Then, add a layer of goat cheese, then a layer of pesto (premade from the grocery store, put in cheesecloth and oil squeezed out - really get it as dry as you can), another layer of goat cheese, a layer of sundried tomatoes (again, drained and patted well if packed in oil, chopped roughly), another layer of goat cheese, one more layer of pesto, and a final layer of goat cheese. Turn out onto a plate and remove the pan and paper. If you haven't gone crazy smearing the goat cheese up the sides, you'll have beautiful and colorful layers. Serve with crackers or crostini and crudite. Brocoli seems to be a favorite with this.

    Seriously, my friends beg for it every time. You can make it DAYS in advance and leave it in the pan. You'll need probably three of those small round 'tubes' of goat cheese and one container of pesto. Good luck.

    15 Replies
    1. re: krissywats

      People laugh at those little pastry treats like cocktail franks wrapped in biscuit dough, but they always disappear fast.

      1. re: bibi rose

        For parties I make an "economy" version of the cocktail franks in dough recipe. They look and taste as good as if you bought the fancy frozen ones or used expensive cocktail franks.

        1 package regular size hot dogs
        1 can pillsbury crescent rolls

        Cut hot dogs into thirds. Cut one triangle of crescent roll in half. Wrap dough around hot dog piece, place on cookie sheet, bake in 375 degree oven for about 8 minutes or until roll is golden brown. Serve with mustards of choice.

        1. re: TrishUntrapped

          Another old favorite with the cocktail franks, I use Li'l Smokies is to combine equal amounts of good catsup and beer with the sausages and cook until the sauce is thick. I also have used bulk saugage and rolled it into meat balls and dropped them in the "sauce" and again cooked untl thickened. I had people looking for bread to mop up the remains of the sauce.

          1. re: Candy

            The Southern traditional (well, probably since about 1950) take on this is a 50-50 mix of Heinz chili sauce and grape jelly. You put it all into a chafing dish, melt the ingredients into each other, and dump in your cocktail weenies and let'em get hot. If you want to get'em dancin' on the tables, splash in some Tabasco...

            1. re: Will Owen

              Whiskey catsup and brown sugar works too.

              1. re: twodales
                Marion Morgenthal

                one other variation is cranberry sauce (whole berry or jellied) and bottle chili sauce.

                1. re: Marion Morgenthal

                  Yes, that's what I use for cocktail meatballs instead of wieners...and I add some fresh lemon juice and brown sugar to the cranberry/cocktail sauce mixture....I should have thought of cocktail meatballs, too, for this thread. Also pretty retro.

                  1. re: Val

                    My mom makes "sweet and sour" meatballs (that's what we call them) that are so delicious and so easy to make.

                    1 can jellied cranberries
                    1 jar marinara sauce
                    small meatballs
                    dump it all into a pot and cook until the meatballs are done.
                    (She might put some salt/pepper in, too, but I'm not sure about that.)

                    1. re: Hap

                      Dump into the crock pot:

                      Two packages plain frozen meatballs
                      One bottle Heinz 57 Sauce
                      One jar Welch's Grape Jelly
                      Rinse the bottles out with a little white wine and dump that in too.

                      Cook on high all day. Result: The most addictive danged meatballs I've ever had.

                      One of our staff scientists brought them to a party and they were gone before anything else had been touched. Our CEO has fiddled with the recipe several ways -- adding spices, garlic, etc. You can't break these. You can't beat these.

              2. re: Will Owen

                That kinda' makes me want to vomit.

                1. re: krissywats

                  >>That kinda' makes me want to vomit.>>

                  Thank you for sharing!

          2. re: bibi rose

            I am going to do a retro thing for Labor day and dig out a chicken liver/bacon/water chestnut rumaki hors d'oeuvre - I agree with Bibi, the franks wrapped in biscuit dough make sixties college babes like my partner, misty-eyed!

          3. re: krissywats

            I do this as well and folks do love it! I sometimes mix the goat cheese with cream chese and some fresh garlic. I also sprinkle with a few pine nuts or stir a few in. It is very more-ish.

