Appetizers, or hors d'oeuvres, are meant to stimulate the appetite, not sate it. Keeping that in mind, design your holiday appetizer menu to complement the meal that will follow, being sure to keep each serving small. Serve at least three appetizers, but just one bite for each person.
If you are fond of the small plate idea, as many restaurants have taken to calling the first-course selection, there is nothing wrong of serving a Spanish tapas-style meal that is completely made up of small offerings. Don't put them on the table all at one time, but bring them out as individual courses. This will keep your party going and allow your guests time to visit, chat and get to know each other. This is not the time to be in a rush.
If your prep time is short, there's nothing wrong with buying your appetizers from one of your favorite restaurants or grocery stores. For instance, one of the local Vietnamese places will be more than happy to supply you with all the spring rolls or egg rolls that you like. Check out the deli at your grocery store and put together a combination of cheese and deli meats. An Italian-style antipasto can be delicious. Be sure to buy some best-quality olive oil and offer it in small bowls for a simple, but delicious dipping sauce. You can add a few drops of balsamic vinegar, or even roasted garlic to that oil for an extra kick.
1 cup cooked black-eyed peas
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup cubed ham
2-3 chopped cloves of garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
2-3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Good crusty, baked bread
Lots of red pepper flakes
Sauté the ham in a little oil, aggressively seasoned with red pepper flakes and cook until nicely browned.
Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the peas and the chicken stock and simmer for 15 minutes, add more stock if necessary. Remember to taste and re-season as necessary. Toast the bread, use a little butter if your diet allows, and while the bread gets crispy and brown use an immersion blender to thicken the peas, just a few seconds should do it. Be sure not to turn the beans into a paste, don't overdo it, keep it nice and chunky. Top the toast with the peas and garnish with the cilantro. Dribble on a little olive oil just before serving.
SHRIMP WITH BLUE CHEESE DIP
24 large shrimp
1 cup Valentine hot sauce
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
3-4 tablespoons cup heavy cream
1/4 cup best quality mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Marinate the shrimp in the hot sauce for several hours. While the shrimp are marinating combine the cheese, cream, mayonnaise and lemon juice, in a blender. Heat a sauté pan to smoking hot with a little oil, drain the shrimp and sear them quickly for 1 minute on each side. Do not overcrowd the pan and do not let the pan cool. Skewer the shrimp with toothpicks, or have cocktail forks available. Serve the shrimp and dip in separate small bowls. The shrimp are best when just out of the pan, but do well at room temperature, too.
Note: Pre-cook the bacon in a 400-degree oven for about 8 minutes, drain and then proceed.
24 large shelled shrimp
1 strip of bacon per shrimp, about 4-inches long
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Marinate the shrimp in the olive oil and lemon juice for about an hour. Wrap each shrimp in a slice of partially cooked bacon and then place three shrimp on each skewer. Season with black pepper. The best option for cooking the shrimp is on the grill, about 2 minutes on a side, but they also can be deep fried or baked. Deep frying takes less than 2 minutes, baking takes about 10 minutes. Remember to deep fry properly requires a stable temperature, so never overcrowd the pot. Also make sure to use a good quality, clean oil for frying. Whatever method you use to cook the shrimp, they will be completely done just as soon as the bacon is crisp. Do not overcook.
A good and simple sauce can be made for this appetizer by combining honey and your favorite hot sauce. Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand.
Smoked salmon is one of the most delicious delicacies to serve on any special occasion. It is pricey and the best -- wild-caught Scottish -- is prohibitive, but there are other options. Just remember that there is a correlation between price and quality. Of course if you are handy with the smoker, you can make your own.
1 package smoked salmon
1 cup crème fraiche
1/4 cup capers
1/4 chopped red onion
This is a classic combination and is absolutely delicious. Roll a slice of salmon into a tube and top with Crème fraiche, red onions and then capers. It can be eaten as is or can be put on slices of bagel or your other favorite hearty bread.
Another option is to serve smoked salmon atop scrambled eggs. Remember that scrambling eggs should takes some time, and if you cook them over high heat the result will not be delicate and light.
If smoked salmon leaves you cold, then oven roasting might be just the thing for you. It is simple to roast or to buy already cooked. Use the same serving suggestions above.
You can also make a dip out of it. Combine cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice and dill in a blender and serve with crackers.