Treat Your Guests to Homemade Bar Snacks

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Okay, I’m a chef, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never been stuck for an idea on what to serve my guests when they stop by Chez Loren for an impromptu visit.

The truth is, it’s MUCH easier for me to plan a six-course meal than it is to decide just what I want to offer my friends when it’s just a casual visit for drinks and snacks. I mean, I’m thinking they’re expecting more than chips, dips and peanuts.

In that respect, I have the same problem as most people, except the expectations are greater and the bar’s a little higher. Yet, sometimes, the answer to these age-old, obvious questions is staring us in the face the whole time.

Sometimes, I forget about those simple, delicious, easy-to-make bar snacks served 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?

These generally inexpensive treats are exactly what people crave when they’re hungry, so why not take a cue from restaurants (especially those that make it their business to treat their guests right)?

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, and I thought I’d share a few of those 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 in an effort to be a good host. On the other hand, I’d like them to remember what they eat.

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:

  • Season Popcorn with unexpected flavorsPeople like interesting seasonings in unexpected places. I keep a well-stocked pantry of seasonings like Cajun seasonings, curry powder, dry herbs and spices, and I like to use them on popcorn. It turns this inexpensive treat into a conversation piece.
  • The same goes for crackers. Melt some butter, paint it on some plain crackers, add some zesty herbs or seasonings and bake them 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 aldente. Drain pasta well and fry in oil until crisp. Then add a special seasoning while they are still warm. Do the same with egg wrappers or won ton wrappers cut into bit-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. Then, heat a non-stick fry pan on medium-high heat and lightly sprinkle a 2”-round diameter of it, leaving little spaces between the shreds. Lightly brown, flip over and do the same to the other side. They’ll be crispy cheese treats that are 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, sprinkle with coarse salt, and then bake in a 350 F oven for about 20 minutes or until medium brown. Presto! Homemade soft pretzel bites that I serve with any spicy mustards I have on hand–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.