No Sweat! No Cook Party Ideas

If the thought of throwing a party fills you dread, take heart. You don’t have to know how to make a pineapple upside cake or beef Wellington in order to throw a good party. In fact, you can put together an incredibly nice party menu without having to cook at all.

Let’s face it, there are lots of reasons you might not want to cook for a party. Maybe you have to work late, or it’s too hot, or you don’t have a decent cookbook, or you just don’t know where to begin. Creating an appealing, healthy, delicious no-cook menu for a party is easier than you think.

For starters, a no-cook menu can incorporate fresh items like fruits and vegetables, as well as items requiring little or no preparation, such as dips, and cold cuts. Here are some ideas for a healthful menu that will appeal to children and adults as well.

Hummus and Pita Children and adults love hummus, a Middle-Eastern spread made of ground garbanzo beans and olive oil. Some hummus has additional flavorings such as garlic, sundried tomato, or roasted red pepper. Buy tubs of ready-to-serve hummus in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Serve with crackers, carrot sticks, or bagel chips.

Gourmet breadsticks—These crowd-pleasing appetizers are always a hit and are portable too! Buy thinly sliced Serrano ham or prosciutto at the deli counter of your supermarket. Purchase long breadsticks or grissini at the bakery section of the store. Simply wrap the upper quarter of each breadstick with strips of the meat. The result is a delicious gourmet treat that will disappear before your eyes.

Salmon Board—Buy a whole smoked salmon filet from a supermarket or gourmet shop. Place it on a platter and top with minced red onions, capers, and even chopped hard-boiled eggs. Garnish with lemon wedges and serve with crackers or toast points. This can be assembled in minutes and will make you look like a culinary whiz.

Old-Reliable—Cheese and crackers does not have to be a boring party food. With many shapes, textures, and tastes to choose from, there is a cheese to suit every palate. Try a soft white goat cheese, a sharp cheddar, or a Gouda with a red wax casing. Swiss, Gloucester and Port-wine cheeses, are also attractive and delicious. Choose an assortment of crackers, such as whole wheat, multi-grain, or water crackers to accompany the cheese selections. Arrange artfully on a large plate or platter and be sure to include a knife for cutting the cheeses. Garnish the plate with small bunches of firm red grapes.

Dip and Veggies—Rather than serve potato chips which have zero nutritional value and make you look like a culinary cro-magnon, try serving your dip with veggies instead. Carrot sticks, celery sticks, red pepper slices, jicama slices, and broccoli florets all make excellent dip accompaniments. Buy ready-to-serve baby carrots and pre-sliced celery to save even more prep time. As for the dip itself, if time is short, choose a pre-made dip from the refrigerated section of the grocery store or the deli counter. Spinach dip is an excellent choice, as is the old-standby onion dip. If time permits, you can whip up a quick dip from sour cream and a dry soup mix of your choice.

Homemade Guacamole—Making this quintessential Mexican appetizer is really quite simple. The key to success is choosing the avocados with care. Ripe avocados will yield slightly to pressure. Never buy rock-hard avocados unless you can afford to wait a few days before using them. Cut the avocados in half, remove the seeds, and scoop the flesh into a medium-sized bowl. Mash with a fork until fairly free of lumps. Add fresh lime juice, salt, garlic powder, and hot sauce to taste—it’s that simple! If you would like, you can add extras like minced onion, minced jalapeño peppers, diced tomato, or chopped cilantro. Place an avocado seed in the center of the dip to prevent discoloration. Serve with tortilla chips, including white and blue corn chips for visual appeal.