One-bite appetizers that are fast and easy

Take it from me — people adore finger foods. Whether it's the seemingly endless entertaining I have done in my own homes over the years or the short-lived (but fun!) time my BFF and I were running our own catering company (shout out to the Salty Pear!), when it comes to soirees, finger foods are the party nosh everyone craves. So what makes a nibble a true finger food? For me, a finger food must allow you to always maintain your drink in your other hand and should never require a utensil more cumbersome than a toothpick or skewer.

The first step in finger foods is selecting your conduit. I have given you my favorites here, as well as three presentation or topping ideas for each. Some can be whipped up on the fly, while some require a touch more forethought. Pick your favorite combos or invent your own one-bite appetizers that guests will swoon for.

Crackers

Seriously ... I don't know if it gets all that much easier than this. You take a cracker (almost any cracker, though I prefer round) and you top something (almost anything) on it. Mix up the cracker colors and textures to make a simple offering take on a not-so-simple presentation.

Lox rounds: For the simplest version, top a rye melba round or a small water cracker with a thin slice of cucumber and a schmear of creamy Boursin cheese followed by a slice of lox. Alternatively, you can make a creamy lemon dill sauce by stirring fresh lemon zest and chopped fresh dill into regular mayonnaise. (Substitute plain Greek yogurt if you like.) Top the mayo with a small slice of lox, and finish by sprinkling on a few capers or minced red onions.

Goat cheese and pomegranate rounds: On water crackers or digestive biscuits (the slightly sweeter ones that come in a cracker sampler), spread a generous amount of goat cheese and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Another variation is to spread the cracker with a triple-creme Brie cheese and top with an apricot or raspberry preserve.

Blue cheese and roast beef rounds: On a Ritz cracker, spread horseradish sauce and top with crumbled blue cheese and a small slice of roast beef. Garnish with fresh parsley or chives.

Phyllo cups

Just like with crackers, it really doesn't get much easier than phyllo cups. The brilliant thing about them is that they make it look as though you got really fancy with your appetizers! Note that whether buying them frozen or room temperature, they can all benefit from a light crisping in the oven to perk them up a bit before filling.

Manchego and fig: Fill the phyllo cups with a small cube of manchego cheese. Heat for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven, then top with a small dab of fig jam.

Tuna tartare: Combine diced sushi-grade tuna with diced avocado, then toss lightly with chopped cilantro and green onion in a dressing of sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar. Fill cups, sprinkle with Furikake seasoning, and serve.

Gorgonzola and pear: Finely chop fresh pear and combine with crumbled gorgonzola and toasted, chopped pecans. Fill and serve.

Baby potato bites

If you are a potato lover like me, you'll go wild for just about anything using these adorable mini potatoes. To prepare your potatoes, boil or bake them until tender. Allow to cool, and then carefully slice a thin layer off the top and bottom of the potato. (You want it to be able to stand on its own.) Using a small melon baller, scoop out most of the center of the potato, making sure to leave a floor to hold up your fillings. The tops and the potato filling that you removed can be incorporated into your toppings depending on your recipe.

Greek mini potatoes: Combine the potato filling with store-bought tzatziki sauce and top with feta cheese. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Top each potato with a slice of Kalamata olive.

Jalapeno potato poppers: Combine the scooped potato with cream cheese, crumbled bacon, chopped jalapeno, and shredded cheddar cheese. Fill potatoes, and top them off with a thin slice of jalapeno. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Irish potato bites: To the potato filling, add chopped corned beef and shredded Irish cheddar cheese, if you can find it. Fill the potatoes and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Top with sour cream and chives or green onions.

Meaty bites

Proteins make a satisfying and belly-filling nosh, particularly when your guests are downing cocktails. For meatier appetizer options, aim for bites that can be served alone or with the use of a simple toothpick.

Bacon and chicken bites: Slice raw chicken breast into 1-inch chunks. Wrap with a half slice of bacon, secure with a toothpick, and roll in a mixture of ½ cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons chili powder, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a dash of kosher salt. Cook on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for 10 or so minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the bacon is starting to crisp. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Candied bacon: Cut bacon slices into thirds and lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Grind pecans with 2 tablespoons maple syrup and top each slice with a mixture of equal parts brown sugar and the pecan mixture. Cook at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or until the tops are nicely caramelized. Allow to cool and serve.

