Serving up party specials

I just moved into a new place, so you know what that means: housewarming party. Always looking for an excuse to throw a little shindig, my favorite part of putting it together is the chance to show off my culinary and presentation skills.

Truth be told, it’s not so much my culinary skills, but my fondness for taking simple dishes and dressing them up to look the way they would when served at a gourmet restaurant. I like adding little touches, like slipping wine-glass charms onto glasses, or glammed-up doilies under individual portions. Doing so adds a nice touch to the party.

The easiest thing to do for parties is to not cook up something fancy, something that would be too complicated to eat. Anything that makes it hard to make your rounds around the room to socialize does not make good party food.

Cheese, crackers and fruit platters are all givens, and are no-brainers to put together. So here is a recipe that is relatively easy to prepare and isn’t that hard to dress up.

The experts at the National Chicken Council and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association visited the students at the Institute of Chicago and got a recipe for these great Chicken Spring Rolls. I usually don’t serve any type of meat to my guests at parties just because it’s easier to deal with if vegetarians are attending. This makes for a nice change, though. It could be good to make some with the chicken, and without, just in case.

Even party planners will tell you not to get too stressed out when putting together your pupus. Store-bought goods make it easier for you to focus on the presentation. The good thing about these spring rolls is they can be made ahead of time. Serve them with two different kinds of sauces for variety.

Once prepared, set the individual spring rolls in their own separate settings, be it martini glasses (like the presentation pictured), or on a decorated plate. Set two bullets of the sauces next to the roll. Garnish plate with sprig of parsley, mint or kale.

If not serving the two sauces in individual bullets, try pouring sauce in a squeeze bottle and drizzle thin lines with a back-and-forth motion to garnish the plate.

This makes the simple, finger food presentation look almost too good to eat (I like the Peanut-Hoisin sauce).

Chicken Spring Rolls

1 package (10 ounces) fully-cooked chicken breast strips

1/2 package (10 ounces) thin Asian rice noodles

1 package (6 ounces) bagged salad lettuce, with carrots

1 bunch cilantro leaves

1 bunch mint leaves

2 tablespoons scallions, chopped

1 package sliced mushrooms

8 sheets (8 inch) round dried rice paper (available in Asian section of supermarket)

Prepare rice noodles according to package directions; drain and set aside. Working with one sheet of rice paper at a time, completely immerse in hot water for a few seconds. Remove from water; lay flat on work surface. On one half of rice paper, place small handful of lettuce and carrots, four slices of chicken, two or three cilantro leaves, two or three mint leaves, a pinch of scallion, four or five sliced mushrooms and a small wad of noodles. Fold bottom half of the rice paper up over the filling; roll up the sides of the paper to close roll into a pocket.

Serve on eight small plates over additional lettuce leaves, with Spicy Tomato Chili Sauce and Peanut-Hoisin Sauce (recipes follow).

For alternatives to the chicken, slice up strips of firm tofu or tempeh.

Spicy Tomato Chili Sauce

1/2 cup bottled Asian chili-garlic sauce (or sweet and sour sauce)

1 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 15-20 minutes. Strain sauce through fine sieve. Allow to cool completely.

Peanut-Hoisin Sauce

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons hot water

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 teaspoon bottled Asian chili-garlic sauce (or sweet and sour sauce)

2 tablespoons coconut milk

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

In medium bowl, dissolve sugar in hot water. Add remaining ingredients except peanut butter; mix well with whisk. Add peanut butter and whisk until well blended and smooth.

Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or


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