The Menu Beef, Barley and Vegetable Soup Roast Chicken Avocado, Artichoke and Mushroom Salad Bread and Butter Pudding

AFTER THE holidays, when everyone is tired of overeating and fancy cooking, it is time to sit down with good friends to a cozy meal of unexotic, nourishing nursery food. Enough of fancy, convoluted combinations, at least for a while.

A perfect, simple meal starts with a substantial but not thick-on-the-tongue beef, barley and vegetable soup that has a rich brown broth studded with carrots, peas and bits of beef marrow adding body but not complicating the taste. Next comes a light course of crispy-skinned, moist roast chickens delicately perfumed with the lemon halves and garlic cloves that were cooked in their cavities. This is served with a sauce made of pan drippings and chicken broth, nothing more, and is accompanied only by a salad, but one of some interest--ripe avocados, artichoke hearts and raw mushrooms served on individual plates in cups of boston lettuce. The meal ends with the gross satisfaction of a soothing custardy bread and butter pudding, fragrant with vanilla and rum-soaked golden raisins.

The soup can be made in advance and, in fact, improves with a little age. Soup meat is desirable because it can be cooked long without getting stringy and adds a gelatinous richness that fancier, more expensive cuts cannot. Marrow bones are almost always available at supermarket meat counters or from butchers and are preferable to plain soup bones because they yield marrow to enrich the final product. While the soup requires three hours of cooking, it demands little attention once the meat is cut up and browned with the bones. I dice the vegetables when the water goes in, but do not add them until later. An envelope or two of powdered concentrated bouillon, which I prefer to cubes because it is less salty, can reinforce the depth of flavor, but this is usually not necessary.

Had we not started with the soup, I might have cooked three chickens for eight and then had leftovers for lunch the next day. But for this meal, the portions for the second course should be restrained, so two chickens are ample. I prefer chickens roasted at a very high temperature. When they are roasted on low-heat--300 or 325 degrees--the result is soggy, steamed birds.

The chickens are the only part of this meal that cannot be made in advance and attention must be paid during the process. They need basting and turning every 15 minutes until they emerge with a crackling brown skin and a juicy tenderness inside. I roast chickens only when our evening is casual enough for friends to stay in the kitchen with me or when I feel comfortable about responding to the frequent and persistent natterings of the timer.

I truss chickens according to instructions in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I," with a long, wide-eyed trussing needle and butcher's twine, but any method will do just so long as the wings stay close to the body and the legs don't hang free during cooking.

The frozen artichokes for the salad should be cooked in advance so they have time to cool. The salad itself can be made at least an hour before guests arrive. Avocados, which are plentiful and reasonably priced this time of year, are ripened in a brown paper bag, but their progress must be checked every day; otherwise you can end up with a soggy sack. The mushrooms should be wiped clean with a damp paper towel, never soaked in water, which makes them unpleasantly spongy. Iceberg lettuce is not an acceptable substitute for boston lettuce or, for that matter, any other kind of lettuce.

Bread and butter pudding is a simple, much-loved dessert, but because it has no pretensions to grandeur it appears infrequently at dinner parties. Too bad. Bread and butter pudding can be brought to blissful heights, especially when it is made with homemade bread. I commend the recipe for buttery white bread, which is also delicious with a ripe brie or a mild liver pa te'. This bread is foolproof and easy to make with a heavy duty mixer and dough hook. However, the pudding is not to be sneered at when it is made with a decent-quality thin-sliced commercial bread. The pudding is best made the day before or the morning of the party.

It is possible to avoid the potential mess of buttering bread on both sides. Simply butter one side, place it in the pan buttered side down and then do the other side. If you use an oval gratin dish rather than a rectangular pan, the bread will have to be trimmed and fussed with to cover the surface. You want as tight a fit as possible. The dish should be at least two inches deep to accommodate three layers of bread.

BEEF, BARLEY AND VEGETABLE SOUP (8 servings) 2 pounds beef marrow bones 1 pound soup meat (boiling beef) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 quarts water 1 tablespoon salt Freshly ground pepper to taste 6 tablespoons pearl barley, rinsed in a sieve under cold water 1 cup carrots in 1/4-inch dice 1/2 cup celery in 1/4-inch dice 1/2 cup onion in 1/4-inch dice 1/4 cup minced parsley 1 cup frozen peas 1 to 2 beef bouillon cubes or packets of powdered bouillon (optional)

Wash the marrow bones and pat them dry. Cut the meat into 1/4-inch cubes and brown bones and meat in hot oil in a large pot. Add the water, salt and pepper, cover tightly and simmer for 1 hour. Add the barley and cook for 1 hour more. Remove the bones from the soup with a slotted spoon and remove the marrow. Return the marrow to the pot and discard the bones. Add the carrots, celery, onion and parsley and cook slowly for 45 minutes more. Add the peas and cook an additional 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If the soup is too thick, add a little more water and powdered concentrated bouillon or a bouillon cube to strengthen the flavor.

