Eric Akis: Appetizers that will make your guests merry

Eric AkisChristmas party season is around the corner. If you are planning to host one, it’s time to decide what type of food to serve.

Bite-sized appetizers and snack items are a popular choice. You can serve them anywhere. No need for dinner plates and seating for all.

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When I host a party with this type of food, the professional caterer in me kicks into gear. The first query is what kind of gathering will it be — an all-evening soirée or a shorter event where guests come for an hour or two after work? Once that’s determined, I can start planning the style and volume of food required.

If it’s a shorter event where the food served is meant to be a snack before guests head home or out for dinner, I suggest offering four to six pieces of appetizers — canapés, mini savoury tarts, small skewers — per person. For an all-evening party where appetizers are served in place of dinner, I suggest serving a meal-sized amount of 10 to 12 pieces per person.

That may seem like a lot, but many people are working hard during this time of year and are often ravenous when they arrive.

So you want to make sure they loose that feeling, slow down and relax, particularly if alcohol is being served.

Once I know how much to serve, I’ll begin to consider the other things that will help me decide exactly what to serve. Budget, of course, is one of them. If I have unlimited funds, I can serve whatever I like. But with limited spending, I’ll have to be more careful in what I select.

Refrigerator and oven space are also key considerations.

I must also determine how much time I can commit to food preparation, as that will affect my decision to help supplement what I can prepare myself with quality store-bought items such as cheese, dips, sushi, paté and other charcuterie.

I must also take into account that some of my guests may offer to bring an appetizer to the party.

Once all of this has been settled, I’ll plan a menu and try to make sure it’s as balanced as possible and offers a range of foods that will offer something for everyone.

To further assist you, I’ve cooked up three appetizer recipes to try that I’m sure will make your guests merry when you serve them.

Lamb Kofta with Sweet and Sour Pomegranate Sauce

Beautifully spiced mini Middle Eastern-style meatballs threaded on small skewers. You can make the raw kofta hours before needed, cover and refrigerate, and bake them when needed.

  • Preparation time: 40 minutes
  • Cooking time: 20 to 25 minutes
  • Makes: 24 koftas

For the sauce

  • 3/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 3 Tbsp red currant jelly
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp honey
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup beef stock mixed with 1 Tbsp cornstarch

Place all ingredients, except stock/starch mixture, in a small pot. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. When the jelly is melted, pour in the stock/starch mixture. Return to a simmer and cook until lightly thickened, about two minutes, and the sauce is ready. If desired, you could make the sauce hours in advance, cool it to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until needed. When you do need it, simply reheat and serve with the koftas.

For the kofta

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced, and then minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 24 small wooden skewers

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine all ingredients, except skewers, in a bowl. Moisten your hands lightly with cold water, and then roll the meat mixture into 24 small oblong balls. Thread a ball on the end of each skewer; gently squeezing the meat to ensure it adheres to it. Set the skewers on the baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until cooked through. Arrange the kofta on a serving platter with a bowl of the sauce for dipping.Smoked Salmon and Shrimp on Mini Lemon Dill Pancakes

These elegant bites are made by setting shrimp and silky, cold smoked salmon (sometimes called lox) on tender pancakes topped with crème fraiche.

  • Preparation time: 35 minutes
  • Cooking time: About 12 minutes
  • Makes: 24 pancakes

For pancakes

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Pinch ground white pepper
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • Vegetable oil spray

Place the first four ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Place the remaining ingredients, except oil spray, in a second bowl and mix well to combine. Add the dry mixture to wet and mix until just combined.

Place a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Spray the cooking surface with vegetable oil spray. Working in batches, pour on two-inch round portions of the batter. Flip the pancakes once they begin to bubble a bit on top. Cook one to two minutes on the other side. Transfer the pancakes to a baking sheet. Keep cooking pancakes until the batter is used up. Cool pancakes to room temperature, cover and set-aside until ready to top. Pancakes can be made many hours before needed.

For the topping

  • 12 thin slices cold smoked salmon, each halved widthwise
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche or sour cream (see note)
  • 24 small salad shrimp
  • 24 tiny fresh dill sprigs

Arrange the pancakes on a serving platter. Top each pancake with half teaspoon or so of the crème fraîche (or sour cream). Arrange a half slice of smoked salmon on each pancake. Set a shrimp and a small dill sprig on each pancake and they are ready to enjoy.

Note: Crème fraîche is sold in tubs in the dairy case of some supermarkets. I used Liberté brand.

Mini Pissaladière

These appetizing, French-style mini pizzas are made by topping small squares of puff pastry with olives, goat cheese, cherry tomato and pesto.

Preparation time: 35 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: 16 to 18 minutes, per sheet

Makes: 40 pissaladière

  • 1 (397-gram) pkg. puff pastry, thawed and cut widthwise in half (see Note)
  • 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought pesto
  • 40 slices cherry tomato (about 10 tomatoes)
  • 40 pitted black olives, each halved
  • 100 grams soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set a half piece of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10x10-inch square. Now cut the square into 20 small, 2x2-inch squares. Set the squares on one of the baking sheets, spacing each about 1-inch apart. Roll out and cut the second piece of puff pastry into squares as you did the first and set them on the second baking sheet.

Spread the top of each square of puff pastry with 1/2 tsp of the pesto, leaving an 1/8-inch border of clean pastry. Top each square with a cherry tomato slice, two half black olives, and a little crumbled goat cheese. Season each square with a little salt and pepper, and then refrigerate 20 minutes to firm up the pastry before baking. (The mini pissaladière can be made to this point a few hours before needed; keep them refrigerated until ready to bake.)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Bake the mini pissaladière, one sheet at a time, for minutes 16 to 18, until puffed and golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. If desired, drizzle each pissaladière with a little olive oil before enjoying.

Note: Puff pastry is sold in the freezer section of most supermarkets. I used Tenderflake brand.

Eric Akis is the author of the hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything. His columns appear in the Times Colonist Life section Wednesday and Sunday. His email address is eakis@timescolonist.com.

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