As I've mentioned here before, I like serving a snack or two before dinner. It gets everyone in a relaxed, comfortable mood (nothing like stuffing your face if you're having a hard time making conversation) and tides their appetites over until dinner, which might not be served right away. I know I've arrived at many parties absolutely starving after a long subway ride and just wanted a cracker or two instead of the glass of wine that's usually handed to me immediately.
But when you're cooking a full meal, it's easy to cross snacks off your list. Sometimes it just requires way too much energy to think about or make fussy finger food when you've already got all this other food you're making. Who's got time for puff pastry or bite-sized quiches? Not you!
And who needs that stuff anyway? Unless you really love using a piping bag, I say forgettaboutit. I like to assemble things that don't require any cooking at all on a big platter and call it a day. Stuff that's a bit more thoughtful than opening a bag of chips, but nothing that requires too much fiddling. And you know what? That's what people genuinely want to eat. I cover events for a living, and almost every time I'm at a party and there's a big cheese plate or charcuterie bar, that's where people gravitate. Hot passed hors d'oeuvres are nice, but also sometimes sloppy and hard to eat in one bite. And when you've got a full meal ahead, they are pretty unnecessary in my humble opinion.
Here's two snacks from last weekend's Indian dinner. Both require no more work than slicing and displaying. So you can actually eat with your friends and not get (too) drunk before finishing dinner.
Goat cheese with mango chutney and aloo paratha
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
This snack doesn't really require a recipe. I think it goes without saying (does it?) that I did not bake this bread. I bought it at the Indian market and cut it into triangles. If you don't have an ethnic grocery store near you, soft flatbread or pita will do the trick--or plain old crackers.
Goat cheese + fig jam + sliced baguette
Farmers cheese + jalapeno jelly + Ritz crackers
Brie + tapenade + whole wheat crackers
Feta + roasted pepper slice + pita triangles
Cream cheese + smoked salmon + mini bagels
Mango with spicy, salty sugar
I stole this idea from a party awhile back. It's a twist on a Caribbean or Mexican snack of mangoes sprinkled with salt or cayenne pepper. This combines both, but with a bit of sweetness and tang from fresh lime juice. You could subsitute fresh pineapple or melon for the mango, but I like the mango the best.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)
One mango, peeled, pitted, and sliced into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
Put the cut-up mango in a bowl and squeeze the lime over it. Stir until the mango is evenly coated. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper. Serve alongside the mango, with plenty of toothpicks for spearing and dipping.