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Mexican-style dining presentation

"Little bites" mean little work

Imagine a party where all the foods are made ahead but stay fresh. Where guests serve themselves while you enjoy the conversation. And where napkins - no plates or utensils - do the job of dinnerware. This Mexican-influenced menu of bocaditos (little bites) is just that kind of gathering.

It's also a party designed for movement: Guests circulate to sample foods arranged at various stations. Begin with refreshing agua fresca and a selection of Mexican soft drinks and beers on a beverage tray positioned to greet arriving guests. Place a salad course of romaine hearts with pipian nearby, and a Jerusalem artichoke dip and morsels of mushroom bocadillos in separate locations. Grill the steak ahead, to serve cold - or just before guests arrive, to serve hot - and present it sliced to stuff into little rolls for two-or-three-bite sandwiches. Combine handheld fruit wands and pine nut cookies for dessert.

Mango-Mint Agua Fresca

PREP TIME: About 20 minutes

NOTES: If making up to 4 hours ahead, cover and chill pureed mixture; add ice just before serving.

MAKES: About 12 cups; 8 servings

3 pounds firm-ripe mangoes

4 cups orange juice

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed and drained

About 1/4 cup lemon juice

Ice cubes

Mint sprigs

1. Cut and discard pits and peel from mangoes. Cut fruit into chunks.

2. In a blender or food processor, in batches, whirl the mangoes, orange juice, mint leaves, and 5 cups water until smoothly pureed; pour into a pitcher. Stir in 1/4 cup lemon juice, or to taste.

3. Pour agua fresca into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with mint sprigs.

Per serving: 136 cal, 2.6% (3.6 cal.) from fat; 1.6 g protein; 0.4 g fat (0.1 g sat.); 34 g carbo (1.9 g fiber); 6.9 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Romaine Hearts with Pipian

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 15 minutes

NOTES: If making dressing up to 1 day ahead, cover airtight and chill. Serve at room temperature. Buy romaine hearts or use tender inner leaves from heads of romaine lettuce.

MAKES: About 1 1/2 cups pipian; 8 servings

3 dried California or New Mexico chilies (4 to 5 in.)

1/2 cup shelled roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3/4 cup chopped Roma tomatoes

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro

Salt

24 to 32 romaine lettuce leaves (6 to 7 in.), rinsed and crisped Ice cubes

1. Discard chili stems. Shake out and discard chili seeds. Put chilies in a bowl and pour 11/2 cups boiling water over them. Let stand until soft, 6 to 7 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in an 8- to 10-inch frying pan over high heat, stir or shake pumpkin seeds until they smell lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Put pumpkin seeds in a blender or food processor. Lift chilies from soaking liquid and add to blender. Add garlic, vinegar, tomatoes, and cilantro. Whirl, adding enough chili-soaking liquid (about 1/2 cup) to make pipian mixture thin enough to scoop but not drippy. Add salt to taste. Scrape pipian into a small bowl.

4. Stand romaine lettuce leaves, stem ends down, in closely fitting bowl and drop ice cubes among the leaves to keep them crisp. To eat, scoop leaves into pipian dressing.

Per serving: 39 cal., 36% (14 cal.) from fat; 1.9 g protein; 1.5 g fat (0.3 g sat.); 6 g carbo (2 g fiber); 6.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Sunchoke Dip

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 40 minutes

NOTES: This hummus-like dip was created by Loretta Barrett Oden of Corn Dance Care in Santa Fe and Josiah Citrin of JiRaffe in Los Angeles for the Cuisines of the Sun program at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel in Hawaii. Jerusalem artichoke (also known as sunchoke) is the root of a native American variety of sunflower. You'll need about 8 cups of chips.

MAKES: About 2 cups dip; 8 servings

1 1/2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes

2 cloves garlic, peeled

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno chilies

Salt

Blue or red corn chips (or a combination)

1. Peel Jerusalem artichokes and rinse.

2. In a 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add Jerusalem artichokes and cook until tender when pierced, about 12 minutes. Drain.

