What the host with the most gives

When it comes to party food, says Michael Bateman, forget about sausage rolls, cheese on sticks and bowls of peanuts. Why not try something a little more adventurous, such as lobster with asparagus?
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The Independent Culture
Do You remember when party "food" was sausage rolls and cheese on toothpicks? At least it was some insulation between rounds of Christmas drinks. Certainly, salted peanuts and salty crisps are no longer seen to be the clever idea, promoting thirst as they do and hugely accelerating liquor consumption. In any case, on the grounds that they have to drive later, half the party guests these days will be sipping fruit juice, Perrier and Aqua Libre. In these circumstances party snacks come under increased scrutiny.

You can buy your way out of trouble, of course. Most supermarkets provide a range of good party snacks, nachos and dips, sushi rolls, mini pizzas and quiches. But you can also make a big splash with a modest spend, doing- it-yourself. How? By following these tips.

Accepting a canape from a silver tray presented by a white-gloved waiter at the Savoy, you might assume that making them requires certain professional skills, not to mention a source of caviare, lobster, smoked salmon. Not necessarily, says Jane Suthering, who is co-author, with Savoy chef Anton Edelmann, of an inspiring illustrated book on the subject, Canapes and Frivolities (Pavilion Books pounds 12.99). The quickness of the chef's hand may deceive the customer's eye, she says, for what is a canape but a tiny open sandwich, a few tasty morsels assembled on a Tom Thumb tray of bread, toast, fried bread or biscuit.

On this page are some tasty canapes from the simple to the luxurious. And if playing about with food in this way does not bring out the child in you, Jane Suthering suggests recruit a small child to the the job. They love it.

For your part, provide some basics; say, cream cheese, olive paste, hummous, aubergine spread, scrambled egg. Meat and fish such as slivers of rare steak, smoked ham, cooked chicken liver, smoked salmon, crab meat, anchovies, blobs of salmon caviare. Parmesan and other cheeses. Vegetables, salad leaves and herbs, such as deseeded tomato, radishes, celery, avocado, cucumber, spring onions, red peppers, endive, chives, watercress, parsley, coriander and chervil.

The bases are easy. White or brown sliced bread, cut into small squares or rounds. The same, toasted, are even better. The same, brushed with melted butter on both sides, pressed into small tart tins and baked in a hot oven for a few minutes, better still. It is only a small step to using better breads, slices of baguette, cut on the round, or at an angle to make an oval shape; or ciabatta bread. Or thinly-cut rye bread for smoked fish. Or brioche or bagels.

WARM GOAT'S CHEESE IN A SEED CRUST

Makes 20

5 miniature Crottin Chauvignolles (or other goat's cheese)

400ml/14fl oz olive oil

sprig each of rosemary, lemon thyme, marjoram

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 egg, beaten

about 4 tablespoons poppy seeds

about 4 tablespoons sesame seeds

20 slices of baguette

garlic butter for spreading

40 leaves of lamb's lettuce

a little vinaigrette dressing

Cut each cheese into four slices and marinate in the oil, herbs and garlic for at least 12 hours. Remove from the oil and wipe with absorbent paper. Dip each piece of cheese into the beaten egg, then turn in the mixed poppy and sesame seeds until lightly coated. Place on an oiled baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 220C/425F/Gas 7 for two to three minutes.

Spread the slices of baguette with garlic butter and toast lightly on both sides. Moisten the corn salad with a little vinaigrette. Then, arrange four leaves of lamb's lettuce and a piece of goat's cheese on each slice of toasted baguette. Serve while still warm.

LOBSTER WITH ASPARAGUS

It is very important to make this canape as late as possible so that the lobster medallions keep their fresh appearance. Dried lobster eggs are used to garnish at the Savoy. To dry them, spread the cooked eggs on a baking tray and place in a cool oven.

Makes 10

2-3 slices rye or brown bread

unsalted butter for spreading

assorted salad leaves

1 cooked lobster tail, shell removed

10 tiny asparagus tips, cooked al dente

cocktail sauce (mayonnaise with a dash of tomato ketchup, orange juice, yoghurt, a teaspoon of brandy, seasoning)

10 sprigs of chervil

dried lobster eggs (optional)

Spread the bread with butter and cut out ten 5cm (2in) squares. Place tiny pieces of salad leaves on each. Cut the lobster tail into 10 medallions and place on top of the leaves. Cut the asparagus tips in half lengthways and arrange on top.

Using a greaseproof paper piping bag, pipe a tiny drizzle of cocktail sauce over each canape and garnish with a chervil leaf and a few dried lobster eggs, if wished.

PROVENCALE CROUTES

Makes 20

50ml/2fl oz olive oil

50g/2oz onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

300g/10oz tomato fillets, diced

2 tablespoons freshly chopped oregano or marjoram

salt and pepper

20 slices of baguette

40g/112oz Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Heat the oil and sweat the onion and garlic until translucent. Add the diced tomato and simmer for about 10 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Add oregano and season to taste. Toast the slices of baguette lightly on both sides and spread with tomato mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Place under a hot grill and colour the cheese lightly. Serve warm.

REBLOCHON AND RADISH CROUTES

Makes 20

1 Reblochon cheese

120ml/4fl oz white wine vinegar

25ml/2 tablespoons water

120ml/4fl oz olive oil

10 radishes, thinly sliced

20g/34oz shallot, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley

12 teaspoon caraway seeds

20 slices of baguette

olive oil for frying

freshly milled pepper

Trim the rind from the Reblochon, then cut the cheese in thin slices. Combine the white wine vinegar, water, olive oil, thinly sliced radishes and shallots, parsley and caraway seeds.

