Monday, January 26, 2015

UnRecipe: Have Party, Will Travel

What...? You're talking about party foods and cocktails?! Shhhh.... I'm still nursing a holiday hangover from 2014, so says your brain as you read this post's title. Yes, I'm sure everyone's still partied-out from the holidays, but save these tips for the next time you're bringing a snack and/or drinks to a friend's party. Food and beverages that travel well is the great thing you never knew you needed! At least until you realize that 7-layer taco dip has now created a 7-layer avalanche all over your car. Whoopsie. Let Wasabi help you out.

Cheers to cocktails that can be brought to a party, ready to enjoy! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

We partied both at home and at friends' houses over the holidays, mostly at others' places, which meant we brought things to sip and snack on. You never show up empty-handed! Maybe that's just an Asian/Hawaiian rule, but it's a good one to follow.

I have to think a lot of the popularity of beer and wine at parties is the simple fact that it's a self-contained beverage that's ready to drink at the pop of a cork or a cap. Friends who regularly host cocktail gatherings lament how the well stocked bar is abandoned in lieu of the table of wines and beers, ready to drink. What, mixing a martini that requires two ingredients is too much work?? I can't say anything, I'm totally guilty of that. But that's why if I want to bring something more than beer or wine, I rely on the magic of the partially-mixed cocktail.

A partially mixed cocktail does NOT mean you buy some prefab, neon green-hued bottle of Alcoholic Diabetes at the liquor store. And this also doesn't mean you buy one of those vodkas infused with essence of ice cream sundae, creme brulee or some other hangover-inducing flavor. My travel-friendly cocktail of choice is this handy combination: fresh-squeezed juice (typically orange or lemon), simple syrup to balance the tartness, and either gin or vodka. Bring a chilled bottle of sparkling wine or prosecco to top each drink, so there's zero mixing involved, you're just pouring a little of the vodka/citrus mixture in the bottom of a coupe or flute, about halfway full, and topping it with a float of bubbly. It's a riff of the classic French 75, which has gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and a float of Champagne -- one of my favorite cocktails. And it taught me that the sparkling wine float is your friend. The concentrated flavor of the juice/spirit/simple syrup gets mellowed by the dry, bubbly wine, and it helps stretch out the mixer.

Since this is almost like a pitcher cocktail, I tend to mix the vodka/gin, fresh juice and simple syrup a few hours or even the night before the party, just so everything has a chance to combine. This is where you can fuss with the different concentrations -- add more vodka or gin if you want it to be strong, or less; it will still be boozy with the sparkling wine. Taste as you go, adding the simple syrup last, and in small increments, so you don't oversweeten it. You can customize the flavor how you want, using different juices -- pomegranate or cranberry is nice, plus it adds a nice color. If you're using a store-bought juice, you can skip the simple syrup. Infuse the mixture with fresh  herbs like mint or a little rosemary and thyme, just strain it out before serving so no one's gnawing on their drink. I package up this mixture in a sealed bottle and pack that with the chilled bubbly, and this cocktail is ready to boogie!

Cocktails, noodles and steamed buns to welcome the new year - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I used this easy cocktail combination on New Years Eve, using a mixture of orange and pomegranate juice, giving it a lovely pink hue. It was a party drink that didn't have anyone being stuck as the bartender all night, and the drink mixes itself in your own glass, so no need to bust out the cocktail accoutrements. Gave me plenty of time to fuss over food, like steamed buns and a spicy noodle dish, which we grazed on all night, while playing card and board games with friends. It wasn't a dazzling party on the Riviera, but we rung in the new year just fine with what we had!

What about a nosh to go with that drink? I have been a slave to Pinterest lately. Not so much with creating boards aplenty, but just getting ideas for what to do next. One party we attended had a big group of low-carb attendees. Or, rather, we were all going to save our carbs for booze, so no bruschetta for this crowd. Pinterest to the rescue!!

Salami sushi - SALUSHI!! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Do not attempt to adjust your screen, this is what you think it is: layers of salami made into a pinwheel with cream cheese and hazelnuts. Yes, you will be sweating cholesterol. But it's worth it, and it does a heck of a job soaking up boozeahol at a cocktail party. I found this recipe via Pinterest, from PixFiz's blog post, which very helpfully showed the steps for making this simple appetizer. I didn't create this meaty, cheesy delight, but I did come up with this name -- Salushi. Because it's like salami sushi. GET IT????

Roll out, yo, with salami and cream cheese - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I'm sharing my photos of the stepped process to prove that you can totally roll room-temperature cream cheese between two large sheets of plastic wrap, and it's like dough. You just want to roll it to a thickness of about an eighth of an inch, not too thin, or it won't separate easily from the plastic wrap.The thing to remember is to always keep the cream cheese covered with something, whether it's the initial layers of plastic wrap when you're first rolling it out, or the fish-scale pattern of salami. Refer to the recipe link for more in-depth details on the steps, but it's pretty straightforward. I bought the bulk package of salami, which gives you enough to make two of these rolls, but the slices are a smaller, thicker size, so they don't curl as well when you're doing the sushi-roll stage. When I make this again, I'll either buy the larger slices of salami or get crazy and use something like proscuitto, maybe a mixture of that and other charcuterie -- anything long and thin.

Customize your Salushi! Fig and citrus jam or hazelnuts - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The fun part of this is customizing the add-ons. You could keep it simple with just the salami and cream cheese, but why not add texture and flavor? I had leftover hazelnuts from holiday baking -- chopped up and spread over the cream cheese before rolling was the best thing EVAR. Walnuts would be great, too. The nuts are a bit crumbly, but if I improve on my rolling technique, I think that will keep the filling secure. I made a fig jam from dried figs, orange peel and some wine -- you don't have to go through this fuss, you can buy a sweet/savory jam at the store. I had a surplus of unusual ingredients after the holidays, and this just seemed like a good way to make use of them. If you go the jam route, I recommend spreading a very thin layer. I overfilled mine, and while it wasn't a disaster, it's definitely more sticky than the hazelnut version. But the combination of savory and sweet was wonderful, plus the crunch from all the little fig seeds.

Once the meat/cheese mats are rolled into cylinders, you wrap it tight with plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for an hour or two to set. You could even place it in the freezer for a little bit, just to get it extra firm before cutting into slices. I sliced all the rolls ahead of time, kept them wrapped up in the fridge and transported them to the party where all I needed was a plate, and they were good to go. The low-carb people enjoyed it, the ones who aren't so much into the Paleo-esque style of eating felt like it was overwhelming, and rightly so -- it's pure fat and protein. But it's a great prefunc snack before getting your drink on!

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