3. In a blender or food processor, whirl Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, lemon juice, and oil until smoothly pureed; scrape container sides as needed. Add chilies and salt to taste. Scrape into a bowl.

4. To eat, scoop up dip with corn chips.

Per serving: 92 cal., 50% (46 cal.) from fat; 1.3 g protein; 5.1 g fat (0.7 g sat.); 11 g carbo (1 g fiber); 3.8 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Mushroom Bocadillos

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 45 minutes (about 35 minutes in a convection oven)

NOTES: If making up to 1 day ahead, cool, cover, and chill. Serve at room temperature or reheat: bake, uncovered, in a 325 [degrees] oven until warm, about 10 minutes.

MAKES: 8 servings

About 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 pound sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Salt and pepper

4 large eggs

1/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs

1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro

1/2 pound asadero or jack cheese, shredded

1. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add mushrooms, onion, and nutmeg. Stir often until mushrooms are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, beat eggs to blend with crumbs, cilantro, and all but 1/2 cup of the cheese.

3. Coarsely chop the mushroom mixture and stir into the egg mixture. Pour into a buttered 8-inch square pan.

4. Bake in a 325 [degrees] oven until center feels firm when lightly pressed, about 30 minutes (about 20 minutes in a convection oven). Sprinkle evenly with remaining cheese and bake just until it begins to melt, 3 to 4 minutes more (1 to 2 minutes in a convection oven). Remove from oven and let stand in pan until warm, at least 15 minutes, or until cool. Cut into 1-inch pieces and arrange on a platter.

Per serving: 187 cal., 63% (117 cal.) from fat; 12 g protein; 13 g fat (7.4 g sat.); 5.9 g carbo (1 g fiber); 298 mg sodium; 140 mg chol.

Flank Steak Tortitas

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 35 minutes

NOTES: Spoon chipotle crema (recipe follows) into rolls stuffed with beef and onion, and add thinly sliced fresh tomatillos.

MAKES: 8 servings

1/4 cup chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped green onions, including tops

2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeno chilies

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 beef flank steak (1 1/2 to 13/4 lb.)

1 red onion (3/4 lb.)

About 2 teaspoons olive oil

16 round or oval rolls (about 2 in. wide)

1. In a blender or food processor, whirl garlic, green onions, chilies, cumin, oregano, and vinegar until coarsely pureed. 2. Rinse flank steak and pat dry. Rub garlic mixture over meat.

3. Peel red onion; cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Rub lightly with olive oil.

4. Cut rolls almost in half horizontally, leaving attached on one side. Pile into a basket.

5. Lay steak and onion slices on a barbecue grill over a solid bed of very hot coals or high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 1 to 2 seconds); close lid on gas grill. Cook meat, turning to brown evenly, until as done as desired in center of thickest part (cut to test), 12 to 15 minutes for rare, about 20 minutes for medium-rare. Grill onion slices, turning with a wide spatula, until lightly browned on each side, about 13 minutes. Transfer meat and onion to a carving board. Serve hot, warm, or cool. 6. Cut beef across the grain into thin, slanting slices. Tuck slices of meat and pieces of red onion into rolls.

Per serving: 349 cal., 34% (117 cal.) from fat; 22 g protein; 13 g fat (4.5 g sat.); 35 g carbo (1.9 g fiber); 353 mg sodium; 43 mg chol.

Chipotle Crema

PREP TIME: About 5 minutes

NOTES: If making up to 2 days ahead, cover airtight and chill. Freeze extra chilies and adobado sauce.

MAKES: About 1 1/2 cups

2 canned chipotle chilies in adobado sauce

1 1/2 cups Mexican crema or sour cream

1. Wearing kitchen gloves, pull out and discard seeds and veins from chilies. Mince chilies.

2. In a small bowl, mix chilies, 2 tablespoons of the adobado sauce, and the Mexican crema.

Per tablespoon: 36 cal., 89% (32 cal.) from fat; 0.5 g protein; 3.5 g fat (2.3 g sat.); 0.7 g carbo (0 g fiber); 18 mg sodium; 15 mg chol.

