Special occasions call for a little accessorizing – in your wardrobe and in the kitchen. Here are five kitchen essentials and appetizing ideas for each of them when you’re suddenly hosting a crowd. Consider each your party wingman.
1. Frozen shrimp
A bag of shrimp in the freezer can be great insurance – thaw as many as you need under running water to turn into a quick nibble. Raw, peeled, tail-on shrimp tends to be the most versatile.
Wrap them up
Blanket the shrimp with a thin slice of prosciutto (halve it lengthwise first), then sauté in a drizzle of oil in a hot pan until opaque. Serve with pesto for dipping.
Top a pizza
Spread pizza dough or a pita flat with pesto and top with shrimp (cooked or raw) cut in half lengthwise, crumbled feta and a few chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Bake at 400˚F for 15–20 minutes, until golden. Slice into bite-sized pieces.
Make portable shrimp cocktail
Anchor cooked, peeled shrimp to a cracker or thin slice of cucumber with a dab of herbed cream cheese or soft goat cheese; top with a small dollop of cocktail sauce.
2. Nuts (any kind)
Nuts are inherently festive; stock up on all kinds, salted or unsalted, to add to baking or turn into treats you can make ahead (or at the last minute) for parties or delicious gifts. Nuts are festive on their own, set out in bowls as a healthy snack, or scattered on cheese trays to fill the gaps.
Cover in chocolate
Roast nuts (hazelnuts work well for this) at 350˚F on a rimmed baking sheet until fragrant; transfer to a bowl and toss with a handful of chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate. Let sit for a minute or two to allow the chocolate to melt; toss again to coat the nuts, then spread out on a sheet to cool.
Spice them up
Toss 2 cups nuts with 1 tbsp. oil or butter, 1 crushed garlic clove, 2 tsp. sea salt and 1/2tsp. each cumin, chili powder, ground ginger and cinnamon. Roast at 350˚F for 15 minutes, until golden and fragrant.
Make them sweet
Toss 2 cups nuts with 1 egg white, 1/2 cup brown sugar and any combination of spices you like (try cinnamon, nutmeg and salt). Roast at 350˚F for 15 minutes,until golden and fragrant.
3. Jarred pesto
Garlicky basil pesto dresses up everything from salmon to pasta in a hurry. (Sun-dried tomato pesto is pretty delicious, too.)
Roast salmon bites
Spread over a salmon filet and roast at 450°F for10 minutes per inch. Cut into bite-sized pieces before roasting and serve with toothpicks as a quick hors d’oeuvre.
Try this sesame salmon bite recipe as the perfect appetizer.
Drizzle over small bocconcini and stir to coat; serve as a nibble with wine or to fancy-up a cheese tray.
Try these 3 cheesy, easy-to-make snacks.
Make puff pastry straws
Thaw and roll out puff pastry 1/4-inch thick;spread thinly with pesto and cut into strips about 1/2-inch wide and as long as you like. Gently twist each and place them about an inch a part on a baking sheet. Bake at 425°F for10–15 minutes, until golden.
4. Puff pastry
Puff pastry is wonderfully festive, no matter what you do with it -–fill it, top it, roll it… even if it’s a mess going into the oven, it will come out looking wonderfully rustic.
Roll it up
Roll pastry out about 1/4-inch thick and spread with pesto or grated Parmesan or sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Roll back up, slice and bake on a sheet at 350°F until golden.
Make a fancy pizza
Roll pastry out about 1/4-inch thick, transfer to a baking sheet and top with whatever you like (don’t load on too many toppings!); bake at 400°F for 15–20 minutes, until golden.
Do tiny turnovers
Roll pastry out about 1/4-inch thick and cut into small squares (any size); fill with a spoonful of anything savoury (olive tapenade, brie and ham, or pepper jelly, goat cheese and fig jam) or sweet (chocolate pieces, preserves,cream cheese). Bake at 400°F for 15–20 minutes, until golden.
5. Canned chickpeas
Delicious, nutritious and cheap, a can of legumes is easily transformed into a delicious dip, and can even be roasted for a unique party snack
Rinse, drain then purée a 19 oz. (540 mL)can of chickpeas in the food processor with a garlic clove,squeeze of lemon juice, big spoonful of tahini and glug of olive oil; to upgrade, add a roasted red pepper, beet or a few roasted carrots and a big pinch of cumin, a half cup of thawed peas or edamame, or a few spoonfuls
of thick, plain Greek yogurt.
Roast them to munch on
Rinse and drain one or two 19 oz.(540 mL) cans; pat them dry and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and roast at 400°F for 20 minutes, or until golden and crunchy. (Experiment with other spices, too!)
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, November/December 2010.