Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Party Food, part 2

Part 2 of my recipes for party food deals with hors d’oeuvres – which means, “apart from the main work.” These are one or two bite finger foods or spreads. There is a little more work involved with these as opposed to the boards discussed in Part 1 which are all cold foods you just set out and you’re done. Some of these require baking at some point during the party, and you may need to do batches of them to keep the plate refreshed and hot foods at least warm.

List of recipes that follow: Pigs-in-a-Duvet, Bruschetta and Crostini, Belgian endive scoops, kale chips, steamed shrimp, artichoke spread, rumaki, baked Brie, bocconcini, Country Ham biscuits.


OK, I changed the name to indicate that this recipe takes an ordinary pig-in-a-blanket up a notch. I have yet to go to a party where these are served and they are the first thing that disappears! Common, yes, but oh so good!

Typically these are a kind of smoked cocktail sausage about an inch an a half long wrapped in a dough and baked. Some people use crescent roll dough or biscuit dough. I like to use puff pastry. Puff pastry is much crunchier and lighter and makes them look a bit more elegant and taste even better. Puff pastry can be found in the frozen foods section where you find frozen pies, etc. Normally there are 2 sheets to a box. The sausages are usually found in the section where you find sausage products. They might be called cocktail franks or party franks or Li’l Smokies.

I like to simmer the sausages in a pot of water first for about 10 minutes. It removes a lot of the fat from the sausages and plumps them up. When they are finished boiling, drain and let them cool completely on paper towel. One sheet of Puff pastry will be enough to make 1 package of sausages. Set a sheet of the pastry out on a lightly floured sheet pan and let it begin too come to room temperature so it is more pliable about 7 minutes, but don’t let it completely thaw.

You will cut strips that are 1 inch wide by 2-1/2 inches long. Wrap a strip of the dough around the “piggie” and pinch the seam together. (OPTION: for a fancier look, cut the pastry into triangles that are 1 inch wide at the end and 2-1/2 inches long. Then roll them around the piggies.) The piggie should be sticking out both ends of the wrap. Place the wrapped piggies seam side down on a lightly greased sheet pan or a parchment paper lined sheet pan about 1-1/2 inches apart. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or some plastic wrap and put in the fridge until ready to bake. Just before you bake them brush the tops with an egg wash – 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with a good spicy mustard or a BBQ sauce for dipping.

Bruschetta and Crostini

Bruschetta (pronounced: bruˈsketta) is an appetizer from Italy consisting of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil and salt. Variations often include toppings of tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, or cheese. You see it everywhere these days – it’s “trending!” It’s little sister, crostini, are thinner, smaller slices of bread prepared in a similar fashion. Both make nice appetizers and it’s not a lot of work. You just need some simple ingredients. You could make 5 or 6 kinds of bruschetta or crostini and they might be all you need at a party for appetizers. They can be a little messy depending on the toppings. Some toppings like to fall off! Be sure to have some plates or large napkins for your guests.

For bruschetta you need a loaf of good Italian crusty bread sliced 3/4 inch thick on the diagonal. If you have a grill, grilling the bread is the traditional method. If you have a grill pan that will work as well. You can always use the oven. Get your grill to medium heat or preheat your oven to 425 degrees. If Grilling: grill one side until lightly browned and flip to brown other side. If Baking: bake the bread slices on a sheet pan about 10 minutes and then flip and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until lightly browned. Meanwhile, peel several large garlic cloves and cut in half. When bread is done immediately rub a garlic clove over one side of the bread. Then brush that side with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little kosher salt and pepper. Let cool.

For crostini you need a French or ciabatta baguette. You cut the bread in 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch thick round slices. Brush both sides with olive oil. Grill as above or bake in a 350 degree oven as above for 12 or so minutes turning once until golden brown. Let cool.

