Tidewater Kitchen - November 2007

Finger Foods for the Holidays

by

Pamela Doyle

    With a little preparation and the help of these recipes, you can throw a cocktail party that you will enjoy as much as your guests will. Finger foods are also fun dishes to bring to gatherings at someone else’s house. So before special occasions approach, the holidays arrive, or you get invited to a potluck, learn a few simple recipes and some efficiency tips. Making party food will be easier and more enjoyable, and you’ll end up doing it more often.
     Ever since I can remember, I have always been the one who brought something special that I made myself, rather than store-bought snacks. It is something my mom always taught me. I prefer something simple and homemade to dry vegetables with ranch dip from a plastic tub, or chips from a bag, and so do others at parties. Homemade dips or grilled foods are fun to make and are crowd-pleasers.
     For entertaining in your own home, a cocktail party is ideal; you can make it happen with a limited investment of time. It doesn’t require toiling over multiple courses, dusting off the old china, or borrowing tables to seat everyone.
     Here are some tips for a successful cocktail party:
     Preparation is the key. Plan your list of invitees, and be sure to mix it up a bit so everyone has someone interesting to talk with (about how great your food is).
     Make a list of dishes and ingredients needed so you can coordinate your shopping trips.
     Mix store-bought items with homemade. You don’t have to make breadsticks, but the dip is a nice touch. Decide on one or two easy-to-prepare snacks like a very good wedge of cheese with some juicy grapes and flavorful flat bread, or a plate of your favorite deviled eggs.
     Choose some recipes that can be made well in advance. Marinated Shrimp on a stick and Crispy Phyllo stuffed with Prosciutto and Figs will make delicious, varied options for the party menu. Both can be substantially prepared well before party time. You’ll just need to heat just before the guests arrive.
     The notion that you cannot enjoy your own party will be a thing of the past.

EGGPLANT CAVIAR
with PITA CRISPS

This pureed eggplant recipe was one of my favorites as a child. My mom would make it for dinner parties and I would take the leftovers with crackers to school for lunch. No one will know there is eggplant in it.

2 medium eggplants
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped white onion
½ cup green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 t. minced fresh garlic
½ t. sugar
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
¼ t. Tabasco sauce
2 t. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 T. fresh lemon juice
Grilled pita chips

Preheat oven to 425°. Place the two whole eggplants on a cookie sheet. Bake them in the preheated oven, turning once, about 1 hour, or until the inside is soft and the skin is charred. Remove the eggplants from the oven and cool. Cut off the stems and cut the eggplants in half. Scoop out the insides and spoon the flesh into a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and garlic to the pan and cook until soft, but not browned, about 5 minutes.
Pour the eggplant puree into the skillet with the onion mixture and stir in the sugar, tomato paste, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
Bring this mixture to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and add the lemon juice. Chill and serve with crackers or grilled pita crisps.

GRILLED PITA CRISPS
To make quick work of cutting the pita, use a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the pita into halves, then quarters, then pull the two pieces apart. Each pita round should give you eight pieces.

4 Pita rounds
Olive oil
Salt

Heat the grill or grill pan to high. Brush the pita with olive oil and season with salt.
Grill the pita until brown, turning once. Serve with the eggplant caviar. The pitas will crisp as they cool.
Variation: Add your own spices to the top...cumin, Old Bay, whatever.

OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES
on POLENTA ROUNDS

Polenta is a wonderful side dish, but it can also be the foundation of a great appetizer. In this recipe, you can make soft polenta. Once it is cold and set, you cut it into 2-inch rounds that can be topped with anything from fresh tomatoes to fresh cheeses.

ROUNDS:
4 cups water
2 cups whole milk
1 t. salt
4 T. butter
1½ cups polenta
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
¼ t. cayenne pepper
1 t. unsalted butter, softened, for buttering wrap
2 T. olive oil

Combine the water, milk, salt and butter in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour the polenta into the simmering liquid in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously so lumps do not form. Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mix is very thick and begins to pull away from the side of the pot, about 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and cayenne pepper. Check the seasoning and add more salt to taste.
Line a cookie sheet with buttered plastic wrap, letting it extend over the edges. Spread the polenta evenly over the plastic wrap about ¼ to 1/8 inch thick, and chill until firm, at least 1 hour, or as long as overnight.
Cut chilled polenta into 2-inch diameter rounds with a biscuit cutter or a glass.
Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium-high heat. If you like, you can use a greased grill. Cook the polenta rounds until golden brown, turning once, about 5 to 6 minutes altogether. Place the rounds on a cookie sheet and keep at room temperature until ready to serve. They can also be kept warm in a 250° oven.
Top each of the polenta rounds with a dried tomato. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and fresh basil.
Tip: Grilling polenta is a great way to add flavor to a simple side dish. Try cutting into different shapes. Brush with olive oil and grill over high heat until lightly browned on both sides about 2 mintues on each side.

