Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out very soon, and I am excited. I would still be excited if it turned out the entire movie took place during the party at Tony Stark’s place featured in some of the promos. I’d like to see these characters hanging out and interacting. I fully believe they would make a party game out of trying to lift Mjolnir.
Equally strong is my belief that you can’t have a party without snacks. And so, I have recipes for three party appetizers that are perfect for gatherings like this. You could make one and bring it to a party or make them all yourself. This particular trio lends itself well to that, because it’s easy to stagger the preparation of each. You aren’t trying to make three things an hour before your guests arrive. In the same vein as my World-Saving Breakfast Battle Plan, here’s my Avengers Party Snack Assembly Plan!
- The night before the party, assemble the Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts and set them to marinate in the fridge overnight.
- The next day (anytime 4-8 hours before the party starts), get the Slow Cooker Party Meatballs going.
- Roast the garlic for the White Bean Dip.
- Make the White Bean Dip. You can do this right before party time, but it’s also good and maybe more convenient to make it earlier and put it in the fridge for later.
- About 2 hours before party time, get the water chestnuts out of the fridge. Give them 20 minutes to come closer to room temperature before putting them in the oven. (Don’t put fridge-cold dishes into hot ovens. They can explode.)
- About 30 minutes before party time, get the White Bean Dip out of the fridge and put it in a serving dish on the buffet. Arrange the chips, veggies, etc. around it however you prefer.
- Finish the Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts as instructed below and put them on the buffet in their serving dish.
- Put the slow cooker full of meatballs on the buffet.
And here are the individual recipes with step-by-step instructions. I have sorted them in order from least to most complex.
Slow Cooker Party Meatballs
These meatballs are always popular, and they’re extremely easy to make. Hawkeye could totally make these. They contain meat and sauce. Is Thor coming to your cocktail party? Bust out your finest plasticware and make these meatballs. (What, you’re going to hand Thor fine china? Come on.) It’s easy to make large quantities—this recipe can be doubled easily—and it takes maybe five minutes of active prep time. If you’ve never tried them before, you may be skeptical of the ingredients, but I promise it turns out tender, tangy, and delicious.
2 pounds frozen meatballs
18-ounce jar grape jelly
12-ounce bottle chili sauce
Don’t be afraid of frozen meatballs. The time and effort it takes to make your own homemade meatballs, especially in the required quantities, is silly when they’re being used for this purpose. So open that meatball package and dump the contents into a 3-5 quart slow cooker. And don’t thaw them first!
Next, pour the entire bottle of chili sauce over the meatballs. Scoop the grape jelly out on top of it all. Grab a big spoon and gently toss the meatballs to coat them in the chili sauce and jelly. The meatballs won’t break because they’re frozen. Don’t worry about mixing them until the sauce is uniform. It’s all going to melt together by itself.
Put the lid on the slow cooker and set it to cook either 8 hours on Low or 4 hours on High. Then go away until the cooking time is done! Your meatballs will start smelling great while you’re getting ready for the party.
Once the meatballs are done, you can serve them right out of the slow cooker. Leave your slow cooker set on Warm, and the meatballs will stay piping hot on the buffet.
White Bean Dip
The Venn diagram showing the overlap between healthy food and party food often doesn’t have much shared area. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My sister, Nicole, made this dip for my most recent Ladies’ Night at my shop. It’s hearty, full of flavor, and vegan! I can imagine someone like Sam Wilson making a beeline for this dip. Flying around in a rocket-powered wing suit wouldn’t be much fun if you’re feeling sluggish and full of greasy meats like the other two recipes here. If you like hummus, you’ll like this.
2-3 cans (total of 40-45 ounces) of cannellini beans (a.k.a. white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp chopped rosemary leaves (save a whole spring of rosemary for garnish)
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup roasted garlic (procedure for roasting garlic)
Roast your garlic. You can do this a day or two ahead of time if you like.
Drain the cannellini beans; then rinse them in a colander. This helps eliminate that subtle “canned” taste. Once the beans are rinsed and drained again, set them aside. We’ll get back to them in the few minutes.
Gently warm about 1/4 cup olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat. Add the chopped rosemary. The goal is to infuse the olive oil with the rosemary’s flavors. You don’t want to burn the rosemary—just gently warm it so it releases it own oils into the olive oil. You’ll be able to smell the rosemary. Then add the roasted garlic and lemon juice. Again, don’t burn the garlic! You want to meld all the flavors gently. The beans don’t have a lot of flavor on their own, so you want the garlic to really come through. The lemon juice will brighten up the flavor, and heating the lemon juice mellows it out so it has flavor, but not bite.
