Appetizers, finger food – whichever term you use, these tasty tidbits do much more than just tie guests over until dinner. In fact the word hors d’oeuvres mean “outside the main meal” – they set the stage for the meal that is to follow. These delicious appetite enhancers are versatile enough to provide party sustenance on their own at an open house, satisfy cravings for midnight munchies or just awaken the appetite in a refreshing first course. However you decide to serve them, appetizers are meant to be enjoyed by both guests and cook. The preparation of these menu additions need not be overwhelming. Some simple, upfront planning combined with the step-by-step instruction in this section will help to maintain the cook’s composure and create a relaxed, festive atmosphere.
When serving appetizers before a meal, keep in mind they are meant to tease the appetite, not satisfy it. One or two selections should be ample, allowing five to seven servings per person. Prepare recipes that contrast in texture, temperature and flavour with the meal that follows. For example, a cold seafood hors d’oeuvres would be a refreshing opener before a main course highlighting roast beef or steak. Although, if you are planning an ethnic dinner, coordinating an appetizer from the same country provides a memorable beginning. Many people prefer to serve first-course appetizers before the guests are seated at the dinner table, as this allows the cook time to make last-minute meal preparations. However, starters such as soups and marinated salads should always be served when guests are seated.
For a cocktail party or open house where appetizers are served as the main event, plan a variety of snacks and spreads, including some that are hearty and filling. Remember, too, that the longer the occasion lasts, the more the guests will eat. Plan on ten to twelve serving per person as a minimum. Cold appetizers, such as dips and marinated vegetables, should be made at least several hours to one day ahead since their flavour actually improves with time.
Some hot appetizers can be cooked ahead and simply reheated just before serving, while others must be prepared at the last moment. Be sure to enlist kitchen help, if necessary, to give final details the attention it require. If the food on your appetizer table will be sitting out for several hours, it is important, for food safety reasons, to maintain serving temperatures.
Appetizers that need to remain chilled, such as shrimp cocktail, should be served on a platter set over cracked ice. Transfer hot appetizers, such as meatballs, from the oven or rangetop to a warming device, such as a chafing dish or fondue pot for serving. Prepare a balance of hot and cold appetizers that provide a range of flavours and textures, from spicy and rich to light and refreshing. And keep in mind that at a large party with limited seating, guests appreciate finger food and bite-size with not-too-drippy sauces.
Part of the fun in serving hors d’oeuvres is in the presentation. A simple spray of small flowers or a handful of fresh herbs provide a colourful garnish on everything from a rustic woven basket to a formal silver platter. Another option for garnishing is to choose one of the recipe’s ingredients, for example, red onion, and have a few pretty slices as a special finishing touch for the top of the dish.
Create your own appetizer menu with the delicious recipes in this publication. A football party or a holiday open house are just a couple of possibilities. Depending on the size and length of the party, you may wish to supplement your menu with a deli tray or a light dessert.