You can then add some toppings to your toasted bread. Most commonly tomatoes are a topping with some basil. You finely dice up some Roma tomatoes and mix them with some finely chopped basil or parsley, a little salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil in a bowl then spread a little on each piece of bread. You can also add a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Here are some other variations for toppings:
  • gorgonzola cheese crumbled and mixed with a little ricotta cheese and some finely diced dried apricots or dried figs topped with a spring of arugula.
  • Sprinkle parsley on toasts; top with some chopped prosciutto, some shaved parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
  • Thinly slice some crimini or baby bella mushrooms and sauté them in a little butter in a skillet until browned. Remove to a bowl and and mix in some chopped fresh parsley. Let cool. Place some of the mixture on the bread and top with some grated parmesan.
  • Buy an olive tapenade and spread it on the bread.
  • Get a carton of bocconcini - small mozzarella balls - cut them in quarters and mix with finely chopped Roma tomato and chopped basel. Toss with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Spread over bread.

Belgian Endive “Scoops”

Belgian endive is a slightly bitter leaf vegetable. What is so cool about it is that you can separate it into individual leaves that will then be their own little scoops. They make an easy appetizer – no crackers needed. They are quite stiff and are perfect for filling. They make the perfect one-bite appetizer. You get creative with the filling. You place a heaping teaspoon of goodies at the root end of the spear. You do not fill them up. Arrange them in a concentric starburst pattern on a plate and you have a nice presentation. Some kind of crumbled cheese or a dollop of a cheese spread with some chopped nuts and some chopped parsley or chives is all you need. You can find Belgian endive in most markets. It can be a little pricey, but consider you do not need crackers which are pricey. Cut the root end off the endive, separate the leaves, put them in a bowl of cold water, rinse, drain, put in a bowl, cover and put them in the fridge until you are ready to fill them. You can fill them ahead of time, but not too long in advance as cheese can cause the leaf to begin getting soggy. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

TIP: If the endive doesn’t feel firm and crisp when you buy it, cut off the root ends, separate the leaves and put them in a large bowl of cold water and refrigerate for several hours.

Some “filling” ideas:
  • crumbled blue cheese, crumbled bacon or chopped pecans, chopped chive
  • crumbled Feta cheese, tiny diced cucumber and/or diced Kalamata olives, chopped fresh dill
  • a dollop of ricotta cheese, finely diced tomato, a dash of grated parmesan, and some chopped basil
  • a little herbed goat cheese, some chopped walnuts and a drizzle of honey

Kale Chips

Kale is all the rage so you better serve it at your party! LOL. Buy 1 large head of kale or a bag of the chopped, ready to cook kale greens.

If you buy a head of kale, remove the stems and tear leaves into large pieces like a potato chip size. 
You can remove the stems very quickly by grabbing the base of the stem with one hand and pushing outwards along the stem to slide off the leaves.

Wash and thoroughly dry the leaves before beginning.
If the leaves aren’t properly dried the water will steam the kale while baking and lead to soggy kale chips. After you wash them put them in a salad spinner to dry them. Don’t overcrowd the spinner. You will have to spin them in batches. No spinner? Spread them on a clean kitchen towel and place another towel on top and pat them dry. Be sure they are good and dry before you add the oil.

Toss with a little oil - olive or canola.
A little bit of extra virgin olive oil is all you need – 1/2 tablespoon of oil per baking sheet of kale chips. Spread leaves in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. If you line the baking sheet with parchment paper on non-stick foil - that’s even better. (You can use 2 baking sheets if you are making a lot.) Do not crowd them or pile them up.

Now move them into a pile in the middle of the pan and drizzle the oil over the leaves. Toss with your hands to distribute the oil over the leaves making sure the oil really gets into them. Now sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper and, if you like, 2 tablespoons of finely grated parmesan cheese. Now spread them back into a single layer. If you are making enough for 2 sheet pans you will put your racks in the middle of the oven and half way through cooking you will switch the pans – move the top one to where the bottom one and bottom one to top.

Low baking keeps the chips from burning. Set the oven to 275 degrees F. After 15 minutes rotate the pans, and bake for another 10 minutes. If not crisp, bake another 5 or more minutes. They will get even crisper once you remove them from the oven and they begin to cool - about 3 minutes.

