It’s warm outside, and that means its party-with-no-reason season. You’re older now though, and entertaining has grown past lazily opening a bag of chips and springing for a case of cheap beer. It’s possible that people are even wearing belts and arriving with hair properly combed to your little back porch soiree and that means you have to step your game up, too. Or at least appear to.
One of the biggest “grown person party” indicators is the appetizer. They used to be called snacks when we were 4 and stuffing our faces with Oreos, but now that we’re all seasoned adults, we call them appetizers. (If you start calling them “hors d’oeuvres,” someone better be wearing pearls or loafers.) For now we’ll stick with “appetizers” and how to lay out a spread impressive enough for Martha but easy enough that you might actually make them.
This one is, by far, the easiest. Buy 4 fancy cheeses (the less pronounceable, the better) and cut up about half the block of each one into chunks. Arrange decoratively on a cutting board. Throw some grapes or berries on there along with some crackers, and your party has immediate class. For now.
Spinach dip has a long and illustrious history of appearing at every party ever in the history of mankind and Fritos, so why stop now? Most spinach dips involve only some low-level chopping, dumping into a bowl, and stirring, though hot varieties may require the added step of baking. This chilled spinach dip contains only 5 ingredients and involves only the aforementioned dumping and stirring. What’s not to like?
Anyone who says they don’t like pinwheels is a lying liar who tells lies. These things go faster at a pot luck than the cupcakes made by the lady who also owns a bakery. The information most people are missing, though, is that these spectacular little round units of food love are disturbingly easy to make. Mix in some salsa with cream cheese, spread on tortilla. Cover with shredded cheddar, roll up, and slice. It’s the slicing that really brings this one to life, if you ask me, because otherwise you just have a cheese log. That’s way less fun.
Also one of the easiest and yet most wildly popular appetizers since the advent of the appetizer. The Lil’ Smokie requires nothing from you but being dumped into a crock pot with some barbecue sauce or, if you’re feeling adventurous, another sauce of your own making. Don’t forget the stabby toothpicks with the foo foo thing on the end for serving.
Wrapping things in bacon has become a time-honored tradition and no party is complete without it, unless it is a party for vegetarians, in which case this appetizer may be considered offensive. You can wrap anything in bacon, really. You can wrap mushrooms in bacon, or Lil Smokies, or hunks of green pepper, or strips of steak, or, our favorite – shrimp. The bacon wrapping possibilities are as endless as your love for bacon.
Otherwise known as the owner of the most polarizing appetizer nomenclature battle, bruschetta (bruh-sketa? broo sheta?) is also absurdly easy to make. Buy some pico de gallo, dollop onto a slice of baguette bread and toast in the oven. Enjoy! Other variations of the bruschetta are even easier, like this one that only requires a smear of goat cheese and a single berry. How minimalist.
I always had a sneaking suspicion that crescent rolls were more useful than they originally let onto. Sure, it’s dough that comes in a cardboard tube that you roll up and bake. That much, we know. Also true: you can put stuff in them before you bake them. Really! Mix up some fresh spinach and feta cheese, then roll this concoction up into the crescent before baking. What comes out is an unholy bundle of gooey awesomeness in perfect appetizer proportions.
The Italian salad staple, caprese, is quickly growing in popularity. That’s probably because it doesn’t require very many ingredients, but one of them is cheese – putting this at the top of most people’s list already. Caprese can be difficult to serve in a finger-food situation like the one you’ve gotten yourself into, so why not put it on a stick? We put everything else on a stick, so naturally salad would be the next step. One grape tomato, one chunk mozzarella, one basil leaf, one toothpick. Done. It is, of course, completely possible to put anything else you want on a stick, like vegetables or fruit or shrimp or marshmallows dipped in chocolate or pieces of marinated chicken or scallops or mushrooms or…
Speaking of mushrooms, stuffed mushroom caps are a perennial appetizer choice, but can require real effort and skill to pull off. We’re about a lot of things here, but effort and skill are not on that list. Instead, fill your mushroom quota by rolling button mushrooms in egg, dipping them in bread crumbs, and baking. It’s like Shake-n-Bake, but for mushrooms. Add some Ranch dressing (you knew we’d have to mention Ranch eventually) and you’re in the party planning business.
The illustrious author of this article, Stephanie Huey, is an itinerant writer, sub-letter of apartments and lover of craft beers. Her favorite sentences are those containing syllepsis or ones that mention Vietnamese food, of which is she is inordinately fond.