When hosting a party, the success of your get-together comes down to three things: good friends, plenty of drinks, and great food. But what makes an appetizer suitable for your next soiree? For most, it means that whatever you serve, be it a deviled potato or a miniature taco, it can be eaten in one bite. “If you’re supposed to be eating it with your fingers while standing up and holding a drink,” says Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, “it should really be bite-sized and not terribly drippy or greasy to pick up.” Cara Eisenpress and Phoebe Lapine of Big Girls Small Kitchen agree. “It should be easy to eat with one hand — you don’t want to look awkward.” For your next get-together, eschew the nachos, and reconsider serving lamb sliders that are just a bit too big to be enjoyed with only five fingers. Instead, pick out a couple of these party-friendly foods that are both delicious and can be enjoyed with ease, like a shot glass of soup, or a vodka-infused tomato.
So what differentiates the good from the bad, when it comes to party food? Size definitely matters. But so too does the ease with which you can assemble the appetizer while your guests are there, because inevitably you’ll need to refresh the spread at least once during the night. “If it takes too long to assemble or bring the food to the right temperature, it will stress you out,” says Jessica Hertle of Bite-Sized Blog. Consider their potato latkes, for example. The latkes can be prepared in advance, and then reheated just before serving. Plus, they’re a vehicle for a myriad of garnishes, from a horseradish sauce to homemade apple chutney. Of course, taste is paramount, too. “Even though the appetizer is bite-sized, it should pack a punch of flavor in order to tickle and tantalize your palate,” says Alison Awerbuch, chef/partner at Abigail Kirsch Catering Relationships.
As presentation matters, rethink the ordinary when planning your party menu. We eat with our eyes, so both how the appetizer looks and how it’s served is just as important as how it tastes. Caterer Peter Callahan, the author of Bite by Bite, has excelled in elevating traditional party foods to works of art, creating tacos no larger than a lime, and placing once messy chipwiches onto lollipop sticks. (Right; photo courtesy of Peter Callahan Catering/Mel & Co.) He adds, “Food should be the entertainment unto itself.”
So how can you dress up crostini? Think in color, and top the bread with brightly colored ingredients, like a green pea pesto and purple roasted onions, or a pumpkin spread with a rosy slice of prosciutto. Dying to serve meatballs? (Left, photo courtesy of Peter Callahan Catering/Mel & Co.) Take them from ordinary to extraordinary, making the size small and swapping the traditional beef-veal-pork combination for something more unusual, adding fresh herbs, a swirl of pasta, or unusual ingredients like orange zest and fresh ginger, like Awerbuch does. Even roasted cocktail nuts make for a great party food, when served individually in miniature bags (personalized, even, if you want).