In this economy, there's no wonder why comfort food is a big trend. However, today's comfort foods aren't just plain potatoes, pastas, or meatloaves. Comfort foods served in restaurants are often prepared with a twist–e.g., chipotle mashed potatoes, Cajun macaroni and cheese, or pasta with citrus-herb sauce. In addition, hosts and hostesses are  serving comfort foods when entertaining friends and family at home.

Comfort foods can be more waist-friendly when served as bite-sized appetizers. Smaller servings are still comforting, yet keep us feeling light. Here are a few substantial appetizers—all made with at least some time-saving prepared foods—that you'll enjoy serving to guests:

Tiny ham and pineapple pot pies

Adapted from Pillsbury
Makes 16 pieces

1/2 cup finely chopped cooked ham
2 oz finely shredded Swiss cheese (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple, well drained
1 Tbs. finely chopped green onion (1 medium)
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1 box (15 oz) refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. sesame seed, if desired

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 450°F (425°F for dark pans).
  2. In small bowl, mix ham, cheese, pineapple, onion and mustard; set aside.
  3. Remove crusts from pouches; unroll on work surface. From each crust, cut eight 3-inch rounds and eight 2-inch rounds, rerolling crusts if necessary. Press 3-inch rounds in bottoms and up sides of 16 ungreased miniature muffin cups so edges of crusts extend slightly over sides of cups.
  4. Spoon about 1 rounded tablespoon ham mixture into each crust-lined cup. Brush edges of crust lightly with beaten egg.
  5. Cut small vent in each 2-inch pie-crust round. Place 1 round over filling in each cup; press edges together, pushing toward cup so crust does not extend over sides. Brush top crusts with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seed.
  6. Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until crust is deep golden brown. Remove from muffin cups. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Southwest salsa rice bites

Adapted from the USA Rice Federation
Makes 48 appetizers (about 8 servings)

3 cups cooked brown rice, cooled
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
4 eggs
1 16-oz. jar medium (or hot) thick and chunky-style salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3/4 cup crushed corn or tortilla chips
Additional salsa and sour cream for garnish (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine rice and cheese in large bowl; set aside. In medium bowl, beat eggs until well blended. Stir in salsa, sour cream, salt and pepper. Add salsa mixture to rice and cheese; mix well.
  3. Spray miniature muffin pans with vegetable cooking spray. Spoon approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons rice mixture into each cup, filling to just below the rim. Sprinkle crushed chips over filling, pressing slightly with back of spoon.
  4. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm with additional salsa and sour cream, if desired.

Mediterranean polenta rounds

Adapted from the Texas Beef Council
Makes 36 pieces

1 package fully cooked beef pot roast with gravy
3 packages (16 oz each) prepared polenta rolls, cut in 1/2-inch rounds
1 Tbs. olive oil
2/3 cup sun-dried tomato spread
1/2 cup loosely packed, thinly sliced fresh basil
1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
thinly sliced fresh basil (optional)

Directions:

  1. Place polenta rounds in single layers on 2 greased 15 x 10 x 1-inch baking pans. Brush oil lightly over tops of rounds. Broil each pan 1-1/2 to 2 inches from heat 15 minutes or until polenta begins to brown.
  2. Meanwhile prepare beef pot roast according to package directions. Remove from package reserving gravy. Shred pot roast in large bowl with 2 forks. Stir in 2 Tbsp. reserved gravy, sun-dried tomato spread and 1/2 cup basil.
  3. Top each polenta round with about 1 tsp. shredded beef mixture. Sprinkle with bell pepper and cheese. Garnish with basil, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.