EATING IN THE kitchen; except for breakfast or solitary noon portion of cottage cheese, it retains a faint aura of oilcloth, pigs' feet and beer. These days, though, an invitation to dinner in the kitchen can have black-tie overtones, too.
For a serious cook (and, in this era of all-but-universal interest in the niceties of food and drink, who isn't?), a certain amount of show-and-tell is part of the fun of sharing a meal with friends. The guests don't have to chop parsley or stir sauces to enjoy being in on the process as well as the product. For many of us, watching other people cook is the next best thing to cooking, or even better, say some.
Julia and Paul Child have been entertaining in the kitchen for several years now. Since many of their friends are food people, too, it's as natural as receiving the garden club in the garden. And the cook doesn't have to miss any of the conversation in the interests of the ragout.
The Childs set an elegant table. The best silver and china can make themselves at home within sight of stove and sink, just as the best company can.
M.F.K. Fisher has also been entertaining where she cooks for a good many years. Her house, in the California wine country, consists of two large, high-ceilinged rooms, a bedroom-study and a living room-kitchen, with a sybaritic bathroom in between.
Kitchen dining is, of course, best under circumstances like that. Plenty of space, comfortable seats and, presiding at the range, a person whose culinary technique is worth watching.
For the chilly months of the year, a fireplace adds further cachet. What could be better than sitting around the fire, drink in hand, absorbing the aroma of a gently simmering cassoulet while discussing the merits of goose fat in pastry? More and more architects have this sort of scene in mind when they design bigger kitchens, complete with fireplace.
With or without fireplace, a kitchen big enough to hold a few guests without fatally hampering the cook's ability to function can supply the backdrop for a memorably gemutlich dinner. Besides, it's a way to make sure the gleam of your copper pans gets its due in community recognition.
Stir-fries, soups and casseroles have particular affinities for the kitchen dinner. There are those who say the kitchen dinner is the ideal occasion for a souffle'. Serving the meal within sight of the oven door, which probably has a little window in it, is, after all, the one way to make sure the guests appreciate the full drama of the souffle' emerging from the heat in all the glory of its fragile elevation.
A few possibilities:
STIR-FRIED CHICKEN LIVERS (4 servings) 1 pound chicken livers 1/4 teaspoon ginger 1 tablespoon flour 1 clove garlic, minced 1 bunch scallions, chopped 1 tablespoon oil 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon chopped parsley 1 green pepper, chopped 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced 1/4 cup pecans 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce 2 tablespoons sherry
Cut livers into bite-sized pieces and dust with flour and ginger. Heat oil and butter in a wok or large frying pan. Stir-fry liver with minced garlic, scallions, green pepper and mushrooms. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and test one piece of liver, cutting in half. If the interior is no longer pink, return to pan, add pecans, worcestershire and sherry and cook 1 minute more. If liver is underdone, give it 3 minutes more. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with rice.
HAM AND BROCCOLI SOUFFLE (4 to 6 servings) 1 cup lightly cooked chopped broccoli 1 bunch scallions, chopped 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1/2 teaspoon mustard Salt and pepper 1 cup milk 6 eggs, separated 1/2 cup minced cooked ham, preferably country ham 2 tablespoons grated parmesan or gruyere cheese
Puree broccoli in a blender or food processor with scallions and set aside. Melt butter in a large frying pan and stir in flour and mustard. When thoroughly blended, add milk, slowly, stirring until smooth. Stir over low heat until the sauce begins to thicken. Beat egg yolks until light and stir a few spoons of sauce into yolks, then combine with remaining sauce in pan. Cook over low heat 5 minutes. Add pure'ed broccoli and minced ham. Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into first mixture. Pour into a 2-quart souffle' dish, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes, then at 350 degrees for 20 minutes more.
ROSEMARY CHICKEN CASSEROLE (4 servings) 1 frying chicken, cut in serving pieces 4 tablespoons butter 12 small white onions 1 1/2 cups unpeeled potatoes, cubed 1/2 cup dry white wine 1 tablespoon brandy 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced, or 1/2 teaspoon dried 1 clove garlic, minced 1 teaspoon grated orange peel Salt and pepper to taste
Saute chicken in butter in a large skillet. When chicken is golden brown, remove to a covered baking dish. In pan juices, saute' potatoes and onions until lightly browned, stirring so they will cook evenly. Place in covered baking dish with chicken. Deglaze the pan with wine and brandy and pour over chicken, onions and potatoes. Add rosemary, garlic and orange peel and stir to distribute evenly throughout the dish. Cover and bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.