Haute and Healthy Hors d'Oeuvres


Cocktail parties don't have to be overwhelming. The goal is to impress without busting your budget and to create hors d'oeuvres with a "wow" factor that are, in reality, quick and simple to make. It's no fun to spend your party sweating in the kitchen, so plan ahead and get creative, and you'll be socializing and excited to entertain all the time.

First, think about what you like to eat at a party. Do you ever really get excited about a celery stick or a slice of cucumber and some dip? I think not.

Appetizers are often caloric and fatty, so the idea is to create less evil options while satisfying everyone's palate. Because of the many different eating styles and restrictions, I like to serve four to six snack choices—and always include at least one seafood, one meat, one poultry, and one vegetarian, so there is something for everyone. Here are a few of my fail-safe dishes to fall back on.

Healthy quesadillas
Cheese quesadillas, either as vegetarian options or filled with chicken or steak, are sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Buy whole-wheat tortillas or thin flat breads, and layer with shredded low-fat Swiss or cheddar cheese. Add some vegetables for extra fiber and antioxidants; I like sauteed spinach and red and yellow peppers for color and flavor. Many supermarkets sell fresh, sauteed veggies in their prepared food departments, and these can be a great time-saver.

You can also go the Greek route, using a thin layer of feta cheese with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes (buy them dried and reconstitute by soaking in warm water—not oil—for 5 to 10 minutes). Season with salt and black pepper.

Prepare your quesadillas ahead of time and stack in the fridge until just before serving time. Then, using a nonstick pan and nonstick spray, toast them on both sides. Cut into triangles and serve with a tiny dot of low-fat sour cream and sprinkled parsley on each slice. To add more color to this dish, alternate whole wheat tortillas with spinach (green) and sun-dried tomato (red) tortillas.

Mushroom crostini
Another decadent, delicious hors d'oeuvre is truffled mushrooms on crostini. Cut small diagonal bread slices from a whole-grain baguette. Toast lightly in the oven at 350º just until golden (any darker and it will get too crumbly to eat!). On the stove top, lightly coat a nonstick pan with olive oil and fill with assorted sliced mushrooms—most groceries sell variety packs, and I typically use one pack for six crostini.

Heat the pan to medium-high, and don't touch the mushrooms for at least two minutes. Once they are brown and crisp, toss and do the same on the other side. Season with salt and pepper and a tiny drizzle of truffle oil, spoon over crostini, and lightly sprinkle Parmesan or pecorino cheese on top.

Crabmeat and endive
Endive leaves are the perfect base for a healthy snack: sturdy little low-calorie boats in which to put your favorite assorted fillings. I buy jumbo lump crabmeat (Costco sells a great product) in a can or container and toss lightly with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, chopped cilantro or parsley, and salt and pepper. Finely chopped or thinly sliced avocado and/or grapefruit are great accompaniments to a crabmeat tray.

If crab is too pricey, mix shredded chicken (I shred the breast of ready-made rotisserie chicken) with toasted chopped walnuts, dill, low-fat mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and a tiny dash of Dijon mustard. Shrimp salad is also great as a filling.

For low-cal cocktails, mix up a few batches of Lychee Martinis, Pome-Ritas, or Strawberry Kisses. After one or two drinks, switch to club soda with lime, an alcohol-free option that's always in style.

These are just tips—not technically recipes—because I don't, and have never, measured ingredients when creating snacks like these. Experiment with different fillings and toppings, season liberally, taste often, and solicit feedback from your guests; before you know it, they'll be asking for your secrets. And most importantly, get out of the kitchen and have fun at your party!