Wintry Snacks for Entertaining

photo 1At the party I cooked for last night, one of the guests was saying that she found this kind of menu, the kind of little bits and pieces of finger food hearty enough to keep stomachs lined against excessive drink, the hardest to do.  I love them!  To me, putting together little morsels of goodness, most of them decadent, and trying to mix and match a nice assortment that will appeal to a variety of people, well, it's like a little culinary puzzle.  What whimsical garnish best suits this bite?  What dip would moisten up that pastry? Do I have the right balance of hot and cold dishes?  Are people going to get at least one of their 5 a day? Is there plenty that works for vegetarians?  What about dessert?Luckily, I had a very open-minded client who trusted my judgement.  Here's what I served:

Crispy Asparagus StrawsBeen Empanadas with a Chilli Lime Sour CreamMoroccan Spiced Salmon Bites with Citrus Keffir SauceCrispy Ravioli with Spicy Arrabiata SauceVegetable Platter with Buttermilk Peppercorn DipDevilled Quails' Eggs with Nutmeg and Maldon Sea SaltCheese and CrackersMini Sicilian Lemon Curd Cones

A bit of a global tour, but I hoped it would prove a nice variety, all the while being lovely and warm for rather damp Sunday evening gathering of old friends. As I was a guest as well as the caterer, I wanted to make sure all of the items were mostly prepped in advance with only reheating and plating up to be done at the event.  This is exactly what makes it the ideal menu for you at home who might be hosting something yourself - all of it straightforward, letting you as the host shine brightly, juggling kitchen and guest duties with ease.   I can think of several big events coming up (the Superbowl, Oscars, Olympics) that you might be hosting parties for. These would be just perfect.
Crispy Asparagus Straws
makes 24
24 rather thick spears of asparagusphoto 5
3 sheets of phyllo pastry
3 tablespoons melted butter
12 slices of proscuitto, cut in half across
parmesan cheese
First steam the asparagus until al dente, about 3 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cool water, pat dry and set aside until you're ready to use. Take one sheet of phyllo pastry, brush it all over with the melted butter and with a paring knife cut into 8 5x7 inch squares. Line up your prosciutto in one corner of each square, grate a little parmesan all over and then place an asparagus spear (top should be clear of the phyllo) and roll up tightly. You may need additional melted butter to secure the end of the pastry.  Keep doing this until you've used all of the asparagus.  At this point you can wrap the tray of completed straws for a couple of hours before baking - just make certain it's quite airtight.  To serve, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Unwrap the tray and put the asparagus on a parchment lined sheet tray. Grate a little more parmesan cheese on top and bake for 15 minutes, or until they are crispy and golden.
Moroccan Spiced Salmon Bites with Citrus Keffir Sauce
makes 36
for the salmon:photo 2
2 pounds boneless, skinless salmon fillet
3 tablespoons fennel seeds
3 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
for the sauce:
1 cup sheep or goat milk yoghurt
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest from all your citrus fruitsTo prepare the sauce (up to two days in advance), reduce the juices and their zest in a small saucepan until just 2 tablespoons remain.  Once it has cooled add it to the yoghurt and combine well.  Garnish with additional zest for service.
For the salmon, using a spice grinder, coarsley grind the spices, salt and pepper.  Cut the salmon into 1-inch cubes and dip one side into the spice mixture.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a large skillet, heat a touch of olive oil and place the salmon cubes in the hot pan, spice side down. Allow the spices to get golden brown on a medium heat - about 3 minutes.  Remove the salmon to a large parchment lined sheet tray and cook in the oven for just a minute more, until the salmon is cooked.  Skewer each square and place on a platter with the sauce on the side.