OVEN-DRIED TOMATOES
I like to use these tomatoes in pastas, salads or as an appetizer with the polenta. They can be drizzled with olive oil and stored, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

4 medium vine-ripened tomatoes
2 T. balsamic vinegar
½ cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 250°.
Slice the bottoms and tops off the tomatoes and then slice the tomatoes into ¼-inch-thick slices.
Place sliced tomatoes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle tomatoes with the balsamic vinegar and then the olive oil. Bake for 3 hours or until dried but still soft and pliable. Cool and reserve.

MARINATED SHRIMP on a STICK
Serve these delicious skewered shrimp arranged on a bed of cracked ice on a serving tray as part of a cocktail buffet. The vegetables that accompany the shrimp in the marinade make these shrimp extremely flavorful.

2 lbs. medium shrimp, 31-35 per pound, peeled and deveined but with tail
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. sugar
3 T. fresh curly parsley, chopped
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
½ small onion, thinly sliced
½ bulb fennel, very thinly sliced
¼ red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
½ t. crushed red pepper
3 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
20 6-inch wooden skewers or dried rosemary stems

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, just until they turn pink. Drain well and cool in cold running water.
Combine all the marinade ingredients and vegetables in a large glass or china bowl.
Place the cooled shrimp in a large sealable plastic bag and add the marinade. Seal well. Refrigerate the marinated shrimp for 3 to 4 hours, turning the bag several times.
To serve, drain the marinade and skewer the shrimp, 2 to 3 per skewer. The drained vegetables can be served alongside as a crunchy condiment, or can be used later in a colorful salad.
Variation: Drain the marinade, but reserve the vegetables. Serve the shrimp and vegetables as a salad on a bed of crisp lettuce. Season to taste with more salt and pepper.

CRISPY PHYLLO stuffed with PROSCIUTTO and FIGS
These surprisingly simple-to-make snacks will WOW you friends. Just a little care will produce delicious, crispy sweet savory bites. If fresh figs are not in the market, use well-drained canned Kadota figs, which are available in most supermarkets. The flavor and texture will be a little milder, but still delicious.

12 thin slices prosciutto
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese
9 large ripe figs, quartered
Freshly ground peppper to taste
6 sheets phyllo pastry
4 T. butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450°. Line a heavy-duty baking sheet with parchment paper or a siicone baking pad.
Spread out 2 slices of prosciutto on a work surface. Sprinkle with blue cheese. Arrange 6 to 8 fig quarters, depending on their size, along the long side of one of the prosciutto slices. Season with freshly ground pepper. Roll up the prosciutto into a tight cigar, and then roll the second slice the same way. Repeat with the remaining prosciutto, blue cheese and figs, ending with 6 cigar-shaped rolls.
Spread out one sheet of phyllo on a work board. Immediately cover the remaining sheets with a damp towel. Lightly brush the entire sheet of phyllo with melted butter. Place one prosciutto roll along the short end of the sheet of phyllo. Roll up tightly, disregarding the ragged ends as you will cut them off later. Brush the roll with melted butter and place on the lined baking sheet.
Repeat with the remaining phyllo, always re-covering the unused sheets of pastry with the damp towel.
Bake for 8 to 9 minutes until the pastry rolls are well browned and crisp.
Remove from the oven. Cool for one minute. Cut off the ragged ends of the rolls on an angle. Slice the rolls on an angle into bite-sized pieces, about 6 per roll. Cool for 5 minutes and serve on a napkin-lined plate.
Tip: Filled phyllo rolls can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap on the baking sheet and refrigerated for an hour or two. Uncover and bake when you are ready to serve.
Tip: A serrated bread knife is the ideal tool for slicing these delicate fig rolls without crushing them.

MARYLAND CRAB CAKES with CHIPOTLE AIOLI SAUCE
These succulent cakes are so quick and easy you will serve them for any festive occasion. The spicy aioli sauce is a perfect accompaniment.

1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat
½ cup panko bread crumbs or crackers
1 T. Dijon mustard
¼ cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
¼ cup celery, finely chopped
¼ cup green onion, finely chopped
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 large egg
pinch cayenne pepper
3 T. fresh curly parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Flour for dredging
1 T. olive oil for frying

Prepare the chipotle aioli sauce.
In a large bowl, very gently pick over the crabmeat with your fingers to remove any remaining shell.
Add the panko, mustard, bell pepper, celery, green onions, Worcestershire, mayonnaise, egg, cayenne and parsley. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix well, but gently. Form the crab mixture into 8 flat cakes or patties. Dust each lightly with flour.
Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet. Fry the cakes until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning very carefully so they do not fall apart.
Serve very hot with chipotle aioli sauce on the side.

