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When I was growing up, my mum was a very active member of the local Polish community, and most weekends were spent entertaining. There were always plates of dainty open sandwiches, with the slices of dill pickle, tomato, egg, and chives always positioned in a way that somehow elevated these simple bites of ham or cheese on bread to new heights of culinary splendour. A Polish domestic goddess, she pushed catering to the level of an extreme sport.

I’m now a grown woman of 29, living away from my parents with my soon-to-be-husband, yet my mother's first question when I tell her I’m expecting guests is: “What are you going to feed them?”

She shows fierce disapproval of my usual answer of dips and cheeses from the supermarket with some crackers and bread. Fearing her motherly wrath, for our engagement party I decided on some extreme catering of my own. The result was Peking duck rice-paper rolls, assorted canapés including rocket, rare roast beef and mustard mayonnaise on rye, cream cheese with tiny chives and smoked salmon and baby capers on pumpernickel, tomato and bocconcini salad on sour dough, mini quiches made with puff pastry, and other such morsels. The food was a hit and my mother was satisfied that I lived up to her expectations.

Colour and presentation are such an important part of finger food that taking the colours out of canapés while maintaining their visual appeal has proved to be an even greater challenge. Nevertheless, here are some simple, delicious, and visually interesting recipes concocted by my hungry brain.

(In these recipes I have used shop-bought mayonnaise for the sake of expedience. When catering for a party, making your own mayonnaise from scratch can take more time and patience than you are willing to part with. But if you want to make your own, go for it!)

Black Olive and Bocconcini Canapés

You will need

Cut baguettes into 1cm thick rounds. Lightly brush one side of the bread with olive oil and spread a thin layer of tapenade over this. Slice bocconcini into disks 3mm wide and place one in the centre of each piece of bread. Drain the olives and position one ring in the centre of each bocconcini slice. Stand back and admire the concentric circleness.

If serving immediately you can toast the bread after painting it with olive oil, however if you are making this a few hours ahead, I would suggest omitting this step, as cold toasted bread takes on an icky consistency which isn’t very nice to bite into.

Creamy Caviar Eggs

Ah, the Seventies. They may be gone, but in the world of kitsch catering, they are definitely not forgotten. Certainly not by Mum, who has been making this extremely simple dish for at least thirty years. Despite my best intentions, I have retained a soft spot for them.

You’ll need

  • 6 eggs (more or less, as you like), hard boiled, cooled, and peeled
  • 1 cup of whole egg mayonnaise (I use Hellmann's or Best Foods)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup pure cream
  • 1 jar of black caviar (I’m not talking about the real stuff, I’m talking about the tiny eggs you find in the fridge of your supermarket. I’ll leave Beluga for the folks who can afford it.)
Right, this will take you about five minutes, no more. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Place them cut-side-up on a serving plate. In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise and both creams and season lightly with salt and pepper; this mixture should now be thick but slightly runny. Spoon it over the eggs, covering the cut side entirely. Be generous: the excess will run off and coat the bottom of the dish, which actually makes the contrasting caviar stand out more. Now, with a small teaspoon pile a mound of caviar on the centre of every egg half. That's it.

This is something that cannot be prepared days ahead, as the mayonnaise and cream separate and leak water, and the lovely black food dye from the fish eggs runs out over the eggs like the eye makeup of a broken-hearted goth girl (or boi... what am I saying?).

Chicken, Garlic Mayonnaise, and Crispy Fried Mushroom Canapés

A few months ago e2's celebrity chef introduced me to the wonder that is master stock. Master stock adds a gorgeous, spicy exterior and deep colour to whatever you're simmering in it. Although boneless chicken breasts take a short time to cook, and therefore aren't the best cut to use in master stock, the salty intensity of the chicken works and contrasts fantastically with the creamy garlic, sweet, seedy pumpernickel, and crispy, earthy mushrooms.

Get

  • Butter (for spreading on bread and for cooking mushrooms)
  • Pumpernickel
  • Master stock
  • 3 large chicken breasts (skin off)
  • 5 large cloves of roasted garlic (there's a good recipe behind the link). You probably won't use so many, but I'm enclined to burn things, so I make a few more just in case.
  • 1 cup of whole egg mayonnaise
  • 200 grams of finely sliced mushrooms. Small button or Swiss brown mushrooms will work well as they tend to have dark gills and less white flesh, so they will appear darker when cooked.
Okay, let's start with the chicken. I mentioned large chicken breasts because they should be as thick as you can get: you want to cut the breasts into slices about 4cm across and as round as possible. (Don't worry about the skinny ends. Chicken this good won't go to waste.)

Simmer the chicken breasts in the master stock until just cooked and still tender (about 5 minutes should do it), then drain them and leave them to cool.

Heat up a large frying pan, skillet, or wok to a high heat. Melt a good two tablespoons of butter and throw in the mushrooms. They will absorb the butter quickly, so it is important to keep them moving. As the mushrooms cook they give off juice: if the heat is high enough the juice will evaporate quickly. You want them to fry and get crispy, not stew. Keep shuffling the mushrooms until they are dark, dry, and chewy-to-crunchy. Tip then onto some absorbent kitchen paper to drain and cool.

Now squish some roasted garlic into the mayonnaise and mix well. Follow your taste in garlickiness, as long as you don't underdo it (more good, not enough bad). Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Pumpernickel in Australia is most often bought in small packs, pre-sliced. This makes assembly of these nibbles much easier, as pumpernickel's high seed content makes it crumbly. You can buy it in bigger squares or bite-size rounds: use what you can find. If you have big slices, cut them into about 5cm squares.

Now, the assembly. Lightly butter the pumpernickel. Slice the chicken into rounds about 6mm thick and place them on top. Spoon or pipe a dollop of the garlic mayo onto the chicken, and top it off with a smattering of the mushrooms.

Colour: minimal. Flavour: yummo!

Serving Suggestion

Canapé in one hand, espresso martini in the other. Let the party begin!

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