"Can I make that ahead of time?" That question has become as familiar to cooking teacher Eric Treuille as "Are we there yet?" is to parents on a car trip with the kids.
Especially when it comes to entertaining, says Mr. Treuille, program director at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in London, "everyone wants a hassle-free menu."
With the curtain rising on the holiday season, "Hors o'Deuvres" (DK Publishing, $19.95), which he co-authored with caterer Victoria Blashford-Snell, is well timed. It caters to today's cooks with step-by-step instructions for about 40 "do nothing on the day" recipes, from Mediterranean Marinated Olives to Smoked Salmon Sushi Rice Balls. More ambitious cooks could try any of the other 200 plus recipes for dips, rolls, wraps, tartlets, and more.
Treuille was trained in classical French cuisine. His culinary career began at age 13 when he apprenticed as a caterer in his hometown of Cahors in southwest France. He then studied in Paris before becoming a restaurant chef there.
But he isn't such a purist as to frown on those who take shortcuts. "Life's too short to make your own puff pastry," he says, laughing. "The ideal is to make dishes ahead, just warm them up before guests arrive, and enjoy your own party." He urges hosts to use those pre-party days wisely, however, planning a menu that includes a variety of tastes, textures, aromas, and colors.
"Try to create a menu with contrasts," he suggests. "Choose a variety of canapes that will give your guests a balance of sweet, sharp, spicy, salty, and sour flavors. Canapes should always be a small bite with a big flavor."
When asked in a recent phone interview to name five small bites with big flavors that he would serve at his own holiday party, Treuille lists the following: Quesadillas; Salmon and Dill Cakes; Lemon Chile Shrimp Sticks ("They'll 'wow' guests with their full flavor"); Marinated Feta Cheese With Olives, Lemon, Sesame Seeds, and Mint ("It looks good for two to three hours); and Filo Tartlets ("Everyone is scared off by filo (phyllo), but these are easy and keep for three to four weeks").
Five items is the limit for most parties, he says, encouraging a less-is-more approach. "Focus on doing less, better. You'll have time to make a superior recipe and save time and cost."
For most parties, plan on 10 hors d'oeuvres per guest unless it is a starter-only party, then, about 14 pieces.
And for his year 2000 party, Treuille's initial response is not caviar, oysters, quail, or anything of the kind. It's soup! Particularly his own humble recipes for Carrot, Honey, and Ginger or Chilled Spiced Chickpea Soup. "They are so stylish when served in espresso cups."
Of course, he'd also have a little caviar on hand to top otherwise ho-hum hors d'oeuvres - blini, baked potatoes, quail eggs, and such.
"It's so beautiful, doesn't need much garnish, and a little goes a long way," he says.
So would it be gauche to host a potluck hors d'oeuvres party? "Absolutely not," says Treuille. "It's an interesting way to gather friends, spread food all over the room, sample a variety of small bites, and try the dishes of many cooks." Most of all, he says, one should enjoy the process of cooking, and it will result in a better dish. "Imagine people valuing you for your food," he exclaims. Then, enunciating every syllable, he adds, "It's just fan-tas-tic!"
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society