Cocktail Hour – the best bit!
Personally, I love the drinks and appetizers part of the evening. The bit before dinner, when everyone is arriving and mingling. In our house, cocktail hour tends to be a relaxed, drawn out affair, leaving some guests a little anxious that dinner will never be served. I also encourage guests to be fashionably late, to not stress about arriving on time, a British concept that works well with a long cocktail hour. I am discovering however, that for Danish guests, being on time is part of their essential make up. Suggest a starting time of 7.30, and they will be ringing the doorbell at 7.29!
Of course, for some, a drinks party is only appetizers. Personally, I always have a bit of ballast reserved for the later part of the evening, something more substantial when guests get a little peckish. And of course dessert of some description. However, in this post I am going to offer suggestions for quick and easy appetizers, suitable for the early part of the evening, ones which require no last-minute cooking and are served cold or at room temperature.
Appetizers for everyone!
When putting together appetizers, try to have something for everyone. Consider the vegan, gluten-free and lactose intolerant as opportunities to be creative. But also remember the meat loving ones too. If I am throwing a party and ‘real’ food is being served later, I generally have four different appetizers. When I was catering, and I was serving only appetizers, I would offer at least seven or eight different ones. I think it is more fun to have a smaller number of each appetizer and once they are gone, they are gone!
Play with Presentation
The old adage, that we eat with our eyes first, applies equally well to pick up food. I like to serve appetizers on selection of pretty boards and plates. I also love to decorate the plate with something seasonal. In summer, I will use a small bunch of flowers or herbs tied with cooking string or raffia. In winter, it its great to use evergreens from the garden, I love a sprig of red berried holly for Christmas!
In America, cheese is served at the beginning of the evening. Something I found very strange to begin with, then totally loved as time went on. In Great Britain, cheese comes at the end of a meal, whilst in Europe it tends to appear between the main course and dessert. To be honest there is no wrong time for cheese as far as I am concerned. In Darien I only ever really bought cheese from the Darien Cheese Shop. One of the joys of catering, was having a chance to visit Ken, Tori and the rest of the gang on a regular basis.
For the perfect cheese board suggestion click here. Whenever you serve it, decorate the board with fresh fruit such as grapes, figs, pears and strawberries, a good choice of crackers and some jams or chutney. Remember to give each cheese its own knife!
Figs with goat cheese and prosciutto
A perfect combination of sweet figs and salty goat cheese wrapped in parma ham. Surprisingly delicious!
- Dried figs, I like the black mission figs
- Goat cheese, the soft, spreadable kind
- Parma ham slices, cut into quarters
- Step 1 Trim the fig and cut into two
- Step 2 Spread a little goat cheese, around 1/2 tsp, on the cut side of the fig
- Step 3 Wrap the fig and goat cheese with the parma ham.
Feta. watermelon and rocket with balsamic glaze
When I was catering in Darien I sometime worked with 'real' chefs and loved learning new ideas and recipes from them. This recipe comes from my friend Liz, who also worked at Trader Joes. I think this appetizer was one of the ideas used at their demo counter. Visually pleasing summer appetizer, again playing on the sweet and salty theme. This time totally vegetarian, gluten-free and, if made with sheep's milk feta cheese, suitable for lactose intolerant guests. Balsamic glaze is usually found next to the vinegar. I know Trader Joe's stocks it.
- Feta cheese, cut into cubes
- Watermelon, seedless is best, cut into cubes
- Balsamic glaze
- Cocktail sticks
- Step 1 Thread each cocktail stick with a cube of watermelon, a piece pf rocket/arugula and a cube of feta cheese
- Step 2 just before serving, drizzle with a little balsamic glaze
A fabulous retro appetizer, which is still as popular today as it was in the seventies. Turns out the recipe for deviled eggs dates back to Roman times (thanks Wikipedia). Who knew? Eggs are hard-boiled, the yolks are scooped out and mixed with mayonnaise and mustard, then the resultant mixture is piped back into the hollowed egg whites and dusted with paprika. My fondest memory of deviled eggs is bringing them to a party when we first arrived in Darien. The gorgeous Kate, ex Air Hostess, swooped in and took the plate and started passing the eggs around at the party. It was the start of a wonderful friendship based on, among other things, a love of food and a built and desire to serve! Suitable for vegetarians, gluten and lactose intolerant.
- 12 large eggs
- 4 tbsp mayonnaise, maybe more
- 1–2 tsp English mustard
- salt and pepper
- ¼ tsp paprika, plus extra for dusting
- few drops Tabasco, optional
- Step 1 Cook the eggs by placing them in a pan and covering them with water.
- Step 2 Bring the water to a simmer, then boil the eggs for around six to seven minutes. Run the pan under cold water until the eggs are cold. Shell them immediately, and cut each egg into half.
- Step 3 Scoop out the yolks and, once cool, add them to a bowl with the mayonnaise, 1 tsp of mustard, paprika, salt, pepper and some tabasco.
- Step 4 Mix to a smooth paste, adding more mayonnaise if need be. Adjust seasoning, adding a little more mustard if desired.
- Step 5 You can either just scoop teaspoons of the mixture back into the egg whites or pipe them using a piping bag and star-shaped nozzle.
- Step 6 Arrange the half eggs on a plate and dust with paprika. Old Bay seasoning would work too.
Blue Tortilla Chips, Guacamole and Corn Salsa
This is a total cheat appetizer that I love. I am not sure how easy it is to find the ingredients in the U.K. or Denmark, but in Darien, Trader Joe's (I miss you) stock all you need. This would work with regular corn chips and some chopped tomatoes instead of the corn salsa. Vegan and great for gluten-free. Check the chips are gluten-free if that is an issue.
