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Entertaining with elegance: fabulous finger food

By Phyllis HanesPhyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor. / November 13, 1984



Martha Stewart's new book is titled ''Hors d'Oeuvres,'' a word many people find impossible even to spell. The subtitle, however, tells it easily: ''The Creation and Presentation of Fabulous Finger Food.''

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Today's arbiter of entertaining and party-giving, Martha Stewart is a caterer and the author of several cooking-entertaining books.

Her first two books - ''Entertaining'' ($35) and ''Martha Stewart's Quick Cook'' ($17.95) - are so gorgeous and glossy you wonder if they can be practical. But they include plenty of solid advice and recipes for entertaining. Both cookbooks, plus ''Hors d'Oeuvres'' ($17.95), are published by Clarkson Potter.

Recurrent themes in all her books are: stay simple, inexpensive is OK, consider your own personality, and remember family traditions, especially at holiday time.

''This year there's a return to elegance,'' she says. ''Although I'm doing lots of very large formal parties, finger food is what I like best.''

Although she is working on a series of cookbooks, she was in Boston recently for a cooking demonstration at a large department store. To watch Martha Stewart in the kitchen is to know exactly how Salieri felt about Mozart.

Young, beautiful, and talented, she is really a contemporary wonder-woman. She infuses her cooking and entertaining with hospitality and warmth, whether it's for a pedestrian pizza party or an elegant formal dinner for 500.

Her Connecticut home is often the setting for parties and there she keeps honey bees and has turkeys, chickens, and sheep in the barnyard. With her husband she has renovated a 19th-century farmhouse, decorated a gorgeous home plus a series of barns and work-studios.

Her garden has everything from country vegetables and herbs to exotic fruits. Above all, she sets a lovely table with such delicious foods that even the best of cooks wonder how she does it.

Ms. Stewart is especially good at elegance and presentation, and she has a great sense of the theater. True, she also has a never-ending supply of beautiful dishes and props. Nevertheless she can come up with wonderful ways to have a party, or to create an occasion with style - even in problem situations.

''Hors d'Oeuvres'' is the debut book in a series of single-subject cookbooks. In each there are new ideas for both parties and special meals at home.

One of her holiday ideas is for an elaborate Victorian Christmas party using shiny, well-polished silver trays for the food and red candles in pewter holders.

Feathery red and green branches decorate platters of baked oysters. Other hors d'oeuvres are served as finger food on trays decorated with small sprays of spruce, a Christmas tree composed of seaweed, a wreath of basil leaves, and rosemary sprigs.

She also suggests tray garnishes such as strings of cranberries, sprigs of boxwood, ropes of juniper, kumquats, ivy, bright flowers, and traditional decorations such as tinsel, glass balls, bells, and mistletoe.

Ms. Stewart also likes to be creative with old children's toys, antique Christmas cards, and animals. At a Christmas party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art she used whimsical moss rabbits and teddy bears with cranberries and nuts as decorations on the trays.

For fairly long receptions, the hors d'oeuvre menu can be filled out to include heartier fare and more variety, Ms. Stewart says. She believes in serving enough finger food to substitute as a meal, if the party is at a usual meal hour.

''It is most fun to keep the food in the holiday spirit,'' she says. ''we filled cherry tomatoes with a variety of fillings and tiny squash with red pepper filling were arranged on a 'tree' of bright green seaweed.'' Pattypan Squash with Red Pepper Cheese 1 cup sweet red pepper, minced 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese 1 egg, beaten Salt and freshly ground black pepper 40 pattypan squashes, 1 inch in diameter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all ingredients for the red pepper-cheese filling and set aside.

With the point of a small, sharp knife or melon-ball scoop, hollow out the top part of each squash. Steam squash for a minute or two until tender. Do not overcook.

Spoon filling into hollows and bake squash on a cookie sheet until cheese is melted and filling is hot, about 5 minutes.

If you can't find the tiny pattypan squashes,use 1/3-inch thick slices of zucchini or summer squash and hollow out the centers with a melon-ball scoop.