Party season is upon us, and one thing you can count on -- right on through New Year's Eve, you'll be asked to bring something to a potluck. Maybe several potlucks.
Whether or not you can cook, if you have a full-time job and a family, you probably have less time for it than you used to. But say you want to do more. You want some recognition of your good taste, if not your culinary ability.
What to do? Buy your way out. But not in a way that will make your friends narrow their eyes in a sidelong glance at you that says, "You didn't cook this."
The idea is to take advantage of the prepared foods now available at many supermarkets and team them with fresh fruit and vegetables for a dish that will attract those browsers and grazers at the party.
We're talking no stoves. Little knife work. In other words, a repast you could create anywhere. The idea here is to buy the elements, combine them and maybe a great platter or other serving piece, and assemble rather than cook your offering. Think of it more as flower-arranging than food preparation.
* Antipasto: Some supermarket deli sections now feature an array of pickled and marinated foods perfect for assembling. Choose marinated peppers, olives and mushrooms from the deli section. Cruise over to the lunch meats for sliced salami, the refrigerator case for cheese and then hit the produce department where, if you're lucky, you'll find already-cut carrots and celery -- and maybe some green onions -- to assemble on your plate. For a truly Italian touch, find those little mozzarellas known as boconcini to add to the plate.
* Classic fruit and cheese: A true no-brainer. Choose cheeses you don't see all the time, but that are easy to like. That means bypass the brie and camembert. Try smoked Gouda, an English blue, a Cheshire or dry jack. Then find the prettiest, plumpest grapes -- at least two kinds -- from the produce department. Pick a selection of other beautiful fresh fruit: red and green pears, apples, whatever looks wonderful. Add a couple of boxes of fancy crackers -- not American snackerooney chicken-flavored ones, but sophisticated crackers meant to go with good cheese -- and you're in business.
* Charcuterie chic: If your friends are meat-lovers, create a platter of smoked and cured meats. Salami, coppa, ham, summer sausage -- the deli case will reveal a whole variety that's usually put into sandwiches. Pick up (or raid your own refrigerator for) a selection of unusual mustards to serve with them.
* Dessert by the pound: Prepared poundcake is one of the food industry's greatest inventions. No one will figure you baked it yourself, but who cares? It's just a blank canvas for your imagination. Slice and serve with a sauce you've made simply by smashing fresh berries. Truly in the spirit of what we're proposing, do it without special equipment like the bottom of a water glass. Garnish with mint.
Pub Date: 12/10/97