APPETIZERS SHOULD be what the name implies -- appetite tempters. They can be made from any food or drink so long as they stimulate the taste buds. The culinary tradition of appetizers has its roots in the sumptuous banquets of ancient Greece. At festive meals such savories as sea urchins, cockles and sturgeons were served.
The French have had the greatest influence on appetizers in modern times. A canape, for example, is a piece of toast, bread or cracker acting as a canape (French for couch) for a touch of caviar, anchovy, salmon or egg.
The words hors d'oeuvre is also French and mans something nonessential, literally "outside of work." Hors d'oeuvre are an assortment of appetizers served on plates, shells or compartmented dishes with crackers or toast bits on the side. They should be light and delicate and can be served either hot or cold. The Italian for hors d'oeuvre is antipas, to , the Russian zakuski, the Scandinavian smorgasboard and the Middle Eastern mazza .
A typically American appetizer is an easily prepared mixture, often with a sour-cream base, into which potato chips or cold vegetables are "dipped." Spreads are thicker than dips and are spread on toast or bread. Nibbles are usually salted nuts or pretzels and "cocktails" often are fish in a pungent sauce.
The way appetizers are used in this country reflects different philosophies of entertaining. Some people serve an extensive array of hors d'oeuvre before dinner. Others prefer that they be part of the sit-down meal.
While there are those who abhor appetizers because dinner guests tend to overeat them and can have little appetite for the meal itself, I stand somewhere in the middle of these two positions. For dinner parties of six or eight persons, I serve only nibbles with drinks or crisp cheese sticks or stuffed mushrooms and concentrate on preparing an appetizer served at the table; cold or hot soup, vegetable strudel or quiche.
I stress hors d'oeuvre for large dinners (when I elminate the first course) or cocktail parties, but even then, I try to make them light. For cocktail parties of 10 to 12 people, I usually serve three hors d'oeuver; six to eight different appetizers are sufficient for 20 to 40 people. Unless I want to achieve a theme, such as a Middle Eastern mazza, which calls for an endless variety of dips, too manay hors d'oeuvre on a table lose visual and culinary appeal.
Larousse Gastronomique suggests the use of attractive and unusual plates and edible garnishes. Imagination essential. Entertaining is a special occasion, and most people have appropriate, though seldom used, dishes tucked away. Fresh dill, parsley, basil and chervil can be sprinkled around a steak tartare or a salmon mousee. Nasturtiums or pomegranate seeds add bright scarlet color to a dip. Dips should not be served in deep bowls but rather spread out on dinner plates and decorated with olives, lemons or tomatoes.
My favorite cocktail party appetizers include a variety of Middle Eastern dips, such as baba ghanouj , which is made with eggplant and tahina (sesame speed spread) and surrounded with a fresh vegetable "sculpture." A shrimp or salmon mousse decorated with parsley and pomegranates and served with bland crackers is popular among our guests.For the less adventurous eaters, I always included a large wedge of jarlsberg or another relatively mild cheese. Instead of crackers for an accompaniment, I might have a basket of apples or a large loaf of homemade bread. For hot hors d'oeuvre a spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie) can be cut into tiny bite-size pieces.
Hot finger foods -- frankfurters wrapped in blankets, meat pasties or even potato knishes -- are nice for large crowds, but remember hot hors d'oeuvre require constant attention and many must be served immediately after cooking. But you can use a chaffing dish for an appetizer such as sweet and sour meatballs and it can be eaten "self service" with a toothpick and a napkin.
In entertaining with appetizers you do not have to serve shrimp or caviar to have a successful party, but you do have to go out of your way. Spend a few minutes before your guests arrive arranging the dishes in strategic parts of the room. Decorate your dishes. Make sure you introduce your guests to each other. Work at making them feel at home. Then, relax and enjoy yourself. AVOCADO-ANCHOVY DIP (2 cups) 1 medium-ripe avocado 2/3 cup chopped black olives 2 ounces mashed anchovies 1/2 cup mayonnaise 1/2 cup sour cream 2 tablespoons lemon juice or to taste 2 tablespoons lemon juice or to taste
Combine all the above ingredients starting with 1/3 cup of the mayonaise. Adjust mayonnaise and lemon juice to taste. Cover and chill. Taste again. You may want to add more lemon juice. PUFF SHELLS (About 60) 1 cup water 1/2 cup or 1 stick butter 1 cup sifted flour 4 eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine water and butter and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat and add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball around the spoon. Cool slightly. Add the egss, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
Drop mixture by bery scant teaspoons onto a greased baking sheet leaving 1 inch between to allow for spreading. Bake 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 300 degrees and bake about 10 to 15 minutes more or until no bubbles of fat remain on the surface and the sides of the puffs feel firm. Cool. Cut a cap off each puff and fill with lobster salad, tuna or egg salad. EGG SALAD FILLING (makes 1 1/2 cups) 6 hard-boiled eggs 1 tablespoon ketchup 1 tablespoon sour cream 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt 1 teaspoon mustard 1 tablespoon grated parmesan 1/4 teaspoon curry powder 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs 1 teaspoon brandy, sherry or Madeira Take the hard-boiled eggs and put them through a Mouli grinder. (The grating blade of a food processor can also be used but not as successfully.) Add the ketchup, sour cream, garlic salt, mustard, parmesan, curry powder and the Italian herrbs. Then, to taste, add the brandy and a bit more of any of the other ingredients as needed.
Serve alone as a spread or inside puff shells. CHUTNEY GLAZED CHEESE PATE
6 ounces cream cheese 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese 3 tablespoons dry sherry 3/4 teaspoon curry powder 1/4 teaspoons salt 1/2 cup finely chopped mango chutney Finely sliced scallions Sesame or wheat wafers
Combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, sherry, curry powder and salt. Spread 1/2 inch thick on a serving platter and chill until firm. Spread the chutney on top and sprinkle with the scallions. Spread the pate on crisp sesame crackers or wheat wafers.