Unexpected Company

December 12, 2003

Unexpected company

It was late afternoon and some neighbors had stopped by while walking their dogs. We talked for a while in the driveway while the kids played, and soon we were inviting them to stay and have some drinks with us. They walked home to get some beer to bring over. Minutes later the wine was uncorked and bottles of beer were opened on our wall-mounted bottle opener, and I knew I needed to get some food going too. We all began drinking, and I opened cabinet doors to see what we had that I could use to make something worthy of noshing. I impressed even myself by putting out a spread, as they sat at our kitchen counter having drinks. I was able to put out several things that were good and easy. You have got to have a few things on hand to grab though, to be able do it. You also need a repertoire of quick, easy recipes.

I worked quickly. I had some onions in the fridge, and some pesto. I grabbed the loaf of white bread and began to cut that into small crustless squares. I chopped onions with the food chopper, mixed it with mayo, and spread it on top of the squares, popped them under the broiler, then grabbed some more things. The tomato pesto was next, mixing the tomato paste with pesto, olive oil and kosher salt. I put that in a good crock and got crackers out. A few minutes later, I took the onion bites out of the broiler and set those out as well. Things were starting to look better than just the drinks. We were nibbling and having a good time talking. The new neighbors seemed to watch me whipping things up with an interested bit of intrigue. It felt good.

Next I felt that we needed some protein too. I didn’t have any shrimp or meatballs or hard boiled eggs for devilled eggs. What to do?! I remembered the chicken that I had roasted the day before, along with a recipe for some Indian Chicken Balls that used chopped chicken. I quickly grabbed that cookbook and found that we had all of the ingredients for it. I was again armed with the chopper and used it on the chicken. Mixed it with the mayo, cream cheese, chopped almonds, chutney, curry powder and rolled it in the last bit of coconut from the cupboard. Now I had some protein.

We all nibbled and were content with drinking and eating like that for a while. We all talked and were content with the spread we had for our unplanned cocktail hour. I was happy that I had made the effort to whip some things up in the kitchen and present some good fare for the occaision. Many people have no idea how to do that, and it made me feel good to not be one of those people. It also made me realize that anyone can, they just need the ammunition and the ideas for quick little foods.

You need to have a few things in the fridge that you can look at and see what works. Is there leftover chicken that can be made into an appetizer? are there hard boiled eggs to make deviled eggs? is there pesto (there should ALWAYS be pesto in your fridge or freezer) to make tomato pesto? is there mayo or sour cream for a dip? how about some parmesan cheese to add to anything? or some sliced ham and cream cheese to make asparagus rollups? You need to have some easy things too, like nuts and olives and pretzels or marinated artichoke hearts.

I have always felt that there should be a cookbook of appetizer recipes that is somehow easy to search through, by ingredients, so that you can just look up some things that are in your kitchen. I do own one that has been a staple for years, called Glamour’s Gourmet on the Run.It is not stricly hors d’oeuvres and it is somewhat dated. But it has some excellent recipes in it, and all things are quick and easy with good tips on making things to go quickly together. It is unfortunately no longer in print, although you can pick up a used copy through Amazon. I do wish they would publish a new version with updated recipes, as I think it was written in 1984! The bottom line is, though, that the ideas used in it, are needed. People, especially these days, need a resource for making things that are good, with little forethought or preparation. I know that I like recipes too, that others have tried and have said they work. You need a repertoire of quick, easy recipes.

Here is a list of some things to have on hand:

•a food chopper- helps chop up stuff to throw together quickly-
I like the pampered chef one the best, but you can also get one by Krups and others at your local store.

on the shelf (or already in the fridge):
a jar of chutney
a can of tomato paste
salsa
marinated artichoke hearts
good mustard (like a stonewall kitchen one)
can of artichoke hearts (or bottoms)
can of asparagus stalks
good crackers
tortilla chips, pretzels, potato chips
nuts
olives
bread

in the fridge:
mayo
pesto
cream cheese
sour cream
ranch dressing
sliced ham
celery sticks, baby carrots, other veggies for dipping

Onion Bites

finely chopped onion
mayonnaise
bread cut into small squares (I usually cut at least 4-6 from each piece of bread)

mix equal parts of mayo and onion together. Spead onto bread- completely covering the surface. Put on a cookie sheet under the broiler until puffy and bubbling and starting to brown. Don’t let burn!!

Indian Chicken Balls

4 ounces cream cheese
2 Tbsps mayonnaise
1 cup chopped cooked chicken
1 cup chopped roasted almonds
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsps curry powder (if it’s not fresh, you might need a bit more)
1 Tbsp chutney
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Combine cream cheese and mayo. Add chicken, almonds, salt, curry, and chutney. Refrigerate until firm (I skipped this step, but it does help!!) Form into small balls and roll in shredded coconut. Cover and refrigerate. Will keep for 3 days.

Asparagus Rollups

cream cheese (whipped is easier to spread)
deli sliced ham (baked is best)
asparagus spears (canned are good for this)- you can even use pickles instead though…

spread the cream cheese in a thin layer on the ham slices.
lay a stalk of asparagus on it, and roll it up.
you can leave it like this, but I like to cut it into bite-sized pieces and lay them sideways so you can see the spiral.

Tomato Pesto

pesto (buitoni is best)
tomato paste
olive oil
salt (preferably kosher)
crackers- I like melba toasts with this.

Mix together equal parts tomato paste and pesto. Add in a good drizzle of olive oil to make it spreadable, and mix well. Mix in salt to taste. Serve with crackers.

Salsa Ranch Dip

salsa
ranch dressing
sour cream

Mix together equal parts of ingredients, and serve with totilla chips, potato chips, or potato skins (really good).

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