Let the holiday party season begin! • With the gooey, ooey goodness of Halloween behind us, it's time to start serious planning for neighborhood potlucks, office soirees, swanky cocktail parties and family gatherings. Just to run down the dates for you, Thanksgiving is Nov. 25, Hanukkah comes early on Dec. 1, and then it's Christmas on Dec. 25 and New Year's a week later. In between those dates will be plenty of festive to-dos. • Appetizers are always welcome when people get together. In fact, sometimes a few small bites and beverages are all you really need for a party. Today, we offer 25 appetizer ideas that are elegant and easy. Look through the list and then stock your pantry. That way, you'll be ready for the last-minute invitation to "come on over" or if you get the hankering to entertain.
Lennie Bennett and Janet K. Keeler of the Times
Baked Cheese Olives
In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons softened butter. Stir in ½ cup all-purpose flour and ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, mixing until a dough forms. Drain 24 pimiento-stuffed green olives. Wrap a tablespoon of dough around each green olive and place on a baking sheet. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden grown. Bonus: Can be made ahead, cooled completely and frozen. To reheat, place frozen olives on baking sheet and heat in 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Crabby Endive Boats
Drain a plastic container of pasteurized crab and mix the shellfish with mayonnaise, lime juice, a bit of sesame oil, minced chives, cayenne pepper and salt. Load the crab salad onto washed endive leaves and top with lime zest. (One variation: Substitute chives and cayenne with grated ginger and a couple of dashes of dry mustard.)
Fried Marinara Raviolis
Fry frozen raviolis — cheese or meat — and pile on a serving platter. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve with warmed marinara sauce for dipping.
Spread flour tortillas or flavored wraps (spinach would be Christmas-festive) with cream cheese, then sprinkle with feta crumbles and dried cranberries. Roll tightly, then slice for pinwheels appetizers.
Mini BBQ Empanadas
Cut prepared pastry dough into 3-inch circles. Put about 2 teaspoons of barbecued beef or pork on one side, leaving a ½-inch rim. Top with small slice of dill pickle. Brush inside rim with beaten egg, fold and crimp, brush outside with more egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes, or until golden brown.
Smoked Salmon Cups
Fill store-bought phyllo cups with a small piece of smoked salmon topped with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh chives. Serve immediately.
Buffalo Deviled Eggs
To your standard deviled egg filling, add hot wing sauce to taste, then garnish with blue cheese crumbles. For more color, sprinkle chopped celery leaves over all.
Spread thinly sliced salami in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until dry and crisp. Serve with a dipping sauce of Dijon mustard mixed with sour cream and finely chopped dill pickle.
Toast thin slices of baguette (or buy prepared bruschetta) and top with tomato and fresh mozzarella slices, chopped fresh basil, a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cheesy Rice Squares
Combine 1 ½ cups cooked rice, ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese, ¼ cup sliced green onions, ¼ cup finely chopped green olives, ¼ cup dry bread crumbs, ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, 2 beaten eggs and a few splashes of hot sauce. Press into greased 8- by 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Cut into squares and serve warm.
Mini Potato Skins
Bake small potatoes (red bliss or fingerlings), cool slightly then cut in half lengthwise and scrape out some of the flesh. While potatoes bake, cook bacon until crispy. Drain and mix with sour cream and chopped scallions. Refrigerate until ready to use. When potatoes are ready and prepared, dollop sour cream mixture on each one. Serve immediately.
Toss raw, peeled shrimp in fine cornmeal mixed with Italian herbs. Roast at 350 degrees for 7 to 10 minutes until cooked through and crispy. Serve on skewers with marinara sauce.
Spread a sheet of puff pastry with 3 teaspoons honey mustard and top with 3 ounces sliced prosciutto and 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese. Roll and place in freezer to firm slightly. Slice into ¼-inch-thick pieces, place on a greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet about 2 inches apart and sprinkle with a bit more Parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.
Trim radishes, toss with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Radishes will still be slightly firmed. Serve with a horseradish dipping sauce.
Baked Stuffed Jalapenos
Halve 10 to 12 fresh jalapenos lengthwise and scrape out seeds and ribs. Set peppers aside until ready to stuff. Brown 1 pound bulk sausage until cooked through. Drain and mix with 3 ounces cream cheese and about 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Spoon 1 tablespoon onto pepper halves. Place in baking dish and bake for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Serve with ranch dressing.
Assortment of Small Kebabs
Thread these combinations on small wooden skewers: mini mozzarella balls, pepperoncini, basil leaf; feta, watermelon cubes and mint; ribbons of prosciutto, melon balls and sage; baby artichoke (look for them in the can), sun-dried tomato and goat cheese.
Blue Cheese, Port and Walnut Spread
In a food processor, blend 1 pound blue cheese, ½ cup unsalted softened butter and a few tablespoons of port until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in walnuts. Chill. Serve with crackers. (Can separate into two crocks and present one as a hostess gift.)
Bite-Sized Cuban Sandwiches
Make standard size Cuban sandwiches — roast pork, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and a pickle — and cut in 1 ½-inch slices. Secure with toothpicks and arrange on a platter.
Baked Artichoke Crescents
Unroll a tube of refrigerated crescent dough and press onto the bottom and slightly up the sides of an ungreased 9- by 13-inch baking dish; seal seams and perforations. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat 1 block cream cheese, ½ cup sour cream and 1 egg until smooth. Stir in ½ teaspoon dill and seasoned salt. Spread over crust. Mix 1 can water-packed artichokes that have been drained and rinsed with chopped green onions and diced pimientos. Spread over cream cheese mixture. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until edges are golden brown. Cut into about 2 dozen squares.
Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Mix shredded rotisserie chicken with cooked cellophane noodles, julienned cucumber and carrots and chopped scallions. Mound in small, sturdy iceberg lettuce leaves and top with peanut sauce.
Pack prepared stuffing (use Stove Top!) into mushrooms that have been cleaned and had their stems removed. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Baked Brie Apricot Cups
Fill phyllo cups with small pieces of Brie, a dab of apricot preserves, a few pieces of chopped dried apricots and a sprinkle of sliced almonds. Bake at 350 degrees until Brie is melted, about 5 minutes.
Apple Sausage Appetizers
In a bowl, combine 2 jars (23 ounces each) unsweetened chunky applesauce and ½ cup brown sugar. Slice 2 pounds fully cooked kielbasa or Polish sausage into ½-inch slices; mix into applesauce. Add 1 chopped medium onion. Transfer to a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes or until bubbly. To serve, transfer to a chafing dish or another shallow bowl and have toothpicks handy.
Spicy Cucumber Bites
Top thick slice of cucumber with a smear of wasabi and poached or grilled salmon and pickled ginger. Or spread with Boursin cheese and top with fresh herbs.
Ham and Cheese Muffins
Split mini corn muffins and layer with ham, thinly sliced Gruyere and chutney. Or spread with whipped cream cheese, then layer with smoked turkey, cranberry sauce and Havarti cheese.