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A bite to eat; Dazzle your guests with local chefs' recipes for holiday hors d'oeuvres

Count the handcrafted canape among the victims of progress. Today, even the pathologically kitchen-phobic can offer serviceable crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms and mini-quiches from supermarket freezers.

That's why crafting your own holiday hors d'oeuvres can get you more culinary street cred than ever. Not to mention satisfying your guests.

So, The News sought professional help in the classy one-handed party bite department. Chefs who have satisfied banquet rooms full of demanding eaters agreed to share recipes that range from easy to challenging.

James Roberts, executive chef of Park Country Club in Amherst, serves trays full of handcrafted bites during scores of weddings each year. He offered recipes for canapes that play off a familiar party trope -- the fruit and cheese platter -- aiming for smarter, classier, tastier.

Even in the private enclave of a country club wedding, you don't want to look like you're trying too hard. "Instead of things that look contrived, we strive for simple purity," Roberts said. "It doesn't have to be complex or modified or constructed, or any of that."

So here's an apple slice with Gorgonzola dolce, and dressed grapes with toasted almond cream cheese, a throwback to the classic cheese ball.

"Very simple. Unassuming. Beautiful," Roberts said, explaining his goal. "You want something that presents well to the eye, but destroys the palate. That's the idea. I'm literally trying to blow people up."

Other chefs add their own touches to the recipes that follow. Christopher Daigler, executive chef at Encore, 492 Pearl St., suggested cloaking spheres of roasted beet in goat cheese before rolling them in pistachio, and served with spicy, spiked hot chocolate "shooters."

Joe George, who blogs about food at and is the executive chef at the Twentieth Century Club, shared some of his classic canapes. Tenderloin with onion marmalade and salmon mousse are some of the classic standards that guests ask for most often, he said.

Kate Elliott, executive chef at Merge, 439 Delaware Ave., suggested a vegan "pulled pork," made with dried tofu and topped with grapefruit salsa, for people who don't eat meat or avoid dairy products.

"It's a lot easier than it sounds," Elliott said of her recipe, printed inside. "I think it would be a good idea for people who are having vegan or vegetarian guests at their party to make them something besides hummus."

Local Apple, Gorgonzola Dolce and Clover Honey Crostini

2 or 3 slices country white bread

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

3 ounces Gorgonzola dolce cheese

1/2 cup apple juice

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 apple, preferably local, cored

2 tablespoons honey, preferably wildflower

Remove crust from bread and cut into bite-sized rectangles (crostini). Butter crostinis and sprinkle with a little salt and sugar; if using, dust minimally with cinnamon. Bake in a 350-375 degree oven until just toasted and golden.

Put cheese in freezer for 1 hour. Cut it into thin rectangles to fit crostini, then lay them on wax paper and refrigerate.

Pour apple juice and lemon juice (prevents browning) in a small bowl. Cut apple in slices, top to bottom, and place in juice. Warm honey briefly in microwave, adding a teaspoon or two of apple juice to thin it.

Place a cheese slice on warm crostini, top with a slice of apple and drizzle with a small amount of honey mixture. Serve. Makes 20 to 24.

-- James Roberts, Park Country Club


Crisp Endive with Toasted Almond Cream Cheese and Salted Grape Salad

2 heads Belgian endive

16 each red and green grapes, halved

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, roughly chopped

3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1 tablespoon toasted sliced almonds, crushed

1 teaspoon clover honey

Pull apart endive leaves. Place in ice water for 20 minutes. Drain upside down on paper towel, refrigerate.

In small bowl, combine grapes, olive oil, salt and parsley. Allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Thoroughly mix cream cheese, toasted almonds and honey in small bowl until smooth. Place in disposable piping bag with star tip, if you have one. Or use spoon.

Flip the endive over, pipe or place a small dollop of cream cheese mix on the open end of the leaf. Spoon a small amount of the grape salad next to it in the cradle of the leaf. These may be refrigerated, but must be pulled out in time for the oil to warm to room temp before guests arrive. Best eaten right away, when endive is crisp. Makes 12 to 16.