            1. re: twodales

              twodales- i make something similar in my food processor. goat cheese, cream cheese, garlic, fresh basil, parmesan and balsamic vinegar. it is SOOO good!!!

          4. How about some hummus and pita chips? VERY inexpensive if you make the hummus yourself...also black bean dip is very inexpensive.

            Here's a recipe for pinwheels that I swear get constant comments from co-workers when we do after-hours socializing...it's sort of a junky recipe but the colors are so pretty, they do taste pretty good and the most expensive item is the cream cheese. As well as extremely easy to do! There's no direct link to hidden valley ranch for this recipe so I'll paraphrase it:

            2 - 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
            1 - 1 ounce packet Hidden Valley Ranch Seasoning & Salad Dressing mix
            2 - green onions, minced
            4 - 12 inch flour tortillas
            1 - 4 ounce jar diced pimentos, drained on paper towel
            1 - 4 ounce can diced green chiles, drained on p.t.
            1 - 2 or 3 ounce can diced black olives (with jalapenos if you can find them), drained on p.t.

            Mix cream cheese, seasoning packet and green onions til blended. Spread on tortillas. Sprinkle equal amounts of the veggies over cream cheese. Roll up the tortillas and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 2 hrs...to serve, just slice and arrange on trays, sliced side up. Sometimes, it's good to add a little tabasco to the cream cheese mixture for a little kick, especially if you can't find the ripe olives with jalapenos. I suppose you could substitute any herbed soft cheese, like Rondele or Boursin, for this and omit the HV packet altogether but those are usually expensive.

            1. Here are several ideas:

              Cheese (get 3 to 5 different varieties), fruits and crackers platter
              Spiced nuts
              Palmiers (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...
              )Mini frittatas (http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...
              )Roasted potato wedges w/ dipping sauces (try dressing up some mayo and/or mustard)
              Stuffed puff pastry (here's a sample recipe, you can use different fillings: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip...
              )Hummus w/ pita bread/pita chips/vegetables (fresh or roasted)

              1. toast slices of baguette. brush with garlic & olive oil. lay down a basil leaf on each. shmear each with softened goat cheese. put a slice of plum tomato on top of each and salt & pepper. they are easy and everyone always loves them.

                also, a big favorite at my parties is artichoke dip:

                1 can of artichokes (not marinated), drained & chopped.
                mix in 1/3 cup mayo, 1/3 cup sour cream, 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese. bake in small oven safe dish for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. serve with pita chips or sliced baguette.

                1. m
                  Marion Morgenthal

                  Caviar Pie (most expensive thing is the caviar--I find it for under $5 a jar in Brooklyn)

                  Make a dryish egg salad from about a dozen eggs and spread in the bottom of an 8 or 9 inch springform.

                  Cover with a layer of chopped onion.

                  Cover that with a mixture of 2/3 cup sour cream and 8 ounces cream cheese which have been blended together.

                  Cover and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, uncover, remove sides of springform and spread with black caviar (inexpensive caviar is fine--I use a 3.5 or 4 ounce jar).

                  serve with toast points or plain crackers. (I use Arnold white bread, cut in quarters and toasted in the broiler on a cookie sheet.)

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Marion Morgenthal

                    Where in Brooklyn do you get the caviar from?

                    1. re: Arlene

                      I can't answer your specific question (don't live in B'klyn), but I'm guessing that the $5 per jar caviar Hap refers to is actually lumpfish roe. This can be bought in small jars, both black or red, in pretty much any supermarket. I use it in the canape recipe below, too, but it would never stand up as caviar on its own.

