Last-Minute Party Basics

The doorbell is ringing and it's time to eat. Here are a handful of quick tips for easy eats, including dips, drinks and fast finger foods.

Wait, you didn't realize there was a big party tonight at your place? Maybe it was a last-minute thing, or maybe you forgot. Either way, the doorbell is ringing and here's what you have to do.

Raid the Pantry: Check the refrigerator — do you have sour cream and mayo? Some canned clams or even tuna? Stir it together for a super-fast dip. Open some chips, or cut up some veggies for dipping.

More Dips: Creamy, strong-flavored cheeses like blue cheese also blend well with sour cream and mayo. Don't forget chopped frozen spinach, jarred artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers.

Instant Guacamole: If you've got frozen peas, make "pea" guacamole — toss some frozen peas into a food processor, pulse a few times, finish it with salt, pepper, diced tomatoes and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve with tortilla chips or pita chips.

Cheese Plate Lite: A wedge of cheese with a dollop of jam goes a long way, especially if you have crackers to go alongside.

Cocktails, Anyone?: Beer and wine are totally adequate for a last-minute party, but it's almost as easy to serve a single "house cocktail." Pick one drink and serve it in a punch bowl or from a pitcher.

Go Nuts: Spiced nuts are easy to make, and they last in the freezer for months, so you'll have some for your next last-minute party.

Charcuterie Plate: Cold cuts and pâtés are among a grocery store's fastest finds. Arrange them with jarred cornichons (tangy little pickles), good bread and strong mustard.

Antipasto Platter: Hit the deli section for bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella), a few different kinds of olives, cherry tomatoes and marinated pepperoncini. Arrange them in small bowls for the ultimate in elegance.

Spice It Up: Pop some popcorn and toss it with a combination of melted butter, salt and either Chinese 5-spice powder, Cajun spices or Spanish smoked paprika.

Super Nachos: Canned black beans (rinse before using), canned jalapeños, jarred salsa and shredded cheese over tortilla chips = the easiest nachos ever. Broil for a few minutes and pass around.

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