Small Bites Brighten and Lighten Holiday Fare

On New Year's Eve, munching hors d'oeuvres becomes more fun than trying on silly party hats. Partygoers who wisely forsake dinner may well need Rollerblades to facilitate the sport of appetizer-grazing, from tray-to-tray or along a well-appointed buffet. Not to mention those who grab-and-eat with the dexterity of a pick-pocket - and still manage to carry on a conversation while balancing a stack of snacks in one hand and a glass in the other. "More caviar? Oh I shouldn't, but...." If you're hosting a New Year's Eve soire, why not tantalize your guests with a variety of miniature morsels? We've all been through the two mega eat-a-thons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, now it's time to lighten up.

Holiday food should be memorable, says Walter Zuromski, a research chef based in Providence, R.I. Chef Zuromski is what you could call an appetizer expert. In addition to his longtime experience orchestrating gatherings at large hotels, he teaches seminars on "How to make great appetizers" and is working on a book, "Petit Cuisine." The object, he says, is to create a concentrated pow! to make your guests go "wow". Even if you do the predictable pigs in blankets, get some good puff pastry dough and add some asiago or sharp cheddar cheese when you roll up the mini hot dogs. Then serve those puppies with one or two gourmet mustards or unusual dipping sauces, he suggests.

"Presentation really counts," Zuromski stresses. Garnish appetizers to make them look special, and never serve them in the same dish in which they've been cooked.

Beyond flavor and presentation, offer a wide variety of delectables, says Mable Hoffman, author of "Appetizers and Small Meals," (HP Books, 246 pp., $14). That means not only different flavors, but also textures and colors. She also suggests combining tradition with surprise: If you're known for your Swedish meatballs, crab-filled mushroom caps, or deviled eggs, then you should, by all means, serve them, but also introduce some new morsels.

Some of the simplest and most creative hors d'oeuvres can be made by filling cherry tomatoes, pea pods, and boiled new potatoes with your favorite soft herbed cheeses, dips, smoked salmon, and pt. then garnished with parsley, watercress, or dill, and sprinkled with dots of colorful caviar. Cream cheese, softened with sour cream and mixed with fresh herbs such as chives, dill, and perhaps a few added dried herbs can make a fine, tasty filling to stuff those miniature vegetables. Options are limitless. The definition of "appetizer" has expanded to include just about anything that's a small meal, Ms. Hoffman says, which is why a buffet table is often the best way to go. "That way people can pick and choose as they want, when they want." Salmon-stuffed Tomatoes 25 to 30 cherry tomatoes 1 3-ounce package sliced smoked salmon (lox) 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 1 tablespoon minced watercress, or parsley Salt and pepper, to taste Watercress sprigs or parsley for garnish Cut a thin slice from top of each tomato, scoop pulp and seeds from center with a small sharp-edged spoon, or make a deep X-cut from top of tomato almost to bottom.

Carefully open tomato at the top and scoop out pulp and seeds.

Place tomatoes cut-side-down on paper towels to drain. Chop salmon until very fine. Stir cream cheese in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in chopped salmon, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon minced watercress or parsley. (Or process these ingredients in a food processor.) Sprinkle inside of drained cherry tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Fill tomatoes with salmon mixture; top each with a small sprig of watercress. - Based on a recipe from "Appetizers and Small Meals,"

by Mable Hoffman (HP Books, 246 pp., $14).

Chorizo Quesadillas 1 tablespoon oil 2 onions, minced 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced 3 pounds chorizo, ground or links 1 pound sausage meat, mild or spicy 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped fine Salt and black pepper, to taste 20 flour tortillas (10-inch rounds) 1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded To make appetizer-sized quesadillas use smaller tortilla rounds. Either way, the method of preparation is the same. In a saut pan, heat the oil, add onions and jalapeno; cook until tender. Add chorizo and sausage, stirring constantly to break up the meat. Add the tomato sauce. In a food processor, blend mixture to a medium texture; remove to a bowl. Add cilantro while the mixture is still hot; taste and adjust with salt and black pepper or heat up the filling with some of your favorite hot sauce. Filling the quesadillas: Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap; place a tortilla on top. With a small spatula, spread a thin layer of mixture about 1/4 of an inch from the outside edge. Sprinkle a liberal amount of cheese over the filling, and then sandwich this by topping it all with another tortilla. Press edges together. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook.

When it is time to prepare the quesadillas, remove the plastic wrap. Spray or brush a small amount of oil on the tortillas and grill on both sides until crispy and golden brown, or bake in a 375 degree F. oven for approximately 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. - From Chef Walter Zuromski

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