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Finger Food Fare
by Tanya Pampalone
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 5.6

Finger Food Fare
Simplify life with cocktail parties and canapés.

Think of it. No more staid sit-down dinners. No puzzling cutlery. No more "Tuna Surprise." If every gathering were a cocktail party, guests would be free to chat and move about the room to the beat of Outkast, pose with winsome wine or mellow martinis and heavily channel the Kate Spade lifestyle.

And there’s no better time than a chilly winter night for an easy cocktail-and-canapé gathering. (What, you were gonna barbecue?)

Aside from the cocktails -- and the ability to duck out of boring conversations -- the very best part of the cocktail party is those bite-sized treats -- the easily devoured and much-loved finger food.

I mean, canapés and cocktail parties go together. They just do. During Prohibition, when drink gatherings were driven underground, little tins of fancy foods began to appear in great numbers on grocery shelves across America. Turned out that smoked oysters, olives and anchovies made the perfect accompaniment to booze. Thanks to those lawbreaking pioneers, our hors d’oeuvres have since evolved to delectable heights -- though I think the basics still rule.

Aside from their convenience, finger foods allow you to have fun at your own party. Fun at your own party? Got your attention, eh? Yes, you can prep and assemble your entire menu the day before and spend the day of the party preparing yourself. Imagine!

Pasquier, chef at Mignon (a hopping French bistro in Plano, Texas), has a few tips for the holiday host, along with a hand-to-mouth menu for a crowd of 24 that’ll make you the talk of the cocktail party season. (In a good way. Promise.)


Feta Artichoke Dip

1 lb. feta cheese
2 lb. cream cheese
1 lb. chopped canned artichoke hearts (not oil-packed)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
2 T garlic
8 oz. chopped fresh spinach

Soften cream cheese to room temperature. Sauté onion, garlic and artichokes until soft. Add spinach and wilt, then remove and cool. Place feta, cream cheese and spinach, and artichoke mix in food processor or standing mixer with paddle attachment and blend until well mixed. When ready to serve, bake in ceramic or glass dish in microwave until warm. Serve with pita crisps.

Roasted Eggplant Caviar

4 large eggplant (about 4 lb. total)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 T sugar
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 T sesame oil
2 T toasted sesame seeds
1 t ground cumin
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
4 scallions finely chopped
1 t chopped fresh garlic
Juice of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut eggplant in half and rub with oil. Place on baking sheet cut side down and bake until soft and sunken, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set out to cool. Scoop out eggplant pulp and place in bowl. Place remaining ingredients in non-reactive sauce pan and bring to boil. Add all ingredients to food processor and purée. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with drizzle of olive oil and serve with pita chips.

Roasted Garlic Hummus

6 heads roasted garlic
2 15 oz. cans chickpeas
4 T fresh lemon juice
6 T tahini (ground sesame paste)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 t kosher salt
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 cups warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice tops of whole garlic and place in glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and cover with foil. Roast garlic 30 minutes or until tender. If the mixture is too dry, add water to aid in puréeing. Season with salt and pepper to taste (add more lemon juice to taste). Serve at room temperature with pita crisps.

Asparagus Prosciutto Straws

24 asparagus spears (woody ends trimmed)
6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if frozen
6 T melted unsalted butter
12 thin slices prosciutto (about 8 oz. total)
4 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Blanch asparagus until tender crisp. Place in ice water and drain. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place 1 sheet of phyllo on dry surface. Keep remaining phyllo covered with slightly damp towel. Brush sheet with melted butter and sprinkle Parmesan over entire surface. Cut into 4 rectangular squares. Line up prosciutto along one short edge of the rectangle. Place asparagus spear with tip exposed and roll up; seal with butter. Place on nonstick baking sheet pan. Brush entire surface of phyllo with more butter. Bake until golden brown, 5-8 minutes. Serve whole or cut into bite-size pieces.

Smoked Salmon and Chive-Dill Cream Cheese Roulade on English Cucumber Slice

16 oz. container whipped cream cheese at room temp
1/4 cup chopped dill, 48 small sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup chopped chives
Chopped zest and juice of 1 lemon
16 oz. sliced smoked salmon (or 24 slices)
48 1/4 inch slices of English cucumber (roughly 2 to 2 1/2 large English cucumbers)

Mix cream cheese with chives, dill, lemon zest and lemon juice. Spread thin layer of cream cheese mix evenly end to end on one slice of salmon. Roll up end to end. Finish with remaining salmon and chill in refrigerator 1 hour to harden. Slice each roulade in half with sharp knife dipped in hot water. Place 1 piece of salmon roulade on cucumber and garnish with dill sprig.

Stuffed Mushrooms With Herbed Goat Cheese

24 large button mushrooms
2 T butter
2 T chopped garlic
2 large shallots chopped
1/2 cup chopped parsley
12 oz. herbed goat cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean and rinse mushrooms. Remove stems and chop fine. Set aside. Melt butter in pan and sauté stems with garlic, shallots and parsley. Cook until liquid has evaporated. Place warm mushroom mix in bowl, and mix in goat cheese and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, toss mushroom caps with salt and pepper and olive oil to coat. Cover with breadcrumbs. Stuff each mushroom with mix and place on cookie sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes. Serve warm.

Shrimp Salad on Endive

1 lb. cooked bay shrimp (chopped)
1 T chopped tarragon
1 T chopped chives
3 T Dijon mustard
5 T mayonnaise
Juice of 1 large lemon
4 heads Belgium or red endive
Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients, except endive, in mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Assemble 1 T of shrimp salad on base end of endive leaf. Serve on platter.

Spiced Pita Crisps

16-20 slices pita bread
1 cup olive oil
1 t cumin
1 t coriander seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut pita into bite-size triangles. Toss with olive oil in large bowl, and dust with cumin and coriander seeds. Lay evenly on cookie sheet and bake 10 minutes or until crispy. Serve in basket or bowl with dips.

COCKTAIL PARTY TIPS

  • Canapés have to be bold. You’re just going to have one bite of something, so it should be something memorable. It’s got to have a lot of pow!
  • Have at least five choices. Don’t just do all seafood or meat. Try two vegetable, two seafood and one meat. Be kind to your vegetarian friends.
  • No skewer food. You don’t want people gnawing off a stick forchristsake! And keep your guests’ hands clean -- stay away from grease-laden nibbles. You and your sofa will thank me later.
  • Make a cheese platter. Get one or two cheeses and display them separately with a grape leaf and gourmet crackers. DO NOT bunch cheeses together on the same plate, touching each other. Initiate a cheese caste system.
  • Use small bowls and change them every half hour. That way your buffet always looks sexy (and you can show off all your bowls).
  • If you have a wood table, show the wood, baby. Too many linens looks dated. If you have a festive runner, use that with, say, silver trays at different elevations so your guests aren’t just looking at a flat table of food.
  • Garnish your table with something natural. Sprinkle it with fresh whole nuts, pinecones or candles. But don’t put the patchouli rose scented candle next to your dip. Save the scents for the bathroom.
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