Little bites are making a big splash

Entertaining

Entertaining: Hors d'oeuvres are back in fashion, with flavors that reflect a confluence of cuisines.

January 26, 2000|By Lucy Barajikian | Lucy Barajikian,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

It could happen. Onion dip, cheese balls and baked brie might just go the way of the dodo bird. It could happen, that is, once cooks take a look at the newly published "Hors d'oeuvres" cookbook (OK Publishing Inc., New York, 168 pages, $19.95) by chef Eric Treuille and caterer Victoria Blashford-Snell, both of London. A second glance should send cooks scurrying for the cumin and coriander, shrimp and chicken wings, skewers, phyllo and tortillas -- whatever's on hand to begin the magic.

The only remaining problem: Which recipe to go for first? Ginger Hoisin Mini Chicken Drumsticks from the Nibbles, Dips and Dippers chapter or Mini Chocolate Truffle Cakes from Tops and Bottoms? Other memorable categories -- Sticks and Skewers, Wraps and Rolls, and Stacks and Cases -- are equally inviting. In all, the book contains 250 beautifully styled and photographed recipes for small bites with big flavor.

The book is especially timely because hors d'oeuvres are making a comeback, according to Treuille, a French chef and food stylist who now lives in London. He was recently in the United States on a book promotion tour, and in a telephone interview noted, in slightly accented English, that, "There were big parties in the '70s. People did a lot of entertaining, but after a while things got boring." The same hors d'oeuvres were served over and over again, "and it went down in the '80s. Now they're coming back, partly because hors d'oeuvres are a wonderful way for people to entertain more with less work."

Moreover, these finger-friendly morsels are a delight to the eye and are able to tempt and please the palate whether they are the prelude to a meal or the main focus of a stand-up cocktail party.

Each recipe in the book is accompanied by a full-color photograph, perfect for those who want to know how the finished product should look. All styling was done by 36-year-old Treuille, who formerly worked at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and is program director of Books for Cooks in Notting Hill. This bookstore sells only cookbooks and is part of a complex that includes a restaurant and cooking school, which is where Treuille and professional caterer Blashford-Snell first met.

The authors took about nine months to choose, test and fine-tune recipes. Reflected in the 250 that were chosen is Treuille's observation that "People's palates have become more educated." The appetizers showcase a remarkable confluence of cuisines as revealed in titles that read like a global road map. There's Tangy Thai Shrimp Skewers, Texas Red Bean Wraps With Cilantro Crema, Char-Broiled Mediterranean Tuna Skewers and much more.

Ingredients range from the exotic -- mango chutney, coconut milk, lemon grass and mirin -- to the usual standbys of mayonnaise, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. All add lively dimensions to the glories and pleasures of these small treats.

And you don't need centuries of practice to make them. Treuille is not solely a believer in intimidating 10-ingredient recipes, which would mean "walking down 10 different aisles in the market." Of course, recipes are included that will challenge the more adventurous. For example, Spicy Pork Empanaditas With Chunky Avocado Relish, with its filling, pastry and relish, takes time and patience. But most are easy on the psyche.

The authors make it easy in other ways as well. "Can I make that ahead?" is the one question these culinary professionals are asked most often in their cooking classes. The result is the "Think Ahead" paragraph that accompanies most recipes. It provides valuable tips on making the dish in advance, and how to store and reheat it. This way the usual party-day jitters are avoided, putting the pleasure principle back into entertaining.

One especially helpful section, "Do Nothing on the Day," is sure to be well-thumbed by both the experienced and beginners alike as it lists 37 appetizers that can be prepared ahead. Mediterranean Marinated Olives can be prepared one week in advance, while recipes such as Spiced Roasted Eggplant Dip and Curry Puffs can be made three days in advance.

Even better, recipes use many ready-made foods, available at most markets -- phyllo dough, won-ton wrappers, tortillas, unbaked bread dough, crepes and the like. But for those who demand more of a culinary challenge, there are do-it-yourself recipes such as homemade Won-Ton Wrappers, composed of just two ingredients (flour and water) that enfold a savory mixture of gingered beef.

As for the crucial nuts-and-bolts sections, they're all here. Excellent features are included, such as menu suggestions for various occasions, quantities to serve per person, strategy in preparing and serving, and much more.

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