Mega bites: Mark Hix's canapés are big on flavour and easy on the eye

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Canapés may look fiddly, but can be simplicity itself to rustle up.

With our recent appalling weather, it looks like cocktail parties in the garden are off the menu this year. But that shouldn't stop us from entertaining friends over the summer, and canapés can be a lot easier to rustle up than you might imagine. Canapés need to have big, well-balanced flavours; so often you go to a party and the snacks taste of nothing. Also I'm not a big fan of those really tiny canapés – I like to make them a bit larger.

Plantain crisps with guacamole and salsa

Serves 10-20

1 plantain, with the skin on, cut into thin slices
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
1 large ripe avocado or two small ones
The juice of half a lime
½tbsp chopped chives
½tbsp crème fraîche
Sea salt
A good pinch of pimenton
For the salsa
1 medium red chilli, finely chopped
½tbsp olive oil

Heat a centimetre or so of the oil in a frying pan and cook the plantain slices for a couple of minutes on each side until crisp, remove from the pan and transfer on to some kitchen paper and scatter with a little salt. Mash up the avocado with the lime, chives and crème fraîche and season with salt and pimenton. For the salsa, heat the oil in a pan, cook the chilli for 10 seconds; remove from the heat. Spoon about a teaspoon of the avocado mixture on to each slice of plantain and sprinkle a little chilli salsa on top.

Tomato and basil tarts

Serves about 10

You need to have good all-butter puff pastry for this recipe, and it's easy to get hold of in the shops.

Buy the largest cherry tomatoes you can find to make these canapés.
150g of butter puff pastry, rolled to about ¼cm thick
5 or 6 large cherry tomatoes
1tbsp tomato purée
A few basil leaves finely chopped or blended with a little olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and lay it on a baking tray.

Select a round pastry cutter a little larger than the tomatoes and cut as many discs as you can on the baking tray. Then carefully remove the trimmings, leaving the discs on the tray.

Roll the trimmings up into a ball, and freeze for use another day.

Bake the discs for about 6-7 minutes until they begin to colour, then take the baking tray out of the oven and flip the pastry discs over with a spatula or palette knife and pat them down a bit to prevent them rising.

Cut each cherry tomato into four slices, spread a thin layer of the tomato paste on to the pastry and place the slice of tomato on top. Return to the oven for about 5-6 minutes then spoon a little of the basil on and serve.

Courgette and feta tarts

Serves about 10

The natural shape of a slice of courgette makes it perfect for picking up and popping in your mouth as a little snack. You can top the courgettes with whatever you fancy but the feta and mint combination works really well and tastes of summer.

1 medium-sized courgette
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g feta cheese
A few mint leaves, finely chopped
½tbsp olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon juice

Preheat a ribbed griddle pan and lightly oil it. Cut the courgettes into 1-1½cm-thick slices, season and griddle them for about 2 minutes on each side then transfer to a tray and leave to cool.

Chop the feta as finely as you can and mix with the mint, olive oil and lemon and season. Spoon on to the courgettes and serve.

Lamb with cucumber and mint

Serves about 10

The best cut for this is a boneless rump of lamb as it's always tender and is a nice compact cut to slice when it's cold.

1 rump of lamb, off the bone and fat removed
A little vegetable or corn oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Half a cucumber
20 or so mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the lamb, heat a little oil in a frying pan and brown the lamb on all sides then transfer to the oven and cook for about 7-8 minutes, keeping the meat nice and rare, then remove from the oven and leave to cool. Meanwhile cut the cucumber into 3-4cm lengths, or 1cm or so longer than the depth of the lamb so that when they are wrapped you will still be able to see the cucumber.

Stand the cucumber upright and cut down into four pieces around the seeds. Cut the pieces into fairly regular batons and put to one side.

Slice the lamb as thinly as possible and lay the slices on a chopping board. Lay about 3 or 4 batons on each slice of lamb with one or two mint leaves and roll them up. You can serve these as they are, or with a little blob of mint sauce or jelly if you wish.

Baked potato with smoked mackerel and horseradish

Serves about 10

Little baked new potatoes make delicious canapés and you can use your imagination and fill them with whatever you want – from caviar to smoked mackerel.

Try to buy the larger new potatoes so that you can get two canapés out of one potato.

10 large new potatoes
30-40g butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chopped chives
1 smoked mackerel fillet, skinned
1tbsp or so of freshly grated horseradish

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Bake the potatoes for about 20-30 minutes, then remove them from the oven, cut them in half and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Scoop out the potato and return the potato shells to the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up.

Meanwhile mash the potato with the butter and chives and a little of the horseradish and season.

Refill the potatoes, break a piece of the mackerel and lay on top and scatter with the horseradish.

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