and a lot of work. It's fun for your guests -- and work for you. Unless, of course, you've learned the secret: make quick do-ahead spreads, dips and marinades that simplify preparation for large planned parties and reduce the anxiety caused by impromptu occasions.
The recipes can all be prepared one to three weeks ahead, with short final assembly usually the day before a party. The flavor of the herbs and spices in the cheese and dips blend to develop fullness over an extended period of time.
The Brandied Roquefort Cream melts in your mouth when served over tender snails in tiny crisp bouche'es. Even guests who are not blue cheese fanciers will enjoy them.
Mustard lovers will devour anything in the zesty tarragon marinade. It is refreshing with steamed vegetables, and wonderful with crab or shrimp. You can stuff mushroom caps with marinated crab and chopped water chestnuts. One pound of crab will fill about 75 caps.
Moist, crisp vegetables are an ideal base for the hearty goat cheese spread, flecked with deep red sun-dried tomatoes and jet black Greek olives.
Keep plenty of the pale golden Curried Chutney Cream on hand. The mustard and chutney impart a slight sweet-sour flavor that will intrigue your guests to have just one more bite to figure out what is in the spread.
Here is a dip for garlic lovers. The sunny yellow Saffron Aioli Sauce bursts with the flavor of fresh garlic. Serve with crisp bright green snow peas or other juicy vegetables.
With speciality items such as crab, saffron, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, although the per pound price seems high, each item can be extended to serve a large group to reduce the per person cost.
For alternative presentations of these creams and spreads, use other vegetables or fill tiny tart shells. BRANDIED ROQUEFORT CREAM WITH SNAILS (About 65 appetizers) FOR THE MINIATURE CREAM PUFFS OR BOUCHEES: 1 cup water 6 tablespoons butter Pinch salt 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 4 eggs Oil for cookie sheet FOR THE BRANDIED ROQUEFORT CREAM: 9 ounces roquefort cheese, cubed 6 ounces cream cheese, cubed 6 ounces butter, cubed 6 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons brandy Dash hot pepper sauce 3 7-ounce cans very large French snails (about 24 to a tin)*
For the cream puffs: Heat water to boiling in a medium saucepan. Add butter and salt and melt butter. Add flour all at once off the heat and stir rapidly to incorporate. When a smooth paste is formed, place on the heat, continue to stir for several minutes to evaporate some of the water and cook flour. The dough is ready when a thin skin forms on the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat.
Place dough in a mixing bowl, and beat on low speed for 3-4 minutes to cool. Add eggs one at a time. After the third egg, add the fourth egg, beaten in a small bowl, slowly, until the paste is of piping consistency, but not runny.
Lightly oil a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper. Using a 1/2-inch plain tip and a large pastry bag, pipe 1-inch puffs onto the cookie sheet. Smooth peaks with a spoon dipped in cold water. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a 400-degree oven. Cool on a rack. Remove tops with a sharp knife and discard any moist dough in puff. Freeze in plastic bags until ready to use.
To use puffs after freezing, thaw and place on a cookie sheet in a 300-degree oven for 3-5 minutes until slightly crisp. Cool.
For the roquefort cream: Bring cheeses and butter to room temperature. In the work bowl of the food processor with the steel blade, process the roquefort until smooth. Repeat separately with the cream cheese and butter. Add roquefort to the cream cheese/butter mixture. Add the parsley, worcestershire sauce, brandy and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Process with on/off turns until mixed. Taste and adjust seasonings. A regular mixer may be used instead of a food processor. Refrigerate cheese for up to 3 weeks or freeze up to 3 months. If storing longer than 1 week, omit parsley and add just before using.
To assemble the bouche'es: Drain snails but do not rinse. Halve snails and set aside. Pipe or spoon one teaspoon softened cheese into the bouche'e and place two snail halves on cheese. Top snail with a second teaspoon roquefort and pat cheese into place. Refrigerate loosely covered overnight if desired.
Bake bouche'es in a 400-degree oven for 5-8 minutes until cheese is bubbling and snails are hot. Serve immediately.
For a football or more casual party, halve French bread sticks lengthwise and scoop out some bread down the middle. Spread the hollow generously with the roquefort cream and spoon in drained oysters, well seasoned with salt, pepper and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Dot with roquefort cream and bake in a 400-degree oven until hot and crispy. Slice diagonally to serve.
Serve roquefort cream cold-piped into hollowed zucchini cups, onto cucumber rounds, into cherry tomatoes or onto belgian endive leaves, decorated with watercress. If using cheese cold, press roquefort through a sieve first before creaming to make it very smooth.
* Excellent canned snails are available in Oriental grocery stores. VIVIAN'S MARINATED CRAB FOR THE TARRAGON DIJON MARINADE: 4 tablespoons dijon mustard 1/2 cup tarragon vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil 2 teaspoons crushed dried red peppers 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 cup minced fresh shallots 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley 1-2 pounds fresh crab or large steamed shrimp
For the marinade: Whisk the mustard into the vinegar and slowly add the olive oil. Stir in the peppers and salt and refrigerate one to two weeks. Stir in the shallots and parsley one day before using.
Use tarragon marinade for crab meat or up to 2 pounds of large steamed shrimp. Place one shrimp on a bamboo skewer, dip into the marinade and arrange on a tray, or toss unskewered shrimp or crab in marinade and refrigerate overnight. Serve drained, in a large crystal bowl.
Or stuff mushroom caps or for a colorful vegetable display. Separately marinate lightly cooked baby carrots, green beans, baby corn and artichoke hearts overnight, then arrange, drained, in rows on a tray for serving. HERBED GOAT CHEESE (About 3/4 cup or 2 dozen appetizers) 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature 2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature 2 greek olives, finely chopped 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano 4 zucchini
Cream the goat cheese and cream cheese together. Add the olives, tomatoes and oregano and mix well. Refrigerate up to two weeks.
Cut zucchini into 1 1/2-inch lengths, scoop flesh from one end with a melon baller and pipe about 1 1/2 teaspoons softened filling into each. Refrigerate up to 8 hours. Serve at room temperature.
Instead of zucchini, use 1/4-inch thick cucumber slices with some skin left on, melba toast rounds, endive leaves or bouchees. JO-ANN'S CURRIED CHUTNEY CREAM (Makes about 1 cup, 40 dates or 30 bouche'es) 2 tablespoons mango chutney 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard 1 teaspoon curry powder 6 ounces cream cheese, cubed and softened Date halves, large whole pecans, toasted pumpernickel rounds or bouchees, for serving 2-3 tablespoons poppy seeds
In the work bowl of the food processor with the steel blade, pure'e the mango chutney, mustard and curry powder. Add the cream cheese and process with on/off turns until mixed. Store refrigerated up to two weeks.
With a small decorative tip, pipe the softened cream into pitted date halves, onto large whole pecans, toasted pumpernickel rounds or into bouche'es. Sprinkle with a few poppy seeds. The dates or pecans can be piped one day ahead.
As an alternative, halve a fresh pineapple lengthwise, leaving green top intact, and remove flesh. Fill the cavity of the pineapple with about 3 cups of the curried chutney cream. Add chopped pecans if desired and serve with salted crackers. To use as a dip, thin with a bit of heavy cream, adjust seasonings, and skewer chunks of fresh pineapple for dipping. SNOW PEAS WITH SAFFRON AIOLI SAUCE (40 servings) 10-12 large cloves garlic, peeled 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 egg 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads in 1 tablespoon hot water 1 1/2 cups olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds snow peas (1 pound -- about 25 peas)
For the sauce: In the work bowl of the food processor with the steel blade, mince the garlic. Add the lemon juice, egg and saffron in water and process with several on/off turns. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until an emulsion forms. Add the salt. Refrigerate sauce up to 2-3 weeks.
Cut a notch in each stem end of the snow peas to make an inverted V. Blanch snow peas for 1 minute only in boiling water. Drain, and immediately immerse in ice water to prevent further cooking. Place peas in 1 layer on large bath towels and roll up to dry for 10-15 minutes. Remove snow peas and layer in a rectangular pan overnight between paper towels. Cover loosely to keep snow peas dry and crisp.
To serve, place aioli sauce in a small bowl (about 3-inch diameter) and arrange snow peas slightly overlapping in circles around the bowl. Allow 4 snow peas per guest. Refrigerate unused sauce and refill bowl as necessary.
Other fresh vegetables may be used such as blanched green beans, carrots, broccoli, etc. In the spring, fresh asparagus is wonderful!