A Quick Lesson
on Commencing Social Gatherings With Something
Good To Eat
The dilemma was this: What to serve for a housewarming cocktail party
in my new Eichler
home when the theme was the year the house was built --- 1958.
I didn't want the food to be a camp ‘50s joke with "pigs in blankets"
and deviled eggs. I was searching for something a little less trite and
with a lot more taste. The resulting menu was an assortment of simple
canapés, spreads and hors d'oeuvres that captured the essence of the period
yet held its own against more contemporary fare. These appetizers were
such a success that I think they'd be a hit at any affair. After all,
there's more to life than salsa and chips.
Simply defined, canapés are savory little morsels of food on a toast or
cracker base. These can be served hot or cold and are designed to be eaten
gracefully from the fingers. A variety, served in the living room with
cocktails, starts any party off on a happy note. Note: it's important
that the canapé tray look irresistible to the eye as well as the taste.
Small cocktail napkins are all that is necessary to offer for these appetizers.
Step One – Prepare
the Toast Beds
the era when full-time wives spent the day preparing for guests, the process
of toast-making was multi-stepped --- slicing and trimming the crusts
of the individual rounds, toasting them in a buttered skillet and then
spreading them with assorted toppings. If you've got the time, then this
is still a great way to begin, but happily there are also time-saving
alternatives. A simple shortcut is to buy ready-prepared toast points
or small sandwich rounds. Slice the store-bought rounds with cookie cutters
into the shape of stars, crescents, etc., to make the presentation a little
more festive. For variety, mix white bread with dark rye or even forego
bread altogether and use slices of boiled beets or sweet potatoes. These
colorful vegetable beds provide visual interest and a pleasant taste surprise
for the mouth.
Step Two – Easy to
Once you have your bases you can easily prepare several different
toppings. Many of the original popular spreads of the ‘50s seem a tad
odd today – most of us wouldn't dream of serving deviled ham or minced
canned clams let alone a combination like peanut butter and bacon. However,
there are some classic interpretations of the canapé that seem as savory
today as they did forty years ago. Mix and match on different breads,
crackers or cooked vegetable slices. Although this will only take you
minutes it will seem as though you've created a great many choices for
Mix & Match Slices
1950s canapés evoke images of pimentos and hard cooked egg yolks
(which actually can be very tasty despite the associations we may have)
but there are many more modern combinations of items you can layer such
- smoked salmon, cucumber, red onion & capers (on pumpernickel)
- blue cheese, pimiento and green onion
- brie, lettuce and onion (on rye bread)
- fresh mozzarella cheese and roasted red peppers (on Melba toast) Note:
You can buy good inexpensive roasted red peppers canned in olive oil
at any supermarket.
- salami and dill pickle (on baguette slices)
Although we'd all love to indulge in the high-quality beluga or
sevruga caviar available refrigerated in gourmet and specialty shops,
I've found that the inexpensive salmon, flying fish and whitefish roe
available at most supermarkets is just fine for most uses. I like to serve
a combination of the yellow, red, and black caviar to give even greater
variety to the presentation. This can be served straight but if you feel
the flavor of the caviar needs enhancement you can liven it up with a
little lemon juice or finely chopped onions. Top your toast or vegetable
base with a small dollop of sour cream, followed by a tiny spoonful of
caviar. This looks especially beautiful on beet or yam slices. A sprig
of fresh dill on top is a delicate and flavorful garnish.
Hot Cheese Puffs
There's nothing that says canapés must be cold. It's just as important
to vary the temperature of the food you're serving as it is the taste
and appearance. After "pigs in blankets" hot cheese puffs are probably
one of the most notorious ‘50s hot appetizers. They may be corny but they're
also delicious! Some hosts don't like serving hot canapés because they
require spending time in the kitchen during the party. The beauty of these
little sandwiches is that they can be prepared (except for the heating)
well in advance. Once the party is underway just pop them in and out of
the oven. You won't have to miss out on more than five minutes with your
guests. Instead of the American cheese variety that was so popular in
the ‘50s, I've updated this classic by using a sharp cheddar or even Gruyere.
Simply beat 2 egg whites until stiff. Beat in ½ tsp. baking powder, ¼
tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. paprika (use the real Hungarian paprika that adds a
spicy flavor, not just color). Fold in 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese.
Heap on 1 ½-inch rounds of toast beds. Broil about five minutes
until delicately browned.
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