(*Okay, not quite the 5000, but a rather large crowd nevertheless)
Summer is still going, the weather is pretty much still holding which means that al fresco entertaining is very much the order of the day. As some of my readers already know, I am a big believer in miracles and a lover of entertaining of the mass kind. The two passions got a chance to converge when I threw a cocktail party at my church’s annual holiday up in the wilds of Lincolnshire a couple of weeks back. You can check out the more spirit led details and observations at http://www.coolchicandinchrist.blogspot.co.uk
I had more than a few challenges: I was cooking in a caravan so space was an issue both in terms of storage and prep. Meanwhile, because this was a Gastrotastic affair rather than a Glasto grungy affair, I still wanted to keep things pretty and stylish rather than gritty and grim. The food and booze travelled up from London rather unceremoniously in an old suitcase of mine that finally gave up the ghost, and the ‘tablecloth’, made from multi-coloured tissue paper, took a battering from wind and a brief but torrential downpour.
This being a church holiday, the menu was all loaves of fishes with some Wedding at Cana worthy drinks in the mix. Follow the recipes in a normal kitchen, and this should all be a cakewalk. As with all mass entertaining, my three rules of thumb for the canapés were that they must deliver on flavour but be easy to make, be pleasing to the eye but not give you a heart attack in their assembly and finally have the guests hovering around for the serving trays to be refilled so that they can demolish some more.
All of the recipes listed below will make approx. 50 servings or 70 if you use smaller bases. In the spirit of keeping things non-partisan I shopped in Sainsbury’s where previously I have shopped in Waitrose. So without further ado, onto the party food!
Harissa Sardines on Toast
Difficulty factor: Easy-Peasy
8 120grams tins of Sardines in Olive Oil
3 Loaves of Wholemeal Bread
3 400grams Cartons of Chopped Tomatoes
3 Red Onions finely chopped
4 Cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 90grams Jar of Harissa Paste
3 Tablespoons of Mixed Herbs
3 90grams Packets of Fresh Parsley
Juice of 2 Lemons
3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 Large (approx. 250mls) glass of Red Wine (optional)
Salt (to taste)
This dish is all about patience – for a quantity of this size I would recommend starting cooking as early as possible so the stew which is essentially what you are making, has a chance to come together and also that the tomatoes will reduce to an almost paste like consistency, for assembly later.
First chop your onions and garlic and pre=heat a saucepan with some olive oil. Be generous with your Olive oil pouring as you do not want either the onions to stick to the bottom of the pan or the garlic to burn and give the sauce a bitter taste.
When the onions start to clarify add the tomatoes and the mixed herbs. If you are adding the optional glass of wine – this is the point to do it as it is important the alcohol burns off before you introduce any of the other ingredients. Allow to simmer on a medium heat for 30 minutes, by which point the sauce will have begun to reduce.
Next add the sardines. I add them in whole, they will break down in the cooking process, but it is also attractive to have the odd, not punctured bit of silvery black skin glinting through the sauce. When you have added all your sardines, empty out the jar of Harissa Paste and cover the saucepan and cook for 1.5 – 2 hours on a medium/low heat. Intermittently check that the sauce is not sticking to the bottom of the pan, and, if necessary add some water, but remember the objective is a sauce that reduces to an almost but not quite paste quality.
Whilst the Sardines are doing their thing, toast 4 loaves of bread and allow them to dry on a rack so that they do not get soggy. Cut into squares when they are bone dry to assure easy assembly.
Another fiddly but worthwhile job is removing all the leaves from the fresh parsley. Don’t discard the storks – instead chop them up finely and add to the sauce – parsley always freshens up a sauce and in this instance it will bring a hint of luxe to the otherwise packet and tinned ingredients.
At the two hour mark remove from the heat and allow to cool for twenty minutes. Do not assemble whilst the sauce is still hot otherwise it will leak through the toasts and make a mess. When tepid, take a spoonful of sauce place atop of the toasted squares and finish off with a parsley leaf as a garnish.
Smoked Salmon and Dill on Blinis
Difficulty Factor: Over 5’s and above can join in
8 Packets of Smoked Salmon Trimmings (I used Sainsbury’s Basics to keep things keen)
2 90grams Packets of Fresh Dill
Juice of Four Lemons
If you are making canapés with some little people or friends who are not confident in the kitchen, this is a great one to get them involved with, as it needs minimal skill and you won’t be looking over their shoulders to spot mistakes.
