Sometimes it really does take a meteor crashing into my home for me to recognize the obvious.
In my almost-twenty years of marriage, I have thrown a few parties. I usually start planning by making many lists. On paper, I appear to be very organized. I am not. On paper, it appears that the parties would be great fun. They are not.
Or at least they weren't until I decided to make a few changes; the first of which would be to actually spend time communicating with my guests. That being said, it is no small feat getting the hostess out of the kitchen when said hostess is unnaturally obsessed with matters of food preparation and presentation. It makes no difference whether I'm hosting a gathering of four or forty, I will still make enough food to feed a small village. Painfully aware of my weaknesses, I decided to put a new party plan into action.
Last June, we were planning a high school graduation party for my daughter and the guest list was growing at a rapid clip. I needed to develop a menu that would please both young and old, and one that would survive the heat of summer. More importantly, I needed to consult with the guest of honor for approval. Thankfully, I am blessed with a daughter who loves food almost as much as I do. Desserts were a no-brainer because she is a cookie-lover who doesn't fall far from the cookie-loving tree. Our greatest challenge was main-course fare. When she recommended wraps, I was both intrigued and terrified. My short stint working at a bagel shop taught me that wrap-rolling was best left to the same professionals who gracefully handled the meat slicer. As is my custom when the culinary-going-gets-tough, I headed for the bookstore. It was there that I found Wrap It Up by Amy Cotler. This unassuming paperback contains "100 Fresh, bold and bright sandwiches with a twist." I set out to represent the basics; chicken, turkey, beef and veggie. After much consideration, we settled on a chicken pesto wrap with sun-dried tomatoes, a turkey cobb wrap (my absolute favorite), a roast beef wrap with the addition of red onion and a creamy horseradish dressing, and a roasted veggie wrap with fresh mozzarella and a sweet/tangy balsamic glaze. We adapted some of these recipes to suit our own tastes by adding or omitting ingredients and we sought out interesting flat breads beyond the basic white or wheat.
It all seemed so lovely until it came time to actually roll the wraps. My daughter and I set up a conga-line of ingredients and enough deli paper to wrap a school bus. We allowed ourselves only one hour to prepare a total of 60 wraps and I can assure you, neither of us was capable of preparing a complete wrap in under a minute. After many failed attempts (some would not stay closed, others would tear from being overstuffed, allowing their filling to be exposed, and some would resemble cannoli as their ends would unfold), I decided to consult the book. Admittedly, I wasn't aware that heating the wrap is the most critical step in successful wrap production. After making a few small, yet significant changes, we were on our way to rapid-wrap-rolling (sorry, I couldn't resist). For those of you who haven't made wraps, allow me to demystify the process. I find that the following method is practically fool-proof:
* Purchase wraps and flatbreads that are not near expiration. Old wraps will be dry and crumbly.
* Have your wrap ingredients at the ready and set up assembly-line style. Keep in mind that ingredients should be cut to uniform size and large chunks are more difficult to wrap.
* Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.
*Wipe skillet with a paper towel lightly coated with canola oil or cooking spray.
*Using tongs, place wrap in skillet and allow it to warm until pliable (some wraps will puff up--this indicates it is warm enough to flip). Turn wrap with tongs and heat the other side until warmed through.
* Working quickly, place warm wrap on counter or large cutting board and assemble ingredients on lower-third of wrap in center. If you are adding dressing to wraps, place a scant tablespoon of dressing on wrap before placing ingredients on lower third. It is important to leave room on left and right side of wrap ingredients, as you will need to tuck in sides when completing wrap. An easy way to remember placement is: imagine your circular wrap is a smiley face. Your ingredients will be placed where the smile would go---leaving the area for eyes and nose empty.
* Your filling ingredients for a standard size wrap ( approximately the size of 8" to 10" tortilla), should not measure more than one cup. Allow additional room for bulky ingredients like lettuce, cabbage, veggies..etc.