Now pour the cannellini beans into the warm oil. Mix them in, letting the beans coat in oil as they warm up. This allows the garlic-lemon-rosemary flavors in the oil to permeate the beans. Once the whole mixture is warm, turn off the heat and scoop it all into a food processor.
Put the lid on and process until the whole mixture is smooth and uniform. If the mixture isn’t quite smooth enough, drizzle in a little extra olive oil and process again. Keep doing this until the mixture reaches the consistency you like. Pop off the lid and take a taste. Add salt and pepper however you like.
When the dip is seasoned to your liking, put it into a decorative bowl. Place the sprig of rosemary on top as a garnish. This really helps the presentation of your dip, which is delicious, but also beige. You can serve it warm right away, or refrigerate until about half an hour before serving time. Then take the dip out and let the it come to room temperature.
Serve with veggie chips, pita wedges, or fresh veggies.
Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts
Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure water chestnuts count as vegetables. And as we all know, the ideal way to consume vegetables is when they are wrapped in bacon and/or in a sauce of some kind.
Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts were popular hors d’oeuvres in the 1950s and 60s. They were also known as rumaki, first appearing on the menu of legendary faux-Polynesian restaurant Don the Beachcomber in 1941, and became a staple of cocktail parties and tiki restaurants like Trader Vic’s after WWII. By mid-20th century American standards, they were downright exotic! Howard Stark probably ate his weight in these things in places ranging from ocean side bars to black-tie events. And they’re absolutely addictive. The combination of flavors and textures is wonderful. I love bacon-wrapped water chestnuts like Tony Stark loves scotch.
(Early rumaki recipes included a piece of chicken or duck liver wrapped inside the bacon, but that part fell by the wayside around the time society realized that liver is gross, and we don’t need to eat that.)
2 cans whole water chestnuts
1 pound bacon
1 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
Cook the bacon slices first just a bit, but don’t let them get crisp. They need to be soft enough to wrap.
Pour the maple syrup, soy sauce, and rice vinegar into a bowl.
Cut each slice of bacon in half. Wrap a half-strip of bacon around a whole water chestnut, then secure with a toothpick. (You can use a whole strip per chestnut, as I did in the pictures here, but—and this is me saying this—it’s actually too much bacon per bite, and it overwhelms the chestnut.) Repeat for each water chestnut. Place them in a deep baking dish.
Pour the syrup mixture over the water chestnuts in the dish. Cover the dish with an oven-proof cover (aluminum foil, if your dish doesn’t have a lid) and marinate the water chestnuts in the refrigerator, overnight if possible.
About 2 hours before your party starts, take the dish out of the fridge and let it come closer to room temperature (15-20 minutes). Heat your oven to 350°F. Leaving the dish covered, put it in the oven, and bake the water chestnuts for 45-60 minutes. Then pull the dish out of the oven and remove the cover. Does the bacon look like it’s close to being done? If not, cover it and put it back in.
If the bacon looks cooked, but not crisp, you can bake it uncovered for another 10-15 minutes until it gets crisp(er). If there is a lot of liquid in the bottom, carefully pour some of it out so it’s roasting instead of braising. Having less liquid will allow the bacon to get crispier. You can broil them for a minute or two if you like, but be careful—the toothpicks will burn under the broiler.
When the bacon is as cooked as you want it to be, remove the dish from the oven and let stand for five minutes. Then you can transfer your delicious water chestnuts to a tray and serve.
Note: This recipe makes approximately 30 bacon-covered water chestnuts, but the number of water chestnuts in a can (and therefore the size of the individual chestnuts) varies by brand. Based on my experience, you should make at least 4 or 5 chestnuts per guest, and to be safe, maybe make more than that, especially if your water chestnuts are small. There’s something about these that goes right to the part of the brain scientists refer to as the “HELLO YES YUMYUM” center, and that spot wants more water chestnuts right now and more water chestnuts forever.
If Ultron crashes your party, he may declare your ultra-delicious bacon-wrapped water chestnuts a symbol of innate human weakness. In that case, I recommend teasing him about how he’s just jealous, because he’ll never know what it’s like to truly enjoy food. I’m 99% sure the best way to defeat killer robots is through schoolyard mockery.