Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Keep these two items on hand, and you are entertainment-ready

And, naturally, that's entertainment-ready on a budget. Even if you don't cook, I promise you you can whip up amazing and impressive appetizers and tarts with just minutes of prep time. No, really. Are you capable of cutting a sandwich in half? Chopping up some fruit or vegetables? Grating some cheese? Those are all the skills you'll need.

What, and why? Puff Pastry. Go. Get some. Keep a package or two in your freezer. It's in the freezer section, probably near the bags of frozen fruit and frozen, pre-made pie shells. You can pull it out, thaw it, and use it to make an almost infinite variety of appetizers both sweet and savory, or larger-format tarts and galettes.

And when I say "cook" for these things, all you'll have to do is cut up the puff pastry, and pile it up with whatever you choose to go on it; consider the pastry your pallete. Depending on what recipe you grab in a panic, you might have to saute some vegetables before spooning them onto your puff pastry squares, but that's about the maximum effort here. See? Told you it'd be easy.

If you go to my favorite recipe source, (the collected recipes of Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines, among others), you'll get 289 possibilities. If you search more widely on Google, there are almost too many to count. The results you'll get on Epicurious are pretty dependable, however, and the reviews section is both accurate and a great source for more detailed instructions and suggestions for how to improve upon recipes.

Now that you have the puff pastry on hand, all you'll have to do when guests drop by on short notice is thaw out the pastry, check for a quick recipe, and perhaps dash to the supermarket to get one or two ingredients (if you don't already have them on hand).

An easy savory example is this recipe for a mushroom and leek galette, which you can either make full size, or downsize to mini-galettes. Spend 10-15 minutes chopping and sauteeing, a few more assembling, then it's into the oven--you can take a deep breath and wait for your guests to arrive and be terribly impressed with your gourmet tasties. Open a bottle of wine and assemble a quick cheese tray, and you'll put the Barefoot Contessa to shame without even breaking a sweat.

Prefer something on the sweet side? Oh, even easier. Pick up a few of whichever fruit is in season--strawberries, blueberries, peaches, segments of sweet tangerine--slice some up, and toss with sugar. The technical term for tossing with sugar is "maceration," and it'll both sweeten the fruit and draw out its juices. Cut out squares of puff pastry, sprinkle with sugar and bake. Take them out of the oven, pull them in half as you would a biscuit (they'll be very flaky). Put one half of the pastry on a plate, spoon on some fruit, top with the other half, and top that with some whipped cream. Dust with cinnamon or cardamom if you're feeling extra-fancy. It'll look beautiful, and taste even better.

See? I told you that was easy. Now, for ingredient number 2 to keep on hand--a good but inexpensive sauvignon blanc. I prefer Geyser Peak's, because their budget-line sauvignon blanc is always outstanding, widely available--your supermarket probably has it, no matter where you live--and it'll run you about $10 maximum. It's crisp and citrus-y, and pairs well with just about anything, unless you're doing a heavy sauce or red meat, which you probably won't be doing with puff pastry. Keep it in the fridge so it'll be chilled and ready to go whenever you need it.

Keep these two things around, and you'll always be ready to entertain at a moment's notice, and on a shoestring. And you'll look masterful doing so, which is always a bonus. Happy partying!


  1. I enjoy puff pastry.

  2. I can't wait to try this when you come over! If I get stuck, because it's easy for a person who flunked home economics twice to get stuck, you can help me. See though? I already need help.
    I have to google "cardamom", have no idea.
    When are you coming to Dallas again? Hmmm?

  3. I love puff pastry!!! Can't wait to try this! Thank you for sharing!

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