The Busy Girl’s Entertaining Guide

Cooking in modern kitchenI live in Hoboken — which you could call the “Paris” of New Jersey. We have many things in common with the city of lights — gorgeous sidewalk cafes on streets lined with lovely Victorian brownstones, young ladies who love to sip wine while wearing the latest fashions, oh, and plenty of cute French Bulldogs, begging for scraps.

So this simple, chic, yet easy guide to entertaining is not only fit for the holidays but can be referenced any time you want to “put on the dog” yet don’t have much time to cook.

Party Pleasing Finger Foods

Build a Cheese Plate

Create a simple cheese plate that solves two problems: What appetizers do I serve, and how do I cut back on time? For variety in texture and taste, pick one cheese from each category — cow’s milk, goat, and sheep. Popular cow’s milk cheeses include asiago, havarti, brie, epoisse, and gruyere. Some of my favorite sheep’s cheese include manchego, pecorino, roquefort, and robiola. My tangy goat picks are aged chevres, soft goat cheese buttons, bucheron, or a Spanish blue cabrales (that is also made with sheep’s milk).

Not only will you look like a pro, but you’ll also encourage guests to try something new. Stagger your cheese on a large cutting board then serve with cheese-friendly fixin’s like quince paste or fig preserves, fresh grapes or apple slices, and an array of crackers along with a thinly sliced baguette.

Hot Appetizers

If you do have 10 minutes to prep, slice fresh veggies to serve along an easy dip, like this yummy artichoke or spinach dip plus your choice of store-bought spicy hummus. Set out an assortment of unusually flavored nuts or make your own.

wrapped-datesOr try making these easy wrapped dates. Preheat your oven to 400°F and cover a baking sheet with cooking spray or line with parchment paper. Cut a date in half lengthwise and remove the seed. Press an almond or pecan inside each date half and wrap with 1/2 slice prosciutto. Place on the baking sheet and bake 6-8 minutes or until crisp, then serve.

peperoni-breadTry a mess-free peperoni bread by starting with a store-bought frozen pizza dough. Defrost the pizza dough and layer on slices of peperoni. Then top with deli slices of mozzarella or provolone. Roll the bread up and tuck the edges underneath. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Transfer to a dry baking sheet and bake about 25 minutes until the dough starts to brown.

Cold Appetizers

If dip is not your style or your stove is on the fritz, make smoked salmon bites by topping crackers with cream cheese mixed with freshly sliced scallions and a dash or tabasco, top it off with a thin slice of salmon. Or make a simple antipasto plate that you can arrange from good quality store-bought items like thinly sliced sausage, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes dotted with fresh basil, marinated olives, artichokes in Italian herbs, olives, and roasted red peppers.

Cocktail Time

strawberry-vodka-200x300All these tasty appetizers pair well with white or red, but here’s how to make the evening sparkle. Serve one signature cocktail for the evening and ask your guests to bring any other beverages that they enjoy so you cover all the bases. I love this kir royal, a traditional French aperitif that’s sparkling pink, and super elegant yet so easy to make. If real French champagne is out of your budget, cheat it with an inexpensive dry Italian prosecco as a base, no matter your budget you can serve this stylish cocktail. Or for chillier evenings make this decadent German spiced wine, that will warm up your guest while scenting the house with fragrant spices.

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