Simple, easy, elegant finger foods…on the cheap?
January 13, 2011 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Browsing through recipe threads has my brain spinning, so I'm going to ask for direct help. I need to provide food for an opening reception for a photography show. We're expecting about 50 people. Instead of dips and spreads or cheeses, I've been asked to make things people can easily pick up and eat – but still looks nicer than dumping a can of nuts into a dish. Any suggestions for easy finger foods, ideally that could be made a little bid ahead of time, and that wouldn't be too cost prohibitive?
posted by korej to Food & Drink (44 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Deviled eggs. Yum.
posted by brainmouse at 10:38 AM on January 13, 2011

my fave easily finger / portable food ever, is the sushi roll. While sushi could be pricey, you could make veggie sushi rolls.
posted by bitterkitten at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2011

Oven cooked cocktail sausages glazed in honey and sesame seeds.

Dates wrapped in bacon.

Grilled halloumi cheese and sweet peppers.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Spread a thin layer of vegetable cream cheese on a large sun-dried tomato tortilla. Roll it up tightly and slice into wheels.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:44 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Water chestnut + half slice of bacon + toothpick to hold it all together + Heinz chili sauce + 400° oven until bacon is cooked (~15 minutes) = extremely easy deliciousness.

Caprese skewers are also good (cherry tomato + mozzarella ball + basil leaf), as is any sort of prosciutto + fruit (fig or melon are best) + goat cheese on a stick.
posted by phunniemee at 10:44 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Little pinwheels. They're non-messy, easy to pop into your mouth, look nice on a plate. A tortilla wrapped around pimentos and cream cheese is yummy. Deviled ham, chicken salad, watercress, butter and cucumber....many possibilities and you can make them as elegant (ingredient-wise) as you like.
posted by iconomy at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2011

-Dates stuffed with goat cheese: these can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge, but let them come to room temperature before serving (cold dates aren't very appetizing, in my opinion)

-Crackers/toasts with various toppings are easy; you probably shouldn't put them together ahead of time because the crackers might get soggy, but you could prepare the various components ahead of time and have a little cracker assembly line. Toasts/bagel chips topped with smoked salmon, whipped cream cheese (perhaps piped through a fancy pastry tip), and capers?
posted by enlarged to show texture at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2011

Oh, and melon balls or pieces of blanched asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. (If you have a Costco or BJ's membership, you can buy large quantities of smoked salmon and prosciutto at good prices.)
posted by enlarged to show texture at 10:46 AM on January 13, 2011

Seconding dates wrapped in bacon for awesomeness, though I think they will probably cost a tad more than cheese and crackers.

What about little spanakopita triangles? They take some prep, but you should be able to make them well in advance.

If there is a Trader Joe's in your area, I highly recommend their frozen heat-and-serve apps.
posted by Sara C. at 10:47 AM on January 13, 2011

You can put almost any kind of dip in the pre-made puff pastry shells, sprinkle some parmesan cheese, brown it in the oven & serve.

Costco or other stores have great little pre-made quiche, mini-eclairs, cream puffs, pinwheel sandwiches in the frozen section (if time is a big factor).
posted by Kronur at 10:50 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Caprese Salad onna Stick" - Tootpicks with a leaf of basil, a grape tomato, and a blob of fresh mozarella. (Make 'em a little before you leave, and when you arrive, pot a little extra virgin olive oil on 'em.)

Marinated mushrooms
posted by SansPoint at 10:55 AM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

If there are particular dips/spreads you like, you could do an easy pick-up platter by putting the [hummus, cream cheese] into a pastry bag (a.k.a ziplock with a corner cut off), swirling it out onto pieces of [pita, cracker] and accenting with [olive, smoked salmon]. The only drawback is that decorated crackers are large surface-area and unstackable.

You can also take your hummus, goat cheese, flavored cream cheese, tapenade, or other spread, and use your pastry bag to pipe it into anything hollow: cherry tomatoes, mini peppers, snow pea pods, mushroom caps, giant olives, hulled strawberries or raspberries (for the right flavor of goat/cream cheese).

