CONCORD, N.H. - Fancy is fine, but nothing fussy.
That's my feeling about most food, but party food in particular. When company is coming there simply isn't time or energy to pamper your food and negotiate with finicky ingredients that must be treated just so.
Typically, I'm happy to let my guests graze on rustic starters, such as a block of quality Parmesan cheese accompanied by balsamic vinegar and wheat crackers, a chunk of feta drizzled with honey or a bowl of hummus and fresh flatbread.
I recently prepared for a party for 30. I found myself wanting something with a bit more pizazz.
Inspiration hit while reading a foodie magazine, which included a beautiful appetizer of baby shrimp sauteed with finely diced vegetables served in tiny edible cups made from won ton wrappers that had been baked in mini-muffin tins.
It seemed like a great idea but completely impractical. Who wants to take the time to dice half a dozen different vegetables and saute them with baby shrimp? The won ton cups idea, however, was a keeper.
For me, the winning filling for the won ton cups was a sour-cream and cream-cheese blend. I liked the idea of a creamy filling, for its texture and for the ease of assembly.
For flavor I started with fresh chives. Then I added hot pepper sauce, another nice contrast to the cool creams.
I tossed my cream cheese and sour cream mixture in a standing mixer and used the whisk attachment to beat it until light and fluffy. Then I transferred it to a zippered plastic bag, ready for piping.
Baking the won tons was easy. I spritzed the muffin tins with olive oil, then molded a won ton into each cup and gave another spritz of oil.
The trick to preparing the won tons ahead of time (but no more than 24 hours) is to let them cool completely, then gently place them in zippered plastic bags. Do not refrigerate, as this will make them soft. Be sure to let them cool completely before piping in the cheese.
For color and flavor, I placed a thin strip of roasted red pepper across the base of each cup so that it came up the side.
For a final flourish I set a single caper and thin slice of scallion atop each mound of cheese, a bright green contrast to the red pepper and white cheese.
WON TON CUPS WITH WHIPPED CHEESE AND ROASTED PEPPER
(Preparation 30 minutes)
Olive oil cooking spray
36 small won ton wrappers (roughly 2 inches square)
1 cup cream cheese (set at room temperature for about 10 minutes)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh chives
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or more according to taste)
Pinch each of salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 roasted red peppers, jarred, packed in vinegar
36 capers, drained
1 scallion, sliced into thin rounds
Heat oven to 400 F.
Lightly spray mini-muffin tins with olive oil. Press one won ton wrapper into each muffin cup. Spray again with olive oil, being sure to lightly mist the edges of each won ton. Bake until edges just begin to lightly brown, about 4 minutes.
Gently remove the won tons from the muffin tin. Set aside to cool.
While the won tons bake, whisk together (preferably with an electric mixer) the cream cheese, sour cream, chives, hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper.
Spoon the mixture into a medium zippered plastic bag. Try to get as much of the cheese as possible into one corner of the bag. Press out any air and zip closed. Set aside.
Slice the red pepper into 36 thin strips about 1-2 inches long.
Arrange the won ton cups on a single surface. Set a strip of red pepper into each cup, arranging it so one end comes up the side of the cup and dangles over a bit.
Use scissors to cut a 1/4-inch triangle from the corner of the plastic bag of cheese. Hold the bag with two hands and apply slow, even pressure.
Pipe about 1/2 tablespoon of cheese into each cup.
Top each cup with 1 caper and several slices of scallion. Won ton cups can be refrigerated, uncovered, for up to 30 minutes before serving.
Makes 36 won ton cups, enough for 12 people.