A Buy-and-Serve Appetizer Party

Combine ready-made ethnic foods for an easy and delicious menu.

Throwing a party always sounds like fun – until you're whipping up the last batch of homemade mini-quiches and you realize that it's a labor of love, with the emphasis on labor. But putting together an impressive spread can be simpler than it looks. The diversity of the West means that delicious ethnic foods are widely available – often ready-made – and can be combined to make an easy and delicious menu.

Ethnic markets are a great place to start; if you live near the San Gabriel Valley's Little Beijing, Seattle's International District, or San Francisco's Mission District, you can find an array of delicacies just by heading out to the corner store. But even if such resources aren't available to you, you may be surprised by the choices at any supermarket. We shopped at a large Asian grocery store for a lavish Chinese buffet, and we found great Italian options at our local supermarket. Whatever you choose, you'll spend more time at the store than at the stove – which means that the party truly can be fun for all.

STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

Believe it or not, a store-bought party can look and taste just as good as a feast you slaved over for hours – or even better, since you'll have that much more time and energy to direct toward planning your menu and putting together a pretty table. Our tips for assembling a satisfying, appealing spread:

For a dinnertime party with substantial options for grazing, provide about a pound of meat, poultry, or fish for every four guests. (If you're serving bone-in items such as ribs or Peking duck, plan on a pound for every two guests.) Balance the meat with bread or other starches and plenty of crudités, salad, or marinated vegetables; round out the menu with appetizers, cheeses, and dessert.

Look for a colorful variety of foods; if most of your hors d'oeuvres are wrapped in pastry, for instance, choose bright vegetables for a crudité platter, or set out a beautiful bowl or plate of ripe fruit.

Remove all food from store containers and arrange on attractive dishes or platters. Try combining different shapes and colors of tableware; assembled with restraint, an assortment can look beautiful and sophisticated.

Garnish platters with sprigs of fresh herbs (reliable standbys such as parsley and cilantro, or uncommon varieties like shiso leaves, variegated sage, or stems of silver thyme), edible flowers, or vegetables such as green onions or thinly sliced radishes.

By Linda Lau Anusasananan

December 2002