Anything becomes finger-food when you put it on a toothpick or skewer. Favorites include:
- a cherry tomato and a mozzarella ball on a toothpick (basil leaf or pesto spread optional)
- a cube of marinated [chicken,beef, pork] on a toothpick, baked/grilled.
- a fruit-kabob: any 2-3 of [green melon ball, orange melon ball, strawberry, pineapple wedge, grape]
- melon ball wrapped with a strip of prociutto
- a cube of tofu or firm-set polenta, grilled
- an olive (pitted) and a cube of feta, rolled in herbs
posted by aimedwander at 10:57 AM on January 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

You can still do dips and spreads, just spread them on little tiny crackers or make little tiny sandwiches (cracker, bread, cucumber slices) out of them.
posted by amtho at 10:59 AM on January 13, 2011

These bleu cheese biscuits with fig preserves are the best finger food ever.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:03 AM on January 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you have access to a kitchen that will let you reheat things or finish cooking things, you can do cheese puffs and risotto suppli balls. I made both of these for a fancy-pants benefit party my theater company did; someone loaned us the use of their house, and I made most of both these in advance and just finished them in her kitchen.

* The cheese puffs I made ahead and froze; then just dumped them onto a cookie sheet and popped them in the oven for a while.

* Suppli is a deep-fried ball of risotto it. I made mozzarella cheese suppli -- I made a batch of risotto ahead of time, let it cool, and then stirred in about half a bag of shredded mozzarella. When I got to the venue, I let the oil heat up while I stirred a beaten egg into the risotto and made little walnut-size balls out of it; then just dropped them in the pan to deep-fry until golden.

* Didn't make these for my benefit, but fried olives is another good one; get some green olives that have been stuffed with something other than pimento (for the 'ooh, new and fancy!" factor), and some bread crumbs, and a couple eggs; bring that with you to the venue. Then put a tablespoon of oil in a fry pan, beat the eggs, toss the olives in it and roll them in the bread crumbs. Then fry them. that's it.

I'll grant you that these do require some cooking, but the "cooking" part is mostly just the final step.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mini vegetable pita pizzas have been my go-to party appetizer for quite a while.

They're exceedingly easy to make: just take medium-sized sandwich pitas (or "pitettes"); spread the center with a moderate amount of herb-flavored soft cheese (hereabouts Alouette is one brand; but I'd imagine there are many); and top with a colorful assortment of medium-chopped raw veggies, like broccoli, red onion, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers. You can add a little shredded cheddar cheese, if you'd like. Then cut each pita into triangular pizza-style slices and eat with fingers. I like these because they have the fresh-and-healthy feel of crudite, but are a lot less messy.
posted by Bardolph at 11:15 AM on January 13, 2011

I found this (from here

Cocktail Party: 12 appetizers per person

A fairly standard formula is used among caterers to figure out how many appetizers are needed from each recipe.

12 pieces per person times the number of people divided by the number of different appetizers. (When they are being served before a full dinner, halve the totals.)

If the guest list has fewer than 45 people, plan on using roughly 6 different appetizers; for more than 45 guests, 8 types. The rule of thumb for smaller gatherings is that 3 types are suitable for 8 to 10 guests; 4 or 5 for 14 to 16 people.

I think anything that is usually served as a dip can be remade into a passed appetizers.
These are some things that I have done in the past:
Endive leaves with a scoop of something on them(I've done goat cheese)
Zucchini chunks with a little hollow scooped out (if you can serve heated I do a square of blue cheese topped with a cherry tomato and a bit of basil leaf heated in the oven) with something in them.
Stuffed Mushrooms
Crostini(any toasted bread with something on top, I usually a cheese and some sort of chutney or savory jam)
Asparagus wrapped with roast beef

Martha Stewart has a great appetizer book and recipes on her website.
posted by momochan at 11:19 AM on January 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

Peanutbutter and bacon on crackers. Make it fancy by using almond butter or a natural peanutbutter on a fancy cracker or square of multigrain bread.

I normally put it under the broiler for a minute to make it melty. But could be served cold

And bacon is trendy. But, obviously, it shouldn't be the only thing you serve.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:22 AM on January 13, 2011

Onion & bacon tarts. You need some sort of base (frozen puff pastry, pizza dough, phyllo, etc), onions (cheap), bacon (used sparingly), and cheese. If you want to get fancy, you can add mushrooms too.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:32 AM on January 13, 2011

mini quiches -- you can either reheat, or pick ones that taste good cold

mini sandwiches, with any number of fillings. Easy to find mini loaves of bread these days, too, so you don't even have to trim bread to make them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:36 AM on January 13, 2011

Mini Pigs in a Blanket, but with chunks of different sausages instead of hot dogs.

Quite easy to make, all you need are the sausage and croissant dough, and have always been a big hit when I bring them to parties.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:40 AM on January 13, 2011

I love this recipe for goat cheese beggar purses. It's pretty simple and quite tasty! Really, anything with phyllo dough is an excellent option. Many grocery stores sell the phyllo dough shells that you can fill with anything you want, and then just bake.

