Bite-sized holiday food yields big results

Want to make a big impression at your holiday party this year? Think small.

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Want to make a big impression at your holiday party this year? Think small.

Offering guests a range of bite-sized food can be both easier for the host and more fun for the guests. No one will have time to get bored if they are presented with a variety of tastes and textures.

Lydia France, author of "Party Bites: Easy Recipes for Finger Food and Party Snacks," puts it this way: Imagine going into a bakery with $1 to spend on one treat. Now imagine that $1 will buy you a nibble of eight different sweets.

"The second analogy offers you far more variety, and makes a party more exciting," she says. "Your guests can enjoy sampling a wider range of flavors, whether that means cooking with everything the season has to offer or with food from Portugal, Australia or Turkey, for example."

Her book offers menus for everything from a Christmas drinks party to a "girls' night in" with recipes ranging from miniature drinks (peppered pineapple, coconut and rum shots) to desserts (tiny slices of orange and chocolate cake). Many employ tiny tart shells or shot glasses as serving vessels.

France acknowledges that serving bite-sized party food can be a lot of work unless you keep it structured and uncomplicated.

"Chose your menu well in advance and decide how many bites will be hot and how many cold," she says. "Make things that freeze well in advance and balance the choice of meat-fish-nuts and vegetables. That way you can please your vegetarian sister, seafood intolerant boss and your friends on the Atkins diet all at the same time."

London chef Paul Gayler helps hosts take their guests on a tasting journey through the Americas, North Africa, the Middle East and beyond in his book, "The World in Bite Size." He says little bites of food give both hosts and guests a chance to experiment, though he recommends staying true to one cuisine so the meal has some coherence.

That's just what New York chef and restaurant owner Jason Denton does in his latest book, "Simple Italian Snacks." The recipes are grouped by type of party - from New Year's Day to a backyard bocce tournament - but all are built on the idea that simple and sophisticated are not mutually exclusive.

"This food is perfect for holiday parties because a lot of it can be done the day before with readily available ingredients," says Denton.

Mini panini - a Denton favorite featuring apples, pistachios and taleggio cheese - can be prepped ahead, then grilled just before serving. ("It's like a cheese plate on a sandwich," he says.) Rice balls can be made with leftover risotto. Tiny meatballs can be made ahead and refrigerated, then threaded onto skewers and grilled the next day.

And though his recipes have been rigorously tested, Denton urges readers to view them as a jumping off point to keep their party preparations low-stress.

"The biggest thing is that recipes are more of a guideline," he says. "You have to roll with it. Use fruits and vegetables that are in their prime. Try to do things that are seasonal. That's when you're going to have to do the least to make it taste the best."