-- James Roberts


Marinated Strawberries on Warm Brie Crostini

4 slices sourdough bread, crust removed, cut into squares

1 tablespoon melted butter

Kosher salt and pepper

4 ounces brie or other double cream cheese, cut into thin crostini-sized squares

8 strawberries, cut in half or smaller to fit crostini

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier liqueur

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Brush crostinis (bread squares) with butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast in 350-375 degree oven for 3-5 minutes, until golden brown. Slice cheese, laying it on wax paper, refrigerated, until time to serve.

Combine strawberries, vanilla, liqueur and sugar. Marinate from 1 hour to overnight, but no longer.

When ready to assemble, place a piece of cheese on each crostini and place in 350-375 degree oven for 2-3 minutes, until slightly soft. Drain a strawberry piece and place on top. Serve. (Can substitute light vinegar or fruit juice for liqueur.)

Makes up to 16 crostinis. Excellent with sparkling wine, prosecco or cava.

-- James Roberts


Vegan "Pulled Pork" with Grapefruit Salsa

1 12-ounce bag bean curd stick

8 cups water

1 cup Bragg Aminos (gluten-free)

4 tablespoons sambal oelek (chili paste), divided

1/4 cup kosher salt

Zest of 3 oranges

1/2 cup shallots, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/4 cup vegan Worcestershire

1 tablespoon whole grain mustard

1 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons molasses

1 teaspoons liquid smoke (optional; can use birch or root beer)

8 grapefruit, cut into supremes

1 red onion, finely diced

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaf

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Salt and pepper, preferably white

Corn chips, preferably blue

(Bragg's Aminos, a gluten-free soy sauce substitute, and vegan Worcestershire can be found at health food stores and the Lexington Co-op. Bean curd stick is found at Asian groceries.)

In a large bowl, add Bragg's, 3 tablespoons sambal, salt and orange zest to water, and stir to dissolve salt. Add bean curd and soak overnight.

Next day: In large pot with lid, heat mixture to boil, then reduce heat to low simmer. Cover and braise 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cool.

Slice braised tofu thinly, mimicking the look of pulled pork.

In an ovenproof pan, sweat shallots and garlic in a tablespoon of oil. Deglaze with sherry vinegar. Add vegan Worcestershire, mustard, ketchup, molasses and liquid smoke, if using. Add shredded "pork/tofu" and braise, covered, in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. (Make sure "pork" is submerged.)

Meanwhile, dice grapefruit supremes into medium bowl. Squeeze juice of remaining pulp into bowl. Add onion, parsley, coriander, 1 tablespoon oil, and vinegar. Toss and season with salt and pepper.

Place spoonful of "pork" on chip. Top with grapefruit salsa. A dab of vegan sour cream is optional.

-- Kate Elliott, Merge


Golden Beet, Goat Cheese and Pistachio Lollipops

3 pounds golden beets

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/2 pound fresh goat cheese, preferably Humboldt Farms

1/2 pound ground fresh pistachios

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat beets lightly in olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in pan and roast, covered in foil, for about 2 hours. Remove beets from oven and chill.

Peel beets. Using a melon baller, scoop out spheres. Pat the beet balls dry with paper towels. Bring the goat cheese to room temperature. Coat beet balls with cheese. Roll goat cheese-covered beet in ground pistachio, skewer with a bamboo skewer, and serve.

Can be refrigerated for a couple of hours prior to serving.

-- Christopher Daigler, Encore


Chorizo, Black Bean and Corn Salsa in Tortilla Scoop

1 pound fresh chorizo uncased sausage, preferably Spars

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh shallots

3 ears fresh corn (husked and kernels removed)

1/2 large red onion, finely diced

1 can Goya premium black beans

1/4 cup chopped fresh green onions

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1 bag of Tostitos tortilla scoops

Render sausage in a pan on medium heat. Add olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, shallot, corn and red onion.

