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Easy Peasy: Impressive 5-Minute Appetizers

Appetizers can be surprisingly complicated. Conventional wisdom tells us that a cocktail party is easier than a sit-down dinner, which is true to a certain extent. But in our foodie culture, appetizers have risen to the level of high art and can require as much prep and presentation as a gourmet main dish. Rarely does a hostess mean chips and salsa when she says, "Just bring an appetizer or snack." That's the thing, appetizers can mean so many things! Some people think of passed hors d'oeuvres and some people think of a frozen box of wings.

So, what to do? Whether you're contributing an appetizer or playing hostess, these delicious nibbles allow you to quickly impress and move on to mixing (and imbibing) cocktails. Here are some tried and tested 5-minute appetizers.

Pepper jelly and cream cheese on crackers

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The name is pretty much the whole recipe. Spread a little cream cheese and a little pepper jelly on a cracker, I find them tastiest on your run-of-the-mill Ritz. You want it to be a buttery cracker and nothing too delicate so it will stand up to having cream cheese spread on it. These sound not too impressive but they go so fast and everyone always asks for the "recipe." And pepper jelly is kind of exotic, and usually comes in red or green which is very festive! (Pepper jelly is becoming more common, but not all regular grocery stores carry it, so give yourself some time before the party to make sure you can find it or order it off the Internet.)

Prosciutto wrapped asparagus

I thought of this as a side dish for a long time, but it works equally well as an appetizer as long as you have some little cocktail napkins next to the platter as they can leave fingers messy. This is another item that goes so fast at parties and has everyone asking how I made them. Simply take some fresh asparagus and trim them. (The rule is to bend one in half until it breaks and that is the point where you should cut off the stems.) Then wrap them in prosciutto you have sliced thinly at the deli (most delis have it). Toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and either grill in the summer or roast in the winter. Put them in at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. (I suppose this makes them more than a 5-minute app, but the prep work is only 5 minutes.)

Hummus with "homemade" pita chips

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I hate to get all Sandra Lee on you, seriously I hate her, but these pita chips are pretty much her catch phrase "semi-homemade." This is sort of a store bought "recipe" with some special efforts that come together to make it better than the sum of its parts. Buy your favorite hummus. Lots of nicer stores have a hummus bar, so go ahead and splurge on a fresh made one. Then buy some regular pitas. Each one makes about 8 chips so do the math for your party. Then get either some nice olive tapenade or a selection of yummy olives from the olive bar. At home cut the pitas into triangles, the way you would a pizza. Brush with olive oil (no, not vegetable oil, not canola oil, this has to be olive oil). Put on a baking sheet and broil for about 3 minutes until warm and just verging on crispy. Serve with your olive accoutrements and this is the difference between having hummus and pita chips at home and the hummus plate at a restaurant. Yours will be restaurant quality and delicious!

Brie with fig jam

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Almost everyone loves brie. Not everyone might know they love figs. And everyone in the world has to be introduced to the fact that they need to love brie topped with figs. Super easy, almost no prep, though, again, the baking portion takes longer than 5 minutes. The first option is the easiest: Many cheese shops or gourmet stores with a well-stocked cheese counter will top a round of brie with beautifully cut figs for you. If you don't have time or proximity to make a special trip, simply buy a round of brie and the best quality fig jam you can find at the grocery store. Place the brie in an oven-safe dish, pile on the fig jam, bake for 20-30 minutes until when you surreptitiously poke a knife into the brie it oozes out all warm and yummy. When it's ready, make a few cuts so the brie and figs are ready to be loaded onto little toasts you've either made or bought for this purpose.

Avocado toast

You may not think of this as an appetizer, but anything that can be cut into small pieces is an appetizer my friend. And this avocado toast recipe is to die for, unsurprising since it is adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow's It's All Good cookbook. You'll need mayo, a few avocados, some good whole grain bread or maybe some bagels, a fresh lemon and salt. Slice and toast your bread or bagels under the broiler for a few minutes. While that's going on peel and slice your avocados. When the bread is done, spread with mayo, top with avocado slices, salt and a squeeze of lemon. Cut up into bite size pieces and serve! So delish.

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