Giving parties can be easy if you just say: 'cheese'


Trees are getting leaves and baseball is back on television; it's time to party. We're not talking about an elaborate formal event, just a gathering of friends or family for some snacks and maybe some pizza or burgers later.

Cookbook author Melanie Barnard offered some imaginative entertaining suggestions when she was in town recently promoting Kraft Cracker Barrel cheeses: For instance, You can fill a wide shallow container -- it could be anything from a basket to a roast pan -- with fresh herbs, such as parsley or chives, then toss in some crackers, tomato wedges or cherry tomatoes, baby vegetables, sliced cheeses and some olives and put it out so everyone can assemble their own snacks.

Ms. Barnard also suggests a lunch picnic (menu: cold-cut sandwiches, cheese, chips and pretzels, apples, brownies and lemonade) or an evening wine- and cheese-sampling picnic (display cheeses on cutting boards with strawberries and grapes, ask everyone to bring a bottle of their favorite wine). For copy of a booklet of easy entertaining ideas, write: Get-Together Ideas from Cracker Barrel Cheese, P.O. Box 490513, El Paso, Texas, 88549-0513.

New low-fat recipes

Time-Life Books has launched a new series of cookbooks under the title "Great Taste Low Fat." The first two off the press are "Chicken" and "Pasta." Time-Life guarantees that none of the dishes has more than 30 percent calories from fat. There are tips, illustrations of techniques and nutritional analyses for every recipe. The books coat $14.95 each.

Here's a sample recipe:

Pasta Shells With Scallops and Basil

Serves 4

10 ounces medium pasta shells

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 pound sea scallops, halved crosswise if large

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup sliced scallions

3/4 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

3 tablespoons orange juice

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

3/4 teaspoon salt

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and cook the pasta shells until just tender. Drain well.

Meanwhile, spread the cornstarch on a plate. Dredge the scallops in the cornstarch, shaking off excess. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil until hot but not smoking over medium heat. Add the scallops and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and the scallions and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is tender, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the scallop mixture to a plate.

Add the tomatoes, basil, orange juice, zest and salt to the pan and cook until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the scallop mixture and cook until the scallops are just opaque, about 1 minute longer. Transfer the scallop mixture to a large bowl, add the pasta shells, and toss to combine. Spoon the pasta mixture into 4 shallow bowls and serve.

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