Cookbook Review: Cheese Hors d'Oeuvres
Hors d'oeuvres. They can be fancy or simple. Warm or cold. But they're almost always savory, bite-sized and meant to tease an appetite for what's to come (meaning dinner!). Many of us gave our first dinner parties and welcomed guests with a wedge of cheese and basket of crackers. We now want to do better, serving smaller tastes to not ruin appetites but still impress with the flavor and artistry that only hors d'oeuvres can bring to the cocktail table.
If cheese is still your favorite partner with a cocktail or glass of wine you will love Hallie Harron's slim new volume called Cheese Hors d'Oeuvres: 50 Recipes for Crispy Canapes, Delectable Dips, Marnated Morsels, and Other Tasty Tidbits (The Harvard Common Press, $12.95, hardcover).
All that alliteration aside, this appealing 96-page volume would be a very useful addition to the cookbook library of any home cook who likes to entertain. The book begins with a chapter on "Cheese Basics" (buying, storing, etc.) which you'll refer back to often as you consider any of the recipes that follow in four chapters:
- Simple Canapes and Marinated Cheeses
- Fried and Grilled Cheese Goodies
- Baked Cheese Bites
- Cheese to Dip Into
The recipes range from the notably simple, such as "Canapes of Sheep's Milk Cheese and Roasted Peppers," to the elaborate and complex, as with the twice-baked "Parmesan Biscotti."
Ms. Harron is not new to writing about cheese. A chef who lives in both California and France, she recently wrote Tomatoes & Mozzarella. She has also contributed to many of the leading food magazines and to the recently revised The Joy of Cooking. But reading and working with this new volume, one gets the impression that for Ms. Harron, cooking with and writing about cheese was more a personal pleasure than work. And how could it not be?
A few of the recipes could make a meal instead of a snack. There's a "So-Cal Quesadillars with Queso Fresco and Avocado," "Spicy Ale Fondue," and a "Caramelized Onion, Cambozola and Pear Galette."
A few of Ms. Harron's choices are wonderful throw-back choices, like the "Classic Retro Cheese Ball" which could be served at a Mad Men-type cocktail party. But more are modern, as with the "Cayenne-Spiked Chevre with Cherry Tomatoes" which is a focaccia made with summer tomatoes.
Since presentation is always a major part of the magic of hors d'oeuvres, the book gives us up-close photos of about one-third of the recipes which is a big help. There's also advice on which cheeses are best for each recipe, where substitutions are possible, and the important topic of pairing cheese flavors with beverages -- wine, beer, Champagne and cocktails.
Feeling hungry now? Spend a little time with Cheese Hors d'Oeuvres and you'll soon be pulling out the martini glasses and calling friends to come for cocktails.