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Essential Appetizers

Get your party started with these easy and elegant recipes

For many cooks, one of the most challenging items on the menu is what to serve as an appetizer. Whether you're hosting a holiday cocktail party or looking for a first course to a formal meal, it's hard to know which small plates or finger foods are best to serve.

Problem solved: We've got some great suggestions and easy-but-elegant recipes. 

First, a few tips: Make appetizers as much in advance as possible. Quiche or little meatballs can be prepared and frozen weeks ahead. Dips can be made the day before. Skewered chicken tenders can be marinated and speared ahead of time.

If you're serving cheese and vegetable platters, arrange them on a pretty tray and serve at room temperature so your guests can graze at leisure. If you want to keep appetizers warm, a chafing dish will do the trick. Alternatively, you can stagger heating and serving hot appetizers throughout your party.

Here are some all-time favorites:

Artichoke Dip
An all-American favorite. Add chopped cooked shrimp for an interesting variation.

Deviled Eggs
Make these as mild or as spicy as you like.

Crostini With Green Olive Tapenade
A great complement to a glass of sparkling champagne.

Grilled Bread With Olive Oil, Garlic and Tomato
Luckily, fresh tomatoes are now available year-round for this party favorite.

Eggplant Caviar
An excellent dip to serve with slices of fresh cucumbers and red and yellow peppers.

Chopped Liver the Way My Mother Makes It
The most popular appetizer in Jewish cooking.

Honey Mustard Brie With Walnuts
Delicious served with apple and pear slices.

Manchego-Potato Tacos With Pickled Jalapeños
You can find pickled jalapeños in the Mexican section of your local supermarket.

Smoked Salmon Potato Cakes
Less expensive than crab cakes, these appetizers are a crowd-pleaser.

Chicken Satay
This delicious and low-carb dish will do double duty as a light supper entrée, too.