I'm also a big fan of ginger matzo balls. They are delicious when you refrigerate them and serve cold (I promise you don't have Jewish to enjoy them)!
posted by baronessa at 11:41 AM on January 13, 2011

Focaccia cut into bite-size pieces are my standard easy food for large groups; it's easy to make, doesn't require a lot of pre-planning or fussy arranging of things on top of other things, portable, easy to vary with different toppings, and isn't messy to eat -- no drippy sauces, no toothpicks or cocktail napkins required.

If you're not up to making the dough yourself -- it's simple but time consuming -- a lot of groceries have started selling bags of premade fresh pizza dough which works just fine. Roll it out, spread some olive oil on top, add one or more of the following: garlic; olives; grated sharp cheeses such as romano, parmesan, feta; soft melty cheeses such as goat cheese, ricotta, or fresh mozzarella; thin-sliced vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, peppers all work great); bits of pickled anything; coarse salt; black pepper; capers. Not too much stuff, it's not a deep-dish pizza. Just enough for flavor. Bake on a pizza stone (if you have one) or a cookie sheet (if you don't) until yummy.
posted by ook at 11:44 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

101 Simple Appetizers in 20 Minutes or Less by Mark Bittman of NYT
posted by wayofthedodo at 11:44 AM on January 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Here's a recipe for my grandmother's cheese and sausage balls mixture.

1 lb. bulk sausage (I prefer hot sausage, personally)
4 cups of shredded / grated sharp cheddar
3 cups bisquik

Mix the bisquick, sausage, and cheese until combined evenly. (If you want to get fancy, do ~1/4 batches in your food processor.)

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Roll the mixture into walnut sized balls, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake the balls for 10-15 minutes. The balls will be a nice golden brown color and the sausage cooked through.

The balls can be served warm or at room temp, and go well with mustard.
posted by BZArcher at 11:47 AM on January 13, 2011

Oh! Another idea -- I got this from one of Darina Allen's cookbooks. Basically, you make up a batch of dough for Irish soda bread; but instead of forming a loaf, you grease a jelly roll pan and pat the dough flat into that, then sprinkle about a half cup of shredded Cheddar cheese over it and bake it. (I think it says to bake it at 425 for the first five minutes and then 400 for 20 more minutes.) Cut into squares.

This can be made ahead and served room temperature, or heated up in an oven (not a microwave). She rather charmingly calls it "West Cork Foccacia." (Oh: and yes, you want to invest in authentic Irish cheddar for this. TRUST ME.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:50 AM on January 13, 2011

I just made enough of these chicken wings for a school potluck tonight for about 200 people (we had to represent our ethnic heritage, and well, I'm originally from Buffalo, NY). They are fantastic, and have that Buffalo Wing flavourfulness - but they're dry not goopy, so not too messy to eat in this situation. But it depends on how you feel about spitty bone disposal - maybe it's better not to have anything that will leave remains. I bought giant packs of over 50 wings from Costco for under $17 each, and I had all the other stuff on hand. These are now a part of my cooking for events roster - they are so easy!
posted by peagood at 11:53 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

They're a bit of work, prep-time wise, but Summer rolls are a lot easier to assemble than you might think. You can use any kind of vegetables you like, and they're a nice break from the usual crudites platter.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 11:57 AM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

A friend just brought these palmieres as a party appetizer. They seemed very fancy (but they're easy to make) and were delicious. You can vary the fillings.
posted by Miko at 12:01 PM on January 13, 2011

Make sure there is something non-dairy and something vegetarian.
* Bruschetta is tasty, easy and not too spendy. Cut a baguette in slices, brush w/ garlicky olive oil, bake. Top w/ olive tapenade or tomato or some other yummy thing. Serve warmish.
*Mini-quiches using soft white bread and mini muffin tins. Line the muffin tin with bread, and mush it into place as crust. Add quiche filling of choice and bake.
*Asparagus wrapped in something.
*Make meatballs with beef sausage; bake; serve on toothpick.
*Make min-pizzas, serve as small wedges. Can be made on pita bread.
*teriyaki chicken wings
*tiny herbed biscuits with salmon. Make tiny bisquick biscuits with added herbs. You can often buy smoked salmon bits-n-pieces at the fish counter for not too much. Halve the biscuit, add a dollop of sour cream, some salmon and a few capers. Lots of affordable wow factor.
posted by theora55 at 12:02 PM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Mrs. was asked to provide snacks for a furniture store opening. That meant finger foods, one or two bites, and no messy goo to smear around. She made spiced pecans (curried, and plain old buttered), quick-pickled green beans (using a brine she found on Smitten Kitchen), and two savory shortbreads (stilton with poppy seeds, and thyme with lemon). They were expecting about 200 to attend, so it was a little bit of a bigger job, but nothing was particularly complicated. For a smaller group, I would expect any of these to be fairly easy to pull off. MeMail if you'd like specific recipes.
posted by Gilbert at 12:15 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

