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Easy to eat foods for entertaining...

Hi All. I am looking for suggestions for some foods/snacks/appetitizers that would be "easy" to eat for entertaining guests. Here is the scenario: We are having another couple over as a sort of "Get to know each other" first time meeting. We have chatted casually previously in passing but this is the first time they will be over our house (likewise we have never been over their home). The setting will be our deck and I suspect it will be a late afternoon visit (after lunch but before dinner). I want to put out some snacks /resfreshments but am thinking dips like salsa but be too messy and make people feel self conscious? Am I over thinking this? Should I stick to pretzels and nuts? Do you chowhounds have any great suggestions? Thanks all!!!

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  1. Hmmm...maybe some pinwheels would be nice...they're quite neat...you take a flour tortilla or wrap..spread with a sauce or even hummus and then sprinkle with veggies or meat...roll up, chill and slice down just before serving. I have a pretty nice and colorful pinwheel recipe if you want it or you could google for a recipe..tons of great ones out there! Spiced nuts are always great. Maybe a savory shortbread or herbed oyster cracker would also be nice...Epicurious has a Rosemary Shortbread recipe that sounds so very intriguing and easy; not sure if it would go with alcoholic drinks but the reviews make it sound like they could go either way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Val

      Oh oh. I second spiced nuts. Cashews roasted, then lightly pan fried w/ butter and curry leaves is subtle and nice (and addictive). On the sweeter side, cashews with sugar (use good brown sugar--e.g. billingtons), rosemary and sea salt is a nice simple combo, too. (I've been on a cashew kick, but you can use any nut, really)

    2. Gougeres...light airy and not filling ..relatively easy to make and u can make the batter ahead and just cook for 20 min when they are due to arrive

      1. There have been situations where I haven't reached for the huge chip for that very reason.... I think the other folks' suggestions sound good and I also think that you can't go wrong with a cool dip (because of the patio, which might be hot in the summer). A cold creamy dip with crudites always seems to be well-received. And since it's an afternoon snack, rather than an app for dinner, I would be tempted to serve something sweet along the side, like cookies or something simple (that rosemary shortbread sounds perfect!!!).

        I have served this easy dip with blanched asparagus and other veggies to rave reviews, even when substituting low-fat dairy products. For best results, make it several hours in advance for the flavors to meld: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

        I have also had some very good luck with taking the spinach dip sold in the fresh deli section of the grocery store (Publix) and doctoring it up by adding some crushed fresh garlic. I served it with some veggies (endive is a good scooper) and the little melba toasts.

        Oh yeah... and I always enjoy wine when mingling, but that's just me.... :o)

        1. Dips or spreads with quality chips and unusual crackers are workable. I just make sure I have small paper plates and spoons in the dips. Sometimes I break the ice by fixing a little plate for myself first. I would add some fresh fruit that can be easily picked up or tooth-picked, and I like a nice dry salami- take a thin sliced round, fold in half and half again and skewer with a toothpick. Mini quiches are usually popular. Good old home-made chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies or whatever your specialty are an appreciated sweet touch. Also if on the deck make sure the trash can is obvious, and if using paper plates set them at ease by telling them to just ditch their plate and get a new one for "round two". If serving beers and soft drinks, set them in a chest or tub full of ice and make sure you tell them to help themselves, and be sure to take one first so they don't feel weird. Sangria in a pitcher is also a nice idea. Offer to top up glasses frequently. Guests who are not close friends tend to follow the host's leads and if you are not eating or drinking much they will often try to adjust to your pace.

          1. What about bite sized vegetables w/ toppings? It would be nice and light. Use endives, snap peas, cucumber wedges, cherry tomatoes, etc Top w/ salmon mousse, chicken salad--lots of ways to go.

