If first impressions count, then the entrée (aka hors d’oeuvre, appetiser, or starter) must surely set the scene for the rest of the meal. You can’t really go wrong with classic cheese and crackers but, truth be told, this can get a little boring – not to mention the state of the tray after one round. Your carefully positioned masterpiece reduced to crumbs, and the knife (which was supposed to be solely for the blue cheese) contaminating nearly everything. So, if you want to get out of the traditional rut, we have a few ideas that will both simplify your entertaining and keep your guests looking for more.
Everyone knows there are no hard and fast rules, but there are a few guiding principles we stick to when it comes to entrées and all things food.
The first is, less is more. There’s something disconcerting about a charcuterie board that is filled with a thousand and one different snack options. We know you love cashews, honey roasted peanuts and sugared walnuts, but you do not need to put them all on one tray. That goes for your smörgåsbord. of crackers as well. Instead, don’t be afraid to just have two or three things on offer. Consider a platter of salmon and cream cheese blinis, and a second plate of crusty bread, two types of cheese and a relish. Less options mean less prep, passing and refill time – your helpers will thank you.
That brings us to principle number two, perfect pairings. This is especially important if you’re taking us up on the less is more idea. Whatever you serve should have a logical and tasty pairing on the same tray. We’ve all picked up that dry cheese straw and looked in vain for some hummus to dip it in, then chewed our way through it hoping no one would direct a question our way. To overcome the tendency to throw random foods together in the hope that they will somehow meld successfully, have a quick think about what flavours and textures pair well. There is a host of ideas out there, but our favourites include bacon-wrapped pear with blue cheese, nachos with corn, olive, tomato and avocado salsa and zucchini bread with brie and beetroot relish.
Finally, choose a theme. If there is a flavour profile, cuisine, style or season you are catering to, this helps everything fall into place – food and serveware. A rustic, farm-style spread is going to rule out delicate china platters and watermelon canapés, but it does call for dried fruits, hearty seed crackers, deli meat and strong cheese, served straight on a wooden board. A hot summer day lends itself perfectly to Mediterranean flavours with olives, flatbreads, hummus and pickled artichokes; and hot cheese and spinach dip with baked pretzel breads will vanish almost immediately on a winter picnic.
So next time you invite friends round or are packing up to head out to the beach or countryside, try some of these ideas and you might be surprised how much easier it all becomes.