Once sausage is fully cooked and vegetables are translucent, remove from heat and place in a mixing bowl. Drain and rinse black beans and add to the sausage mixture. Add green onions and cilantro.

Mix thoroughly and place into the tortilla scoops.

-- Christopher Daigler


Crab Rangoon in Crisp Phyllo

1/4 cup sour cream

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese

1 cup lump crabmeat

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 cup sweet chili sauce, preferably Franks Red Hot

4 thinly sliced green onions (scallions)

2 packages prebaked phyllo (filo) cups

Let cream cheese soften to room temperature. Let phyllo cups come to room temperature.

Mix all ingredients together, reserving some green onions for garnish. Spoon crab mixture into phyllo cups and sprinkle with reserved scallions. Can be heated in medium oven and served warm or cold.

-- Christopher Daigler


Spicy Hot Chocolate Shooters

4 ounces ( 1/2 cup) heavy whipping cream

3 cups whole milk

4 ounces dark chocolate (preferably Godiva)

1/4 cup Baileys Irish Cream

3 tablespoon Kahlua

1 tablespoon ground guajillo pepper, or to taste

Pour cream and milk into medium pot and heat until warm. Break up chocolate and melt into mixture. Add liqueurs.

Whisk in chili powder to avoid clumps, starting with half if you're concerned about spiciness.

Serve in large shot glasses or demitasse cups. Pair with a milk chocolate-covered pretzel stick.

-- Christopher Daigler


Beef Tenderloin with Red Onion Marmalade

1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, sliced very thin

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup sugar

3 ounces cold water, divided

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons horseradish

1/2 cup mayonnaise

32 buttered toast points

1 pound beef tenderloin, cooked medium rare and chilled

3 tablespoons minced parsley

In a small skillet, combine the sliced onion, red wine vinegar, sugar, 2 ounces of the water, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower heat to a simmer. Cook the onions for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1 ounce of cold water and stir it into the onion mixture. Cook marmalade for another 2 minutes. Transfer to glass bowl and refrigerate until chilled.

In a small bowl, stir horseradish into mayonnaise. Arrange toast points on work surface, and using a spoon tip or small pastry bag, place a dot (about 1/2 teaspoon) of the horseradish mayonnaise on each.

Slice tenderloin very thin and arrange it attractively on the toast points. Garnish each canape with onion marmalade (using about half) and minced parsley. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Yield: about 32 pieces.

-- Joe George, Twentieth Century Club


Smoked Salmon Spread

1 tablespoon grated onion

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

24 ounces smoked salmon

1 pound cream cheese

4 sprigs fresh dill, minced

Assorted crackers or toast points

Combine onion, water, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce in food processor and process until smooth. Add smoked salmon and process for a minute or two, until smooth. Add cream cheese and process until smooth and fully incorporated. Add dill and pulse for a few seconds, just until mixed.

Serve in a bowl or on a platter, as a spread/dip for crackers and toast points. Or, using a pastry bag, pipe spread onto crackers as a simple canape. Yield: 15-20 servings.

-- Joe George


Little Chorizo Sausages (Choricitos)

1 pound ground pork butt

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon oregano

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Shape into small meatballs or patties. Cook in skillet or oven.

Serve plain, or wrapped in lettuce leaves and skewered with a toothpick. Makes about 30 choricitos.

-- Joe George


Dried Date and Chorizo Rumaki

16 slices bacon

8 ounces fresh chorizo sausage (store-bought or half of choricito recipe, above)

4 ounces cream cheese

32 whole, pitted sun-dried dates

Partially cook the bacon in skillet or oven and set aside. Cook chorizo in skillet, squeezing it out of casings if necessary, to render some of its fat. Remove chorizo from pan and drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine cooked chorizo and cream cheese. Mix thoroughly. Slice one side of each date lengthwise if there isn't a slit already. Stuff dates with chorizo/cheese mixture. Cut bacon in half and wrap each stuffed date in a piece, securing bacon with a toothpick.

Arrange on baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until bacon is crisp. Makes 32 pieces.

-- Joe George


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