Finger food is fabulous. We all love picking at bits and bobs in the fridge or picking at cold and tasty leftovers from a fat feast the night before. It's in our nature to nibble. Perhaps you yourself have got a thing for those little parcels of delight, vol au vents stuffed with creamy, winey mushrooms. Or maybe it's fancy carrots called Julienne that get your back leg going, or even sweet dainty pieces of Chinese chicken wings. Ahhh.... amazing grazing - don't you just love it!
Well judging by your response, you do. Below you will find some fantastic party nibble suggestions that have been culled from the collective h2g2 wisdom.
Finger Food Etiquette
One concern when it comes to finger food is an issue of etiquette. The perfect finger food should be just too big to eat politely in one mouthful but too small to even consider eating in two. The secret to polite consumption of finger food in the presence of others, is in the conversation. Ask the person/people with whom you are conversing a question which can't fail to produce a long-winded answer and then, as they get going - not before they've started as they might not have heard you properly - stuff your gob with the aforementioned nibble. You should then repay the favour.
The risk of gorging before the answer starts is fairly self explanatory. Picture the scene, you (A) are having a conversation with (B). A tray of sublime nibbles is borne in your direction and you both carpe canapéum, there are two possible scenarios:
- A - Could you explain to me again the theory of relativity?
- B - Well, the theory (at this point you can gorge to your heart's content).
- A - Could you explain to me again the theory of relativity?
- B - Next Tuesday.
Proceed to stuff your face.
Now you see, you have a face full of smoked salmon and cream cheese blini and the person you're talking to looks, from without, like a mateless bore - and you look like a serial trougher.
And you never thought nibbles were so serious!
The humble sausage roll is a staple of a buffet banquet. Not only are they exceptionally tasty, they are sublimely easy to make, too.
Roll out some sausagemeat into a long sausage shape (you may need to divide it, and do several batches). Then roll out puff pastry (it's much easier to buy this ready-made) to the same length, and not too thick. Place the meat onto the pastry, and wrap it up! Just pull the pastry over, dampen the edges of the pastry with a little water, and press together. Secure by crimping the edges with a fork, and cut into whatever size sausage rolls you want! Brush a little milk over the top, and place onto a baking tray. Bake in the oven until the meat is cooked, and the pastry is nice and crumbly!
This works out much cheaper than ready made ones; they take about half an hour to roll everything out and then perhaps ten minutes putting it all together. Of course, you could get a couple of friends/family to help, and cut this down considerably. The cooking time is similar to cooking supermarket ones from frozen.
One Researcher, however, begs to differ:
For 'cocktail size' sausage rolls, I'd find it hard to justify the extra time in making them. The last time I bought a bag of 50 frozen ones, it cost 89p; a lump of sausagemeat was 99p, and puff pastry isn't cheap. The lump of sausagemeat might make 150 at the size of the 50 frozen ones, but the two packs of puff pastry that I guess you'd require would probably take it up to about the same price. Plus, you'd need to clear a lot of kitchen space and spend an afternoon rolling and cutting.
Finger Food for Broke Students
Whether you are just plain broke or just plain bored with student food, cost is an important factor when preparing for a party, so why not try making something from the following? They are not only economically sound, they're mouthwateringly tasty too:
Pizza is good. Get those supermarket own brand value/economy tomato and cheese variety and put a bit of canned pineapple or something on it and cook. Then slice it up small and neat. You could also make pizza using your stale bread, left over pasta sauce, and that lump of cheese that's been in the fridge for what seems like an eternity. Just grill the bread on both sides, then bung on the topping and grill a bit more.
Anything on a cocktail stick that can go with the rest of that can of pineapple makes a great nibble.
Get a French stick and slice is at an angle about a centimetre thick, then smear with butter/mustard/garlic purée/tomato purée etc, and bake them off in the oven or grill them.
Get a packet of crackers, again supermarket economy will do, and put a bit of cream cheese on top. Then add a bit of salsa, yes, that stuff you dip Doritos in. It tastes great, especially if you keep it in the fridge.
Never underestimate the power of the freezer centre's own brand bags of 50 cocktail sausage rolls. These will usually fill a baking tray twice over! (Remember to leave room between them so they can expand...)
If you have a sandwich toaster, such as a Breville, be creative... Buy one of those small, square packs of puff pastry, split it into four layers and use them instead of bread in the machine. You can fill them with anything - mince, vegetables, honey, cheese... (but preferably not all at once) and you'll end up with four fluffy triangular pasties! If you do a sweet filling, such as chocolate, you can cut them in half when they've cooled and put a squirt of frothy cream inside each half too. It looks like you spent a lot of kitchen time making a complicated dessert.
A good tip for most savoury things is to put a little bit of cress or a slice of cucumber on the top. It makes it look less like an accident that these things ended up on this plate, and kitchen towel is just as good as napkins. No one will care - after all, they are coming to see you, not to review the food.
