Love at first bite: Appetizers go glam for New Year's parties

Trays of colorful vegetables served with rich, creamy dips. Canapes with savory delights or sweets. Plates of palate-pleasing, bitesize morsels. Get the shrimp ready.

Holiday parties will be in full swing for the biggest party night of the year — New Year’s Eve. Nothing pleases partygoers more than an array of bite-size morsels.

They’ll keep guests mingling, moving and munching.

These appetizers are guaranteed to be hassle-free for the host and answer the “What can I bring?” question.

When planning a spread of appetizers, have as much food already done as possible when people arrive. So says James Woodward, 37, executive chef at Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn, Mich.

A big no-no, he says, is making “too many things that you need to keep warm. You need things that are refrigeration temperature or that can be served at room temperature."

He suggests roasted eggplant Parmesan. To make it, ovenroast slices of eggplant with a little olive oil. Once they turn golden brown, on the same baking sheet, top one slice with a bit of marinara sauce, buffalo mozzarella, fresh Parmesan and bread crumbs. Top with another layer of each. Return to the oven until the cheese melts.

“It’s great because it’s vegetarian and it can be served warm or room temperature,” says Woodward.

If serving appetizers before a meal, plan on a minimum of five per person. For bigger eaters or an all-appetizer party, plan on at least double or triple the minimum amount.

This year, our five scrumptious offerings will let you relax and take five because they can be made ahead.

Spicy Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

20 large (about 2 1/2-inch diameter) white mushrooms

Poaching liquid:

2 cups white wine

2 cups water

1 clove garlic

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

Crab mixture:

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 shallot, peeled, minced

1 clove garlic, peeled, minced

1lb. cooked lump crab meat

1 egg

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/2cup bread crumbs

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and finely chop the stems . Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot, bring all the poaching liquid ingredients to a boil. Add the mushroom cap s. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 5-7 minutes. Remove mushrooms from poaching liquid, season with salt and pepper and place bottom side up on a baking sheet.

In a medium skillet heat vegetable oil and saute the chopped mushroom stems, shallots and garlic until light golden brown. Set aside and let cool. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and mix in the crab, egg, Dijon, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper, lemon juice and zest and bread crumbs.

Evenly divide the mixture among the poached mushroom caps. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm or room temperature. Makes 20.

From Executive Chef James Woodward at the Ritz Carlton, Dearborn.

Ham and Roasted Pear Crostini

Though these small bites are perfectly tasty made with an ordinary baguette, choose a whole wheat or seeded one for more flavor.

1/2 baguette, cut into 24 slices

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons maple syrup

2 ripe but firm Bosc pears, halved, cored and cut into 24 thin wedges

1 cup lightly packed parsley leaves

3/4 lb. leftover spiral-sliced ham (or another flavorful ham), cut into bite-sized pieces and warmed

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush baguette slices all over with oil, season with salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake, turning the slices over halfway through, cooking until just crisp, 5 to 7 minutes; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together lemon juice, maple syrup, salt and pepper to make a dressing. Toss pears in half the dressing and arrange in a single layer on a large, parchment-lined baking sheet.

Roast the pear wedges, turning halfway through, cooking until tender and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Toss parsley with remaining dressing. Top each crostini with a piece of ham and then a wedge of pear and a few leaves of parsley. Makes 2 dozen.

From Chef Aaron Wynn of Whole Foods Market at Cranbrook Village, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Stuffed Dates Wrapped With Bacon

Instead of wrapping the dates with bacon, you can add 2 slices crisp cooked and crumbled bacon to the cheese mixture.

8 slices bacon

2 tablespoons sliced green onion

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

2 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese, softened

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

24 dates (about 16 ounces unpitted)

Microwave the bacon slices on high about 2 minutes to lightly cook. Remove from microwave and cut into thirds.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a sided baking sheet with parchment or coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl combine the green onions, blue cheese, cream cheese and pepper.

Using a sharp knife, make a lengthwise slit in each date. Spread each date open slightly. Remove pits. Fill each date with a rounded teaspoon of the cheese mixture. Wrap a one-third piece of bacon around each date and place on the prepared baking sheet with the filling side up.

Bake, uncovered for about 5 to 8 minutes or until the bacon is cooked. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 24.

Adapted from www.bhg.com.

Phyllo-Wrapped Shrimp

You can make these several hours in advance and recrisp them in a 325-degree oven before serving.

12 sheets (9-by-14-inch ) phyllo dough, thawed

24 large shrimp, tails left on, peeled

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2cup melted butter

Salt and pepper to taste


1 1/4 cups Asian-style sweet chili sauce

3 green onions, washed, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or coat with nonstick spray.

Set the phyllo sheets on a clean work surface. Pat the shrimp dry and season with salt and pepper.

Place one sheet of phyllo on the work surface and brush with melted butter. (Keep the remaining phyllo covered with a clean, damp towel.) Cut it in half lengthwise and cut each half again lengthwise so you have a total of 4 strips, about 3 inches wide. You will use two strips for each shrimp.

Place one strip on top of another. Place one shrimp at the end with the tail sticking out from the edge. Roll it up so the phyllo encases the shrimp—not the tail. Brush again with a little butter, if needed. Place on the prepared sheet. Repeat with the remaining phyllo dough and shrimp until you've used it all.

Bake them for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Meanwhile, mix the chili sauce with green onions in a small bowl. Remove shrimp from the oven and serve immediately with the sauce, recrisp or serve at room temperature. Makes 24.

Smoked Salmon With Red Onion and Caper Cream

15 mini pita bread rounds

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed, chopped

1 pkg. (2 to 3 oz.) thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into pieces

2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each mini pita bread in half horizontally so you have 2 rounds. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper and Italian seasoning. Place the pita rounds in the bowl and toss to coat. Place the rounds on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, red onion and capers. Put a small dollop of the cream on each pita round. Top with a piece or several small pieces of salmon. Top with another small dollop of the cream. Sprinkle with fresh dill and serve. Makes 30 rounds.