By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
It’s that time of year where entertaining normally abounds: office parties, house parties, old friends gathering, church functions, and of course, the holidays themselves. But this year, we may have to take pause, once again, because of the Omicron virus. For those of you who are triple-vaxxed, you may not have to wait.
Appetizers are a vital part of holiday events whether they are served before a meal with cocktails, served in the afternoon with wine, or offered as a complete spread instead of a full-plated buffet. They create a festive atmosphere and invite guests to mingle and visit with each other. Before a meal, appetizers in fact, “whet the appetite” for the meal to come.
According to Collins Dictionary, an hors d’oeuvre is “a small portion of a tasty food served as an appetizer before a meal or as at a cocktail party.” The origin is from French, literally: outside the work, not part of the main course.
In the early 2000s, a new trend appeared in party giving: the small plates affairs, which is still popular today. These are appetizers plated up with a fork and either passed or set out on a buffet. The items are often garnished beautifully. Talk about lots of work! Each plate has one appetizer and then when eaten, the plate is set down. Who is collecting and washing all of those dishes? I hope it’s not you. Been there, done that.
Another thing to consider: If your cocktail party is in place of your guest’s dinner, make sure you have some substantial offerings, such as roast tenderloin, turkey breast or ham with rolls, an antipasti tray, or a whole poached fish. You may even put out a few finger food desserts with a pot of coffee toward the end of your party just to finish things off.
One last point, and this is important: Please make sure you have enough food. I had one of my most embarrassing catering moments back in the late ‘70s when I was doing parties in San Francisco. My partner and I were really inexperienced, and it showed. The party planner told us this was just a cocktail party. We prepared a few appetizers per person. However, the guests had a different idea: the event was at the dinner hour and they planned to chow down. They queued up at our paltry buffet and we ran out of food before half the guests got through the line. The worst feeling in the world! It never happened again in my 30 years of catering. Tough lesson.
When a venue is just too small to seat everyone for a meal, or you don’t want to go to the expense of feeding the hungry masses, consider hosting a cocktail party (late afternoon or very early evening) or an afternoon (2-5 p.m.) get-together where passed appetizers are appropriate. You would think that this is an easy affair for the host but au contraire. I have found it to be more work than you might imagine.
For an appetizer party, you will need to offer variety. To keep it interesting, I suggest making at least six different appetizers to pass or set out on a table or a ledge. Think about it: labor-intensive individual snacks. I recommend having 1 1/2 of each kind per person. Do the math: 20 guests times 1 1/2 of each equals 180 pieces. Get my drift?
There are a couple of ways to assist in this labor-intensive endeavor. First, consider having some of the dishes that may be left out during the course of the party such as a cheese platter or vegetable crudités with dip. You can take this to the next level and offer smoked salmon and/or Italian meats with small rounds of breads and several mustards.
Another time saver is to make appetizers ahead and freeze them uncooked. The day of the party, just pop them in the oven. Make sure not all of your hors d’oeuvres are hot. Do you have enough oven space? Do you want to be shuffling trays in and out of the oven for the next couple of hours? No, you don’t, I promise. Offer cold appetizers to help yourself out.
I love today’s recipe for several reasons: this is a do-ahead hors d’oeuvre that is frozen and baked right from the freezer. I am offering these with phyllo triangles with spinach and cheese. The good news is you can use any combination of cheeses. You can also substitute cooked broccoli or sautéed mushrooms for the spinach. This is an expandable recipe, so make as many as you need. Last, if you have the counter space, lay out as many phyllo sheets as you are able. The task will be much easier. We here at The Insider know that your guests will be impressed. Happy holidays and see you in the kitchen next year!
Spinach Phyllo Triangles
Yield: 2 dozen
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 10 oz. boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, liquid squeezed out completely
1/2 lb. shredded Swiss cheese
1 large egg
In a small skillet over moderate heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Put in a bowl. Cool to room temperature. Blend in the chopped spinach, cheese, and egg. Season well with salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Take 2 phyllo sheets off the stack and lay them lengthwise on your work surface. Add as many sets as you have room for on your counter or table. Brush the dough with melted butter. Using a sharp knife, cut the sheets crosswise into 6 pieces, beginning at the top of the dough and pulling the knife toward you.
Place about a tablespoon of filling at the bottom of each strip. Fold the dough over the mixture forming a triangle. Working from bottom to top, continue in a flag fold technique. Repeat process so you have 2 dozen triangles in total.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment. Lay triangles on the prepared pan. Brush tops with melted butter. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.
NOTE: Triangles can be frozen raw on a cookie sheet. When frozen solid, gather up in a Ziploc bag to store in the freezer. When ready to serve, do not defrost. Place triangles on prepared cookie sheets and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.