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MailTribune.com
  • Start a party with healthy appetizers

  • You're planning a cocktail party for 30 friends. Five are vegetarians, six are eating gluten-free and two are allergic to peanuts and eggs. It wouldn't be going too far to say that the women are all on a diet and the men all want meat.
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  • You're planning a cocktail party for 30 friends. Five are vegetarians, six are eating gluten-free and two are allergic to peanuts and eggs. It wouldn't be going too far to say that the women are all on a diet and the men all want meat.
    This is not an unusual situation for Cathy Conway, owner and executive chef of Avalon Catering, a full-service catering and event-planning company. "I got an email this week about a dinner we're catering for a group of 35 people. They gave me a list of all the allergies and food sensitivities. Thirty percent of the people we're serving at that dinner have some food issue," Conway said.
    Conway is not thrown by such challenges. Because she uses few processed products in her dishes, she's able to work around those food sensitivities and create menus that will satisfy a variety of tastes at the party. Less processed food gives her control of what goes into each recipe. No surprise chicken broth, no hidden gluten, no peanuts that might have come in contact with something she's serving.
    Conway specializes in menus that are seasonally driven with the food sourced locally. "What our clients are looking for now is integrity in their food. They want to know how the food they're eating is sourced and grown. When food comes from sources you know, it's easier to deal with those food issues," said Conway.
    Much like today's farm-to-table restaurants, Conway and her chef de cuisine Jenn Robbins can rattle off the source for each ingredient they use and they source 80 percent of their food from local producers and vendors. As much as possible, everything from cheese to fish to grits and vegetables comes from people they know and respect for the way they produce the food.
    These appetizers are seasonal, colorful and richly flavored. It's a bonus that they're as good for you as they are delicious.
    Conway offers these tips if you're planning your own cocktail party:
    If the event is at 5 p.m., serve light hors d'oeuvres, the kind of thing people can pick up and eat without a fork. Featuring vegetables is a good choice, providing crunch while also being light.
    At 7 p.m., you'll need heavier hors d'oeuvres — a protein, some starches — foods that involve a plate and a fork. Tapas-style items like risotto croquettes are a good choice.
    When thinking quantities, plan on four hors d'oeuvres per person. "If you're serving three hors d'oeuvres, people will sample one of each and then have a second one of their favorite," Conway said
    Finally, when deciding on your menu, try to walk the line between mainstream and cutting-edge. "You want a menu that will inspire and excite, but won't scare your guests."
    GRILLED GULF SHRIMP WITH TOMATO-GINGER JAM
    20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    1/2 cup Tomato-Ginger Jam (see recipe)
    In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, olive oil, salt, lemon juice and pepper flakes. Allow shrimp to marinate for 30 minutes.
    While shrimp is marinating, heat grill. When ready to cook, lightly oil grates.
    Grill shrimp for 3 minutes per side, being careful not to overcook. If not serving immediately, cover and set aside. Refrigerate if making more than 30 minutes ahead.
    When ready to serve, garnish each shrimp with 1 teaspoon of the Tomato-Ginger Jam and serve immediately.
    Makes 20 appetizers.
    TOMATO-GINGER JAM
    1 teaspoon olive oil
    1 shallot, cut into 1/8-inch dice
    2 pints cherry tomatoes, rinsed and quartered
    2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 teaspoon granulated sugar
    In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil until hot. Add the shallots and saute for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium and stir in the tomatoes and ginger. Cook until tomatoes begin to cook down, adding water (about 1 cup) as needed to keep tomatoes from scorching. When tomatoes have cooked to a jamlike consistency, for about 1 hour, add the lemon juice, salt and sugar. Taste for seasoning and cool.
    Makes 2 cups.
    BRESAOLA-WRAPPED ARUGULA BUNDLES
    2 (6-ounce) bunches arugula (not baby leaves), rinsed and dried
    1/4 pound bresaola spiced, (air-cured beef), very thinly sliced (may substitute prosciutto)
    1/4 cup Farm Egg Vinaigrette (see recipe)
    If the arugula came from a farmers market with roots attached, trim roots and most of stem.
    Separate trimmed arugula leaves into 20 bundles. Tightly wrap a slice of the bresaola around stems of each bundle. If bundles begin to unfurl, wrap each with a strip of plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Arrange on platter. If not serving right away, cover platter with plastic wrap and refrigerate. You can assemble these bundles up to 1 day ahead, adding the vinaigrette and garnishing just before serving.
    When ready to serve, drizzle bundles with vinaigrette and garnish with sieved egg whites from vinaigrette recipe.
    Makes 20 appetizers.
    FARM EGG VINAIGRETTE
    1 hard-boiled egg
    1 cup olive oil
    1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
    2 teaspoons capers, drained, finely chopped
    2 teaspoons chopped shallots, 1/8-inch dice
    2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
    1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley
    1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
    1 small garlic clove, pressed through garlic press
    Salt, as needed
    Peel the egg and press white and yolk separately through a sieve. Reserve white for garnish.
    In a small bowl, whisk together sieved egg yolk, the olive oil, vinegar, capers, shallots, whole-grain mustard, Dijon mustard, parsley, tarragon and garlic. Taste for seasoning. If not using immediately, refrigerate vinaigrette and egg whites separately.
    Makes 1 2/3 cups.
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