Night on the Town


To entertain — or not to entertain? At this time of year, it's definitely party time. There are celebrations at the office, dinners in fancy restaurants, snacking at sports bars, but entertaining at home is somehow more comfortable and relaxing. And that goes for hosts, as well as guests. And if you plan your event for the beginning of the week, you can prepare the weekend beforehand.

Forget formal sit-down dinners — this month, the mood is casual. Consider a crudité, fruit and cheese party. Drinks? Non-alcoholic, of course, for the designated drivers, but for others, a half-dozen or more bottles of bubbly should do just fine, depending on the number of guests. It's easy to uncork and serve, and you can choose from a reasonably-priced selection these days.

Set out everything on peasant-designed pottery dishes and spray-painted wicker baskets. With an extravaganza of scented candles and bouquets of flowers, it all adds up to a fabulous smorgasbord — stunning, appetizing and, best of all, easy.

Plan well ahead of time. Make a list before you go to the market, but be flexible. If you see a tempting olive spread, buy it. Spoon it into a pretty bowl and surround with thin slices of crusty French bread. A huge variety of fruits and vegetables are available year-round now, flown in from California, Florida, even Chile.

Crudité trays are available at every market — just transfer it attractively to a flat basket, then add items not included, like sugar snap peas, sliced yellow and green zucchini, radishes and asparagus tips.

On a large colorful platter, arrange snipped small bunches of black, green and red grapes, berries, plums and fresh figs, tucking in a few sprigs of evergreens from the garden. Cut the figs in quarters with a stainless-steel knife to avoid discoloration.

Spoon black and green olives — some glossy, some oil-cured and wrinkled — into pottery dishes. On a big wooden board, set out three or five cheeses, choosing from the huge variety of kosher brands now available.

Go to a good cheese store or delicatessen, and they'll let you taste before you buy. Avoid hard cheeses; they're difficult to cut and dry out quickly. Instead, buy soft or semi-soft, such as a wheel of brie, fontina, gorgonzola, goat cheese. Surround it with dried dates and apricots; set out baskets of whole-wheat crackers and crusty baguette rounds. Use pretty paper plates, decorative paper napkins, and plastic glasses and flatware. Light the candles. The scene is set.

For no-fuss hors d'oeuvres, some ideas:

· Spread ginger snaps with raisin cream cheese or cheese of your choice. Top with a pistachio half.

· Stuff pitted dates with store-bought marzipan. Dust with confectioners' sugar.

· Spread spoonfuls of canned mushroom or vegetarian pâté on red-skinned apple wedges. Dust with paprika.

· Spread large, store-bought crêpes with pesto. Cover with chopped smoked salmon, and top with shredded watercress or lettuce. Roll up tightly as for a jelly roll. Cut on diagonal into three-quarter-inch slices. Serve chilled.

· Hollow out a red cabbage with a cavity large enough to hold a small glass bowl. Fill with a dip and surround with sliced cucumbers.

· Fill prepared tart shells with goat cheese. Top with a dab of raspberry preserves.

Iranian-Style Frittata With Currants and Pine Nuts


This should be mixed, covered and refrigerated about 1 hour before cooking for flavors to blend. Use a knife to chop, not the food processor, which cuts too finely.

12 eggs
2 cups parsley, chopped coarsely
11/2 cups mint leaves, chopped coarsely
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup dried currants
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
11/2 tsps. ground cumin
1/4 cup olive oil

Beat the eggs in a large bowl.

Stir in the parsley, mint, pine nuts, currants, salt, pepper and cumin. Set aside at cool room temperature for 1 hour.

Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat.

Whisk the egg mixture again and pour into the skillet. Reduce the heat to low. Cook, lifting the edges with a palette knife so that uncooked mixture sets. Cover.

Continue cooking for 15 to 20 minutes, or until top is almost set but still slightly runny.

Finish off under a preheated broiler, but do not brown.

Cut into small wedges.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 15 to 20.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 104; protein, 5 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 150 mg; sodium, 79 mg.


Pan-Fried Portobellos


11/2 lbs. portobello mushrooms, cleaned
3 Tbsps. unsalted margarine
3 Tbsps. olive oil
2 Tbsps. lite soy sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt or to taste
1 tsp. dried red-pepper flakes
3/4 tsp. dried thyme

Cut mushrooms into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.

Heat the margarine and olive oil in a large skillet over a high heat. Add the mushrooms.

Fry quickly until edges are beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

In a cup, mix the soy sauce with the salt and thyme. Sprinkle over the mushrooms, tossing gently. Transfer to a bowl.

Insert toothpicks in a few pieces. Arrange extra toothpicks in a small cup (like a demitasse cup) on the side.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 15 to 18.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 54; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 2 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 184 mg.


Smoked-Trout Toasties


Any smoked fish may be used, such as bluefish, whitefish, trout. The bread tartlets may be frozen, ready to use as needed.

For Tarts:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
24 slices extra-thin brown bread

For Filling:

6 oz. smoked-trout fillet
2 Tbsps. ground almonds
2 Tbsps. cream cheese, softened
2 tsps. tomato paste
2 Tbsps. thinly snipped chives
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°.

Spray two mini-muffin trays with nonstick cooking spray.

In a cup or small bowl, mix the olive oil and garlic powder. Set aside.

Remove the crusts from the bread. (Save and freeze for another use). Cut a 3-inch round from each slice. Roll out thinly.

Press a round into each cup on muffin trays to make a tart shell. Brush with olive-oil mixture. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until almost firm.

