Entertaining Made Easy: Store-Bought Frozen Hors D'Oeuvres We Love

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Growing up, my family made pretty much everything from scratch and a big sit-down meal was the main event of any gathering. From what I remember, "hors d'oeuvres" consisted of crudité with dip and a bowl of black olives that I liked to stick on all my fingers and eat off one by one. If we were lucky, we had shrimp cocktail or Grandma made crockpot meatballs. Maybe that was just how things were done back then. Or maybe it was because entertaining wasn't such a "thing" in suburban Indiana.

Fast forward to 2014: the age of snacking, small plates, and amuse-bouches. Hors d'oeuvres have become as—if not more—important as the main course. But even though greeting guests with sophisticated small bites may be the ultimate host move, sometimes it's just not feasible to make them from scratch. When my schedule is busy, frozen hors d'oeuvres can be a major lifesaver. Most don't take more than 20 to 30 minutes in the oven—just enough time to finish getting ready and have a glass of bubbly while I wait for people to arrive.

Unfortunately, the stuff inside the box doesn't always live up the picture and description on the front. Actually, most of the time it doesn't. How's a host to choose? I rounded up 20 of the most promising holiday-friendly hors d'oeuvres I could find, cranked up the oven, and did the dirty work for you, so you'll know which boxes are worth your dime.

The Criteria

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So what makes for a good hors d'oeuvre? It should taste amazing, of course, but it should also be easy to eat with your fingers and unobtrusive. Translation: it doesn't result in an embarrassing this-just-exploded-onto-my-dress-while-I-was-trying-to-have-a-conversation moment or the awkward we-just-met-and-don't-know-how-to-eat-this-or-even-how-to-fit-it-in-my-mouth-in-one-bite situation. I was also looking for appetizers that browned nicely in the oven and achieved a perfect crispy-crunchy texture—no gumminess or soggy bottoms, please!—and a balanced flavor that will appeal to any crowd. While all our picks are best hot out of the oven, I also tasted them 20 minutes later to make sure they held up well. And I only considered products that wouldn't break the bank (once you get into the really expensive ones, you might as well hire a caterer); we only tasted options that cost $15 or less for a minimum of eight servings, though most boxes actually cost less and contain more.

Note: If you're planning to serve several options at the same time, it's a good idea to streamline your prep with a simple oven temperature strategy. Rather than ending up with one box that says 350°, two that say 400°, and one that says 450°, try to pick products that all cook at the same oven temperature (or no more than a 25 degree difference) so you can stick them all in the oven together.

Our Picks

Trader Joe's Camembert Cheese and Cranberry Sauce Fillo Bites

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These were hands down our top pick. The mini phyllo dough egg-roll shape is irresistibly cute, and quickly bakes up light, flaky, and crispy. The filling pairs creamy-savory Camembert cheese with bright, sweet-tart cranberry preserves. Unlike the other gooey cheese options we tried, not much of the cheese leaked out during baking, so you get a perfectly balanced cheese-to-fruit ratio in every bite.

Suggested Oven Temperature: 375°

Whole Foods Market Mini Quiche Trio

Three different classic flavor options—three cheese, mushroom, and spinach Florentine—in one box is a good start. With a smooth, creamy egg base, and delicate, buttery crust, these tiny quiches were another crowd-pleaser. They're totally chic when served on a large white tray, and they're easily the kind of thing you can pretend you made from scratch, if you're so inclined.

Suggested Oven Temperature: 375°

Trader Joe's Spinach & Kale Bites

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Earthy kale and mild spinach are balanced with salty Parmesan cheese and a coating of crunchy panko. The veggie interior is just moist enough without being wet, and they're the perfect size to pop in your mouth whole. Not sure about kale? There's no bitterness here— the filling is light, faintly sweet, and pleasantly cheesy. We're confident vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will be satisfied with this pick.

Suggested Oven Temperature: 375°

Whole Foods Market Spinach & Cheese Spanakopita

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The phyllo dough bakes up light and flaky, but the filling is the real star here: creamy, tender spinach with plenty of tangy, melty cheese (a mix of feta, ricotta, and cream cheese). Onion, garlic, and dill give it an herbaceous kick, for a vibrant, fresh-tasting flavor. If you're looking for a spicier, more adventurous option, try Saffron Road's Crispy Samosas with Saag Paneer, a runner-up in the spinach-and-cheese category.

Suggested Oven Temperature: 375°

Whole Foods Market Tandoori Chicken Samosas

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A lot of the meat fillings we tried tasted dried out or tough, but not these samosas. The shredded chicken—spiced with onion, garam masala, ginger, garlic, and cilantro—s moist and tender thanks to yogurt and lemon juice. And it's plentiful (there aren't any big air pockets here.) The thick turnover-style shell bakes up to a crisp-yet-tender crumb.

Suggested Oven Temperature: 400°

Honorable Mention: Seapak Shrimp Spring Rolls

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I'm a huge seafood lover, but frozen seafood appetizers are often fishy, with an unpleasant grainy texture. While none of the seafood options we tried made it into our list of favorites, the best one by far was Seapak Shrimp Spring Rolls (available in most grocery stores nationally), which deserve an honorable mention if not a full-blown recommendation. The eggroll wrapper baked up crunchy-flaky and the filling (baby shrimp and veggies) was mild and tender. With a homemade soy dipping sauce, they would probably do the trick if you want a seafood option on the cheap; you get 16 decent-size spring rolls—about 2 to 3 bites each—in each box for $12.