Shamelessly Simple Starters for Holiday Fetes

HORS d'oeuvres, canapes, appetizers - by whatever name - are those appealing frivolities that tend to set the tone of a dinner party.

They can be as simple and elegant as a freshly shucked oyster wrapped in prosciutto and broiled (see recipe, right); as nasty as a cube of Spam stuck on a toothpick with a wedge of canned pineapple, and a mini-marshmallow, and topped with a Maraschino cherry; or as bizarre as one I found in an old 1950s cookbook called Flaming Cabbage Head Weenies with Pu Pu Sauce.

A hole is bored in the cabbage large enough to hold a small can of Sterno. The outer leaves are turned back in a sort of floral display, and the base of the cabbage is trimmed so it will stand securely.

The Sterno is lit and guests are invited to toast their baby weenies on the ends of toothpicks and dip them in the Pu Pu Sauce. Mmmm, mmm, mmm.

Today a bowl of California dip or celery stuffed with blue cheese just doesn't hack it. But that doesn't mean hors d'oeuvres have to be labor intensive, time consuming, and complex.

I'm reminded of the time I spent three days putting together a Galantine of Turkey in Chaud-Froid served with Mustard and Cumberland Sauces.

Impressive as the show-stopper was, a variety of simple, international hors d'oeuvres is more in keeping with informal, simple party-giving.

Most of the recipes here are embarrassingly easy to prepare.

The idea is to give you time to make a splendid display of attractive appetizers that will leave your guests begging for more. Don't give in!

One thing that cannot be sacrificed is quality of ingredients, especially when it comes to cheeses.

**Shrimp With Roquefort Stuffing

24 large shrimp, cooked and shelled

3 to 4 tablespoons Roquefort cheese, at room temperature

3 ounces chive cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or to taste)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons finely chopped scallions or chives

Butterfly shrimp by cutting them along the back, about halfway through. Blend together Roquefort and cream cheeses, mustard, scallions, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. With a teaspoon, stuff mixture into shrimp cavity. Roll cheese side of shrimp in chopped scallions. Chill before serving.

**Putti on Horseback

Angels on Horseback was a popular starter in the 19th century. When oysters were not available, sea scallops were used. This is an Italian version of the heavenly Angels on Horseback.

Freshly ground pepper

12 chucked oysters

12 thin slices prosciutto (preferably imported from Parma, Italy)

12 small rounds of toasted bread

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Pepper each oyster lightly. Wrap oysters individually in prosciutto, securing firmly with a wooden toothpick. Place oysters in a shallow pan and bake 2 minutes. Turn and bake an additional minute or two. Place on toast, remove toothpicks, and serve immediately.

**Endive With Salmon Caviar

2 heads endive

Sour cream (about 3/4 cup)

3-ounce jar salmon caviar (or more, if you wish)

Fresh dill for garnish

Separate endive into leaves, using only the whitest ones, wash and pat dry. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of sour cream into base of each leaf. Top with 1/2 teaspoon of the caviar and garnish with a small sprig of fresh dill.

**Dates Stuffed With Cream Cheese, Walnuts, and Raspberries

12 dates

1/4 cup cream cheese

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

12 fresh raspberries

Split dates and remove seed. Fill with cream cheese, and roll top in crushed nuts. Top with a single raspberry.

**Cheese Straws

1/4 pound unsalted butter (room temp.)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, freshly grated

Dash of Tabasco (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne)

Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Whip butter with electric beater until light. Add flour, cheese, Tabasco (or cayenne), salt and mix thoroughly.

Knead until mixture forms into a ball. Roll dough out on floured surface to 3/8 inch thickness.

Cut into 5-inch-by-3/8-inch strips. Place 1-inch apart on well greased cookie sheet.

Bake 5 to 7 minutes, or until straws are golden brown.

Makes about three dozen.

**Faux Foie Gras

1/2 pound top quality smoked liverwurst, at room temperature

3-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Dash of Tabasco

3 to 4 black olives, chopped

Freshly ground pepper

Party rye, or pumpernickel bread

Cornichon (optional)

In a glass bowl, cream together liverwurst, cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, Tabasco, and olives.

Add pepper to taste. Pack mixture in crock or ramekin. Refrigerate. Serve with cornichon, if desired.

**Shrimp Puffs

1 egg white

12 medium to large shrimp, cooked and chopped (or substitute 1 cup crab meat)

1/4 cup mild Cheddar cheese, shredded

Pinch of salt

Pinch of paprika or cayenne pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Crackers or water biscuits

Whip egg white until stiff. Fold in remaining ingredients. Spoon mixture on crackers and place under broiler until lightly browned. Serve immediately.

**Chicken Sate

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

Sate marinade (see recipe, below)

Bamboo skewers

Soak 24 6-inch bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.

Cut each chicken breast half into 1/2-inch-wide strips, following the grain of the meat; you should get 4 to 6 pieces from each half. Lay 6 strips between pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper. Using a heavy, flat object, pound each strip to 1/4-inch thick.

Thread chicken on skewers and place them in a shallow dish.

SATE MARINADE:

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup packed fresh coriander (cilantro), stems included

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4-inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

1-1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Process all ingredients in a blender or food processor until coriander is finely chopped. Add marinade to chicken and coat well. Marinate at room temperature for 5 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Bring to room temperature before broiling. Heat broiler with the rack 4 inches from the heat. Arrange as many of the skewers as will fit in a single layer on the broiler pan.

Broil about 3 and 4 minutes. Makes 20 to 24 brochettes.

- Adapted from 'Party Food' by Barbara Kafka (William Morrow & Co., 1992)

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