To prepare filling, make sure all bones are removed from the smoked trout. Place the trout in a bowl with the almonds, cream cheese, tomato paste and chives.

Mix well to blend.

Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spoon into the bread cups.

Serve at room temperature.

Note: The tart shells may be baked a day ahead. Leave in the muffin tins, cover with plastic wrap and store at cool room temperature until needed.

Makes 24.

Approximate nutrients per tart: calories, 56; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 5 g; fat, 3 g; cholesterol, 3 mg; sodium, 123 mg.


Yankee Pissaladiere


Stuffed with meats, cheeses and pickles, pissaladiere was originally the street food of Nice. This version is a Yankee take-off, using barbecue sauce and smoked turkey. Soy cheeses take the place of dairy products.

1 sheet (about 8.5 oz.) frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 Tbsps. barbecue sauce
1/2 onion, sliced wafer-thin
3-4 thin slices smoked turkey (about 3 oz.)
2 Tbsps. chopped dill pickle
1/3 cup grated soy "cheddar cheese"

Preheat oven to 425°.

Lightly roll out the pastry sheet so that the fold lines disappear. Spread with the barbecue sauce to within 1/2-inch of the edges. Cover with the onion.

Lay the turkey over in one layer. Scatter the pickle and the soy "cheese" over top. Roll up as for a jelly-roll, sealing the edges.

Place on a baking sheet, seam-side down. Prick the top several times with a fork for steam to escape. Bake for 20 minutes.

Reduce heat to 375° and bake 10 minutes longer, or until pastry is golden-brown.

Cool slightly before cutting into 1/2-inch slices.

Serve warm with a fork.

Serves 10 to 12.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 121; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 10 g; fat, 8 g; cholesterol, 3 mg; sodium, 160 mg.


Plum-Chutney Baked Brie


1 wheel (about 2 lbs.) of brie, at room temperature
1/2 cup fruit chutney
3 ripe plums, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
pinch of dried sage
1 Tbsp. currant or apple jelly, warmed
sprigs of sage to garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Cut out a cavity in the brie: Insert a sharp, pointed knife about 1/2-inch in from the edge of the wheel. Trace a 1/2-inch deep circle in the top.

Gently loosen the top rind until you can remove it. With a teaspoon, scoop out enough brie to make a cavity about 3/4-inch deep. (Save the top and scooped-out brie for another use, such as a dip prepared in the food processor.)

In a bowl, mix the chutney, plums, walnuts and sage. Heap into the cavity.

Transfer to the baking sheet, and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cheese is just warm and beginning to soften. Watch carefully.

Cool slightly. Brush the chutney filling with warm jelly.

To serve, lift the cheese on the foil to a serving platter. Cut the excess foil away.

Serve with a basket of thinly sliced French bread or whole-wheat crackers.

Serves 15 to 18.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 203; protein, 11 g; carbohydrates, 6 g; fat, 15 g; cholesterol, 50 mg; sodium, 319 mg.


Provençal Tartlets


You'll find these tart shells in the frozen-food case at your market. May serve with sweet or savory fillings, or may be used for miniature quiche.

1/2 cup finely chopped oil-cured, pitted black olives
2 Tbsps. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1 anchovy, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 package (about 2 oz.) miniature filo tart shells
2 tsps. extra-virgin olive oil
15 capers with stems to garnish (optional)

Place the tart shells on a baking sheet.

In a bowl, combine the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovy, garlic, basil and thyme.

Stir in enough of the Parmesan cheese to make a stiff mixture.

Season to taste with pepper.

Divide mixture equally between the tart shells. Drizzle tiny drops of oil onto each. Garnish with a caper (optional). Transfer to a platter to serve.

Makes 15 tartlets.

Variation: To make pesto tartlets, fill with a creamy pesto mixture: Whip 1/2 cup prepared pesto with 3 oz. cream cheese.

Garnish with sprinkling of dried basil or a fresh basil leaf.

Approximate nutrients per tartlet: calories, 51; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 3 mg; sodium, 130 mg.


Banana Cream Tarts


And to please the sweet lovers … assemble just before serving.

11/2 bananas, thinly sliced
2 tsps. lemon juice
1/2 cup lemon curd
1/4 tsp. orange extract
1 package (about 2 oz.) miniature filo tart shells
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup prepared vanilla pudding

Toss banana with the lemon juice. Set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the lemon curd and orange extract.

To assemble, arrange the tart shells on a tray.

Brush bottom and sides with melted chocolate.

Reserve 15 banana slices.

Equally divide remaining banana slices between tart shells. Top with the vanilla pudding.

Garnish each with reserved banana slices and serve.

Makes 15 tartlets.

Approximate nutrients per tart: calories, 102; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 5 g; cholesterol, 21 mg; sodium, 61 mg.


Fruit-and-Nut Mix


Cheaper and better than store-bought, especially if the ingredients are bought at a fruit-and-nut store. May make half this quantity or divide into portions, place in plastic bags, and freeze until an hour or so before serving.

2 cups toasted-walnut halves
1 cup dried apricots, quartered
1 cup dried sour cherries
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups sesame sticks
2 cups toasted sunflower seeds

Toss all the ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temp before serving.

To toast the walnuts, spread on a baking sheet. Bake in the center of a preheated 350° oven for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Watch carefully to prevent scorching.

Cool before using.

Approximate nutrients per quarter-cup: calories, 162; protein, 4 g; carbohydrates, 15 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 4 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman, the author of Mackerel at Midnight, is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.



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