The Cocktail Hour


Friends chatting, lemons being sliced, the pop of a Champagne cork, the frosty hymn of ice being jostled in a silvery shaker—these are the sounds of pre-prandial conviviality. But one’s cocktail hour needs worthy hors d’oeuvre to round it out, making it a handsome introduction to the meal that follows. Think of hors d’oeuvre as a culinary greeting, the first step in a stylish yet relaxing evening. Which means a bit more than handing ‘round a bowl of cheddar-cheese goldfish crackers and hoping for the best.

Over the Christmas holiday we gave a small dinner party, inviting a couple of close friends and my mother-in-law. As snow fell we gathered in the living room for what Hyacinth Bucket of the uproarious British sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances” doubtless would primly but proudly call “canapés and light refreshments.” In advance of that evening my husband and I thumbed through Elsie de Wolfe’s Recipes for Successful Dining (1934) in search of pleasing period snacks. We settled on Hungarian Cheese Squares and Olives Wrapped in Bacon, for no more compelling reason than that they sounded easy to prepare and appetizing. And, yes, they were, on both counts.

Enlivened with cayenne pepper and paprika (the latter being the only Hungarian characteristic about it, as far as I can tell) and served on bite-size squares of well-toasted bread, the cheese squares were a big hit. The cheesy spread provided a smooth contrast to the crisp toast, and the cayenne (not too much, mind you) brought a tingle to everyone’s lips. The bacon-wrapped olives are a variation on the classic devils-on-horseback—dates wrapped in bacon and grilled in the oven—though intriguingly different. The extra-large olives gave this particular hors d’oeuvre a sharp green undertone and the roasted almonds added a satisfyingly earthy crunch. Devils-on-horseback are still my personal preference (I love the combination of sweet and salt) but I’ll serve Elsie de Wolfe’s version again, since it proved popular with the gentlemen at our table.

Below are the original recipes as given in Elsie de Wolfe’s long-ago book, followed by our adaptations.

OLIVES WRAPPED IN BACON

SOURCE: Elsie de Wolfe’s Recipes for Successful Dining (1934)

Insert roasted almonds in olives from which the stones have been removed. Wrap each olive in a small strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Grill in oven until the bacon is a good brown, and serve hot.

OLIVES WRAPPED IN BACON

Adapted by The Aesthete Cooks

Serves 12 (2 per person)

INGREDIENTS

24 extra-large green olives, pitted

24 whole roasted almonds

12 slices of lean bacon, cut in half

The bacon-wrapped olives ready for the oven.

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Stuff each olive with an almond, then wrap with a half-slice of bacon secured with a toothpick. Place the stuffed olives on a baking sheet and place in oven until the bacon is thoroughly cooked but not crisp. Serve immediately.

The baked bacon-wrapped olives, ready to serve.

HUNGARIAN CHEESE SQUARES

SOURCE: Elsie de Wolfe’s Recipes for Successful Dining (1934)

Knead in a bowl the quantity required of cream cheese, mixing it with salt, pepper, finely chopped raw onion, enough mild paprika to bring the mixture to a salmon pink color, olives that have been peeled and finely chopped, and enough cayenne pepper to make it sufficiently hot. Place on two-inch squares of buttered sandwich bread, and garnish with a slice of stuffed olive.

HUNGARIAN CHEESE SQUARES

Adapted by The Aesthete Cooks

Makes 48 hors d’oeuvre

INGREDIENTS

12 slices of sandwich bread, white or whole wheat

1 eight-ounce package Philadelphia cream cheese, softened

1/3 large white onion, minced

12 small green olives, minced

Pimento-stuffed green olives

Paprika

Cayenne pepper

Salt

Pepper

DIRECTIONS

STEP ONE

Toast the bread and trim off and discard the crusts. Cut the toast into quarters. You will have 48 squares, each measuring about 1 inch by 2 inches. Set aside until needed.

STEP TWO

Using a rubber spatula, blend the softened cream cheese with the onion and minced olives until thoroughly mixed. Add enough paprika to turn the mixture salmon pink. Add cayenne pepper with a light hand, enough to give the mixture a pleasing spiciness. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

STEP THREE

Spread the cream-cheese mixture on the toast and garnish each with a single slice of pimento-stuffed green olive. Serve immediately.

The first tray of Hungarian cheese squares, moments before being passed around.

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18 comments on “The Cocktail Hour

  1. Very good work here, and the photographs are professional and sharp. Thanks!

  2. egadfly says:

    Intriguing recipes, thanks for posting them, but mostly I just wanted to say that I’ve always enjoyed the “personal” side of Aesthete’s Lament and am very much looking forward to following this blog as well.

    Best,

    EGF

  3. Rebecca James says:

    I love this new blog. Did this cocktail hour precede a “candlelight supper” of Hyacinth proportions?

  4. SDG says:

    Anyone who references the great Hyacinth Bucket, is covered in win! I am enjoying this blog tremendously. The recipe’s sound wonderful and easy to prepare which is a must for me. Keep up the good work.

  5. french girl cooking says:

    Be sure I read with passion your aesthete cooks, but sorry:
    olives+bacon=a lot of salt.
    For your cocktail’s hours, you must try “prune from Agens” wrapped in a bacon’s slice. And give me some news about it!

    PS. Did you try the recipes of the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book? They are as horrible as old fashion but so good and funny to read.

    • Dear Marie Odile, Saltiness may be in the tastebuds of the beholder! Everyone seemed happy with the taste, though I found the “greeniness” of the olives a bit tart. We LOVE prunes with bacon! It is so delicious! Have you tried dates with bacon? Quite similar. And I have a copy of Toklas’s cookery book somewhere. I’ve actually cooked from it with some success.

      • french girl cooking says:

        When I eat a lot of salt, I drink a lot of glasses and when I drink too much, I’m drunk… and I would sorry to be drunk in front a smart persone as you, chère Esthète.
        I never try dates with bacon, but I’m sure it’s delicious
        I’m happy you’ve cooked with an unsayable success from the Toklas book. Ten times I’ve promised to myself to cook “the surgeon’s leg lam”). It’s an amazing variation of the “seven hours leg lamb”. Now I’m waiting you’ll experimenter for your friends and your impatient readers…

      • you can count on us!

      • french girl cooking says:

        I’am waiting, but you know it’s not an easy affair to provide:
        First, you’ve to find a big medical syringe. With that during two days, three times a day, you’ll inject the leg lamb everywhere with a mixture half composed of orange juice and half of cognac.
        The third day when the meat is full of the tastes, you have to cook it (but I don’t remember exactly how, very slowly I think). My library is such a jumble…

    • Dear Marie-Odile, Do you have any other cocktail-food recipes you like very much?

      • french girl cooking says:

        I love for example a slice of bresaola which envelopes a piece of yellow or red grilled poivron, with —always inside— a very little spoon of paesto ( fresh basilic olive’s oil, few garlic, more or less parmesan). closed with a toothpick.
        I put too inside the bresaola’s slice other vegetables or mushrooms. I know, it’s a french declension of italian antipasti.
        In winter, I like little pieces of grilled country bread with fresch foie gras home cooked (a glass of champagne or sauternes is welcome with)
        In summer a piece of french melon in a slice of san daniele is always pleasant.

      • Okay, those are becoming specialties at our house too!

  6. Carole Jackson says:

    I see you’ve referenced Hyacinth Bucket. Perhaps you would enjoy reading her cookbook? I wrote it.

    — Carole Jackson

    http://kuacentral.com/cookbook/index.html

  7. Shari says:

    I loved your phrase “frosty hymn of ice”! Perfectly evocative.

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