Let’s keep going with this party planning stuff and talk about hot foods! This is where you get to flex your creative muscles plus you are accomplishing something very important for the party atmosphere: the general aroma in the room! No matter what candles or fragrance you have going, the smell of hot, fresh food will definitely be there for your guests if you choose good appetizers.
As I have said, you need two to four hot dishes that are served hot. Either keep them warm on the stovetop if your party is intimate enough that people can serve themselves from the kitchen, or, use chafing dishes and/or hot plates. I have bought the disposable chafing dishes at my local warehouse club before and they are perfect.
Disposable chafing dishes/warming trays.
Selecting the dishes is going to depend somewhat on your theme. If it’s a holiday party for sure, then you can focus on a balance of flavors and textures and aromas. There’s no shortage of ideas on Pinterest and on the internet in general. As one example, here’s Martha Stewart’s Holiday Hot Appetizers. Most of her offerings are easy enough to make, but have some sophistication to them. And, here’s the Williams-Sonoma hot apps guide. It’s also filled with sophisticated offerings.
Of course, you don’t have to pick from just one site. Grab the best looking recipes from all over the place and combine them into your own appetizer spread. Just follow these rules (and I’m applying them to HOT appetizers only but in general they are pretty good rules of thumb to follow for the entire spread, including your basics and cold appetizers):
- Just because you love it that doesn’t mean it needs to dominate the spread. If you love meatballs, great, but the entire buffet should not consist of meatballs in various sauces (unless your theme is “Behold! My Many Balls,” in which case, go for it).
- Many people have allergies to seafood and peanuts. If you put those ingredients in everything, you’re going to leave someone with nothing to eat!
- Be very careful with foods that have very strong smells. For instance, broccoli. If you put out a broccoli flambe’ you’re going to drive me right out of the room because I cannot stand the smell of it. For a nice gathering foods with savory delightful aromas that aren’t “too stinky” are best.
- Be careful with spicy foods. Not everyone has an asbestos lining in their esophagus, even if you do. No more than 2 of your dishes should be really hot and spicy.
- Avoid messy foods unless it’s a sit-down affair where people can get a napkin ready to wipe off their faces easily. Seriously, nobody wants to eat chicken wings while standing and trying to balance a cocktail glass and a plate.
What I serve varies from year to year… it really does. Sometimes it’s dictated by what I have in the fridge–if I have 7 packs of cream cheese then you can bet I’ll be leaning towards a hot dip. If I have access to good fresh crab or shrimp, then I’ll be doing something with seafood. Here I’m listing some items that I’ve actually made and served (and would sere again), or, that I wouldn’t hesitate to try.
Dips are always good. People love them, they are expected party fare and you get to make a lot of servings with relatively little effort. Serve hot dips with something stiff enough to really scoop them up and hold them safely between the dip bowl and the guest’s mouth. Seriously, you don’t want someone getting a lap or beard full of hot dip because you gave them a limp dipping instrument! Toasted pita chips are a favorite, so are good tortilla chips.
A party pleaser is always hot crab dip, but, you’ve got to have really good crab meat and not that crap out of a can. You need fresh crab meat if possible, and, whenever possible, unpasteurized is even better (that doesn’t mean it’s not sanitary, it just means it’s very fresh). Plan on spending at least $15-$20 per pound on your crab meat, which may make this dip unattractive to you. For my party this year I’m probably going with Chef Emeril’s recipe for hot jalapeno crab dip. But, just as highly rated on the Food Network site is Paula Deen’s hot crab dip recipe, which is also worth a try.
Another hot dip that’s popular at parties is hot onion dip. This has the added bonus of being super cheap to make compared to crab dip. The most common recipe I’ve seen is the one for hot Vidalia onion dip. The only problem is finding Vidalia onions at certain times of the year, in which case you can substitute another type of sweet onion. Just make sure you are using a sweet onion, and not plain yellow or white onions.
Fairly new on the party scene is buffalo chicken dip. Here’s the recipe for that.
Finally, a lot of people have grown fond of spinach and artichoke dip. Here’s a good recipe for that.
Chef Emeril Lagasse’s stuffed dates.
These require a little finesse and prep work, but they are so freaking good and quite unusual. Most people just don’t serve them because they do take some effort to put together. They also smell delicious when cooking, and have that fancy, handmade, “wow!” factor.
Personally I like Emeril’s recipe for stuffed dates, which you can get by clicking here. You get a very sweet, salty, smokey combination with his recipe that’s easy to make. Just buy a few extra dates for munching on because they are goooood!
As much as I love Emeril’s recipe, I think this year I may try Chef Anne Burrell’s recipe for stuffed dates. It’s a little different and also sounds promising.
