C'est Cheese!





Canapés are, by definition, meat, cheese or savory of some kind served on small crackers or pieces of bread ... but they can also be served on cheese slices, cucumber rounds, potato slices baked to a crisp, sliced apples and pears, or in little pastry shells. For sheer ease of preparation, I'll prolly have a basket heaped with sliced baguette (or a tray with crackers), and an assortment of scrummy spreads (some rooted in Retro Cocktail Party, a few with shades of Mrtha Stywrrt) on the hors d'oeuvre table... this way, it's all easy to prepare and serve, and can be made well ahead of time ('cos I don't wanna deal with lots of right-before-the-party rolling or wrapping or stuffing). But I know I'll do a tray with some foofed canapés as well, just because they look so pretty and colorful all prepared and garnished. 

The keys to good canapés are color and garnish. Six different white spreads on canapés? Boring! But top one with crumbled bacon, another with diced cucumber, yet another with fresh herbs and tomato, or serve one on rye bread and another on light water crackers, and things start to perk up. Great garnishes for canapés include:

  • crumbled bacon
  • baby shrimp
  • chopped fresh parsley, chives, sprigs of dill, tarragon, or other herbs
  • hard boiled egg (chopped or sliced)
  • shredded cheese
  • diced ham
  • thin salami slices
  • shredded carrot
  • cornichons (sliced or whole)
  • diced cucumber
  • diced tomato
  • asparagus tips
  • chopped nuts  
  • capers
  • olives (black or green, diced or sliced)
  • pea pods
  • diced green onion
  • (my fave) caviar!

These garnishes can be combined and paired with a variety of spreads, from things as simple as Dijon mustard or good sour cream, to rich pâté. Mix and match with bases like tiny toasts (usually available at good grocery stores), a variety of bread rounds (white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, whatever looks best at La Brea Bakery ), tortillas (the homemade ones from Trader Joe's are awesome, and taste great served cold. Plain ol' tortillas might stand to be cut into triangles and baked at 350° for 5 minutes until they're crisp), or water crackers (I prefer the Pepperidge Farm ones to the Carr's... the PF ones are a little thicker and richer); and as mentioned before, you can also use non-bread things for canapés: slices of apple or pear, cherry tomato halves, thin slices of baked potato (cut a raw potato into slices, spray with olive oil, and bake at 350° for 5-10 minutes, or until crisp but not hard), cucumber rounds, celery stalks, sturdy slices of good cheese (mmm... a good ham served on a bit of English cheddar!).... Possibilities are endless! But NOTE: when preparing bread rounds or slices, use a day-old loaf of firm, good-quality bread (this ain't the time for Wonder!), and trim off all crusts with a sharp knife. You can cut them with cookie cutters into different shapes, but partially freeze the bread first... otherwise you end up with squashed bread. Not that I, Goddess of Foof, have ever squashed bread! Ha HA!

I like variety and strong flavors in a canapé selection. Here're some of my favorite combos (a few are from the Carr's site, a few from my favorite New York Cookbook, and some from, bless her heart, Mrtha):

  • Combine 1/2 cup feta cheese, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1 clove garlic (minced), 2 tablespoons fresh parsley (minced ), and 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper pepper. Can be garnish with cucumber triangles and chopped tomato.
  • Combine 8-oz. Mascarpone cheese, 4 oz. Gorgonzola cheese and 1/4 cup toasted, chopped walnuts. Place 3 or 4 thin slices prosciutto on a cutting board. Cover each slice with a single layer of fresh basil leaves. Roll, jelly-roll style, and slice into 1/4" wide pinwheels. Make gremolata by combining 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley, zest of one lemon and 2 minced garlic cloves. Spread one tablespoon cheese mixture on bread or cracker. Top with one pinwheel and garnish with gremolata.
  • Lightly blend 4-oz. Roquefort or blue cheese with 3 tablespoons whipping cream. Stir in 1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts. Chill at least one hour. Spread 2 teaspoons cheese mixture on crackers or bread. Thinly slice one ripe red pear and top cheese mixture (or, for something different, serve spread on pear or red apple slices). Can be served on bread, crackers, or cherry tomato halves.
  • Drain and finely chop a (13-oz) can of artichoke hearts (not the marinated kind!). Combine them with 1 (8-oz.) package of cream cheese, 2 cups of grated Parmasean, 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 garlic clove (minced) and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or 1/2 dried). Spread mixture in a heavy baking dish or a pie pan, and bake in a 400° oven for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly and lightly brown. Can be served warm or cold
  • De-vein, peel and cook18 large shrimp. Mix 1 tablespoon curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard. Rub mixture into each shrimp. Arrange crackers or bread rounds on a baking sheet, and top each with a dollop of mango chutney (using 1/4 cup total) and a shrimp. Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded, sharp Cheddar cheese over all. Bake 10 minutes. Serve hot.
  • Mince 2 gloves of garlic in olive oil for a minute or two over medium heat. Add to it 6 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley. Cook over low heat 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature. This tomato sauce can be served, bruchetta style, on slices of day-old baguette, with a cream cheese spread, or with some of the plainer seafood spreads (even just chunks of crabmeat). It can also be dabbed on raviolis and served canapé-like that way. 
  • Combine 2 cups (16-oz.) canned chick peas (or 1 cup dried chick-peas, soaked for 4 hours, rinsed and skinned. To skin chick-peas, place them in a clean dish towel and rub them until skins come off), 3 tablespoons tahini paste (available at Middle East markets), 1 clove minced garlic, juice of 2 lemons, salt in a food processor or blender. Add 1/2 cup of water. Process to a thick puree. Transfer hummus to a bowl and cover with a thin film of olive oil to keep it from crusting until ready to use. Serve on pita triangles, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with dill sprigs.
  • Combine a 4-oz. piece of smoked salmon (flaked, with skin and bones removed) and 4-oz. cream cheese with one sliced green onion, 1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and a dash freshly ground pepper. Cover and chill up to 24 hours. To serve, spread on slices of rye bread or cucumber rounds, and garnish with dill sprigs.
  • Combine 8-oz package cream cheese with 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) 1.8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper, 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder, mixing until well blended. Slice and unsliced loaf of whole wheat bread (crusts trimmed off) lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices. Roll each slice lightly with a rolling pin to 1/4" thickness. Evenly spread each bread slice with cream cheese mixture, and roll up slice (starting at narrowest end). Spread outside of the rolls with softened butter or margarine (excluding the ends!). Coat bread rolls with finely chopped, toasted pecans. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes. Cut each bread roll into approximately 1/2" slice pinwheels. (*Pinwheel stuff and stuff covered with chopped nuts was, like, WAY KEWL at cocktail parties in the 50s and 60s!)