In our hectic, fast-paced lives, traditional cocktail parties are quickly becoming passe, replaced with fun, low-key get-togethers that better fit our more casual lifestyles. So leave the starched tablecloth, fancy china and fragile crystal in the cupboard and focus on delicous food that lets you enjoy your own party. Avoid hot hors d’oeuvres that need to be whisked from oven to platters to guests. Instead, choose recipes that can sit out on a buffet and be served chilled or at room temperature. And rather than using your good dishes, consider purchasing high-quality paper ones. Rent glasses from a party-supply house (they can be returned dirty) and hire a college student or your baby sitter to wash the dishes and replenish platters as the party progresses. When the last guest leaves, all you’ll have to do is get ready for bed.
Here is a selection of easy-to-prepare, make-ahead appetizers that are ideal to serve together on a buffet. (Or serve them separately before dinner or the theater.) Scooped-out baby potato shells mounded with a cheesy tomato and marinated artichoke filling look terrific and taste spectacular. No matter how many you make, it won’t be enough. Red and yellow pepper wedges piled high with chopped tomatoes, capers, anchovies and basil are a low-fat treat to enliven any hors d’oeuvres tray. The colorful peppers are baked until crisp-tender and served at room temperature.
Food fads come and go, but a great shrimp spread remains the first appetizer to disappear from the table. The Shrimp Mousse with Dill-Pistachio Pesto is enhanced with a layer or emerald pesto through the middle and over the top. If the party will last for several hours, divide the recipe into smaller molds and dishes rather than using one large one.
Scallops permeated with a soy-orange-ginger marinade, wrapped in snow peas and skewered with oranges are a guilt-free, striking hors d’oeuvre.
When hors d’oeuvres are meant to be dinner, plan on 10 to 14 per person. If they are pre-dinner, allow four to six. Regardless of the number of guests, select an assortment of five or six; any fewer gets boring.