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 The holiday entertaining season is at hand, and hors d’oeuvres have earned a solid place as warm-ups to meals that let guests relax, talk and get acquainted, if your guest list goes beyond family or a close circle of longtime friends.

 

In some cases, a well-planned spread of hors d’oeuvres is all you need, along with beverages, for an afternoon or early evening of warmth and conversation.

 

What you serve depends on your budget, time and creativity.

Hors d’oeuvres spreads have gone far beyond some crackers, cheeses and cold cuts.

 

When planning an hors d’oeuvre menu, consider old favorites, but shake things up by trying one or more new recipes. Look for flavors that can go together well, but be sure that you have variety of tastes, from sweet to piquant. At least one offering should have a bit of zing to liven up palates.

 

Also look for contrasts --- hot and cold, smooth and crunchy --- and variations in color.

 

The holidays can quickly become a time of excessive eating or a challenge for people on special diets that need limited sugars or salts. So consider that, too, as you plan.

 

Here is an idea from The Associated Press for an hors d’oeuvre that has far fewer calories than many such bites.

 Holiday hors d’oeuvres that won’t doom your diet By JIM ROMANOFFAssociated Press 

The hectic pace of the holiday season makes it tempting to resort to ready-made appetizers as a last-minute entertaining solution.

 

But. before you pop those frozen hors d’oeuvres in the oven, check the labels. Common prepared appetizers such as mini quiches can have almost 200 calories and 18 grams of fat per serving. A single mini crispy spring roll can pack 160 calories and 14 grams of fat.

 

While it’s true that these heat-and-serve nibbles are easy to prepare, it is possible to make appetizers that are just as appealing and a lot healthier without spending hours in the kitchen.

 

One easy option is to make mini antipasto kebabs by threading cherry tomatoes, olives, marinated mushrooms and bocconcini (small balls of mozzarella cheese) onto long wooden sandwich picks or skewers. If you like, you can separate each item with a fresh basil leaf.

 

Long, crunchy endive leaves are perfect for topping with a dab of low-fat shrimp or crab spread or, perhaps, a smear of goat cheese sprinkled with chopped, toasted walnuts.

 

Crackers are the traditional vehicle for many hors d’oeuvres, but there are many creative and healthy alternatives. For instance, a dried apricot can be topped with some blue cheese or goat cheese and sprinkled with chopped nuts to make a healthful canape.

 

Slices of fresh cucumber or radish can be topped with finely chopped smoked salmon, American whitefish caviar or a blend of chopped avocado and shrimp.

 

This recipe uses lightly roasted slices of healthy sweet potato as a bed for a spoonful of curried low-fat chicken salad topped with toasted sliced almonds. This healthy appetizer has only 30 calories and less than half a gram of fat per piece.

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You can make the chicken salad and toast the almonds up to two days ahead; keep the salad covered, in the refrigerator. The sweet potato slices can be baked up to four hours ahead, and the hors d’oeuvres can be assembled shortly before your guests arrive.

 ROASTED SWEET POTATO SLICES WITH CURRIED CHICKEN SALAD Start to finish: 30 minutes (15 minutes active) 2 tablespoons sliced almonds2 long, narrow sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into slices 1/3-inch thickSalt and ground black pepper, to taste1 cup chopped or shredded cooked chicken breast1/2 cup chopped scallions, greens only1/4 cup light mayonnaise2 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt1 teaspoon curry powder1/2 teaspoon cumin1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 425 F.

 

Spread the almonds out on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. (Watch carefully to avoid burning).

 

Transfer to a plate to cool.

 

Lightly oil the baking sheet or line it with nonstick foil. Arrange the sweet potato slices in a single layer on the sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake until tender and lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine the chicken, scallions, mayonnaise, yogurt, curry powder, cumin, cayenne and lemon juice. Toss well, then season with salt and pepper.

 

Arrange the sweet potato slices on a serving platter. Top each with a teaspoon of the chicken salad. Garnish with the toasted almonds.

Makes 36 servings.

 Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 30 calories; 4 calories from fat; 0 g. fat (0 g. saturated; 0 g. trans fats); 1 mg. cholesterol; 6 g. carbohydrate; 1 g. protein; 1 g. fiber; 96 mg. sodium.

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