While other dinner hosts are mulling over what to serve as an appetizer-entree-dessert, Carl Jerome is thinking about ways to avoid the predictable. "I don't like serving normal meals," says the Washington food writer, who once presided over a 10-course meal consisting of mini-portions of food -- including five separate desserts.
That said, one of Jerome's favorite methods for dealing with the question of what to serve for dinner is to feature soups at his dinner parties. Beef stew in winter. Borscht anytime. Recently, he served a five-course menu in which the first three courses consisted of soup, beginning with an avocado-yogurt soup, and going on to a refreshing cucumber-coriander soup and a creamy, pale pink tomato bisque. The liquid openers were accompanied by loaves of crusty french bread and followed by a salad of mixed greens. In keeping with a light summer theme, dessert was fresh strawberries.
"It was very hot outside, so I wanted something cool," explains Jerome. "And I didn't want to spend a lot of money." The menu, which involved no cooking, satisfied both requirements.
If the meal sounds offbeat, it proved both satisfying and practical. What's more, the steady stream of soups kept the conversation flowing better than any beverage might have. And besides, guests have come to expect the unexpected from Jerome; others may have served a main course of six vegetables, as Jerome has, but he may well be the first host to have served pasta as a between-course palate refresher.
Another hallmark of Jerome's entertaining style is his penchant for serving nonalcoholic fruit drinks -- maybe a blend of pineapple juice and freshly grated ginger, or a combination of banana and orange -- in place of cocktails. And he rarely serves hors d'oeuvres: "They fill guests up so they're not the least bit hungry" by the time dinner is served, claims Jerome.
The following recipe for hot and cold cucumber soup requires only a few minutes in the Express Lane, and a few minutes more in the kitchen. But it tastes as if a lot of effort has gone into its creation.
Express Lane list: cucumbers, garlic, fresh coriander, lime, scallions, jalapeno peppers, plain yogurt, french bread for serving CARL JEROME'S HOT AND COLD CUCUMBER SOUP (Makes 6 cups soup)
2 pounds cucumbers
2 to 3 garlic cloves
Fresh coriander (about a cup of leaves after washing and removing the stems)
Juice of 1 lime
Green tops of 4 scallions
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, each about 3 inches long
2 cups plain yogurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
French bread for serving
Cut the ends from the cucumbers and peel. Combine the cucumbers, garlic, coriander, lime juice, scallions and peppers in a food processor or blender, and blend until a liquidy, finely-textured soup forms. Do this in 2 or 3 batches if necessary.
Pour into a glass jar and stir in the yogurt. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Refrigerate to chill. Serve with a loaf of crusty french bread.