IT WOULD BE comforting to think that we could have our weekend and eat well, too. With the week's work done we could also have done our work for Saturday's dinner party.
The truth is, the week is filled with softball games and meetings and clothes to take to the laundry and tires to be rotated. Then if we plan something special, we need to buy candles and flowers and groceries in addition to tires and softball, ad infinitum.
Fantasy allows us to dream of the wonderful dinners we'll cook up when we have extra time. Reality reminds us that there is never extra time. And even those meals that should result from the leisure of a weekend don't materialize.
Life-style magazines advise us to prepare in advance on our days off, and depict a scene of professional types leaping from their beds on Saturday morning so they can rush to the store, purchase a week's worth of groceries and proceed to spend 48 hours indoors peeking into hot ovens for the mere luxury of knowing there's leftover meatloaf to eat on Wednesday night.
It just doesn't ring true. Golf and tennis consume weekend mornings before the sun and crowds have reached their peaks. Later come the errands and chores that have doubled since you spent last weekend at the beach.
The real trick is to find a way to prepare food for a party without consuming weekend "free" time. To squeeze it into the weekday schedule. There are several advantages to this. First, you can glean ideas from your fellow workers. After all, people who cook also like to discuss recipes with other enthusiasts. If you need to plan a dinner for Saturday night, begin Tuesday to pick the brains of your coworkers, and thus alleviate poring over cookbooks for an entire evening.
Second, your workplace might be near a specialty store or ethnic supermarket, allowing you to draw on these resources without making a long weekend drive. Perhaps such a store puts tahini at your fingertips, or inspires you to cook some ethnic dinner which would be less convenient to weekend shopping.
These specialty shops might also offer wonderful prepared foods such as sausages or unusual cheeses. A few slices of edible imports go a long way toward hors d'oeuvres and you don't need to heat up the oven.
The trick to entertaining without giving up your weekend, then, is choosing the dishes that can be made in advance--a quiet Friday night at home when you're too tired to go out anyway.
The recipes must be for foods that will improve with time--allowing garlicky dip to develop; allowing the flavors in the basting sauce to blend; allowing dessert to chill. With the food prepared in advance, there won't be a last-minute panic when you need to run to the store for cocktail napkins.
A Greek theme inspires the following meal. The fish, which cooks in very little time, should be picked up on the way home from work. Start the coals about 30 minutes before guests are due, so that the fish can cook before the guests are three sheets to the wind (extended cocktail "hours" are disastrous, unless the food is bad, when they are imperative).
With cocktails, serve stuffed grape leaves which have been arranged on a large platter with chunks of feta cheese, Greek olives and cherry tomatoes. Save the hummus for the actual meal, and serve it in individual bowls at each place setting. Conventional tossed salad may be served with the fish, and warmed pita bread--either buffet style or passed at the table.
Fruit makes an appropriate summer dessert--in this case, green grapes or peaches or both (plums are good too). For ultimate ease, forgo whipping cream for sour cream sweetened with a sprinkling of brown sugar and topped with a touch of freshly grated nutmeg. Peel the peaches, turn them with the sour cream and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, spoon the fruit into individual dessert dishes, sprinkle each with 2 teaspoons of brown sugar and a grating of nutmeg. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until serving.
BULGHUR-STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (Makes 24 to 26 grape leaves) 1 cup bulghur 2 cups water 1/4 cup raisins, snipped 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, minced (about 1 cup) 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/4 cup chopped pecans 3 to 4 tablespoons chopped parsley 1 to 2 chopped fresh mint leaves Juice of 1/2 lemon Grape leaves packed in brine or 24 to 26 fresh grape leaves of uniform size
Combine bulghur and water in a saucepan and bring to a slow boil, stirring. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until the bulghur absorbs the water, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in raisins and apricots and set aside to cool. Heat olive oil in a skillet and add onion, garlic and pecans. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are clear. Remove from heat. Break up any lumps in bulghur with your fingers or a fork and stir in onion mixture parsley, mint and lemon juice. Taste and correct seasoning. If using bottled grape leaves, be careful with the salt. Remove grape leaves from jar and rinse them under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels. With the stem end facing you, place a spoonful of bulghur mixture on a leaf. Fold the stem end up over the bulghur mixture, fold the sides of the leaf toward the center and continue rolling to enclose the filling. Place seam side down on an oiled cookie sheet and repeat with remaining grape leaves. Brush with vegetable oil and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool, refrigerate overnight (or several days if desired), and serve at room temperature with olives, cubes of feta cheese and cherry tomatoes.
HUMMUS BI TAHINI (About 2 cups) 2 cups chick peas (canned is fine, but drain them) 1/3 olive oil 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 or 2 drops hot pepper sauce 1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
Place chick peas, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and hot pepper sauce in a blender container and blend until smooth. Add tahini and blend again. Adjust the consistency with liquid drained from chick peas or a little extra olive oil. Allow the hummus to sit overnight (refrigerated) or several hours at room temperature. The hummus should be used as a dip for pita bread triangles.
GREEK GRILLED ROCKFISH (6 servings) 6 pounds rockfish, cleaned and left whole (or other fish for grilling, ask your fish-market manager) 1/4 cup olive oil 2 cloves garlic 1 teaspoon rosemary 1/4 teaspoon thyme 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 bay leaf Juice of 3 lemons
Buy the freshest fish possible and consider head, tail and bones when figuring out how much you need. A 2-pound rockfish will serve two people, but 4-pound rockfish should yield more meat per person. (For those who fear bones, this recipe can be adapted to fish steaks or fillets, but baste them well). Combine the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, pepper, bay leaf and lemon juice. Allow this to stand overnight. Begin to heat the coals about 20 minutes before guests arrive. When the coals have become ash gray and are glowing (at least 45 minutes), spread them out and place the fish on the grill at least 5 inches from the coals. (The fish will need a lot of support, especially if you are using fillets or steaks. You might want to use a hinged grill that you can flip to turn the fish. In any case, anything the fish touches should be well oiled.)
Cook the fish about 10 minutes for each inch of thickness at its thickest point. Baste frequently with oil and herb mixture. Serve the fish with salad, hummus and pita bread triangles.
SUMMER FRUITS WITH SOUR CREAM (6 servings) 6 large peaches 1/2 pound green grapes 1 to 2 cups sour cream 4 tablespoons brown sugar Freshly ground nutmeg Dip the peaches briefly in boiling water to loosen the skins. Peel them and slice them into a bowl. Add seedless grapes and sour cream. Turn to coat the fruit in the cream. Place fruit in individual dessert dishes, sprinkle with sugar and nutmeg and cover with plastic wrap. Chill well before serving.