Zesty Make-Ahead Party Snacks: Not Your Average Munchies
[Jump right to the recipe: Savory Chex Mix with Pumpkin Seeds]
Throwing a really great party doesn’t have to be difficult if you do two important things:
- Plan ahead a bit.
- Create a menu that combines a healthy selection of make-ahead recipes with a few choice “serve immediately” dishes. The make-ahead dishes are the backbone of the party and the more time sensitive dishes add a sense of fresh and just made to the whole affair.
To make party planning and cooking easier, I have a whole arsenal of make-ahead recipes in my collection and am always on the hunt for new additions. And just because a dish can be made ahead doesn’t mean it can’t showcase really great ingredients or have a unique flavor profile. Make ahead does not have to equal boring!
For my upcoming pumpkin carving party, 10 of the 21 different dishes I plan to serve can be (and have been) made more than a week in advance. And really, with travel for fun and work filling up the days before the party, I didn’t have a choice. Even if I choose not to sleep for 24 hours before the party, I won’t be able to pull of such an extensive menu without the help of my make-ahead recipes.
Disclaimer: Really, 21 dishes is probably overkill for a pumpkin carving party, but hey, I like to cook. Also, some of these dishes are simple things like a cheese plate and dippers for fondue, so it’s not 21 complex dishes. Mixing easy and more difficult preparations is another key to throwing a really great party. But, I digress…
Three of my favorite types of make-ahead party foods include:
- Flavored nuts. While you could easily set out a dish of mixed nuts for your guests, in an hour or so you can jazz up any plain ol’ nut to make it just a little more special. Most seasoned nut recipes keep for a week or two at least, and most are also easy to prepare. At this year’s party I’m serving Rosemary Roasted Almonds and Orange Chipotle Spiced Pecans. I made both recipes last night between dinner time and bed time. With just a few ingredients, the prep work goes quickly and the oven does most of the heavy lifting. Nuts like these also make great holiday gifts. They are homemade, which everyone truly appreciates, but they fit neatly into a hectic schedule.
- Biscotti. I have extolled the virtues of biscotti in previous posts. They are surprisingly easy to make, can be both savory and sweet, work with almost limitless flavor combinations, and freeze beautifully. For this year’s party I’ve made a Parmesan and Black Pepper Biscotti, a Gourmet recipe that turned out to be my tribute to that great magazine. With only a few ingredients, the parmesan is the star, with the black pepper adding a contrasting bite at the back of the throat after each nibble. They go very well with champagne too, which is always a bonus in my book. I made the dough for this recipe in my food processor because I really hate cutting butter into flour by hand, and it worked beautifully. The biscotti will keep for up to four weeks wrapped tightly in foil and then zipped up in a freezer bag. Let them thaw the night before you plan to serve them. And if you don’t have parmesan on hand, try another hard cheese like an asiago or even a well-aged manchego.
- Nuts and Bolts. My family calls Chex Mix “Nuts and Bolts” although I’m not really sure why. It’s a much more fun name though so I’ll go with it. While you can buy Chex Mix pre-made, I’d highly recommend that you make it yourself because you can control the salt content and the quality of all of the ingredients. It’s also silly easy. If you’ve only ever had packaged Chex Mix, I highly recommend you try a homemade version – the difference is astronomical. Like all of my other favorite recipes, the Nuts and Bolts recipe is infinitely variable. Change up the cereal combinations, the nuts and other mix-ins, as well as the spices you use for flavor. Like seasoned nuts, putting the dish together is easy and the oven does the hard work. These munchies keep for 3-4 weeks in an air-tight container and are perfect to keep on hand during the holidays for when unexpected guests drop by. My recipe is my take on the one my mother has been making since I was a kid.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Serves: 36-40 1 cup servings
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 60 minutes
- ½ c. olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp. red hot pepper sauce
- 1 box each Rice Chex, Corn Chex, and Wheat Chex
- 8 oz. pretzels, any shape
- 6 oz. pecan halves
- 4 oz. roasted, shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 1 1 oz. package Italian salad dressing mix
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
- Combine the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl and whisk to mix well.
- Add the cereal, pretzels, pecan halves, and pumpkin seeds in a large roasting pan and stir to combine.
- Combine the salad dressing mix and the garlic powder in a small bowl and stir to mix.
- Sprinkle the dry seasonings over the top of the cereal, pretzel, and nut mixture. Drizzle evenly with the olive oil mixture. Do not stir.
- Place the roaster in the oven. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour.
- Remove from oven and let cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.
Recipe for Success
- My local market has tamari roasted pumpkin seeds in the bulk department and they work beautifully in this dish. You can include unshelled, roasted pumpkin seeds in the mix instead of shelled seeds, but they do make add a shelling component to the munching, so be sure to put out a shell receptacle.
- My family owned a house with a whole slew of pecan trees for most of my childhood, so pecans tend to be our nut of choice. You can however use any nut, or combination thereof, that you like. Buy roasted or raw nuts – which ever you would normally buy for snacking.
- We use standard Chex cereal in our recipe, but you could easily use another similar cereal if you’d like. Experiment!
- If you’d like to add a bit of a sweet element to the mix, you could toss in dried fruit or even M&Ms. Add them at the end after the mixture has cooled.