Scenario No. 1: It’s 4 p.m. on Saturday. You’re standing in an incredibly long checkout line with your Secret Santa gift for the exchange at tonight’s Christmas party, and you’ve just remembered you’re supposed to bring an appetizer, too. You’re already running behind: You still have to battle the holiday traffic to get home, change clothes, get the darn present wrapped and get to the party by 6. There’s not enough time to go to the grocery store – where the lines will also be long – much less to get something made.
Scenario No. 2: It’s 5 p.m. High-school friends you haven’t seen in years just called. They’re home for the holidays and want to stop by. You’ve got nice wine and want to serve something with it, but the house is a mess and you have to get it straightened before they show up.
Scenario No. 3: It’s 6 p.m. Your children just received last-minute invitations to spend the night at friends’ houses – you and your spouse will be home alone for the first time in weeks. You could go out, but you’ve been on the run all week, the weather is lousy and nothing sounds as good as curling up in front of the fireplace together with music or that R-rated DVD you’ve been wanting to see.
What to do? Sure, you could grab some chips and dips, deli offerings, or appetizers/snacks in your local grocery’s frozen aisle. There are usually a variety of premade heat-and-eat appetizers to choose from. Some of them are quite good – I’ve had excellent miniature quiches. But some are dreadful: tiny taquitos featuring dried-out bland meat surrounded by tough neither-crunchy-nor-pliable tortillas, or rubbery, tasteless meatballs made only marginally edible by the sea of sweet-and-sour or barbecue sauce in which they’re swimming. The problem with purchased appetizers – good or bad – is that they show up a lot. Even the good ones get boring after a while.
You could become frenzied concocting something at the last minute. But if your freezer is stocked with premade treats, things are easier, interesting and delicious.
Homemade frozen party snacks/hors d’oeuvres aren’t difficult, but do require preparation ahead. I’m always looking for interesting and delicious appetizers to make ahead of time, freeze in individual portions and then bake, fry or thaw at the last minute. They’re not just good for spontaneous entertaining. They’re also invaluable for preplanned parties; allowing me to concentrate on last-minute preparations, and keep kitchen mess to a minimum so I can enjoy my own party.
Even when preparing for a large party, I make extras for emergency entertaining. That way I’m prepared for one of those last-minute scenarios. They give me the flexibility to entertain spontaneously – even if I’m just entertaining my family and me.
Versatile wontons wrappers
For do-ahead/spontaneous entertaining, there is nothing better than wonton skins. Asian in origin, they’re simply squares of fresh egg pasta dough (usually just flour, egg and water) that enclose a huge range of not just Asian fillings, but also those from other cuisines worldwide. They’re available in most groceries, and freeze beautifully in single layers on a floured sheet.
Wontons are traditionally filled and shaped into fat little triangles that look like a Catholic bishop’s hat, but they can also be formed into simple triangles, rectangles, squares or even heart or daisy shapes. As appetizers, these wontons should be fried. But they’re equally wonderful simmered in stock for soup.
To form the traditional wonton shape and basic instructions on filling and sealing: Place a wonton wrapper on a flat surface with one of the points facing you. Cover the remaining wrappers so that they do not dry out. Brush the bottom two adjacent edges VERY LIGHTLY with the beaten egg. If the edges are too wet, they will not seal. Place a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the wrapper; then bring up the bottom point to meet the top point and press to seal. Press the edges of the wrapper together to form a triangle, squishing out any air pockets. Now fold the two points at the bottom of the triangle toward the center and pinch together, using a little more egg wash if needed. Lay the finished wrapper on a tray lined with parchment or waxed paper that has been lightly dusted with flour and cover. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
To freeze filled wontons: Line a tray with parchment or waxed paper. Dust the paper lightly with cornstarch or flour. Place the filled wrappers on the paper in a single layer, making sure that they do not touch each other. Place in the freezer until completely frozen; then put in a container that will protect them from getting jostled and broken. It is OK at this point that they touch, but it’s a good idea to separate layers with paper or plastic wrap. Unthaw in a single layer before frying.
To cook wonton appetizers: Heat oil in a large deep pan or skillet to at least 1-inch depth until hot but not smoking, 350-375 F. (They may also be deep-fried). Add as many as will fit comfortably in the pan. DO NOT CROWD THEM. Fry until golden brown, 5-10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with an appropriate dipping sauce. They may be held briefly in a single layer on paper towels in a low oven.
These all-American filled wontons are particularly delectable in fall and winter.
Ham and cheese turnovers
• 1 1/2 c. minced ham
• 1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
• 1/4 c. minced scallion
• 1 T. Worchester sauce
• Good quality mayonnaise, such as Hellman’s
Combine all ingredients, using just enough mayonnaise to bind. Fill and fry as above. Serve with applesauce, apple butter or pure maple syrup for dipping.
Crab rangoon originated in Trader Vic’s restaurants in the 1950s. Back then, the faux Polynesian ambience and food was about as exotic as it got, even though the menu and décor was thoroughly.
Inauthentic it might have been, but the food was delicious – or so I’m told. Crab rangoon became so popular that it’s become a staple in Chinese-American restaurants. Sadly, it’s too often gruesome: imitation crab and inadequate seasoning. But several years ago, I decided to see if I could come up with a really delicious crab (or shrimp, which I like just as much) rangoon. Here’s the result of my experimentation.
Crab or shrimp rangoon
For the filling:
• 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
• 1/2 c. drained and minced water chestnuts
• 1/4 c. minced scallions
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, preferably white
• 1 T. Asian fish sauce
• 1 T. light brown sugar
• 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
• 8 oz. crabmeat, fresh or from a refrigerated tin, or 1/ 2 pound peeled and cooked shrimp
• Beaten egg for sealing the wrappers
• Vegetable oil for deep frying
In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients EXCEPT the crabmeat and mix thoroughly. Add the crab and combine gently, keeping the crab in as large pieces as possible. Check for seasoning. Fill and fry as above.
This is my family’s classic recipe for ravioli, given to my grandmother from an Italian woman whose husband worked with my grandfather in a Joliet munitions factory in World War II.
Chicken and spinach filling
for toasted ravioli
• 1 c. finely chopped cooked chicken
• 1 c. finely chopped spinach (about one 10 oz. package, squeezed dry)
• 1/2 c. breadcrumbs
• 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or aged Asiago, plus additional for sprinkling over the toasted ravioli
• 1/4 c. minced Italian flat-leafed parsley
• 4 cloves minced garlic, or to taste
• 2 eggs
• kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together. Let stand for about 30 minutes to blend flavors before filling the wonton wrappers.
Fill, freeze and fry as above. Sprinkle with the additional cheese. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.