- Blue Tortilla Chips
- Guacamole, ready-made
- Corn Salsa
- Step 1 I put my guacamole in a piping bag which allows me to make these chips very quickly. Scooping with a teaspoon would work too.
- Step 2 Arrange chips on a platter.
- Step 3 Top with a dollop of guacamole and a little corn salsa
Seafood Salad with Caviar on Endive
I used to make these little appetizers with mini lobster tails that could be found in the freezer section of Trader Joe's or fresh at Costco. If I could not find the mini lobster tails, then shrimp or prawns worked too. The endive give a lovely crisp texture and also makes this gluten-free. The caviar is a nice touch but not necessary. I bought a relatively inexpensive jar, we are talking caviar, as I loved the pop of color. Perfect for a special occasion.
- Lobster tails, shrimp or prawns. Cut into half-inch pieces if large
- The sauce is a classic Rose Marie Sauce using
- 3 TBS mayonnaise
- 1 TBS tomato ketchup
- Large squeeze of Lemon Juice
- Few drops Tabasco
- Dash of Worcester Sauce
- To serve
- Step 1 Defrost seafood if frozen and remove as much moisture as possible using paper towels (kitchen roll).
- Step 2 The amount of sauce required will depend on the amount of seafood, so adjust quantities so that the sauce just covers the seafood.
- Step 3 To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients and then adjust for lemony flavor and kick.
- Step 4 Mix enough sauce with the seafood to just cover.
- Step 5 Trim endive leaves and arrange on a platter.
- Step 6 Spoon a little of the seafood mixture onto the stem part of the leave.
- Step 7 Decorate with a little caviar if using and a sprig of dill.
Peach with Prosciutto
Super easy summer appetizer using seasonal peaches or nectarines wrapped in prosciutto
- Perfectly ripe peaches or nectarines
- Parma ham, cut into strips
- Cocktail sticks
- Step 1 Slice peaches or nectarines
- Step 2 Wrap with prosciutto
- Step 3 Secure with cocktail stick
This is a slightly more substantial 'appetizer', or first course, possibly easier to eat if there are seats. Serve with lots of crusty white bread and maybe a little dipping oil. Can be made ahead and assembled at the last-minute. Perfect for an Italian themed evening.
- Red and yellow pepper
- Baby Tomatoes
- Parma ham or some other Italian cured meats
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Step 1 Wash and slice the Courgettes/Zucchini and Eggplant/Aubergine on the diagonal.
- Step 2 Cut the peppers into large pieces after taking out the core.
- Step 3 Trim the asparagus.
- Step 4 I use a ziplock bag or a large container and marinate the sliced vegetables and asparagus in some olive oil, salt and pepper and oregano.
- Step 5 Outdoor grilling is the best way to cook the vegetables, or if you have a ribbed pan you can use that. Both methods will give you those lovely stripes.
- Step 6 If you have neither, then you can roast them in a hot oven 200C/400F until they are slightly charred. Turn them half way through. The asparagus will cook faster than the other vegetables so test them after about 8-10 minutes depending on how thick they are,.
- Step 7 Assemble just before serving, slicing the mozzarella to make it easier to eat.
Smoked Salmon on Potato Chips
Ignore the photo, it is as close as I could get. I discovered Smoked Salmon worked just as well served on potato chip, and was easier than making mini potato pancakes. With a spot of Crème fraîche and a drizzle of dill mustard, these are easy, gluten-free and delicious!
- Potato chips, I like the kettle chips as they are slightly more substantial
- Crème fraîche ( I put mine in a piping bag as it makes it easier to handle)
- Dill mustard
- Smoked Salmon (if you can get to a Costco they have brilliant packs of gravlax which even comes with a sachet of dill mustard.
- Dill to finish, or chopped chives
- Step 1 Spread out good-sized chips on a serving platter.
- Step 2 Put about half a teaspoon of Crème fraîche on each chip.
- Step 3 Put a small slice of smoked salmon on top.
- Step 4 Drizzle a little dill mustard over the smoked salmon.
- Step 5 Decorate with dill or chopped chives.
Bruschetta with Mozzarella and Tomato
These little toasts are a little bit of summer on a plate. Use the best tomatoes, drizzled with a little good quality olive oil. Leave out the cheese and these turn from Vegetarian into vegan treats. I think this photo comes from Kat's rowing. We produced dozens of these healthy treats for the CBC girls and parents in our 'outdoor kitchen' Happy days!
- French bread stick
- Olive oil
- Good quality tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- Basil Leaves
- Step 1 Preheat oven to 200C/400F
- Step 2 Slice the french bread into 1/4 inch slices.
- Step 3 Arrange bread slices on a baking tray and brush each side with olive oil.
- Step 4 Toast in oven until the bread is crisp. Turn after 5 mins and check after 10 mins.
- Step 5 Once cooled these toasts can be kept in a sealed container for at least five days.
- Step 6 Cut the tomatoes into small cubes, being sure to take out the hard center.
- Step 7 Arrange enough tomatoes on each toast to cover the surface, and drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Step 8 Add salt and pepper
- Step 9 Cut the mozzarella into small cubes and drop onto the tomatoes.
- Step 10 Garnish with torn basil leaves.
Once you have made the large ‘toasts’ you can top them with all manner of things. For more inspiration check out my post on afternoon tea sandwich fillings
You can also just use freshly baked French Bread cut into thin slices
or offer toppings on lettuce leaves for the gluten free guests
Crudités with hummus
Crudités can either served on a large platter or in little containers as in the photo. If going for the platter then add broccoli florets which have been blanched quickly.
- Step 1 Cut carrots, cucumber, celery and peppers into equal strip.
- Step 2 Place a small amount of hummus in the base of the container.
- Step 3 Add a selection of vegetables to each individual container.
If you prefer serve as a large Platter