Impromptu Snacks & Appetizers

by Elizabeth Skipper | December 24th, 2014 | Ask the Chef

crackers and brie (400x400)During the holiday season, there seem to be more impromptu get-togethers, whether at my house or someone else’s. I try to keep a block of good cheese and box of nice crackers on hand for occasions such as this. Are there other easy to make snacks, which have slow to perish ingredients that I can keep on hand? 

Oh my, yes. Not only are there lots of shelf-stable things to keep on hand, if you add the use of the fridge and freezer, the list is quite long. Remember staples you probably already have on-hand such as bread, lemons, herbs, spices, onions, and garlic.

For shelf-stable items, I think immediately of corn, pita and bagel chips; pretzels; pre-baked phyllo tartlet shells; nuts and nut butters; dried fruits like dates and apricots; olives; tapenade; canned tuna, anchovies, and salmon (as well as smoked oysters, clams, sardines, and shrimp, if you like those things); deviled ham; salsas, jams and chutneys; and canned or pickled artichokes.

Things which keep well in the fridge other than hard cheeses include salami; vacuum-sealed foods like bacon, prosciutto, ham, liverwurst, smoked salmon, trout, and other fish; unopened containers of sour cream, crème fraiche, yogurt, goat and cream cheese; and mayonnaise.

With this many choices, the number of snacks you can make is virtually limitless. As it’s the holidays and you’ll want to be festive, we’ll avoid ho-hum choices like chips and salsa. That doesn’t mean chips can’t be paired with some nice dips, though. Soft goat cheese, cream cheese, and mayonnaise can be used separately or blended together with other ingredients to make cold or warm dips.

Think of mixing cream cheese with smoked trout, some minced onion or a tiny bit of garlic, and a little lemon juice for a cold dip. One of my favorites is smoked bluefish dip made with the same ingredients; I suggest trout because it’s easier to find. Mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder, and a little honey, minced garlic, and lemon juice make a simple, classic curry dip.

A well-loved warm dip is made with canned artichokes, mayonnaise, parmesan cheese, and onions. For a twist, add some gorgonzola – if you like blue-veined cheeses, this is a delicious variation. Cream cheese, parmesan, mayonnaise, and a bag of frozen chopped onions are all it takes to make another warm dip. Serve cold or warm dips with crackers, or bagel or pita chips.

Buy or make some spiced nuts. Almonds, walnuts, and pecans are all good with sweet or savory spices. While a can of mixed nuts seems plebian, a spiced roasted single variety of nut is elegant. Simple roasted almonds are a classic accompaniment to dry sherry or cocktails.

How about a nice spread of smoked salmon accompanied by chopped onion, capers, and lemon slices? I’d be a happy girl presented with that. If that’s on the pricey side, then enjoy the taste of salmon for less with a dip as described above. A good quality salami – maybe one like I found the other day with black truffles in it, or one made with wine – is always welcome. All that’s required is slicing and arranging it attractively on a festive tray along with some pickles. Don’t forget a pretty garnish.

I could go on and on, but I hope this gives you some inspiration. Because of the catering I do, I have a huge file of snack recipes. However, I’d like to mention two particular favorites, one cold and one hot. Both are marvelously easy but tasty. The cold one is simply a mixture of goat and cream cheese, blended to taste with a little cream to loosen the mixture, spread on a dried apricot, and topped with a toasted pecan half. Not messy, easily consumed in one or two bites, looks pretty displayed on a tiered server, and unusual, it’s a winner.

The hot snack is one which has appeared in many guises, with slight variations. When I first encountered it, it was in a Sunset Book of Hors D’oeuvres published in 1976. I offer you the amusingly named Hasty Hots.


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