Tips: You can make these a day ahead and store in an air-tight container at a cool room temperature. If they need to be re-crisped a bit, toss them in a 275 degree F oven for a few minutes.

Maryland-Style Steamed Shrimp

I am including this recipe from my cookbook. Everyone enjoys shrimp - well, almost everyone!

Though this recipe is called Steamed Shrimp, they are actually boiled. Anytime I have served these shrimp people go crazy for them.

In Maryland they use shrimp in the shell. Of course, this requires peeling and that’s fine if you are sitting at a table, but for a party you don’t want guests having to peel a shrimp and getting their fingers sticky. So here are 2 versions that will simulate the actual Maryland style shrimp without using shrimp in the shell: one using shrimp that are peeled and deveined BUT NOT cooked and one for shrimp that are already peeled, deveined and cooked.

You will need at least 1 pound of shrimp - Medium will be 41-50 per pound or medium-large which is 36-40 per pound. 
  • Thaw the shrimp if frozen. You can put them in a bowl of tap water to speed up the thawing.
  • Use a large pot that will hold all the shrimp. Place the shrimp in the pot. Add water to just cover. Add 1 teaspoon of salt per 1 pound of shrimp.
  • Bring the water to a boil then reduce to a simmer. When the shrimp turn pink and white and curl they are done. Grey and translucent-ish is not done. Drain immediately and put them in a bowl.
  • Add the following per 1 pound of shrimp:
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Old Bay Seafood Seasoning
  • Toss the shrimp until they are well coated. Remove to a plate and let them cool. Eat them at room temperature or chill them.
  • Any shrimp I have bought frozen that said they were cooked were not really cooked the way they should be. Thaw the shrimp if frozen. You can buy one of those shrimp rings or use frozen shrimp in a bag.
  • Use a large pot that will hold all the shrimp. Fill the pot half way with water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt per 1 pound of shrimp. Boil the water, remove it from the heat and toss in the shrimp. Let them sit in the hot water for 2 to 3 minutes. Depends on the size of your shrimp. When they turn curl drain the pot, but leave the shrimp in it. Add the vinegar and Old Bay as described above. Toss to coat and place on a plate.
Shrimp Sauce (for dipping)
Mix together:
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish or more if you like it hotter
  • (optional - a few drops of lemon juice)

Artichoke Spread

This is an easy and delicious spread for bread or crackers or pita chips.
  • 2 can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Grease a 9” by 9” baking dish or round dish that is equivalent in size with a little butter. Mix the ingredients and spread into the dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. Serve with small pieces of bread or crackers.


Chicken livers wrapped in bacon. Did you just squeal? About 2/3 of the people I know won’t touch them which is fine – more for me and other rumaki lovers! This is one of those love or hate things. They are fairly easy to make if you don’t mind handling chicken livers!

You will need about 1 pound of chicken livers. They are usually sold in a container in or around the chicken section of the market. Drain them. Cut large ones in half. They are slippery so be careful. In a medium bowl whisk together the following:
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 can of sliced water chestnuts drained
  • 1, 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped or a heaping teaspoon of ground ginger
Add the livers, toss to coat, cover with wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes. 
Meanwhile, soak a bunch of toothpicks in water until you make the rumaki.

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Strain the livers and chestnuts and save the marinade.

Using some good bacon that is not too thin, cut a strip into 3 equal lengths. Place a slice of the chestnut in the middle of each length and place a piece of liver on top. Wrap the bacon from both sides over the liver so that the bacon overlaps. Secure with a toothpick all the way through the liver and chestnut and out the other side. Repeat until all the liver is used.

Place on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or when the bacon is done. Turn them and baste with the marinade a few times during cooking. You can also do these on a grill.

Baked Brie with Sliced Almonds, Dried Cranberries and Honey

Baked Brie is always an elegant cheese appetizer. There are many things you can use as toppings.

