I was recently asked to do a little talk/demonstration on quick holiday hors d’oeuvres, and once I started thinking about the subject – “obsessing” is perhaps the more accurate word – the ideas began to seem almost endless. A few general themes emerged.

Hors d’oeuvres work best if they’re one – or not more than two – bites.

Each bite should pack a lot of flavor.

With a glass in one hand, hand-held or toothpick-speared hors d’oeuvres are easiest.

Most hors d’oeuvres have a base and a topping. Bases can be a starch (cracker or bread), vegetable or fruit. Toppings should be well seasoned.

Stick to plain, unflavored crackers. “Garlic and herb,” “onion parmesan” and the like have stale, chemically-tasting flavors that interfere with the taste of good-quality toppings.

Following are some ideas to get you started. Quantities will vary according to the size of the guest list – and feel free to swap out toppings and bases.

Stir prepared horseradish into whipped cream cheese, spread onto European cucumber slices, and top with a small chunk of peppered smoked mackerel or trout.

Stir minced scallions into softened butter. Spread on cocktail-size pumpernickel and top with thin-sliced smoked salmon and a few capers.

Buy prepared guacamole (usually in the vegetable or whole foods section of the supermarket), add fresh lime juice and cilantro, and spoon into tortilla chip cups.

Slice cored pear or apple into wedges, spread with softened blue cheese (Saga blue is good), and grind on coarse-ground black pepper.

Marinate cooked extra-large shrimp in olive oil, orange juice, red wine vinegar and chopped garlic. Spear with toothpicks.

Toss tamari almonds and sweetened dried cranberries with a large pinch of kosher salt.

Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over plain hummus and sprinkle generously with smoked paprika. Serve with pita crisps or small breadsticks for dipping.

Spread crostini (purchased or homemade) with softened goat cheese and criss-cross with julienned oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. To make crostini, brush thin baguette slices with olive oil and toast in a 375-degree oven until just barely colored.

Blanch 3-inch-long asparagus tips, immerse in ice water and drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap with paper thin prosciutto or Serrano ham.

Stir coarse-grain mustard into softened butter, spread on party rye bread, top with thinly sliced salami and cut into small triangles. Sprinkle with chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Separate Belgian endive into spears, spread flat bottoms with softened Boursin, and garnish with alfalfa or other sprouts.

Cut top-split hot dog rolls into about five pieces, brush sides with melted butter, and toast on a griddle. Fill with lobster or crabmeat salad.

Spread purchased olivada (black olive paste) onto melba rounds and sprinkle generously with Italian parsley chopped with fresh rosemary.

Spread softened liver pate onto apple slices. Garnish with thinly sliced cornichons or other sweet pickle.

Marinate grape tomato halves in olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and basil. Spear on a toothpick with small chunks of fresh mozzarella.

Cut celery into 1 1/2-inch lengths and fill with purchased smoked salmon spread. Garnish with chopped fresh dill.

 

Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Dishing Up Maine” (Storey Publishing 2006) and “The New England Clam Shack Cookbook” (Storey 2008). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula.