Favorite finger foods

Hot dog appetizers 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hot dog appetizers 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Finger foods are popular party fare because everyone, not just children, loves to eat with his or her hands. Whether the appetizers are set on a buffet table or served as passed hors d’oeuvres, they always seem to disappear in minutes. Nutrition-conscious eaters welcome bite-size morsels, since these savory, oftenrich foods provide pleasure without much guilt.
In her book Finger Foods, Mabel Hoffman pointed out that guests are more mobile when they do not need to use silverware. She defined a finger food as something “small enough to be eaten without utensils” and gave a succinct guide to what kind of food is suitable: “It does not break, drip, crumble, mash, bend or disintegrate from the time it leaves the serving plate until it reaches your mouth.”
A popular idea for making finger foods is serving familiar dishes in miniature form. They can be prepared as individual portions like small burekas or mini quiches. Such items as kugels or pies can be baked in larger pans and cut into small squares or wedges for serving.
The best-loved finger foods at recent parties we attended were the hot appetizers. At a bar mitzva celebration, the toasted baguette slices with olive paste were sampled eagerly, as were Reuben turnovers, a puff pastry adaptation of the American sandwich of corned beef, sauerkraut and mustard.
Few people could resist the small skewers of Indonesian-inspired chicken satays with sweet and spicy peanut dipping sauce or the mini-frankfurters in pastry.
Sausages in pastry are ubiquitous at parties. The humble hot dog stars in this tried-and-true combination, which comes in many forms, from the elegant French saucisson en brioche to homey American pigs in a blanket, which are often made of breakfast sausages baked in biscuit dough. At our friends’ Thanksgiving party, the smoked cocktail sausage slices baked in flaky homemade yeast dough were a hit. When made with good quality dough, even a packaged kind, and flavorful sausages, these treats made of only two ingredients can be terrific. Hoffman’s easy version of this delicacy is made of frankfurters with mustard, horseradish and a touch of jam in store-bought bread dough. Her Mexican-style variation has smoked sausage links baked in tortillas with chopped onion and hot salsa.
A grilled morsel of meat with a flavorful dipping sauce has universal appeal as a festive appetizer. Because it’s a tiny portion, often the meat is more highly seasoned than usual to deliver a burst of flavor. Spicy, tangy and sweet-and-sour themes of the Far East have become such favorites that no one seemed surprised to find savories of Indonesian origin among traditional foods at a Jewish simha.
Hot toasted bread is a simple to prepare base for tasty toppings. Hoffman’s formula for easy cheese fingers calls for spreading a mixture of grated Parmesan, mild grated yellow cheese, chopped red onion and mayonnaise on sandwich bread, broiling it briefly until the cheese bubbles and cutting it in finger shapes.
Betty Rosbottom, author of First Impressions, turns bread into rich finger food bases by baking slices brushed with olive oil and melted butter until crisp. At serving time she adds a hot topping, such as fresh and dried mushrooms sauteed with garlic and rosemary, or sauteed tomatoes with leeks, and bakes them again briefly in the oven.
Pizzettes or mini pizzas made from fresh pizza dough also make good hors d’oeuvres bases. Rosbottom rolls the pizza dough very thin and cuts it in rounds as if making cookies and then pricks them with a fork so they won’t rise much. She bakes the rounds until lightly colored, and before serving she heats them with a flavorful mixture spooned on top, such as cooked asparagus pieces with grated fontina cheese or tomato sauce with black and green olives.
No matter which of these finger foods you serve, don’t forget to provide plenty of napkins.
Faye Levy is the author of the three-volume Fresh from France cookbook series.
An ordinary vegetable puree becomes a party finger food when you enrich it with butter, cream and a flavorful cheese and bake it on toasted baguette. Use fresh chard leaves or fresh or frozen spinach for this recipe, or substitute a puree of broccoli or cauliflower.
You can make the creamy puree a day ahead and keep it in a covered container in the refrigerator. Reheat it gently before spreading it on the buttery toasted bread slices.
500 gr. to 550 gr. fresh chard or spinach or 340 gr. frozen
75 gr. or 85 grams (5 or 6 Tbsp.) butter, or 2 or 3 Tbsp. butter and 3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 or 4 Tbsp. heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
16 thin slices slim French bread (baguette)
4 Tbsp. shredded Swiss cheese or 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan, or more to taste
Remove chard or spinach stems and wash leaves thoroughly. In a saucepan of boiling salted water, cook fresh or frozen greens uncovered, over high heat, pushing leaves down into water often, about 2 minutes or until very tender. Rinse with cold water and squeeze by handfuls until dry. Puree cooked greens in food processor or chop with a large knife until very fine.
In a medium-size saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon butter over low heat until very hot, add cooked greens, and stir until heated through. Stir in cream and heat until it is absorbed by the puree. Stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons butter and continue cooking just until absorbed. Season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. If you have made the puree ahead, reheat it gently before continuing.
Preheat oven to 220º. Put bread slices on a baking sheet. Soften remaining butter and spread on both sides of slices, or brush both sides of bread with olive oil. Bake buttered bread in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Turn slices over and bake for 3 more minutes.
Divide chard or spinach puree among bread slices and spread evenly over them. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Return to oven and bake for 7 minutes, or until cheese melts and puree is very hot. Serve immediately.
Makes 16 finger foods.
Serve these the French way with Dijon mustard, or give a choice of mustard, ketchup or barbecue sauce. The sausage rolls can be frozen baked or unbaked. I learned to make these sausage rolls in Paris, and the recipe is from a book I edited called La Varenne’s Basic French Cookery.
450 gr. puff pastry, well chilled
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt (for glaze)
30 cocktail sausages
Sprinkle water on 2 baking sheets. Roll out dough 6 mm. thick.Trim edges with a knife. Brush entire surface with beaten egg. Cut in 15-cm. wide strips.
Place cocktail sausages lengthwise along one edge of each strip; roll up. Gently press seam to seal. Cut roll between each sausage.
Place each sausage roll seam side down on prepared baking sheets. Brush with beaten egg. Use the back of a small knife to decorate tops with a lattice pattern without cutting through dough to sausage.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes or until dough is firm. Preheat oven to 220º. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes until pastry is puffed and browned. Transfer to a rack to cool.
Makes about 30 rolls.