The art of the appetizer

March 15, 2011

Nina Freed is no novice when it comes to entertaining and preparing hors d’oeuvres for large parties. She created the menus and did the decorating for the members’ parties while her husband, Doug, was the director of the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art at State Fair Community College.

Recently, her home, filled with mid-century modern style decor, became a smorgasbord of appetizers for Doug’s retrospective party.

“I used the whole house to do that,” she said. “I think we had 37 people. I had a satay in the guest bedroom, in the TV room I had the chocolate bacon, cheese and nuts in our bedroom, the desserts were on the piano with a coffee bar on the side tables.”

Heavy hors d’oeuvres such as lemon-parsley grougeres (a French savory choux pastry), beef-mushroom-blue cheese tartlets and almond-stuffed bacon wrapped dates (just to name a few) were served on the dining table.

On the buffet underneath a large wall-size painting of Doug’s titled “Gives itself to Beauty-1996,” guests could indulge in beef tenderloin and ham sandwiches along with Caesar salad, cold shrimp with lemons and limes and cream of tomato-fennel soup sips.

In all, guests could sample 27 different gourmet hors d’oeuvres at the event.

“Mama always said it’s better to have too much food than not enough,” Freed said.

Food was served on Japanese-style black platters and plates with the accompaniment of clear glass and bamboo trays.

“Food really does pop when you set it on that,” she said. “I just let the food and plates work off each other.”

Freed worked on the project for three weeks “off and on,” baking and freezing as much as she could ahead of time.

“Whatever I feel I could do ahead, I did.”

Guests who are familiar with her cooking know she likes to introduce a new recipe each time she cooks for an event.

“I think that’s something you can experience together. There always has to be at least one thing I’ve never cooked,” she said. “I love looking for recipes, I devour magazines and cookbooks. Dishes are the same way.”

Freed loves to mix and match dishes and accessories and enjoys finding frugal treasures.

“Tops for a piece is $3 and of course I mix my antique pieces in with that,” Freed said. “I don’t think it should be so pricey that if it breaks anyone should feel badly about it.”

Recently, her dining table was set to serve spring appetizers. Asparagus, lemon and dill soup was served in green shot glasses, while citrus marinated shrimp cocktail was served on Asian-style spoons. Lime-marinated chicken skewers and grilled pineapple served with a rum/brown sugar glaze rested on white Asian-style plates with a green chrysanthemum motif.

“When I think of spring I think of fresh green, that’s why I chose the plates with chrysanthemums,” she said.

Carrying on the Asian theme, plates rested on tiered wire plant stands. The center piece was six-foot-tall black bamboo, placed in a tall glass cylinder vase, surrounded by small, smooth, black rock.

The food and arrangement sat on a modern style glass-top table with legs made of Brazilian rosewood and ash, built by Doug years ago.

“He took it and built it around the structures of one of his paintings,” she said. “It’s been there through the kids, and a lot of parties and dinners. It’s full of history.”

When serving appetizers, Freed offered these tips: She said she likes to serve foods, such as the asparagus soup, at room temperature. Fruit soups and gazpacho are excellent served this way.  

“When I think of spring I think of lemons, limes and fruit,” she said. “I love limes and I love herbs; nothing’s better than fresh cilantro.”

Her recipes are selected with thought not only given to great taste combinations, but for their time and ease of preparation.

“(Food that’s) easy to replenish when one’s empty, simple, light and easy so you can enjoy the party,” she said.

Citrus-marinated shrimp cocktail

(Oriental shrimp)

Serves: 12

2 bottles (12-ounces each) beer, preferably lager

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice, freshly squeezed

4 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/4 cup fresh cilantro (coriander), minced

In a medium saucepan over high heat bring beer to a boil. Add shrimp; bring to a second boil. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand two minutes or until shrimp turn opaque and curl. Drain and set aside. (Shrimp can be cooked one day ahead if drained, covered and refrigerated.)