If you are planning ahead then it's worth remembering that cherry tomatoes are obscenely easy to grow. The seeds are cheap and they keep producing for quite a while. It's certainly better than giving the supermarket all your money. Chives, mint and shallots are also very easy to grow and all go well as, and in, finger foods.
Don't Forget the Dip!
There are plenty of things you can dip into something, given half a chance - breadsticks, tortilla chips, crisps, vegetables (carrots, sweet peppers spring onions)...
But what to dip into? Some dips are best bought ready made. The more adventurous in the kitchen might like to make their own!
Taramasolata - a creamy cod roe dip. Best served with lemon/lime to squeeze over.
Tzatziki - a creamy cucumber dip. Very cooling.
Houmous - chick peas, (a little) garlic and lemon juice, blended to a paste.
Salsa - chopped onion, tomato, peppers and chilli all mixed together.
Sour cream and chives - exactly what it sounds like...
If you're suddenly filled with the spirit of adventure, why not try the following?
Crush a couple of large cloves of garlic into a cup, add a couple of drops of olive oil and a splash of milk. Sprinkle in herbs (try dried parsley and oregano), salt and pepper, plus some chilli powder if you're feeling adventurous. Zap it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, or until it froths up inside the cup. Take the resulting goo and mix it thoroughly through a small tub of well-chilled plain (Greek-style) yoghurt, then dip your nibbles in it!
Chicken Drumsticks or Wings
For plain chicken, just roast it in the oven (following the instruction that will inevitably be printed on the packaging). You can smear the skin in mustard so it becomes exceptionally crispy.
But you can easily make life a little more interesting by marinading the chicken first! Lay the chicken in a dish, and cover with the marinade! The longer you leave it before cooking, the more flavour the meat will absorb. At least two hours is recommended, overnight is much better. Ready made marinades are widely available, but how about the following?
Chinese style - Mix together soy sauce, finely chopped ginger and garlic, shredded lemongrass, a little five spice powder, and some freshly chopped coriander (if you can get it). Optionally, a little oyster sauce, sesame oil or sake may be added.
Spicy - Chilli (dried flakes, powder or fresh chopped), powdered coriander seeds, tumeric, cumin, fenugreek, paprika, kaffir lime leaves (finely chopped), shredded lemongrass, chopped ginger and garlic, and the juice and zest of a lemon/lime can be mixed with water/oil to get a thin paste. You could use curry paste instead of making your own, but this way is more fun! You could also add a little coconut milk to add more depth.
Sweet 'n' sour - Honey, a little sugar, zest and juice of lemon/limes, and a little pineapple juice (if desired) make for a great marinade.
During cooking, baste the chicken with the marinade a couple of times. It all helps to add flavour!
Sushi doesn't have to have raw fish in it. You can either use cooked fish, or leave it out entirely. To make sushi, you will need:
Rice - Use a short-grained, starchy variety. Don't wash it before you cook it - the extra starch helps bind the sushi together. Cook the rice in an equal volume of water, simmering for 20 mins. Then turn off the heat, put a tight fitting lid in the pan, and allow to steam for another 10 mins. Then stir in one tablespoon of sushi vinegar per cup of rice - mix it quickly and evenly. Allow the rice to cool - you may like to spread it on a baking tray to cool it faster.
Nori - Sheets of seaweed that form the outer layer of the sushi.
Fish/vegetables - Shredded cod, crab, prawns, etc, for the fish (if used), avocado, peppers, ginger, mushrooms (shitake are traditional), and cucumber cut into strips.
Dollop a spoonful of the (by now quite sticky) rice onto one end of a nori sheet.
Spread it to within about 1/2 an inch of the edges, to cover about 1/2 of the nori sheet.
Place on a couple of strips of fish/vegetables.
Then it's just a question of rolling it up. It's easier if you place the whole lot on a bamboo mat, and use this to pull the nori over the top. As you roll, 'peel back' the mat, so you don't end up with the mat in the sushi!
Use a sharp, wet knife to slice into thin rolls (the moisture helps prevent the knife sticking).
According to some, the best finger food ever, without a shadow of a doubt, is popcorn. It's great because it's fun to make. The best way to do it is in a large, heavy-bottomed metal pan with a tight-fitting glass lid (so you can watch the action). Forget about those fatless, hot air popper things - good tasting popcorn requires oil and is still very good for you if you use a light vegetable oil to cook it. Here's how:
Pour about two tablespoons of vegetable oil (sunflower or corn oil is best - olive oil is too strong, and burns too easily) into the pan, and warm the oil very gently on the hob - do not make it hot - so that it covers the bottom of the pan completely.
Next, add the corn kernels. Add enough to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. If you add any more than this, the popcorn will lift the pan lid and overflow when it pops.
Put the lid on tight! Turn the heat up high - do not leave the kitchen.
