A ladies' lunch needs a balance of wholesome elegance and a touch of panache. Prepare some simple foods with these ideas in mind, and allow the food to add artistry to a simple table setting. Use ingredients with color --- these typically are fruits and vegetables that are also packed with vitamins --- and go easy on heavy meats and starches. Present both warm and cold dishes, and redesign some of your favorite recipes to make individual servings for a lunch buffet.
A salad bar allows your calorie-counting guests to eat without overindulging. In addition to a large bowl of mixed greens with sides of traditional salad toppings and a selection of bottled creamy dressings, feature a specialty item that you can prepare ahead. Try stuffed tomatoes. Simply remove the stem ends of medium-sized round, ripe tomatoes and scoop out the insides. Use a grapefruit spoon with a serrated tip to make this task easy. Fill the hollow tomatoes with cottage cheese, tuna or chicken salad, hummus, ranch dip and chopped veggies or a cheese and vegetable blend. Set out baskets of specialty crackers and plates of cheese sliced to fit easily on the crackers.
When you're the hostess it can be difficult to coordinate baking and serving a menu item such as quiche, but you can solve the issue by preparing small tarts ahead of time and keeping them in the refrigerator. They require only a few minutes in the oven to bake, and the fresh-baked aroma will whet your guests' appetites. Small tarts are perfect as individual servings. Arrange them on serving trays or platters for a buffet service, making them easy for self-serve situations. Buy frozen phyllo dough for a quick crust, pressing a stack of several layers cut into squares into muffin cups or mini muffin cups. Use a variety of simple ingredients in different batches of quiche filling, including finely chopped mushroom bits, bacon or ham, cheese, spinach, and green or red peppers.
Finger sandwiches are favorite luncheon fare. They are simple to make as well as easy to serve and eat, and the variety of breads alone can make a platter of sandwiches an artistic expression. Select whole-grain breads such as light rye, dark rye, and light and dark swirled rye. Whole-wheat, light oatmeal, and artisan breads are excellent choices, too, as well as flat breads and pita pockets. Elegant presentation makes even the simplest sandwich filling seem extraordinary.
Cold winter weather calls for a satisfying and nutritious lunch. Make-ahead casseroles and slow-cooker dishes warm up a winter menu. Basic stew made special with herbs and a packet of seasoning mix and served with a pan of homemade cornbread, or a chicken and rice casserole made with whole-grain brown rice are possibilities. Chase the chills with a slow cooker of thick chili using beef cubes, onions, canned chili beans, and spicy tomato juice. Include fresh fruit and vegetable platters with creamy dip. Offer a selection of exotic teas for warm-up beverages with honey, stevia and agave nectar sweeteners for a taste of something different.
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