Little Bites and Finger Foods

Everyone has their favorite kind of party food. The little hors d’oeuvres or finger foods are often wicked popular because they’re easy to grab and munch while holding a glass of bubbles and mingling. Besides the recipes below, mini bacon and cheese scones, blue cheese balls, and Sriracha deviled eggs have proven to be some of the most popular mini-bites at our holiday parties for years.

A white plate with three prosciutto-cheese gougeres with a glass of Prosecco in the background.
David Leite
1 of 15

Prosciutto-Cheese Gougères

For these gourgères, I went one better by adding to the batter classic Proscuitto di Parma as well as one of the noble cheeses of Italy, Grana Padano, along with thyme and rosemary to ensure every bite literally explodes with indulgence. Okay, perhaps I’m a little hyperbolic. But these are indeed not your ordinary savory gougères. Indeed, a fine piece of puffery.

These gougères were scrumptious. I was concerned about making the dough, having had limited success in the past when making cream puffs, but they turned out beautifully. This is definitely on our roster, and I will try some of the variations, too. Thanks for a fabulous and original recipe.

Hot artichoke dip in a white pottery bowl with a serving spoon, beside a bowl of toasted bread.
Kim Lightbody
2 of 15

Hot Artichoke Dip

Artichoke hearts are an essential store-cupboard ingredient for me. This recipe is one of my favorites—delicious, quick, and simple to make, it's inspired by my mother. I always serve this at Christmastime, with toasted rosemary focaccia. It is rich, comforting, and everyone always wants the recipe.
A basket of black bean taquitos with lime halves and hot sauce on the side.
Dana Shultz
3 of 15

Black Bean Taquitos

Black bean taquitos. So lovely you’re not even going to notice that they’re vegetarian. But your guests will appreciate the fact. And you’ll appreciate the taste.
Jamie Oliver's Garlic Pull-Apart Rolls on a metal sheet pan, garnished with crispy bread crumbs, and being pulled apart by two hands.
David Loftus, Levon Biss, and Paul Stuart
4 of 15

Jamie Oliver’s Garlic Pull-Apart Rolls

Who doesn’t love garlic bread? And this tear-and-share style is always a winner. I’ve written the recipe for 12 because it’s an easier quantity of dough to work with. What I like to do is make up both pans of bread, then whack one in the freezer, ready to bake another day—you won’t regret it.

The Main Event

You’re not alone if you feel sheer terror when asked to bring a sizable hot dish to a potluck. There’s a reason that no one volunteers to make the main dishes. Fear not. Haul out your trusty slow cooker and drop in one of these hearty mains to keep warm. The accolades that’ll be showered on you will make the effort more than worthwhile.

Looking for more great potluck main-dish options? Consider turkey chili (wicked easy), vegetarian lasagna (healthy-ish), King Ranch chicken casserole (decadent), or pulled pork (lush).

Two tamales on a white plate.
Angie Zoobkoff
5 of 15

Red Chile Pork Tamales

These red chile pork tamales are the real authentic Mexican deal. And they taste as though they were lovingly crafted by the loveliest abuela imaginable, crafted to be slightly spicy with pulled pork. Here’s how to make them at home, step by step.

This tamale recipe is spot on–it’s the way our family has made tamales for decades.

A tray of unbaked bbq meatballs with a set of measuring spoons beside it and a bowl of barbecue sauce in the background.
Jerrelle Guy
6 of 15

BBQ Meatballs

These BBQ meatballs are tossed in the crockpot or oven (translation: no stovetop spattering to clean up) and slathered in a homemade molasses barbecue sauce. Here's how to make them.

The barbecue meatballs were so easy and tasty. Everyone liked them, which is hard in this house! I’ll definitely make them again.

A glazed ham on a cutting board with several slices cut from the end and a carving fork and knife resting beside it.
DK Publishing
7 of 15

Glazed Ham

This glazed ham with brown sugar, pineapple, honey, mustard, and marmalade is a centerpiece-worthy baked ham that we adore for its good looks and classic taste. Easy as can be and impressive as heck. Best cured pork we’ve ever had.

We made this for dinner, and the ham was cooked to perfection, and the glaze really made it spectacular.

A bowl of cheesy mashed potatoes, topped with scallions on a table with turkey and cranberry sauce.
David Leite
8 of 15

Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Soft, creamy, cheesy, and slightly smoky, these mashed potatoes with cheese have everything going for them.
Nashville hot chicken sliders, piled up on a plate with sesame seeds and hot sauce.
Ben Fink
9 of 15

Nashville Hot Chicken Sliders

Long ago in Nashville, the only place to get hot chicken was Prince’s Hot Chicken on Ewing Drive. These days, hot chicken is all the rage in Nashville, and you can find it in a lot of restaurants. I love it all, but Prince’s is still the gold standard for me. These sliders are my nod to Ms. André Prince Jeffries, who still serves up the best hot chicken I’ve ever tasted!