                      "Caviar" Mousse

                      4 hard-cooked eggs
                      1 jar (3.5 to 4 oz.) black lumpfish roe
                      1 cup mayonnaise
                      2 tablespoons heavy cream
                      juice of 1 lemon
                      1 envelope unflavored gelatin
                      dash of pepper

                      1.Finely chop hard-cooked eggs.
                      2.In a large bowl, gently combine chopped eggs, caviar, mayonnaise, cream and pepper.
                      3.Heat lemon juice in a small saucepan, remove it from the heat and sprinkle the gelatin on top to soften.
                      4.When cooled slightly, stir the gelatin into the lemon juice to combine, the gently stir it into the caviar/egg mixture.
                      5.Use a non-stick vegetable oil spray on the inside of a decorative mold. Pour the mixture into the mold, smooth the surface, and chill until set (a minimum of 4 hours) or overnight. [Alternatively, you can pour the mixture into a decorative serving bowl that you can leave it in and thus avoid any potential unmolding disaster.]
                      6.Serve with thin slices of toasted French bread on which to spread mousse.

                      1. re: Arlene
                        Marion Morgenthal

                        I think Deenso is right--it's black lumpfish roe. I get it at Sahadi's on Atlantic Ave. It does just fine in this recipe.

                    2. Chinese spareribs always has people licking their fingers and wanting more. If you need a recipe let me know.

                      1. I had a party a few years ago when my budget was really tight, so I know what you're facing. First of all the ideas from other posters are great because they are all make ahead apps. Here are my suggestions:

                        - Deviled eggs and lots of them, party stores have egg plates for about a buck a shot and you can find reasonably priced flats of eggs at places like costco or smart and final.

                        - If there is a Middle Eastern market in your area they have lots of app choices for a nominal amount of $. A group favorite is stuffed grape leaves in a can. You can freshen them up with a little lemon juice and people love them. My other favorite is Labne (yogurt) with Zatar and EVOO. I put the labne in a shallow bowl, sprinkle it with Zatar and drizzle some EVOO and serve with cut up pita. Lastly, you can find an array of olives and pickled veggies at these markets for a fraction of the price compared to specialty shops.

                        - Little turnovers: my fav is ground meat seasoned with garlic, onion, tomato paste and cinnamon (sauteed together) put into won ton wrappers or pie dough circles cut from a cookie cutter and baked in the oven.

                        - Chicken wings from the frozen food aisle, marinate in your favorite sauce (I get raves from Soy Vey teriyaki) and bake in the oven on a cookie sheet for a half hour - 45 min. @ 350 degrees.

                        -Classico pasta sauce makes a sundried pesto sauce that can be used for crostini. I doctor it with some garlic and toasted pine nuts. Very quick and very tastey.

                        1. I made Summer Rolls last night (first time).

                          They were delicious, easy to do..the most time consuing part being assembling the ingredients.

                          Dirt cheap, too, since I bought everything at the Asian Market. $1.15 for more rice papers than I could count, $1.50 for vermicelli noodles, and very little $ for daikon radish, cucumber, red pepper, thai basil, mint. Shrimp was the only expense, but you only need 1 1/2 shrimp per roll.

                          Let me know if you want me to surf up the recipe.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: danna

                            Don't know about the OP, but i would love the recipe!!TIA

                            1. re: macca

                              Gladly! The recipe (from Gourmet) is linked below, but I made a number of changes:

                              Instead of cilantro I used Thai Basil. Instead of scallion and mango I used daikon radish and red bell pepper. I added shrimp. Boil the peeled shrimp until just cooked, stop cooking in ice water, drain,cut in half lengthwise. arrange 3 shrimp halves before you start to layer as mentioned in the recipe. I put another 3 on top of the veggies just because I wanted it to be our main course, put not necessary for a party.

                              I also made a different sauce, I'll attempt to post it next.

                              Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                              1. re: danna

                                Thanks. Looks easy and sounds great- and love that it is easy to sub ingredients. I love Thai basil, and I know a lot of people do not like cilantro (' tho I do), so I would probably ;make that substitution. i hust bought some shrip yesterday, so I think I may try these. The dipping sauce looks like it would taste great on coconut shrimp.

                                1. re: macca

                                  I could not find the dipping sauce on line, and my cookbook is at home, so I will try to recreate from memory here, should be close since I just did it last night.

                                  In saucepan heat 2 tsp sesame oil and 1 tsp olive oil. Saute one large shallot minced,one clove garlic minced, 1 /2 tsp minced ginger, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (I threw in a thai chillie halved and took it out before serving) about 8 min until soft.