Place the Salmon Trimmings in a large bowl, and stir through the lemon juice into all of the salmon.
Next remove the finer Dill leaves from the thick storks and add to the bowl with the salmon. This will take you a little while but it is a great job to get kids involved with, or to gossip with a friend. I did this particular job whilst the Sardines were cooking.
Blinis need to be toasted, otherwise they have a powdery consistency. If you are using cocktail sized ones the best way to do this is in the grill function of the oven so that they do not get stuck in a toaster. Toast for a minute and put on a rack to cool, again avoiding the same soggy vibe as we are with the toast.
To assemble put a teaspoon of the mixture on a blini and they are ready to serve.
Mini Tuna Nicoise-Lite on Toast
Difficulty Factor: Easy-Peasy
6 130grams Cans of Tuna in Spring Water
3 Loaves of Wholemeal Bread
500grams of Cherry Tomatoes
2 Red Onions
300 grams of Capers (a spoonful more if you like more zing)
450 grams of Black Olives
Juice of Four Lemons
6 Table Spoons of Olive Oil
3 Table Spoons of Balsamic Vinegar
2 Table Spoons of Dijon Mustard
2 Red Chillies (Optional)
Black Pepper (Optional)
Before the pedants come out in force – I know that this is not a Nicoise per se. Where is the potato and the egg you may ask? Omitted for ease and cost. If you are blowing the proverbial budget, you can substitute the toast for a New Potato, hollowed out in the middle with a scoop of the filling. For an egg variant and staying in the luxe zone, a quail’s egg, sliced in half can slide between the tomato and the olive that form the garnish on these canapés.
First finely chop your Red Onions and if you are choosing to use them, the red chillis. Also halve the olives you are using and put in a separate bowl and halve the tomatoes and put them in a separate bowl. Dull and repetitive as this job is it will make assembly all the more easier.
Next decant the tinned Tuna into a large bowl and break up with a fork. Add the chopped red onion, chillies, capers and half of the olives from your bowl into the mix. Next mix in the olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice and the Dijon mustard and pour over the tuna. If you like a sharper tang to your dressing you can increase the mustard and balsamic accordingly, but I have gone for a more one-size-pleases-all -palate in making this dish. It is important to mix the dressing through, allowing for all the tuna to be coated and all the ingredients to be evenly distributed.
As with before, toast bread, leave to cool on a rack and cut into squares .
With assembly, put the tuna in a mound on the toasts, now balance as best as you can half an olive and a tomato. Some of them will fall down, if they do, try, try and try again!
Caviar, Cream Cheese and Chives on Blinis
Difficulty Factor: Super-Simple if your hand is steady
1 Jar of Lumpfish Caviar
1 90grams Packets of Fresh Chives
1 Packet of Cream Cheese
Cocktail Blinis (approx. 50)
Sometimes ingredients are just so full-on that they need minimal help. Lumpfish Caviar is admittedly the poor cousin to the stuff produced by her Sturgeon friends (I am a Sevruga rather than Beluga girl when in full blow the budget mode), but these eggs are also yummy and certainly look every bit as impressive when served to guests who aren’t regular Caviar chow-ers.
This canapé is all about assembly. Simply toast the blinis as previously, allow to cool then spread some creamed cheese on them and then carefully spoon some lumpfish caviar. Cut the chives into small enough batons to balance atop the caviar and cream cheese at a jaunty. And serve.
And to Drink
As I already said, space and that rather boring word, cost, was an issue. I opted for the one drink rule so everyone was offered Raspberry Bellinis. A case of pouring a glass of Prosecco, adding a dash of Chambord and a fresh raspberry. Yes, it really is that simple. Although as you can see below, keeping cases of Prosecco cold in a caravan took a rather back to basics turn using ice and the kitchen sink!
For my teetotal guests I served Orange juice with fresh raspberries pulped in the bottom of the champagne flute and a fresh one adding colour at the top of the glass.
And onto those glasses, purchased from, drumroll a Pound Shop, they were pimped with diamante stickers also brought from the very same Pound Shop…This is a fun thing to do for an al fresco party where bringing out the crystal will only break you out in a cold sweat but you still want to keep things festive and let the guests feel special.
A final shot from the morning after the night before…