Fruit Wands with Vanilla-Rum Syrup

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 20 minutes, plus about 30 minutes to cool syrup

NOTES: You'll need about 50 thin wood skewers. If making up to 2 hours ahead, let fruit stand in syrup. Use leftover syrup to flavor glasses of iced sparkling water.

MAKES: 8 servings

1 cup sugar

1 vanilla bean (about 7 in.) or 2 teaspoons vanilla

1/4 cup rum

2 tablespoons long, thin shreds of orange peel

2 star fruit (about 6 oz. total), rinsed 2 cups pineapple chunks

1 cup strawberries, hulled and rinsed

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1. Put sugar in a 11/2- to 2-quart pan. Using a small, sharp knife, slit vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape seeds from pod into sugar; add pod to sugar. Stir in rum, orange peel, and 2 cups water.

2. Stir often over high heat until mixture boils and is reduced to 13/4 cups, about 12 minutes. Remove vanilla pod (let dry and store airtight for other uses). Let syrup cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, trim and discard ends from star fruit; cut fruit crosswise into 1/2-inch slices. Using a small, sharp knife, remove any seeds.

4. Poke sharp end of 1 skewer through skin edge of each star fruit piece. Also poke 1 skewer through each pineapple chunk and strawberry.

5. Put skewers, fruit ends down, in a deep bowl. Pour syrup over fruit. Provide napkins to catch drips as guests pick up wands to eat.

Per serving: 149 cal., 1.8% (2.7 cal.) from fat; 0.4 g protein; 0.3 g fat (0 g sat.); 33 g carbo (1.2 g fiber); 1.4 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Pine Nut Panecillos

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 45 minutes (about 40 minutes in a convection oven)

NOTES: If making up to 1 day ahead, cool and store airtight. Freeze to store longer.

MAKES: 16 cookies

1 1/4 cups pine nuts

About 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup plus 4 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan over medium heat, stir or shake pine nuts until lightly toasted, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour into a bowl.

2. In a food processor or blender, whirl 1 cup pine nuts until smoothly pureed, scraping container sides frequently.

3. In food processor or a bowl with a mixer, whirl or beat pine nut purge, l/2 cup butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar to blend. Add egg and vanilla; whirl or beat to blend.

4. In another bowl, stir together flour and baking soda. Add to butter mixture; stir, then whirl or beat to mix well. Divide dough into 2 equal portions. In a small bowl, mix 4 teaspoons granulated sugar and the cinnamon.

5. Press each portion of dough evenly into a buttered 9-inch-wide cake pan with removable rim (you'll need 2). Scatter remaining pine nuts over dough and, with your fingers, press them lightly but firmly into dough.

6. Bake in a 375 [degrees] oven until cookies begin to pull from pan sides and centers spring back when lightly pressed, 16 to 17 minutes (350 [degrees] in a convection oven for about 13 minutes). About 5 minutes before cookies are baked, sprinkle with sugar-cinnamon mixture. Let cool in pans about 10 minutes; remove rims. Cut each cookie into 8 wedges. Transfer to racks. Serve warm or cool.

Per cookie: 219 cal., 49% (108 cal.) from fat; 4.6 g protein; 12 g fat (4.9 g sat.); 25 g carbo (1.6 g fiber); 110 mg sodium; 30 mg chol.

* Mango-Mint Agua Fresca

* Mexican Soft Drinks and Beers

* Romaine Hearts with Pipian

* Sunchoke Dip

* Mushroom Bocadillos

* Flank Steak Tortitas with Chipotle Crema and Sliced Tomatillos

* Fruit Wands with Vanilla-Rum Syrup

* Pine Nut Panecillos

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