Haven't I convinced you that itty bitty hors d'oeuvres are not the way to go? That big bowls of pasta are far less stressful? No? You think things on toothpicks are cute? Sigh. Okay. You people are masochists.
I kid, I kid. Sometimes even I catch the appetizer bug and need to make lots of tiny food. The urge makes no sense, but cannot be denied. And when done right, finger food can make for a very fun party. Here are a few tips to help you through.
Things on toast are great but don't get carried away
It's no secret that bread fills people up. "X on toast," as I call it, is also a cheap and endlessly versatile way to feed people at a cocktail party. But people will get bored after eating one too many riffs on bruschetta. As you can see, for my dad's recent birthday party, I made a traditional tomato bruschetta with a thin schmear of ricotta on baguette slices. It was easy to make, tasty, and the only bread on the menu. Choose one thing to put on toast and stick to that.
Platters are your friends
Assemble a big platter of something delicious in advance, and you'll thank me later. You could choose antipasto, cheese, pickles, whatever you and your guests enjoy. The platter will give hungry guests something to descend upon immediately, and will buy you some time while you finish making your crab-stuffed cherry tomatoes or whatever other tiny, fussy thing is on the menu.
People like meat!
After a party, sometimes people have finger food remorse--feeling bad for filling up on insubstantial things like chips and onion dip. By offering some solid protein, your guests will not only actually get full (preventing sloppy cocktail-induced behavior) they will feel like they've had an actual meal. It's psychological, folks. Some ideas: beef or chicken satays, chicken liver pate, Swedish meatballs, chicken wings, mini beef empanadas, or the always-in-fashion pig in a blanket. Seafood counts too: don't forget shrimp cocktail, mini crab cakes, gravlax, baccala.
But don't forget vegetarians
It's tempting to add bacon to everything. But being considerate of vegetarians (and your guests' arteries) is part of being a good host. I advise against the all-too-common hummus and cut-up vegetable tray. To me, it reads as I-forgot-you-were-vegetarian-here-eat-some-hummus. Make the effort and try something different. A selection of roasted vegetables is a surprising alternative to the usual plate of raw crudite. Fondue has retro appeal and is something guests can actually fill up on. Homemade guacamole is always welcome, as are interesting salsas. You could serve little squares of firm polenta topped with any number of sauteed vegetables or cheeses. I also like stuffed mushrooms, mini latkes, spiced nuts, and big bowls of flavored popcorn.
Serve a mix of hot and cold
Don't make yourself crazy by serving only hot food. It's not necessary and will keep you in the kitchen the entire time unless you have a staff of helpers churning out the food. There are two strategies that have worked for me. One: make a buffet of hot and cold food that can also be eaten at room temperature. That way, you can leave things out for the entire night without worry. Two: alternate hot and cold dishes by serving them in stages. Start off the night with a big cheese plate and some chilled shrimp, then bring out some hot stuffed mushrooms, then some room temperature bruschetta and deviled eggs, then another hot dish, and on and on until your guests are happily sated.
Don't go crazy
The goal is for everyone to have a good time and yes, leave the party full. But this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. You don't need to serve 100 different kinds of appetizers. Depending on the number of guests, about five different types of items will usually suffice. Supplement with chips and dip, nuts, olives, and other store-bought goodies and everyone will leave happy. And if the idea of finger food scares you too much, by all means, just serve a big bowl of pasta. It works for me!