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. (Okay, there are some make ahead options for over-achievers, but if you forget, you can still pull these off last minute.)
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. And remember: There’s always the cheese board option.
Root Wood Serving Dish, $19.99 on Amazon
The perfect eye-catching trays for apps.
To begin, a bonus: Slow Cooker Spiked Wassail
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 cocktail takes the chill off and says “Welcome to my home!” better than Brenda Dickson. Also, it keeps itself warm in the Crock-Pot while you tend to other things. See our roundup of the best Crock-Pot cocktail recipes if you have a few hours to spare, or spend just 30 minutes making this mulled pear cider. Even faster: Mix up some last-minute sparkling drinks.
Now, on to the apps!
1. Dip (with Chips & Crudites)
Nothing is more classic (and almost nothing is easier to make) than a good dip. Despite its ubiquity, no one is ever sad to see it, either. So pick any one of our dip recipes—or two or three!—to make ahead and set out on your holiday table, or just one to whip up the afternoon of.
If you actually manage to work ahead, reheat hot dips before serving (obviously), and take cold dips out of the fridge at least 15-20 minutes before guests arrive so they can relax and shake off the chill (the dips, that is; the guests will soon follow). Pictured is our Slow Cooker French Onion Dip recipe. No matter which dips you choose, the key is to be generous with your scooping vehicles; try a mix of crackers, chips, raw veggies, and mini toasts.
You’ll soon discover that hot cheese is the secret to entertaining. 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. This is technically a dip, but even easier. Get our Baked Ricotta recipe.
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. Smear some tangy, creamy goat cheese on top, dollop with sweet fig jam, and graciously accept the praise of your party guests. Get our Fig Jam and Goat Cheese Crostini recipe.
To reiterate: Toast! 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. Get our Welsh Rarebit Bites recipe.
Another British bite with a fun name, this is a simple but totally sophisticated snack…even if not the prettiest thing ever. Just soak some prunes in a port wine syrup ahead of time, wrap them in bacon, and broil ’til crisp. To make then even better, do what you know I’m going to recommend already: add cheese (stuffed inside the prunes, preferably a nice blue, but goat will also work). Get our Devils on Horseback recipe.
No time to soak prunes (or desire to eat prunes)? Try our proscuitto wrapped shrimp skewers instead.
Deviled eggs are much like dip: easy, expected, and eternally beloved. But you can (and should) dress them up for a holiday party. This version adds green chiles, lime juice, cilantro, and a tiny bit of your favorite corn salsa for garnish. You can make these ahead and simply garnish right before your guests arrive. Or speed up prep with your Instant Pot—plunge the cooked eggs into ice water (which you should be doing anyway) and you’ll have them ready to peel and stuff in no time. Get our Green Chile Deviled Eggs recipe.
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. You can make this dish with just a bodega run, and if you swap in maple syrup for the honey, it’s vegan too. Add a dash of cayenne for a spicy kick. Get our Honeyed Cashews with Kosher Salt recipe.
Baked oysters look impressive and feel festive while still being incredibly simple. You don’t even have to follow this Baked Oyster recipe; just 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.
To summarize: Hot cheese. Baked brie is the traditional choice, but in case you have guests who aren’t fans of that funky flavor, gooey gouda will appeal to all and sundry—as will the sun-dried tomato pesto, which you don’t have to make from scratch if you’d rather doctor store-bought pesto. Wrap it all up in crescent roll dough, bake, and prepare to be amazed by how fast this is gone. Get the Baked Gouda recipe.
It might take a little supermarket safari to find the sweet and tangy Peppadew peppers and buttery marcona almonds, but it’s worth it, and this no-cook appetizer is otherwise almost effortless. The fresh oregano adds a great fragrant bite and complementary green color, so don’t skip it. And use the good olive oil for drizzling. Get our Stuffed Peppadew Peppers recipe. However, if this is still too complicated for you, just read on for the easiest option ever.
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. And if you do remember to plan ahead, add our Marinated Bocconcini to the mix. Because cheese!
12. Shrimp Ceviche
Sure, shrimp cocktail is great and all, but this shrimp ceviche is more exciting and just as easy to make. You can poach the shrimp ahead of time, then just mix them in the marinade 30 minutes before the party starts. If you can find those red tortilla chips, you also have another thematically colored starter, but don’t stress about that. Get our Shrimp Ceviche recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Easy Holiday Party Appetizer Skewers
Header image by Chowhound.