Informal drinks mornings/evenings, or to use an old-fashioned word, 'at homes', are all great fun, but the hardest thing is judging how many people will be coming to your party, and how much finger food they will nibble.
If you are expecting to host such an event, make it quite clear that your invitation1 states that it is not a meal, and certainly not a sit-down meal. But just handing round drinks seems rather run-of-the-mill, so imaginative canapés are called for. You may want to offer platefuls of interesting food, appetisers, of mouth-sized proportions.
This is a simple recipe for crackers with various soft toppings, piped decoratively in stars or spirals. The different coloured, bite-sized morsels look colourful and tasty arranged on plain plates or trays. With practice, you can prepare a plateful in seconds. The idea is flexible, extremely adaptable and is by no means something exclusively for the perfect sherry-drinking housewife, with her little finger pointing outwards!
OK - a certain amount of forethought, preparation, shopping and organisation are involved, but the beauty of the system is that it takes little time, and the plates of aperitifs can be refilled in the kitchen in the time it takes for someone else to fix you a much needed stiff drink.
Quantities are for approximately 10 party guests - multiply as required. Sizes of packets vary, depending on the manufacturer and the country you are in, so please regard the amounts as guidelines rather than strict quantities. At least three varieties of these canapés looks best.
- No 1 on your shopping list should be a pack of disposable piping bags2. Pick these up whenever you see them, because you will probably have trouble finding them in the supermarket when you're on a last minute dash buying for your impromptu party.
- 3 x 225-250g packs of small party crackers or other small savoury biscuits
- 250g butter
- 200 - 250g soft blue cheese
- 200 - 250g fine liver pâté
- 200 - 225g cream cheese with herbs
- 200 - 250g carton of thick cream
- 200g smoked salmon - purée this before use, or use a tube/pot of good salmon paste
- Salt, pepper, lemon juice, mustard, curry powder to season
Soften the butter by leaving it in a warm place or by kneading it with warm, clean hands.
Using a fork or kitchen mixer, make a soft, homogenous, creamy mass of the pâté, adding butter - a teaspoonful at a time until you think you have the right consistency. The mixture should still have the pink colour of the pâté - the butter is to help it hold its shape (as the butter cools, it will harden slightly). Season with any of the suggested ingredients. Tasting is allowed, but leave some for your guests!
In separate bowls, mash or beat the blue cheese, cream cheese, and salmon purée, adding butter or cream to get a piping consistency. The butter will harden slightly when left to stand so this should be added where the mixture is too soft. Add cream to stiffer mixtures to soften them for easy piping. Season to taste as with the pâté. The result should be a handful of medium-sized bowls with contents of varying shades of pinks and yellows.
Using as many piping bags as you have mixtures, put a largish nozzle in each bag3 and hold the bag over a coffee mug so that the nozzle is touching the bottom. Turn the top half of the bag down outside the mug. Spoon the mixtures into the bags, until they are about half full. Pull the sides of the piping bags back up and pinch the open end together. Carefully squeeze the bag until the mixture is in one single lump at the nozzle end of the bag. There should be no little bubbles or pockets of air trapped in it.
Arrange the crackers on plates or trays so that they don't overlap.
Pipe the mixtures on to the crackers, starting with the one furthest away from you. The knack here is to push down slightly just before you remove the nozzle from the mixture to cut the flow and give it a little twist before you move on to the next biscuit. Otherwise the biscuit sticks to the mixture coming from the nozzle and comes away with it when you move on to the next biscuit. Practise on a biscuit which is not on the plate, to test the consistency and to try your skill.
There may well be still some mixture in the bags and there certainly will be in the bowls. Refill the bags and stand them in their cups ready for the next plate. Unless they have become very soft, leave them at room temperature for the next piping session4.
Hygiene is important for this quick and easy canapé. It sounds like a lot of work and mess, but disposable piping bags reduce that considerably. Keep a large towel right next to the sink because it involves frequent hand-washing.
Piping the mixture directly on to the crackers on the plate saves time, and you can wipe any misguided squirts away as you go.
Save time by avoiding fiddly decoration. Dotting the tops with parsley, caviar, almonds or slivers of red pepper is not necessary, nor are doilies or serviettes on the plates. Putting the biscuits and crackers on salad leaves will make both the biscuits and the lettuce go soggy.
If you have tried this and invented some new varieties, please let us know! Ideas could include taramasalata, peanut butter, tomato paste or ketchup, tapenade, ground nuts, or even sweet tastes using chocolate or fruit.
Further Ideas for No-Hassle Finger Food
For winter parties, provide a huge basket of tangerines/satsumas. Choose a sweet and juicy seedless variety which is easy to peel. Provide bowls or buckets for the discarded peel. Everyone loves these, and once one person starts eating them, the idea quickly catches on. No other fruit is less work or more enjoyable to eat.
Dried fruit is also no bother - just open the packet and tip the contents into serving dishes. Provide cocktail sticks to prevent fingers getting sticky.