If you've been knee-deep in Christmas preparations for weeks and only now are catching a breath and beginning to think about New Year's, welcoming 1986 with a party may sound appealing, but the idea of spending the next two days in preparation probably doesn't.
No better time than now for some quick-and-easy recipes. Whip up those old "tried and trues" that everyone still raves about. Add a few that maybe aren't quite as familiar but need only a minimal amount of preparation.
A few tips to keep in mind when planning an express menu:
--Include one or two hot recipes, rounded out with cold items.
--Offer a selection of different types of food--meat, seafood, cheeses and/or vegetables. And don't forget to include some sweets.
--Choose a variety of textures, flavors and colors: crisp crackers and vegetables, creamy spreads or dips, firm and soft cheeses. Contrast mild with spicy hot flavors; multicolored vegetables and sauces accent meats and cheeses.
--Although many appetizer recipes are finger foods, a stack of small plates, along with plenty of napkins and decorative wood picks, need to be available.
--A wise host doesn't place everything on the table at once; better to hold back some food for replenishing. Another idea is to bring out something different as the party progresses. This is an especially good idea at New Year's Eve parties when guests arriving at 8 or 9 p.m. will appreciate a change of pace by midnight.
Perusing The Times' Food files and asking staff and friends about their favorite speedy appetizers unearthed a bounty of ideas. These recipes are short on effort, but not on taste. Many are deceptively simple, and after being attractively garnished they appear to have taken far more than the actual preparation time and effort.
Proof of this point--Cream Cheese With Assorted Toppings. It would be difficult to find an easier recipe, yet the visual effect is impressive. Three toppings are suggested: mild chile salsa, seafood cocktail sauce with small shrimp and chutney with toasted slivered almonds. Pickapeppa sauce, steak sauce and pepper jelly are other easy ideas.
Frozen puff pastry is the key to preparing Kielbasa en Croute in just minutes. This convenient product is also used for miniature Pastry Puffs filled with Curried Turkey Salad, Ham Salad or Cheese Filling. Remaining dough may be cut into tiny shapes, baked and sprinkled with powdered sugar for an addition to the sweet tray.
Dips may not be everyone's cup of tea, but a list of appetizers would be remiss without at least one. Spinach Dip is an old favorite and an excellent foil for vegetables. Update it by using some of the tiny whole vegetables, so popular now, as dippers. Another old favorite, Ham Pinwheels, never lasts long on the table, so be certain to make plenty.
The flavor of Bourbon Franks continues to improve as the tiny frankfurters stay warm in a chafing dish or fondue pot. This is certainly a plus when the party is expected to last for several hours.
Seafood can be highlighted in Layered Crab Spread or Shrimp Toast. One is served cold--the other warm--so choose whichever fits into the overall plan. And what Southern California party would be complete without some south-of-the-border influence. Quesadillas and Chile Con Queso may be old standbys, but always are appreciated.
Choose from these suggestions, add some of your favorite recipes, then round out the menu with a selection of cheeses, fruit and crackers. And check your local delicatessen for some other interesting additions.
So there's still time to welcome 1986 with a party for good friends and family. The Los Angeles Times Food department wishes you a safe and happy New Year. CREAM CHEESE WITH ASSORTED TOPPINGS
3 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese
2 tablespoons mild chile salsa
2 tablespoons seafood cocktail sauce
1/8 pound tiny shrimp
2 tablespoons chutney
1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds
Top 1 package cream cheese with mild chile salsa, second with cocktail sauce and bay shrimp and third with chutney and toasted slivered almonds. Serve as spread for bread and crackers. Makes about 24 appetizers. KIELBASA EN CROUTE
1/2 (1-pound 1 1/4-ounce) package frozen puff pastry
1 (7-inch) piece kielbasa sausage
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tablespoon water
Allow pastry dough to thaw at room temperature 20 minutes. Unfold carefully on pastry cloth. Cut off 1/3 of dough lengthwise along fold.
Place kielbasa at left edge of large section of pastry dough. Spread lightly with mustard. Roll dough, encasing sausage. Combine egg yolk and water and use to seal edge and ends of dough.
Cut remaining dough into thin strips with pastry wheel. Brush with egg wash and wrap around pastry-covered sausage in criss-cross pattern. Place on baking sheet covered with foil, dull side up.
Bake at 425 degrees 25 minutes or until golden brown, draining fat from baking sheet as necessary. Serve with additional mustard. Makes 12 to 16 appetizers. PASTRY PUFFS