I love parties -- of the cocktail, holiday, birthday, anniversary or wine and cheese varieties -- and one of the things I look forward to at these parties is the spread of appetizers. The hors d'oeuvres, starters, nibbles, noshes and crudité are what often determine how good a party really is -- that, and the beverage selections. But occasionally I get tricked into attending group gatherings with awful eats, a problem that usually results in me pretending to chew things, smiling and then leaving early to eat some good food -- at my house.
Here are five appetizers I hate seeing -- and eating -- at parties. Don't be the host or hostess everyone remembers for serving lousy entertainment grub.
5. Dates crammed full of cream cheese I'm sure at some point, probably sometime in the mid-'90s, these appetizers were cool, but they aren't anymore: They are the social diseases of parties. Taking plump, sugary dates and pumping them full of rich, smoodgy cream cheese isn't the worst hors d'oeuvres idea -- keep reading this list and you'll see that one -- but it's far from the best because no matter how hard you try to avoid it, the sticky, wrinkly brown bits get stuck on and in-between your pearly whites, and you get little cream cheese dabs everywhere -- and if the dates they are prosciutto-wrapped and grilled, it gets worse. There is absolutely no classy, un-messy way to eat the ones bound with charred, salty ham, because upon being heated, prosciutto binds like bailing twine. Trying to loosen it with your teeth in front of other people is an unsightly tug-of-war that you are destined to lose -- badly. 4. Hot Velveeta dip I see a crockpot at a party, I stare at it in dread because I can feel the near-fatal levels of sodium from across the room. The ceramic bucket is inevitably full of half-watery, half-congealed, cracked-top tepid guck with enough salt in it to numb your gums, with the bonus of cheap, generic brand salsa in lieu of Ro-tel. Being chintzy with the cheese dip ingredients is the significant difference between getting bits of spicy tomato and green chiles, and getting those tough little rolls of boiled tomato skins that rub against your tongue. And then there's the transport problem: Has anyone in the history of modern civilization managed to carry a paper plate of cheese dip and chips across a crowded room and not dabbed themselves or someone else with sticky doobers? 3. Pigs in a blanket Whoever created pigs in a blanket should be dug up from their cold, dark grave and their bones dumped in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot. These biscuit-wrapped wieners have the ignominious honor of being just as revolting store-bought or homemade. It doesn't matter what sort of wieners are used -- whether they are Vienna sausages (weird, salty and drippy) cut-up hot dogs (all-beef ones produce copious amount of stinky grease), turkey hot dogs (foul, drippy processed meat sweat), little smokies (double-cooked fake smoke tastes like cigarette butts) or grocery-store kielbasa links. These pemmican-like tubes contain more fat than meat, and leak into the biscuit blanket, adding an extra-special layer of clear grease to blend with the yellowy butter grease, so that it's nearly impossible to hold one in your fingers without non-consensually softening your cuticles. Don't believe me? Next time you see one on a tray at a gathering, wring it and watch the drip...drip...drip... 2. Store-bought vegetable and fruit trays Don't get me wrong: Fresh-cut fruits and veggies are a welcome respite, and often an effective palate-cleanser after all the hot, meaty, salty, cheesy starters. But store-bought? Cutting up celery and carrots isn't exactly difficult or time-consuming, and the already-made trays just scream "I was too shittin' lazy to take a paring knife to some apples, and you and your party aren't worth even the slightest amount of effort." Those trays usually sit around in a bin for a while, too, long enough for the celery tips to turn brown and woody, and the baby-cut carrots to get that parched, white skin. And time is never kind to cubed melons, which usually end up with square corners turning round with mush while water fills up the plastic tray compartments -- yum, right? 1. The magical mystery balls It's inevitable -- at parties ranging from backyard barbeques to family reunions to baby showers and even some "classy" wedding receptions -- there will be a cheeseball, phalanxed by Ritz crackers. If you are lucky, the ball will be rolled in some topping that is easily recognizable, like chopped parsley or bread crumbs. If not, you have to get up close to really eye-savor the coating of rubbery nuts or dried cheese nubbets. Lopping off slices of these balls with serrated, plastic knives and trying to rub them on a cracker usually ends up eater-0 and food-1.
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The base of these balls is cream cheese, but beyond that it's anyone's insane guess what else is in them -- ham, cheese, raisins, cat litter, bones -- and they always taste and smell like onion. All kinds of onion. Onion gives you death breath, makes you blast foul winds from your hinderparts, and makes your pits sweat toxic fumes -- three things you don't want at a party.