Jordan Cindric, left, and Kim Elmore dip vegetables into Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, served in a ceramic bowl from Ubaldo Grazia at the Paula Brown Shop.
When you think of hors d’oeuvres, what image comes to mind?
Retro classics like deviled eggs and pigs in blankets? Maybe elegant shrimp cocktail and raw oysters? Or perhaps sweet and salty bacon-wrapped dates or blue cheese-stuffed apricots? How about stuffed mushroom caps or spicy, saucy cocktail meatballs?
Any and all of these can be on the menu. And they will be welcomed whether you’re hosting a tree trimming or gift wrapping party, New Year’s Eve festivities, or other events this holiday season.
Hors d’oeuvres are also nice to serve before a special meal, to whet the appetite without ruining it and to give you a bit more time to finish preparing your entree without leaving your guests feeling ravenous.
Hors d’oeuvre is a French phrase that means “outside of the work” or, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “apart from the main work” of the meal. Small, usually bite-sized taste treats, they have been popular since the days of ancient Greece and Rome, without losing their charm in the 21st century.
Parmesan-Herb Almonds and Za’atar and Toasted Sesame Seed Popcorn, served in Simon Pearce glass bowls at the Paula Brown Shop bar.
In the mid-1860s, the word appetizer was coined in England and in the United States as an alternative to the French term that can be difficult to pronounce and nearly impossible for many people to spell. Regardless of which term is used, they are always a huge hit.
Cookbook author Ina Garten, the former owner of gourmet foods emporium the Barefoot Contessa, is a gracious woman who enjoys entertaining at her beautiful home in East Hampton, NY. Watching her shows on the Food Network, in which she is inevitably preparing dishes for guests who are about to arrive, one longs for an invitation to a dinner party or cocktail hour.
What advice does she have for those who are trying to sort through the myriad, mind-spinning array of choices for hors d’oeuvres?
Mrs. Garten doesn’t think hosts should be running to and from the kitchen, unable to mingle with guests, so items should be ready to serve as the doorbell rings. And she doesn’t want hors d’oeuvres that require two hands, such as something to be eaten with a spoon or a fork, as this leaves no hand free to hold a drink. She also likes to serve a variety of foods: protein, starch, vegetable.
Nothing has to be difficult, unless you want to serve something dazzling and complex. Just set out a tray of tempting tidbits, like an assortment of cheeses with crackers or a variety of olives. And be sure to take advantage of lovely items in jars, such as pickles, and convenience items to use in assembling no-cook options.
Paula Brown, owner of the Paula Brown Shop, 912 Monroe St., loves to throw parties. The PUB at her store – a full service bar – has hosted ice cream socials during the summer, as well as champagne and other wine tastings throughout the year. Another fun event is a Shop and Sip, during which customers can nibble on appetizers and desserts as they peruse the displays.
“It doesn’t have to be elaborate,” Mrs. Brown says of the food offered at a party. And even something simple like chips and dip can be elevated if served in a gorgeous bowl made of crystal, just as plain finger sandwiches can look glamorous on a hand-painted ceramic plate.
Chili Cheddar Crostini, served on a Revol basalt plate at the Paula Brown Shop in Toledo.
A good rule to follow is this: try not to serve anything terribly messy. Phyllo dough and puff pastry make beautiful, flaky treats; but these shatter as you take a bite, shedding like dandruff unless the item can be popped into your mouth whole. Also try to be aware of allergies and food preferences, offering items suitable to various tastes and needs.
Don’t hesitate to ask your guests to bring something, ensuring an appetizing array of options. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life ... and of parties. Serve some treats that are a bit substantial and others that are lighter, some that are hot or zesty to contrast with others that are chilled or more tame.
There really is no need for a lot of muss and fuss when preparing hors d’oeuvres. Even Julia Child, the beloved cooking maven, “put out Goldfish crackers, not foie gras or canapés, to nibble on,” wrote New York Times food writer Julia Moskin in a recent profile. She didn’t want to be bothered fiddling with complicated pre-dinner snacks.
Because, after all, what’s the most important ingredient at any gathering?
Enjoying time with your guests, of course.