After a few seconds, you will hear the oil in the pan begin to sizzle. If you are using a glass-lidded pan you will notice after half a minute or so that the kernels are becoming paler and beginning to swell.
On full heat, the kernels will begin popping tentatively after approximately one minute. After two minutes, they should be popping furiously. As soon as this crescendo of popping begins to subside, reduce the heat by half, and listen - and, most importantly, smell. When there is a pause of three or four seconds between poppings, turn off the heat. If at any time before this you smell burning, turn off the heat at once. Remove the pan to a cold ring and wait for one minute (to make sure that all popping action has ceased).
When serving, remember that you are dealing with a preparation in hot fat, and that a lot of hot steam has been created - remove the pan lid with extreme caution. Shake the pan, and tip the contents into a large, non-plastic bowl.
Opinion is divided as to whether, at this stage, to add sugar or salt:
Freshly-popped, lightly salted popcorn is simply divine; sweetened popcorn is horrendous - you might as well pour milk over it and call it a breakfast cereal. Unless it's that toffee stuff that you buy in bags, but that's an entirely different food altogether.
Quirky Finger Food
Below you will find some innovative suggestions for finger food that take their inspiration from traditional fayre.
Baby Yorkshire Puds - Make a batch of baby Yorkshire puddings (about the diameter of a loo-roll tube). Place on said pud a slice of exquisitely cooked beef and a splotch (slightly smaller than a blob) of horseradish sauce.
Honey/Mustard Sausages - Cook some cocktail sausages and when they're close to being done, smother them in grainy mustard and honey. You'll need cocktail sticks to prevent this getting too messy. An alternative option to honey and mustard, is marmalade.
Tricolore Junior - With a batch of cocktail sticks and a skewer arrange in an aesthetically pleasing manner each of the following: a cherry tomato, a cube of mozzarella, and a basil leaf.
Smoked Salmon Blini - Blini's are junior pancakes. If you buy them they need to be cooked first. On said blini spread some cream cheese and then drape over it a slice of smoked salmon. Squeeze a lemon over the top should you so wish.
Boxed Camembert - Contrary to the name, this has nothing to do with Lennox Lewis. Take one camembert and remove it from its box. Remove the paper wrapper and pierce the top of said cheese with about a dozen small holes. Drizzle a scootch (just less than a glug) of white wine on to the camembert and watch it soak in. Return cheese to box and bung the whole shebang in the oven for 15-20 minutes. The waxy outer layer keeps the melted cheese together. Plunge into the now melted cheese anything you want; boiled baby potatoes, carrot sticks, crisps, slices of baguette, whatever... absolutely yum.
Smoked Salmon Pinwheels
These are dead easy and a bit posh apparently! Just cut the crusts off a few slices of brown bread (or white if you must). Squeeze over a few drops of lemon juice, then add a layer of smoked salmon. Just roll it up, and cut into slices. You may need to use cocktail sticks to prevent the rolls from unwrapping!
You could also add a thin layer of cream cheese on top of the salmon before rolling, if you so wish.
A Hint of the East
This is quick, easy and exceptionally tasty. It will also impress your guests.
Crush some coriander, cumin seeds and cashew nuts in a bowl and mix with soy sauce. Then cut some beef into very thin strips and coat them with the nut mixture. Put the beef onto skewers and grill for about ten minutes. Serve with one of the dips mentioned above.
How about a Popiah Party?
Popiah is an Eastern snack, and is good for the health-conscious, because the ingredients are usually steamed or cooked. All you need to do is to prepare some skins (made of flour, just like prata), cook a mixture of radish, carrots, mushroom etc, wrap some of this mixture in the skins, and voilà! The popiah is now ready to be enjoyed.
An alternative would be to fry the ready-made popiahs, and serve as finger food. Dips are optional, though some may like chili sauce to go along.
The basic ingredients for bhajis are onions, flour and spices. Traditional recipes use chick pea (gram) flour for half of the flour - you should be able to find it at a local Indian grocery store. If you can't, ordinary flour can be substituted.
Roughly chop the onions (start with two medium onions).
Whisk together 1 egg, flour (8oz/200g plain flour, 8oz/200g chick pea flour) and enough water to make a thick batter.
Add in the spices - half a teaspoon of ground cumin (fresh ground is best!), a pinch of chilli powder and a pinch of tumeric, and whisk again.
Let the mixture rest for about 15 mins before stirring in the onions. Let it rest for a further 5 mins, then fry spoonfuls of the mixture for approx 5 mins until cooked.
You can shallow fry (in an ordinary frying pan - turn the bhajis over during cooking), or deep fry - a wok can make an excellent deep fryer! If you do deep fry, make sure the oil is hot before cooking. And put the cooked bhajis onto several sheets of kitchen paper to blot away the excess oil.
Bhajis go well with mango chutney, or a sweet chilli dip.