There will be plenty of holiday entertaining going on this week straight into New Year's, and some home cooks may be more ambitious than others.
What follows are some ideas for finger foods, some elaborate, others quick and easy, for drop-in guests, cocktail parties or before dinner hors d'oeuvres.
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons finely minced chives
Butter, as needed
1 pound package dried apricots
8 ounces Thompson seedless raisins, or to taste
3 tablespoons calvados brandy
1/2 pound mascarpone cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup pine nuts
Whole chives, for garnish
For crepes: Beat eggs until frothy; add milk and water. Beat in flour, salt and curry powder, and fold in chives.
Heat an 8-inch, non-stick skillet, and melt 1 tablespoon butter. Pour a scant 1/4 cup of crepe batter into skillet, and tilt skillet so that batter covers bottom of the pan evenly.
Cook about 1 minute; loosen edges of crepe with a spatula; flip and cook for 30 seconds more, then remove to a plate. Repeat until all batter is used, stacking finished crepes between sheets of wax paper.
For filling: Quarter apricots. Soak apricots and raisins in water to cover for 30 minutes or until plump.
In saucepan, heat fruit, its liquid and the calvados. Cook 15 minutes or until fruit is soft. Remove from heat and cool.
To assemble: Place a crepe flat on work space. Spoon about 1 tablespoon cooked fruit in center; add 1/2 tablespoon mascarpone cheese and sprinkle with pine nuts. Fold crepe in half, then into quarters. Repeat assembly with remaining crepes and filling.
Makes about 24 appetizer servings. Crepes may be made ahead and frozen; defrost before filling.
MINIATURE STILTON AND PEAR QUICHES
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound butter
1/4 cup ice water
6ounces blue Stilton cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 to 2 pears, cored and diced but peel left on
1 1/2 cups cream
3 large eggs
Salt and pepper
For pastry: Sift flour and salt; add butter and cut into flour until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Gradually add water and mix into a dough. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Roll out on floured work surface and use to line 2- to 3-inch quiche or tart tins. Chill 30 minutes, then bake in 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Cool slightly and remove from tins.
For filling: Distribute equal amounts of crumbled cheese and diced pear into the shells. Whisk eggs and cream together, and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon egg-cream mixture into shells to almost fill. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.
Makes 14 to 16 miniature quiches; may be made ahead and served at room temperature or rewarmed in 325-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
CHEESE-STUFFED FIGS IN PUFF PASTRY
12 dried figs
1 package puff pastry or phyllo dough
1/4 pound grana or any quality Parmesan cheese
1/4 pound ham (preferably pancetta), sliced very thinly
Egg wash (1 egg yolk diluted with 1 to 2 tablespoons water)
Place figs in saucepan and cover with cold water; bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain water and wrap figs in a dish towel to dry.
Place dried figs in a jar; cover with Marsala and allow to steep overnight.
If using puff pastry, roll out slightly for a thinner pastry. Using a round cutter about 4 to 4 1/2 inches in diameter (the size of the bottom of a wine bottle), cut the pastry or phyllo sheets into 24 circles.
Cut cheese into small pieces. Quarter the pancetta slices.
Drain figs and cut each one in half. Stuff each fig half with a piece of cheese and wrap with pancetta.
Place a stuffed and wrapped fig in the center of a pastry circle, and brush the perimeter of the pastry with egg wash. Fold the pastry up toward the center to make a three-dimensional triangle enclosing the fig. Press edges to seal well. Brush entire pastry with egg wash.
Repeat until all figs are used. Place pastries on a greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown. Makes 24. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
And other appetizers
Asparagus Rolls: Blend 3 ounces of blue cheese with an 8-ounce package of cream cheese and a beaten egg. Spread oncrustless white bread that has been flattened with a rolling pin. (You should have enough cheese for 20 slices of bread.)
Place 1 cooked asparagus spear on each slice of bread. Roll up and secure with a cocktail pick. Dip in melted butter. Place on a cookie sheet in freezer and, when frozen, remove from sheet and package in a heavy plastic bag. At serving time, slice as many rolls as needed into three even pieces and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Makes 3 appetizers per roll.
Lucia's Boursin: To a softened package (8 ounces) of cream cheese, add 4 tablespoons softened butter, 4 teaspoons heavy cream, 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/8 teaspoon each: oregano, thyme, marjoram, dillweed and basil.
Using a clean tuna fish can with both ends removed, mold the cheese. Remove from mold and roll in coarsely cracked pepper (which you can crack by placing peppercorns in a clean cloth and pounding the cloth with a mallet). Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to a week, until needed. If desired, can be frozen.
Cocktail Time Cookies: Using a pastry blender, cut 4 tablespoons butter into 1 cup of flour sifted with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add 1 cup shredded sharp cheese and 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons ice water.
Roll into a cylinder and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm. Slice 1/4 -inch thick. Place on greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until crisp and browned. Cool, wrap tightly in foil and store in a cool place for up to three weeks. Or refrigerate dough before slicing and baking. Or freeze and thaw at serving time. Makes about 30.
Bruschetta: Defrost a long, thin loaf of Italian bread just enough to make it easy to slice into 1/2 -inch-thick slices. Brush each slice on both sides with olive oil. Place slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees until lightly toasted on both sides. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic salt and crumbled, dried rosemary. Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Yield will depend on size of loaf of bread.
Spicy Cocktail Peanuts: Mix 1 tablespoon chili powder with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and a dash of cayenne. Stir in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Place in plastic bag with 4 cups raw peanuts and shake to coat peanuts well. Spread evenly in a baking pan and bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until toasted.
Marinated Mushrooms: Cover 1 pound of small, perfect button mushrooms with boiling water. Let stand, uncovered, 15 minutes. Drain and place in a quart jar. Add well-seasoned garlic salad dressing to cover mushrooms. Cover jar and refrigerate. Will store, several weeks. Makes 1 quart.