Whether you call them appetizers, hors d'oeuvres, canapés, amuse-bouches, or amuse-gueules, they are the scrumptious little morsels served before the start of a full course meal. They can vary from simple presentations such as cheese and crackers to complex preparations with exquisite ingredients requiring as much work as the main course. Hors d'oeuvres can also function as the primary food such as at cocktail and holiday parties.
Below are a variety of ideas for hors d'oeuvres for your holiday get-togethers. I hesitate to call them recipes, simply because I haven't listed exact measurements for each ingredient. First of all, exact ratios are not necessary for the forthcoming preparations. Second, by freeing yourself of the measuring spoons and cups and relying on your eyes and your taste, you can whip up these concoctions much quicker. This is a party atmosphere. Go with your gut and indulge your creativity.
The following list of hors d'oeuvres spans a breadth of culinary complexity and ingredient extravagance. Choose the ones that suit your budget, culinary zealousness, and your personal taste.
ROASTED PEPPER & ANCHOVY CROSTINI
Crostini are small thin slices of toast. Roast a red pepper in the broiler and remove the seeds and stems. Chop it up with some anchovies and garlic. Add either some basil or sautéed spinach for color. Finish with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Slice a long thin loaf of French bread, drizzle some olive oil on the slices and toast. Spoon the mixture onto the toasted slices.
SMOKED SALMON CRUDITES
Crudités, (cru-dee-TAY), are raw vegetables served as a hors d'oeuvre. Finely mince a little red onion and some dill. Mix it into sour cream. You can also add some capers if you like. Add salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Peel and slice a cucumber into ¼ inch rounds. Bundle a piece of smoked salmon on the cucumber and then top with the sour cream sauce. Place a tiny sprig of dill on top of the sauce or if you really want to get fancy, some caviar.
Take 2 batches of watercress and about a pint of sour cream. Chop up the watercress with some red onion and mix in the sour cream little by little to you achieve the desired consistency. Add horseradish, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crackers and/or raw vegetable sticks.
BLACK OLIVE & SUN DRIED TOMATO TAPENADE
Place an equal amount of black olives and sun-dried tomatoes in a food processor. Add a bunch of parsley, a squirt of lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Pulse the mixture a few times. Then slowly add a stream of extra virgin olive oil with the processor on until a smooth paste is achieved. Check for additional salt or pepper. Place dollops of the tapenade on Belgium endive leaves.
TRUFFLED GOAT CHEESE CRUDITES
Mix white truffle oil into goat cheese until you achieve the extent of truffle flavor that you like. You can also add chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme or rosemary. Add salt and pepper to taste. Peel and slice a cucumber into ¼ inch rounds and a parsnip into 1/16 to 1/8 inch rounds. Roast, seed, and peel a red pepper. Cut the pepper into little diamond shapes or some other decorative pattern about a half-inch in size. Spread some of the cheese on a cucumber slice. Top with a parsnip slice and more cheese. Place a piece of the red pepper on top in the center. Sprinkle with fleur de sel or another high quality sea salt.
SPINACH AND MOZZARELLA PUFFS
You can use frozen chopped spinach but if you have the time I'd recommend sautéing fresh spinach in some garlic and oil and chopping it yourself. If you choose sautéed spinach, remember that spinach reduces a great deal so start with a lot. Take the thawed frozen spinach or the sautéed spinach and squeeze as much of the fluid out of it as possible. Add the spinach to a food processor along with an equal amount of mozzarella cheese. Add some parsley and salt and pepper. If you used the frozen spinach add a few cloves of garlic. Briefly whiz it in the food processor until you have a homogenized mixture.
Take two sheets of phyllo dough and brush them with melted butter. Then cut lengthwise into three-inch strips. Take a spoonful of the spinach mixture and place at the beginning of a strip. Fold it over to make a triangle and continue to fold the strip end over end, maintaining the triangular pattern. Brush the finished puff with melted butter. Continue with the rest of the dough until you've used up the spinach mixture. Line the puffs on parchment paper on a sheet tray and place them into a preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown. Keep an eye on them for the filling can sometimes burst out while baking. You can also fill them with the goat cheese mixture from above.
LAMB FILETS OVER QUINOA
Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is a popular South American grain. It is very nutritious, containing several vitamins and minerals, as well as being a complete protein with all eight amino acids. Look for it in gourmet stores or on the Internet.
First roast a lamb loin. If you can't get a whole loin, try lamb rib chops. If you use the chops, pound them thin like veal scaloppini and sauté them very briefly at high heat.
For the quinoa, finely mince one small carrot, one celery rib, and half a small onion. Sauté the vegetables in a good dose of butter and olive oil for two minutes. Add about one cup of quinoa and sauté for a minute or two more. Add two cups of water and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes until the quinoa is the texture of al dente pasta. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Make quenelles with the quinoa. To make a quenelle scoop up some of quinoa with one tablespoon. Work it back and forth against another tablespoon to form a firm football shaped mass. Slice the lamb very thin and drape one slice over each quinoa quenelle. If you'd like, make a quick sauce from equal parts buttermilk and plain yogurt. Add chopped mint leaves and salt and pepper. Place a small dollop of the sauce on top of the lamb.