For Haylie Duff, a night in with her girlfriends is the perfect way to unwind during the busy holidays. "I take a laid-back approach to entertaining," says Duff, 28, who started her blog—and wrote her new book - The Real Girl's Kitchen because "I feel at home when I'm cooking as I do in front of the camera." To make sure she has plenty of time to spend with her guests, Duff offers a selection of finger foods, many of which can be made ahead of time. "Big dinners are old-school and require too much clean-up and preparation," says the actress, who favors "fresh bites filled with herbs and vegetables. Asparagus can be trimmed, dates can be stuffed, and mushrooms can be washed the night before." Then all that's left to do is put them on "beautiful platters" alongside "pretty cocktails and holiday napkins." Just remember to prep yourself for the party too. "A few years ago I was still in sweatpants when people arrived, and I was super-frazzled," she recalls. That doesn't happen anymore. Now, by the end of the night, "everyone is dancing. I know it's been a success when my friends ask to crash on the couch," she says. "They don't want to leave!"



MUSHROOM & HERB CROSTINI

Makes 24 appetizers

1 French baguette, cut in ¼-in. slices

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup Gruyère cheese, grated

1 tbsp. butter

5 cups mixed mushrooms, coarsely chopped

½ cup white wine

1 tbsp. tamari

Sea salt

¼ cup each chives and flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Truffle oil (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Brush both sides of baguette slices lightly with olive oil. Arrange on baking sheet; bake 8 minutes, turning after 4 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn oven to broil.

2. Sprinkle baguette slices with cheese; broil just until cheese melts.

3. Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, wine and tamari; cook, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates. Season mixture to taste with sea salt.

4. Spoon mushrooms evenly over baguette slices. Garnish with chives and parsley. Drizzle with truffle oil, if desired. Serve immediately.



BACON-WRAPPED DATES

Makes 24 appetizers

24 pitted dates

3½ oz. blue cheese, softened

2 tbsp. heavy whipping cream

12 slices thick-sliced bacon, halved crosswise

Wooden picks

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Slice dates lengthwise ¾ of the way through; remove seeds.

2. Stir together blue cheese and cream in a small bowl. Spoon small scoops of cheese mixture evenly into dates; press edges of dates together. Wrap bacon strips around dates; secure with wooden picks. Arrange dates on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.



Haylie's Spicy Brandy Alexander Makes: 1 serving

Combine 2 tbsp. brandy, 2 tbsp. dark crème de cacao, 2 tbsp. half-and-half, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of ground cinnamon in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker 2/3 full of crushed ice; cover, and shake vigorously. Strain mixture and pour into a chilled martini glass. Add ½ tbsp. cinnamon-flavored candies; dust with ground cinnamon.



ASPARAGUS & PROSCIUTTO CRESCENT ROLLS

Makes 8

16 asparagus spears

1 (8-oz.) package refrigerated crescent rolls

8 slices prosciutto

2/3 cup grated Asiago cheese

Honey (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Trim ends of asparagus spears about 3 inches. Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into 8 triangles according to package directions.

2. Layer prosciutto slices and cheese evenly over dough triangles. Top each triangle with 2 asparagus spears. Roll up loosely, beginning at large end of triangle. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.

3. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Drizzle with honey, if desired.