                                  Whisk in 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 Tbs soy, 2 Tbs rice vinegar, 1 Tbs catsup. Cook another minute or two, squeeze in half a lime. Serve at room temp.

                                  I hope you enjoy!

                                  1. re: danna

                                    you are right- that sounds even better than the dipping sauce with the recipe- and with ingredients that are usually in the cupboard. I think this sauce would go with a lot of thai inspired appetizers. Thanks

                          2. Most of the following can be made ahead, so on the day of the party, all you have to do is refill things....

                            Mock boursin: 8 oz cream cheese + 1 tsp each dry basil, chives, carraway and dill. Chill.


                            fresh salsa and chips. check farmer's markets for tomatoes, peppers.

                            Make your own meatballs.

                            Mini potato pancakes or zucchini fritters.

                            Shrimp on a cucumber slice with a little bit of herbed chevre.

                            fresh fruit balls or slices with or without yogurt dip.

                            Shrimp shao mai can be done ahead (Martha Stewart has a good, easy recipe), although the cooking is last minute.

                            Artichoke dip (previously mentioned in this thread).

                            crudites with a red pepper dip.


                            Check out Michelle Braden's Fast and fabulous appetizers book. she gives lots of ideas for do-aheads and alternatives. My husband loves her Reuben dip.

                            1. Wow! Thanks for all the great suggestions. I will let you know what we decide and how it turns out!

                              1. As a bartender, I show a classic movie every Wednesday at noon and serve party treats. Here are two, easy recipies that always bring raves from my group of regulars. I've had them for over 25 years and no one has ever guessed the sauce ingredients.

                                BBQ Wings and/or drummies

                                4 pounds Chicken wings and/or drummies
                                12 oz. Coca Cola (do not use sugarfree)
                                12 oz. Catsup
                                2 tsp., Cayenne pepper

                                In a large roasting pan that has been treated lightly with cooking spray, roast wings 45 minutes at 400 degrees, covered. Blend together Coca-Cola, catsup and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Remove cover from chicken and drain off fat. Ladle Cola mixture over chicken and return to oven for another 45 minutes, uncovered. Give one stir about midway through second cooking time.

                                Cola will form a glaze so make sure you have napkins available. It's a little messy, I know, but these are always a hit.

                                I read some of the other suggestions and encountered the chili sauce and grape jelly combination. NOT my favorite. Try this one.

                                Sweet & Sour meatballs or little sausages

                                Buy prepared or make your own cocktail meatballs, about 60. Or use sausages such as Li'l Smokies.

                                Prepare a sauce using equal parts -- 12 oz. or more -- salad mustard (which is your standard yellow mustard) and grenadine syrup. Put hot, cooked meatballs or sausages into sauce and keep on low heat for 30-45 minutes before serving (this is necessary to allow mustard to calm down). Serve in chafing dish and, if desired, flambe' with 1/4 cup of good brandy or rum. The flambe' treatment isn't required but adds flavor to your dish, and drama (yes, it's a gay bar) to your presentation.

                                Good luck with your party.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: barkeep


                                  Interesting wing recipe....I'm going to try it for fun......

                                  btw....the OP's party was four years ago,

                                  1. re: fourunder

                                    OPs party??? Please don't tell me that has something to do with "old people."

                                  2. re: barkeep

                                    Oops, I should have mentioned, when making the wings, use a glass, ceramic or disposable pan as the glaze is difficult to clean off metal. The heavy cycle on your dishwasher should be enough for glass or ceramic.

                                    1. re: barkeep

                                      What fourunder meant was, this post is over four years old, so presumably the OP (read: original poster) no longer needs cocktail party food ideas.

                                  3. Do you have a grill/BBQ?

                                    I ask because it's easy to make some great finger foods to feed a group with very little recipe work. If not, you can do the same with an oven.

                                    I've learned this as a guy who likes meats with sophisticated rubs, marinades, etc. Those get kudos, but so do the simplest, cheapest things, if done right. Eggplant, an onion, 2 peppers, asparagus, Keep it simple and you can do fine.