Bacon-wrapped breadsticks (by Paula Deen)
Talk about a nice aroma… these definitely have that. They are also pretty cheap to make. The recipe is here, and from Paula Deen. I will say this…. although I’m usually a stickler for freshly grated parmesan cheese in this particular recipe you can use the parmesan in the green can and it will be fine. (I tend to avoid any cheese that can survive outside of refrigeration for an extended amount of time like that stuff does, but hey, it’s a party and nobody is going to necessarily care when they bite into one of these savory sticks!)
Crock Pot Meatballs
Almost every holiday party calls for meatballs of some description. People love them and they are hearty enough to stand around and make a meal off of at a party. There are a ton of recipes on the internet for these, and they all start with “buy a bag of frozen italian style meatballs.” From there, it’s really just a question of what you prefer in terms of the sauce they go in. You can make your own meatballs if you like, but if you put the right ingredients in the crock pot with the frozen ones from the bag you’ll still have a winner.
The most popular and well-known recipe is “the grape jelly” recipe. You simply combine, in your crock pot:
- 1 bag of frozen meatballs (about 80 pieces)
- 2 12 ounce jars of Heinz Chili Sauce OR 1 24 ounce bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray’s)
- 1 32 ounce jar of grape jelly
And there you have it! It doesn’t sound that great, but trust me it’s addictive.
I found a wine-based recipe that I plan on trying at my holiday party this year. It goes like this:
- 1 (1 lb 10 oz ) bag Italian Style Meatballs
- 1 (16 oz) can whole cranberry Sauce
- 1 c. brown sugar, packed
- 1 c. Pinot Noir wine
- 1 tsp spicy brown mustard
I think these will be best if you brown the meatballs in a pan with a little oil first, just to give them a nice outer crust. Then combine the other ingredients along with the meatballs in the crock pot and keep them warm. If it looks like there isn’t enough liquid in the crock pot to keep the meatballs from drying out I would add another can of cranberry sauce and of course, another cup of wine!
I always serve queso if I’m also serving chips and salsa. You absolutely MUST have a crock pot or chafing dish to serve this in, I don’t care what recipe you’re using. Queso dip is not good when it’s lukewarm and congealed. Start with this basic easy recipe:
- One can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and chiles
- 16 ounces of Kraft Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes
Melt them together either in a crock pot or a microwaveable bowl. There you go. Seriously, that’s really all you have to do to have a very good dip. If you want a great dip, though, you will embellish that a little bit by adding the following items:
- 1/2 pound of browned spicy crumbled sausage
- 1/2 cup of diced onions, sautéed and carmelized in olive oil or bacon grease (or in the sausage grease from the previous ingredient)
Once you add the sausage and onions you actually have a dip hearty enough to make a meal off of. For years when I would go to my mother’s for Thanksgiving she simply made me a crock pot of this dip. What can I say, I don’t like turkey!!!
Again, if I’m serving chips and salsa, homemade quesadillas make sense as a hot appetizer (along with the queso). They are best made fresh and hot with really good tortillas from the taqueria or your local latin market. You can use corn or flour tortillas, although I’d say most people expect flour. Choose smaller tortillas over larger ones to keep portions sane and to make it easier for guests to eat with their hands.
First, decide what you’re putting in them. You can go with plain cheese, in which case I would use a 4-cheese Mexican blend (you want something like that which, even when melted, doesn’t become runny or hard to manage). You can add in finely chopped jalapenos for a spicier fare, chopped cooked chicken, diced bell peppers, mushrooms, olives, onions, green onions, etc. My advice is to do at least a few that are plain cheese for kids and picky adults.
Second, you’ll need to set up a station for making these once you decide what to put in them. Prepare all your ingredients (cheese, peppers, etc) and get ready to work an assembly line. Have a bottle of good olive oil ready for the pan… you’ll want to brush a thin coat of it on before every quesadilla is cooked to make them really savory and well-prepared for the warming pan they go in between preparation and serving (otherwise, they dry out pretty bad).
Third, get one saute or frying pan or griddle pan hot over medium heat.
Fourth and finally, cook away! Start with one tortilla and put cheese on HALF of it. As soon as the heat softens the tortilla and makes it flexible, fold it over so it’s now a half moon shape. Watch the heat, make sure you aren’t browning the tortilla too fast, or else you’ll end up with a brown exterior and still unmelted cheese in the middle. When the cheese is starting to melt flip it over to brown the second side. When you’re finished, remove the quesadilla and start the next one. (If your pan is big enough, and your tortillas are small enough, you can work in batches of two or three at a time). Slice into 3 or 4 wedges each and arrange in a chafing dish pan to serve.
Onward to the Party!
Well, I hope this has given you some ideas about what to serve for hot appetizers. Nothing here is particularly complicated or time consuming, except maybe stuffing the dates. You can check out the other recipes I’m considering for this year’s party on my Pinterest Holiday 2014 Party board.