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Okay, I’m a chef, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t a time when I occasionally got stuck for an idea on what to serve my guests when they’d stop by Chez Loren for an impromptu visit.

The truth is it’s MUCH easier for me to plan a 6-course meal than it is to decide just what I want to offer my friends when it’s a casual visit of drinks and snacks.

I mean, I’m thinking they’ve GOT to be expecting more than chips, dips and peanuts, right?

So in that respect, I’ve got the same problem as most people, except the expectations are greater and the bar is a little higher.

Yet sometimes, the answer to these age-old questions is staring us in the face the whole time. It’s like I forget what industry I’m in.

Sometimes, I forget about those simple, delicious, easy-to-make bar snacks at the restaurants I’ve worked in.

You know, bar snacks! Those little (or not so little) bowls, platters and baskets of tasty morsels and edible concoctions sitting on the bar at your favorite watering hole?

When you’re hungry, these generally inexpensive treats are exactly what you crave, so why not take a cue from restaurants? Especially those that make it their business to treat their guests right.

So a while back, I decided to make it a point to save space in both my pantry and freezer for a few items that make great impromptu bar snacks when those situations arise. I thought I’d share a few of these ideas with you.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not really trying to fill people up. I’m just giving them something to nibble on…to be a good host. On the other hand, what they eat, I’d like them to remember.

First, keep in mind that you can impress people just as much with inexpensive ingredients (and a little creativity) as you can with jumbo shrimp and cocktail sauce. Actually, maybe more.

Try These Ideas:

Whole nuts are still among the most popular snacks to have on the table during the holiday. This recipe can be used for any whole shelled nut you enjoy. Or why not use a medley of nuts? Personally, I think cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice go particularly well with pecans and almonds.

Spiced Holiday Nuts Recipe: MAKES: 6 servings

This is a basic frosted nuts recipe. You can adjust it by adding additional spices, such as curry powder (1/2 tsp), Cajun seasoning (1 tsp), or 1 tsp of almond or orange extract, to the brown sugar.

½ Cup       Light Brown Sugar, Packed

1 tsp          Ground Cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Spice

¼ tsp         Salt

1 TBSP          Egg White, Beaten Until Frothy

2 Cups          Whole Pecan Halves or Whole Blanched Almonds

  1. In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and spices; set aside.
  2. In another bowl, whisk egg white until foamy. Add almonds and toss to coat.
  3. Add egg white coated nuts to spice mixture; toss to coat.
  4. Spread on a greased, foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 325° for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
  5. Cool completely.
  6. Store in an airtight container.

Another unexpected bar snack can be made from refrigerated biscuit dough. Simply:

  1. Open the package, separate each biscuit round and then flatten each one to half of its original thickness (using a bit of all-purpose flour).
  2. Paint the tops of each with some beaten egg and sprinkle with dry Italian seasonings (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary).
  3. Top liberally with grated Parmesan cheese.
  4. Cut each round into quarters and place on a non-stick baking sheet.
  5. Bake 15 minutes at 400F.
  6. Cool and enjoy.
  • People like interesting seasonings in unexpected places, so I keep a well-stocked pantry of seasonings, including Cajun seasonings, curry powder, dry herbs and spices. I like to use them on popcorn. It turns this inexpensive treat into a conversation piece.
  • The same goes with crackers. Melt some butter, paint it on some plain crackers, add some zesty herbs or seasonings and bake the crackers in a 350 F oven for 15 minutes. They’re warm, re-crisped and re-purposed.
  • Cook pasta like penne, elbow mac or farfalle (bow tie) until (a little PAST al dente), drain well and fry in oil until crisp. Then, once again, add a special seasoning while they are still warm. Do the same with egg wrappers or wonton wrappers cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Got a potato? A potato peeler? Zip off some thin, long strips and fry up some of your own potato chips!
  • If you have some fresh Parmesan cheese in the house, shred it, heat a non-stick fry pan on medium-high heat and lightly sprinkle a 2” diameter of it, leaving little spaces between the shreds. Lightly brown, flip over and do the same. These crispy cheese treats will be lighter than air!
  • I keep a single loaf of frozen bread dough in my inventory too. It only takes seconds to bring back to a soft dough on the thaw cycle of your microwave oven, with a little massaging every 15 seconds or so. When fully thawed, I cut it in four long strips, roll out into a rope and then cut it into 1-inch segments. Next, poach them in a solution of 2 cups water to ¼ cup baking soda for 1 minute, drain and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake in a 350 F oven for about 20 minutes or until medium brown. Presto! I have homemade soft pretzel bites that I serve with any spicy mustards I have on hand. They’ve been a HUGE hit anytime I’ve made them.

Entertaining doesn’t have to be expensive, and in the case of these simple ideas, it only takes a little time and imagination to treat your guests to a memorable snack this holiday season.

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