The art of small bites

| October 26, 2011 | 0 Comments


Smoked salmon with pesto on pumpernickel coins

Smoked salmon with pesto on pumpernickel coins

Over the past decade, food and wine have become a serious part of many people’s lifestyle. Just take note of the number of new restaurants popping up, the myriad TV cooking shows and the expansion of high-end kitchen accessory and gourmet stores.
With all these resources and sources of inspiration, entertaining at home may be on its way to making a welcome comeback. And one of the most popular trends in entertaining is serving small bites or petite portions. They are fun, packed with flavour and easy to eat.
While small tastes are coming on strong as a trend, this way of entertaining has been our family’s favourite for almost two decades. It’s a more convenient way to entertain than throwing a dinner party — no table to set, no centrepiece to arrange, no long hours of preparation and clean-up — and it usually doesn’t mean a late night.
Such a tasting party may be a simple drinks party for a few people or a more ambitious event such as a cocktail reception or garden party. What makes today’s parties (casual or formal) different from those of the past is that the bar has been raised. Guests recognize and appreciate unique and tantalizing culinary combinations, quality ingredients and ingenious presentations. Indeed, the beauty and originality of some creations and their presentations display what I might call a sense of food fashion. In short, they’re clever,  artistic and deliciously tempting — a delight for both the eyes and the palate.
Quality is appreciated, no doubt, but this type of entertaining need not be expensive, complicated or time-consuming. The trick is to be well organized and to think through the logistics of the event. In order for you, as host, to be relaxed, able to socialize and have fun, you must first make the event doable. It’s imperative to do what suits you and your resources (including time, talent, budget and space).
Over the years, I have honed my experiences into developing an easy (yes, easy) but guaranteed successful four-pronged formula for hosting finger food parties. Its elements include hors d’oeuvres, a canapé soup, taster dessert(s) and chocolates. In other words, it works as a progression from savoury to sweet. There are times when I might skip either the canapé, soup or the taster dessert if it’s a short drinks party but never the chocolates. However, if all of the four elements are included, guests joyfully depart convinced that they have had virtually a little or even a complete meal. By the way, I do find it interesting to see an ever-increasing number of caterers, hotels, embassies as well as regular households adopting my formula. Why? Because it works, regardless of the resources available and the skill level of those involved.
Remember, everything does not need to be homemade; but try to think like an artist when choosing and presenting your menu. Strive for a sampling of meat, fish, seafood, vegetarian items and sweets. Include lots of colour and a variety of textures (soft, firm, chewy, crisp, crunchy), flavours and temperatures. Knock the drama and excitement up a notch or two by serving your small bites on spoons (oriental porcelain spoons are my favourite), forks, speared with chopsticks, or in small cocktail dishes, bowls, demi-tasse cups, shot or martini glasses, just to mention a few. To transport these intriguing tastes, go beyond ordinary trays. Think boxes, floral containers, plates raised to different heights, long, boat-like olive trays, multi-tiered plate stands, shells. All are options worthy of consideration. Indeed exciting presentation can give any event bonus points in the minds of guests, so be sure to consider it carefully.
In our home, tasting parties are a huge hit. They are a parade of culinary treats which delight guests with the entrance of one irresistible morsel after another. Generally speaking, it’s best to serve one type at a time as each signature bite merits its own individual attention. Guests then focus on tasting, savouring, socializing and getting a chance to explore an ongoing adventure of flavours which undoubtedly stimulates robust conversation. It is a superb ice breaker, particularly when guests do not know one another.
The featured smoked salmon recipe is an example of a dead-easy hors d’oeuvre that requires absolutely zero culinary skills. And it’s guaranteed to get a “wow” out of guests. Don’t forget the strategic touches of wasabi. They are critical in making this canapé pop.
From our table to yours, “Bon Appétit!”

(This is the fifth in a series of six articles, highlighting themes from Margaret’s Table, her cooking and lifestyle series on Rogers TV.)

Smoked Salmon with Pesto on Pumpernickel Coins
Makes about 12 pieces

1 pumpernickel bagel
2 tbsp (30 mL) pesto*, thick**
3 oz (85 g) smoked salmon, thinly sliced


1 1/3 tbsp (20 mL) sour cream
1/2 tsp (3 mL) wasabi paste
1 1/2 tsp (8 mL) black caviar (or lumpfish roe, well-drained)
12 pieces of fresh chives (length: 1 inch or 2.5 cm)

1. Cut pumpernickel bagel vertically into coin-like slices (thickness: 1/4 inch or 0.6 cm). Coins must be round and level/flat.
2. Top each pumpernickel coin with a small central mound of pesto (about 1/2 tsp or 3 mL), then wrap smoked salmon (about 1/4 oz/7 g or 1 1/2 tsp/8 mL) in rosette fashion around the pesto to enclose it.
3. Garnish the top of each salmon rosette with 1/3 tsp (2 mL) of sour cream, a pinch of caviar, a speck of wasabi paste and a short piece of chive stem.

* Virtually any type of thick pesto (commercial or homemade) may be used.
** The pesto must be thick enough to form a mound which does not “weep.” If pesto is too thin, place it in a wire sieve lined with a coffee filter, set it over a bowl to catch drained liquid and refrigerate at least overnight. Or, spread it on a plate, place a paper tissue directly on top of surface of the pesto to absorb the extra oil/liquid.

Margaret Dickenson is the author of the international award-winning cookbook, Margaret’s Table – Easy Cooking & Inspiring Entertaining, as well as creator and host of the TV series, Margaret’s Table. Visit for more.

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Category: Delights

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Margaret Dickenson wrote the awardwinning cookbook, Margaret’s Table — Easy Cooking & Inspiring Entertaining (

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