Party time canapes

It's officially the start of the party season

JAN BILTON
Last updated 16:48 22/11/2012
Polenta bites
Jan Bilton

Polenta bites

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It's official - it's the start of the party season - we've received our first invite - to Canapes for a Cause. We're asked to pay $10 a head, the contributions going to the hosts' favourite charity. I'm not sure that I want to think about all the hungry, lost and lonely animals while I'm enjoying good food, wine and the company of friends - but I'm sure they will benefit.

A canape is a type of hors d'oeuvre, or single-bite food, that is traditionally prepared from small, thin pieces of bread with a topping. Modern canapes may use crackers, blinis or pastry as the base.

In French, canape means sofa or couch. I guess in the past, one might have sat on the sofa to eat these morsels. Today we usually stand and that is why a canape should be easy to hold and eat. There's nothing worse than a flaky pastry, savoury mince pie so piping hot that when it oozes down your fingers you almost suffer third-degree burns.

Finger foods are fun to serve at any time of day and it's prudent to be prepared for unexpected callers or at least be organised ahead for a planned gathering.

Keep a supply of french bread in the freezer. It can be sliced, brushed with olive oil and baked in the oven. They make excellent bases for tapenade and diced gherkins, chopped sundried tomatoes and capers or twists of shaved ham and chutney.

It's impossible to cater for every guest's likes and dislikes but you should check ahead to find out if anyone is vegetarian, dairy or gluten-free and plan accordingly.

Don't forget the dedicated drivers. Here are two of my favourite alcohol-free sips.

Mojitos (pronounced mo hee toes): take one cup of chilled Njoy Lime juice (a new beverage available from supermarkets), one large lime cut into eight wedges and eight mint leaves, and "muddle" in a jug. Pour into four glasses, add a little ice and top up with soda water.

Cranberry Tart: Combine equal amount of chilled Ocean Spray Classic Cranberry drink with chilled tonic water.

POLENTA BITES

These baked polenta bites can be reheated briefly in the microwave.

1 cup each: chicken stock, milk

cup fine polenta

cup finely grated parmesan cheese

25g butter

Toppings of your choice, eg brie and spicy pickle; goat's cheese and rhubarb chutney; tapenade and feta cheese; or pesto and chorizo. Bring the stock and milk to the boil. Whisk in the polenta. Stir on low heat for about 3 minutes, until thick. Stir in the parmesan and butter. Pour into an oiled tray, patting into a 1cm-thick flat rectangle. Chill until firm.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Lightly brush an oven tray with olive oil.

Using a 4cm diameter biscuit cutter, make about 16 rounds from the firm polenta. Place on the oven tray. Bake for about 15 minutes, until crisp. Cover with your choice of topping. Makes about 16.

SPICY VEGETABLE DIP

This yummy gluten and dairy-free, vegetarian dip is great served with corn chips or crisp veges.

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 medium-large onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

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3 medium courgettes, diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

tsp ground turmeric

tsp each: ground coriander, cumin

Pinch ground chilli or to taste

2 tsp tomato paste Heat the oil in a heavy non-stick frying pan. Add the onions and saute on low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking on low until the onions are very soft, about 5 minutes. Do not brown.

Stir in the courgettes, salt, pepper and turmeric. Cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, until the courgettes are soft.

Remove from the heat and add the coriander, cumin, chilli powder and tomato paste. Mash well with a potato masher. Pile into a bowl, cover and chill. Can be prepared 2 days in advance. Bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 1 cups.

MERLOT PRUNES

1 cup merlot wine

1 cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp whole cloves

tsp ground mixed spice

Peel orange

cup brown sugar

250g (1 cups) pitted prunes. Combine the wine, spices and orange peel in a saucepan. Steep on low heat for about 10 minutes.

Add the sugar and prunes and simmer on low for 2 minutes. Cover and stand until cold.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator.

To serve, drain and place on a platter with cubes of feta cheese, olives and small rolls of prosciutto. The prunes can be prepared up to 5 days in advance. Serves 6-8.

GRISSINI WITH WASABI CHEESE & SMOKED SALMON

Grissini are thin, crisp bread sticks - perfect for dipping, or wrapping in prosciutto or smoked salmon - available from delis and supermarkets.

125g spreadable cream cheese

1-2 tsp wasabi paste

12 slices smoked salmon

12 grissini Combine the cream cheese and wasabi paste (to taste), until smooth. Spread on the slices of smoked salmon.

Wrap a slice around the end of a grissini, cream cheese-side inside. Repeat. Makes 12.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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