Entertaining in a cramped kitchen, an efficiency apartment or a tiny dining room can be like acting in a situation comedy. With no place to put the serving platters, no place to slice the french bread, the single cook/host or hostess tries to be hospitable, yet ends up bumping into guests, cheese balls and pot handles at every turn.
Unfortunately, this scenario often sends the single cook out for dinner rather than staying in and playing Oscar Madison. But there are ways to entertain efficiently in claustrophobic quarters and have a good time, too. The following three dinner parties, inspired in part by local cooks, employ different techniques for different spaces and situations.
The first, a Texas Sesquicentennial party, celebrates the state's 150th birthday this year. The theme is set, starting with scallop ceviche and moving on to fajitas, the Tex-Mex dish of marinated skirt or flank steak rolled in flour tortillas and topped with condiments such as guacamole, salsa and grated cheddar. If you can find Lone Star beer, serve it, otherwise be a traitor with Dos Equis or Carta Blanca. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys recordings are great mood setters, too.
The space-saving secret behind this party is marinating; much of the meal is prepared ahead of time and left in the refrigerator to soak in its spicy flavors, leaving the cook plenty of room and time to spend with the guests when they arrive. At serving time, the only real tasks left are slicing the meat, warming the tortillas and taking the colorful bowls out of the refrigerator and arranging them on the table.
The second dinner, a romantic affair for two, operates on the tenet that if you don't have the space to cook, don't. This tenet is also a convenient excuse when romance is the focus of the evening, not elaborate and heavy sauces or desserts.
The centerpiece of the meal, chicken bordeaux, is the only dish that requires any real cooking. Although it is simple and quick to prepare, it will give your guest enough of an impression that you have done something special.
The meal is fleshed out with good wine, yellow rice and a pretty composed salad (meticulously chosen from the salad bar) and/or steamed asparagus. Romantic dinners should be light, so you may want to serve only two of the accompaniments.
For dessert, there are individual french fruit tarts, which you have purchased at a bakery. At this point, your guest should be so enthralled by your company and culinary expertise that he or she will assume that you have baked them yourself. Do not say otherwise.
The final dinner party is for single cooks who live in efficiency apartments, have limited seating or no dining room tables. The solution? Eat on the floor.
Indoor picnics are possibilities and so is fondue. Although it may be officially "out," fondue is resurrected here with a purpose. One-pot meals are ideal for space-conscious single cooks because they not only save room but they save a kitchen from too much mess, a crucial factor in an efficiency apartment, when the kitchen is visible to all. The meal is complemented with a salad and a scoop of refreshing sherbet and fresh fruit for dessert. TEXAS SESQUICENTENNIAL PARTY
Texas or Mexican Beer
Vanilla Ice Cream with Cointreau-Soaked Oranges and Crushed Almonds SCALLOP CEVICHE (4 servings)
1 pound bay scallops
1/2 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
li,2 FOR SERVING:
li,2 4 red lettuce leaves
4 cherry tomatoes
4 thin slices lemon
4 sprigs cilantro
Wash scallops and combine in a bowl with lime and lemon juice. Soak overnight.
A few hours before the party, pour marinade off scallops and reserve. Combine remaining ingredients except cilantro and combine with scallops. Stir to combine, adding a little of the reserved marinade if necessary. Just before serving, add chopped cilantro.
To serve, place each portion of ceviche on a red lettuce leaf. Garnish with a cherry tomato, sliced lemon and sprig of cilantro. FAJITAS (4 servings)
2 pounds flank steak
1 cup oil
Juice of 2 limes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
FOR THE SALSA:
16-ounce can plum tomatoes, diced, with juice reserved
Grated zest from 1 orange
1 large jalapeno pepper, minced
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 scallions, sliced, green tops included
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE GUACAMOLE:
2 ripe avocados, mashed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
8 flour tortillas
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
Black beans and rice (optional)
Marinate flank steak in oil, lime juice and spices for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
To prepare salsa, combine all ingredients and refrigerate. (This can be prepared the night before.) To prepare guacamole, combine all ingredients and refrigerate, placing avocado pit in bowl to prevent discoloration (to be removed before serving).
To prepare meat, drain marinade and reserve. Roast flank steak for 2 1/2 hours at 275 degrees, brushing periodically with marinade.