  • 1 Brie round (about 13 ounces) – if it comes in a wooden box, save the bottom.
  • 4 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Spray a small ovenproof dish with nonstick cooking spray. If you have a wooden box bottom no need to do this step.
  • *Cut the top off the brie. (optional - see note below on removing the top)
  • Place the Brie in the dish. If you have a wooden box bottom, place the Brie in the box bottom and then place in a baking dish.
  • Sprinkle top with almonds and cranberries.
  • Drizzle honey over the top.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Provide a wide knife like a cheese knife for serving or if you had a box, leave it in the box and serve with a small spoon.
*It is optional whether you cut the top off the brie before baking. If you want to remove the top you can do this by using a fish line, some dental floss or a very thin wire. Place the brie wheel on a clean and open surface; with a sharp knife just pierce the top just below the surface to get a starting point. Now position the wire/floss just below the surface. Pull it slowly and carefully across the top to remove the top crust. This will leave you with a clean surface to work on. You can use a knife to shear off the top of the brie wheel. This, however, will result in a more uneven surface.

Other toppings:
  • chopped pecans and orange marmelade or apricot jam
  • chopped walnuts and apple chutney
  • fig jam or a peach chutney


Bocconcini are small or mini balls of mozzarella cheese. They are quite versatile for making appetizers. You can merely marinate them in an Italian vinaigrette or buy some that already come in a flavored oil. Some even come with herbs. Here are some options. If you can only find plain ones in water I suggest marinating them in some olive oil and chopped garlic and fresh herbs like basil or parsley for a few hours first.

  • Take a small slice of prosciutto or good ham. Place a leaf of basil on it and roll it around the bocconcini. Secure with a toothpick.
  • Get a small cucumber. Trim off about 1/4 of an inch lengthwise. Using a vegetable peeler, peel a long wide strip from the cucumber. Wrap it around the marinated bocconcini twice and trim. Secure with a toothpick.
  • Buy a jar of roasted red peppers, cut them in 1/2 inch strips and wrap them around some marinated bocconcini.
  • Buy some cherry tomatoes. Cut off the tops, dig out the seeds and put marinated bocconcini in the holes.
  • Place marinated bocconcini, grape tomatoes and a basil leaf on a toothpick or small skewer like a kabob.
  • Place marinated bocconcini, olives and pieces of roasted red pepper on a toothpick or small skewer like a kabob.

Country Ham and Biscuits and Other Sandwiches

Small finger sandwiches are always good for a party and probably the best of all is a simple biscuit with some thinly sliced country ham. You can always make your own biscuits, but if you are not a baker you surely can buy frozen or refrigerated biscuits and just bake them. Pillsbury’s frozen biscuits are much better than the refrigerated variety that come in a tube. In fact, their frozen biscuits are amazing. Pillsbury’s Grands Mini Buttermilk biscuits work great. If you’t find the mini variety you could use the regular size buttermilk or Southern style. All you have to do is bake the biscuits according to directions, let them cool, split them and fill them with a little country ham.

Other types of small sandwiches might be some chicken salad or pimiento cheese salad on small buns or between some thin slices of crostini – toasted thinly sliced pieces of a baguette. Or you might do small “sliders” with meatballs and a dab of marinara. Some pork BBQ and a slice of pickle on a small bun would also be tasty.

  • 2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken (or leftover turkey)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
  • 4 tablespoons chopped pecans
  • 4 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise (or more as you like it)
  • 1 teaspoon salt and pepper
  • (option) 12 seedless grapes sliced in half
  • (option) 1/4 cup small diced apple
  • Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate.

  • 8 ounce block of sharp cheddar or white Vermont cheddar (avoid pre-shredded bags of cheese)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green olives
  • 1, 4 ounce jar diced pimentos well-drained (put into a small fine-mesh strainer and press to remove water)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 or 3 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise - depending on how moist you want it.
  • Shred cheddar on a grater and put in a medium mixing bowl. Add all the ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours to let flavors meld.