As we're right in the midst of the holiday season, it's time to think of celebrations of all types. One of the best parts of a holiday party is often the food we share with others before the big meal. Those appetizers and hors d'oeuvres that grace the table can sometimes be the main hit of the celebration.

Food experts say when creating party apps, hosts may experiment with various flavors in assorted recipes, prepare food items with themes or simply create whimsical, fun hors d'oeuvres that are easy to eat. "Appetizers are fun to share," says Andrew Easterday, chef owner of Little Italy in Dyer. Easterday says when people get together for a party, you'll often find they "gather around the food." So, having appealing hors d'oeuvres is ideal. Easterday says one of the recipes he enjoys as an appetizer is what he calls Eat Your Veggies. It's a roasted vegetable dish that features Brussels sprouts, Parmesan cheese, bacon, onion, cauliflower and more. "This time of year lends itself to rich comfort foods and roasted flavors," he says.

Easterday also suggests a sweet corn appetizer which can be roasted in the oven, sprinkled with cayenne pepper or other seasonings and cut in pieces or wheels. Other roasted vegetables, such as beets, paired with pistachios or other ingredients, he says, can make good appetizers. "Once you find a good dish, it's easy to repeat," the chef says, adding it's those favorites that are best to feature for a celebration. At Little Italy, Easterday serves a risotto fritter that he says also makes a good party appetizer. The chef has also made a braised short rib tart recipe for parties, which, he says, is a "good crowd pleaser."

According to Toula Klideris, co-owner with her family of Theo's Steaks and Seafood in Highland, appetizers can run the gamut for parties. "People like variety," she says. Klideris suggests serving dishes such as bruschetta and hickory shrimp for celebrations. Both dishes are also on the menu at Theo's. "And a bruschetta is also good because of the colors for the holidays," she says, referring to the reds and greens of Christmas. She says mixing the tomatoes with perhaps a sprinkling of cilantro and/or parsley and adding a variety of other ingredients is perfect for the season.

"I also like hickory shrimp," she says. Instead of just slathering shrimp appetizers with cocktail sauce, she adds, "kick up the flavor" a bit by adding a hickory-flavored sauce. Klideris says making cheese-puff or strudel hors d'oeuvres is also popular. Ribs, meatballs and even saganaki, which is flaming cheese, can also make for good party food and can be turned into appetizer portions. She says enjoying party conversation over appetizers is always something many revelers look forward to.

The following recipes for party apps are from Easterday and Klideris.

Eat Your Veggies

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets

Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved, blanched in boiling water for 2 minutes, shocked in ice water, then drained

1/2 red onion, julienned very thinly

5 strips bacon (cooked and cut into 1-inch pieces)

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 6 lemons)

1 cup grated Parmesan

Salt and pepper, to taste

Parsley, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil in oven to get hot. In a mixing bowl, toss together the cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, oil, salt, and pepper. Dump contents onto hot cookie sheet and roast in oven for about 12 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until veggies are caramelized but not burnt. Remove from the oven and toss with the lemon juice and red onions. Once the veggies are nicely coated, toss in the Parmesan cheese and bacon. Garnish with more Parmesan and chopped parsley (optional).

-Recipe from Little Italy in Dyer

Bruschetta

Ingredients

(All ingredients are diced and added to taste)

Roma tomatoes

Fresh garlic

Basil

Extra virgin olive oil

White onions

Directions

Mix the diced ingredients thoroughly and place on slice of toasted bread cut from a baguette.

-Recipe from Theo's

Hickory Shrimp

Ingredients

(Add ingredients to taste, depending on how sweet you'd like it)

Hickory sauce 

Ketchup

Brown sugar

Worcestershire sauce

Cider vinegar

BBQ spice

Shrimp, whatever size you'd like

Directions:

Mix the ingredients together. Toss shrimp with sauce, grill and serve.

-Recipe from Theo's

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