(REAL SIMPLE) -- Whether you're hosting a formal party or just throwing together snacks for drinks with friends, we've got ideas for transforming carryout into crowd-pleasing cuisine. Everyone will assume your sink is stacked with dirty pots and pans. (And if you keep them out of the kitchen, they'll never know the truth.)
Start with: A large cheese pizza. (Ask for it unsliced and, if possible, slightly underbaked.)
To make: Avoiding the crust, cut out mini pizzas with round cookie or biscuit cutters. Heat the rounds at 400º Fahrenheit for about 5 minutes. Top with slices of olives, marinated mushrooms, chopped prosciutto, an anchovy fillet, or fresh herbs (such as basil, flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, thyme, or oregano).
Start with: Garlic bread from your favorite Italian spot.
To make: Slather slices with prepared marinara or pesto sauce. Top with goat cheese or mozzarella, a marinated pepper, or an oil-packed sun-dried tomato, then toast in the oven.
Also try: Hummus po' boys. Spread hot garlic bread with hummus and top with coleslaw or lettuce and tomato. Cap with more hot, crunchy bread. Real Simple: How to know when food is cooked just right
Chicken- or shrimp-boat hors d'oeuvres
Start with: Your favorite chicken or shrimp Chinese stir-fry.
To make: Mound spoonfuls of stir-fry into the cuplike center leaves from a head of Boston lettuce. If desired, top the boats with chopped nuts or scallion slices.
Also try: Asian-Mexican fusion. Roll the dish with rice and some soy sauce in a giant tortilla. Slice into single-serving pieces.
Chicken pasta with blue cheese and walnuts
Start with: A golden-brown rotisserie chicken.
To make: Toss thin slices of chicken with hot pasta, crumbled blue cheese, and chopped walnuts.
Also try: Quick chicken salad. Stir Dijon mustard, mayo, and chopped onion and herbs into shredded chicken meat. Season with salt and pepper and spoon onto whole-grain bread for sandwiches. Real Simple: Pasta glossary
Start with: Assorted salad-bar treats.
To make: Arrange Swiss and cheddar cheese cubes, prosciutto and salami slices, marinated vegetables (artichoke hearts, red peppers, mushrooms), mixed olives, and giant capers on a platter.
Also try: Salad bar as personal sous-chef. Make it your source for julienned vegetables, grated cheese, and bite-size meats.
Roasted duck, watercress, and brown rice salad
Start with: Half a Chinese Peking duck (1 order).
To make: Shred the meat and toss it with take-out brown rice and a splash of dumpling dipping sauce (most restaurants will add it to your order at no charge). Top with chopped watercress and scallions.
Also try: Duck crostini. Finely chop the meat and toss it with minced herbs, chopped onion, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Pile the mixture on tiny toasts. Real Simple: Easy fixes for 8 common kitchen mishaps
Spareribs, minimalist style
Start with: A few orders of Chinese take-out ribs.
To make: Simply separate the spareribs, heat, and serve on simple white plates.
Also try: Spareribs with crunch. The glaze on Chinese-style ribs provides the perfect glue for a crunchy coating. Separate the ribs and roll them in chopped peanuts or toasted sesame seeds. Serve hot on a scoop of fried or steamed rice.
Start with: A bucket of chicken, some biscuits, mashed potatoes, and gravy -- all from your local KFC.
To make: Heat the chicken and biscuits in a 350º F oven for 10 minutes, then place in napkin-lined baskets. Put the potatoes and gravy (request it on the side) in your best bowls.
Also try: Chicken dippers. Serve slices of fried chicken with homemade sauce -- yogurt or sour cream with honey mustard stirred in to taste.
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