'Tis the season for entertaining. From now until the New Year, open houses and cocktail parties will fill nearly as many hours as holiday shopping.
Hors d'oeuvres are the ideal party food, whether you're planning a big event or stocking up for when friends drop by.
A table laden with finger foods lets the host offer a little bit of everything -- from indulgent to healthful fare. And guests can sample more than one bite-size item without blowing their holiday calorie allowances.
Some of the recipes and ideas that follow can be prepared ahead. Others can be put together in minutes the day of the party. Keep the spread as simple as you like. The only requirement: Make plenty, especially if you're serving libations, too.
It's a good idea to keep some nibbles on hand for unexpected guests. These snacks can be stored at room temperature in airtight containers.
*Pita crisps: Split 6 (6-inch-round) pocket breads in half to make 12 rounds. Brush with 1/4 cup olive oil mixed with 1 clove minced or pressed garlic and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. (You can also add chopped herbs, if desired.) Cut each round into quarters and arrange in a single layer on 2 baking sheets. Bake in a 400-degree oven until crisp and golden, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Spiced nuts: Melt 1/4 cup butter. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco, 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon garlic salt; coat 2 cups pecan halves with mixture. Or, stir into butter 1/4 cup prepared chutney and 1 tablespoon curry powder; coat 2 cups almonds with the mixture. Spread the nuts on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until brown, stirring occasionally. Cool on brown paper.
Sesame chicken wings
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
From "The Joys of Christmas," by Helen Feingold and Mary Lee Gristani (Barron's, $16.95).
36 chicken drumettes (bottom part of chicken wing)
2 garlic cloves
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 onion, quartered
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
about 1/2 cup sesame seeds
Wash chicken and pat dry. Place in bowl. Combine remaining ingredients except sesame seeds in a blender and puree. Pour over chicken and stir to coat all pieces. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Remove from marinade and sprinkle with seeds. Place under broiler for 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Serve hot.
Makes about 30 appetizers.
3 cups cold water
1 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 (4-ounce) can mild chopped green chilies, drained
1/2 cup whole kernel corn
1/3 cup red pepper, roasted and finely chopped
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
In a 3-quart saucepan, bring water to a boil. With a wire whip, stir in cornmeal and onion soup mix.
Simmer uncovered, stirring constantly, 25 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chilies, corn and pepper.
Spread into lightly greased 9-inch-square baking pan; sprinkle with cheese. Let stand 20 minutes or until firm; cut into triangles. Serve at room temperature or heat in 350-degree oven for 5 minutes or until warm.
Microwave directions: In a 3-quart microwave-safe casserole, combine water, cornmeal and onion soup mix. Cover and microwave at high (100 percent power) for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes (mixture will be thick).
Stir in chilies, corn and roasted red peppers. Spread into pan and proceed as above.
Makes 15 servings.
From "Season of Wonder: Christmas 1990" (Heritage House).
1 pound extra-large shrimp, peeled
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Toss shrimp with lime juice in bowl. Mix garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, salt, red pepper and black pepper in small bowl. Sprinkle over shrimp; toss to coat well.
Spray large skillet with non-stick cooking spray. Heat until hot. Add shrimp. Cook for 3 minutes, or until shrimp are pink, stirring ++ constantly. Spoon into serving dish. Chill, covered, for 1 hour or longer. Garnish with lime wedges.
Cayenne pepper wafers
Makes 6 dozen.
lTC From "Martha Stewart's Christmas" (Clarkson N. Potter, $18.95).
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream cheese and butter. Sift together cayenne pepper, salt and flour and add gradually to butter mixture. Add nuts; mix well. Divide dough in half and shape into logs 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. With a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4 -inch slices; place wafers 1 to 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly colored. Cool and store in an airtight container.
Almond chutney cheese spread
Makes 1 3/4 cups.