It's easy to have romantic visions of the holidays — cozy fires, perfectly wrapped gifts, your house decorated like a magazine spread, all your friends gathered to celebrate, marveling at your culinary prowess. • But let's be honest, parties take work. Still, if you do it right, the cooking can be the least of your worries. In fact, you can sometimes get away with no cooking at all. With just a few simple ingredients and minimal effort you really can throw an elegant affair that meets the culinary mark. • We've assembled dozens of easy-to-execute party bites from cookbook authors and chefs to get you off to a good start.
JOSE GARCES (Philadelphia chef and author of The Latin Road Home)
• Smoky almonds
Dust roasted marcona almonds with smoked paprika and Maldon sea salt.
• Spoon snack
Combine good-quality canned Spanish tuna, quartered cherry tomatoes, sliced green Spanish olives such as arbequina or manzanilla, chopped chives, a splash of sherry vinegar and a bit of olive oil. Serve on miso spoons for an impressive and pretty one-bite snack.
JAMIE BISSONNETTE (chef and owner of Boston's Coppa and Toro restaurants)
• Asian dip
Take onion dip to Chinatown. Instead of instant onion soup, spike sour cream with a ramen-noodle flavoring packet and spicy kimchi. Add cream cheese for texture. Serve with rice crackers.
TOM DOUGLAS (Seattle chef and restaurateur)
• Wide awake shrimp cocktail
Turn your shrimp cocktail into a red eye by spiking 1 cup of cocktail sauce with five finely ground espresso beans.
• Lox and cukes
Top cucumber slices with lox (smoked salmon) for a healthy, crunchy appetizer or finger snack.
MICHAEL ROMANO (James Beard award winning chef with New York's Union Square Hospitality Group)
• Mediterranean dip
Drain a jar of prepared baby artichokes and toss with good-quality canned tuna (packed in olive oil). Add a squeeze of lemon, chopped black olives, Aleppo pepper and chopped parsley. Serve with crackers.
KEVIN GILLESPIE (executive chef of Atlanta's Woodfire Grill and author of Fire in my Belly)
• Smoky sweet apples
Wrap thick apple wedges in smoked bacon and sprinkle with brown sugar. Broil until the bacon is crisp.
• Baked brie, 2012
Spread store-bought puff pastry or croissant dough into an X. Put a wheel of brie or camembert in the center and cover in truffle honey. Tuck a few toasted walnuts inside for crunch, if you like. Pull up the sides of the dough like you're wrapping a present. Bake until golden brown.
SEAMUS MULLEN (chef and owner of New York's Tertulia and author of Hero Food)
• White Beans and sardines
Puree canned cannellini beans with roasted garlic, canned artichokes, olive oil and lemon juice for a white-bean spread to serve with smoked sardines on toast.
DAVID BURKE (chef of several New York restaurants, including David Burke Townhouse)
• Parmesan pops
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper. Place wooden skewers about 4 inches apart on the paper. Sprinkle shredded Parmesan cheese in a circle on top of one end of the skewer, creating a cheese lollipop. Bake at 350 F for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, spray lightly with oil and sprinkle fine herbs.
• Goat-cheese lollies
Roll goat cheese into balls the size of a golf ball. Puree pistachios and roll the goat cheese balls through the nuts to encrust the cheese. Put a lollipop stick in the balls.
WALTER ABRAMS (chef at Philadelphia's Le Bec Fin)
• Bacony popcorn
Pop a bag of your favorite popcorn. While it's popping, saute chopped bacon and sprinkle the top with brown sugar. And a dash of red wine vinegar. Add toasted cashews and the popcorn and serve hot.
BART PICKENS (chef at The Loveless CafĂ©, Nashville, Tenn.)
• Balsamic raisins
An excellent accompaniment for a cheese platter. Plump jumbo raisins in balsamic vinegar by simmering over low heat for 10 minutes.
• Cheese crisps
Blend 1 cup each of flour and grated cheddar cheese in a food processor with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 egg and 1/2 stick of butter. On a piece of waxed or parchment paper, roll out into a 1/4-inch-thick disc. Cut into crackers (use holiday cookie cutters for more fun). Place the crackers on a baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
• Cream cheese and
A true Southern favorite, just two simple ingredients make for one delicious combination. Unwrap the cream cheese and place in the center of a platter before topping with a jar of hot pepper jelly.
CHRIS PAINTER (chef at Philadelphia's Il Pittore)
• Fancy Italian subs
Brush slices of hearty country bread with extra-virgin olive oil, then grill. When toasted, top with thinly sliced prosciutto, serrano chili peppers and grated Parmesan. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.
J.M. HIRSCH (AP food editor)
• Brie with bourbon-balsamic glaze
Gently simmer 1 cup of bourbon and 1 cup of balsamic vinegar until syrupy and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Season with black pepper. Drizzle while warm over a round of brie that has come to room temperature. Serve with slices of baguette.
• Spring pea guacamole
In a food processor, combine the flesh of 2 avocados, a 15-ounce can of peas (drained), 1/4 cup packed fresh cilantro, juice of 1 lime and a splash of hot sauce. Process until smooth, then season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature with crackers.
• Feta cheese and honey
Arrange slices of feta cheese on a platter. Sprinkle toasted pine nuts and fresh oregano over it, then season with black pepper and smoked paprika. Drizzle honey over everything, then serve with baguette slices.