11 Easy Holiday Starters to Impress Your Friends

Entertaining is not easy, and entertaining on a weeknight is even harder. Racing out of work to get to the grocery store and then hurry home to pick up the clothes off the floor and give the bathroom a once-over can make a casual holiday get-together a stressful affair where you dread the doorbell ring of the first guest.

Any experienced hostess will remind you that the key to it all is planning, but HAHAHA this article is not for you. You well-organized planners can just stay in your lane. If you invited a few friends over for a cocktail before the symphony plays the score to Home Alone live, then you clearly don't have time to cook up complicated apps, and this is the list for you.

These recipes are all easy, quick, and a level above the ball of mozzarella and a tomato on a toothpick. Some have a distinct late-'80s yuppie vibe, which is precisely where I like my appetizers. Add endive cups and Ritz Crackers to complete the picture.

1. Mulled Hard Cider

The first key to a great last-minute, no-fuss get-together is handing everyone a drink the moment they walk into your castle. This hot mulled cider takes the chill off and says “Welcome to my home!” better than Brenda Dickson.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

2. Green Goddess Grilled Cheese

You’ll soon discover that hot cheese is the secret to entertaining. This recipe is so easy that you simply make a sandwich, heat it up in a pan, and cut it into lovely pesto-green bite-size pieces. Bonus: It’s vaguely healthy for your friends who came straight from Bar Method.
Photo and recipe from TasteSpotting

3. Baked Ricotta

As previously mentioned, hot cheese is key. It cannot get easier than putting cheese in the oven, sprinkling more cheese on top, then scooping out the cheese with a vegetable or the perfect alternating combination of a cracked pepper Triscuit and then a Wheat Thin and back again.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

4. Honeyed Cashews with Kosher Salt

Often your spiced nuts recipe involves chopping rosemary (which can be a pain) or whipping egg whites, but this recipe simply requires heating up three ingredients, pouring them on nuts, and tossing in the oven. Just set a timer so you don’t forget about the nuts after a few mulled wines.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

5. Fig Jam and Goat Cheese Crostini

The other key to insta-entertaining is toast. That’s it. The big secret is calling it different things. For instance, here we shall anoint this toast recipe “crostini,” when really this is no more difficult to make than toasting a bagel.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

6. Sautéed Radicchio and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

To reiterate: Toast! This time we call it “bruschetta.” Just don’t pronounce it like they do at your hometown Olive Garden in the strip mall between the karate studio and the nail salon. They’re raddicculous.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

7. Welsh Rarebit Bites

In this one, I give you toast, hot cheese, and BEER! Another easy mix-and-heat recipe, this is comforting British pub food that comes off as extra-fancy because of the name.
Photo and recipe from CHOW

8. Baked Oysters

Baked oysters look impressive and feel festive while still being incredibly simple. Pop open the oysters, sprinkle in some breadcrumbs and butter, and roast. You can even have the oysters opened for you at the grocery store.
Photo and recipe from Martha Stewart

9. Easy Baked Brie

To summarize: Hot cheese. Croissant dough, some jam, and a wheel of Brie—yup, those are all of the ingredients. This recipe sounds dated and basic, but even your most post-meta hipster can’t help but dig into this gooey, toasty treat.
Photo and recipe from She Wears Many Hats

10. No-Cook Chickpeas and Mint

You can make this dish with just a bodega run, it requires no cooking, and it's vegetarian/vegan.
Photo and recipe from Real Simple

11. Warm Olives and Marcona Almonds

This is not a recipe. It’s a last-minute shopping list for the really, really last-minute soiree. Hit the olive bar at the local Italian market (read: Safeway), mix 'em up, and heat them over low heat in a pan—and remember a bowl for the pits. Serve with Marcona almonds because they taste like tiny luxuries.
Header photo and recipe from Feasting at Home

Vanessa W. Simmons is a former cook living in San Francisco, helping to run a food business. She's probably hungry, but if not she could eat.

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