16 Easy, No-Cook, Cocktail Nibbles

In an excerpt from his latest book, Ted Kennedy Watson makes a case for nibbles vs. hors d'oeuvres and offers up the easiest of cocktail party nibbles from classics to inspired novelties.

Centerpiece made of a line of single red and yellow dahlia blossoms down center of table.Ted Kennedy Watson introduces his new book, Ted Kennedy Watson’s Guide to Stylish Entertaining (Gibbs Smith 2022), with a clear mission. “The basis of this book is to show you how to not let perfection hold you back from entertaining. It is the number one reason I hear from folks why they don’t host guests in their home often. My goal is to show page after page of entertaining made fun, easy, and doable. Table settings, flowers, recipes, tips—an entertaining guide.”

If you read Ted’s blog, have ever visited his Seattle stores, Watson Kennedy, or read about his homes, you already know that relaxed, stylish simplicity is the philosophy for his decor and celebrations. Stir that with years of joyful entertaining and you have the makings of a wonderful guidebook. From formal table settings to Friday night pizza and martinis, every type of gathering and every element is considered and shared in a distinctly TKW way. The book presents a reason to celebrate—or eliminates an excuse not to—on nearly every page.

In the excerpts that follow, Ted makes a case for nibbles vs. hors d’oeuvres and offers up the easiest of cocktail party nibbles from classics to inspired novelties.

Bowl of marinated olives and cheese on blue and white platter, a simple no-cook cocktail nibble
Ted encourages setting little bowls of nibbles like goldfish crackers, cashews, or in this case marinated olives and cheese, here and there.

What Is a Nibble?

I prefer to use the term nibbles over hors d’oeuvre for a host of reasons. The first is the spelling. I think I am a reasonably good speller, but the H word always has me searching on Google for the proper spelling. Secondly, I do think the H word has a place, but I think of it as being more formal, like when food is passed at a cocktail party. Nibbles fit the bill when you are just putting out a quick and easy assortment of things to have with cocktails before dinner. Put out some nibbles, make your guests a drink, and watch the conversation start to flow.

Function: noun
Date 1658
1: an act of nibbling.
2: a very small quantity or portion; also, snack.

Large silver bowl filled with potato chips, a classic no-cook cocktail nibble
Potato chips served in a big silver bowl make a super high-low nibble for your cocktail party.

The Easiest No-Cook Cocktail Nibbles

I remember once reading about a well-heeled gentleman who said all that was needed to host a good cocktail party was to open a can of peanuts. I loved that. What he was getting at was that folks often fret about what to serve and the amount of work, so they don’t invite friends over for drinks. Silly! Here is my list of store-bought goodness that will make you look like a pro without breaking a sweat. Serve in your prettiest bowls and on your most fetching platters. Then sit back and enjoy your fête!

  • Potato chips, in a big silver bowl. Super high-low. Tim’s and Cape Cod are favorites.
  • A piece of Beecher’s Flagship cheese next to the best crackers you can find.
  • A big wooden bowl of truffle-salted popcorn.
  • A platter with an opened tin of sardines, a dollop of Dijon mustard, a pile of French cornichons, and a stack of Triscuits. (Thank you to Chef Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune. This is our go-to party snack.)
  • A bowl full of pitted Castelvetrano olives.
  • A platter with a sliced baguette and a dish of tapenade.
  • A silver bowl of cashews warmed with a sprig of rosemary. Your home will smell heavenly.
  • Open-faced tomato sandwiches with cherry tomatoes, alongside a bowl of chunky Maldon sea salt.
  • Goldfish. Julia Child’s and my husband’s favorite.
  • Pistachios with the shells on, with a bowl for the shells next to them.
  • Pecans warmed with sprinkle of brown sugar.
  • Olives with bowl for the pits. A variety of both size and color, always a lovely sight.
  • Carrot sticks next to a dish of store-bought hummus.
  • A platter of sliced salami, sliced cheddar cheese, and a sliced baguette.
  • Store-bought pigs in a blanket—trust me on this one—along with small bowls of ketchup and mustard.
  • Caprese on a toothpick. Cherry tomato, basil, and a small ball of mozzarella.
Ted Kennedy Watson Guide to Stylish Entertaining book cover

By Jason Burnett

Photography and text excerpts from Ted Kennedy Watson’s Guide to Stylish Entertaining (Gibbs Smith, 2022) courtesy of Gibbs Smith. Photography by Ted Kennedy Watson

Follow Ted on Instagram to see more of his style and entertaining tips.

Don’t miss our feature on Ted’s Vashon Island getaway, WestWard.