by Susan Stuck
It's 3 p.m. on the last day of the year. Your sitter has just called to say she"s got the flu. Many would panic; you simply decide to move the evening's festivities to your home. How hard can it be to put together a casual, delicious spread to share with some friends? Especially when you ask the friends to bring the beverages?
The key to speedy nibbles is having a cupboard filled with the right ingredients or a well-stocked supermarket nearby. Check out our suggestions below. Next make of list of any ingredients you don't have on hand. Grab baby and dash off to the supermarket. Don't forget that shopping list! You'll find most of what you need in the produce department and at the deli's olive bar.
Not including marinating or chilling times, you should be able to assemble this spread within 90 minutes. As friends arrive, ask them to lend a hand cutting vegetables, setting out the food or pouring drinks.
5 easy options for an impromptu gathering
Orange marinated olives
Toss imported mixed olives with thyme leaves, grated orange zest, a squeeze of orange juice and 1 clove crushed garlic.
You'll need at least three cheeses to call it cheeseboard. Consider hard cheese like an aged cheddar, a soft cheese like a chevre or Brie and a blue cheese. Set out a jar of fig jam or mango chutney and sizable a stack of rye crackers. Sliced Fuji or Honeycrisp apples are a nice addition as well.
Irresistible smoky, spicy almonds
Spread about 2 cups whole almonds in a baking pan and roast in a 350ºF oven for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven, add 2 tablespoons butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon smoked hot Spanish paprika and shake the pan to evenly coat the nuts. Return the pan to the oven for a couple of minutes to set the coating.
Garlicky bean dip with veggies
In a food processor, puree 15 ounces canned white beans, 20 - 30 cloves roasted garlic (you'll find these at the supermarket olive bar), 2 tablespoons olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Transfer the dip to a serving bowl and rinse out the processor bowl. Process about 1/2 cup roasted red pepper strips (from the olive bar or a jar), 2 tablespoons ketchup and 1/2 teaspoon paprika (Spanish paprika is perfect). Spoon the pepper puree into the center of the bean dip and swirl with the tip of a knife. Serve with carrot or celery sticks, bell pepper strips, sliced fresh fennel or Belgian endive leaves. Bagel crisps are good too.
Ginger-Lemon Cake squares
Bake a gingerbread cake mix (for a little extra zing add a teaspoon each of grated lemon zest and fresh ginger to the batter!) in a lined square cake pan. Let cool, and then slice in half horizontally with a large serrated knife. Spread the bottom layer with 1 jar lemon curd and replace the top layer. Chill for an hour to make slicing into neat squares easier.
Which one of these delectable items will you make?
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.