Crispy prosciutto cups: Line mini-muffin cups with prosciutto and stuff with a mixture of ricotta, frozen chopped spinach, chopped garlic, and seasoning. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until the prosciutto cups are browned and crispy. Serve at room temperature.

Polenta bites

Polenta is a dream to work with. Make a large batch, pour it into a sheet pan, allow it to cool completely, and then use a pizza cutter or cookie cutters to make any shape you desire. Better yet, use my favorite foolproof finger food method — pour the hot polenta into a greased mini muffin tin, pressing down in the middle to indent, and chill until set. Voila! Now you have perfect, one-bite polenta tartlets to fill as you wish. (Make them a day ahead if you have a lot to do.) Never made polenta? Whisk ½ cup of quick-cooking polenta with boiling hot water or broth, reduce heat to low, and whisk continuously about 3 minutes until the mixture thickens. Stir in salt, pepper, and a handful of Parmesan cheese. Good to go.

Pesto tomato polenta bites: Top each polenta cup with homemade or jarred pesto sauce and an oven-roasted cherry tomato half. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Blue cheese and walnut polenta bites: Top each polenta cup with crumbled blue or Gorgonzola cheese and chopped walnuts. Warm in the oven, then drizzle lightly with good quality honey or maple syrup.

Mushroom marsala polenta bites: Cook 1 cup chopped mushrooms and a small chopped onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Season and add ½ cup of marsala wine. Cover and reduce by half. Stir in a paste made of 2 tablespoons butter and ½ teaspoon of white flour. Cook until the mixture thickens. Allow to cool slightly, and spoon the mixture into the polenta cups.

Pizzettas

Make your own pizza dough, or, better yet, stop by your local pizzeria and ask to buy some pizza dough to go. Stretch and pull out the dough on a floured surface, and use a biscuit cutter to achieve tiny pizza rounds — they don't need to be perfect. Place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook in a 450 degree oven for about 7 minutes, until they're just starting to brown. Prepare with whichever topping you choose.

Traditional pizzettas: Spoon marinara sauce on each round, top with shredded mozzarella cheese, and heat in a 350 degree oven until the cheese is just melted. Garnish with basil and serve.

Ricotta and olive pizzettas: Spread each round with a dollop of room temperature ricotta cheese, topped with a small spoonful of olive tapenade.

Dessert pizzettas: Spread each pizzetta with Nutella and top with a thin slice of banana or strawberry. Garnish with toasted coconut flakes.

Deviled eggs

For super simplicity in the kitchen, buy the hard-boiled eggs that have already been cooked. If you want to make them yourself, there are different schools of thought on how to get the job done. I set a very large pot of water to boil, add 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and carefully add my raw eggs in their shells. I cook for 10 minutes, then immediately transfer the eggs to an ice bath. Most importantly, I allow them to cool completely before peeling. Older eggs work best.

Each recipe is for one dozen eggs, or 24 pieces.

Chipotle deviled eggs: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the egg yolks, 2 tablespoons mustard, ½ cup mayonnaise, a swig of red wine vinegar, a dash of hot sauce, and salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the sauce from a can of chipotle peppers. Add mixture to a large plastic food storage bag, and cut off one corner to pipe the mixture evenly into the egg white halves. Pipe the mixture into the egg halves and sprinkle with smoked paprika and chopped chives.

Bacon and jalapeno deviled eggs: Make the egg yolk mixture as described above. Instead of chipotle sauce, stir in one minced jalapeno, seeds and pith removed. Pipe the mixture into the egg halves, and top each egg with a small piece of crisp, crumbled bacon.

Crabby deviled eggs: Make the egg yolk mixture, and stir in ½ pound of lump crabmeat. Spoon mixture into the egg halves and top each with a small dollop of fish roe.

Crostini

The only limit when topping classic crostini is your imagination. You can buy some premade or whip up a bunch ahead of time. Slice a baguette on the diagonal, into about ⅓ inch slices, and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use a pastry brush to rub each slice lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle each with kosher salt. Cook in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Remove from oven, and if you wish, rub each slice immediately with a piece of raw, peeled garlic. Allow to cool completely. The crostini will keep in an airtight container for two days.