CHIPOTLE AIOLI SAUCE
This variation on the garlic-rich aioli sauce that is so popular in southern France, is delicious with many kids of poached or steamed fish, too. Classic aioli has a bread base, which makes it a thick mayonnaise. This version is thinner, more like a sauce, just right for drizzling over the hot crab cakes.

5 cloves garlic
2 hard-cooked egg yolks
2 T. canned chipotle pepper in adobe base, drained
3 T. fresh lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

Just before serving, in the jar of a blender or food processor, process the garlic, egg yolks, peppers and lemon juice until smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a very thin stream until the sauce thickens slightly and is creamy smooth.
Season with salt and more lemon juice if you like.

PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO FRICO
with BABY GREENS

Frico are the lacy thin cheese crisps made in Italy. You can replace the Parmigiano-Reggiano with Asiago, cheddar or Gruyere cheese, though the result will not be the same. The fresh herbs used in it can vary; try basil or oregano.

2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
1 T. all-purpose flour
1½ t. chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 cups baby greens
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 t. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, toss together the cheese, flour, and thyme.
Heat a nonstick frying pan over low heat. When hot, sprinkle 2 T. of the cheese mixture to form a 4-inch circle in the pan. Cook it until the cheese is melted into a circle and slightly firm about 1 minute. The cheese should be just lightly brown.
Using a spatula, turn the frico and cook on the other side for 30 seconds more.
Remove the frico from the pan and place it over a rolling pin, pressing it down lightly to form the shape of an upside down taco. Let the frico rest there until cool. Gently remove from rolling pin and place on a cookie sheet.
Repeat with the rest of the cheese.
Place the clean baby greens in a small bowl. Toss with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Place a small amount of the greens in each of the frico and serve.

Tip: To shape these frico you will need to work quickly. Lift each frico from the pan with a spatula directly onto the rolling pin and mold it while it is still warm. Gently mold the hot cheese around the rolling pin so that it curves slightly.

PROSCIUTTO WRAPPED
SCALLOPS

¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 T. chopped fresh basil leaves
2 T. chopped pitted black olives (about 10 olives)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 medium scallops
¼ t. salt
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
12 slices prosciutto
2 cups arugula
1½ T. balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 350°.
In a food processor, add the tomatoes, basil, olives, and olive oil and process until finely chopped.
Season both sides of the scallops with salt and pepper. Rub each scallop with the tomato mixture. Fold each slice of prosciutto in half lengthwise, then wrap each scallop in 1 slice of prosciutto. Place wrapped scallops in a buttered baking dish, seam side down. Bake until scallop is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, toss the arugula with the balsamic vinegar. Season the arugula with salt and pepper. Place the arugula on a serving platter or divide among individual dishes. Top with the scallops and serve immediately.

CHEESE PUFFS
1 cup milk
¼-pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ t. kosher salt
1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs
¼ cup grated Gruyere, plus extra for sprinkling
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 egg beaten with 1 t. water, for egg wash

Preheat the oven to 425°.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg over medium heat, until scalded.
Add the flour all at once and beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes.
The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan. Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Immediately add the eggs, Gruyere, and Parmesan and pulse until the eggs are incorporated and the dough is smooth and thick.
Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. Pipe in mounds 1¼ inches wide and ¾-inch high onto the baking sheets.
With a wet finger, lightly press down the swirl at the top of each puff. You can also use 2 spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers. Brush the top of each puff lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a pinch of Gruyere. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown outside but still soft inside.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
½ pound good bittersweet chocolate such as Lindt
½ pound good semisweet chocolate such as Ghiradelli
1 cup heavy cream
2 T. Grand Marnier, optional
1 T. prepared coffee
½ t. good vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar
Cocoa powder

Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife. Place them in a heat-proof mixing bowl.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just boils. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl with chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, if using, coffee, and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.
With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, until firm. Roll each dollop of chocolate in your hands to roughly make a round ball. Roll in confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, or both. These will keep refrigerated for weeks, but serve at room temperature.

COCONUT MACAROONS
14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
¼ t. kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325°.
Combine the coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Whip the egg whites and salt on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until they make medium-firm peaks. Carefully fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture.
Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1¾-inch diameter ice cream scoop, or 2 teaspoons. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool and serve.