Entertaining in the '90s comes down to one truth: You can't please all of the people, ever.
Special diets, political agendas and personal tastes make it hard to come up with a universally acceptable menu. Then there's the format: Buffet? Seated dinner? Potluck? Catered?
Add to that the usual holiday shortages -- time, money and energy -- and feeding the masses can be a big holiday headache.
What's needed is an ace in the hole, a collection of recipes that includes something for everyone, from diabetics to vegetarians to the nouveau broke. Here you will find recipes that cover many of the bases.
Challenge: Need a good appetizer quick.
Solution: Shrimp mousse is a little like shrimp cocktail on Ritz crackers. Keep the ingredients on hand. It can be made in a mold or a serving dish. If you don't have enough warning to make it the night before, pull out another old reliable: pickapeppa sauce over a cream cheese brick, served with crackers.
Makes 12 to 16 servings
1 (10 1/2 -ounce) can tomato soup
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 (4 1/2 -ounce) can tiny shrimp
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 ( 1/4 -ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
hot pepper sauce, lemon juice and grated onion to taste
Place soup and cheese over low heat until melted. Add remaining ingredients; pour into well-oiled mold. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with crackers.
Per serving: calories: 119; fat: 10 g; cholesterol: 33 mg; sodium: 251 mg; calories from fat: 75 percent.
Challenge: Guest on a heart-healthy diet.
Solution: A veggie tray isn't the answer; most dips are loaded with fat. Marinated mushrooms, steeped in red wine vinegar and herbs, is a step above plain vegetables. Although the percentage of calories from fat may seem high, the calorie count is low and the dish contains only 2 grams of fat per servings.
The selection of low-fat and nonfat ingredients on the market now makes it easy to cut the fat in traditional dishes. If eggnog is on the menu, choose a light variety, or offer a drink made with cranberry or other fruit juices.
Plus: You can keep these on hand for drop-in guests. They travel well and can sit out on a buffet.
Makes 3 cups
2 pound small mushrooms
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons canola or corn oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (2 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
Clean the mushrooms, cutting off the ends of the stems. Set aside. Place remaining ingredients except bell pepper in a large saucepan and bring to boil. Add the mushrooms and bell pepper; bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 to 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in a covered container for several hours before serving.
Per 1/4 -cup serving: calories: 35; fat: 2 g; no cholesterol; sodium: 46 mg; calories from fat: 58 percent.
Challenge: What to put out for youngsters.
Solution: Kids love Jell-O. They also like snack mixes. Kids love most finger foods, especially if they aren't too complicated or spicy. For something substantial, make easy Boboli pizzas, which can be heated as you need them. No need to fancy them up; kids, especially little ones, like the plain cheese variety.
Plus: Another good choice for vegetarians. You can assemble the pizzas early in the day and heat them at the last minute.
Easy Boboli pizza
Makes 16 appetizer servings
3/4 to 1 cup spaghetti or pizza sauce
1 large or 4 small Boboli bread rounds
2 to 3 cups shredded low-fat, part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spread sauce evenly over Boboli. Top with cheeses. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly. Cut into child-size or appetizer portions. Per serving: calories: 144; fat: 6 g; cholesterol: 13 mg; sodium: 344 mg; calories from fat: 36 percent.
Challenge: Guest allergic to wheat.
Solution: Conventional breads, pasta and anything made with wheat flour are forbidden. But Bette Hagman, author of "The Gluten-Free Gourmet" (Henry Holt and Co., $12.95), points out that many prepared foods also may contain wheat products. One safe idea: a pie made in a meringue crust.
Plus: It travels well and makes a good buffet dessert.
Cranberry-orange angel pie
Makes 8 servings
meringue shell (recipe follows)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (12-ounce) carton cranberry-orange sauce
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 cup whipping cream or non-dairy liquid
Prepare and bake the meringue shell.
Combine sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan. Gradually stir in the cranberry-orange sauce, orange juice, lemon juice and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened. Gradually add a little of the hot cranberry mixture to the egg yolks, then combine this mixture with the hot mixture in the saucepan.
Cook 1 or 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Refrigerate until cold. Whip the cream and fold into the cranberry mixture. Pour into the meringue shell. Refrigerate until serving time.
MERINGUE SHELL: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place 2 egg whites, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer until foamy. Then, beating constantly, add 1/2 cup sugar about a tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until very stiff and glossy. Grease a deep 9-inch pie pan and spread the mixture on the sides and bottom. Bake for 1 hour. Cool away from drafts before filling.
Per serving: calories: 352; fat: 16 g; cholesterol: 104 mg; sodium: 269 mg; calories from fat: 39 percent.
Challenge: Guests who don't drink alcohol.
Solution: Bottled water is always in good taste. In a more festive ++ mode, mix up Red Satin Punch, or choose a non-alcoholic beer or wine.
Plus: Kids will love it, and the recipe makes enough for a crowd.
Red Satin Punch
Makes about 35 punch-cup servings
1 quart apple juice
2 pints cranberry juice
2 (2-liter) bottles 7-Up, plus extra to make 2 trays of ice cubes
Refrigerate fruit juice and 7-Up. At serving time, combine cranberry juice and apple juice in a punch bowl; slowly pour in 7-Up. Add ice cubes.
