Mad Men Party Canapés (Betty and Joan would approve)

Please, do not host a Mad Men viewing party. Terrible idea. Watching Mad Men is like reading a brilliant book; you savour every line, become mesmerised by the poignant storyline, and everything else around you fades away. The experience doesn't benefit from someone wedged on the sofa next to you, gnashing snacks and shouting out observations over the dialogue.

I watch it alone, in a dimly lit room. Just me and some beautifully damaged characters, trying to find our way in this crazy world... some of us a little drunker than others.

So, no, I won't be attending any giddy gatherings the night the new season debuts here in the UK. I can't abide all the silliness that's sprung up around the show recently — retro costumes, wacky internet videos. I'm not a kill-joy but this isn't Beach Blanket Bingo people. Mad Men is not goofy. The wackiest thing that ever happened on it involved a run-away riding lawnmower and (spoiler alert) that did not end well.

But the day aprés episode I can't wait to get social about Don Draper and company, and this is when a Mad Men party is ideal. Invite some fellow fans over and serve up retro cocktails and canapés to compliment the era you're all engaged in.

One character the room will surely be divided on is Betty. She's a lady-child, who never got to live out her own dreams, and found herself locked in a high-end suburban jail with a few little inmates. But oh does she take her hostessing seriously. Being a good hostess meant a lot then, it was your moment to show off how how tasteful and worldly you were via home décor and refreshments.

To help get you up to scratch on many of the glamorous drinks and eats served in Mad Men, I recommend a very cool addition to your kitchen, The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook.

This book is more than a collection of classic 1950s - 1960s recipes, it also offers digests of the episodes in which the recipe appeared, and historical food trivia. Reading through the digests took me straight back to the magical moments of earlier Mad Men episodes, and reinvigorated my appetite for more.

There are several canapé recipes in this book, which describes the small bites as a 'fixture of the cocktail party scene in the 1950s and 60s'. I love how sophisticated these must have seemed at the time — new and exotic flavours like curry, coconut, and mango delighting guests and leaving no doubt that the hostess definitely was the mostess. 

The following recipes are all included in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook. While they certainly aren't all combinations you eat everyday in this era, I found the toppings beguilingly tasty. Let's journey back to a time when curry powder was all the rage, and cream cheese could bring anything together... 

Shrimp Curry Butter Canapés
Adapted from: The Playboy Gourmet by Thomas Mario (Crown, 1961)

Yields: 30 canapés

1 pound small-medium shrimp, peeled (approximately 30 shrimp)
Salt, for water and for sprinkling
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
30 Melba Toast rounds (recipe below)
Ground white pepper, for sprinkling
2 finely chopped chives, for garnish

Boil 2 cups of water; add shrimp, salt, and lemon juice. Cook covered for 3 - 5 minutes, until shrimp are pink and cooked through. Drain and chill. (Confession - I bought ready-to-eat shrimp from the deli counter and skipped this step!)

In small mixing bowl, combine butter, curry powder and coriander. Blend well; spread butter on toast and top with a shrimp. Sprinkle with salt, white pepper, and chopped chives.

Chutney Canapé Spread
Adapted from: James Beard's Hors D'oeuvre and Canapés by James Beard (William Morrow & Co., 1963)

Yields: 40 canapés

3 tablespoons prepared mango chutney
2 tablespoons chopped preserved ginger
2 tablespoons grated fresh coconut (or sweetened coconut flakes)
2 teaspoons curry powder
8 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons chopped blanched almonds
40 Melba Toast rounds (recipe below)

Place ingredients in a small bowl, mix well, and spread on Melba Toast rounds.

Mushroom Canapés
Adapted from: Betty Crocker's New Good and Easy Cookbook (Golden Press, 1962)

1 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
20 Melba Toast rounds (recipe below)
Minced parsley, for garnish

Make mushroom spread: Saute chopped mushrooms in butter. Season with Worcestershire sauce, salt, and onion salt. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese. Mound mixture on Melba Toast rounds and heat under broiler until bubbling. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Yields: 20 canapés

Homemade Melba Toast
From: Julia Child & Company by Julia Child (Knopf, 1978)

Yields: approximately 60 toasts

1 loaf white sandwich bread

Preheat oven to 275F / 135C. If using an unsliced loaf, cut into very thin slices of approximately 1/16-inch thick. Trim crust and cut the bread into desired shapes (I used a small round pastry cutter).

Arrange in one layer, preferably on one or two baking sheets, and bake slowly until the bread has dried out and is starting to colour. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Thanks to Smart Pop Books for the review copy and book cover photo.

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