Tomato Mozzarella Skewers, served on a Vietri Old St. Nick plate.
Smoked Salmon Cucumber Slices
2 English cucumbers
1 7.5-ounce container prepared smoked salmon dip
Trim ends from cucumbers, then peel off strips along the length to give a striped appearance. Cut each one into 16 slices, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange on a serving tray.
Scoop or pipe dollops of the smoked salmon dip onto each slice. Garnish each with chives and serve.
Yield: 32 servings.
Source: Mary Bilyeu.
Za’atar and Toasted Sesame Seed Popcorn
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon melted butter
4 cups prepared popcorn
2 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon za’atar spice mix
Pinch of kosher salt
Combine oil and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add popcorn; stir to coat. Combine sesame seeds, za’atar, and salt; sprinkle over popcorn and stir to coat.
Note: Za’atar is available at Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Yield: 4 cups.
Source: Mary Bilyeu.
Black-Eyed Pea Hummus
1 15-ounce can plain black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup of tahini
4 minced or roughly chopped cloves fresh garlic
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon mild or smoked ground paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, for garnish
Cut vegetables, for serving
Mash or process the black-eyed peas in a food processor. Mashing makes for a chunkier hummus, while processing makes for a smoother dip. Pulse for about 15 seconds at a time until the peas are broken down. Continually scrape the processor so that everything gets mixed in. (You may choose to reserve a few black-eyed peas as a garnish or to vary the texture. A few will work for a garnish, but for texture add a half a can of whole-black eyed peas to your mashed or processed mixture.)
Mix the olive oil and tahini together with a whisk. Turning the hummus into a mixing bowl, drizzle this in a bit at a time until everything is incorporated. Add the lemon juice, garlic, paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, sugar, and hot sauce and mix well, adding more to taste if necessary. Remember, black-eyed pea hummus swallows flavors, so you may have to adjust the seasonings.
Transfer the black-eyed pea hummus to a bowl. Sprinkle with the fresh parsley and sesame seeds. Drizzle with extra olive oil if you so choose. Serve with vegetables, for dipping.
Yield: 1-1/2 cups.
Source: Adapted from Michael W. Twitty, afroculinaria.com.
Roasted Parmesan-Herb Almonds
3 cups raw almonds
Scant cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon herb seasoning
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner.
In a medium bowl, beat egg; add almonds and stir to coat. In a small bowl, combine cheese, garlic powder, seasoning, and salt; pour over the almonds and stir to coat.
Place the almonds on the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes. Stir, then bake for another 10 minutes. Let cool, stirring to separate any almonds that are stuck together, then serve.
Yield: 3 cups.
Source: Mary Bilyeu.
3 Pepper Blast Dip
1 12-ounce jar Sable and Rosenfeld 3 Pepper Blast
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Corn chips, for serving
Blend the 3 Pepper Blast with the softened cream cheese. Once blended, stir in the cheddar; place into a decorative serving bowl. Serve with corn chips.
Note: Sable and Rosenfeld 3 Pepper Blast is available at the Paula Brown Shop. Salsa may be substituted.
Yield: 2-1/2 cups.
Source: Sable and Rosenfeld.
Chili Cheddar Crostini
40 plain bagel chips
8 ounce block sharp cheddar cheese
Raspberry Ginger Stout Jammit Jam
Lay bagel chips out onto a serving tray.
Cut cheddar cheese in half lengthwise, then cut each strip in half crosswise to form 4 equal portions. Cut each piece into 10 slices. Lay one piece of cheese onto each bagel chip. Place a dollop of jam onto each piece of cheese.
Note: Jammit Jams are available at the Paula Brown Shop.
Yield: 40 crostini.
Source: Adapted from Paula Brown.
Tomato Mozzarella Skewers
1 8-ounce container mini marinated balls of fresh mozzarella
1 10-ounce container cherry tomatoes
Remove stems from tomatoes. One by one, skewer a tomato onto a decorative toothpick, then skewer a ball of mozzarella; place onto a serving plate.
Yield: 18 to 20 skewers.
Source: Mary Bilyeu.
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