ROAST CHICKEN (8 servings) 2 3 1/2-pound chickens, whole Salt and pepper to taste 1 lemon, halved 4 cloves garlic, peeled 12 tablespoons butter, softened for an hour at room temperature 1 cup chicken broth

Pull out the lungs and other organs from the cavities along with any pieces of loose fat. Cut off the wing tips and use them along with the necks and gizzards for stock. Reserve the livers for another use. Rub the insides of the birds with salt and pepper, place half a lemon and two garlic cloves in each cavity and truss the chickens. Pat the skin dry and rub the chickens with half the butter. Melt the remaining butter for basting.

The chickens will cook for about 65 minutes in a preheated 425-degree oven. Do not lower the temperature. Place the chickens on a roasting rack in a pan on their sides and roast for 15 minutes. Baste with melted butter and turn them breast down. Roast for another 15 minutes, baste again and turn them on their other sides. After 15 more minutes, baste again and turn them on their backs, breast side up. Roast for an additional 20 minutes, basting once again after 10 minutes. The chickens are done when an instant thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. They may need an additional 5 minutes of roasting. Remove the chickens from the oven when they are done and let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes before carving. Remove the rack from the pan, add the chicken broth to the juices and bring to a boil, stirring to loosen the brown bits. Serve this sauce with the chickens.

AVOCADO, ARTICHOKE AND MUSHROOM SALAD (8 servings) 1 teaspoon dijon-style mustard Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil Pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs, optional 3 ripe avocados 1 package frozen artichoke hearts, cooked, drained, cooled and quartered 1/2 pound mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced 2 stalks celery, cleaned and chopped 3 tablespoons minced parsley 1 head boston lettuce

Make a vinaigrette in a large mixing bowl by combining the mustard, salt, pepper and vinegar and then slowly whisking in the olive oil. Add, if desired, the herbes de Provence or other herbs.

One by one, peel and pit the avocados and cut them, in a 3/4-inch dice, directly into the vinaigrette. Stir gently to cover the pieces with the dressing to prevent them from discoloring but be careful not to break them. Add the artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, chopped celery and parsley and toss carefully. Arrange cups of boston lettuce on individual salad plates and just before serving divide the salad among them, placing it in the lettuce cups.

BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING (8 servings) 2 tablespoons softened butter for the pan 2/3 cup seedless yellow raisins 1/4 cup dark rum 18 thin slices homemade bread such as buttery white bread, (see recipe) or commercial thin-sliced white bread (1 loaf plus 2 or 3 slices more), crusts removed 1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened for an hour at room temperature 4 eggs plus 3 egg yolks 2/3 cup sugar 3 cups milk 2 tablespoons vanilla Pinch of salt

Butter a 2-quart baking dish, if possible a rectangular dish 10 1/2-by-7-by-2 inches. Set aside. Combine the raisins with the rum in a small saucepan, heat, stir and set aside for 15 minutes.

Lightly butter each slice of bread on both sides. Fit 6 slices on the bottom of the baking dish, strew half the raisins over this, add a second layer of 6 slices, strew the remaining raisins over this, and top with the last 6 slices of bread. Make a custard by beating together the eggs and egg yolks, sugar, milk, vanilla and pinch of salt. Pour this over the bread and set aside for 30 minutes, or until the bread has absorbed the custard.

Meanwhile bring a kettle of water to a boil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the baking dish in a large roasting pan and put this in the oven. Pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of the baking dish. Bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees, or until the top is golden yellow with small brown areas and slightly crusty. Remove, let cool and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.

BUTTERY WHITE BREAD (2 loaves) Softened butter for the bread pans 4 packages dry yeast 2 cups warm water 6 cups bread flour 1 1/2 tablespoons salt 3 tablespoons sugar 3 tablespoons butter, softened 1 lightly beaten egg, for glaze

Butter 2 9-by-5-by-3-inch bread pans and set aside.

Place the yeast in mixing bowl and add the warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast starts to work. Add the flour, salt and sugar and mix into a dough, using a dough hook on a heavy duty mixer if possible, or a spoon and then hands. Add the butter and then knead for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Turn into a clean bowl, dust lightly with flour, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch the dough down, knead it for another minute or so and let it rise again for about 45 minutes, or until almost doubled. Cut the dough in half and shape into loaves to fit the pans. Place each loaf in a pan and brush the tops with beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when removed from the pan and tapped. Cool. This bread is excellent for bread and butter pudding, with cheeses and with pa te's.