To serve fajitas, first wrap flour tortillas in foil and heat at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. When meat is finished, cut into long thin strips (about 1/2-inch wide and 5 inches long) and place on a platter. Place salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheddar cheese and red onion in attractive serving bowls. Place warmed tortillas in a basket. Allow guests to assemble their own fajitas by first placing meat in center of flour tortillas, then topping meat with condiments. Roll up tortilla and eat with the hands. If you have room in your kitchen to prepare them, serve with black beans and rice. VANILLA ICE CREAM WITH COINTREAU-SOAKED ORANGES AND CRUSHED ALMONDS (4 servings)
Cointreau to cover
Good-quality vanilla ice cream
1/4 cup crushed almonds
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
Peel oranges and slice horizontally. Cut each orange slice along its membranes so that the slice is divided into 10 or 12 triangular-shaped sections. Place orange sections in a shallow dish and cover with a shallow layer of Cointreau. Marinate for at least 4 hours.
To serve, place a scoop or two of ice cream in a dish. Scatter orange sections around it and sprinkle first with crushed almonds, then grated orange zest. ROMANTIC DINNER FOR TWO
Chicken Bordeaux with Yellow Rice
Steamed Asparagus and/or Composed Salad From the Salad Bar
Individual French Fruit Tarts JIM BURGER'S CHICKEN BORDEAUX (2 servings)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon or more freshly ground pepper
2 large boneless and skinless chicken breast halves*
1 tablespoon butter plus 1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
3/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
16-ounce can plum tomatoes
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Spread flour on a platter. Grind pepper and mix with flour. Dredge chicken breasts in flour, reserving excess.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and oil until hot. Over moderately high heat, brown the chicken quickly on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
Reduce heat to low and sprinkle chicken breasts with poultry seasoning. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
While the chicken cooks, melt the 1 teaspoon butter in a small saucepan and cook the mushrooms over low heat until just wilted. Set aside.
Remove chicken from saucepan and set aside. Drain and coarsely chop tomatoes, reserving liquid. Add tomatoes and liquid to saucepan and turn heat to high. Stir 2 tablespoons of the reserved flour into 3/4 cup hot water. When liquid starts to boil, add 1/4 cup of the flour mixture, stirring to mix evenly. Add more of the flour mixture until the liquid in the skillet is very thick. Then add wine, garlic and mushrooms and stir. Return chicken to skillet.
The recipe can be assembled ahead up to this point. Ten minutes before you want to eat, bring the dish to a slow simmer and cook for about 8 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
*This dish makes enough sauce for 4 chicken breast halves. For the single cook who lives on leftovers, this is a good dish to eat the next day.
Start the rice when your guest arrives. At the same time you reheat the chicken, steam the asparagus. You can assemble the composed salad before your guest arrives. Choose three or four ingredients from the salad bar and arrange artistically on pretty salad plates. Whisk together a simple salad dressing of oil and raspberry vinegar, if desired, and drizzle on salad before serving. DINNER ON THE FLOOR
Cheese Fondue with Cauliflower and Apples
Green Salad with Three Pepper Dressing
Strawberry Sherbet with Sliced Fresh Strawberries DICK TAEUBER'S CHEESE FONDUE (8 servings)
1 pound emmenthaler cheese
1 pound gruye re cheese
1 clove garlic
3 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup kirsch
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
French or italian bread cubed with crust on each piece
2 large heads cauliflower, separated into florets
4 large apples, sliced into pieces
2 pounds cooked shrimp (optional)
To prepare fondue, grate, shred or finely dice cheese. Rub inside of pot with a cut clove of garlic. Add wine and place over moderate heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add the cheese, a scoop or handful at a time, to ease the melting. When cheese is all melted and bubbles begin to form, blend the kirsch with the cornstarch and add to the cheese mixture. Add a few grinds of pepper and/or nutmeg to taste, the chopped shallots and dijon mustard. Transfer to the serving pot if you're using a separate pan for melting. If mixture thickens during serving, add additional kirsch or cream to thin, stirring well between each addition.
You don't have to have a special fondue pot to serve fondue. Tauber suggests using either an attractive heavy saucepan or a chafing dish. You will, however, need to keep the cheese hot and melted.
Arrange dipping ingredients attractively on a serving platter or a few smaller serving platters. Place fondue pot on a coffee table and arrange serving platter around it or on a tablecloth on the floor. Serve salad and sherbet already portioned on plates. GREEN SALAD WITH THREE PEPPER DRESSING (8 servings)
FOR THE DRESSING:
3/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon each white pepper and black pepper or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper or more to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed or finely minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
FOR THE SALAD:
Spinach, boston lettuce, thinly sliced radishes and halved cherry tomatoes
Combine all dressing ingredients and shake well. Adjust seasoning. Drizzle over salad greens.