The wonderful thing about New Year's Eve is that you don't necessarily have to serve a big meal like you do on Christmas Eve or Christmas.

Most people are perfectly happy to snack on hors d'oeuvres all night. The bad thing is, making a bunch of different appetizers can be an exhausting project and not the best way to close the year. The last thing you want to be doing is slaving in the kitchen all night, frying up cheese sticks and assembling crostini.

Never fear. By making judicious use of local resources, you can put out a fabulous, celebratory spread with minimal effort. Call it a New Year's Eve for the lazy host.

The most obvious, easy answer to the menu conundrum is to have it catered, of course. Westport's Garelick & Herbs offers an impressive New Year's Eve menu that includes delicious nibbles, such as caviar, crab puffs, filet of beef on garlic toast, tempura asparagus and chicken empanadas.

If you're not averse to actually turning on the oven, Cinch, a recently opened gourmet market in Fairfield, has several substantial options.

More Information

THE SCOOP Garelick & Herbs: 1799 Post Road East, Westport; 203-972-4497; www.garelickandherbs.com Cinch: 85 Mill Plain Road, Fairfield; 203-256-1164; www.cinchfood.com The Pantry: 1580 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-259-0400; www.thepantry.net Trader Joe's: 2258 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-330-8301; 400 Post Road East, Westport; 203-226-8966; www.traderjoes.com

"People really like the old stand-bys," owner Shawn Russell said.

These include things like spring rolls, tuna skewers, chicken satay and stuffed mushrooms.

If you've got money to burn, The Pantry in Fairfield has a selection of frozen appetizers, such as bacon-wrapped scallops ($16.95 for 12) and lobster, crab and leek tartlets ($19.95).

Or you could be like the rest of us and go to the purveyor of all things tasty and budget-friendly, Trader Joe's. I can't seem to remember what I did for parties before Trader Joe's came along, because it doesn't get any easier than this. Seven-layer dip? They have it. Flaky, pastry-based appetizers stuffed with various meats, cheeses and seafoods? Yes, indeed.

And, of course, you can't miss the cheese. This year, Trader Joe's has a "Brie and Blue" package which includes the two types of cheeses and a knife on a wooden cutting board. Add some crackers or bread and a bottle of wine and you've got an instant party.

But let's say you want to put in a little more effort. I polled friends about what their favorite easy appetizer recipes are.

Dips top the list. All kinds of dips: bacon, pizza, shrimp, spinach, even something called White Trash Dip (both bacon and chili are involved). No doubt about it: sour cream and cream cheese are king when it comes to appetizers.

Then there's the whole crock pot contingent, which encompasses some sort of meat (kielbasa, mini hot dogs, meatballs) combined with a sauce, often made from a bizarre combination of ingredients (grape jelly and ketchup, or sauerkraut and cranberry sauce are two that I've seen repeatedly). I've learned, particularly with these crock pot creations, that it's best to just eat first, ask questions later.

It seems like every year there's one very easy recipe that makes the rounds at all the holiday parties. One year it was artichoke dip. Another time it was Buffalo chicken dip.

This year, I predict the standout recipe will be something called "Pineapple Stuffing." I had it last weekend at a party and, fortunately, I followed my rule and didn't inquire about the ingredients until after I'd tasted it.

Turns out it's basically lots of butter, sugar and pineapple, with some white bread thrown in for good measure. I can't advocate it from a health perspective, but what it lacks in nutrition, it makes up for in sweet deliciousness.

Westport resident Jerri Graham, owner of Nothin' But Snack Bars, offers good advice for the host who would like to actually enjoy the evening, rather than curse the kitchen.

"I am not a fan of fancy," she said. "Food and entertaining should be totally about enjoying your guests and having a good time. When you're running around worried about if everyone has enough or is satisfied, you lose your chance of having a good time. Large pots of warming food, pieces of hearty bread, salad with a simple vinaigrette and ice cream makes for the perfect New Year's Eve celebration."

Now that sounds manageable, yet fun.

"As the princess of keeping it easy, I make it super simple by rarely entertaining," Graham said. "But back in the day when I did, I would do curry. I'd buy these great curry mixes from the Asian grocery store that were packed full of flavor.

"For meat eaters, I'd make a huge pot full of beef curry and for the vegetarians in the group, I'd make ones with potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables that would withstand long simmering.

"This is so simple, filling, and has the taste that you've been slaving all day when it's just great, simple food. I'd always make a rice cooker full of Jasmine rice and have a ton of Japanese beer on hand. Great mango chutney is also a must."

This New Year's Eve, whether you go as simple as a few different cheeses and dips or a more elaborate spread, the goal is to keep things easy.

"If you're doing appetizers, it's best to limit it to about five different ones," Russell said. "Otherwise, you have too many plates and a kitchen that's a nightmare. The last thing you want to be doing is the dishes at 2 o'clock in the morning."

Contact Patti Woods at

eatdrinkshopcook@gmail.com.

THE SCOOP

Garelick & Herbs: 1799 Post Road East, Westport; 203-972-4497; www.garelickandherbs.com

Cinch: 85 Mill Plain Road, Fairfield; 203-256-1164; www.cinchfood.com

The Pantry: 1580 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-259-0400; www.thepantry.net

Trader Joe's: 2258 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-330-8301; 400 Post Road East, Westport; 203-226-8966; www.traderjoes.com