            1. I found apps that are easy to hold, eat, and clean up are the little pastry cups or triangles (either phillo pastry puff pastry) stuffed with various fillings: cream cheese, salmon mousse, crab meat salad with tobiko, egg salad, mushroom filling, etc, etc. They are perfectly sized so everyone can hold one and pop the whole thing into their mouth. The pastry cups themselves already serve as the "serving vechicles" so there is not much clean up. And the fillings can be savory and sweet (fruits with creme fraiche, sour cream, etc)

              Another kind of easy-to-eay apps is skewers. Again, from meat to vegetables to fruits, they can all be held on skewers, and everyone loves them

              1. I think to avoid self-conscious eating the best apps/bites are "One Bite Wonders." That way, there's no awkwardness of how to deal with the next couple or few bites, and the potential for dropping or dripping ingredients...

                Mini dumplings/potstickers
                Stuffed cherry tomatoes or stuffed mini mushrooms
                Caramelized fig halves or quarter topped with blue cheese and a walnut half
                Endive leaves filled with herbed cheese

                1. It depends on what you're like. Are you afraid of chips and salsa? If not, don't worry. You will be out on the deck; most people can handle potentially messy stuff; and people I like would both be careful and would laugh it off if something dripped, slipped, splashed, dribbled, splooshed, or crumbled.

                  I would serve: a) chips with salsa, b) crudites with home made dips, and c) gravlax, diced onion, capers, hot sauce, and crackers and/or bagles--plus juice, beer, and wine.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    i like this menu. it's weeds out the weak (those who are afraid of a little salsa mess or fishy onion breath).

                  2. I just concocted an appetizer this weekend, b/c I had to use up some endives. I took a fig and "grilled" (stovetop faux grilling, since I don't own an actual grill) it, then cut it into 4, then took each piece and put it on the endive (which sort of has a curvature that scoops and contains it nicely) and topped it with a rosemary crusted manchego. Very good. :)

                    Can you make a tapenade with olive, parsley, (some kind of nut--walnut, pine nuts, etc), a little bit of balsamic, other random herbs to taste, etc. and offer that as a spread for bread? It will stick to the bread, so it's less messy than salsa. It's hearty enough to turn into a light meal.

                    Someone mentioned figs /w blue cheese, but another similar spoof is a date stuffed w/ blue cheese. You can wrap prosciutto around it and bake it slightly, too (then toothpick it).

                    Oh, you can also chop figs and walnuts (or cashews) in a processor, then roll them into balls (date balls). They are simple and good.

                    I don't know how you'd appetizer-ize it, but radiccio and smoked mozzarella is a really nice combo. I have made a stuffed bread (just regular bread dough is fine; you roll it out into a rectangle, then put the stuffing in, roll it up and bake) with caramelized onion, seared radiccio w/ smoked mozz. You could cut it up into bite-size pieces or make individual-sized mini calzones? I'm trying to figure out a less messy way to serve this, b/c I love the taste combo.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: anzu

                      Hi All thank you for all your great ideas and thoughtful answers. I guess I am over thinking it and should serve what tastes good and everyone will enjoy!

                      1. re: anzu

                        the date/fig/prune stuffed with cream cheese/blue cheese/chevre (and a peanut/pecan/walnut), all wrapped up with prosciutto/bacon -- what a classic! these combinations are all-time greats, esp. if you have access to fresh figs.

                        i'll have to try that endive appetizer. i have some endive vegetating (hoho) in my fridge right now, waiting for its moment.

                        1. re: cimui

                          I initially bought the endive to make a gluten-free version of a cherry crostini. Cherries are no longer in season, alas, but I still had leftover endive. It turns out the shape of the endive (the aforementioned natural curvature) makes it great for the crostini, b/c it acts a natural spoon/mess-container. Also, I was amazed at how long mine lasted. I bought the thing a few weeks ago!

                      2. I agree, keep it simple and light - especially since it's summer. One of our favorite finger foods to prepare for guests in the summer is a simple canape made from toasted baguette rounds (cut diagonally) topped with very thin sliced procuitto, a large fresh basil leaf, a shaving of parmigiano reggiano, a dash of fresh ground pepper and then add few drops of extra virgin olive oil to top off half of them and a few drops of balsalmic to the other half. Takes only a few minutes to prepare, can be prepared in advance, easy to serve and eat, and not messy at all.