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appetizersPlanning appetizers doesn't have to be hard. A little forethought can go a long way and help make party day a breeze. Keep these tips in mind when put your appetizer plans into action.

Dips and Spreads
Dips that contain sour cream and cream cheese can be made 2-3 days ahead of time. This is beneficial, as it allows the flavors to mingle while in the refrigerator. Stir once or twice a day to distribute the flavors and keep in a covered container.

Chop Chop
Vegetables such as celery, carrots, radishes, and zucchini can be chopped or sliced several days ahead of time and kept in sealed plastic bags or covered containers. If fresh herbs are called for, these can also be chopped, snipped or minced and kept in sealed plastic bags. Hard cheeses, such as cheddar, and semi-soft cheeses, like Gouda or Havarti, can be sliced the day before and stored in plastic bags or covered containers.

Little or No Prep
Some finger foods do not require any preparation such as olives, small pickles, pepperoncinis, grapes, nuts, cherry tomatoes, and crackers. Individual slices of deli meats can be rolled up and placed on a tray with party sized rye or sourdough breads.

How Much To Make
Making too much or not enough can create waste or hungry guests. When planning what to make, figure on roughly 7 appetizers and 3 desserts per guest. Be sure to factor in any additional items that your guests might be contributing. Having some disposable leftover containers with lids are handy for sending home treats with guests.

Oven Space
Some appetizers may require baking as most of your dessert options will as well. If the item is to be served at room temperature, such as brownies or cookies, make them a day ahead and store in a covered container. Save the oven space for the day of your party for the items that need to be served warm, such as potato skins or chicken dippers.

The Crockpot
The slow cooker can be a wonderful space and time saver. Use it to keep chili warm or to make your Swedish Meatballs. If you need more than one, ask a friend or party guest if they have one you can borrow.

Aside from simple human curiosity and wanting to know what's in a recipe, some people are allergic to certain foods. It's a good idea to label your appetizer and dessert plates. A simple index card cut in half with the name of the recipe written on the front or possible allergenic ingredients can be quite helpful (contains nuts, Shrimp Cocktail, etc) and appreciated.

While most appetizers are finger foods, toothpicks, plastic forks, miniature paper plates, and cocktail napkins are essential. Strategically place these in a few different areas. Ideally you will have them at both ends of the display table and in a couple places where people will be congregating. Keeping some where your guests gather will save them from having to go back to the table if they forgot to grab some.

If you don't offer some sort of receptacle for trash, your coffee table and other areas will end up cluttered with empty plates and wadded up napkins. While you don't want large garbage cans sitting in your living room, medium sized baskets lined with foil or grocery store plastic bags work great. They are small enough to be placed on tables and will look fine.

Clean as You Go
While no one wants to spend the entire party cleaning and washing dishes, going through and doing a quick sweep every half hour or so can keep your appetizer area looking neat. Utilize your dishwasher if you have one, to keep dirty dishes out of sight.

A little planning can go a long way to making your get together a great event.

Try some of these tasty appetizers, dips, spreads and party foods:

Potato Skin Nachos
Crunchy Zucchini Sticks
Chicken Nuggets
Bisquick Corn Dogs
Cocktail Meatballs
Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce
Nacho Rounds
Southwest Nachos
Veggie Bites

Texas Cheese Dip
Hot Salsa
Chili Cheese Dip
Creamy Crab Dip
Egg Salad Cheese Spread

Texas Ribs
Three Alarm Chicken Wings
Oriental Chicken Wings
Crock Pot Chili
Crockpot Jambalaya
Corn Bread Pizza

Almond Cake Bars
Baby Ruth Candy Brownies
Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Squares
Chocolate Marshmallow Squares
Peanut Butter Bars
Red Raspberry Cookie Bars

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