Ten Great and Quick Party Foods

by Tracey Flynn

When it's party time, wonderful food and terrific company are an unbeatable combination for successful hosting.

And if producing the crowd-pleasing food without the expense of catering or getting stressed out is your goal as a host, help is at hand. Here are ten items that are simple enough to prepare quickly and tasty enough for just about any occasion.

*Casual or fancy warm appetizers: Crab and cheese stuffed mushrooms will be an instant hit, as will potato wedges topped with sour cream, cheese and bacon bits. Fire up the oven to 350 degrees and bake veggies stuffed with a favorite filling and topped with cheese. Or spread out some honey mustard dip, marinara sauce or blue cheese dressing to accompany items like chicken strips, mozzarella sticks or buffalo wings.

*Dainty sandwiches: These are quick, easy and satisfying. Just use foot-long hoagie rolls or pita wraps stuffed with veggies, cheeses and vegetables and slice into small portions.

*Dipped chips: You can't go wrong. Melted cheese, salsa and guacamole dips for tortilla and potato chips are party favorites. Enhance your dips with bacon bits crumbled into the guacomole and cilantro sprinkled onto the salsa.

* Shrimp: A quick and easy winner. Surround a bowl of cocktail sauce with boiled shrimp, or get fancy by broiling or grilling shrimp wrapped in a half slice of bacon. Add barbeque sauce for dipping.

* Pizza: This is a quick and easy option whether you order out, heat up frozen pies, or make your own. Offer guests different toppings and serve in squares instead of slices.

* Tapenade with red pepper slices or crackers:
Tapenade, a true gourmet treat, can be purchased at the store or made by running olives, capers, a little eggplant, and tomatoes through the blender. Add lemon juice, olive oil, and spices to the desired taste and texture. Serve the spread with the pepper slices and crackers, placing it next to assorted cheese slices and a bowl of olives.

* Pasta: Here's a chance to provide variety with ease. Just cook various pastas ahead of time, then serve with choice of pesto, alfredo and tomato sauces. Good options for toppings are peppers, cooked sausage and sauteed mushrooms.

* Chili bowls: By using hollowed out sourdough rolls instead of dishes to hold the chili you'll create interest and saving washing time. Great for cool weather parties.

* Bite-sized sweets: Offer guests small dessert treats on a tray. Include fudge squares, cookies and brownies or other items easily sliced into small portions. The bakery has lots of great choices to simplify your preparation if you are too busy to create your own.

* Refreshments: The options here are huge, depending on the type of party. Create a quick and easy punch with cranberry, apple and orange juices, along with ginger ale. If alcohol is being served, spike the punch.

There are many other ideas out there. Often, the most simple and delicious items are overlooked because a host is afraid to serve "common" food.

It will be easier on you and more satisfying for your guests if you stick to what you know people like and simply spice it up a bit. If you select items that are easy to prepare, you'll spend less time in the kitchen and more time entertaining your guests.
Food information is plentiful at http://www.ambafood.com, where author Tracey Flynn is the webmaster and editor of the Food Tips newsletter.