Then add the cheese and season with pepper. Cover and leave to marinate for up to 30 minutes but no longer as the cheese begins to toughen. Fry slices of baguette in olive oil until golden. Drain the cheese mixture and arrange the cheese with its vegetable garnish on top of each slice.

TOMATO AND BEANSPROUT CROUTES

Makes about 30

8 large slices of granary or rye bread

50g/2oz garlic butter

100g/4oz Emmenthal cheese, grated

100g/4oz small beansprouts, chopped or 50g/2oz alfalfa sprouts

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme

30-32 slices tomato, preferably plum tomatoes

salt and freshly milled pepper

Toast the bread slices lightly on both sides and spread with garlic butter (crushed garlic, unsalted butter and seasoning, evenly combined).

Mix the grated Emmenthal cheese, chopped bean or alfalfa sprouts and chopped parsley and thyme together, and season generously. (Beforehand, soak the sprouts in cold water for five minutes to ensure crispness.)

Stamp out four rounds from each slice of toast about the size of the tomato slices . Place a slice of tomato on each one. Top with some of the cheese mixture and bake in a preheated oven at 220C/425F/Gas 7 for about four minutes. Serve while still warm.

CHUTNEY CRUNCHES

Makes 20

20 slices of baguette

garlic butter for spreading

20 teaspoons apricot chutney

225g/8oz goat's cheese

120ml/4fl oz double cream

20 tiny sprigs of chervil or parsley

Spread the slices of baguette with garlic butter and toast both sides. Place a teaspoonful of chutney on each piece of bread. Cut the cheese into 20 even-sized pieces and place on top of the chutney. Place the cream in a small saucepan and cook over a medium heat until reduced by half. Spoon a little over each croute and brown quickly under a grill preheated to its hottest setting. Garnish with chervil or parsley.

MARINATED SCALLOPS WITH CAVIARE

Makes 20

4-5 large scallops without roe

juice of 1 lime

50ml/2fl oz olive oil

12 teaspoon green peppercorns, crushed

salt and freshly milled pepper

5 slices of rye bread

unsalted butter for spreading

Beluga caviare

20 small sprigs of chervil

Trim the scallops, then cut each in four or five even slices. Mix the lime juice, oil and seasonings and pour over scallops. Cover and marinade in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes or up to four hours. Spread the bread with butter and then stamp out 20 rounds the same size as the scallops. Place a slice of scallop on each round. Garnish with caviare and a sprig of chervil shaped to represent a bunch of grapes (see left).

BRIOCHE CROUTES WITH CHUTNEY AND GORGONZOLA

Makes 20

4 individual brioches

unsalted butter for spreading

20 teaspoons apricot chutney

100g/4oz Gorgonzola cheese

Cut each brioche into five slices and stamp out a neat shape from each slice, if wished.

Toast lightly on both sides. Spread with butter and one teaspoonful of chutney on each slice. Crumble the cheese and place on top of the chutney.

ITALIAN CROSTINI

Makes about 20

75g/3oz unsalted butter

120ml/4fl oz olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

20 thin slices of baguette or small pieces of ciabatta

100g/4oz Parma ham (prosciutto), diced

2 teaspoons freshly chopped sage

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

100g/4oz Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced

Melt half the butter in a large frying pan, add half of the oil and one of the garlic cloves. Turn 10 baguette slices in the frying pan over a medium heat until golden. Remove from the pan, keep warm. Use the remaining butter, oil and garlic to fry the remaining bread slices. Add the ham to the frying pan and saute quickly. Remove from the heat and stir in the herbs. Spoon a little of the mixture on to each baguette slice. Place a piece of cheese on top and melt under a preheated grill. Serve at once.

SCALLOP CROUTES WITH SAUCE VIERGE

Makes 10

10 thin slices of baguette

25g/1oz unsalted butter

20g/34oz red pepper fillet, blanched, peeled and finely diced

15g/12oz green pepper fillet, blanched, peeled and finely diced

15g/12oz courgette, finely diced

5 fresh scallops, cut in half crossways

salt and freshly milled pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

vinaigrette

Butter baguette slices and toast under a preheated grill until golden. Mix the diced red and green pepper with the courgette and place some on each slice of baguette. Dry the scallops on a kitchen cloth and season generously. Heat the oil in a frying pan and quickly fry the scallops on both sides until just sealed. Place a scallop on each croute and spoon a little vinaigrette on top.

GARLIC AND HERB TOASTS

Makes 20

5 cloves garlic, peeled

50ml/2fl oz olive oil

1 fresh bayleaf

12 small sprigs of rosemary

5 large slices brown bread

1 teaspoon freshly chopped chives

1 teaspoon freshly chopped marjoram

1 teaspoon freshly chopped sage

salt and freshly milled pepper

Just cover the garlic cloves with boiling water and boil for 30 seconds. Drain immediately. Then place the garlic in a jar with the olive oil, bayleaf and rosemary sprigs. Cover and leave in a cool place for at least 24 hours. Toast the bread, then brush with the olive oil used for marinade. Remove crusts and cut each slice of bread into four triangles. Remove the garlic and herbs from the oil. Thinly slice the garlic and chop the herbs. Mix all herbs together. Divide the garlic slices between the toast and sprinkle with herbs. Season to taste.

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