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Party Snacks: Take One and Pass It On

There’s a unique flow to a cocktail party--lively and informal. Guests help themselves to drinks and nibbles; paper plates are acceptable, and knives and forks shouldn’t even be needed. During the holidays, candlelight, seasonal music and bouquets of greens and red berries provide the perfect backdrop.

Plan on passing some appetizers around to vary the self-serve format. This adds a touch of gracious elegance--and helps a good deal with crowd control. You don’t want everyone gathered around the buffet. The following recipes, all of which can be made ahead, are designed for passing around.

The crab-cake strudel wraps up crab cakes in a manageable way for one-handed nibbling, and the chive-lemon mayonnaise is a perfect complement. The surprise in the tortilla sandwiches is a subtle and un-filling filling of shredded cheese and sweet apples. The basil gougeres are classic French cheese puffs, updated with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.

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To keep the crab meat as chunky as possible, all the other filling ingredients are mixed separately and then gently combined. Hands seem to be the best tools for doing this job. Even the uninitiated will find filo dough surprisingly easy to work with. The key is not to worry about the inevitable tears in the dough; since the filo dough is layered (four layers here) and then rolled up, the tears are eventually covered. Don’t compromise on the quality and freshness of the crab meat, because the success of these rolls depends on it.

CRAB-CAKE STRUDEL

Fresh bread crumbs

1/3 cup minced onion

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3 tablespoons mayonnaise

4 teaspoons ketchup

4 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

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1 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 pound fresh crab meat

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8 sheets filo dough, thawed if frozen

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted, or extra-virgin olive oil

Chive-Lemon Mayonnaise

Combine 1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs, onion, mayonnaise, ketchup, lemon juice, Worcestershire, mustard, cumin and salt in 1 1/2-quart bowl. Mix well. Add crab meat. Gently toss together.

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Lay sheet of plastic wrap that is 4 inches longer than filo sheets on work surface. Lay 1 sheet of filo at top edge of plastic wrap. Cover remaining filo sheets with damp kitchen towel to prevent drying. Lightly brush filo with butter. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon fresh bread crumbs. Cover with another sheet of filo, brush with butter, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon fresh bread crumbs. Repeat until 4 sheets of filo have been used, ending with plain layer without butter or bread crumbs.

Spoon half of crab cake filling along top long edge of filo, making 1-inch-wide row of filling. Use plastic wrap under filo to help roll so filling is covered. Half way down, tuck filling in, compact roll with hands and then finish rolling into tight roll.

Repeat process with remaining filling and filo, butter and crumbs to make second roll. Cut each roll in half. Brush roll halves with melted butter and place on baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees until golden, about 20 to 22 minutes. Transfer to wire rack. Slice each with sharp serrated knife into 7 equal pieces. Serve warm or at room temperature with Chive-Lemon Mayonnaise. Makes 28 (1-inch) strudel slices.

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Each serving contains about:

109 calories; 211 mg sodium; 19 mg cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.04 grams fiber.

Chive-Lemon Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise

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1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 1/2 tablespoons snipped chives

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Mix mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard and chives together in small bowl. Can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight. Makes 1 cup.

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Familiar ingredients--shredded Jack cheese and Red Delicious apples--are the surprise combination in these tortillas. Even more surprising is the fact that they are better fried ahead (in the smallest amount of oil) and reheated at serving time.

SURPRISE TORTILLAS

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8 (6-inch) flour tortillas

2 cups shredded, unpeeled Red Delicious apples

2 2/3 cups shredded Jack cheese

2 1/2 tablespoons oil

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1 cup chunky salsa mixed with 3 tablespoons minced cilantro

Cilantro sprigs

Lay tortillas out on work surface. Put 1/2 cup apple shreds on each of 4 tortillas, spreading shreds to edge as evenly as possible. Repeat with 2/3 cup cheese per tortilla. Close tortillas, pressing firmly.

Heat 2 teaspoons oil on non-stick griddle or skillet. When hot, fry each tortilla until browned on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total, compressing surface gently with spatula. As each tortilla is fried, transfer in single layer to baking sheet. Use more oil as needed. Can be fried several hours to 1 day ahead. When completely cool, cover loosely and refrigerate.

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To serve, reheat tortillas single layer in 400-degree oven until puffy and hot, about 5 minutes. Let stand 3 minutes before cutting with kitchen shears into 6 wedges each. Serve hot or warm with salsa. Garnish serving dish with cilantro sprigs. Makes 24 wedges.

Each serving contains about:

92 calories; 168 mg sodium; 11 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.13 gram fiber.

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Fresh basil and Parmesan cheese add zip to these classical French cheese puffs, still typically served in French restaurants with aperitifs. They are popular with drinks because they are basic enough to work with anything and yet are full-flavored.

FRESH BASIL GOUGERES

2/3 cup water

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk

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1/2 cup unsalted butter

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Dash cayenne pepper

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1 cup flour

4 large eggs

3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

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3 small green onions, minced

1/4 cup julienned basil leaves

Combine water, 1/3 cup milk, butter, salt, nutmeg and cayenne in 1-quart saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer until butter is melted. Remove pan from heat. Add flour. Use wooden spoon to mix in flour. Keep beating until mixture masses together and leaves sides of pan. Then cook mixture over medium heat 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. (This step makes puffs lighter.)

Put hot flour mixture into processor fitted with metal blade. Add eggs. Process until batter is thick and smooth, about 30 seconds. This mixing can also be done with wooden spoon.

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Add remaining 1 tablespoon milk. Combine well. Add Gruyere cheese and 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, green onions and basil. Process briefly until combined, about 5 seconds, or use wooden spoon to combine.

Drop batter by tablespoon onto greased baking sheets sprinkled lightly with water (water releases puffs easily without sticking), leaving 1 inch space between them. Use finger dipped into water to smooth any rough edges and round them out.

Bake 1 sheet at time at 400 degrees until well browned, about 22 to 24 minutes. Transfer to racks. Sprinkle dash of remaining 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese on each hot puff.

Puffs can be served in 10 minutes while still warm. Completely cooled, they can be frozen and wrapped airtight. Do not thaw before reheating. Place puffs in single layer on baking sheet. Reheat in 300-degree oven until warmed through, about 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 36 cheese puffs.

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Each serving contains about:

58 calories; 89 mg sodium; 34 mg cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.02 gram fiber.


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