Brie and lavender honey crostini: Top each crostini with a very thin slice or spread of Brie. Heat until just melted, then top with chopped almonds or hazelnuts and a drizzle of lavender honey.

Whipped feta and tomato crostini: In your food processor, combine equal parts feta cheese and cream cheese, along with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Spread liberally on each crostini, and top with a classic bruschetta mixture of chopped cherry tomatoes, minced red onion or shallots, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and a chiffonade of fresh basil. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

Prosciutto and goat cheese crostini with caramelized onions: This one takes more time, but your guests will plow through them. Slowly cook sliced, yellow onions in butter and olive oil until caramelized, about two hours. Meanwhile, in your food processor, combine equal parts goat cheese and cream cheese. Spread each crostini liberally with the cheese mixture, then top with a small spoonful of onion and a half slice of prosciutto. Sprinkle the crostini with chopped fresh parsley.

Food on a stick

Individual party skewers are totally on-trend right now. Imagine just about any classic combo of flavors, and there's a way to skewer a deconstructed version onto an easy-to-hold skewer. Skewers keep hands clean and allow guests to walk and nibble with a drink confidently in hand. Sure, they may take a few bites to finish, but they're still a great finger food.

Caprese skewers: Skewer grape tomatoes with a piece of fresh basil and a bocconcini ball of fresh mozzarella. Drizzle lightly with balsamic reduction. Another variation is to make an Italian antipasti skewer with salami, olives, and artichoke hearts.

Chicken Parmesan skewers: Shredded mozzarella is brilliantly added to the panko and Parmesan breading on chicken tenders, then baked in the oven. The tenders are then skewered and ready to be dunked in your favorite tomato sauce.

Maple-glazed apple chicken sausage bites: Food on a stick is even more brilliant when you can actually eat the stick. Slice one package of chicken sausage into bite-sized chunks and roast in the oven glazed with a mixture of maple syrup, sage, and mustard. Skewer each bite with a pretzel stick and serve.

Puff pastry

I always have puff pastry sheets in my freezer. They have endless uses, and I love that I can make most of my puff pastry appetizers ahead of time, freeze them, and heat them up at a moment's notice for last-minute guests. When working with frozen puff pastry, make sure you set it out to thaw at least 30 minutes before you want to use it, and roll it out on a well-floured surface to keep it from getting too sticky.

Pinwheels/palmiers: This is my favorite appetizer; I always make double and triple batches to store in the freezer so I can grab, thaw, and slice just the amount I need. Roll out your puff pastry so it forms a rectangle about one-third larger than when you started. Spread your choice of filling onto the pastry sheet. My faves include artichoke tapenade with shredded mozzarella, pesto sauce with sundried tomatoes, ham slices with sharp provolone ... the list goes on. Roll the pastry sheet like a jelly roll, or roll both ends until they meet in the center for palmiers, and slice the roll into rounds about ½ inch thick. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and brush each round with egg wash. Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

Puff pastry twists: These super-easy puff pastry breadsticks can be made sweet or savory to satisfy everyone's taste buds. My favorite versions are Parmesan and herb, cinnamon sugar, or brown sugar and bacon. The best part is you can bake a premade batch straight from the freezer in a 400 degree oven.

Puff pastry tartlets: Buy the puff pastry tartlet shells, thaw them, and stuff with all sorts of fillings for professional-looking (and professional-tasting) one-bite appetizers. Fillings I love include caramelized onions and Gruyere, cheesy scrambled eggs and asparagus, and chopped roasted root vegetables.

The classics

They're called "classics" for a reason. People love them, and they never go out of style. Here are three classic one-bite appetizers that are sure to be gobbled up quickly no matter the occasion.

Stuffed mushrooms: Add a mixture of cooked crumbled sausage with egg, breadcrumbs, and cheese to the caps of cremini mushrooms. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender.

Angels on horseback: Use canned shucked oysters and wrap a par-cooked slice of bacon around each oyster. Secure with a toothpick. Broil a few minutes on each side, and squirt with fresh lemon before serving. Scallops can be used in place of the oyster. Devils on horseback substitutes a pitted date for the oyster.

Pigs in a blanket, aka, the appetizer that no one wants to admit that they love: Using sliced hot dogs, mini franks, or Vienna sausages, wrap each piece in puff pastry or refrigerated biscuit dough. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until bottoms are browned. If you like, you can make the dough from scratch.