I have been making cheese straws for the music society's annual lecture. I had never been one for making nibbles, visitors to our house only getting shop bought crisps or olives, or (my particular favourite) 1970s retro cheese puffs, but when I was recruited to the music society committee I discovered that catering was part of the brief. I knew somebody who made delicious cheese straws who when complimented upon them would only ever say Oh, they're really easy, but without giving me the recipe. I ended up searching through my cookery books and online before settling on the method in the Good Housekeeping cookery book. They turned out to be so nice that I never tried any others. Some recipes had such a high proportion of cheese in them they were practically baked cheese, which sounded unpleasant and expensive. The Good Housekeeping recipe calls for two ounces of salted butter and two of grated cheese per four ounces of flour, plus an egg yolk and a dash of cayenne pepper, with water to mix. I roll them very thin and cook them briefly in a fairly hot oven, and do not mess around putting twists into them or anything else. And it turned out to be true, they are very easy.
Presently I shall assemble some fishy things, small squares of rye bread with a little dollop of either trout or salmon pate, which I shall arrange in alternating rows of each on a small tray. It will be almost as 1970s retro as bright orange cheese puffs. Now I've discovered the joy of making my own nibbles I am keen to expand my repertoire, but so many recipes are for things supposed to be served hot, at once, straight from the oven. What use is that to the home cook? If we are entertaining at home I want to spend the time before supper with our guests, not toiling in the kitchen and occasionally rushing through to the sitting room with a plate of sizzling prawns, while for community events you need nibbles that can be served cold and made in advance without becoming soggy and disgusting.
Back in the 1970s my aunt used to serve vol au vents. I remember helping remove the little centres, the tops of which were then replaced on the prawn in mayonnaise or whatever it was she had put in the middle. Aged about ten I thought that was the height of sophistication, but I don't know if you can even buy ready made vol au vent cases now. I have never noticed them in the supermarkets. Waitrose had some ready made blinis next to their smoked fish which I eyed up, especially as they were reduced, but their expiry date was yesterday.
I am not keen on dips, having read too many articles about the proportion of people who double dip, going back for a second dollop after they have already taken a bite out of their carrot stick, just as I avoid bar counter bowls of peanuts and the curious Bombay mix they put out in some Indian takeaways. Cheese straws are good from that point of view. You can't dig your fingers into the bowl and scoop up a handful.