Monday, January 9, 2012

UnRecipe: Cocktail Party Quickies

Are you sick of holiday foods/tips/tricks/ideas yet? Despite the post-holiday time, they're still getting listed on cooking/lifestyle magazines and websites, begging for you to use them and throw a cocktail/post-new years/football party of some sort every weekend. So why not -- let's make you insane with a few more ideas?! How about some bite-sized party foods that take on an Asian theme? Like you've never heard that one before, I'm sure. But hey, they're tasty and fully road-tested, as these are snapshots from an ad hoc cocktail party I threw one weekend during the busy holiday season.

No-bake eggrolls and BBQ pork bites - cocktail hour at Wasabi's Place - Photo by Wasabi Prime
"Cocktail party? Ooh, fancy-schmancy, Wasabi!" It wasn't really all that fancy. Or schmancy, for that matter. It was a Saturday night and we had some friends over who hadn't already left for holiday visits or weren't off at an office holiday party. I had it in my head to do some Asian-themed snacks, due in part to some appetizers and other tasty eats I'd had recently that were combining cuisines. I'd had some Asian-style "tacos" at Korean restaurant Oma Bap and a Philly Cheesesteak made into an eggroll at Sullivan's. I know the mixing and matching isn't anything new, but it's all done out of the same desire to get away from the same-old pigs in a blanket appetizers that become so boring at parties. Chips and salsa just doesn't cut it anymore, not that it ever did, and for informal gatherings where people are just sitting around and snacking, you don't want a fussy giant cut of meat sitting out like a centerpiece and you don't want something as meager as a bowl of popcorn. Hearty bites with a mix of flavor and textures, and meaty enough to soak up the booze, because you know the cocktails, wine and beer are flowing heartily!

Restaurant inspirations and at-home creations - Photos by Wasabi Prime
If I'm throwing together something last-minute, I'll try to do two or three different things. One item will be a little more time intensive, but the rest are more quick to prepare and will likely rely on some pre-made shortcuts. I had a couple of large pork chops which I thinly sliced and marinated in a mix of soy sauce, kochujang (Korean spicy red bean paste), sugar and vinegar, then cooked. I layered the meat with kimchi between little buns to make pork kimchi sliders. It's a good, hearty appetizer that easily eats like a meal after one or two. I bought a package of pre-cooked Chinese style BBQ pork, which is pretty easily found at most grocery stores these days. I sliced it thin and placed the pieces on sesame crackers layered with alfalfa sprouts tossed lightly with sesame oil. Kind of like the typical meat/crackers appetizer, but a little more interesting and just as quick to throw together. These are also things that can sit on a platter and be eaten at room temperature, which is another thing about making appetizers. You hate to make something that needs to stay hot or runs the risk of spoiling if it sits out for too long.

A festive night of hearty snacks and treats - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The more time-consuming appetizer I made was a no-bake eggroll. I love the crisp of a fried eggroll but hate frying. There's no way around it, the house just smells oily and like a giant French Fry afterwards, so unless you can fry outside, it's just not worth doing. I had done some experimenting with baked chimichangas before using phyllo dough, and thought it would work just as well with eggroll-style filling. I had a bunch of zucchini and some carrots, so I ran them through the food processor's shredder. I cooked everything down, mixing it with some soy sauce, ginger, some sugar and more of the Korean bean paste. I took defrosted phyllo dough, brushing it with canola oil and layering it two sheets' thick, then cutting that into smaller squares, about the size of eggroll wrappers you would buy at the store. The vegetable filling was added and the dough was wrapped the way you would make an eggroll. Instead of dropping the rolls into oil, they were laid out on a sheet of parchment paper -- don't forget that step; oiled aluminum foil won't cut it, it'll still stick like crazy -- and the rolls were baked in the oven. It's good to lightly brush each one with some oil, just to get an even browning around it. There's no way of making this process go quickly, you have to roll each one, so in this case, I wouldn't call this a quickie cocktail snack, but one worth doing if you crave eggrolls but not the frying oil. You could fill them with anything you like, little bites of leftovers, and just wrap them in the cut down phyllo sheets.

Sweet chocolate and peppermint finish - Photo by Wasabi Prime
We had everything all set, down to the dessert, but funny enough, the dessert never got served. Everyone was full and guests brought some sweets of their own, so these peppermint ice cream and chocolate cookie sandwiches never came out. They were a mix of homemade and shortcut -- the peppermint ice cream was something I made, but the cookies were store-bought. I will say that bought cookies are good for ice cream sandwiches because of their uniform shape. For an easy dessert, ice cream sandwiches are perfect, since you can use different ice cream flavors or cookies, make a variety of options and they're pre-portioned out, based on the size of the cookie. I like smaller cookies, as it lets you feel a little less guilty about having more than one. As long as you don't forget to bring them out at the end of the night, they're a great sweet finish to a night of tasty snacks!

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