Guests at our Asheville Inn, the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, often ask me how I come up with all of the different canapes and hors d’oeuvres we serve every night. And I admit it is sometimes difficult not to repeat ourselves when guests stay for a week or more. But over time, James, Sara and I have come up with some tricks in creating quick and easy appetizers. These are things that almost everyone can do with not too much fuss. It requires just a little bit of imagination and a normally stocked refrigerator and pantry. (Disclaimer: if you are someone who never cooks or eats at home, these tricks probably won’t work for you!)
Canapes are the easiest type of appetizer to make on the fly. The technical definition of a canape is a piece of bread, pastry or cracker topped with a savory spread which is held with the fingers and can usually be eaten in one bite. At the Carolina we expand that a bit to include other bases than just bread and to incorporate more than just spreads. But the premise is the same: a small, single bite of finger food. I often tell people that this is my favorite form of cooking because it’s just a bite! And if someone doesn’t like one bite, chances are they will like one of the other ones.
So let’s start at the beginning with the base.
You look in your cupboard and all you have are some stale crackers from your last dinner party when you served cheese and crackers. Don’t worry, you have other options. You can turn to bread, (especially if you are like me and keep some in your freezer) but there is more than just bread. Edible bases can include cucumber slices, slices of sweet peppers, hollowed out cherry tomatoes, lettuce leaves and roasted potato slices just for starters. Apples slices can also be a great base. Dried fruits like apricots are another option. It’s pretty much up to you. Edible bases are not the only options. Small spoons can hold fruits or vegetables with dip or creamy sauces. Shot glasses are great for cold soups and ceviche. Toothpicks can be used as small skewers. Look around and experiment!
Now that you’ve chosen a base you need something to put on top of it.
Step one: look in your refrigerator. What do you see? In mine, I see cheese, condiments, left overs from previous meals and lunch meats and spreads and salad fixings. Granted, I live at my B&B so I probably have a wider range of items but I am willing to bet that most of you have at least some of these items listed here in your home.
Step two: put them together. Top cheese with jams or relishes, wrap vegetables in cheese or salami. Peppers and small tomatoes can hold hummus or soft cheese. I know I mentioned leftovers in my list, which may strike you as odd but it’s not really. Pulled Pork or BBQ chicken pieces can be served on mini biscuits. Leftover fish can be pared with mayonnaise (add a little lemon zest for zing). And if you have some rare steak leftover (like that’s going to happen!), spread a toasted slice of baguette or thick cut bread with mayonnaise and horseradish (or wasabi) and top with a thin slice of beef.
Step three: make it pretty. Here is where you raise the bar. Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the top of your canapes. Dice some tomato, or pimento and use for garnish. If you have fresh herbs, this is always a good option. Pickles are good as are chutneys and other relishes.
Most of all don’t be afraid to experiment!
Throw something together and give it a taste. Start with classic pairings and then vary an ingredient or flavor. Remember, it’s just one bite!
If you like these ideas and are interested in some more, my recently published cookbook, Our Family Table: Recipes & Lessons from a Life Abroad includes a chapter of canapes and hors d’oeurves served at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. You can purchase it by following this link: OUR FAMILY TABLE