When I did a column on this topic several years ago at holiday time, it received such an enthusiastic response that I thought the subject warranted a second look. The possibilities are almost endless, and this year I’ve added several, subtracted a few, and left some of the original ideas in the list. It’s also fun to come up with your own combinations, but since hors d’oeuvres are in a culinary category unto themselves, here are a few general guidelines:
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 to manage.
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, chemical flavors that interfere with the taste of quality toppings.
The 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 sour cream. Arrange slices of rare, deli roast beef on thin slices of skinny baguette and top with a dollop of the flavored cream. Cut in halves.
• Stir minced scallions into softened butter. Spread on cocktail-size pumpernickel, top with thin-sliced smoked salmon and a few capers. Cut into triangles.
• 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.
• Spread smoked salmon pate onto cucumber rounds. Top with dill sprigs.
• Marinate cooked, extra-large shrimp in olive oil, lime juice and finely chopped garlic. Spear with toothpicks.
• Cut slices of Genoa salami in half, spread with softened goat cheese and roll into cornets. Garnish with parsley sprigs.
• Toss smoked almonds and sweetened dried cranberries, adding a large pinch of kosher salt.
• Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over plain hummus and sprinkle generously with chopped parsley and smoked paprika. Serve with pita crisps or small breadsticks for dipping.
• 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.
• Separate small inner leaves of Romaine lettuce into spears and fill with a spoonful of deli tabouli.
• Spread purchased olivada (black olive paste) onto melba rounds and sprinkle generously with Italian parsley chopped with fresh rosemary.
• Spread softened purchased 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.
• Mash softened Stilton or other blue cheese with mayo and spread into 1-inch lengths of celery.
• Cook cheese-filled tortellini and toss with purchased pesto. Serve at room temperature, skewered with toothpicks.
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: facebook.com/brookedojny