The festive season is in full swing and no party is complete without a generous supply of delicious nibbles to help the fizz go down nicely. With the help of new Dorling Kindersley book Canapes (by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille), we show you how to prep and plan the perfect food for your bash. Plus some tasty canapes recipes.
By Diana Pilkington
Whether it's a Christmas gathering or a New Year's Eve bash, chances are you'll have some entertaining to do over the festive period.
And what better way to delight your guests than by serving up platters of canapes that look pretty, tickle the taste buds and, crucially, are a practical way to feed a crowd?
In the new edition of her book Canapes, Victoria Blashford-Snell writes: "Serving canapes to your guests is a fun way of showing off - not only your organisational skills, but your knowledge of cooking and of pairing up assorted flavours, including different influences from other cuisines."
Add to this the fact that there's minimal washing-up to do - "All your guests require is a drink, a cocktail napkin, and a warm welcome," she points out - and you have the recipe for a smooth festive bash.
Here's a summary of some of the author's tips for making your canapes party go with a swing...
:: As a general rule, allow five pieces per guest for pre-lunch or dinner drinks. Allow six per guest for first-course canapes. Go for 10 pieces for each guest at a drinks party. If it's a canape-only evening event, allow 14 pieces per guest.
:: When large groups are involved, allow for more canapes per person as some people may bring another guest along.
:: If you're playing host to different age groups, try and cater for all tastes with a combination of hot and cold canapes, including classic recipes as well as more adventurous ones.
:: A mix of poultry, fish, seafood, red meat and vegetables is a good idea. Don't go overboard on fried options among your hot canapes, and include some gluten-free and vegetarian choices in your cold ones.
:: For a stress-free event, prepare ahead where possible. Lots of canape bases will keep well if made in advance and stored properly, so include some of these options. Test out new recipes beforehand so they don't go wrong on the day.
:: Include a nod to the season in your menu where possible.
:: When putting together your canapes, be generous with the filling but be careful not to overfill your bases as this can make them tricky to eat.
:: Choose platters that can be passed around guests easily, and be creative with presentation. Textured materials like coarse sea salt and banana leaves can jazz up a plain platter. Nightlight candles in small pots look good too.
:: To avoid mess, use a fresh bowl every time you need to top up dips, and have a stash of cocktail napkins and separate bowl for cocktail sticks in your armoury.
These canape recipes from the book will go down a treat at any winter party...
6 slices of medium white bread
125g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
24 quail eggs
4 slices of Parma ham
175ml plain hollandaise
10g chives, finely chopped to garnish
Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2.
Brush the bread with melted butter and use the cookie cutter to stamp out 4 rounds per bread slice (to make your croutes). Place the croutes on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes, until crisp, then set aside to cool.
To bake the quail eggs, generously butter a mini muffin tin and crack eggs into each hole. Bake in the oven for 4 minutes (the yolks should still be runny). Using a teaspoon, carefully scoop the eggs out of the tins and onto a tray or plate to cool.
Increase oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Place the croutes (not touching) on a flat oven tray, tear the ham into 24 equal pieces, and place a piece folded on top of each croute. Next, place the baked egg on top and cover with 1 teaspoon of hollandaise. Bake for 4-5 minutes then garnish with finely chopped chives.
Classic cheese quesadilla with green chilli, coriander and avocado salsa
For the salsa:
2 ripe avocados
Half a red onion, very finely chopped
Half a red chilli, seeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp olive oil
Dash of Tabasco sauce, or to taste
For the quesadilla:
4 flour tortillas (18cm)
175g grated Swiss
30g coriander, finely chopped
1 bunch of spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salsa, skin and stone the avocado, then finely chop or mash with the rest of the salsa ingredients and season to taste.
Place 2 tortillas on the work surface. Divide the cheese, coriander, spring onions, chilli, and salt and pepper evenly between them. Press the 2 remaining tortillas on top to make a sandwich.