Per serving: calories: 88; sodium: 3 mg.
Challenge: Vegetarian guest.
Solution: Jane Brody's rice, corn and cheese casserole is substantial enough to serve as a main course, but meat eaters will enjoy it, too, as a side dish. Ms. Brody suggests adding chopped pimiento and green chilies or jalapeno to give the dish more color and kick. Other options for feeding vegetarians: bean dishes, veggie enchiladas or quesadillas, cheese ravioli.
Plus: This casserole can be made one or two days ahead; it works well for a buffet.
Rice, corn and cheese casserole
Makes 6 main-dish servings
3 cups cooked brown or white rice (1 cup raw)
2 cups corn kernels (10-ounce package frozen kernels, thawed or 15-ounce can, drained)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups grated sharp cheddar (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups skim or low-fat milk
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the paprika; mix well. Pour the ingredients into a greased 2-quart casserole. (Casserole may be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.) Sprinkle with paprika and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
Per serving: calories: 331; fat: 13 g; cholesterol: 36 mg; sodium: 534 mg; calories from fat: 34 percent.
Challenge: Money's tight.
Solution: Make up the difference by spending a little extra time in the kitchen. Cake-style gingerbread -- a holiday staple, made from on-hand ingredients -- feeds a lot of people for not much money.
Makes 24 servings
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark cane syrup
1 teaspoon soda
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar; add eggs. Beat syrup and soda until mixture foams; add to first mixture. Sift the flour and spices. Add alternately with the buttermilk. Line the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch pan with wax paper. Grease paper. Pour mixture into pan and bake for about 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
Per serving: calories: 202; fat: 9 g; cholesterol: 40 mg; sodium: 140 mg; calories from fat: 37 percent.
Challenge: Diabetic guest.
Solution: Basic advice, from the American Diabetes Association's "Holiday Cookbook," is to control calories, strictly limit sugar, and control salt, fat and cholesterol. Salads of fresh fruit or marinated vegetables are good choices. Coconut macaroons let diabetics join the rest of the cookie monsters.
Plus: They're fairly low in fat and make good gifts.
Makes 20 macaroons
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups flaked coconut
1/2 cup egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon coconut flavoring
non-stick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Stir flour and coconut together; se aside.
Whip egg whites and cream of tartar together at high speed until stiff peaks form. Add confectioners' sugar gradually while continuing to whip at medium speed; then add flavoring at low speed. Remove the whip and, with the paddle, carefully add flour mixture at low speed. Drop mixture by 1 1/2 tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets that have been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake about 25 minutes, or until macaroons are firm and lightly browned. Remove macaroons to wire rack and cool. Keep in a loosely covered container at room temperature, or freeze until needed. Do not cover tightly if storing at room temperature.
Per serving: calories: 74; fat: 2 g; no cholesterol; sodium: 28 mg; ,, calories from fat: 29 percent.
Challenge: No-holds-barred indulgence.
Solution: Make your own honey-baked ham. OK, it won't have the neat spiral cut -- but you won't have to stand in line to get it, either.
Plus: It's cheaper. And because you skim the fat from the pan juices, this is a fairly low-fat entree.
Makes 16-20 servings
1 (10-pound) whole fully cooked ham
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup honey
6 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 fresh ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place ham on rack in roasting pan; bake 15 minutes per pound, about 2 1/2 hours total.
Combine sugar, sherry, honey, mustard and black pepper; set aside. After ham has cooked for 1 3/4 hours, remove from oven and raise temperature to 425 degrees.
Pour juices from ham into shallow bowl; chill so that fat can be easily skimmed. Trim excess fat from ham; score in 3/4 -inch diamond shapes with a sharp knife and coat generously with glaze.
Turn oven back down to 325 degrees and bake ham 15 minutes. Glaze again. Using toothpicks, decorate with pineapple and cranberries. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.
Once more, remove, glaze and bake 15 minutes. Meat thermometer should read 135 degrees to 140 degrees. Remove from oven, pour off juices and allow ham to sit 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. Skim fat from pan juices. Heat pan juices; serve in gravy boat with sliced ham and cooked fruit.
Per serving: calories: 450; fat: 14 g; cholesterol: 133 mg; sodium: 3,101; calories from fat: 29 percent.
Challenge: Drop-in company.
Solution: Party mix, again? The least you can do is make yours stand out. Try Chinese or Cajun spice in place of the seasoning salt. Vary the cereals and other add-ins.
Cheese balls, smoked meats, crackers and fruit are all good to keep around. Or, keep a tin of smoked garlic almonds on hand.
Plus: Make a bunch for last-minute gifts.
Smoked garlic almonds
Makes 3 cups
non-stick cooking spray
1 egg white
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons celery salt
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole unblanched almonds (about 12 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray foil with non-stick spray.
Whisk the egg white until frothy in a large mixing bowl. Add the liquid smoke and seasonings and whisk until blended. Add the almonds and toss and stir until well coated.
Spread the almonds evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Bake on the center shelf of the oven for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove and cool for 1 hour.
The almonds can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Per 1/4 -cup serving: calories: 179; fat: 16 g; no cholesterol; sodium: 309 mg; calories from fat: 77 percent.