NAPLES — Holiday season means parties, planning, organizing, shopping, wrapping, taping and cooking. It can also mean last-minute guests and last-minute invitations.
Appetizers can be the answer, and they're easy to make when you buy things that can be quickly embellished at home to give them a do-it-yourself look and taste. You can also make dinner festive during the holiday season when you serve some easy-to-make small bites before sitting down to the dinner table. It will give you time to catch your breath and to have family interaction before the meal is served.
If you need hors d'oeuvres for a cocktail party when dinner won't be served, the rule of thumb is approximately 12 pieces per person. Party giving and going will be fun with these easy, last-minute appetizers:
Quick and cold
Fruit is something most people enjoy and the cut-up fruit at all local supermarkets can be put on skewers and served on a platter with a fruit dip. It's colorful, enjoyable and something that you can make in a New York minute if you buy it ready-sliced.
Most supermarkets also have specialty cheese department that offer big pieces of Cour Royale Brie to serve with cut-up apples, pears or dried fruit or fig preserves and crackers.
Swan River offers cocktail shrimp that will disappear faster than a rabbit in a magician's hat. Add your own cocktail sauce made with white horseradish and ketchup and you have a winner. This restaurant also has blue crab salad that you can serve with crackers or scoop out the seeds of cherry tomatoes and fill them with the salad. Or if you prefer get the salmon or trout pate.
Visit Randy's Fish Market and Restaurant to get its lobster or smoked grouper dip ready to put in a dish to serve with crackers.
If meat is more your style the chopped liver at Fresh Market tastes just like your grandmother used to make, and its French Round crackers in original garlic Parmesan or garlic toasted are thick enough for most dips. The tapas bar has fresh mozzarella cheese that can be served on toothpicks with grape tomatoes and bay leaves — or indulge in some of the feta-stuffed green olives.
Heat, greet, eat
Browse the fish department at Publix and you'll find Spence & Co. Smoked Salmon Petit Fours that only have to be heated. Here is where you will also find Phillips Mini Crab Cakes that are ready to serve after warming.
Look in the frozen food section to find Cohen's mini beef franks in puffed pastry. These have to be baked, but are always popular, especially if there are youngsters at the party. Pair them with mustard and you are all set.
For ethnic epicures
If you want to give your party a Mediterranean theme visit Old World Market. This is the place to get every kind of Greek cheese — hard, strong or mild — nd a variety of spreads. You can also get Vava fig or other fruit preserves to serve with the cheeses. Papadopoulos Krispies (a hard cracker) pairs wonderfully with any type of cheese or spread.
If you want something with homemade flavor, try the market's Bella or Apollo cheese or cheese and spinach spanakopita. They come in a spiral you can heat in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. When baked take out of the oven and cut into small pieces, and hear everyone saying "Opa" after one bite.
The taramasalata, a caviar-blended spread made with olive oil and lemon, will make a great presentation as a dip. Don't forget the tazatiki (a tangy cucumber and garlic dip) to use as a tasty vegetable dip or to spread on crackers. You can go to the store's website at www.oldworldmarket.info/ for recipes.
The chef's solution
Chef Alexander Bernard of Alexander's Restaurant demonstrated easy festive holiday recipes at his December cooking class on Saturday. Everything was delicious and all were easy, but the Parmesan cheese tuiles topped with a heirloom tomato salad and the baked potato pancakes were standouts.
Bernard was willing to share his recipes with Naples party givers and goers:
PARMESAN CHEESE TUILES
2 cups grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese (buy a hunk and grate it
yourself, the cheese already grated is too dry)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grate the cheese and make little piles on a cookie sheet lined with
Bake the cheese until golden brown and remove from oven.
Place the tuiles on a serving plate.
2 small Heirloom tomatoes, different colors, seeded, diced small
6 leaves basil, julienned
2 tablespoons red onion, minced
Lemon, to taste
Olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine ingredients and gently toss together.
Place a small amount in the middle of each tuile and serve.
8-10 mini pancakes
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large Yukon gold potato, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon shallot or leek, julienned
1 teaspoon parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Mix all the ingredients in bowl.
Add butter and oil in a large nonstick saute pan.
When pan is hot add the potato mixture in little piles, keeping a space between each pile.
Place the pan in the oven and bake until golden brown on both sides, approximately 15 minutes.
Top with smoked salmon and caviar or serve with sour cream or applesauce.
Where to shop
■ Alexander's Restaurant, 4077 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 239-262-4999
■ Old World Market, 2800 Davis Blvd., Naples, 239-692-3020
■ Randy's Fishmarket Restaurant, 10395 U.S. N., Naples, 239-593-5555
■ Swan River Seafood Restaurant, 3741 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 239-403-7000
■ The Fresh Market, 4129 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 239-430-2444; 27251 Bay Landing Drive, Bonita Springs, 239-390-5948; and Bell Tower Shops, 13499 S. Cleveland Ave. (U.S. 41), Fort Myers, 239-454-1053