Heat a large frying pan with a drizzle of oil. When heated, sear the tortilla sandwiches over medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until crisp and light golden in colour, flipping with a fish slice or a palette knife halfway through.
Cut each quesadilla into 12 wedges and serve with the avocado salsa.
Asian pork balls with chilli-lime dipping sauce
For the sauce:
Juice of 1 lime
1tbsp caster sugar
2tbsp fish sauce
1 red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1tbsp grated fresh root ginger
For the meatballs:
200g minced pork
30g shallots, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
1tsp soft brown sugar
1.2tsp freshly ground black pepper
10g coriander leaves, finely chopped
10g mint leaves, finely chopped
1tbsp grated fresh ginger
2tbsp Thai fish sauce
Vegetable or sunflower oil to fry
1tbsp chopped fresh coriander, to garnish
For the sauce, mix all the ingredients together with 2 tablespoons of water and taste for seasoning.
Place the meatball ingredients into a large bowl and mix well together. Then mould a ball, about the size of a walnut, for testing. Heat a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of oil and fry the ball on both sides for 2 minutes or until cooked through. Taste to check the flavour - you may wish to add more fish sauce or salt to your mixture.
Roll the remainder of the mixture into small balls. Fry briskly but gently on both sides to cook through. At this stage you can keep them warm in a medium oven until ready to serve. Serve with the chilli-lime dipping sauce scattered with torn coriander.
Parmesan shortbreads with betroot pesto
200g beetroot, cooked and peeled
30g toasted pine nuts
45g Parmesan cheese, grated
1 clove of garlic
4tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
20 Parmesan shortbreads (see recipe below)
15g toasted pine nuts
10g Parmesan, grated
Handful of micro cress
For the pesto, place all the ingredients together in a food processor; pulse until a rough paste forms and the ingredients are well combined. Taste to check the seasoning.
Use a teaspoon to top the shortbreads with the pesto.
Garnish with the toasted pine nuts, Parmesan shavings, and micro cress. Serve at room temperature.
Cook's note: Dry-roast the pine nuts carefully in a frying pan until lightly coloured. This helps to enhance their flavour and it's best to roast your own. You can use bought cooked beetroot, but not the kind stored in vinegar.
60g plain flour
Pinch of salt
2-3 pinches of cayenne pepper
45g chilled butter, diced
60g Parmesan, grated
Place the flour, pinch of salt, cayenne pepper, diced butter and grated Parmesan into a large mixing bowl.
Using your fingertips, gently crumble all the ingredients together until they are well combined and resemble breadcrumbs.
Next, push the ingredients together firmly to form a smooth dough. Pushing them around will help to bring the moisture out of the butter and cheese.
Using a rolling pin, roll out the shortbread dough on a lightly floured cool work surface until the dough is 4mm thick. Use a cookie cutter to stamp out 25-30 shapes, gathering up and re-rolling the dough if necessary.
Place the pastry shapes on a baking sheet, lined with greaseproof paper and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Remove the pastry shapes from the refrigerator and bake in the oven until slightly golden and crisp, 8-10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Once cooled, to store place on layers of greaseproof paper in an airtight container.
When ready, add a topping of your choice no more than 40 minutes before serving - and watch your guests devour them in minutes!
And here's a recipe from chef Omar Allibhoy for a handy addition to any festive party...
Spanish olives marinated in ginger, cinnamon and cardamom
1 jar or tin of 'turning colour' or black Spanish olives
100ml of mild Spanish olive oil
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
2 kaffir lime leaves
2cm of fresh ginger
Drain the Spanish olives from the brine and place in a bowl. Peel and thinly slice the ginger, crush the cardamom pods, cinnamon stick and kaffir lime leaves, before mixing them all in with the olives and olive oil. Leave to stand for 20 minutes before eating, or keep in the fridge for up to a month in a tightly sealed container.
:: Recipe created by Omar Allibhoy, who is supporting the Olives from Spain campaign. See www.olivesfromspain.co.uk
:: Canapes by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille is published by DK, priced £14.99. Available now. Visit www.dk.com