As I have already mentioned numerous times before, I like to keep my entertaining simple. I have always believed that there is an elegance inherent in simplicity. And yet, I'm starting to think that from time to time, an event could benefit from a dramatic flourish or two. I suppose that I can attribute this reconsideration to Peter Callahan's new book Bite By Bite: 100 Stylish Little Plates You Can Make for Any Party.
Callahan is one of Manhattan's top caterers, counting Martha Stewart and Kate Spade as fans and clients. He is also the person responsible for the popularity of serving passed mini-hamburgers at parties, having been the first caterer to do so. In fact, Callahan is the king of bite-sized, comfort food hors d'oeuvres, having managed to craft Lilliputian versions of Spaghetti and Meatballs, Lobster Rolls, and Croque Monsieurs.
Now, to those of you who are purists when it comes to food, miniature sized hot dogs might seem a little silly. I have to admit that I too was a little skeptical. But Callahan makes a good point throughout his book: these novel hors d'oeuvres not only taste good and are easy to eat, but they add to the festive atmosphere of an event. They help to set the tone for a fun party.
Because of my travel schedule, I have not yet had the chance to test drive any of the book's recipes. There are some appetizers that I could see serving to guests at a small cocktail party like the mini Croque Monsieurs or Salmon Tarts. Other recipes require more time and effort, so I might save those for a large event or, better yet, I might have my caterer make them.
What I like about this book is that it made me realize that perhaps it's time for me to kick up my style of entertaining a notch or two. If you're going to the trouble and effort of hosting a soiree, why not serve something that will get your guests talking...and talking in a good way. If you need a little more convincing, I asked Peter to share his thoughts on his signature style of catering.
For those of you who might want to prepare a recipe or two for a small, casual cocktail get-together, Peter suggests trying the Caprese Tea Sandwiches as well as the Mac and Cheese. "You can make the tart shells ahead and they are so delicious." Peter also recommended rounding out the menu with cones of frites.
Peter's favorite recipe in the book is that for his mini burgers. "We were the first to do this size, and it still never ceases to amaze guests who haven't seen them the size of a quarter before. With my tip of punching out the burger buns with a cookie cutter, you now can do this in a jiffy."
Food presentation is important to Peter. After all, it needs to live up to the novelty of the hors d'oeuvres. Many of his serving pieces have been custom designed specifically for the hors d'oeuvres they hold. However, Peter does give the reader suggestions for ways that we can serve the tidbits at home. "If you are serving any of my lollipops, use a tray that has blocks of florists oasis in the bottom and then cover the top with m+m's in whatever color looks best; then stick the [lollipop] stick in the oasis. Perhaps use some dried green lentil beans for savory lollipops. A simpler tip is to always space hors d'oeuvres evenly on the tray and have one kind per tray- it makes them look dressier."
For those of you who are still unsure about these tiny appetizers, I asked Peter to name the one recipe that will win you over. "Mini grilled cheese and be sure to put in aged gruyere. There is so much flavor in that one biteful and then it becomes addicting and you need more. Everyone will be begging for these again!"
All images from Bite By Bite: 100 Stylish Little Plates You Can Make for Any Party by Peter Callahan. Con Poulos photographer; Clarkson Potter publishers.