My mother loved to entertain.
She would throw elaborate parties, presenting fabulous dishes to her guests. She would spend weeks planning all of the details, from plates to silverware and flowers to candles, not to mention the guest list. Most importantly, she loved to plan the food.
Everyone would be so impressed, but no one was the wiser to some of her tricks. Yes, she would prepare some elegant snacks, but she also ordered spring rolls from her favorite Chinese restaurant. She would pick up a box of frozen spinach cheese puffs at the grocery store. She would also order fresh vegetables and serve them with her own dressing, rather than the typical ranch dressing.
The classic cheese and crackers, with a side of grapes, always worked, too.
I recall many friends requesting recipes and tips, only be surprised of the simplicity of it all. The thing is, she knew it was impossible to prepare everything the day of the party – a party she wanted to be able to enjoy as much as her guests would.
So, she not only knew how to cut corners, she knew how to work ahead, preparing the food days before the party. Her rule of thumb was: If you see something similar in the frozen section, yours can be frozen too; if you see something similar in the deli section, then yours, too, can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. What’s left would wait until the last minute.
I like to think I learned my mother’s lessons well, and I’m delighted to share them with you in the vegetarian appetizer party outlined on these pages. I chose a vegetarian menu because this is a tough time of year to be mindful of what we eat, but also because so many folks have embraced the vegetarian lifestyle. You can supplement the appetizers you make yourself with cheeses and crudites, or make a run to your grocery store.
With this party, you can entertain friends and family, without the guilt – and without the stress.
Enjoy your party!
Mexican Lentils in Corn Cups
Tasty bites of flavor in each cup.
Makes 24 cups
½ cup dried lentils
1 cup water
24 white corn tortillas
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn, defrosted
1 tomato, chopped
½ red onion, minced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup mild enchilada sauce
1. Put water and lentils in a small pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat and drain excess liquid. The lentils can be made the day before the party.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. Using a 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut a circle in each tortilla. Wrap the circles in a damp paper towel, and microwave on high for 1 minute.
4. Grease two muffin tins. Place a circle in each cup and spray with cooking spray. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from tin and cool on a wire rack. Do this up to two days in advance.
6. Toss lentils with remaining ingredients.
7. Fill each tortilla cup with some of the lentil mixture and serve.
Nutrition Information: 90 calories; 10 calories from fat; 3g protein; 20g carbs; 1g sugar; 1.5g total fat; 0g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol;
4g dietary fiber; 200mg sodium; 6% Daily Values calcium; 4% Daily Values iron
Mozzarella-Tomato Tartlets with Basil
A baked version of the traditional salad.
Makes 24 tartlets
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable shortening
¼-½ cup iced white wine
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 grape tomatoes, sliced into thirds
½ cup fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
into equal-sized pieces
Olive oil for drizzling
1. Sift flour into a bowl. Add salt. Rub the shortening into the flour until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add iced water until the mixtures come together. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill. Do this up to four days before the party.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
3. Roll the pastry out to a ¼-inch thickness.
Using a 4-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 24 circles. Press dough into a mini-tartlet pan or cupcake tin. Use a fork to poke some holes.
4. Place ½ teaspoon of parmesan at the bottom of each pastry.
5. Layer fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, decoratively, in each tartlet. Drizzle with olive oil. (If needed, it can be refrigerated overnight at this point.)
6. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
7. Add a basil leaf to each tart and serve immediately.
Nutrition Information: 110 calories; 60 calories from fat; 4g protein; 8g carbs; 0g sugar; 7g total fat; 3g saturated fat; 10mg cholesterol; 0g dietary fiber; 130mg sodium; 6% Daily Values calcium; 4% Daily Values iron
Delicious mushrooms with the infused flavor of rosemary in every bite.
Makes 24 skewers
12 Baby Bella mushrooms
24 pieces of rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat grill or broiler.
2. Remove the mushroom stems, and slice mushrooms in half vertically.
3. Remove some rosemary leaves and skewer half of a mushroom with the rosemary stem.
4. Toss in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
5. Grill or broil for 5 minutes. The rosemary will serve as a skewer and infuse its flavor into each mushroom bite. Best if made right before the party starts.
Nutrition Information: 25 calories; 10 calories from fat; 1g protein; 3g carbs; 1g sugar; 1g total fat; 0g saturated fat; 0mg cholesterol;
1g dietary fiber; 0mg sodium; 2% Daily Values calcium; 4% Daily Values iron
Globe Grapes with Chevre and Pistachios
A French appetizer designed to give you all you need in one bite.
Makes 24 servings
1 cup pistachio nuts, finely chopped
8 ounces fresh goat cheese, chilled
24 globe grapes, washed and dried
1. Mold goat cheese around each grape. Then, roll each grape in the nuts. May be made up to two days before the party.
Nutrition Information: 60 calories; 40 calories from fat; 3g protein; 2g carbs; 1g sugar; 4.5g total fat; 1.5g saturated fat; 5mg cholesterol; less than 1g dietary fiber; 55mg sodium; 2% Daily Values calcium; 2% Daily Values iron
Photography by Lori Maffei