*Once you have placed filling ingredients, add 1 scant tablespoon of dressing--if using--and spread across filling. Place a very small amount of dressing (honestly, I usually dip a clean finger in the dressing to apply) at the top part of your wrap (using the smiley face analogy--you would be placing a small dab of dressing on the forehead of the smiley face)--this will act as glue for the wrap--much like you would seal an envelope.
* Starting from the bottom and working away from you, fold the bottom portion of the wrap over the ingredients. Fold in each side and holding the sides in, firmly roll up wrap towards the top. Don't be afraid to squeeze and tuck as you roll, to keep the filling compact. Roll until you reach the top portion of the wrap. At this point, the small bit of dressing at the top of the wrap should allow the wrap to adhere to itself.
*Place the completed wrap on a large sheet of deli paper ( I purchase the pre-cut deli sheets in a box from BJ's Wholesale Club). Wrap the completed wrap in deli paper--basically creating a wrap around a wrap--you will be repeating the same basic wrap technique. Using a large, serrated knife, slice the wrap right through the paper on the diagonal. Secure each wrap-half with a large, frilly toothpick (also purchased at BJ's Wholesale Club).
** We cut our wraps just before serving so the filling doesn't dry out.
Simple, right? Well... that's how I roll.
How about you?
So, my fear of wraps has been conquered, for which I am proud. However, I think what I am most proud of is the fact that I was able to spend quality time with my guests and really enjoy the party. Our simple fare of wraps and finger foods seemed to satisfy even the most discerning tastebuds. And more importantly, it was easy.
To date, I still get requests for the Chicken Pesto Wrap with Sun-dried Tomatoes (recipe to follow).
I know this holiday season many of you will out-do last years' menu. You will work tirelessly and attend to every detail. Remember however, that your guests will enjoy whatever you make-- and I hope you'll make time to enjoy your guests.
Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious and
Share Your Food
Pesto Chicken Wrap with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
from Wrap It Up by Amy Cotler
1/4 tsp. salt or more to taste (I use at least 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
1 cup plain couscous
1 garlic clove peeled
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 TBS olive oil
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese ( I used a generous 1/2 cup of Parmigano Reggiano)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
4 large wraps or burrito-size flour tortillas (I used tomato-basil flavored wraps)
12 oz. shredded cooked chicken (3 to 4 cups) ** we often use deli-made rotisserie chicken
16 sun-dried tomato halves packed in oil, drained and coarsely chopped
1 small yellow bell-pepper,cored, seeded and diced
I added the following:
8 oz. Mozzarella cut into small dice (because nothing in life can't be improved with a little Mozzarella)
** I used fresh mozzarella which I blotted with paper towels to absorb some of the mositure
** Coarsely chopped, pitted Kalamata olives.
Pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water mixed with salt over the couscous in a small bowl. Cover and set aside.
To make the pesto, combine the garlic, basil, olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper in a blender or mini food processor. Blend well and stir in the cheese.
Heat the wraps, one at a time in a skillet, turning frequently until hot and pliable, about 5 to 15 seconds each. Distribute 2 tsp. of pesto, a scant 1/2 cup of couscous, 3/4 cup of chicken, and a quarter of the walnuts, sun-dried tomatoes and diced pepper evenly over wrap. Sprinkle with a handful of diced Mozzarella and chopped olives, leaving a one inch border. Add a dab of pesto to top third of wrap. Follow rolling/wrapping instructions above. Continue and repeat with remaining wraps. Makes 4 wraps. **Sealed in wax paper, plastic wrap or foil and refrigerated, the wraps will keep for up to a day. Reheat just until warmed through, sealed in foil in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Serve warm.
***Please note: the party fare that we served were adaptions of recipes from Amy Cotler's Book. We tend to follow the more-is-better philosophy around here. So, it's likely that our wraps had more pesto, and absolutely had more mozzarella. I believe we added a bit of reduced balsamic vinegar to the shredded chicken and as always, we probably added a bit more salt.
Follow your gut on this one; taste the filling before you wrap and roll.