I consider myself to be a great home entertainer and an even better cook. Preparing everything from scratch has been my modus operandi since hosting my first soiree in my tiny three-room New York City apartment. Preparation for my Friday gathering began the Sunday prior. I thought I was especially clever and efficient by pre-cooking items that would freeze well, only to be thawed and baked the day of said cocktail party. It was a labor of love and still, to this day, is my preferred activity with friends and family.
But now life is hectic. More often than not plans are made only a day or two out with no time for elaborate menus and homemade eggplant caponata. Given the challenge of little time to prepare I began to rely on my local market. From store made foods to packaged items, a lesson in resourcefulness, mixed with trial and error, opened up a whole new world for entertaining that even the most novice cook could fake their way through.
Here are some store bought solutions for throwing an amazing party, sans a culinary degree and oodles of creativity. It starts with surveying your supermarket’s prepared food items and incorporating various jarred and canned items.
My favorite cheater hors d’oeuvres include:
♦ Endive leaves filled with pre-made chicken salad with cranberries and walnuts. Any chicken salad will do.
♦ Fresh mozzarella slices or balls arranged on a platter with sliced hard salami, olives, and pepperoncini, roasted peppers and marinated artichokes out of a jar. Fill a stout vase with breadsticks.
♦ Whitefish salad or smoked salmon cream cheese atop slices of English cucumbers and garnished with chopped red onion or dill.
♦ Packaged crostini toasts or bagel chips topped with a dollop of ricotta cheese and topped with anything from jarred sundried tomatoes, avocado, olive tapenade, Sclafani fried peppers and onions, or even sliced prosciutto. An olive oil or balsamic vinegar drizzle really make these crostini pop.
♦ Round corn tortilla chips (the harder ones) topped with packaged guacamole, a spoonful of store made chili and garnished with a pickled jalapeno. You can also use sour cream, shredded cheese and canned refried beans slightly heated.
♦ Thinly sliced prosciutto wrapped around blanched asparagus, cantaloupe, breadsticks, and even cheese sticks.
♦ Shrimp cocktail – spruce up this seafood counter mainstay with a variety of fun and flavorful dipping sauces such as creamy mustard, chipotle mayo, horseradish mustard, garlic aioli, Green Goddess dressing, and ginger soy sauce.
Another crowd pleaser that merely require assembly are sandwiches – cut into small wedges, squares or slices and arrange on a platter with pickled veggies. Deli counter meats and cheeses, great bread, packaged spreads and condiments, and fresh produce do all the work here. Some tried and true combos:
♦ Foccacia bread, pesto, salami, peppered ham, provolone cheese, and roasted peppers
♦ Rye bread, smoked turkey, cheddar cheese, and packaged cole slaw mixed with bottled Russian dressing
♦ Tortilla wrap rolled up with spicy hummus, arugula, and shredded rotisserie chicken
♦ Ciabatta bread smeared with mustard and mayo mix on both sides, Swiss cheese, Virginia ham, turkey, and sliced dill pickles
If you have time for a little cookin’ or grillin’, here are several appetizers that illustrate the “simple is best” motto.
♦ Grilled kielbasa thickly sliced and served with a few different mustards for dipping.
♦ Broiled or grilled Italian sausage, cut into chunks, speared on a toothpick with a cherry tomato or hot cherry pepper.
♦ Store bought pizza dough, rolled out onto a cookie sheet, topped with jack cheese, ham slices, and crushed pineapple. Bake until crust is golden.
♦ Frozen puff pastry dough, rolled out onto a cookie sheet, topped with thawed pre-frozen julienne peppers and onions, parmesan cheese and canned anchovies.
♦ Frozen phyllo pastry cups, baked, filled with; cream cheese and jalapeno jelly; seafood salad; or shredded rotisserie chicken mixed with buffalo chicken wing hot sauce and topped with crumbly bleu cheese.
♦ Wrap par-cooked bacon around dates, shrimp, scallops, and even asparagus; bake until bacon is well done.
♦ Boiled or baked fingerling potatoes served with bleu cheese dressing that’s been topped with crumbled bacon and chopped red onion or scallions.
Whether they come from ideas on a page or online, the true inspiration for entertaining on a time budget can be found in the grocery isle, or at the deli counter, bake shop, and even the prepared food section of your local supermarket. Who knew?
by Linda Kavanaugh