For something really easy, look for large-pan preparation things that can be cut into serving sizes. I've served these Bisquick Zucchini Squares at parties. There are similar recipes that use corn bread with bacon/cheese.
posted by CathyG at 12:16 PM on January 13, 2011

Piggybacking off of Miko's recommendation for palmiers, you can do a dessert version of the same thing by spreading nutella on the puff pastry, rolling the sides in, slicing, and baking (as specified in that savory recipe). I'm not sure if you needed something sweet too, but I think it's a nice touch when you've got tons of savory appetizers.
posted by vytae at 12:43 PM on January 13, 2011

Also, if you make bruschetta, slice the bread on a diagonal. That way the crusts don't point straight up and down when people are eating them, which makes it way less painful to take a bite. Plus it looks fancier!
posted by vytae at 12:45 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Slice a baguette, spread with pesto and top with shredded smoked mozzarella. Broil for a few minutes to melt the cheese.
posted by shrieking violet at 1:22 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have done a kind of cheese straw by taking frozen puff pastry, sprinkling a generous amount of parm cheese and pepper on each side and working it into the surface of the dough with a rolling pin, then cutting it into strips and baking.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2011

Oh, these all sound fabulous. I'll have the artists take a look and start picking. Thank you!
posted by korej at 2:31 PM on January 13, 2011

Beet canapes

1 pkg cream cheese
1 stick butter

Spread mixture on rye cocktail bread
Top with a slice of roasted beet and a sprig of fresh dill
posted by vespabelle at 3:51 PM on January 13, 2011

Seconding the suggestion to be sure there's at least one thing that's non-dairy & veg. Most of the recommendations in this thread have been pretty meaty and/or cheesy. I would be really bummed to go to an event that had nothing but meaty and cheesy food.

Summer rolls were my first thought. Other options:

Breadcrumb-stuffed mushrooms
Spinach-stuffed mushrooms
Polenta-stuffed peppers
Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
Avocado Ginger Canapés
Avocado Cucumber Maki and Sweet Potato Nigiri
posted by acridrabbit at 4:34 PM on January 13, 2011

Slice cucumbers thinly. Spread with cream cheese (flavor with mint and lemon, basil, italian herbs, dill or whatever you like). Top with a radish slice. Make ahead and stack in fridge. A mandoline makes this the easiest snack ever.
posted by littleflowers at 5:48 PM on January 13, 2011

Just as an additional note, try to not make anything that needs to be warm (or cold, for that matter). That just introduces extra equipment, which then requires maintenance.
posted by Gilbert at 8:09 PM on January 13, 2011

Sausage rolls:
- pre-made puff pastry
- sausage of your choice

You can cook the sausage in advance and then it's assembly and bake. They are not much more work than buying pre-made sausage rolls but are like a thousand times nicer.
posted by machine at 5:56 AM on January 14, 2011

Thank you all - I've marked the ones that I think we're going to work off of, but there are many, many more that I'm going to be using in the future. We're not going to use anything with meat, just because there's so many other options, and although at least one of the photographers would prefer *everything* have cheese, he'll survive a variety on the table.
posted by korej at 7:54 AM on January 14, 2011

You could go the Martha route and do fancy soups in near-thimble-sized cups (or sake glasses or something)--I've been seeing that more and more at weddings and things during the cocktail hour. The container part is the iffiest, but if you can figure that out for cheap you're set, because soup is insanely easy and can be made ahead of time.

There's also those wrap things--take colorful sandwich wraps and line with meats and cheeses, veggies, sprouts, herbed cream cheese, whatever, roll, and slice or do pinwheel-type stuff.

If money is no object I nth halloumi as well as chevre logs with fancy compotes/jellies spread on top with toasted nuts, slice-able for crackers. Or phyllo/puff pastry parcels--your imagination can run wild here. You could do beggars' purses, duxelle-type stuff, leeks even. Whatever.

If you decide to go the sushi route, you might be interested in this--deconstructed California roll salad. You could sort of package it in wraps or nori or something so it's less finicky to assemble each one. It looks like this.
posted by ifjuly at 7:54 AM on January 14, 2011

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