When a friend of mine recently asked if I'd make some food for our church's Christmas party, I immediately said yes. It was ladies-only, so I figured it would be an intimate affair, maybe 25-30 people max. A couple of easy hors d'oeuvres, a few desserts, no biggie. A couple of days before the event, I found out that over 50 people had RSVP'd. OK, still doable, but suddenly I had to start thinking like a caterer. I didn't have loads of time to cook on the day of the event, so I planned a menu of simple appetizers that I could either make in advance or throw together last minute.

Living in a fifth floor walk-up apartment makes catering quite a workout. First there's the grocery shopping and the lugging of bags up all those stairs. Then there's the prep in my kitchen and the re-packing of all the food–plus any kitchen tool, pot, pan, or cutting board that I think I might need at the venue. And then–my favorite part–there's the challenge of getting a cab. I can't tell you how many times I've hobbled down the block, bags hanging off every single appendage, trying desperately to flag down a cab (which all seem to be off-duty at that particular moment!). Once in the cab I can breathe a huge sigh of relief until I arrive at my destination–and then the lugging begins all over again.

This week was particularly hilarious, as the cabby dropped me off a block and a half from my destination. When I told him that the building I needed was actually on the other side of Sixth Avenue, he screamed at me for not giving him proper directions and ordered me out of the cab. I sighed, paid, and grabbed my 8 bags, 3 sheet trays, and large cutting board, and dragged myself–slowly–back across Sixth Ave. This, I reminded myself, is why I rarely cater anymore. It's not the planning, shopping, or cooking that gets to me–it's the schlepping!

Once in the kitchen, of course, all was well. I unpacked, got the ovens cranking, and started chopping, stuffing, wrapping, and baking. I had made my Tuscan White Bean Dip in advance, and I sliced up a bunch of crudités for dipping: red and yellow peppers, fennel, carrots, endives, and sugar snap peas. I made my classic Bacon-Wrapped Dates, assembled a cheese tray with some tapenade and crackers, and sliced up some Old-Fashioned Gingerbread with a bowl of lemon curd for drizzling. Last, but not least, I made my all-time favorite wintry appetizer: Tarte Flambé, an Alsacian flatbread of sorts, with onions, creme fraiche, bacon, and grated Gruyere cheese.

Not only is this combination of flavors absolutely irresistible, but it's so easy to make: there's no pre-cooking the bacon or onions–everything's just sliced, arranged on the dough, and baked in hot oven for 15-20 minutes. (Of course you can make your own dough, but for time's sake I usually buy pre-made.) It's equally delicious as an hors d'oeuvres (sliced into small squares) or for dinner, served with a big green salad. It's also versatile: you can make it with pizza dough or puff pastry, use white or red onions, bacon or pancetta, and add a sprinkling of herbs (I love rosemary). The other night I made four tartes and there was not one piece leftover. Glad I snuck a couple bites in the kitchen...