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, heat olive oil and cook jalapenos, soy sauce, lime juice and ginger two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar; cool. (Sauce can be made up to one day ahead if covered and refrigerated.) Add sauce and cilantro to shrimp and toss to coat shrimp. To serve, thread shrimp on six-inch wooden skewers (two per skewer). Or serve with toothpicks. Serve cold.

Nina Freed’s notes: I use small precooked salad shrimp. I brought the beer to a boil, but then let it cool. Next I add the shrimp and let this sit for about one hour before draining. Rather than serving on skewers or toothpicks, I used appetizer spoons. If the shrimp were too large for my appetizer spoons, I rough chopped the shrimp, then proceeded by adding the sauce and cilantro to the shrimp, mixing well, filling the spoons and chilling until ready to serve.

Source: Kim Schroeder

Lime-marinated chicken skewers with avocado crema dip

Makes: 20

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

For marinade:

Juice of one lime

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 green chilies, seeded and finely chopped

1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For dip:

1 avocado, stoned

3 scallions, chopped

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup sour cream

Salt, black pepper

1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped for garnish

Essential equipment: 20 six-inch wooden skewers presoaked in cold water.

Cut chicken into one-inch cubes. For marinade, combine lime, honey, oil, chilies, cilantro, salt and pepper in a nonmetallic bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat each piece well. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

For dip, place avocado, scallions, vinegar, olive oil and sour cream in a food processor or blender; pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Thread a chicken cube onto each presoaked skewer. Preheat broiler. Alternately, preheat a ridged cast-iron griddle, broiler pan or barbecue. Broil chicken skewers until cooked through, about five minutes on each side. Garnish each skewer with a sprinkling of cilantro. Serve warm with avocado crema dip.

Think ahead: Marinade chicken up to one day in advance. Skewer chicken up to 12 hours in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Make dip up to eight hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate.

Cook’s note: To prevent the avocado crema dip from discoloring when making ahead, make sure you press a piece of cling wrap directly onto the surface of the dip. It’s the oxygen in the air that turns avocado brown, so the less air that comes into contact with the dip, the better.

Nina Freed’s notes: Place dip in a container that can be tightly sealed and place the avocado stone in the center of the dip. Seal with lid and refrigerate. This, too, keeps the dip from turning brown.

I used my Panini press to cook the chicken and did about five to six minutes total as it cooks on two sides, rather than one.

Source: Unknown

Asparagus, lemon and dill soup

Makes: Seven cups

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 25 minutes

1 pound fresh asparagus

1 medium leek

3 tablespoons butter

2 celery ribs, finely chopped

1 small onion, chopped

5 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta

3 egg yolks

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

3/4 teaspoon salt

Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus; remove scales with a vegetable peeler, if desired. Cut asparagus into one-inch pieces.

Remove root, tough outer leaves and tops from leek, leaving two-inches of dark leaves. Finely chop leek; rinse well and drain.

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat; add leek, celery and onion; sauté four to five minutes or until tender. Stir in broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables and orzo are tender.

Whisk egg yolks until thick and pale. Gradually stir about two cups hot soup mixture into yolks; add yolk mixture to remaining hot soup mixture, stirring constantly two to three minutes or until thickened. Stir in lemon juice, dill and salt and serve immediately or if desired, cover and chill.

Source: “Southern Living” magazine, March 2009.

Grilled pineapple with tequila/brown sugar glaze

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

Yields: Six servings

3/4 cup tequila (can substitute dark rum)

3/4 cup golden brown sugar (packed)

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 large pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into two-by-one-inch pieces

6 bamboo skewers

Stir first four ingredients in a small bowl until sugar dissolves. Thread pineapple pieces onto six skewers, dividing equally. (Tequila mixture and pineapple skewers can be made eight hours ahead. Cover separately and chill.)

Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Grill pineapple until brown, basting with tequila mixture and turning occasionally, about 10 minutes total. Remove pineapple from skewers; serve hot or warm.

Nina Freed’s notes: Add butter to basting sauce, reduce and serve over pineapple with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Rather than skewering pineapple, you can grill the pineapple after cutting into rings. I broiled the basted pineapple.


  1. The art of the appetizer

  2. The art of the appetizer

  3. The art of the appetize