Something Sweet

Without a doubt, the most anticipated part of a potluck is the dessert. People want to nosh several treats, so you’ll be a potluck superhero if you arrive with a tray of Christmas cookies, brownies, bars, truffles, or rum balls.

If you’ve got a crazy-busy holiday schedule that doesn’t include home baking, grab a box of sugar cookies and a can of frosting from your local supermarket and arrange it into a Christmas tree of cookies. People will be so busy oohing and ahhing that they won’t even notice that they’re not homemade. (And you’ll get no shade from me. A baker’s gotta do what a baker’s gotta do.)

A two-tiered platter with rum balls on each tier.
Andrew Scrivani
10 of 15

Rum Balls

These gorgeous rum balls, made with walnuts, chocolate, confectioners’ sugar, and butter, are a Southern classic. A lovely homemade Christmas gift.

These rum balls were so good! In fact, it was hard not to eat them all at once.

In the past, I had made my great-grandmother’s recipe, which used Nilla wafers, but they were always too dry. Not the case with these! It’s so delicious, more like fudge than a cookie.

Assorted shaped lebkuchen decorated with white and chocolate icing.
CICO Books
11 of 15


Lebkuchen are traditional German Christmas cookies that are subtly reminiscent of gingerbread. Although actually we prefer to refer to them as “moments of perfectly spiced cut-out cookie deliciousness.”

This is a lovely recipe…the flavours of the spices, the citrus–even the chocolate in the glaze–all come together in a most appealing way!

Five small tarts filled with orange curd and topped with candied orange slices on a cooling rack.
Ilva Beretta
12 of 15

Orange Curd Tartlets

These orange curd tartlets are classic French comfort food. A riff on the lemon tart that’s ubiquitous in pâtisseries all across Frances.
A loaf of monkey bread--balls of caramel-coated bread dough dripping caramel sauce on a rectangle plate
Zoë Francois
13 of 15

Monkey Bread from Zoë François

This caramel monkey bread is a gooey sweet pull-apart cake made from blobs of brioche dough coated in a caramel sauce made with cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar. It's easy as can be to make from scratch in a loaf pan—and fun as heck to tease apart with your hands.  It makes a great breakfast treat, snack, dessert, or even Christmas morning surprise.
An assortment of chocolate covered pretzels with white and dark chocolate coating and sprinkles.
Sally McKenney
14 of 15

Chocolate Covered Pretzels

These chocolate covered pretzels–made with dark chocolate as well as white chocolate–boast a stunning appearance and a spectacular salty sweetness that’s terrific at parties. Here’s how to make them, whether you want to use rods, sticks, or twists, and whether you want to glam them up or keep them simple.
A slab of red wine cherry cheesecake bars cut into squares.
Sarah Kieffer
15 of 15

Red Wine Cherry Cheesecake Bars

These red wine cherry cheesecake bars are made with a graham cracker crust, cheesecake filling, and boozy cherry swirl. Sorta like your fave diner dessert but with a little sass and sophistication tossed in for good measure. You’re welcome.

Potluck Etiquette

Yup, potluck etiquette is a thing. Luckily, it’s mostly common sense, and it ultimately comes down to being considerate of your hosts and fellow revelers. Follow these simple rules, and you’ll be guaranteed an invitation every year.

  • Remember, there’s a lot more that goes into a potluck than putting food on a table. If you have extra time, offer to arrive early or stay late to help the host set up or clean up.
  • Bring the food that you were asked to bring. If you have to cancel at the last minute, offer to drop off the food. If you have a sudden urge to bring something different than originally planned, check with the host first.
  • Show up on time.
  • Remember that someone organized the event. Bring a small gift or send a thank you note to show your appreciation.
  • If you’re bringing a dish that includes one of the main food allergens, such as gluten, dairy, nuts, seafood, eggs, or soy, label your dish.
  • In an ideal world, your dish should be ready to serve. If you’ll need the oven, microwave, or fridge, check with the hosts before the party to reserve your spot. If you’re bringing something that’ll need to be plugged in, let them know–and bring an extension cord.
  • Offer to leave your leftovers, and do as you’re asked. If you brought your own serving dishes, transfer the leftovers to a plate or a labeled container so that the hostess isn’t stuck cleaning your dirty dishes.
  • Have fun!

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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    1. You could, Jan. It would change the flavor of the rum balls. Perhaps you could try it with one or two and see if you like that combination.