How to Put Together Your Own Veggie Tray

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Vegetable platters are ubiquitous at parties featuring finger foods, but they're not always a hit. Too often, store-bought trays are piled up with dried-out, not-so-fresh veggies. Plus, they often offer nothing more than the same old carrots, celery, bell peppers and maybe broccoli florets. For a far more exciting and memorable plate of nibbles, be picky about produce and create your own.

Freshness is key to a great vegetable platter. Shop the day of your party, if possible, or the day before. Select the veggies that look the best at the store, aiming for about 1/4 pound per person. Don't limit your purchases to those that can be eaten raw; if you have time and space on your stove, cook a few veggies for your platter, too. Aim for a variety of colors for visual appeal. Green's easy, but different-colored bell peppers, tomatoes, purple carrots, fingerling potatoes, jicama, radishes, and white and purple asparagus can bring your tray to life.

Wash all of your veggies thoroughly. Use a sharp nonserrated knife to cut them into sticks that are easy to pick up, dip and bite. Cut items like broccoli or cauliflower florets and mushrooms into bite-size morsels. Blanch green veggies like broccoli, snow peas and asparagus to liven up their color. Just cook them briefly in boiling water, then transfer them to ice water to stop the cooking process. Boil strips of potato, squash and other veggies that require cooking just until they are tender.

Mix and match the veggies on a platter so there are no large monochromatic sections. Arrange strips neatly. Serve the platter with a number of dips and dressings so your guests have options. Ranch and blue cheese dressings work well, as does sour cream, hummus and a variety of vinaigrettes. If you use store-bought products, top them with a sprinkle of fresh herbs to add a homemade feel.

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